Etiquette, courtesy, good manners and polite society: Retrospective publications at Library and Archives Canada

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

No one who searches through the LAC collection leaves empty-handed. Thirsty for knowledge, LAC’s etiquette collection attracted my attention. My excitement was so strong that I prepared as though I was setting out on a long journey to a destination I like to call “etiquette books published in Canada before 1953.”

We carry the genes of our ancestors with us and we enjoy the benefits of the trails they blazed for us by removing the obstacles that made their daily lives difficult. What’s more, we inherited their know-how and their courtesy.

In fact, etiquette seems like a way to build an orderly, caring and cared-for society. Codes of etiquette allow people to gather for events, joyful or sad, and spend time together in harmony with everyone somehow following the same set of rules. Contact and coexistence with peoples of different cultures have also influenced etiquette on all sides. As such, etiquette textbooks and schools specializing in this area gradually expanded their field of expertise as encounters between different civilizations grew.

The etiquette collection is rich and highly diverse. Far from being outdated, it holds promising interest for many. The works in the collection offer writers or filmmakers possible inspiration for scripts set in an era of interest. For some comedians, retrospective publications provide fodder for skits highlighting the contrast between the customs of modern times and yesteryear. For them, this documentation is vital! Even students researching lifestyles in different eras will find what they are looking for.

Black-and-white photo of people in formal attire seated around a long oval table. The table features place settings and decorative centrepieces.

A group of people demonstrating their good manners (a029856)

What it is exactly?

The terms etiquette and manners differ in that the etiquette is defined as a series of codes that create the conditions for good manners. Etiquette is quite exhaustive and covers all aspects of human life. It applies to behaviours, gestures and expressions both spoken and unspoken.

Many books have been written about etiquette, although the word may not necessarily appear on the title pages. Nevertheless, the following terms or keywords allude to the model practices expected in polite society: courtesy; the art of living; the art of dressing; good manners; the art of presentation; the art of correspondence; home economics; table manners; and politeness in the areas of transportation, leisure, travel and more.

Scope

Good manners are not the focus of publications alone. The once numerous specialized schools often catered to wealthy, elite young women. Finishing schools provided a full range of etiquette training.

Some careers also require employees to graduate from specialized schools, such as schools of protocol or butler schools.

The LAC collection

Vintage publications on etiquette are a treasure trove of information. Among other things, they teach us about the transformations that our society has witnessed. For example, a textbook on good conduct for teenagers informs us about what parents, teachers and society as a whole expected of young people of their generation. Some books describe dress codes. For example, at one time, women were not supposed to go out without a hat, especially to church. Men, however, had to remove their hats in church.

Developments in etiquette

Over time, certain social practices or rules change or fall by the wayside to meet new needs or to adapt to new realities. Etiquette has also adapted to changes in the work world, such as industrialization and the arrival of the female workforce. As communication and correspondence tools evolved, codes of conduct emerged for typed correspondence, the art of speaking by telephone and more.

Sociologists interested in the evolution of society, customs, relationships between men and women, or the role of young people and children in the family are sure to find material for their research. Moreover, when historians describe a major historical figure, they highlight the person’s habits, style of dress, achievements, and the etiquette of the time. Some well-known individuals led a morally questionable existence, while others were more virtuous. Sometimes, what was once considered immoral is no longer so.

Black-and-white photo of a woman setting the kitchen table.

Woman setting the table, 1945 (e010862357)

Some finds in the collection

Mille questions d’étiquette discutées, résolues et classées. M. Sauvalle. Montréal: Éditions Beauchemin, 1907. OCLC 300069021

This encyclopedic-style book covers a range of topics and provides a list of questions and answers about good manners in different situations.

For example, concerning illness:

[Translation] Question—What is the correct way to show concern for close friends who are ill with a mild but contagious sickness?

Answer—Many people with a mild but contagious sickness close their door to their good friends. [In this way,] friends are not exposed to catching the sickness: in this case, their friends should be thoughtful enough to slip their card under the door or in the box […]

Other handbooks are more moralistic.

Traits caractéristiques d’une mauvaise éducation, ou actions et discours contraires à la politesse, et désignés comme tels par les moralistes tant anciens que modernes. L. Gaultier. Quebec: Librairie de W. Cowan et fils, 1839. OCLC 49023922

This collection contains 555 examples of character traits that are contrary to politeness and good manners, and explains what a sensible young person should not do (in terms of clothing, cleanliness, conversations and contact with others).

Finally, people say that some fashions and lifestyles never fade. I like to say that good ideas are timeless. The following publication discusses the art of receiving guests.

Manuel de l’étiquette courante parmi la bonne société canadienne-française. Evelyn Bolduc. [Ottawa]: [1937?]. OCLC 1015541211

[Translation] For the hostess expecting dinner guests […]

We will now turn our attention to the menu that the hostess will have created based on locally available resources and the season. In November, for example, game will be easier to find than it would be in April; grapes are tastier and better than strawberries; and oysters are abundant.

During this season, the following dishes might be served: oysters, consommé, fish (not a crustacean since oysters are already on the menu), a first course, a roast; hopefully not a roast of chicken or turkey every time; salad, a dessert of fruit ice cream or jelly. Coffee is usually served in the living room.

Eating local and seasonal products: a lifestyle choice that nutritionists recommend even today! It also conforms to our responsible consumption principles.

The following pre-1953 publications on etiquette are also in the LAC collection:

How to Arrange a Public Dinner. Walter Gardner Frisby. Toronto, Ryerson Press [1938]. Series: The New Dominion Books, [no. 6]. OCLC 42308995

Etiquette in Canada: The Blue Book of Canadian Social Usage. Gertrude Pringle. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1932. OCLC 5322767

Manners. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1914. OCLC: 222701034

Good Table Manners. Narcissa Burwell. [Toronto: Reader Mail, Ltd., 193-?]. Series: Home Service Booklets, 118. OCLC 1007367401

Every publication is unique and the information they contain is invaluable. Some stylists and fashion designers, vintage and contemporary, say they found their niche through the inspiration they discovered in books from a bygone era or in the styles and manners of their grandparents. The same applies to various other occupations.

In any case, the publications discussed in this article are somehow irresistible. They are absolute page-turners!


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a retrospective acquisitions librarian with the acquisitions team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

An “Epidemic” of Fake News a Century Ago

By Forrest Pass

Vaccines work. Yet vaccination opponents have long questioned their effectiveness, in spite of overwhelming evidence. A century-old pamphlet in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection illustrates how unreliable sources, deliberate misinformation and outrageous conspiracy theories have been used to promote vaccine hesitancy. Reading historical anti-vaccination propaganda with a critical eye can serve as an “inoculation” against misinformation today.

In 1920 as in 2021, epidemic disease was very much on Canadians’ minds. As health authorities and the public worked to contain final flare-ups of the devastating Spanish flu pandemic, they also faced the worrisome resurgence of familiar diseases. In 1919, Ontario experienced a smallpox epidemic, perhaps introduced by returning soldiers or cross-border travellers; by August, the disease had spread westward, appearing among itinerant farm workers in the hops fields of the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver. To stop the spread, British Columbia’s provincial medical officer of health, Dr. Henry Esson Young, enlisted the help of school boards to vaccinate all schoolchildren, except those exempted for reasons of conscience.

Young faced opposition from what he considered “a very active and clamorous minority.” In April 1920, vaccination opponents formed the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of British Columbia. The league’s secretary-treasurer, Ada Muir, argued that mandatory vaccination, even during a public health emergency, was a violation of personal liberty. Its objections dismissed by the provincial government, the league complained to the British Colonial Office and published Muir’s correspondence in a small pamphlet. British authorities forwarded the complaint to Ottawa, as public health was an internal Canadian matter. At the time, the Governor General’s office was a main line of communication between the British and Canadian governments. Thus, a rare—and well-travelled—copy of the pamphlet made its way into the records of the Office of the Governor General of Canada fonds at LAC.

Title page of a pamphlet, published in 1920, entitled Correspondence relating to An Appeal to the Imperial Authorities by The People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C. to secure judicial recognition of the fact that under Constitutional Law every freeman owns his own body and has reasonable right to attend to its welfare.

Title page of Correspondence relating to An Appeal to the Imperial Authorities by the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C., 1920

Foreshadowing the arguments of present-day vaccination opponents, Muir questioned the purity of the smallpox vaccine and warned of serious side effects. She cited newspaper reports of people who had become sick after vaccination or similar treatments. However, the original sources do not agree with Muir’s interpretations. For example, she blamed medical malpractice for the recent deaths of a Vancouver streetcar driver and his young son, but the story in the Vancouver Daily World made no such accusation: the two had died of diphtheria, a once-common disease now controlled by vaccination.

A newspaper clipping from the Vancouver Daily World, June 29, 1920. The headline reads, “Father and son die following diphtheria: Late Mark W. Freure was popular B.C.E.R. motorman.”

Obituary for a father and son who died of diphtheria, Vancouver Daily World, June 29, 1920, p. 11 (OCLC 20377751)

In describing the smallpox vaccine’s most frightening alleged side effect, Muir should have looked before she shared, for she relied on the discredited research of a 19-century British doctor, Charles Creighton. Creighton believed that the smallpox vaccine caused syphilis, and pointed to an increase in syphilis deaths after the United Kingdom enacted mandatory vaccination in 1853. However, the two diseases are not related. Thirty years before Muir penned her pamphlet, experts had pointed out that new reporting policies, not vaccinations, explained Creighton’s supposed syphilis “spike”; public health officials had begun to record syphilis as the cause of deaths that they had previously attributed to unknown “other causes.” That this change coincided with mandatory vaccination was just that: a coincidence.

Mistrust of medical experts led Muir to imagine conspiracies worthy of the dark corners of the COVID-era Internet. According to Muir, a secretive guild of evil doctors controlled once-democratic British Columbia and deliberately infected children with terrible diseases to satisfy their perverted curiosity. “The human race,” Muir ranted in the pamphlet, “has degenerated into a mere stockyard for the practice of the licensed medical monopoly.” Doctors, she alleged, were an “alien element” whose loyalty to their own profession overrode community safety.

Unsurprisingly, Muir’s supporting sources for this conspiracy theory were scanty. The best she could do was to quote a “Dr. Lockhart” of “Dorchester St. Hospital, Montreal” who had supposedly admitted in 1902 that doctors swore never to testify against their colleagues in court. A Dr. F.A.L. Lockhart had indeed worked at the Montreal Maternity Hospital on Dorchester Street in 1902, but I have not found a reliable source for Muir’s quotation. I specify “reliable source” because the quotation did appear in two letters to newspapers, first in Winnipeg in 1907 and again in Vancouver some seven years after the pamphlet appeared. In both cases, the writer was Alan Muir, Ada Muir’s husband and fellow vaccination opponent.

The outcome of the 1920 smallpox outbreak directly contradicted Ada Muir’s conclusion that vaccination offered no protection against disease. Dr. Young reported that the vaccination opponents’ misinformation campaign had had “very little effect”: in six months, over 80 percent of British Columbia schoolchildren had been vaccinated. After identifying 576 cases of smallpox in 1920, the province reported only 137 cases in 1921, a decrease of over 75 percent. Muir interpreted the small number of cases in Vancouver as proof that the outbreak was a “scare” and that vaccination was unnecessary. The facts support the opposite conclusion: a swift vaccination campaign had flattened the curve.

The success of this local effort foreshadowed a coordinated global smallpox vaccination campaign after the Second World War. In 1977, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated; this was the first eradication of a disease in human history.

Muir continued her anti-vaccination advocacy into the 1930s, but it became a secondary interest. Astrology was her new passion, and in a 1930 letter to the Vancouver Sun, she argued that a horoscope was as useful a medical tool as a serum or a vaccine. She denied, as Creighton had, that viruses and bacteria cause disease, believing instead that dirt itself was the culprit. It is hard to tell which bias affected which judgment: did Muir’s unusual ideas about health and sickness lead her to question medical expertise, or was she ready to embrace strange new theories because she already mistrusted medical science?

A newspaper clipping of a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun, November 27, 1930. The title reads, “Astrology Urged as Aid to Physicians and Surgeons.”

Muir recommends medical astrology, Vancouver Sun, November 27, 1930, p. 6 (OCLC 1081083578)

Errors, sensationalism and discredited theories make the propaganda of Ada Muir and the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C. easy to dismiss. Yet today’s slick social media memes and viral videos spread similar anti-vaccination messages. Considering the source, looking for supporting evidence, checking whether others agree, asking the experts, and considering your biases are all useful skills in evaluating medical information, whatever the era.


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

From the Lowy Room: Acquisitions in the age of COVID

By Michael Kent

Like most Canadians, my work environment has changed significantly due to COVID-19. While adapting to new protocols and working from home have transformed how I do my job, I am quite thankful that many of my tasks and goals are still accomplishable, though slightly modified. I would like to share one recent experience that I doubt would have occurred without the pandemic.

I started the COVID lockdown in March 2020 with grand goals of getting fit, taking online classes and starting new hobbies. It did not take long for these plans to give way to spending entirely too much time online. Like many people, I quickly found myself engaging in online shopping. With little else to do in my downtime, I was able to spend time searching through Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, and Facebook buy-and-sell groups. Being the book lover that I am, I was able to track down many books that I had long been looking for.

One day I came across a free copy of the book A Descriptive Catalogue of the Bension Collection of Sephardic Manuscripts and Texts by Saul Aranov. This volume is a catalogue of a collection of Hebrew manuscripts held by the University of Alberta. I was very excited to find this book, as I had been looking for it for some time. While this text is obviously related to my work as a Judaica librarian, I was also interested in it because Aranov had previously worked for the National Library of Canada on the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which is now my responsibility.

I sent a message expressing my interest to the woman who was giving the book away. As coincidence would have it, she remembered me from the time I spoke about the Lowy Collection to her seniors group. We quickly arranged a time for me to come and get the volume. To my surprise, she then messaged me that her husband had a Talmud that once belonged to the former Chief Rabbi of Eastern Silesia. She asked if I would be interested in seeing it, and of course I answered yes.

A couple of days later, I went to the couple’s home. While my role at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has involved going into many people’s homes to look at rare books, this was my first such outing in the age of COVID. We all wore masks, and they had placed the Hebrew volumes for me on their large dining-room table, allowing us to keep distanced. I was very impressed with the items before me. The Talmud that the wife had messaged me about was volumes from the Berlin edition of the Babylonian Talmud published in the 1860s. I was very excited to see these volumes, as they come from a very important period in the printing of the Talmud, which is both a topic of interest for me and an area of specialization for the Lowy Collection. The couple also showed me several other items belonging to the Rabbi, including Jewish civil codes and commentaries on Hebrew scripture.

A colour photograph of aged hardcover books on a book truck, in front of a glass book cabinet.

Some of the recently donated volumes in the Jacob M. Lowy Room. Photo: Michael Kent

Of the various volumes in their collection, my favourite is Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot, an 1880 work by Abraham David ben Judah Leib Lawat. This work builds on an earlier work, the Toledot Aharon (1583) by Aaron of Pesaro. These works provide a form of index to the Talmud, linking the Talmudic legal discourse to the sources in Hebrew Scripture. I am familiar with the Toledot Aharon since I have consulted it in the past while studying the Talmud, and I have always been proud of our first edition in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Despite my familiarity with this work, I did not know about the Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot. It is a thrilling part of librarianship to always be learning about new things!

A colour photograph of a page written in Hebrew.

The Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot that is now part of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

I was thrilled when the couple generously offered to donate the books they were showing me to the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which was a process that also required modification during COVID. After some discussion, we settled on how LAC would physically receive the donation. The donor drove the books to our public facility at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. He remained in his vehicle while a member of our circulation team removed them from the trunk. The books then went into one of the storage rooms in the building, to remain in quarantine to avoid possible COVID exposure. After the quarantine period had passed, the books were taken to one of our conservators for mould inspection before we could add them to the Lowy Collection. After this inspection, I brought the books to the Jacob M. Lowy Room. This experience was without a doubt the lengthiest period of time it ever took me to bring a donation from our front door to the collection area! While it was certainly a modification to our usual methods, I was thrilled that in spite of COVID, we were still able to preserve these remarkable volumes.

When I started filling some of my free time during lockdown with online shopping, I never imagined it would lead me to acquire a collection of rare Hebrew books for LAC. While the process required some adjustment because of the pandemic, I am proud of our ability to continue to acquire and preserve history.


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

 

Donald Nelson Baird and the 1945–46 Parliamentary Flag Design Committee

By James Bone

From Confederation through to the Great Canadian Flag Debate of 1964, the quest to give visual identification to the Canadian nation through an official flag was an elusive one. At various times the Union flag of the United Kingdom and the Canadian Red Ensign stood in unofficially for Canada, but attempts to create our own flag never bore fruit. Prime Minister Mackenzie King made an attempt between 1924–31 and there were periods of renewed interest during the Second World War, however these invariably fizzled due to partisan differences in Parliament. At the end of the War, Mackenzie King again sought a solution to the problem. In November 1945, his government struck a joint House of Commons and Senate committee to consider and report upon finding a suitable and distinct flag for Canada. To achieve this task, the Committee announced its intention to accept design submissions from the public.

Flag Design Submissions

To say that the Committee was inundated with potential designs would be an understatement. By the submission deadline, the official count was 2,695 and many more continued to arrive. The Committee’s records, which include a sampling of correspondence thanking people for their submissions, reveal that among those to submit design proposals were people such as the artist David Milne and Dominion Archivist Gustave Lanctôt. There were also designs received from children, veterans and Canadians of all sorts. To facilitate discussion, voting and the elimination of designs, the Committee created a process to count and classify the elements found in each submission. Prominent elements were maple leaves, beavers, the Union Jack and the fleur-de-lys.

During its mandate, the Committee also received and kept correspondence from the public. Some Canadians supported the process to find a suitable national flag, while others felt that any new flag would dishonour the memory of the recent Second World War dead. Likewise, some correspondents felt it would be unacceptable to include any element of French identity, while others pushed for a flag that reflected both the British and the French heritages of Canada.

Donald Nelson Baird’s Submission

One submission to the Committee arrived by way of Dorothy Baird of Truro, Nova Scotia, on behalf of her younger brother, Donald Nelson Baird (1920–2001). Originally from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Donald had suffered the effects of polio as a child and had only limited use of his arms, hands and legs. Despite this hardship, he learned to draw and paint with watercolours and would soon find himself at the centre of a national debate on the future of the Canadian flag.

A black-and-white photograph of a man looking towards the camera with a flag design in the background.

Donald Nelson Baird, Abbass Studio Limited, 1946 (Mikan no. 5082349)

Baird’s design was not overly complex. As described in the Committee minutes, it was simply a “Canadian Red Ensign with a maple leaf in autumn golden colour replacing the Coat-of-Arms on the fly.” The design was submitted as a small watercolour painting on paper and, like all submissions, received an identifying number from the Committee.

A flag design with the Union Jack in the left-hand top corner and a gold maple leaf on the right with a red background.

Donald Nelson Baird’s flag design, 1946, watercolour on paper (e011213692)

The design appealed to many members of the Committee, which had received several similar designs. However, given its prominent use of the Union Jack, its red field, and the lack of a French symbol, this appeal was far from unanimous.

Committee Deliberations

In the first quarter of 1946, the Committee deliberated over the many designs it had received in order to make a final selection. Votes were conducted periodically to eliminate certain submissions from the competition. By May 17, 1946, only five designs remained in competition and soon thereafter that number was whittled down to just two: Baird’s design and the Ligue du drapeau national’s design, the latter of which did not include a Union Jack.

The main proponent in the Committee for Baird’s design was R.W. Gladstone, Member of Parliament for Wellington South (Ontario). In the expectation that the Committee would select Baird’s design, Gladstone wrote to Dorothy Baird asking for a suitable photograph of Donald for publicity purposes. The letter also reveals that many similar designs had been received and that, of these, Donald’s seemed the most suitable and typified what Gladstone believed to be the desire of most Committee members. As discussed below, the final design proposed by the Committee for consideration by Parliament was modified slightly from Baird’s and officially was a product of the Committee itself, with no reference to Baird in its reports or minutes. Gladstone’s letter to Dorothy Baird is thus the best available evidence to show that it was indeed Baird’s design selected by the Committee.

A typed page with a crest and House of Commons written at the top.

Correspondence from R.W. Gladstone, MP for Wellington South (Ontario), to Dorothy Baird (Mikan 5082237)

A typed page with R.W. Gladstone’s signature at the bottom.

Correspondence from R.W. Gladstone, MP for Wellington South (Ontario), to Dorothy Baird (Mikan 5082237)

With just two designs remaining in competition, Gladstone then moved to have Baird’s design designated the new Flag of Canada. Deliberations stalled and a separate subcommittee was formed to study the question of whether or not a symbol other than the Union Jack could be used that would satisfy the majority of the Committee. Newspapers began running pieces about the new flag, with most Anglophone papers supporting Baird’s design, while Francophone newspapers such as La Presse supported the design by the Ligue du drapeau national. Cartoonist Bob Chambers, in an editorial cartoon for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, depicted Baird being lifted into the history books by Betsy Ross, the apocryphal designer of one of the first American flags. Baird’s name was also included in the November 1946 supplement to the biographical dictionary periodical Who’s Who.

On July 10, 1946, the subcommittee returned and reported that no alternate symbol could be found. Two members of the Committee remained opposed to Baird’s design as it both included a Union Jack and lacked any element of French Canadian heritage. By the time the Committee reconvened the following evening, the subcommittee had negotiated a compromise that the golden maple leaf would be “in a bordered background of white.” According to the minutes, this was to represent the French presence in Canada. This small modification was, in essence, the only change made to Baird’s original submission. This altered design was put to the Committee and passed in a vote of 22 to 1—thus making it their non-unanimous recommendation for the new flag. The Committee then prepared a final report for both houses of Parliament and recommended the appropriation of funds for the Secretary of State to produce prototypes of the new flag. Artist Frances Gage painted small prototypes, one of which is at the Canadian Museum of History, and an unknown number of full-sized prototypes were made and used for publicity photographs.

A colour photograph of two women holding a flag on a rooftop.

Flag prototype photograph, Weekend Magazine, 1946, photographer Louis Jacques (Mikan 5082300)

Outcome and legacy

Despite all the work that went into the Committee and its selection process, the final report was never presented to Parliament. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was reportedly in favour of the design but, out of consideration for national unity, it was more politic to quietly forget about the episode by invoking the fact that the Committee’s final vote had not quite been unanimous. As Baird’s name was not associated with the design in the Committee minutes and with the final design having been technically the creation of the Committee, his work was largely unknown as having been its inspiration and was soon forgotten outside of his family and community. Like most of the designs for which the Committee had a return address, Baird’s work was returned to his sister Dorothy and was kept by the family. For the next two decades, Dorothy frequently wrote to members of the provincial and federal governments when the question of a national flag resurfaced, urging them to reconsider Donald’s design. The last attempt was made in April 1964, when a sympathetic Member of Parliament, Robert Muir, informed Dorothy that Donald’s design would certainly find no favour with the government, as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson had promised that the new national flag of Canada would be without the Union Jack.

This author speculates that had Baird’s design been adopted for a national flag in 1946, it likely would not have lasted through the period of renewed interest in establishing a more distinct national identity that came about in the 1960s and that produced the current National Flag of Canada. Nonetheless, Baird’s design and the work of the 1945–46 flag design committee most certainly help to illustrate aspects of the national mood towards Canadian identity in this perhaps lesser-known event in our history. Today, reproductions of Baird’s design can sometimes be found in specialty flag stores, though probably few know its whole story.

Library and Archives Canada has recently acquired the Donald Nelson Baird fonds, which features the original watercolour flag design, correspondence from the Committee and members of the public, newspaper clippings about Baird, and family photographs.

A man standing outside, facing the camera wearing jeans and a red plaid shirt holding the corner of a flag.

Author James Bone with Baird’s flag at Dominion City Brewing, Ottawa, June 2019, copyright James Bone.


James Bone is a philatelic and art archivist with the Private Specialized Media team at Library and Archives Canada.

Mountains of Blackflies

By Martha Sellens

One of my favourite parts of being an archivist is solving archival mysteries, especially when they result in something unexpected. One of my recent mysteries took me from a piece of artwork to blackflies—and I’m not talking about an unexpected (and unwanted!) visitor in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) archival vault.

It all started with a couple of prints from the Geological Survey of Canada. I was working on improving their description in our database so that people could find them. (These are the improved descriptions for item 5067117 and item 5067118.) The prints were from 1883 and had been acquired by the archives so long ago—before 1925!—that there wasn’t much information about them in our records.

So I started digging. The prints were panoramas, nearly an arm-span wide and as tall as a trade paperback book. Both were prints of the same drawing showing the view of the Notre-Dame or Shickshock (now known as Chic-Chocs) Mountains in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. To make things easier, they also had a title, artist and printing house included in the print image, so I was immediately able to link it back to A.P. Low’s report on his 1883 expedition for the Geological Survey.

Black and white print of a drawing depicting a series of rounded mountains. There are trees and grass in the foreground. The print is titled and has some small labels along the top edge indicating cardinal directions.

Panoramic photolithographic print of the Notre-Dame or Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains in Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. Drawn by L. Lambe from a sketch by A.P. Low, to accompany A.P. Low’s 1883 report to the Geological Survey of Canada. The prints in LAC’s collection (R214-2887-9) are not yet digitized. Image courtesy of NRCan (GEOSCAN).

A.P. Low led a small team of surveyors into the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula in the summer of 1883 to examine the geology of the area, as well as to create and improve maps of the region. The Geological Survey of Canada was often one of the first groups of surveyors in an area and they quickly realized that they couldn’t document geological features without creating maps as well. Low’s report describes some of their day-to-day tasks as well as their scientific findings. It was published as part of an 800-page volume with all of the Geological Survey field reports from 1882–84. You can download a digitized version from the Natural Resources Canada website or consult the physical book in LAC’s library holdings.

LAC also holds many of the field books from these surveys. These are the notebooks the surveyors used in the field to keep track of their daily findings. With my curiosity piqued, I ordered in A.P. Low’s notebooks to take a look. I’m not a geologist so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to understand his notes, but that’s half the fun! Most of the notebooks were filled with numbers and quick sketches, but in the back of one, I hit the jackpot.

Most people expect government records to be bureaucratic and boring—and many of our records live down to these expectations—but it’s so exciting when you find something that proves that even the work lives of nineteenth-century public servants could be funny and interesting.

In the back of one of A.P. Low’s field books, I found the pencil sketch he drew of the Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains. The very one that they used to create the final drawing that accompanied his report and in the prints that started my current investigation. It’s a fairly simple pencil drawing, spread over two lined pages in the back of the book, but the shading and the line work starts to trail off somewhere in the middle.

Why did he stop? Fortunately for us, he wrote down the reason: “Unable to finish on account of the Black Flies!” His comment is accompanied by a suspicious smudge and three little blackflies doodled near the description of his sketch.

Photograph of a red leather notebook, open on page 98. The pages are lined and there is a pencil drawing of some mountains and three small flies. A note at the bottom reads, “Sketch of some of the Mountains seen from Mount Albert looking North.” To the right another note reads, “Unable to finish on account of the Black Flies.”

Sketch of the Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains on page 98 of A.P. Low’s field book #2276, Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. Geological Survey of Canada (RG45 Vol 142). Photo by Martha Sellens.

I can just picture the surveyors baking in the June sun on the top of a Quebec mountain and cursing one of Canada’s most annoying predators. It can be easy to forget that behind every record—even the bureaucratic and boring ones—are the people that worked together to create it. This notebook, and the more formal prints that led me there, is a great reminder of the people—and blackflies—behind the records.

Other LAC related resources:


Martha Sellens is an archivist for the natural resources portfolio in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

When Ugandan Asian refugees arrived in Canada in 1972

By Sheyfali Saujani

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of people standing in a big room, with luggage and suitcases on the floor, and a Canadian flag and a sign reading “Bienvenue, Welcome.”

Ugandan Asian refugees arrive at a Canadian Forces Base in Longue-Pointe, Quebec (e011052358)

In September 1972, Canada welcomed the first of some 7,500 Ugandan Asian refugees. At the time, people who had migrated from the Indian subcontinent were called Asian, rather than South Asian. This was the first large-scale influx of non-European immigrants to Canada following a series of changes to the country’s immigration policy that started in 1962. These changes eliminated racial barriers to entry. My family was lucky enough to be among those immigrants.

Both of my parents were born in Africa. My mother, Shanta Saujani, was born in Durban, South Africa, and that is where she went, to be with her mother, when she was pregnant with me, her first child, in 1964. My father, Rai Saujani, was born in Uganda, where his father had arrived sometime around 1914 (we are not completely certain about the date). Asians from around the British Empire migrated to its African colonies in much the same way that Europeans circulated through the colonies (including Canada), and for many of the same reasons: economic opportunity, adventure and change.

But the colonial world did not treat all of its subjects equally, and divisions established under imperial rule persisted, or even deepened, after independence. In South Africa, Asians (people from the Indian subcontinent) were racially segregated, as were Black Africans under the country’s notorious apartheid policy. People designated “white” could go anywhere and everywhere. Those designated “black,” “brown” or “coloured” were restricted in their freedom of movement, residence, education and work. Even though my mother and I were both born there, I was not allowed to become a citizen because my father was a citizen of Uganda.

In Uganda, racial divisions were not legislated, but cultural mingling was discouraged by separate schools and social services. Under colonial rule, it was harder for Black Africans to obtain business licences and other benefits that might have allowed them to compete with entrepreneurial Asians who controlled many key sectors of the economy. Asians thus became a relatively privileged middle class that some Africans resented. Although many Asians, like my father, acquired Ugandan citizenship in order to serve their country, many others, fearful of losing British status, chose to remain British subjects.

In 1971, General Idi Amin ousted Uganda’s government in a military coup. The following year, he declared that there was no longer room for Asians in Uganda, even if they were citizens. In August 1972, he ordered the expulsion of all of the country’s roughly 80,000 Asians and gave us 90 days to leave.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of children sitting together on the floor eating.

A group of children who had recently arrived in Canada (e011052361)

That was a frightening time for us. Although my brothers and I were too young to fully understand the political tensions, we soon realized how bad things could get when some of our relatives were jailed. There had been an argument of some sort in one of the many long lines to acquire government documents, and three of my uncles were arrested by the army. At the time, my father was a deputy superintendent in the Ugandan police force, and he was able to use his connections to get my uncles released. I remember vividly the red welts left on their backs by the terrible beatings they had received while in prison. They were free, but now the army officers who had arrested them were looking for my father. We spent our last few weeks in Uganda in hiding, desperate to find a country that would give us sanctuary.

Because of the refugee crisis caused by Amin’s expulsion order, Canada offered to immediately accept 5,000 (though more eventually came) people needing a new home. Canada also sent a special team of immigration agents to Uganda to help expedite the selection and processing of those who would come here.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform looking at a piece of paper, a man in a dark shirt and a light coloured jacket holding documents, a boy, and a woman with her hair tied back in a ponytail.

A Canadian official and a Ugandan Asian family who had recently arrived in Canada (e011052346)

Those officials suggested that we might be able to enter Canada more quickly if we came as sponsored refugees. Family members reached out to an aunt living in Hamilton. She had moved from Tanzania to Canada with her husband and three daughters a few years earlier.

To qualify as a sponsor, you needed to prove that you had a certain level of income. My aunt’s family fell just short of that number. My aunt feared that they might not qualify as sponsors, but then a helpful immigration officer asked about the monthly mother’s allowance cheques that the government gave out back then. Those small cheques, which my aunt received to help support my three cousins, allowed them to clear the financial threshold needed to qualify as sponsors.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a uniform serving food to a woman holding a small child.

Food being given to recently arrived Ugandan refugees (e011052348)

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in an apron and a hat handing a paper cup to a smiling man in a suit, as a woman in a scarf holds a cookie and a paper cup.

Recently arrived Ugandan refugees receiving drinks (e011052353)

The day we arrived in Canada was a day of exhaustion, relief and elation for us, much like it probably was for the people in these photos. It was September 28, 1972, a cold and clear fall day in the army barracks near Montréal where officials received the refugee families. My brother and I recall the unexpected chill, for which we were unprepared after coming from equatorial Africa. Luckily, immigration officials had arranged for us to have access to winter clothes. My brother remembers that it was the first time he saw the famous four Hudson’s Bay colours (green, red, yellow and indigo) on some of the coats. We both remember the amazing colours of the autumn leaves. But the best memory of all is my mother’s. She remembers that there were 11 black-and-white television sets scattered around the hall where our paperwork was being processed. Suddenly all of the officials, soldiers and cafeteria staff started jumping up and down, yelling and screaming, hugging each other and shouting for joy. What we did not know but soon learned was that it was the day of the final game of the famous Canada-Soviet Summit Series, and Paul Henderson had just scored the winning goal. And my mother thought: what an auspicious day for us to arrive! We are very grateful for the refuge that Canada gave us, and the opportunity to become citizens of a peaceful country that strives toward inclusion.

For more images of the arrival of Ugandan Asian refugees in Canada in 1972, visit the Library and Archives Canada Flickr Album.

©  Sheyfali Saujani


Sheyfali Saujani worked as a radio producer with CBC Radio for 30 years. She is a writer and producer living in Toronto.

 

 

100th anniversary of legendary fishing schooner Bluenose

By Valerie Casbourn

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first racing victories of the Bluenose, the legendary fishing schooner from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The Bluenose was launched in March 1921 and triumphed in the International Fishermen’s Cup Race the following October. Winning the trophy, it sailed into the hearts and minds of those in Nova Scotia and beyond. The remarkable schooner quickly became a well-known Canadian icon.

The inaugural International Fishermen’s Cup Race was held in the fall of 1920, and the Halifax Herald newspaper donated a trophy for the winner. The race was established for working fishing schooners; vessels had to have fished on the Grand Banks for at least one season to be eligible. Elimination races were held off the coasts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, to select the challenger from each country. The two finalists then competed to win two out of three races for the cup. The American challenger, the Esperanto, won the trophy races in 1920 and sailed home with the prize. In response, a group from Nova Scotia decided to build a new schooner, giving it the long-standing nickname for Nova Scotians, “Bluenosers,” as a name. A local naval architect, William Roué, designed the Bluenose to be both a competitive racer and a practical fishing vessel. The Smith and Rhuland Shipyard in Lunenburg built the schooner. With an enthusiastic crowd looking on, the Bluenose was launched on March 26, 1921.

Black-and-white photograph of the Bluenose at the finishing line of a race.

The schooner Bluenose crossing the finish line, W.R. MacAskill, 1921 (PA-030802)

The Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg entered the registration for the Bluenose in its ledger on April 15, 1921. Ship registration records include information about ownership, and also the type, dimensions and means of propulsion of vessels. Library and Archives Canada holds archived records from Ports of Registry across Canada, and many older registers are indexed in the Ship Registrations, 1787–1966 database. The Bluenose of Lunenburg, registered in 1921, is one of seven vessels with the same name in the database.

Some older registers are available on digitized microfilm reels, on a partner website, Canadiana Héritage. The Bluenose appears on page 34 in the Lunenburg shipping register for the years 1919 to 1926 (RG42 volume 1612 [old volume 399]), and a digitized copy is available on microfilm reel C-2441. The Bluenose was official number 150404, and the owner of the vessel was the Bluenose Schooner Company Limited of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Copy of the two-page registration entry for the Bluenose in the ledger of the Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

The registration page for the Bluenose from 1921, in the records of the Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (Reel C-2441, image 615; RG42 volume 1612 [old volume 399], page 34)

Captain Angus Walters and the crew of the Bluenose headed to sea and successfully completed their first fishing season. In October 1921, the Bluenose entered the second International Fishermen’s Cup Race. The Annual Report of the Fisheries Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries for 1921–1922 includes a description of the race. After the elimination race to select the Canadian challenger, the Bluenose sailed against the American challenger Elsie in two races and won both. The trophy races were “held off Halifax on Saturday and Monday, October 22 and 24, and enlisted very great interest, visitors being present in large numbers” (Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1923, volume 59, number 6, sessional paper number 29, page 38). The annual report describes the second and final race as follows:

The second race, Monday, October 24, the Elsie again being first to cross the starting line—9.00.32—the Bluenose following at 9.01.52. For nearly three hours the Gloucester schooner had the Bluenose trailing in her wake, but the Lunenburg schooner showed her quality on the homeward stretch and crossed the finish line at 2.21.41, followed ten minutes later by the Elsie.

These races have awakened intense interest and will doubtless result in evolving a type of fishing schooner well adapted for both the salt and fresh fish fisheries.

Black-and-white photograph of sailing vessels at the start of a race.

The start of the elimination race, W.R. MacAskill, 1921 (PA-030801)

The victory of the Bluenose inspired great pride and interest in Nova Scotia, and this quickly spread further afield. The next year, the International Fishermen’s Cup Race took place off Gloucester, Massachusetts. In honour of the race, a delegation from Nova Scotia attended. The Canadian government also sent a representative and the escort HMCS Patriot. Prime Minister Mackenzie King wrote to George Kyte, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton South and Richmond, on September 23, 1922, to confirm that Kyte would represent the Canadian government at the forthcoming schooner race. The Privy Council passed an Order-in-Council to that effect (PC 1922-1937).

One-page copy of Order-in-Council PC 1922-1937, dated September 21, 1922.

Copy of PC 1922-1937, the Order-in-Council appointing George Kyte, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton South and Richmond, the Canadian government’s representative at the 1922 International Fishermen’s Cup Race (Reel C-2246, image 211; MG26-J1 volume 75, page 64113)

The Bluenose won the trophy again in 1922 and continued to race in the three subsequent International Fishermen’s Cup Races held in 1923, 1931 and 1938. The schooner became increasingly famous. In 1928, the Post Office Department began to depict Canadian scenes on regular issue stamps. The Bluenose was one of the first subjects chosen for a scenic stamp, representing the fisheries, shipbuilding and seamanship of Nova Scotia. Less than a decade after the launch of the schooner, the Post Office Department issued the Bluenose 50-cent stamp on January 6, 1929. The stamp has a composite design that shows the Bluenose racing off Halifax Harbour, based on photographs by Wallace R. MacAskill.

Canada Post 50-cent stamp with an engraving showing two images of the schooner from different angles.

Bluenose, 50-cent postage stamp, date of issue January 6, 1929, copyright Canada Post Corporation (s000218k)

The Bluenose continued to be a working schooner, fishing on the banks of the North Atlantic. The crew set a record for the largest catch of fish brought into Lunenburg. Additionally, the vessel and crew represented Nova Scotia and Canada internationally. The Bluenose sailed to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair and to England for King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935.

As time went on, circumstances changed, and the schooner was sold in 1942. Sadly, the original Bluenose was lost in 1946 after striking a reef off Haiti and sinking. However, the “Queen of the North Atlantic” is remembered fondly and commemorated in a variety of ways. For instance, Captain Angus Walters and naval architect William J. Roué are each featured on their own commemorative stamps, issued in 1988 and 1998 respectively. The schooner first appeared on the Canadian dime in 1937, and it is featured in a song by Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers. The Bluenose II, a replica of the original vessel, continues to sail from the port of Lunenburg as an ambassador for the province.

Related resources

Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit: Bluenose: A Canadian Icon

Canadian Museum of History: Items in the William James Roué collection


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Halifax office of Library and Archives Canada.

Inuit of the 1975 Canadian $2 bill

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Ellen Bond

In October 2020, I found an article from the Nunatsiaq News about the Canadian $2 bill printed by the Bank of Canada from 1975 to 1979. The bank note was the first Canadian bill to show Indigenous people. Through further research, I found two other articles about the same bill, another from the Nunatsiaq News in 2018 and one from the Bank of Canada Museum blog in 2020. In the 2018 Nunatsiaq News article “Taissumani, April 7,” there is a photo of the back of the $2 bill, on which the names of those featured on the bank note are written in syllabics by the late Leah Idlout.

A colour photo of the back of the 1975–1979 Canadian $2 bill, on which the names of the six individuals depicted are written in syllabics.

The late Leah Idlout wrote the names of the six men on the back of the Canadian $2 bill in syllabics. (Image courtesy of John MacDonald and the Bank of Canada.)

Below is a chart showing various spellings of the featured Inuit men’s Inuktitut names. The names in the first column will be used in this blog.

The $2 bill was created from an engraving by C. Gordon Yorke based on the photograph taken in 1951 by filmmaker Doug Wilkinson for his film Land of the Long Day. While the actual film is available “onsite only” in the collection held at Library and Archives (LAC), it can be found online at the National Film Board (NFB). The location of the film was Joseph Idlout’s camp at Alukseevee Island, about 60 kilometres from Mittimatalik (also known as Pond Inlet), Nunavut (formerly the Northwest Territories). The scene depicts hunters preparing their qajait (kayaks) to chase, spear and retrieve narwhals spotted swimming in the water and resting among ice floes.

A black-and-white photo of six Inuit hunters loading their qajaqs with supplies for the hunt.

Photo was used to create the engraving for the back of the 1975–1979 Canadian $2 bill. Left to right: Crouching next to a qajaq, Gideonie Qitsualik inflates a sealskin float; Lazarus Paniluk lifts a harpoon; Herodier Kalluk loads a qajaq; Ullattitaq inflates a sealskin float; Joseph Idlout shifts a qajaq into the water; and Elijah Erkloo raises a paddle. Photo was taken during the filming of Land of the Long Day, directed by Doug Wilkinson, Nuvuruluk, Nunavut, 1952. Source: Doug Wilkinson, Baffin Island, Canada, around 1951, NCC 1993.56.541.

Many photographs in the collection held at LAC were acquired and catalogued without detailed information or without information from original inscriptions and captions found on records. Hence, these photographs reflect the biases and attitudes of non-Indigenous society at the time. Project Naming is an initiative conceived by Nunavut Sivuniksavut that initially sought to identify the names of Inuit depicted in archived photographs. Begun in 2002 as a collaboration between Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Government of Nunavut and the National Archives of Canada (now LAC), Project Naming was later expanded to include First Nations and Métis from across Canada. It posts archived photographs to its social media pages. The date, location, event or other identifying information for the photographs may also be missing or may be limited.

The three articles about the $2 bill had our interest piqued. This made us wonder, in a reverse Project Naming way, does LAC have other named photographs of these men? Here is what we found:

Gideonie Qitsualik – On the $2 note, Gideonie is located at the far left. Leaning over a qajaq, he is inflating a sealskin float. There is one other photo (below) of Gideonie in the LAC collection. It was taken at about the same time. In this photo, Gideonie is second from left. Gideonie later became a well-known Anglican minister in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.

Black-and-white photo showing four adults and three children cutting up seals. They are on a rocky beach. Canvas tents are in the background.

At front right, Joseph Idlout is bending over. The others, from left to right, are Herodier Kalluk, Gideonie Qitsualik, Daniel Komangaapik, Uirngut, Ullattitaq (Paul Idlout), and Rebecca Qillaq Idlout. They are cutting up seals. (PA18905)

Lazarus Paniluk – Lazarus is the second man from left on the $2 bill. He is holding a harpoon. He has not yet been named in any other photos in the LAC collection.

Herodier Kalluk – Herodier is the third man from left on the $2 note. He is loading the qajaq. There are two other photos of Herodier in the LAC collection. In this photo, below, taken in 1952, Herodier is on the left, and Joseph Idlout is on the right. Idlout had just caught a seal with his harpoon. Herodier is the grandfather of Juno Award-winning singer Tanya Tagaq.

A black-and-white photo of Inuuk standing next to a seal on the ice.

Herodier Kalluk (left) and Joseph Idlout look at a harpooned seal on the ice off Button Point, near Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut. (PA145172)

Ullattitaq – Ullattitaq (also known as Paul Idlout) is the fourth man from left on the back of the $2 bill. He is shown inflating a sealskin float. There are two other named photos showing Ullattitaq in the LAC collection. The photo below shows Ullattitaq as a young boy in September 1945 in Mittimatalik/Tununiq. Ullattitaq later became Bishop of the Arctic.

Black-and-white photo of a young boy wearing a fur-lined hood.

Ullattitaq (Paul Idlout) at Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut, September 1945. (e002344212)

Joseph Idlout – Joseph, the fifth man from left on the back of the $2 note, who is shifting a qajaq into the water, was the leader of a small community of families, including the Aulatsivik hunting camp, where Doug Wilkinson filmed his movie. Joseph is the person with the most photos in the LAC collection: he is featured in nine! Joseph is in the middle in the photo below.

Black-and-white photo of three Inuit men standing outside in the winter. All three are dressed in traditional clothing.

From left, Daniel N. Salluviniq (Saudlovenick), Joseph Idlout, and Zebeddie Amarualik, all holding Brownie cameras as they await the arrival of the Governor General, Vincent Massey, in Qausuittuq (also known as Resolute Bay), Nunavut, March 1956. (e002265651)

A black-and-white photograph showing a man in a qajaq about to throw a harpoon. There are snow-covered mountains in the distance.

Joseph Idlout prepares to throw an ivory harpoon from his qajaq, Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut, July 1951. (R002169)

Elijah Erkloo – Elijah is the first man at right in the image on the back of the $2 bill. He is getting one of the paddles ready. A search for Elijah did not turn up any photos, but there is a photo of his grandfather. According to the two articles in the Nunatsiaq News, Elijah was a young boy when the film was filmed. Elijah later became the MLA for Amittuq (formerly Foxe Basin). Elijah notes that Joseph Idlout, his uncle, was the leader in camp. This is probably why LAC has so many photos of Joseph.

A black-and-white photo of a man with long hair and a mustache.

Akomalee of Baffin Island, 1924. Akomalee, the grandfather of Elijah Erkloo, was a local Elder of Mittimatalik, Nunavut. (PA102276)

Identification of people and learning their names is important. The work of Project Naming has provided opportunities to identify individuals and give back to communities across the country. If you or anyone you know has more information about the men of the $2 bill, please let us know. That can include other photos of them in the collection at LAC in which they are not named, or more information about any of the individual men. We can then add this new information to the records, making them more complete.

Project Naming social media pages:


Ellen Bond is a Project Assistant with the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

Modification of records: A case study with moose hair embroidered birch bark boxes

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

by Vasanthi Pendakur and Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

: A birch bark box lid embroidered with a First Nations man sitting in profile and smoking a pipe inside a central circle. Red, white, and blue flowers are embroidered on either side of the circle, and a playing card diamond is embroidered above and below the circle.

Birch bark box lid embroidered with diamonds playing cards suit symbol and a First Nations man smoking a pipe. (e010948522)

Birch bark boxes are extremely rare objects among the Library and Archives Canada collection. These boxes are three-dimensional and feature embroidered designs made with moose hair inserted through the pierced bark. The use of moose hair to decorate objects originated with First Nations before the arrival of the Europeans. The boxes in this set are similar to those created in convents by the Ursuline sisters of Québec and were probably made for sale to tourists in 18th-century Quebec. Boxes like these were popular souvenirs among the French elite and, later, the British military. These particular boxes were acquired by a military officer stationed in Niagara during the American War of Independence. According to the descriptive record, the boxes date from 1780–1800 and were collected by Henry Powell (died 1815), of the 53rd Regiment of Foot.

One side of birch bark box embroidered with red flowers on a green vine. The edges are bordered in white.

One side of a birch bark box. (e010948522_s6)

Upon review of the descriptive record and viewing the object in the collection, additional information would lead to the modification of the record to reflect the new information.

When creating a record for an archival item, a quality control officer uploads the information into the catalogue and ensures it is accurate, often working to confirm details with the archivist responsible for the particular holding. In this instance, the archivist confirmed the exact materials used to construct and decorate the box: birch bark and moose hair.

A slightly faded birch bark box lid embroidered with a First Nations figure sitting in profile and smoking a pipe inside a central circle. Red, white, and blue flowers are embroidered on either side of the circle, and a playing card spade is embroidered above and below the circle.

Birch bark box lid embroidered with a spade playing card suit symbol and a First Nations man smoking a pipe. (e010948521)

A birch bark box lid embroidered with a First Nations woman in profile inside a central circle, a child in cradleboard on her back. Red, white, and blue flowers are embroidered on either side of the circle, and a playing card club is embroidered above and below the circle.

Birch bark box lid embroidered with a clubs playing card suit symbol featuring a First Nations woman standing in profile, a child in cradleboard on her back. (e010948523)

The boxes in this set are identical in size, and all are made of birch bark and embroidered in moose hair. Though at first glance the embroidered designs look similar, each box features a unique pattern based on one of the playing card suits—hearts, diamonds, clubs or spades. Each box lid has two hearts, diamonds, spades or clubs embroidered on it. As well, each lid features a First Nations figure in profile inside a central circle: two lids feature men smoking pipes; one lid is of a man holding a bow and arrow; and a fourth lid is of a woman with a child in a cradleboard on her back. On each side of the circles are embroidered floral patterns of colourful blossoms, leaves and stems. The edges are trimmed with secured lengths of moose hair.

A birch bark box lid embroidered with a First Nations figure with bow and arrow standing in profile inside a central circle. Red, white, and blue flowers are embroidered on either side of the circle, and a playing card heart is embroidered above and below the circle.

Birch bark box lid embroidered with a hearts playing card suit symbol featuring a First Nations man with bow and arrow standing in profile. (e010948520)

While researching this embroidery style, we discovered that a moose hair embroidered birch bark tray in the collections of the McCord Museum had the following description:

“In 1714, Mother St-Joseph, a [sic] Ursuline from Trois-Rivières, taught the art of embroidery on birch bark. Another Ursuline nun also made a major contribution: Mother Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (Anne Du Bos), who was born in Sillery in 1678, to a Huron-Wendat mother and a French father. According to her 1734 obituary, she devoted the final years of her life to teaching embroidery, in particular, embroidery with moose hair, which by 1720, was widely recognized as a refined and elegant form of needlework.”

The boxes in the LAC collection appear to be of a similar style.

Even after European supplies became more readily available, local materials continued to be used for the souvenir appeal. Both First Nations and nuns likely made these types of boxes for the tourism industry, hence the confusion over who ultimately might have made this set.

In the descriptive record, the archivist did note that the provenance of the set of boxes was not clear. Given that the style of these boxes was widespread, it is uncertain whether nuns, First Nations girls, or French women made the boxes. In the end, the description was revised to reflect the uncertainty as to the identity of those who created them. This was my introduction to how records can be improved and made more accessible through updated research. This example only scratches the surface of revising historic descriptions. Archivists are re-visiting descriptions created in the past to make them more accurate, but still have plenty of work ahead of them.  

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Vasanthi Pendakur is a former project manager with the Exhibitions and Online Content Division. She was responsible for researching and publishing LAC’s Flickr albums. Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is an Indigenous research archivist with the Exhibitions and Online Content Division. She is responsible for researching and publishing Indigenous content blogs and Flickr albums.

Frederick W. Waugh’s time in Nunatsiavut

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

By Jennelle Doyle

When searching an archive, all too often we find things in places where we would not ordinarily expect. The life journeys of explorers, researchers, anthropologists and other individuals who have donated material to an archive are integral to identifying the scope of a given collection. Frederick W. Waugh was an ethnologist who worked for a time with the Anthropology Division of the Geological Survey of Canada. His visit to the Inuit community of Nain in Nunatsiavut, the region of Inuit Nunangat situated in northern Labrador, in 1921–22 is reflected in a photo album his son R.F. Waugh donated to Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Frederick Waugh had set out for Labrador in 1921, noting in his journal his intent to photograph and study Montagnais people (now Innu Nation [Naskapi–Montagnais]). However, Waugh ended up at Nain and primarily photographed and documented Inuit who lived in that area. His photographs, in an album at LAC, provide a glimpse into the everyday life of Nainimiut: dogsledding, gathering driftwood, skinning seals, ice fishing and more.

A black and white photograph of three men standing around a group of sled dogs, who are eating. There is a white building in the background.

Three Inuit men feeding sled dogs (e011369232-025)

The album captures an interesting time in the community. In Nunatsiavut, Moravian ties are strong and many Nunatsiavummiut (Inuit of Nunatsiavut) still follow Moravian practices. German-speaking Moravian missionaries from Europe began settling in Labrador in the late 1700s. They established eight missions along the coast, one of which was Nain in 1771. In 1921, the Moravian church in Nain burned down. Waugh’s photographs captured the early efforts to rebuild the church using debris from the original structure (pictured here). The Memorial University Archives has images of the Moravian church before the fire, as well as other photographs of Nain in this period.

A black and white photograph of the ruins of a building with snow-covered items scattered around.

Ruins of Nain’s Moravian Mission, which burned in the fall of 1921, Nunatsiavut. Photo Credit: Waugh (e011369232-018)

The Canadian Museum of History houses copies of similar photographs, as well as Waugh’s journals. His journals from this period were titled “Labrador Eskimo Notes.” These journals provide a detailed account of various medicines, games, hunting practices, food knowledge and customs. As noted in his journals from Labrador, one of his most frequent sources was Amos Voisey.

A black and white photograph of four boys in parkas looking towards the camera. There are two buildings in the background.

Four boys in parkas and black-bottom kamek (sealskin boots) (e011369232-009)

Archives can sometimes be tangled webs that are difficult to navigate. I hope that by highlighting this album, it will help connect some of the dots for others who are interested in content relating to Nain, or Fredrik W. Waugh himself. Some of the names of those pictured in the photos may be inaccurate. We encourage you to reach out if you have any additional information that could help us create a more accurate record.

All in all, these beautiful photographs speak for themselves.

If you are interested in Nain, Nunatsiavut and the Nunatsiavummiut, visit Heather Campbell’s blog about Judith Pauline White.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Jennelle Doyle is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices initiative at Library and Archives Canada. Jennelle grew up in Churchill Falls, Labrador, her family being from both the south coast of Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. She has been located in Ottawa since 2019 and is currently a master’s student at the University of Ottawa while continuing her work on the initiative.