Recent documents digitized through the DigiLab

By Karine Gélinas

Did you know that in Canada, books for visually impaired readers can be sent through the mail for free? This has been the case for more than 100 years. That is one of the many fascinating things I have learned while helping a researcher in the DigiLab.

One of the projects hosted in the DigiLab last year was with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). They are celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2018, and to mark it they created the online exhibition, That All May Read. Below you’ll find information about some of the textual material they digitized that can now be viewed through LAC’s Archives Search.

For example, these pages were extracted from a pamphlet presenting the Readophone, an invention by Edward R. Harris, a Hollywood sound engineer.

An open pamphlet with the left page showing two images and the right page having typewritten text. The image at the top shows an opened square box containing a turntable, with knobs on the front of the box for operating it. The image at the bottom shows the turntable with its cover on, which looks like a large book.

Pages from a pamphlet about the Readophone, January 1935 (e999901526-u)

Technology facilitates the way people with impaired vision access books. Optelec readers were recently installed in our consultation rooms at 395 Wellington Street. These tools can convert printed text into speech, magnify text, and change the background colour to facilitate reading on the screen.

Colour photo of an assistive device having a moving tray with control buttons and an opened book laying on it. The monitor enlarges and displays the book text using a large black font on a yellow background.

Caption: Optelec reader located at 395 Wellington Street.

Textual material from the CNIB fonds

Related links

Interested in the DigiLab?

If you have an idea for a project, please email the DigiLab with an overview of your project, the complete reference of the material you would like to digitize, and any extra information you know about the collection. Material must be free from restrictions and copyright.

After we verify the condition of the material to ensure it can be digitized safely, we’ll plan time for you in the DigiLab. We’ll provide training on handling the material and using the equipment, and you’ll digitize and capture simple metadata.

We hope to hear from you soon!


Karine Gélinas is a project manager in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of July 2018

As of today, 608,399 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 10449 and last name Wilson.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Images of Breakfast now on Flickr

Breakfast. The first meal of the day. And most important one, according to many people, though some disagree.

A colour painting of a group of families sitting in a circle ready to start breakfast at sunrise.

Breakfast at sunrise [MIKAN 2833887]

Europeans during the medieval era did not usually eat breakfast at all. Eating too soon was considered a starting point for gluttony, and an affront to the religious beliefs of the time. However, during the 15th and 16th centuries, views started to change. Different foods were imported from around the world, such as tea, coffee and chocolate, and they became popular as morning foods. In addition, a more regimented workday for an expanding labour force reinforced the need for a meal to begin the day.

A black-and-white photograph of three men starting an outdoor breakfast. The men are positioned around a wooden crate with food on top of it.

L. Belanger, A.A. Cole and L.H. Cole having breakfast at Moose River Crossing, Ontario [MIKAN 3372757]

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Canada developed its own customs around breakfast. Traditional breakfast foods include pork sausages, bacon, fried potatoes, eggs, toast, cereal, oatmeal, pancakes and maple syrup. And don’t forget coffee and tea! Recent immigration has introduced even more types of breakfast foods from non-European countries, which add to our growing culinary experiences.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and her two young sons sitting at a table eating breakfast.

Mrs. Jack Wright and her two sons Ralph and David eating breakfast, Toronto, Ontario [MIKAN 3196956]

A black-and-white photograph of a standing woman pouring a cup of coffee for another woman sitting at a table eating breakfast.

A maid serves breakfast to a female munitions worker in a dining room [MIKAN 3195702]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Imagining Canada – Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Michael Kent

I had the great pleasure recently of being one of the librarians responsible for selecting an item for Premiere, the new acquisitions exhibition at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This opportunity allowed me to look back and reflect upon the acquisitions work I have done for LAC, specifically in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection of rare Judaica, which I curate. Working with this collection, I am immensely privileged to be able to tell the story of Canada’s Jewish community through its published heritage. Much of my selection work focuses on books printed in Canada. However, sometimes I am able to look farther back in time and tell the story of how the Jewish community came to Canada.

One example of looking farther back is my selection for the Premiere exhibition of the Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah, published circa 1806. It is the first book in Hebrew to tell the story of the discovery of the Americas. The book, whose title translates as “the discovery of the New World,” is an item that I was especially pleased to be able to add to the Jacob M. Lowy Collection.

A colour photograph of an open book with Hebrew text and a map of the world.

The Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah opened to the introductory section, which includes a map of the Americas (AMICUS 44961986)

The original German work Die Entdeckung von Amerika, by Joachim Heinrich Campe, was a book for children. The Hebrew translator, Moses Frankfurt Mendelsohn, adapted it by changing the style from a dialogue between a father and his children to a straightforward historical narrative. He was motivated to produce this book because of the widespread interest in Columbus among European Jews at the time. There was serious speculation that the Italian explorer was in fact Jewish.

Originally produced because of interest in Columbus, the book was also created during an important period for what would later become the Jewish community in Canada. The 1800s brought many changes to the lives of European Jews. Emancipation, pogroms and opportunities for emigration to North America would profoundly reshape the community. These changes helped give birth to a Canadian Jewish community.

When I open this book, I do not just see a book about Columbus, I see a work that is probably the first exposure that many Jews in Europe would have had to information about the Americas. When I examine the map included in the book, I see what was probably the first representation for many Jews of the lands that would become Canada. In short, I consider this book to be an important step in raising awareness about the Americas and a tool in allowing this community to imagine a new life in Canada.

Canada is a country made up of diverse immigrant communities. In acquiring the Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah, I am honoured to help tell the story of one of these communities, and of an early step in that community’s journey of becoming Canadian and building the Canada we know today.


Michael Kent is Curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of the Port of Montreal now on Flickr

A colour print of Montréal harbour and a moored sailing ship having its cargo unloaded onto the wharf. There is a paddleboat to the ship’s port side, and two men paddling a canoe across its bow.

View of the harbour, Montréal, Quebec [MIKAN 2837612]

From the establishment of Montreal as a city in 1642, until the arrival of steam-powered ships in the early part of the 19th century, the Port of Montreal was mostly used by trappers throughout the fur trade and then by French and English sailing vessels bringing supplies to their colony. However, with the appearance of steam-powered ships and the resulting opening of many new and international trading routes, the Port of Montreal would leave behind its humble beginnings and enter into a new period of growth and expansion.

A black-and-white photograph of moored sailing cargo ships. Various types of cargo are stacked on the wharf and transported away by horse-drawn wagons.

Busy Montréal harbour, Quebec [MIKAN 3382335]

A black-and-white photograph of a ship moored to the dock. Four men are working from ladders hanging off the bow.

Canada Atlantic Railway barges in Montréal harbour, Quebec [MIKAN 3411873]

A black-and-white photograph of three moored ships. A port authority building is in the background. Along the wharf, there is a large unloading structure with hoists and scaffolding.

Shipping in harbour, Montréal, Quebec [MIKAN 3349054]

Visit the Flickr album now!

The Port of Montreal

From the establishment of Montreal as a city in 1642, until the arrival of steam-powered ships in the early part of the 19th century, the Port of Montreal was mostly used by trappers throughout the fur trade and then by French and English sailing vessels bringing supplies to their colony. However, with the appearance of steam-powered ships and the resulting opening of many new and international trading routes, the Port of Montreal would leave behind its humble beginnings and enter into a new period of growth and expansion.

An oil painting of a harbour and waterfront, with a green island visible on the right.

Montreal Harbour, painted by Andrew Morris in 1847, e008300982

Throughout the mid to late 1800s, the Port of Montreal saw countless changes and improvements, starting in 1830 with the establishment of the first Harbour Commission. By 1832, almost three-quarters of a mile of docks had been constructed, and by 1854, the navigation channel between Montreal and Quebec City had been successfully dredged to a depth of 16 feet. Other improvements during this time frame include the movement of goods from the port by train, the installation of electric lights, a further dredging of the channel to 25 feet, as well as the introduction of regular steamship service between the Port of Montreal and Liverpool.

The Port was further enhanced during the early part of the 20th century. The construction of grain elevators began in 1902 and transit sheds in 1908. And by 1910, the deepening of the channel between Montreal and Quebec City to 35 feet was well under way.

A black-and-white photograph of a wharf lined with various types of cargo with a large neo-classical building and a church along the shoreline.

View of the Bonsecours market, wharves and church, photograph by Alexander Henderson, ca. 1875 (c007943)

Because of the harsh Canadian winter, the Port of Montreal was open only seven months of the year up until the early 1960s. However, in 1962, the National Harbours Board (which had become responsible for the Port of Montreal after the demise of the Harbour Commission) introduced icebreakers to the waterway between Montreal and Quebec City. By 1964, the Port of Montreal was open all year long.

A watercolour of a huge ice buildup along the port shoreline of a city.

“Breaking up of the ice in the St. Lawrence at Montreal,” painted by George Henry Andrews in 1864 (e000996176)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many items that chronicle the evolution of the Port of Montreal. The earliest item is a photograph taken in 1870 by Alexander Henderson depicting the steamship S.S. Quebec docked at Montreal harbour with horse-drawn carts on the shore in the foreground. There are also photographs of the Port by William Topley, Henry Joseph Woodside and Hayward Studios. LAC also has a beautiful oil painting completed in 1847 by Andrew Morris depicting the harbour and waterfront of Montreal from the unusual vantage point of Montreal’s shore across from St. Helen’s Island.

A black-and-white photograph of a busy harbour front, showing a street of buildings and boat-lined piers.

View of Montreal Harbour, photograph by William Topley, September 1902 (a201779)

A black-and-white photograph of railway lines running along a ship-lined harbour front.

Wharf and harbour, undated photograph by William Topley (a008893)

Arthur D’Orr LePan, Camp Kosciuszko and the Polish Army in France

By Catherine Butler

Poland on the eve of war

On the eve of the First World War, an independent Poland had been absent from the European map for nearly 120 years. In the late 18th century, Poland was partitioned by Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia; Prussia would eventually become part of a unified Germany. Polish lands were carved up and absorbed, and Polish people were scattered among three powerful empires.

In the century following the partitions and the profound social and political transformations they precipitated, millions of Poles emigrated to North America. At the outbreak of the First World War, several hundred thousand Poles were living in Canada, while nearly four million were living in the United States. With such a large diaspora, countless Polish Americans and Polish Canadians were eager to fight on the Allied side with the aim of restoring their homeland.

After a series of meetings between the representatives of Sir Robert Borden’s government and Polish delegations from the U.S., the Canadian government, with the approval of Britain, agreed to provide training to Polish officers living in North America. These officers, recruited from Canada and the U.S., would be sent to fight for the Polish Army in France, which ultimately financed their training. Although initial training efforts started in early 1917, a designated Polish Army camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario opened in September 1917. Colonel Arthur D’Orr LePan was appointed as Commandant to the camp, a facility that came to be known as Camp Kosciuszko.

A black-and-white photograph showing a field with a group of officers following their commander in the foreground, and officers standing at attention in a line in the background

Recruits at the Polish military camp, Niagara, Ontario, November 8, 1917 (a071288)

The diaries of Colonel LePan

Colonel A.D. LePan was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1885 and was educated at the University of Toronto. He served in the Canadian Army from 1915 to 1919, including as Commandant until the camp closed in March 1919. His involvement in training Polish officers began in January 1917 with the arrival of 23 American volunteers at the School of Infantry in Toronto. As Commandant, Colonel LePan saw over 20,000 recruits from the U.S. and Canada pass through Camp Kosciuszko en route to France between September 1917 and March 1919.

Many of Colonel LePan’s activities at Camp Kosciuszko are described in diaries he kept during his time as Camp Commandant. These diaries were donated to Library and Archives Canada by his son, Douglas V. LePan, in 1977. Colonel LePan’s writings offer interesting insights into a fascinating episode of Canadian history.

In addition to lists of camp personnel, the diaries contain information about training, troop movements, lists of deaths in France, along with cause and location, and a plan of grave plots of Polish soldiers at the St. Vincent de Paul churchyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Colonel LePan also kept a copy of the telegram authorizing the establishment of the Polish camp.

Also included in these papers are remarks given in March 1919 by Colonel LePan during a banquet in Buffalo, New York, addressing the closing of the camp. In his speech, he spoke about how crucial international co-operation between France, Canada, the U.S. and the Polish Military Commission was in making the camp a success and, most importantly, in re-establishing an independent Polish state.

“One can quite readily conceive that the camp presented interesting international associations … It was no unusual sight to have gatherings of officers at which the countries of Poland, France, United States and Canada were represented and on each occasion was found officers who from their environment and education had different ideas and ideals, all cooperating with the one great ideal of making this new creation as big a factor as possible, not only in the creation of a national Poland, but as an agency for freeing the world from an oppression that not only Poles had heard of as we have on this continent, but also that they had felt in body and soul.”

Find out more

Until November 1918, the Niagara Historical Society and Museum will be presenting an exhibition entitled Camp Kosciuszko: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917–1919. The aim of the exhibition, which began in November 2017, is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Camp Kosciuszko. Thousands of Polish Canadians and Polish Americans trained there before being sent to Europe to fight for the liberation of their homeland after 123 years of occupation.


Catherine Butler is a Reference Archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

The Peace Tower carillon

By Rebecca Murray

Within the sandstone walls of one of Canada’s most iconic buildings, the Centre Block—with its distinctive Peace Tower—on Parliament Hill, there are cultural and architectural treasures that reflect our country’s history and people. One of these treasures is the carillon. According to the Parliament of Canada website, a carillon is a musical instrument “of at least 23 bells that are played from a keyboard-pedal board that permits infinite control of expression through variations of the touch.”

Following a lengthy commissioning and procurement process, the Peace Tower carillon was installed and inaugurated in 1927. This event was part of the 60th anniversary of Confederation, and the ceremony was the first of its kind to be broadcast across Canada, on radio, so that all Canadians could listen to the address and the bells.

If you’re interested in hearing the address and the bells yourself, please consult our film, video and sound database, and search with keyword Carillon, media type Sound and date 1927-07-01. Among the results is ISN 99534 “[Diamond Jubilee of Canadian Confederation: Commemoration Ceremony]”; this is described as including “O Canada and God Save the King played on the Carillon, Victory Tower, Ottawa by Percival Price (Carillonneur), and the message of the Carillon by the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada.”

Black-and-white photograph of the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, speaking at the dedication of the Peace Tower carillon.

The Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King delivering the inaugural address at the dedication of the Peace Tower carillon. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-027555

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds extensive documentation about the carillon, from the “Tender for Tower Clock and Bells by Gillett & Johnson” dated November 27, 1924 (RG11, vol. 2683, file 1575-96D) to ornate invitations and programs for the inauguration (RG11, vol. 2687, file 1575-96, part HA); the latter is shown below.

Image from the program for the inauguration of the Peace Tower carillon, July 1, 1927.

Event program for the inauguration of the Peace Tower carillon, July 1, 1927 (e011213394)

LAC holdings also include programs for the carillon’s well-known summer concert series. The program booklet for the summer of 1939 has been digitized (RG11, vol. 2688, file 1575-96, part K) and is shown below.

A collage of two images, one showing the blue cover of a program and the other the inside of the typed program.

Cover of a summer program of the Peace Tower carillon concerts as well as a an example of a program for a day, dated 1939 (e011213393)

A wide variety of music was played on the carillon for listeners on Parliament Hill, including hymns, folk songs, modern music, patriotic airs and popular songs. You can see today’s program online (formal recitals are given most weekdays). Why not plan a visit to hear the noon concert if you’re in the National Capital Region?

If you’re interested in other historical summer programs, take a look at RG11, vol. 2688, file 1575-K for the year 1938, and RG11, vol. 2688, file 1575-L for the years 1940, 1941 and 1942.

LAC also holds the private fonds of the first Dominion Carillonneur, Percival Price (MUS 133). The fonds includes sound recordings, textual records and photographs. Two digitized finding aids are available through the fonds-level description to provide access to file-level descriptions for the items. There are no access restrictions on the material in this fonds.

The carillon is one of the many treasures on Parliament Hill. I hope you have the opportunity to explore some of them during your summertime travels. If you’re not coming to Ottawa this summer, you could take a tour of your local legislative assembly and learn about the traditions and treasures of your home province!


Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division.

Nursing Sisters who died in service during the First World War, Part 2

By Alex Comber

Canada’s nursing sisters were required to perform their duties in unpleasant and hazardous surroundings. Approximately 40 nurses who were members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) died during the First World War as a result of illnesses acquired in active service. Others died after the Armistice from conditions attributable to this service. However, what was more shocking to Canadians were the 21 deaths of nurses from direct enemy action. This post briefly describes these events, and helps readers explore selected documents about military nurses.

A black-and-white photograph of a funeral procession of soldiers and nursing sisters, accompanying a wheeled stretcher carrier with a flag-draped casket on it, passing through a large cemetery of temporary grave crosses.

Funeral of Nursing Sister G.M.M. Wake, who died of wounds received in a German air raid on the hospital where she worked. PA- 002562 (a002562)

Nursing sisters served in Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) hospitals, Casualty Clearing Stations, and other facilities that were supposed to be out of the range of enemy artillery. However, accurate long-range artillery and new technologies, such as aerial and submarine warfare, brought these women into direct contact with the enemy. In several events starting in May 1918, nurses were killed in the line of duty because of enemy attacks. In Canada, press reports seized on the propaganda potential of these terrible events, to help bolster support for the war effort and promote new recruitment campaigns.

A colour poster depicting a soldier in service dress with “Canada” shoulder titles, holding an unconscious nursing sister in the water. She is wearing an apron with a large red cross emblazoned on it. He is shaking his fist in anger at a German submarine, with German sailors who appear to be shooting in other directions. A life ring marked “Llandovery Castle” floats nearby. The words “VICTORY BONDS WILL HELP STOP THIS” are written at the top, and at the bottom, “KULTUR VS. HUMANITY.”

Victory Bonds poster depicting a dramatic interpretation of the aftermath of the sinking of the Llandovery Castle (e010697267)

During May 1918, two Canadian hospitals were bombed by German aircraft. Katherine Macdonald, from Brantford, Ontario, became the first Canadian nursing sister killed by enemy action in the Great War, when No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, located at Étaples, France, was bombed by German aircraft on May 19, 1918. Two of her wounded colleagues died soon afterwards.

A black-and-white photograph of nursing sisters and uniformed soldiers cleaning up the debris from a hospital ward that has been damaged.

Aftermath of the bombing of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, at Étaples, France, which resulted in the death of three Canadian nursing sisters. PA-003747 (a003747)

Official photographers captured scenes of the devastation and somber funeral processions for the nurses and the other medical staff and patients killed in the raids. At the end of the month, No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens, France, was also bombed. Three more nursing sisters died. Two of them, Nurses Agnes MacPherson and Eden Pringle were killed, along with doctors, medical orderlies and a patient during surgery.

A black-and-white photograph of uniformed soldiers working amidst the rubble of a large, heavily damaged brick building that has been bombed.

Aftermath of the bombing of No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens, France, which killed three Canadian nursing sisters. PA-003746 (a003746)

Less than a month later, on June 27, off the southern coast of Ireland, the German submarine U-86 torpedoed the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle on its return to England with only medical personnel aboard. The former passenger liner was steaming along at night, with special lighting illuminating its distinctive white hull and large red crosses. This clearly identified it as a hospital ship and a forbidden target for any belligerent. Once hit, the ship listed severely, hampering efforts to launch lifeboats. Many of the nurses had been asleep, and now struggled to evacuate the sinking ship. The entire group of nursing sisters boarded a lifeboat, with Sergeant Arthur Knight, CAMC. Tragically, the boat was swamped by suction caused by the violence of the ship’s sinking. Only Knight survived to struggle into another boat.

A black-and-white photograph of a patient in convalescent uniform reclining in a hospital bed.

Sergeant A. Knight, Canadian Army Medical Corps, recovers in hospital after the sinking of the HMHS Llandovery Castle. PA-007471 (a007471)

These terrible events were compounded by the actions of the submarine’s crew. Survivors testified that the submarine ran down and fired on lifeboats, killing more crew and medical staff. Only one boat escaped the night’s events. The bodies of the 14 nursing sisters were not recovered, and today these brave women are commemorated on the Halifax Memorial. Documents in their service files reveal that nurses like Christina Campbell, from Victoria, British Columbia, were experienced nurses who had also been treated for conditions such as neurasthenia (“Shell Shock”), nervous debility, insomnia, and general exhaustion from service near the Front. Today, cemeteries and monuments overseas, memorials across Canada, and entries in the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower in Ottawa pay tribute to First World War nurses who died in the service of Canada, tending to the wounded.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a nursing sister, in her uniform and hat, leaning against a table.

Nursing Sister Christina Campbell, who, along with the entire nursing staff, perished during the torpedoing of the Llandovery Castle, June 27, 1918 (a008112)

Research the lives of Canadian First World War Nursing Sisters:

With the digitization of the CEF service files, visitors to the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website can quickly and easily gain access to a wealth of genealogical and historical information, and form their own impressions of the First World War service of these women, and all members of the CEF. Please explore the links below for service files recently made accessible online. When they exist, the digitized Circumstances of Death registers have been linked.

Roll of Honour: CAMC Nursing Sisters who died from enemy actions during the First World War:

No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France, bombed May 19, 1918

No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Doullens, France, bombed May 30, 1918

His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Llandovery Castle, sunk June 27, 1918

Royal Mail Steamer Leinster, sunk October 10, 1918

  • NS Henrietta Mellett from London, Ontario, died at sea during the sinking of RMS Leinster, on October 10, 1918, when she was returning from leave to service with 15th Canadian General Hospital. An experienced military nurse, she had already served with the Red Cross in France, Egypt and England. She perished with more than 500 other passengers, when the Leinster was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-123 in the Irish Sea.

Related resources

In April 2018, Library and Archives Canada launched Co-Lab, a new collaboration tool, for the public to contribute by transcribing, tagging and interacting with historical records. Now we are adding a new challenge: showcasing the personal files of some of Canada’s nursing sisters who served in the First World War. You can get started right away!


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

A Unique Example of Canadian Research: HMCS Bras d’Or

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Marcelle Cinq-Mars

What is the connection between a digital watch, a GPS in a car, a microwave oven in a kitchen, and an epinephrine auto-injector for allergic reactions? Hint: It is the same as the link between radar, night vision goggles and the Internet. They are all technological developments from scientific research for military purposes.

Military-related scientific research has led to countless technological developments. And it goes back a long time!

In Canada, the Defence Research Board (DRB) was created in 1947; its mandate concerned military research in areas of Canadian expertise such as the Arctic, ballistics and biochemical warfare. Over the years, the DRB developed Canada’s first (and only) air-to-air missile, called the Velvet Glove. The DRB was also directly involved in the development of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, an extensive network of radar stations to detect enemies in Canadian airspace.

A colour photograph of the red nose cone of a rocket next to two men working on the instruments that will go inside it.

Defence Research Board technicians adjust an antenna in a Javelin rocket in 1961 (e010975999)

At the height of the Cold War, the detection of enemies was also needed in the oceans. Submarines posed a real threat there, especially when they became armed with nuclear warheads. Accordingly, DRB scientists started working on a type of boat designed specifically to hunt enemy submarines. What they developed was a hydrofoil.

Hydrofoil technology dates back to the early 1900s. The famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell even made prototypes of them, which he tested on Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia. Wing-like structures called “foils” are mounted under a vessel and lift it out of the water as the speed increases. As a result, water friction on the hull is reduced, and the vessel can reach impressive speeds.

In the 1960s, Marine Industries Limited in Sorel, Quebec, started building a hydrofoil for the Royal Canadian Navy. The hull was made of aluminum, the foils of steel. This special boat had features and technologies from both aeronautics and nautical science, so the captain had to be both an aircraft pilot and a naval captain.

The new vessel was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on July 12, 1968, as HMCS Bras d’Or. Sea trials began off Halifax in April 1969. During the trials, the vessel reached an impressive speed of 63 knots (117 km/h), a record speed for a warship at the time.

A colour photograph of a hydrofoil in motion.

HMCS Bras d’Or, Royal Canadian Navy, demonstrates its hydrofoil system on February 18, 1970 (e011154076)

HMCS Bras d’Or saw service for a short time only. On November 2, 1971, the Government of Canada ended the hydrofoil program. Canada’s priority shifted from anti-submarine warfare to the protection of sovereignty. The Bras d’Or was donated to the Musée maritime du Québec in L’Islet-sur-Mer, where it remains on display.

Related resources


Marcelle Cinq-Mars is a senior military archivist.