Images of Hand Tools now on Flickr

Black-and-white photograph of a woman using a traditional wooden broad plank snow shovel to build an igloo.

Inuit girl with a broad plank snow shovel, Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut [PA-165738]

A hand tool is any tool that is controlled by the human hand alone. Stone Age tools fashioned from stone (sometimes wood) were used for hammering, cutting or digging.

Black-and-white photograph of a woman standing on a dirt road holding a basket full of fern leaves and a shovel on her left shoulder.

Edna Boyd with a basket of ferns and a shovel, Bala, Ontario [PA-070891]

As societies entered the Bronze Age, tools were made by casting copper and tin alloys together. These tools were sharper and harder than those made of stone.

Black-and-white photograph of a man leaning forward and swinging an ice axe to break ice.

A man using an ice axe, British Columbia [e011175725]

Black-and-white photograph of a girl holding a sledgehammer that rests on her right shoulder.

A girl with a sledgehammer [e003895283]

Iron replaced bronze during the Iron Age. These tools were even stronger and durable than their bronze counterparts. Many tools developed during this period resemble tools produced today. A small number of craftspeople manufactured these tools, which limited their spread and use by many people.
The industrial revolution enabled tools to be manufactured in factories. Greater numbers of tools could be produced using heavy machinery. This made them more accessible to the general population, lowered their price, and became more common in households.

Visit the Flickr album now!

The prime minister as reader

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses exhibition looks at Canada’s prime ministers through the lens of their relationships with the arts. One aspect of the exhibition is an exploration of the prime minister as collector and fan. Among the items featured that explore this theme are correspondence between Sir Wilfrid Laurier and painter Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, a painting from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s personal collection, and a fan letter from John Diefenbaker to artist Alma Duncan.

But the exhibition mainly focuses on the prime ministers’ libraries. If you read enough prime ministerial biographies, a pattern emerges: almost every one contains references to its subject’s prodigious reading habits. A biography of Alexander Mackenzie (OCLC 20920624), for example, notes that Mackenzie “was a greedy reader, and never tired of poring over his books.” According to the authors, Mackenzie’s family would spend their winter evenings

“sitting round the wide, old-fashioned fire-place, cheerful and ruddy with the blaze of the big logs, reading and discussing literary subjects and authors, especially Shakespeare and Byron, two prime favourites of theirs. It was a very interesting group, and its intellectual life was a fitting preparation for the future statesman. All who have heard Mr. Mackenzie speak, know that he could readily quote from the poets, and from current literature, and that his addresses were invariably pitched on the high plane of presupposing intelligent hearers.”

Sir John A. Macdonald, too, was known for quoting from literature in his speeches, according to biographers. In his book about Macdonald (OCLC 2886256), Joseph Pope claimed Macdonald was an “omnivorous” reader, meaning that he would read almost anything, but his favourite genre was political memoirs. Sir Robert Borden studied classical languages. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto now holds a number of very old Greek and Latin books that contain Borden’s bookplate; one of these, a 1725 edition of writings by Cicero, is currently on loan to LAC for the exhibition. Mackenzie King was an avid reader who regularly commented in his diary on the books he had been reading. Many of his books are now in LAC’s collection, but a portion of his extensive library remains on view in his study at Laurier House.

Each of the prime ministers likely had favourite books and authors—Macdonald was a devotee of novelist Anthony Trollope, and King was so enamoured with poet Matthew Arnold that he began collecting books from Arnold’s own library.

A book open to the inside front cover. Attached to the left-hand page is the bookplate of Matthew Arnold. The right-hand page is blank and held down by a weight.

Bookplate of Matthew Arnold affixed to the inside front cover of The Holy Bible (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828), from the Collection of Books from the Library of William Lyon Mackenzie King (OCLC 1007776528) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

But Arthur Meighen stands out among them all for his dedication to one particular literary figure: William Shakespeare. Meighen was known to be able to quote long passages of Shakespeare from memory. In 1934, during an ocean voyage to Australia, he composed and memorized a speech on Shakespeare, which he entitled “The Greatest Englishman of History.” Meighen delivered this speech a number of times; one address, at the Canadian Club in Toronto in February 1936, was recorded. This recording was eventually released on vinyl (OCLC 981934627), giving Meighen the unusual distinction of being the first Canadian prime minister ever to release an album.

A black 12-inch vinyl record with a yellow label.

Photograph of the vinyl record The Greatest Englishman of History by Arthur Meighen (OCLC 270719760) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

You can hear a clip of the audio recording of Arthur Meighen delivering his speech “The Greatest Englishman of History” in the Prime Ministers and the Arts episode of the LAC podcast.

The exhibition is open at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until December 3, 2019.


Meaghan Scanlon is Senior Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Top 5 topics addressed by our Reference Archivists

By Rebecca Murray

Reference archivists receive a lot of questions. In 2018 alone, our reference archivists responded to over 1,200 written reference requests about archival records held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Here are the top five subjects that we address on a regular basis.

A black-and-white photograph of a partially derailed train in a train yard. Snow covers the ground and a city can be seen in the background.

Train cars off the tracks at Strachan Avenue, Toronto, December 19, 1916. Photograph by John Boyd. a070106

1. Transport accident reports

Our country’s vast expanses require frequent transportation from A to Z and points in between. Occasionally, civil or military aircraft, trains and ships are involved in accidents that range from minor occurrences to major wrecks that make the national news. LAC holds the archival fonds of the federal departments, agencies and boards that are tasked with investigating and reporting on transportation accidents.

Check out previous blog posts: Railway Accident Records at LAC, Tips for Aviation Accident Research part 1 and part 2.

If you’re interested in a marine accidents, use Collection Search and various combinations of keywords to narrow down potentially relevant records within the Department of Transport fonds (RG12). Type in RG12, the name of the boat, the location of the accident, and then filter your results by date.

You can also find published material on accidents. For aircraft accidents, check out Published Sources for Aviation Accident Reports. To find other published reports about transportation accidents, enter relevant keywords in Collection Search and select “library” from the dropdown menu.

A panoramic photograph showing the soldiers of the 91st Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, standing and sitting in three rows. The soldiers are dressed in uniform, some are holding drums and other musical instruments.

91st Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, April 7, 1916. e010932335

2. Military operations and units

Many researchers ask for information regarding specific military operations or units. It is helpful to have a date range to narrow the scope of the request. Start with a keyword search in Collection Search for records within the Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112) and choose “archives” from the dropdown menu to narrow your search.

For example, if you are interested in Operation Overlord, the codename for the Second World War Battle of Normandy (1944), you could try “RG24 operation overlord” and then filter results to archival material from the 1940s. Use the same steps if you’re interested in a specific military unit. Perform a keyword search for the unit’s name or number along with archival reference number “RG24.”

A black-and-white image of an official Province of Canada document describing the exact location and size of a land grant.

Land patent confirming title to land, granted to David Patterson in Haldimand County, June 8, 1856. (RG68 volume 231, file EO, page 172)

3. Land sales and holdings

This is a very popular topic—especially interesting as our country’s land use has changed and evolved over time. Record keeping and shifting government responsibilities have made this type of research a challenge. There are several blog posts to guide researchers through the preliminary phases of their research:

LAC also maintains numerous databases related to land holdings including:

Most researchers inquire about land they currently own or that was granted to their ancestors. The following information helps us respond to your request more efficiently:

  • Date of grant (or sale/transfer)
  • Location of land (specific legal description or general)
  • Name of patentee (group, corporation or individual)
A blurry black-and-white photograph of a building taken from the side, showing the main entrance and the front of the building.

St. Eugene Indian Residential School—Kootenay, main building looking south, Cranbrook, B.C., September 11, 1948. (e011080318)

4. Residential or day school attendance

Our reference services receive many requests related to attendance at residential or day schools. Most residential school records are in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds (RG10/R216).

In Collection Search, type in various combinations of the following terms for a broad search: the name of the school, archival reference number RG10, and keywords such as pupil, student, nominal, attendance, admission or discharge.

Refine your search results using the tabs across the top of the results page or the filters in the left menu. For example, you can limit your results to Archives (unpublished materials) and a specific date range. The goal is to identify and compile a list of complete references for potentially relevant files.

For links to digitized records organized by school, refer to School Files Series—1879–1953.

A black-and-white photograph of a large stone building. In front of the building, there are men walking on the sidewalk. The sign on the building next door reads “The Mercury Newspaper.”

Post Office, Renfrew, Ontario, 1910. a055863

5. Information about historic federal buildings

Are you an architecture buff? Maybe you live or work in a historic building (train station, post office, customs house)? There are many reasons for researching historic buildings.

In Collection Search, start with the building type and location (e.g. Post Office Renfrew). Filter your results as needed—perhaps you are looking for photographs or contract specifications for a mid-century renovation. Filtering by date or type of document (e.g. maps) is often the best first step.

Use clues from the results page to conduct further keyword searches, perhaps using more specific terminology (like street names). Or widen your search using broader geographical terms (like the name of the province or region).

We love getting your questions and will always help you while following our Reference Services Charter. While we cannot do your research for you, Ask Us a Question and we will do our best to help you advance your research on any topic!


Rebecca Murray is an archivist in the Reference Services Division.

The ship Bellas, a prize of war in 1914

By Johanne Noël

The Prize Court in Canada

In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, the Prize Court had not sat in Canada since the War of 1812. The Prize Court hears cases in times of war concerning the capture of enemy vessels or vessels belonging to enemy countries. Depending on the era, these cases might require taking into consideration Admiralty Orders, Royal Proclamations, Orders-in-Council, Acts of Parliament, and written and unwritten international treaties and laws pertaining to maritime wars. The objective is to capture enemy vessels on Canadian territory without the country becoming embroiled in disputes with other countries.

The procedure

During international conflicts, the merchant vessels of enemies might be captured. The captain or the first mate, or both, would be interrogated under oath before the registrar. The parties would then be heard before the judge in open court, where exhibits of evidence were read out and recorded on file. If the vessel was proved to belong to British, allied or neutral forces, it would be released or restored to the original owners.

Should the property be deemed as “good and lawful prize,” it would be transferred to the prize master, who would auction it off. An enemy merchant vessel would normally be granted at least one grace day to leave a Canadian port and thus avoid being captured as a prize of war.

The capture of the Bellas in 1914

On August 4, 1914, an imperial decree brought Britain and Canada into the First World War. The Bellas, a merchant ship flying the German flag, had been docked in the port of Rimouski since July 29, 1914, unloading a shipment of timber from Portugal. It was the only enemy ship on Canadian territory when war was declared. In fact, this particular case led the Prize Court to revise its procedures, which dated back to the 19th century.

At the port of Rimouski, a Writ of Summons was served to the ship’s captain by an officer of the court on August 7, 1914. The captain declared that he had seen the original and been given a copy.

On August 10, the ship was brought to the port of Québec by Commander Atwood of the Department of Naval Service, and it was left in the custody of the collector of customs at the port. Atwood had not received the Writ of Summons issued in Rimouski, so he produced a new one upon taking control of the ship. The collector of customs, unaware that a first writ had been issued, took the ship’s papers and sent them to Ottawa, where they were translated from German and recorded on file.

On September 16, the Deputy Minister of Justice issued a Writ of Summons through the Exchequer Court and submitted it to those responsible for the Bellas in Québec on September 22. This writ brought case No. 1 before the Prize Court, under the Exchequer Court. The writ was published in the Montreal Gazette and the Quebec Chronicle by the registrar of the court. The ship was ordered to be detained by the bailiff until further orders issued by the court. On December 15, 1914, a second court order signed by Judge Cassels extended the detention period.

At the time that the ship was seized, the navigation season was closed at Québec. The ship and its cargo would remain docked at the port of Québec, pending a decision.

Typed document with the title “In the Exchequer Court of Canada.” Two $1 and one 50¢ Canadian postage stamps were affixed in the lower-left margin of the document to attest that the fees for this document had been paid to the court.

Writ of Summons for the Bellas, September 16, 1914. The bailiff would go on board the ship with the original writ and pin it to the mizzen mast for a few minutes, then replace it with a duly certified copy before leaving the ship. (e011312628)

Typed document with the title “In the Exchequer Court of Canada” and a red string in the upper-right corner. It features two signatures.

Writ of Summons for the Bellas, September 16, 1914. Note indicating that this Writ of Summons was served on September 22, 1914. (e011312628)

Typed document with the title “In the Exchequer Court of Canada No. 1.” It features a blue ink stamp mark dated September 24, 1914, and a signature.

Writ of Summons for the Bellas, September 16, 1914. Note indicating that this Writ of Summons was served on September 22, 1914. (e011312628)

Was the ship Portuguese or German?

In his testimony before the court, the captain of the Bellas, Conrad Bollen, acknowledged having left the port of Oporto (known today as Porto) in Portugal on June 24, 1914. He received no communication regarding the Bellas between the port of Oporto and Rimouski in Quebec. At the time of its departure from Oporto, the ship was owned by J. Wimmer and Company, a company registered in Germany. On August 7, a telegram from the Wimmer company informed the captain of the sale of the ship. A purchase agreement had been concluded bona fide (in good faith) while the ship was at sea.

Document written in German. The document features a diagonal watermark from left to right that reads Deutsches Reich (German Empire). The document is titled Deutsches Reich, under which is featured the coat of arms of the German Empire and the mention Schiffs-Zertifikat.

The certificate of registration of the Bellas states that its home port is Hamburg, Germany, and that it is owned by German shipowner Johannes Alfred Eduard Wimmer (e011312630)

Document typed and handwritten in German.

The certificate of registration of the Bellas states that its home port is Hamburg, Germany, and that it is owned by German shipowner Johannes Alfred Eduard Wimmer (e011312630)

Document written in German. The document features a diagonal watermark from left to right that reads Deutsches Reich (German Empire). The document is titled Deutsches Reich, under which is featured the coat of arms of the German Empire and the mention Musterrolle der Mannschaft des deutschen Bellas.

The muster roll of the Bellas lists the crew members who boarded the ship at the port of Lisbon as of August 28, 1912. It states that the ship departed the port of Oporto in Portugal for Rimouski in Canada. (e011312629)

Document written in German. The document features a diagonal watermark from left to right that reads Deutsches Reich (German Empire).

The muster roll of the Bellas lists the crew members who boarded the ship at the port of Lisbon as of August 28, 1912. It states that the ship departed the port of Oporto in Portugal for Rimouski in Canada. (e011312629)

The Portuguese consulate in Canada tried to regularize the status of the ship by obtaining documents attesting the certification of the ship under Portuguese flag authority, which would have enabled it to return to Portugal. A document written in Portuguese explained that the sale had been concluded and that the new owner, Orlando de Mello do Rogo, had taken possession of the ship on July 3. The document is dated November 10, 1914, three months after the seizure of the ship. This claim was rejected and the ship was considered German, thus making it an enemy ship subject to seizure.

The Bellas in Her Majesty’s service during the war

On July 17, 1915, the ship was requisitioned for imperial service during the war. On the same day, a requisition notice was issued as well as a commission for the evaluation of the ship and its cargo. The ship was used to transport timber during the war, which it survived. The ship’s initial timber cargo was sold for over £1,000. The former owners did not submit any claims for the merchandise.

References

Prize Court rules

Library and Archives Canada, RG13, vol. 1926, file 1916-244

Library and Archives Canada, RG13, vol. 1925, file 1914-1239


Johanne Noël is an archivist in the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Icebergs now on Flickr 

National Film Board photographers setting up by an iceberg (e011175885)

Icebergs are large pieces of ice that break off glaciers and float into the surrounding ocean. They can be pure white or streaked with blue and brown. Blue streaks come from melt water freezing in the cracks of the original glaciers. Brown streaks come from dust landing on the ice or erosion from the original glacier scraping the ground.

Iceberg in Hudson Strait (a045191)

The shape and size of icebergs depends on their breakage and melt patterns, as well as waves, temperature, and the ice pack around them. Common shapes include tabular, blocky, wedge, pinnacle, domed, and drydock.

An album page with five black-and-white close up shots of different types of icebergs and a shot of the ocean at sunset. The captions read, left to right, “Sunset, Baffin Bay” and “Taken at sea – Off Scott Inlet, Baffin Island.”

Views of icebergs taken at sea, off Scott Inlet, Baffin Island (e010863534)

Tabular, or flat pieces of shelf ice that break off to form ice islands, are stable enough to use as mobile research platforms, while the more irregular shapes can break apart without warning. According to the Iceberg Finder, the largest iceberg ever recorded in the Arctic was recorded in 1882 near Baffin Island

Six small sketches of different types of icebergs in pale colours with the caption: “Vanille, fraise, framboise – boum, servez froid!” [Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry—boom, serve cold!]

Vanille, fraise, framboise – boum, servez froid! [Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry—boom, serve cold!] (e008444012)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Images of Indigenous Pipes now on Flickr

Close up portrait of a man smoking a pipe, and wearing a flat cap and round glasses.

Portrait of an Inuit man, Angmarlik, a respected leader at Qikiqtat (Kekerten) (PA-166470)

Pipe smoking was practiced by both Indigenous men and women.

Woman smoking a pipe and wearing a dress, shawl, and headwrap. She is holding the reins of a horse pulling a Red River cart.

Camp scene of a Red River cart and an Indigenous woman (e011156555)

Pipe bowls were made from ceramics or carved from hard materials such as pipestone, soapstone, wood, or corncobs. The stem was usually made of a hollowed out tube of wood. Pipes were used recreationally to smoke tobacco, or blends of aromatic plants or barks. Pipes were also used on political and ceremonial occasions. Unique metal-forged axe pipes were gifted to Indigenous chiefs and leaders.

A birch bark basket embroidered in the centre with a First Nations figure smoking a pipe, and white, red, and blue flowers on each side.

Birch bark basket with embroidered First Nations figure and pipe (e010948522)

Pipe smoking has dwindled, but the practice and symbolism still carries on as some of these pictures show.

Portrait of a woman wearing a plaid shawl and smoking a pipe.

Inuit woman wearing plaid shawl and smoking a pipe (e010692540)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

So, You’ve Published a Book

By Liane Belway

Rows of books with multicoloured covers sit on grey metal shelves ready to be processed.

The Legal Deposit team processes all kinds of books published in Canada. (Photo credit: Tom Thompson)

Did you know, when you publish a book, one of the first things you should do is deposit it at Library and Archives Canada (LAC)? Our national collection is built on Canadian publications, which we acquire and preserve for future generations. Our Legal Deposit program has been in place for decades, and publishers from all over Canada send us their publications to be included in our internationally renowned collection. One of the most popular questions we get from new publishers is simply, “Am I required to deposit my work with LAC?”

If you have recently published work in print in Canada and are unsure how to proceed, our newly redesigned step-by-step deposit instructions can guide you through the process. There is a separate process to deposit digital publications, which must also be deposited upon publication. And, of course, if you have any questions, LAC staff are always available to help.

For publishers who have published a title both in print and digitally who wonder which format to deposit, the answer is easy: both! Publishers deposit their books in each format they make available to the public, and this responsibility is becoming increasingly important as the Canadian publishing industry evolves. While the majority of Canadian publications are still produced in print, an increasing number are offered in digital formats as well, with a smaller number of publishers producing digital-only titles. There is even a trend toward publishing originally digital titles at a later date in print format: Toronto-based digital storytelling platform Wattpad Books plans to publish popular titles in print starting this fall, in partnership with Vancouver-based distributor Raincoast Books. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you probably already know that Raincoast Books is famous for distributing books that tend to be popular with Canadian readers.

Rows of books with multicoloured covers sit on wooden book carts.

Recently arrived books waiting for processing by the Legal Deposit team. (Photo credit: Tom Thompson)

If you would like to learn more about how to contribute to our national collection, who is required to deposit with us, what types of publications and how many copies are required, this information and more can be found on our newly updated Legal Deposit web page on LAC’s website.


Liane Belway is a librarian in the Acquisitions section of Published Heritage at Library and Archives Canada.

You can Contact Us with any questions you might have about LAC’s Legal Deposit program.

Images of Beaches now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of three girls lying side by side on the sand on their stomachs.

Three girls lying on the sand at a beach, Renfrew County, Ontario [PA-056012

Located near seashores, large rivers and lakes, beaches are strips of land between the low-water and high-water marks. Depending on the local geography, they are constituted of materials such as rocks, pebbles or sand.

A colour photograph of a group of boys playing on the beach at a lake.

Boys playing on the beach at Great Slave Lake, Hay River, Northwest Territories [e010976123

The aristocracy and upper classes of the United Kingdom and Europe spearheaded visits to beaches for leisure and health. The beach as a recreation destination evolved during the mid-19th century. The expansion of railways and stations made it easier for middle-class and working-class citizens to purchase cheap fares, and to travel to growing resort towns.

A black-and-white photograph of a man and a woman sitting on the sand, facing each other and smiling.

Mr. Murphy and Ms. Beck at Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia [e008302213

During the late 19th century, North America, which was blessed with an abundance of beaches, also experienced a rapid development of these areas for recreation. This growth continued well into the 20th century, when new forms of water activities were invented, such as surfing, wake boarding and wind surfing.

A colour photograph of a woman and two men. One of the men crouches and marks the water temperature in chalk on a sign as 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two men and a woman chalking up the water temperature at Brackley Beach, Prince Edward Island National Park [e010949055

The popularity of beaches has not waned, and Canadians and tourists alike can enjoy the variety of amenities they offer.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Chief Poundmaker: Revisiting the legacy of a peacemaker

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 Anna Heffernan

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was a Plains Cree chief who was known as Chief Poundmaker in English. In 1885, he was tried and convicted of treason-felony because of his alleged involvement in the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance. On May 23, 2019, 134 years later, the Canadian government posthumously exonerated him and officially apologized to the Poundmaker Cree Nation of Saskatchewan, which is home to many of his descendants. His people, and other Plains First Nations who passed down accounts of his life, remember Poundmaker as a leader who remained committed to peace even when faced with dire circumstances. After decades of advocacy by his First Nation community, Poundmaker’s story is also coming to the attention of the broader Canadian public thanks to his exoneration. At Library and Archives Canada, we have many photographs and documents that help to tell this story.

Poundmaker was born around 1842 to a Stoney Nakoda father and a Métis mother of French Canadian and Cree descent, near Battleford in what is now Saskatchewan. In the early 1870s, an influential Blackfoot chief, Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), adopted Poundmaker and gave him the name Makoyi-koh-kin (Wolf Thin Legs), after a son whom Crowfoot had lost in battle. Poundmaker returned to the Cree after living for a time with the Blackfoot, but he maintained a friendship with his adopted father.

A black-and-white photograph of Poundmaker standing in front of a tipi wearing a fur hat, a shirt and vest, a blanket around his waist, and moccasins. Standing next to him is his wife, wearing a blanket around her shoulders over a dress.

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), right, with his wife, circa 1884 (a066596-v8)

A black-and-white photograph of Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), seated holding an eagle feather fan and wearing a hide shirt adorned with fur and beads or quills.

Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot) in 1886 (c001871)

By August 1876, Poundmaker had become a headman and spoke at the Treaty Six negotiations. He was successful in having a famine clause added to the treaty, which promised that the Canadian government would provide rations to the signatory nations during times of food scarcity. Poundmaker recognized that the majority of his band favoured making a treaty, and he signed it on August 23, 1876. In 1879, Poundmaker and his band settled on a reserve about 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Battleford.

Faced with the ever-increasing settlement of the West, which reduced the land and game that First Nations relied on to survive, Poundmaker urged his people to remain peaceful. He advised that war was no longer a feasible option, and in his words, “our only resource is our work, our industry, our farms.” In 1883, the Canadian government reduced the rations they had been providing to First Nations, and many were dissatisfied with the government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises.

In June 1884, several bands came to Poundmaker’s reserve to discuss the situation, including Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) and his followers. With over 2,000 Cree gathered, they held a Thirst Dance (also known as a Sun Dance), a sacred ceremony in many Plains First Nations traditions. The North West Mounted Police attempted to disperse the Cree and prevent the Thirst Dance from taking place. Poundmaker and Big Bear were able to keep the peace for the time being, but it was clear that tensions between First Nations and the police were high, and it was becoming more difficult to restrain the young warriors in their bands.

In 1885, representatives of the Métis in the District of Saskatchewan, North-West Territories, wrote to Louis Riel, who was living in Montana territory at the time. They were also experiencing difficulty because of increasing white settlement and lack of government recognition of their rights, and they asked Riel to return to the region to help. Leaders of the Cree and other First Nations continued to meet with each other and discuss their worsening predicament. With buffalo herds in decline, hunting was no longer a reliable source of food. The transition to agriculture was difficult, and both First Nations and settler farms in the region were failing to yield sufficient crops. Many Cree were starving, and their leaders were desperate to find a solution.

In the eyes of the settler-Canadian press, the Métis movement and the First Nations movement were the same. In fact, although they had many of the same grievances, the Métis and First Nations leaders were far from being united. Poundmaker sought to pressure the Canadian government into honouring its treaty promises through peaceful means. But as the Métis resistance grew, some of Poundmaker’s band members joined in fighting alongside them. In papers seized from Louis Riel at Batoche, there are French and English translations of a letter from Poundmaker to Riel, in which Poundmaker responds to a letter from Riel. Poundmaker’s reply was likely translated from Cree to French for Riel.

Handwritten letter, written in English

Translations of Poundmaker’s letter to Riel, found among Riel’s papers seized at Batoche. (e011303062)

The letter is undated. Based on its contents, it was likely written after the Battle of Duck Lake, the initial engagement of the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance between the North West Mounted Police and commander Gabriel Dumont’s Métis forces. In this letter, Poundmaker expresses respect for Riel but also makes it clear that he is not interested in joining the fight and is ready to negotiate with the military. As the translation reads, “We have all laid down our arms and we wish that the war was finished between us and when the General arrives I am ready to treat with him (hear him literally) with the most sincere intentions of the most complete submission.”

Poundmaker saw the Métis victory at Duck Lake as an opportunity. He wanted to take advantage of the uncertain state that the Canadian government found itself in to negotiate for supplies and rations. His people desperately needed these, and the government was obliged by treaty to provide them. Poundmaker’s band and a Stoney Nakoda band that was camping with them went to Battleford to open negotiations with the Indian Agent. The white settlers had deserted the town and holed up in the fort with the Indian Agent. After waiting for a day, the starving band members looted the empty Battleford homes for food, despite Poundmaker’s attempts to prevent this action. Although greatly exaggerated by the press at the time, the “looting of Battleford” was an act of desperation, not an attempt to start a conflict.

When the Indian Agent would not agree to meet with Poundmaker, the band left the town and set up camp at Cut Knife Creek. Some of the warriors erected a warriors’ lodge at the camp, signifying that the warrior society had taken control. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and his column of soldiers travelled to Battleford. On April 31, 1885, he set out with over 300 men to attack Poundmaker’s band in retaliation for the perceived attack on Battleford. They arrived at Cut Knife Creek on May 2. Poundmaker did not take part in the battle, which lasted for seven hours before Otter withdrew. Poundmaker convinced the warriors not to pursue the retreating army, which prevented many losses. Following this attack, many of the warriors in Poundmaker’s camp departed to join the Métis forces in Batoche. On May 12, Riel’s forces were defeated. Upon learning this, Poundmaker sent a message to Battleford offering to negotiate a peace. Major-General Frederick Middleton replied that he would not negotiate and demanded Poundmaker’s unconditional surrender. On May 26, Poundmaker obliged and came to Battleford, where he was arrested

Oil painting of a large group of First Nations people sitting and standing in a semi-circle with tipis in the background. Chief Poundmaker is seated on the ground in the centre with a ceremonial pipe in front of him. General Middleton is on the right seated in a chair, with several army men standing behind him.

The Surrender of Poundmaker to Major-General Middleton at Battleford, Saskatchewan, on May 26, 1885. Oil painting by R.W. Rutherford, 1887 (e011165548_s1)

On August 17, 1885, Poundmaker’s trial began in Regina. He was charged with treason-felony. The trial lasted for two days. In our collection, we have a written account of the testimony that Poundmaker gave at his trial. This account was found in a box of miscellaneous files in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the author of this account.

A handwritten page in English.

A written account of Poundmaker’s testimony from his 1885 trial (e011303044)

Poundmaker spoke to the court in Cree, while an interpreter translated his words into English. According to the account, the Chief’s words were translated as, “Everything I could do was done to prevent bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now, I would be on the prairie. You did not catch me, I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace.” The jury deliberated for half an hour before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced him to three years in a penitentiary. The impact of this decision on Poundmaker was immediately apparent. According to the author of this account, upon hearing his sentence, Poundmaker said, “Hang me now. I would rather die than be locked up.”

For a man who had spent his life on the land, hunting and leading, the effects of incarceration were profoundly detrimental. After only one year in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Poundmaker’s health had declined so much that he was released. Four months after his release, he died of a lung hemorrhage while visiting his adopted father Crowfoot on the Siksika Blackfoot reserve.

Nothing can truly right the injustice of Poundmaker’s imprisonment, or reverse the damage that the loss of his leadership had on his band and the Plains Cree. However, recognizing this injustice is a step toward greater understanding between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

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.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

The 50th anniversary of Canada’s Official Languages Act

By Normand Laplante

Canada’s Official Languages Act celebrates its 50th anniversary in July 2019! Library and Archives Canada holds many archival documents chronicling the genesis and evolution of the Act, which has been so important for the recognition of Canada’s linguistic duality.

In 1963, the government of Lester B. Pearson created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism “to inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada and to recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races, taking into account the contribution made by the other ethnic groups to the cultural enrichment of Canada and the measures that should be taken to safeguard that contribution.” The Commission archives bear witness to meetings between the Commission’s two co-chairs, André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton, and provincial governments, as well as public hearings held in 1964 and 1965 across Canada, during which over 400 briefs were submitted by individuals and organizations. A broad research program was also put in place to document the main points of discussion. In the first volume of the final report, tabled in the House of Commons in December 1967, the Commission recommended a federal law on official languages as “the keystone of any general programme of bilingualism in Canada.”

A black-and-white photograph of two men with a microphone between them.

André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton, co-chairs of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. ©Library and Archives Canada (a209871)

During its meeting on March 26, 1968, the federal Cabinet approved Prime Minister Pearson’s proposal to follow up on the Commission’s recommendation of a bill on official languages and to introduce it in Parliament during the upcoming parliamentary session. With the goal of reinforcing national unity, the proposal was one of Pearson’s last acts before leaving politics in April 1968. He was succeeded as leader of the Liberal Party and as Prime Minister of Canada by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The Trudeau Cabinet’s deliberations on the bill are well documented in the Cabinet Conclusions for the period from August 1968 to the coming into force of the Act in September 1969.

Two typewritten pages titled “Official Languages Bill.”

Cabinet conclusions, meeting of August 14, 1968, pages 6 and 7 (note that Cabinet conclusions were written in English only at that time). © Governement of Canada (e000836640 and e000836641) © Governement of Canada

These documents reveal some of the nationwide issues that the government considered in drafting the bill, including possible amendments to Canada’s constitution, the definition of “first official language spoken as a mother tongue” as a criterion for creating bilingual districts, and the use of official languages for the administration of justice in provincial courts. The Cabinet at the time also studied the duties and responsibilities of a new Commissioner of Official Languages, and the time needed to implement the dispositions of the Act in the federal public service.

The new Official Languages Act, which came into force on September 7, 1969, confirmed the status of English and French as the two official languages of Canada. It reflected the endorsement by the Trudeau government of various recommendations made by the Royal Commission. From that point on, all orders in council, regulations, acts, ordinances and other public documents of the Parliament of Canada and the federal government had to be produced in both official languages, and it was the responsibility of departments and agencies, and judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, to ensure that the public could communicate with them and receive their services in both official languages. In the same spirit, anyone testifying before a judicial or quasi-judicial body could do so in his or her official language of choice.

The Act also established the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. The role of the Commissioner, who is directly accountable to Parliament, is to ensure recognition of the status of each of the official languages and compliance with the spirit of the Act in the administration of the affairs of Parliament and the Government of Canada. The Commissioner has the authority to investigate public complaints about the application of the Act, to conduct such studies as are deemed necessary, and to report annually to Parliament on the status of the Act. In 1970, Keith Spicer became the first Commissioner of Official Languages for a seven-year term.

A colour reproduction of a page from a learning kit about bilingualism with a story of two children learning French / English and a drawing of the kids thanking M. Spicer.

A page taken from hte learning kit called Oh! Canada produced in 1971. © Government of Canada (e011163973)

Maxwell Yalden (1977–1984), D’Iberville Fortier (1984–1991), Victor Goldbloom (1991–1999), Dyane Adam (1999–2006), Graham Fraser (2006–2016), Ghislaine Saikaley (interim, 2016–2018) and Raymond Théberge (since 2018) have succeeded Spicer as Commissioner.

The Act also gave the federal government the power to designate bilingual districts, a concept suggested by the Commission, within which federal offices must provide bilingual services. The boundaries of these regions were to be determined by the Bilingual Districts Advisory Board; however, this section of the Act was never implemented. Despite the recommendations of two iterations of the advisory board in 1971 and 1975, the government abandoned the concept of bilingual districts, considering it to be unworkable since a consensus on the boundaries could not be achieved.

The proclamation of the new Constitution Act, 1982 and its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms led to the modernization of the Official Languages Act. The Charter enshrines the language rights of Canadians. It guarantees the protection of English and French as the official languages of Canada and New Brunswick, as well as the right to minority-language education for Francophone communities outside Quebec and the Anglophone community in Quebec. In 1988, the Canadian government adopted the new Official Languages Act, which more precisely defines constitutional language guarantees, the federal government’s role and responsibilities in supporting these rights, including the services provided to Canadians and possible legal remedies for non-compliance with the law, and the effective use of both official languages in the federal public service workplace.

A colour copy of the Charter with a piece of adhesive tape in the corner. The coat-of-arms of Canada is centred at the top of the page, with the title, Canadian flag and silhouettes on both sides below it. At the bottom is an illustration of the Parliament building. The text of the Charter is displayed in four columns.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Robert Stacey fonds. © Government of Canada (e010758222_s1)

Part VII of the new Act sets out the federal government’s commitment, through positive measures, to enhance the vitality and support the development of official-language minority communities, and to significantly promote English and French in Canadian society.

Find out more …

Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism:

Cabinet Conclusions:

Official Languages Act:


Normand Laplante is a senior archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.