Travel posters in the Marc Choko collection—a Co-Lab challenge

By Andrew Elliott

The Marc Choko collection of travel posters represents a fantastic cross-section of Canadian travel poster art during the period from 1900 to the 1950s. “One’s destination,” wrote Henry Miller, as he travelled through Greece in the 1930s, “is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In fact, the entire Modernist movement of the era was about seeing old things in new ways. For railway companies, and later airlines, the posters helped market companies to as wide an audience as possible. While promoting their fast and efficient services, they also projected to travellers a stylish, romantic vision of travel to and within Canada.

Between 1900 and 1930, and particularly in the 1920s, there was a shift in the way people travelled. During this period, middle-class tourists rivalled immigrant travellers for space on trains. Tourism became a kind of mass culture theatrical experience, and as a result, leisure time was commodified. The publicity departments of both Canadian National Railways (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) developed close ties with Canadian (and American) artists to create poster art (and art for other types of marketing and publicity, including magazines and timetable booklets). In 1927, for example, CN commissioned members of the Group of Seven to create a 33-page scenic guide advertising the wild, natural and romantic beauty of Jasper National Park. (This guide, with a couple of digitized pages, can be found in the Museum Train Collection series of the Canadian National Railway Company fonds.) Neither the railway companies nor the artists operated in a vacuum; they were influenced by the travel and artistic movements that were spreading across the world in the early 20th century. There was a remarkable convergence: cars, trains, airplanes, zeppelins and ocean liners were all competing for customers. To sell their services, the various companies turned to posters that suggested, among other things, speed and experience.

The Marc Choko collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) features a collection of travel posters by various artists who were commissioned by transportation companies. The collection was donated to LAC in the early 1990s by Marc Choko, a professor emeritus with the School of Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Choko taught courses on design from 1977 to 2018 and has also published numerous books on design (website in French only), including Destination Québec; Une histoire illustrée du tourisme (2013), Canadian Pacific Posters 1883–1963 (2004) and Canadian Pacific; Creating a Brand, Building a Nation (2016).

Two of the best-known artists who created the posters were Peter Ewart and Roger Couillard. Ewart (1918–2001) was born in Kisbey, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Montréal. Upon completing his formal education, he studied art in Montréal, and later in New York. His paintings were exhibited by the Royal Academy (London, England), the Royal Canadian Academy, the Canadian National Exhibition and the Mid-Century Exposition of Canadian Painting. To learn more about Peter Ewart and his life and work, visit the comprehensive website petermaxwellewart.com.

In the late 1940s, Ewart helped to establish and then solidify a memorable advertising campaign for CPR as the “World’s Greatest Travel System.” His corporate commissions included a wide array of organizations and some events, such as Canadian Pacific Airlines, Bank of Montreal, Imperial Oil Company, B.C. Telephone Company, Calgary Winter Olympic Games, Ocean Cement and many more.

Some striking examples of Ewart’s work in the Choko collection include the following posters for CPR.

Moose in water with trees in the distance and a small company crest.

CPR poster “Hunt This Fall—Travel Canadian Pacific” (e000983752-v8) Credit: CRHA/Exporail, Canadian Pacific Railway Company Fonds

Large fish in water and a small company crest.

CPR poster “Full Information from Canadian Pacific—World’s Greatest Travel System” (e000983750-v8) Credit: CRHA/Exporail, Canadian Pacific Railway Company Fonds

The artist Roger Couillard (1910–1999) is also well represented in the Marc Choko collection. Couillard was born in Montréal and studied at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal (School of Fine Arts in Montréal; EBAM). In 1935, the Institute of Foreign Travel organized a poster competition on the theme of “See Europe Next.” One of his posters was chosen and exhibited in Ogilvy’s department store in Montréal. Couillard opened a studio in the Drummond Building on the city’s St. Catherine Street in 1937. He later worked for the Quebec Ministry of Tourism from 1966 to 1975. (There is very little biographical information about Couillard available online. The information listed here was gleaned from a Canadian Design History/Theory course web page at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. For further details about Couillard’s art, see Artnet.)

The following striking examples of Couillard’s work show his versatility. He was able to work for a variety of organizations, such as CPR, CN, Trans-Canada Air Lines and Canada Steamship Lines. The posters capture the essence of what travel represented for voyagers at the time.

An arrow points to the sky and has a telegram on it.

Canadian National Telegraphs, “Telegraph—When Speed Is a Factor” (e010780461-v8)

A plane flying above the message “Costs only 3¢ more to all parts of Canada.”

Trans-Canada Air Lines—Air Mail (e010780458-v8)

These less well-known artists are also represented in the Choko collection:

The collection contains some striking work by unknown artists as well. For example, one notable poster for CN has been reprinted for numerous postcards, yet the artist has not been identified. Can you help to identify this artist?

This is where the Co-Lab challenge comes in! The challenge in Co-Lab is not only to tag and describe the posters, but also to identify some of the artists. Check out the Travel Poster Co-Lab Challenge to see more posters in the Marc Choko collection.


Andrew Elliott is an archivist in the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Norman Kwong: “I always want to be the winner”

By Dalton Campbell

In 1948, Norman Kwong stepped onto the field with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the first time. The 18-year-old rookie, and eventual Hall of Famer, was the league’s first Chinese-Canadian player.

A colour studio photograph of a football player in uniform, holding his helmet in the crook of his left arm.

Norman Kwong (1929–2016), photo from August 1957 (e002505702-v6)

Norman (born Lim Kwong Yew) was born in Calgary in 1929, the fifth of six children. His parents, Charles Lim and Lily Lee, operated a grocery store. They had immigrated to Canada from Guangdong, China, several years before Norman was born. His obituary in the Edmonton Journal stated that in the 1920s, there were fewer than 5,000 Chinese Canadians in Alberta. The vast majority were men, in large part because the racist and discriminatory “head tax” kept most men from bringing their wives and children to Canada. Norman’s mother was one of only five married Chinese women in Calgary. In 1923, the government passed the Chinese Immigration Act (commonly known as the “Chinese Exclusion Act”), effectively ending immigration from China. In 1947, the year before Norman began his professional football career, the Act was lifted, and Chinese Canadians gained the right to vote.

A black-and white-photograph of downtown Calgary, looking down at an intersection, with streetcars, cars and people visible on the streets and sidewalks.

8th Avenue, Calgary, Alberta, 1937 (e010862070-v8)

In 1950, Norman was traded from Calgary to Edmonton, where he spent the rest of his career. He led the CFL in rushing three times (1951, 1955 and 1956), rushed for over 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, and set numerous league and team records. He was a four-time CFL West All-Star (1951, 1953, 1955 and 1956), was twice named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian (1955 and 1956), and received the Lionel Conacher Award as the outstanding Canadian male athlete (1955). In 13 seasons, he played in seven Grey Cup games, winning the championship four times (1948, 1954, 1955 and 1956). He was named to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1969, to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, and as one of the top 50 players in CFL history (by TSN) in 2006.

His Edmonton Journal obituary quotes him as saying, “Sports is life, only it’s distilled into a shorter time. It’s clear-cut. Everything’s out in the open. There’s no way to hide. There’s always a winner and a loser. And I guess that appeals to my competitive nature. Of course, I always want to be the winner.”

Norman retired at the age of 30. He married Mary Lee and entered post-football life, working primarily in commercial real estate. In the 1980s, he returned to sports as an executive with the Calgary Stampeders and was part of the original ownership group of the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League. When the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989, he became one of only five people to have won both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup as a player, manager or executive.

A colour image of a coat of arms. The shield in the centre has three footballs lined up diagonally from the upper left to lower right. There are two dragons, one standing on each side of the shield. The motto reads, “Strive to Excel.”

Coat of Arms of Norman Lim Kwong, courtesy of the Canadian Heraldic Authority (Office of the Secretary to the Governor General). The green and gold are the Edmonton team colours, and the horizontal stripes represent the 10-yard lines from a football field. The horse represents his first team, Calgary. The rose represents his wife, Mary, an avid gardener. The dragons represent his Chinese heritage, and the dragons’ hindquarters are representative of the Albertosaurus dinosaur.

Norman Kwong was the National Chair of the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism (1979–80) and Honorary Chair of the Easter Seals Campaign in Calgary (1982–84). He was named to the Order of Canada (1988) and later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta (2005–10). The Calgary Flames named a bursary for medical students in his honour. He died in Calgary in 2016.

For further research


Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Private Archives Division.