The road to peace: Canada’s Hundred Days

By Emily Monks-Leeson

After years of static trench warfare, the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive, which took place over the final 100 days of the First World War, succeeded in breaking the trench line and returning the belligerents to warfare on open ground. A rapid series of Allied victories ultimately pushed the Germans out of France and behind the Hindenburg Line, leading to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.

Following the successful attack on Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps did not lose a significant offensive operation for the remainder of the First World War. Having earned their reputation as “shock troops”, they were put into the line in the most difficult battlefields. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George later wrote in his memoirs, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.” True to form, during the period from August 8 to November 11, 1918, the four Canadian Divisions of roughly 100,000 men caused the defeat or retreat of 47 German divisions or one-quarter of Germany’s fighting forces on the Western Front. Canadians fought at Amiens, Arras, the Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood, Cambrai, Denain and Valenciennes. These battles, which were instrumental in the defeat of the German Army, came to be known as “Canada’s Hundred Days”. In the final month of the war, Canadian troops engaged retreating German forces in a running series of battles over 70 kilometres, ending at Mons, Belgium, on November 10 to 11, 1918. The location of this final battle was highly symbolic for the Allies, as it was at Mons that the British had fought the Germans for the first time on August 23, 1914.

A black-and-white photograph showing a large group of German soldiers milling around between a village and a river or canal. The buildings in the background are mostly destroyed.

German prisoners captured by Canadians after the Battle of Amiens, August 1918 (a002858)

While Canadian successes were widely acknowledged, they came at a high cost: in the final hundred days, Canada suffered fully 20 percent of their total battle-sustained casualties of the war. Both the loss of lives and the victories of battle in Canada’s Hundred Days are commemorated on the le Quesnel Memorial, the Dury Memorial and the Bourlon Wood Memorial. The Canadian liberation of Mons is marked by a plaque at the City Hall of Mons.

A black-and-white photograph of stretcher-bearers and medical personnel caring for wounded soldiers while other soldiers are standing around in the background.

The wounded arrive at a Canadian field dressing station, Battle of Amiens, August 1918 (a002930)

Thirty Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, during Canada’s Hundred Days. Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients will remember each of them in the next 100 days, leading up to the armistice on November 11.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

The mystery of the Franklin expedition

By Catherine Butler

The lost expedition

The story of the lost Franklin expedition is well known to many Canadians. Led by Sir John Franklin, the expedition comprised 24 officers and 110 men and set sail from Greenhithe, England, in May 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage. On board the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, the voyage initially progressed relatively smoothly.

The crew made it to the Whale Fish Islands off the coast of Greenland to stock up on supplies, and arrived in Baffin Bay in July 1845. There, the captains of two whaling ships, the Prince of Wales and the Enterprise, saw the crew while waiting for favourable conditions to cross Lancaster Sound. This was the last time they were ever seen.

What happened next is as horrifying as it is legendary. The crews of the Erebus and Terror spent the winter of 1845–1846 on Beechey Island, where three crew members died and were buried. Things would only get worse from there. In September 1846, the ships got stuck in ice off the coast of King William Island, where they remained for the winter and spring of 1847. By June 1847, Sir John Franklin was dead. The remaining crew, now captained by Francis Crozier, spent the rest of 1847 stuck in the ice, unable to continue their voyage.

By April 1848, the Erebus and the Terror were abandoned and the remaining crew set off on foot for the mainland. All the men perished along the way, and it would be years before anyone would learn of their fate.

Unlocking the mystery

In the years immediately following the expedition, when no word from the crew was received, the British government made efforts to locate the men, offering rewards for information about their whereabouts or their discovery. The first mission dispatched to search for the Franklin expedition set off in 1848. The mission failed. No sign of the lost men emerged until 1850, with the discovery of their winter camp at Cape Riley and the graves of the men who died during the first winter on Beechey Island.

Poster offering a £20,000 reward for the discovery of the Franklin expedition.

£20,000 reward for the discovery of the missing Franklin expedition, March 7, 1850 (e010754422)

During an 1854 expedition sponsored by the Hudson’s Bay Company, John Rae arrived in the Boothia Peninsula, where he met an Inuit man who told him of a group of white men who had starved to death a few years earlier at the mouth of a large river. After speaking with a number of other Inuit people from the area, Rae was able to identify the Back River as the likely site of the sighting. During this voyage, Rae acquired a number of relics belonging to the lost expedition, including inscribed silverware.

Drawing of a number of different items recovered during various search operations dispatched by the British government to locate the lost Franklin expeditions. Items include silverware, blades, pocket-watches, knives and flasks.

Relics of the Franklin expedition, ca. 1845 (e010958396)

Throughout the years, numerous expeditions sought to locate the lost ships and recover the bodies of the crew. RCMP patrols, intrepid travellers and archeologists attempted to uncover the fate of the men and to locate the abandoned ships. Graves, skulls and countless artifacts were located, but the ships remained hidden. Crews would search for ships, but it would take nearly 170 years for them be found.

Black-and-white photograph depicting 5 skulls against black rocks. The skulls were found in 1945 during an expedition by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson.

Skulls of members of the Franklin expedition discovered and buried by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson in 1945 (a147732)

Uncovered at last

In 2008, the Canadian government launched a renewed effort to locate the wreckage of the Franklin expedition’s lost ships. Working more closely with Inuit historians and local communities, these efforts would soon pay off. In September 2014, the HMS Erebus was discovered near King William Island in the Queen Maud Gulf. Locating this ship, which had eluded so many experts for so many years, was made possible largely because of the oral histories known to historian Louie Kamookak.

Almost exactly two years later, the wreckage of the HMS Terror was located, thanks in large part to Sammy Kogvik, an Inuit hunter and Canadian ranger who joined the crew of the Arctic Research Foundation that lead search and recovery efforts. Without the assistance and knowledge of local Inuit communities, it is quite possible that the abandoned ships might never have been located.

Find out more

Library and Archives Canada holds a number of archival records relating to the search for the lost expedition, including journals kept by Francis McClintock during his four Arctic expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin between 1848 and 1859.

For more information on the importance of oral histories and Inuit knowledge, David Woodman’s Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony is an excellent source (AMICUS 43188964).

For an interactive experience about the plight of the crewmen and the role that Inuit communities played in the discovery of the wreckages, visit the Museum of History’s exhibition, Death in the Ice—The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition, on until September 30, 2018.


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

Canada’s Newspaper Heritage at LAC

Browsing through issues of the Ha-Shilth-Sa and the Windspeaker—two newly digitized Indigenous newspapers dating back to 1974 and 1986 respectively—you can’t help being drawn in by the immediacy of the social and political news, editorials, and correspondence, side-by-side with accounts of local sports, community music and cultural events, birth announcements and obituaries, and endless photographs and advertisements that capture decades of style, commerce, and social change. It’s this combination of meaningful information and nostalgic discovery that makes newspapers such an abundant and vital source of historical information.

The first page of a colour newspaper titled Wind Speaker wth the byline: AMMSA, Canada’s largest publisher of Aboriginal news. The main headlines read: Traditional wedding highlight of powwow and Quebec court rules in favor of Crees.

Windspeaker, Volume 17 – No. 9 (2000-01-01) (AMICUS 6341213)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is engaged on many fronts in supporting the acquisition, preservation, and access to Canada’s newspaper heritage, both locally and nationally. For example, the digitization of the Ha-Shilth-Sa and the Windspeaker is the result of a collaborative effort carried out in the context of the National Heritage Digitization Strategy, an initiative of Canada’s memory institutions to coordinate digitization activities across the country. This group, of which LAC is a member, received funding support from the Salamander Foundation to undertake a newspaper project as a response to feedback from clients and other cultural organizations, indicating that the digitization of LAC’s newspaper collection is a shared priority.

A yellowed newspaper titled Ha-Shilth-Sa and the byline (Nootka for “interesting” news) The headline reads: B.C. Indians demand action from provincial government.

Ha-Shilth-Sa, Volume 1 – No. 9 (1974-07-15) (AMICUS 4316697)

Spanning large daily newspapers and community, regional, multicultural, student, and Indigenous newspapers, LAC’s collection includes over 2,300 Canadian newspaper titles, approximately 200,000 reels of newspaper on microfilm, and 110 digital titles. It’s a vast collection that continues to grow as LAC responds proactively to the trends that influence the volume, variety, and format of newspaper production across the country. Part of that response includes developing acquisitions expertise relating to digital news content, as well as testing new acquisition models, which LAC is undertaking in collaboration with the Winnipeg Free Press, L’Acadie Nouvelle, and Northern News Services Online.

Meanwhile, LAC is supporting the ongoing efforts of Canadiana.org to digitize and provide online access to approximately 230 newspaper titles from microfilm held by LAC. Whether it’s the Saskatchewan Labor’s Realm, the Toronto Patriot, the Canadian Farmer-Labor Advocate, or the Western Clarion, the digital results of this project will be a source of valuable information and enduring fascination for all Canadians.

LAC also is developing an updated strategy to address our newspaper collection. Stay tuned!

Keep reading the LAC Blog for additional features about newspapers in LAC’s collection, including “Local newspapers at the heart of Canadian life” by acquisitions librarian Annie Wolfe, or visit the Newspaper Collection section of LAC’s website.

Louis St-Laurent, Canada’s foreign policy pioneer

By Bruno Sauvagnat

July 25, 2018, marked 45 years since the death of Louis St-Laurent, the 12th prime minister of Canada (1948–1957) and a very active participant on the international scene.

Louis St-Laurent was born on February 1, 1882, in the small village of Compton, Quebec, where he was raised by parents Jean-Baptiste Moïse St-Laurent and Mary Ann Broderick. During his youth, he was introduced to politics by his father, who ran unsuccessfully as a provincial Liberal candidate. However, Louis St-Laurent had little interest in politics and instead concentrated on law. In 1905, he completed his studies at Université Laval and began a prestigious law career, which he pursued until 1941.

That year, at the request of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Louis St-Laurent agreed to leave his lucrative career to become the Minister of Justice in the Liberal federal government. He helped develop several policies to support the war effort during the Second World War. St-Laurent played a crucial role in implementing the National Resources Mobilization Act, which brought about conscription to address the Canadian Army’s need for personnel.

In 1946, St-Laurent became the Minister of External Affairs. One of his highlights in this capacity was a speech to students and professors at the University of Toronto entitled “The Foundations of Canadian Policy in World Affairs.” The speech was not revolutionary, but it was the first to clearly articulate Canada’s international policies.

Black-and-white photograph showing Louis St-Laurent seated on a couch, reading a newspaper to two young girls sitting on either side of him.

Louis St-Laurent reading to children, 1947. Photos like this one served to reinforce his image as a kind, accessible person. Source: a125907

Two years later, St-Laurent succeeded Prime Minister Mackenzie King as the country’s leader. He owed his success in part to a change in his image: from a discreet lawyer to an approachable man who was close to the Canadian people. During this time, he acquired the nickname of “Uncle Louis” in the English-language media.

Black-and-white photograph of Louis St-Laurent flanked by soldiers. Two South Korean soldiers are on his left and two others on his right. Two Canadian soldiers can be seen in the background. In the foreground, on the left, is the partial profile of a Canadian soldier wearing glasses and a cap.

Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent visiting Canadian troops in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Canada on the battlefield in Korea, March 1954. Source: e011185001

While in power, St-Laurent worked to make Canada a key player in the international arena. In particular, he supported the United Nations in sending forces to intervene in Korea. It was also during his administration that the Blue Berets were created as peacekeepers to resolve the political crisis over the Suez Canal.

St-Laurent called on international institutions when they could support his initiatives. Although his decisions on foreign policy sometimes appeared to be based on a humanitarian vision, they actually stemmed from a pragmatic approach. Canada benefited both economically and politically from a more stable world, one that was able to purchase surpluses produced by Canada.

St-Laurent was also passionate about Canadian unity. It was during his time in office that Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) joined Confederation. He also sought to reduce the tensions between English‑speaking and French‑speaking communities that had followed conscription.

When he was 75 and exhausted, St-Laurent lost the 1957 election to the Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker. St-Laurent’s legacy to Canadians was a nation able to meet the challenges of the Cold War. He retired from politics but resumed his law career and died in 1973.

You can learn more about Louis St-Laurent by consulting the fonds with his name at Library and Archives Canada.

Sources:


Bruno Sauvagnat is a student archivist in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

A “world-startling discovery”!

By Roddy McFall

“In August, 1896, the world-startling discovery of the Klondike was made.” So wrote William Ogilvie in his memoir Early Days on the Yukon & the Story of its Gold Finds. Prior to becoming the second Commissioner of the Yukon Territory in 1898, Ogilvie was a noted Dominion land surveyor working in western and northern Canada. In 1895, Ogilvie was commissioned to make all the required surveys for town sites, mining claims and mineral deposits in Yukon. He previously surveyed the Yukon River in 1887–88 and determined the approximate location of the 141st meridian—the current boundary between Alaska and the Canadian territories.

In 2015, the Surveyor General’s Branch of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) approached Library and Archives Canada (LAC) regarding the potential transfer of approximately 80,000 records from the Canada Lands Survey Records (CLSR) collection, a total of 1.5 km of archival holdings. In early 2017, LAC completed the transfer of this major acquisition to its permanent holdings.

The collection consists of the official textual surveys and their associated documentation of Canada Lands (First Nations Reserves, National Parks lands, Crown lands, and territorial lands) since 1769. It includes the original maps, survey files, survey plans and field books that Ogilvie created of the Klondike Gold Rush, marking the discovery of gold at the Klondike goldfields of Bonanza Creek and Eldorado Creek.

The 80,000 records are being processed, described, arranged, and made available to the public via online finding aids, exhibitions, and in concert with NRCan’s online database. At the same time, this acquisition complements LAC’s existing collection of 1,034 official survey plans of Indian reserves and Indian school lands across Canada, transferred from the Legal Services Division of the former NRCan in 1959. LAC is digitizing these earlier official surveys of Indian reserves and Indian school lands, reaffirming its commitment to making historical records available online.

The CLSR collection tells countless stories—one of the more significant ones involves the mapping of the claims discovered in the Klondike Gold Rush and the role of Indigenous players in this endeavour.

The map, Plan of Placer Mining Claims on Part of Bonanza Creek in the Klondike Mining Division of the Yukon Territory (below) was plotted in Ogilvie’s surveying field books. It documents the discovery claims made by Jim (Kèsh) Mason (also known as “Skookum” Jim, meaning strong, and identified as “Tagish Jim” on the map), a member of the Tagish Khwáan First Nation (Image below), his American brother-in-law George Carmack, and his sister Shaaw Tláa, also known as Kate Carmack. These three are credited with discovering gold in Bonanza Creek, an event that triggered the Klondike Gold Rush. This survey map and accompanying field book reflect the important roles that Ogilvie, George and Kate Carmack, and Mason played in the Gold Rush. These records are even more remarkable considering that at the time it was unusual for discovery claims made by First Nations prospectors to be accepted by mining authorities.

A detailed map showing three sections of Bonanza Creek with the identity of the discovery claims.

Plan of Placer Mining Claims on Part of Bonanza Creek in the Klondike Mining Division of the Yukon Territory, Library and Archives Canada, R214, Vol. 2089 (8284 YT CLSR), e011202237

Through these records, Ogilvie put Indigenous prospectors like “Skookum” Jim Mason on the front page of history. Mason also figured prominently in Ogilvie’s memoir, with the chapter “Discovery of the Klondike” including a section dedicated solely to him. Mason was described as Ogilvie’s “old friend”. Ogilvie even used the sobriquet “Tagish Jim” in his field books and on his survey maps. He also spoke of how he “employed Jim in various capacities, and always found him reliable, truthful, and competent to do any work I gave him. Afterwards, while working on his claim on Bonanza, I had more experience with him, and it only corroborated the opinion I have expressed of his character.”

A black-and-white photograph of a man holding some prospecting equipment with one hand and the other hand on his hip looking directly at the viewer. Behind him is a loaded wheelbarrow.

“Skookum” Jim Mason, Yukon pioneer. Credit: Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada, a044683

These underused archival records assist in documenting aspects of Canada’s Indigenous history and culture such as the distribution of language groups, treaty rights, the location of residential schools and Indian reserves, and Indigenous land use and occupation. Through these, we can see the history and evolution of Indian reserves, National Parks, military bases, railway development, the fur trade, the Arctic, as well as defining events such as Ogilvie’s “world-startling” Klondike Gold Rush.

Two handwritten pages from a Dominion land surveyor’s field book explaining the daily details about the modes of transportation, places for food, etc.

Field book of surveyor William Ogilvie, Library and Archives Canada, Field book no. FB6192 CLSR YT, R214, Vol. 4044, MIKAN 5012291. NRCan database: FB6192CLSRYT.PDF


Roddy McFall is a senior archivist in the Finance, Industry, Law, Environment, and Science Section of the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of the First Special Service Force (The Devil’s Brigade) now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of around a dozen soldiers wearing parachute gear, lined up to board a Douglas C-47 for training.

Personnel of the First Special Service Force boarding a Douglas C-47 aircraft for parachute training, Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, United States [MIKAN 3378674]

The First (or 1st) Special Service Force, nicknamed The Devil’s Brigade, was a combined Second World War Canadian and American commando group. It was located and trained at Fort Harrison near Helena, Montana, United States. Force members received intensive training as ski troops and in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, the use of explosives for demolition, parachuting, amphibious warfare, rock climbing and mountain warfare.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier wearing white winter gear and crouching down to fix his ski bindings. A parachute is blowing in the wind behind him.

Member of the First Special Service Force during a winter training exercise, Blossburg, Montana, United States [MIKAN 3378683]

The Force saw extensive combat duty during the years 1943–1944 in Italy and southern France. It was known for always achieving its objectives. The Force was disbanded on December 5, 1944, but many modern Canadian and American Special Forces units, such as Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs, trace their heritage to this unit.

A black-and-white photograph of three soldiers with camouflage makeup preparing to go out on an evening patrol.

Personnel of the First Special Service Force preparing to go on an evening patrol, Anzio beachhead, Italy [MIKAN 3378968]

A black-and-white photograph of some two dozen soldiers sitting behind a large hay bale. The soldiers are being briefed before setting out on patrol.

Personnel of the First Special Service Force being briefed before setting out on a patrol, Anzio beachhead, Italy [MIKAN 3396066]

Visit the Flickr album now!

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.