Improving your online experience: What to expect at LAC’s new online home

By Andrea Eidinger

Here at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), we take user feedback very seriously. Over the years, one point has come through loud and clear: our existing website is not meeting the needs of the public. This is why we are proud to announce that we will be launching a completely new website later this summer—library-archives.canada.ca. In this blog post, I will go over what LAC’s new web presence will involve and how these changes will impact your experience.

New website

So, what does this mean in practical terms? We spent a lot of time gathering feedback from members of the public, expert researchers and members of our staff to make our website user-centric. This involved creating several working groups as well as user-testing different possibilities for the new website. We also incorporated the latest research on how people actually use websites.

A major part of this work has been to ensure that all our users can easily find and understand the information on our website. Two very important components of the new website are consistent web navigation and plain language. All our new web content is organized in the same way so that users always know where to go, and the language has been simplified to make it clearer and easy to understand, no matter your skill level.

Finally, our website is dynamic. Our goal was to create a website that lives and breathes. Gone are the days of web pages being posted and then never touched again. Part of renewing our web presence is a commitment to continually update the website with new material and make improvements based on user feedback. We are also taking what is called an “iterative approach.” Essentially, we will start with a scaled-back version of the new website. This will be a launching pad for us. Our work will build on this initial version to develop the new website.

Screenshot of the Rare Book Collection webpage on the LAC website.

An example of the new template for subject guides for the new LAC website.

New structure

One of the biggest changes users will notice is the look and feel of the website. To make the information on the website more easily accessible to the public, we have developed a new structure for the website based on tasks, topics and themes that align with our users’ needs. In other words, we looked closely at how members of the public were using our existing website and what they were looking for (tasks). We then grouped those tasks into broad categories (topics). Finally, we grouped these topics into themes.

These themes are the basis for the website’s new structure and align with the Government of Canada’s . This system provides a more practical, consistent and reliable online experience for people who access Government of Canada digital services.

The first theme, Corporate, contains all of the institutional information relating to LAC. This includes information about our mandates, policies, initiatives and partners. This is where you will also find information about transparency at LAC and be able to read reports and plans about our activities.

The second theme, Services, is self-explanatory. It is where users can access our services or complete a task related to one of our programs. Under this theme, users will find information on how to visit us, how to order material, how to apply for ISBN numbers, how to make an ATIP request, and more. Also under this theme is information about the various services that we offer for gallery, library, archives and museum (GLAM) professionals, publishers, public servants, and Indigenous communities and individuals. This section will also contain information about our different funding programs.

Finally, there is the Collection theme. Our goal in rethinking how we present the Collection theme was to build user autonomy and discovery. This section will be home to all kinds of materials that will help Canadians access the documentary heritage under LAC’s care. In this section, you will find our databases, guides on researching various topics, publications, and podcast episodes, as well as a basic introduction to research. This section also includes many of LAC’s more interactive features, such as Co-Lab, our transcription program.

New navigation

One of the biggest challenge that users faced on our website was finding the information they were looking for. This was a problem particularly for material included under the Collection theme. Often, users would travel down rabbit holes and never be able to find their way back again. We have corrected this problem with a completely new navigational system based on tables. The new navigational table will include all pages listed by topic, sub-topic and type. For example, a web page on the First World War personnel files we have available would be appear as follows:

First World War Personnel Files – Military History – First World War (1914-1919) – subject guide

Even more important: this table will be filterable and searchable. This means users can easily see all of the resources that we have on a particular topic and find their way back without difficulty.

New content

The last exciting change to tell you about is the new content on our website. The existing site is enormous: it consists of 7,000 pages. Much of the information it contains is no longer up to current web and historical standards. We also know that many of the pages are hard to read, especially for beginners, and sometimes confusing. In preparation for our new website, we have systematically reviewed every single one of those 7,000 pages. Anything outdated or no longer up to current standards was archived (and will be available to the public), and the rest of the pages were reworked. All of the information on LAC’s new website is presented in plain language and is therefore clear and easy to understand. We hope this approach will attract an entire new wave of users interested in learning about Canada’s documentary heritage.

Since there is so much content, we focused on preparing material for the three most popular and most consulted topics for the launch: genealogy and family history, Indigenous history, and military history. Please note that, in the weeks and months ahead, we will add more material to these and other topics. We will be updating our material regularly in response to user feedback and to reflect the latest available information.

We’re so excited to show you all of the new material we’ve been working on! So, while this does mean that your URLs will change, we’re hoping that these changes will make your online experience at LAC a more positive one. Since this work is only beginning, the best is yet to come!

We look forward to your feedback. Please send us your comments and thoughts when we go live.


Andrea Eidinger is a team lead in the Online Experience Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Terry Fox– A Legacy of Hope

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Terrance Stanley Fox was born on July 28, 1958, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The family would eventually settle in Port Coquitlam, B.C., in 1968. As he was growing up, his family and friends described him as competitive and driven, someone who displayed a passion for sports and who excelled at both long-distance running and basketball. Little did they know he would go on to become a Canadian hero who would leave the world a better place than he found it.

In 1977, at the age of 18, Terry Fox was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in his right leg. Tragically, this would result in amputation just above the knee. He went on to endure sixteen months of chemotherapy. During those grueling months, he was deeply affected by all the suffering and hardship he experienced and also witnessed in the others around him in the hospital receiving treatment for his horrible disease. At the time, cancer research was still in its infancy, and he knew there was much to be done for those affected by cancer. This led him to come up with the idea to run from coast to coast in what he coined the Marathon of Hope. His goal was to help inform Canadians of the battle cancer patients faced and to raise money for a cure.

A drawn image of a man with a prosthetic leg, running. The words Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox, Marathon de l’espoir and the number 30 are written.

The stamp issued by Canada Post in 1982 to commemorate Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. (s003769k) Copyright: Canada Post Corporation

On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean and officially began the Marathon of Hope. The idea came to him after reading about Dick Traum, an amputee who had run the New York City Marathon. This gave Fox, a dedicated athlete, the idea to run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

What happened over the course of the next 143 days was truly inspirational. At the onset, there was little media attention, but that had changed by the time he reached Ontario. By then, the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division, had caught wind, as had the media and some prominent journalists. Events were held across the province, and saw Fox meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and a host of celebrities. With fierce determination, and averaging 42 kilometres a day, he united and captivated Canadians in a way that had not been seen before and has not been seen since. On September 1, 1980, with the cancer having spread to his lungs, he was forced to end his cross-country journey after completing a remarkable 5,373 kilometres, from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Despite not being able to keep running, on February 1, 1981, Terry Fox realized his goal of raising $1 for every Canadian. On June 28, 1981, after a long and courageous battle, Terry Fox passed away. His legacy is enshrined in the hearts and minds of Canadians. The Marathon of Hope so touched Canadians that many wrote to the federal government speaking of how connected they felt to Fox and asking that the government find ways to keep his memory alive.

His legacy lives on with Canadians today. Since 1980, the annual Terry Fox Run, organized by the Terry Fox Foundation, has raised more than $850 million dollars. It has made an incalculable difference in cancer research in Canada and has given hope to millions affected by the disease. Over the years, Terry Fox’s impact has reached well beyond Canada. It has grown to include millions of participants in more than 60 countries. It is the world’s largest one-day fundraising event for cancer research.

A rectangle frame in which can be seen a photograph of a man placing a ribboned medal on another man, whose head is tilted downwards. In the upper right-hand corner, there is a postal stamp featuring a drawing of a man running and a postmark that reads “Day of issue, Jour d’émission, Ottawa Canada, 82-04-13.”

A postal cover of Terry Fox receiving the Companion of the Order of Canada medal, issued by Canada Post in April 1982. (e001218739) Copyright: Canada Post Corporation

Fox is remembered as a Canadian hero for his efforts. For his dedication to the cause and his bringing together of Canadians, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1980, the youngest person ever to receive this honour. Also in 1980, he received the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete. In both 1980 and 1981, the Canadian Press named him Canadian Newsmaker of the Year. His legacy is honoured all across Canada by way of monuments, statues and sculptures, as well as buildings, roads and parks named in his honour.

Additional resources:


Kelly Anne Griffin is an Archival Assistant with Specialized Media and Description in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

My great-grandfather’s Vimy Memorial visit: fact or fiction?

By Rebecca Murray

As a reference archivist, I absolutely love receiving questions from researchers that tap into their family histories. One such story—very close to home—arrived in my inbox on the morning of April 9, 2020, when my father sent his annual reminder to our extended family of his grandfather’s attendance at the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial in 1936. My father and I had visited this memorial near Arras, France, on a foggy day in November 2010.

A white stone structure with carved human figures against a foggy sky.

A view of the Vimy Memorial near Arras, France, 2010. Photo: Rebecca Murray

As family members chimed in with expressions of interest, I was intrigued—why, out of all of the senior military officials in Canada, did my great-grandfather attend the unveiling? Might I find more information about his visit to the Vimy Memorial in archival records held at Library and Archives Canada?

Before I discuss my search, I should provide some context. My great-grandfather, Thomas Caleb Phillips, was a Captain Engineer in the Royal Canadian Navy during the interwar period. A family anecdote told me that he was at the unveiling of the memorial alongside the “band from Skeena,” one of the ships that he had helped to design.

A screenshot of Collection Search on the Library and Archives Canada website, using the search term “vimy memorial.”

The author’s keyword search in Collection Search

I began with some keyword searches in Collection Search, relying on various combinations including, but not limited to, Vimy unveiling, Vimy memorial, Vimy monument, Vimy Skeena, Vimy Phillips. I did not expect to find any records that included Phillips in the title, but for the sake of a diligent search, I decided to include his name. I was focused on archival records, so I filtered my results by the Archives tab and then by date (1930s) and type of document (textual). When presented with long lists of results, I further filtered by year (1936), since this was the year of the unveiling and the period that I thought most likely to include records relevant to my research.

I then compiled a list of potentially relevant files, most of them from the Department of External Affairs fonds (RG25), with a smattering from other government records and private fonds. Here are three examples:

  • RG25 volume 400 file Ex7/65 part 8 “Vimy Memorial Unveiling Ceremony,” 1936
  • RG25 volume 1778 file 1936-184 parts 1–3 “UNVEILING OF VIMY MEMORIAL,” 1934–38
  • RG24 volume 11907 file AE 30-2-2 [Superintendent, Esquimalt] – HMCS SKEENA – Movements 1932–37

These three files listed above were among 19 textual files that I identified for consultation. My research strategy is usually to identify somewhere between 5 and 10 files for preliminary review, but due to limited time for on-site work with records this past winter, I decided to “go big” before “going home.”

I reviewed all of the files, keeping my eyes open for the name Thomas Caleb Phillips (or T.C. Phillips) and any references to a “band from Skeena.”

And I found nothing!

No reference to Phillips’s attendance.

And no indication that the HMCS SKEENA or an associated musical ensemble was even at the event.

This was, of course, very disappointing. And yet, something similar probably happens every day as researchers wade through pages of textual documents, sift through contact sheets of images, and scour lists, reports and other records to confirm family anecdotes like the one that my father had shared with me.

I am not saying this to be discouraging, nor am I saying that these anecdotes are untrue. But what can be done when information, or lack thereof, contradicts family lore?

I have been working in Reference Services for eight years now; I believe that in that time, I have fine-tuned my research skills, learned how to think outside the box, and can read between the lines when doing archival research. Yet I too have come up against this obstacle.

Archival research, especially with government records, requires a patient, diligent approach. It also takes willingness on the part of researchers to continually learn from their findings and incorporate those learnings back into their research. For example, I chose to focus on textual records because I was not sure whether I would be able to identify T.C. Phillips in a photograph, especially in negative format. I also chose to start with a set of facts that I myself had not double-checked, nor had I conducted secondary research before starting my primary research.

I made presumptions about the period and the type of record to focus on, and my great-grandfather’s relative importance, which led me to a narrow scope for my research. Would I need to backtrack? Expand the scope of my research? Query different fonds? Might I be better served by an item in the published holdings? Or what about a document unrelated to the unveiling of the memorial but relevant to Phillips’s transatlantic crossing? There are a lot of different avenues of research that I could choose to follow, so the next step is to decide on my approach: forward or backward? Published or archival? It is
not easy, it is not simple, and frankly if it were, would it be as much fun?

An expanse of green grass showing a white stone memorial in the distance, a grey stone sign with the engraved word VIMY and maple leaf symbols. The Canadian and French flags are on the right, against a foggy sky.

A view of the Vimy Memorial near Arras, France, 2010. Photo: Rebecca Murray

For me, this search was never about proving my great-grandfather’s attendance—I do not doubt the general accuracy of the family anecdote—but it would have been nice to find a document that told just a bit more. A document that helped make a small but valuable connection across close to 100 years of Canadian history. Something concrete to share when my father tells the story again next year. So I will keep searching!

For more information about the Canadian National Vimy Memorial:


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

From modest beginnings

By Forrest Pass

For an institution that conserves so many treaties, charters and proclamations, Library and Archives Canada’s own founding document is a modest one. On June 20, 1872—150 years ago—the federal cabinet appointed Douglas Brymner as “senior second-class clerk” responsible for a newly approved “Public Archives Service” within the Department of Agriculture. The handwritten order-in-council might look unassuming, but it marked the beginning of a century and a half of collecting and caring for Canadian documentary heritage.

The decision to establish a national archive was the result of a petition circulated in 1871 by the Quebec Literary and Historical Society. The petitioners lamented the “very disadvantageous position” of Canadian historians when it came to accessing historical documents and proposed a national repository. The government agreed in principle, but it could not offer any immediate funding. The project would have to wait until the next fiscal year.

A handwritten page that reads: “On a Memorandum dated 18th June 1872, from the Hon: the Minister of Agriculture, recommending that Mr Douglas Brymner, aged 42 years be added to the Staff of the Department of Agriculture as a Senior Record Class Clerk at a Salary of $1200.00 per annum – and he further recommends that during the present year the Salary of Mr Brymner be paid partly from the vote of Parliament for the collecting of Public Archives to the amount of $600 – as he proposes to employ Mr Brymner on the …”

A certified copy of Order-in-Council 1872-0712, dated June 20, 1872, approving Douglas Brymner’s appointment as a senior second-class clerk, responsible for both the Public Archives and “getting of information on Agriculture” (e011408984-001)

Douglas Brymner, a Montréal journalist, was not an obvious choice to be the country’s first archivist. He had an interest in history but was not active in historical circles. However, Brymner was not hired solely as an archivist; at first, he was to split his time between archival projects and “a preliminary enquiry for the getting of information on Agriculture.” Investigating the state of Canadian crops and livestock was as pressing a task as organizing a national archive, and Brymner, a former farmer as well as a journalist, seemed qualified to do both.

A man with a beard wearing a white shirt and a black jacket.

Douglas Brymner, the first Dominion Archivist, in an oil portrait by his son, artist William Brymner, 1886 (e008299814-v6)

Whatever the intention, Brymner soon found that building the archives was a full-time commitment. As he later recalled, “the work had to be begun ab ovo, not a single document of any description being in the room set apart for the custody of the Archives.” Within weeks, he was on the road, rummaging through courthouse attics, legislature basements and the dusty papers of prominent settler families.

This collection strategy reflected both the new archives’ limited mandate and the new archivist’s own concept of Canadian history. Before 1903, the archives did not collect recent government records. Instead, Brymner looked for documents of the pre-Confederation past, focusing on settler history, especially its political and military aspects. Although his reports indicated a passing interest in “Indian affairs” as an aspect of colonial policy, Brymner’s archives recorded Indigenous experiences or voices only incidentally, if at all.

His colonial focus led the archivist to prioritize the transcription of Canadian historical records in British and French archives, continuing the work that the Quebec Literary and Historical Society had quietly pursued for decades. Brymner travelled to London to investigate relevant collections there, while the Quebec historian Hospice-Anthelme Verreau did the same in Paris.

These were ambitious projects for the archives’ limited resources. In its first year, the new archives’ budget was a meagre $4,000 (about $94,000 in 2022 dollars). For office and storage space, Brymner’s chief, the deputy minister of Agriculture, had to haggle with the Post Office Department for the use of three rooms in the basement of the West Block on Parliament Hill.

A large stone building with towers, behind a dirt road and a wrought-iron and stone fence.

The West Block on Parliament Hill from Wellington Street, as it appeared when the Dominion Archives took up residence in the basement. The northwest wing of the building, including its imposing tower, was not completed until 1879. William Topley Studio photograph, about 1872 (a012386-v6)

Underfunding led to embarrassment. In 1880, Gilbert-Anselme Girouard, a New Brunswick Member of Parliament, suggested that Brymner hire the Acadian historian Pascal Poirier to transcribe Acadian parish records. However, on receiving Brymner’s reply, Girouard regretted that he could not possibly recommend Poirier or any other competent copyist for the paltry amount that the archives were prepared to pay.

More startling was the archives’ willingness to contemplate using what today would be considered child labour to cut costs. In 1878, F.J. Dore, Canadian Agent-General in London, sought permission from the British Museum, on Brymner’s behalf, to transcribe the papers of Sir Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of Quebec during the American Revolutionary War. Dore regretfully informed Brymner that the museum prohibited anyone under the age of 21 from working in its building. “Otherwise,” Dore wrote, “a number of Juvenile copyists might have been got to do the work at a much cheaper rate than the one quoted.” At the time, teenaged copying clerks were common in England and Canada alike. Nevertheless, the idea of using young, inexperienced copyists to save money underlines the early archives’ budgetary woes.

Yet for all these challenges, Brymner accomplished much in his first decade as archivist. Transcriptions from England began to arrive in the early 1880s. By 1884, the archives’ catalogued holdings filled some 1,300 volumes, with thousands of pages awaiting indexing and binding. Transcription projects in European archives would continue well into the 20th century.

A typed and handwritten form, signed by William Blackwood. There is a stamp in the right-hand corner, and writing in red over the left side of the page.

A shipping receipt for “one case of Archives,” likely one of the first batches of Haldimand transcriptions, 1881 (e011408984-001)

Among original documents, Brymner’s “first major archival acquisition” was a large accession of records from the Halifax Citadel. Primarily military in focus, the records touched on many aspects of early colonial history. Brymner acquired these in 1873, after negotiations with the British War Office.

Even before the Halifax records arrived, however, a small donation anticipated the institution’s eventual role as a library as well as an archive. In the summer of 1872, Brymner had visited the Séminaire de Québec, a 200-year-old religious community and college. The Séminaire was not interested in transferring its own rich archives to Ottawa, but Brymner did come away with a small consolation prize: a set of the Séminaire’s student newspaper, L’Abeille (“The Bee”), which occasionally featured transcribed historical documents.

Bound in red leather and buckram, this set of L’Abeille remains in the collection at Library and Archives Canada to this day. Several issues bear the embossed stamp of the “Dominion Archives – Library,” undoubtedly from Brymner’s day. A volume of a revived edition of L’Abeille, published between 1877 and 1881, is inscribed to the “Archives of Canada” by a director of the Séminaire, evidence of Brymner’s ongoing relationship with the donor.

Five books bound in red leather, with white paper flags sticking out of the top. The books are in a wooden book cart.

The Dominion Archives’ set of L’Abeille (“The Bee”). Brymner received the three slim volumes on the left in 1872, his first documented acquisition. The volume on the far right was donated to the archives in 1885 (OCLC 300305563) Photo Credit: Forrest Pass

A typed page of L’Abeille, Vol. 1, Petit Séminaire de Quebec, December 11, 1849, No. 12.

The front page of an 1848 issue of L’Abeille (“The Bee”), featuring a transcribed letter from François de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec, dated 1690 (OCLC 300305563) Photo Credit: Forrest Pass

Douglas Brymner could only have imagined how the collection he started would grow over the following century and a half. Under his successor, Sir Arthur Doughty, the “Dominion Archives” evolved into the Public Archives of Canada, with a broad mandate to collect government records and private manuscripts, as well as maps, artwork and photographs. Before the creation of a national history museum, the Public Archives also collected artifacts and maintained a museum. The National Library of Canada, founded in 1953, complemented the work of the archives by collecting and preserving published documentary heritage. In 2004, the two institutions merged to form Library and Archives Canada. Today, collections at Library and Archives Canada include over 20 million books, 250 linear kilometres of archival records, over 30 million photographs and nearly half a million works of art.

The Library and Archives Canada of today is a far cry from a part-time archivist working in a cramped basement on Parliament Hill, making the most of his modest resources and as busy as, well, a bee!


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

Women in the war: the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the Department of National Defence’s archives

By Rebecca Murray

March 2022 marked the 80th anniversary of the incorporation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) into the Canadian Army. The CWAC was first formed in the summer of 1941 as an auxiliary organization. Like their compatriots in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, CWAC members served across Canada and around the world during the Second World War. You can read more about the formation and history of the CWAC in my colleague’s post.

Building on lessons learned from indexing navy photographs from caption lists (see Women in the War: The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service), I turned my attention to compiling a listing of photographs of servicewomen in army photographs.

I started with the Army Numerical sub-sub-series (1941–46), which consists of 110 photo albums and negatives, arranged in sequential order based on when the photos were registered by Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit staff. This sub-sub-series is probably the best resource at Library and Archives Canada for researchers looking for primary source graphic material of the Canadian Active Service Force (the overseas component of the Canadian Army) for this period.

All 110 of the albums, along with the majority of corresponding caption lists, have been digitized and made available through Collection Search. You will find available caption lists linked in the Record Information – Details tab of the album description, in the Finding aid field. These digitized albums and caption lists allowed me to continue the indexing project during pandemic lockdown.

A screen capture of a record display from Collection Search.

A Collection Search record display with the Finding aid field expanded and circled

Working exclusively with caption lists to index images was a challenge because captions do not always describe or identify all individuals in an image. Yet, when looking directly at an image, one can usually quickly ascertain if there are any servicewomen pictured. Further research, such as consulting a caption list or other collection resource material, can help to identify those individuals or provide additional context.

Here is an example from the ongoing indexing work using digitized album R112 volume 42827 “Army Numerical 22542-23813 – Sicily – Album 62 of 110,” (August 6–20, 1943).

A page from a photo album with 11 black-and-white photographs and handwritten notations.

Page 14 of Album 62 showing Canadian nursing sisters and other medical staff in Sicily in August 1943 (e011213504)

I identified 13 images in the album that include servicewomen and noted these in a table using the negative numbers, the caption provided on the page, the date of the photograph and the photographer’s name.Then I looked at the caption list in Finding aid 24-513P-ARMY to see if it included any additional information about the servicewomen in these specific images. The caption list identifies servicewomen by name for 9 of the 13 images that I identified.

Typewritten negative numbers on the left with corresponding captions, including the names of nursing sisters, on the right.

Captions for photographs 22807 to 22813, from page 8 of Finding aid 24-513P-ARMY

A total of 2,723 photographs of servicewomen have been identified from this sub-sub-series.

The work continues, but in the meantime I invite you to check out the numerical albums yourself. You can filter the list of 110 albums by date or add a keyword (such as United Kingdom or Northwest Europe) to sort by location and review thousands of digitized images from home. If you are interested in helping to identify servicewomen in photographs held at Library and Archives Canada, check out our Co-Lab challenge.


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

“Were my ancestors UEL?”

A group of people, with tents and animals, by a body of water.

Loyalist camp on the banks of the St. Lawrence River (c002001k)

When I started working in the Genealogy section at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), I quickly realized that there was a lot to learn. To be effective at the job, you had to be a jack-of-all-trades in Canadian (and world) history. In just one afternoon, you could be called on to help researchers with wide-ranging topics like the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel, the Chinese Head Tax, Ottawa Valley logging history and New France census records.

One of the first questions I fielded at the Genealogy desk was “Were my ancestors UEL?” I recall that day like it was yesterday. A cold panic came over me. I froze and stared at the researcher like a deer in headlights. I did not recognize the acronym. Luckily, after the researcher patiently spelled it out for me, my training, education and experience kicked in, and I remembered the United Empire Loyalists (UEL) and all the material LAC has about this unique group. Fortunately, that momentary blank did not happen again, as UEL was a very popular research topic.

The term “United Empire Loyalists” refers to the American colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution (1775-1783), and may also have fought for Britain during that conflict. They fled the newly created United States and settled in what are now the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario. Archives in each of these provinces hold records relating to Loyalists, some of which are searchable online.

Two people walking along a dirt road beside a cart, in which one person is sitting.

Black Loyalists in Bedford Basin, near Halifax (c115424k)

Loyalists became an even more popular topic after Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes was published in 2007. Hill’s remarkable novel about a Black Loyalist won many prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2008, CBC’s Canada Reads for 2009 and Radio Canada’s Combat des livres in 2013. It was also released as a TV miniseries in 2015. The novel was named after a ledger preserved at the National Archives in England, which lists the names of approximately 5,000 people, including 2,831 Black men, women and children who travelled — some as free people, and others the slaves or indentured servants of white United Empire Loyalists — in 219 ships sailing from New York between April and November 1783. This ledger is part of a large collection called the British Headquarter Papers, also known as the Carleton Papers. LAC has a microfilm copy of these records and created a database indexing this important ledger.  More information about Black Loyalists, including their names, can be found in the Port Roseway Associates Muster Book of Free Blacks: Settlement of Birchtown 1784 and the Ward Chipman Muster Master’s Office (1777–1785) collections, which can be searched on Collection Search and Ancestors Search.

LAC holds a variety of sources relating to the United Empire Loyalists who settled in Canada after the American Revolution (1775–1783). For more information about Loyalist records held at LAC, visit the Loyalist section of our website.

Additional resources:


Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Anne Heggtveit: A good night’s sleep brings Olympic gold

by Dalton Campbell

In 1960, Anne Heggtveit won Canada’s first Olympic gold in alpine skiing.

She was competing in the VIII Olympic Winter Games, in what is now Palisades Tahoe, California. In her first two races, the women’s giant slalom and the downhill, Anne had finished 12th. She said that the evening before the third race, the slalom, the other racers were out trying to familiarize themselves with the course, but she went back to her room to sleep. She thought that if she looked at the course that evening, she would become nervous and probably not sleep well. Her decision was the right one: she finished first, beating the silver medalist by more than 3 seconds, earning the gold in the slalom.

A young woman wearing a winter coat holding a medal in her left hand.

Anne Heggtveit with her Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing, 1960. The medal, at 55 mm in diameter, was one of the smallest awarded at the Winter Games. By comparison, since 2000, the smallest medal awarded at a Winter Olympics has been 85 mm in diameter. (a209759)

Following her extraordinary success at the Olympic Games, she surprised the sports world when she announced her retirement in March 1960. In an interview with the Globe and Mail later that year, she said that she would miss the sport and her friendships, but that she thought the years of preparation for the 1964 Olympics would be too much of an emotional strain. She discussed the importance of balancing confidence and recklessness when skiing. She also said, “When you stand at the top of that course, you can be scared stiff, you can feel you don’t care what happens to you, or you can suddenly feel the perfect mixture of emotions that can help you make a championship run.”

Her retirement, although a shock, was similar to that of her teammate Lucile Wheeler, who retired in 1958 after winning that season’s world slalom and downhill titles. In an interview in 2019 for The Canadian Encyclopedia, Anne described how Lucile had been a trailblazer, as one of the first Canadians to train in Europe. Anne learned from Lucile at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, where Lucile earned a bronze in the downhill and Anne had three top-30 finishes.

Anne’s 1960 Olympic results also gave her the Fédération internationale de ski (FIS) [International Ski Federation] world gold medal and the gold in Alpine combined. At the time, the FIS did not hold separate championships in Olympic years; instead, it awarded medals based on the Olympic results. This was her second FIS Alpine combined title. She also won in 1959.

In 1960, Anne received the Lou Marsh Award as Canadian athlete of the year and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her win was voted Canadian sports story of the year. Her medal was one of only four medals earned by the Canadian team.

Anne had an early start in skiing. Her father, who immigrated to Canada from Norway as a young man, was Canada’s cross-country ski champion in 1934, but was unable to raise money to go to the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Anne started skiing when she was two years of age and entered her first competition at five. From the age of 8, her goal was to win the Olympic gold medal.

She twice received the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year (1959, 1960), was elected to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1971), and was awarded the Order of Canada (1976). After her retirement, Anne married, started a family and taught skiing, among other pursuits. In 1988, she was an Olympic flag bearer at the Calgary Olympics.

Further research


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

What was really signed on Parliament Hill 40 years ago, on April 17, 1982?

By Natasha Dubois

There are many terms used to describe this particular moment in Canadian history: patriation of the Constitution, signing of the Constitution, signing of the Charter, and more. All of these terms are both correct and incomplete.

Yes, the Canadian Constitution was indeed patriated 40 years ago, in the sense that only Canada has the power to amend it now, not the United Kingdom. It was not signed, however, because it was a legislative act of the British Parliament. British and Canadian laws are proclaimed, not signed, by the head of state. As for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is not even a document, so it cannot be officially signed.

So what document was actually signed on April 17, 1982?

On that date, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Schedule B of the Canada Act 1982, proclaimed by the United Kingdom a few weeks earlier), which gives Canada the power to amend its own constitution and includes, among other things, the wording of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A page of coloured calligraphy. The Canada Coat of Arms and a few signatures are at the top centre, with other signatures at the bottom centre.

Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982. Damaged slightly by rain during the signing ceremony, this version is informally known as the “raindrop” copy (e008125379)

So, then, what is the Charter?

 We often see posters of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the Canada Coat of Arms and the signature of the prime minister, but if this is not an official document, then what is it?

A typewritten page in colour. The Canada Coat of Arms is at the top centre, and a drawing of the main Parliament Building is at the bottom centre. There is a signature in the bottom-right corner.

Poster published by the Government of Canada to promote the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (e010758222_s1-v8)

Contrary to popular belief, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not a document in and of itself. It is actually Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 and was presented in poster format in 1985. This poster was never officially signed or proclaimed, since it is not a complete proclamation or legislative act. It is also missing the Great Seal of Canada, which must be affixed to all proclamations and certain official documents of Canada.

In 1985, after all of the provisions of Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 came into force, the government wanted to promote its contents (that is, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). To do so, it created posters that looked like an official document, with a stamped signature of the prime minister of the day, and distributed more than 250,000 copies to schools, libraries and public places across Canada. Today, the Charter poster can be downloaded (PDF format) or a printed version can be ordered (certificate or poster) from the Canadian Heritage website. Unfortunately, there is no official original version of this poster in the collections held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is available in 29 languages and seems to have served as a model for the creation of several other constitutions and charters of rights throughout the world. It has also inspired hundreds of works in Canadian literature, many of which have been acquired by LAC through legal deposit: legal treatises, theses and dissertations, professional journal articles, popular works and even children’s literature.

So, what was signed on April 17, 1982?

On March 29, 1982, the United Kingdom proclaimed the Canada Act 1982, Schedule B of which is the Constitution Act, 1982, which applies only to Canada. On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II signed the proclamation bringing the Constitution Act, 1982 into force for Canada.

According to British and Canadian rules, before legislation comes into force, it must go through a number of steps. First, the bill must be introduced in both chambers of Parliament, where it is discussed and debated before being passed by each chamber. The act must then be proclaimed by the head of state, that is, through royal assent (the Queen’s or the Governor General’s signature). Following the adoption of the Canada Act 1982, the Government of Canada itself drafted the text for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982, which the Queen agreed to sign in Ottawa on April 17, 1982. As with all previous Canadian proclamations, the other signatories were the Registrar General of Canada and the Attorney General of Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada also signed the 1982 proclamation, although this was not essential for the document to be considered official.

In fact, the signing ceremony of April 17, 1982, was only the public display of the real political event occurring at the time: Canada’s acquisition of the last political power that it needed to become a truly sovereign state. Until then, only the British Parliament had the power to amend Canada’s Constitution, under the British North America Act of 1867.

In enacting the Canada Act 1982, the United Kingdom agreed that no subsequent act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom would have effect in Canada. This act was also the only British law to be written in both English and French since the Middle Ages.

The Constitution Act, 1982 (Schedule B of the Canada Act 1982) affirms the primacy of the Canadian Constitution over any other law and defines what constitutes the Canadian Constitution (Part VII). This act also sets out the procedures for amending the Canadian Constitution (Part IV), and contains sections on the rights of Indigenous peoples (Part II) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Part I).

This is why the Charter is said to be enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. The Charter cannot be amended without amending the Constitution, because the Constitution Act, 1982 is an integral part of the Canadian Constitution (Part VII). The constitutional amendment procedures (Part V) would have to be used. This also explains why the Charter takes precedence over all other legislation in the country, because it is one of the components of the Constitution.

In conclusion, there is no single document that can be called the “Charter.” Multiple reproductions of the text that makes up the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are available free of charge. Even though LAC does not have the original poster of the Charter, it does preserve in its collections parchment facsimiles of all six of Canada’s constitutional documents: the Royal Proclamation (1763), the Quebec Act (1774), the Constitution Act (1791), the Act of Union (1840), the British North America Act (1867) and the Canada Act 1982. This collection of parchment copies of the documents was given to Canada by the United Kingdom after the signing of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982. Approximately 40 pages long, the Canada Act 1982 comes closest to being the original version of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In some ways, this constitutional text can be considered to be our national copy of the Charter.

Related resources


Natasha Dubois is an archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

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.