Women lightkeepers, heroes by the sea: A Co-lab challenge

By Leah Rae

Imagine the solitary life of a lighthouse keeper: working alone in a remote location, throughout the night and during storms, always making sure that the light never goes out. Add to that being a grieving widow, or a person caring for an ailing spouse or young children. Such was the life for Canada’s women lightkeepers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Officially, lightkeepers were usually men but, in reality, the whole family helped to keep the lights going. As the position was awarded for life, when a lightkeeper passed away, someone had to immediately take over. That person was often the lightkeeper’s wife or child because they were already in place and had the knowledge and experience to operate the light. As such, there were several women lightkeepers across the country throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mary Croft—Discovery Island Lighthouse, Discovery Island, British Columbia

It is possible that Mary Croft was Canada’s first woman lightkeeper. Although she officially became the Discovery Island lightkeeper in 1902, she had already been caring for the lighthouse for five years while her father, the official lightkeeper, was suffering from a long illness. At the time she was appointed lightkeeper, Mary had two daughters and was supporting her own family while also caring for her ailing father. She kept the light on at Discovery Island for over thirty years before finally retiring to Victoria, British Columbia, at the age of 67. She received the Imperial Service Medal in 1934 for her work as a lightkeeper.

Blue typewriting on off-white letter paper.

A letter of recommendation for Mrs. Mary Croft (The lightkeeper’s name was Brinn, not Dunn.) (e011435495)

A colour postcard depicting a large yellow and brown building and a lighthouse.

Inch Arran Hotel and Lighthouse (e011435492)

Denise Arsenault—Inch Arran Lighthouse, Dalhousie, New Brunswick

The Inch Arran lighthouse (sometimes referred to as the Bon Ami lighthouse) was built in 1870. A beautiful salt-shaker style lighthouse, it has a unique birdcage-shaped lantern gallery. It overlooks the Chaleur Bay in New Brunswick and is still in operation as a range light. In the late 1800s, this was a resort destination and home to the grand Inch Arran Hotel. The Arsenault family was responsible for the light for 65 years. In 1913, lightkeeper James Arsenault died, leaving his wife, Denise, in charge of the light. Denise cared for the lighthouse until 1927, when she fell down the slippery lighthouse stairs and broke her arm, leaving her unable to perform her duties.

Maisie Adams—New London Lighthouse, Prince Edward Island

Maisie Adams was Prince Edward Island’s only woman lightkeeper. She operated the New London Lighthouse from 1943 to 1959, having become the lightkeeper after her husband, Claude, died of cancer at age 40. At that point, Maisie Adams was 30 years old and caring for three children between the ages of 1 and 7. She had already been taking care of the lighthouse for the final year and half of her husband’s life, due to his illness. Mrs. Adams lived in a house near the lighthouse and every spring she opened the light for the season and every winter she closed it down after the fishermen had pulled their boats in for the winter.

Handwritten text in blue ink on three pages of off-white writing paper. There are official stamps in the upper right corner of the first page.

A letter of recommendation for Masie Adams (e044435793-058)

The life of a lightkeeper was a challenging one. They dealt with isolation and challenging weather conditions, and needed to be constantly vigilant. Women lightkeepers worked tirelessly and often in solitude. They were not only responsible for the well-being of their own families, but also for the safety of mariners.

Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of documents related to lighthouses and lightkeepers. As part of International Women’s Day on March 8, we shine a light on Canada’s women lightkeepers and invite you to explore a sample of documents and images that illuminate their challenging lives and contributions to maritime life in Canada. We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe these digitized records from our collection.


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

Madge Macbeth: Writer of everything and anything

By Vasanthi Pendakur

Portrait-style photograph of a woman wearing a lace blouse, jade beads and a diamond pin facing the camera.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth (e010935318)

Madge Macbeth was a prolific American-Canadian writer of short stories, novels, plays, travel books, newspaper articles, and interviews throughout the first half of the 20th century. She was deeply involved with authors’ associations and in theatre, being a founding member of the Ottawa Little Theatre and the first female president of the Canadian Authors Association, a position she held for three terms.

Macbeth was born Madge Hamilton Lyons in Philadelphia, to Bessie Maffitt and Hymen Hart Lyons, on November 6, 1878. As a child, she produced plays and edited her own newspapers. She may have been influenced by her grandmother, Louisa Hart Maffitt, who was one of the first professional American press women and a suffragist.

After the family settled in Baltimore, Madge Lyons was sent to Hellmuth College in London, Ontario, for her education. In her memoir Boulevard Career, she recalled that Hellmuth in the 1890s did not teach Canadian literature and that its curriculum centred on the classics. After completing her schooling, she performed as a mandolinist and vaudeville actress for a few years before marrying Charles Macbeth in 1901.

The couple first moved to Detroit, and then settled in Ottawa. Macbeth instantly loved Ottawa. In her writings, she stated that Ottawa provided a means of satisfying my in-born and unquenchable love of people.” This is certainly true. She became friends with many of the leading lights of Ottawa, including the photographer Yousuf Karsh and Mayor Charlotte Whitton.

Side profile of Madge Macbeth in a black dress and white lace jacket wearing a feathered hat.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth as a young woman in Ottawa (e008406101)

Disaster struck around 1908. Macbeth’s husband caught tuberculosis and later died, her young son became ill, and her mother lost all her money. Writing was one of the few professional careers open to women at the time. As she recounted in an interview with Maclean’s: I began to write…with the deluded idea that it was something I could do at home. Long since I have learned that it is just the place where one can’t write in peace.” At the time, the Canadian market for writing was small. Editors were looking for American or British writers, and in many instances Canadians were confined to advertisements or second runs.

Macbeth began with short pieces in magazines, and had a few early successes with her novels The Changeling (1909), and The Winning Game (1910). This was followed by a dry spell. A helpful mentor at this time was Marjorie MacMurchy, one of the earliest press women in Canada. MacMurchy suggested Macbeth try getting interviews with members of Parliament, because magazines were more interested in public officials than in fiction.

Her luck returned. A Canadian editor accepted a piece she had written, and soon other work followed. Macbeth wrote anything she could get her hands on: advertisements, brochures for the Canadian Pacific Railway, serials, novels, travel books, plays, radio dramas, propaganda (during World War II), newspaper articles, and columns. She wrote under her own name and various pseudonyms, both male and female. Her writing style and subject matter changed from book to book, but most of her pieces were suffused with a strain of humour or satire, and her main characters were usually women. She wrote about marriage, sex, travel, adventure, religion, and political intrigue. Later in her career, she travelled extensively, usually alone, for lecture series or for material to turn into more books.

Madge Macbeth holding a document and looking off to the side.

Madge Macbeth holding a document (e010935329)

Many of her novels focussed on the middle and upper classes. In fact, popular political satire novels, like The Kinder Bees (1935) and The Land of Afternoon (1924), were based on her knowledge of upper-class society in Ottawa. Both were written under the closely guarded pseudonym of “Gilbert Knox.” One of her most popular novels was Shackles (1926), which highlighted first-wave feminist thinking of the time. The novel is the story of Naomi Lennox, a middle-class woman fighting for respect as a writer and for freedom within her church and marriage. The book was highly praised by some and condemned by others for its portrayal of sex in marriage.

Macbeth’s articles discussed similar themes as well as showcased women in the arts, business, education, and suffrage. One article entitled “How much sex should be put into novels?” was published in 1947. In it, Macbeth argued that authors were reporters describing the world around them. She was critical of authors using too much sex in their books, but argued that ignoring it completely was also a disservice to reality and literature. One exchange with a reformer went like this: Why don’t you authors write about nice things?” He complained. … “Do you enjoy uplift books?” I shot at him, “Or do you want them published for the other fellow?

Throughout her career, Macbeth was deeply involved with authors’ associations and in theatre. Not only was she the first female president of the Canadian Authors Association, but she held the position for three terms, a record at the time. She used the position to promote Canadian literature and continually supported younger writers. As well, her interest in theatre led to the founding of the Ottawa Drama League, later the Ottawa Little Theatre. Her stated goal with this project was to wean children from cheap movies, to give them a knowledge and love of good dramatic literature.” Macbeth pestered MPs for support until the project came to fruition. It is now one of the oldest theatre companies in Canada.

Large group of men and women standing in front of the entrance to a building.

Group portrait of the Canadian Authors Association (e008406116)

Macbeth’s work was very progressive, but elements of her writing show her Victorian upbringing. While her subject matter was enlightened, her books tended to fit into the conventions of the time. She supported fledging writers and was proud of supporting herself and creating space for other women to do the same. At the same time, she wrote articles arguing that women had forgotten their domestic responsibilities, and called spinsterhooda half baked life. She wrote as a member of her class, and some of her language would not be used today. These contradictions are symbolic of her long career and the changes that took place in society from her Victorian upbringing to her death in the 1960s.  Boulevard Career ends with a discussion of how much society, and Ottawa in particular, had changed over her career, especially for women. Her writing and her life were part of this change, half in the future and half in the past.

Macbeth donated her papers to the National Archives in 1958. The fonds includes manuscripts of many of her novels, copyright information, and correspondence on a number of topics, including Macbeth’s lecture series, her involvement with the Ottawa Drama League, and her work with the Canadian Authors Association. The fonds also comprises diaries, scrapbooks, and a large collection of photos of Macbeth over her life. These photos show her dramatic side and her love of the theatre. The fonds gives us insight into her long career and ensures that her work will be remembered.

Side portrait of Madge Macbeth wearing a pale patterned cape.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth wearing a cape (e010935313)

Additional resources


Vasanthi Pendakur is a project manager in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

From the Lowy Room: A Scroll of Serendipity

By Michael Kent

One of the most exciting aspects of working with rare books is the story of the individual items in our collections. The life an item had before finding its way to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) can be fascinating, and is sometimes as interesting as the content of the work itself. In some cases, the story of an item can share amazing parallels with the work itself. One such example is a scroll containing the Biblical Book of Esther. This scroll is now housed in LAC’s Jacob M. Lowy Collection.

A colour photograph of a handwritten Hebrew manuscript on parchment completely rolled out across a table, approximately seven feet in length. Also on the table is the protective metal casing that originally housed the manuscript.

The Megillah of Esther unrolled in the Jacob M. Lowy Room, located at 395 Wellington, in Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

This scroll is handwritten in Hebrew in a format suited for ritual use as part of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The story of how it ended up at Library and Archives Canada was passed down to me through an oral history from previous curators of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. It is a story too good not to share.

When I show the scroll to visitors, they are instantly struck by its damaged metal case. People often exclaim that it looks like it has gone through a war, and in fact it has. As the story goes, a British soldier found this case sticking out of the rubble of a bombed-out building in continental Europe at the end of the Second World War. Upon discovering that the case contained a scroll, the soldier decided to keep the item as a war souvenir. Later in life, that soldier would move to Canada and bring the scroll with him.

The next chapter in the story of the scroll took place after this soldier passed away. As it has been recounted to me, the soldier had no children, and his neighbours volunteered to clean out his apartment. Through that process, they discovered the scroll, recalling that he had previously shown it to them. Recognizing it was an item of value, they decided to find a home for it. As chance would have it, these neighbours had a relative who worked at the then-National Archives. They sent the scroll to this relative, who passed it off to an archivist. Several years later, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection of rare Judaica was donated to the National Library of Canada. The decision was made to transfer the scroll to that collection so that it would be housed with other Judaica.

So why do I feel that the story of the physical scroll mirrors the story contained within? The answer comes from a unique aspect of the Biblical Book of Esther as one of the two books from the Hebrew Scriptures that does not mention God. The traditional rabbinic explanation to textual oddity is that the name of God was left out of the book to highlight the hidden nature of the miracle contained within the story. It is a story of a series of small and unlikely worldly events that culminate in the survival of the Jewish people.

When I look at the scroll, I too see an item that survived through a series of small and unlikely event. That the original owner would house it in a strong protective material. That the item would survive a bombing. That it would end up in a visible place. That a soldier would stop to investigate it and decide it was worth saving. That his neighbours would volunteer to clear out his apartment after his death. That those volunteers would carefully examine the apartment’s contents and seek a proper home for the scroll. That they would have a connection at the National Archives. These unlikely occurrences come together to form a powerful story of survival and a fantastic journey for this scroll that brought it to LAC.

While I am in no place to offer spiritual reflections on the survival of this scroll, the serendipity is remarkable. This story, and others like it, highlight the powerful past the items in our collections have. These stories go far beyond the written word, and I am always humbled to learn and share them.


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

An update from Kigali!

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In February 2020, my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, where we are both guests of the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA). As we approach the end of our second week in Kigali, it is hard to believe that our time is almost half over! After months of preparation, we have packed so much into the first two weeks. RALSA invited us to train their staff of three librarians and four archivists in best practices and international professional standards. A small but mighty staff, they are keenly aware of their responsibilities and obligations as the national library and archives, and anxious to implement the best standards they can, not only to properly manage and describe their own collection, but also to provide guidance and assistance to other memory institutions across Rwanda. Representing the library side, I have been focusing on cataloguing (my own specialty), but I am also answering questions and helping them to develop policies on everything from administering the national ISBN program to digital rights management to generating the library’s social media content. It has been interesting for me, coming from a large institution where different aspects of our collection and services are managed by different sections and large teams, to see a handful of people striving to do it all here. They are ambitious and incredibly hard-working, and every day I admire and respect them even more for what they are trying to accomplish.

A colour photograph of archival materials on bookshelves.

Part of RALSA’s archival collection. Photo credit: Karl-Xavier Thomas

As part of our work here, RALSA has also invited librarians and archivists from across Rwanda to attend a four-day conference in Kigali, where Karl-Xavier and I will be giving the same training we have delivered over the last two weeks to a bigger audience. It is an opportunity for us to meet and make connections with many of the professionals working in the field in this country, and for them to learn and develop their skills so they can better serve their clients and collections. Although I have always felt that my work has value and have always been proud of what I do, it is special to be able to see the immediate impact of my knowledge and expertise. I really do feel that I am making a difference here, helping professionals across Rwanda learn to better describe and provide access to their collections. These are lessons that they will be able to continue using long after I have returned to Canada.

Another interesting activity that was part of the cultural exchange was participating in Umuganda, the countrywide community clean-up day. This takes place on the last Saturday of every month and is mandatory for all citizens between the ages of 16 and 65. People gather in their villages and neighbourhoods to work on a project that improves their local community. The idea is to make things a little bit better each month than they were the month before. The day that we joined in, people were clearing brush from around newly planted trees, and digging out a drainage canal that was overgrown with weeds. Following the work, the members of the village gathered for a meeting where news and reminders were shared, and members of the community were able to raise issues of concern. I was struck by how respectful the tone of the meeting was, how all members felt free to stand and express themselves, and how they listened to each other and reached solutions together.

I feel that what we are accomplishing here is in the spirit of Umuganda, in a small way. We too are bringing what we have to share, contributing it to the community, and leaving things a little bit better than they were before.

A colour photograph of an office building.

RALSA is moving to a custom-built facility next year, but it currently operates out of several rooms on the top floor of this office building in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo credit: Alison Harding-Hlady


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Women’s hockey: She shoots, she scores!

By Ellen Bond

In January 2020, the Canadian men’s team won the gold medal against Russia at the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship. It was a hard-fought competition with millions watching from all over the world. This is any Canadian hockey player’s dream: winning gold at an international championship and hearing your national anthem at the end of the game. Meanwhile, only a few days earlier, Team Canada played against the United States of America (USA) in the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship with, by comparison, almost no one watching.

Unlike basketball, which has different sized balls, and volleyball, which has different net heights, hockey is the same game for men and women. Yes, women play “non-contact” hockey, but the ice surface is the same, the puck size and weight are the same, and the nets are of equal height, width and depth. Both men and women began playing hockey in its infancy (men in early 1870s and women in 1890s). This begs the question: Why did men’s hockey continue to grow and develop, while women’s hockey had a great start but then failed to gain the same attention?

A black and white photo taken outside with women in long skirts.

A group of women gather to play hockey in 1906, Ottawa, ON (PA-042256)

When I was young, all I wanted to do was play hockey. I remember watching my brother play with lots of other boys out on the ice. They would divide the ice up with long hoses across the blue lines to make up three smaller ice surfaces. I wanted to be out there, but girls were not allowed. That changed in the late 1970s when we moved to Campbellford, Ontario. One day in early fall, a man came to our door and asked my dad if he wanted to coach the girls’ hockey team. He said yes and, at the beginning of grade eight, I started playing organized hockey.

A sepia photo of a girls’ hockey team with Campbellford Minor Hockey written on their sweaters.

My championship team the first year I was allowed to play hockey. My dad is on the right and my brother is kneeling in front of him. I’m in the top row, third from the left. (Photo supplied by the author.)

This made me wonder: If women, like men, started to play hockey in the late 1800s, why wasn’t I allowed to play hockey prior to our move to Campbellford, when we had lived in a moderately large city?

A black and white photo of a woman dressed in a skirt to play hockey outside.

“Queen of the Ice.” A woman stands on ice wearing figure skates and holding a hockey stick, 1903. (C-3192610)

The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA) claims the first women’s hockey game took place in 1891 in Ottawa, Ontario. At this time, the University of Toronto (U of T), Queen’s University and McGill University had women’s hockey teams, but they had to compete behind closed doors. Men couldn’t watch and the only men allowed inside were the referees. In 1914, the first women’s provincial championship took place in Picton, Ontario. There were six teams involved, including some of the university teams. In 1921, U of T defeated McGill to win the first Canadian women’s university championship. These teams and others helped the game grow steadily but unevenly in the 1920s and 1930s.

Then women’s hockey just stopped growing. Maybe it was because hockey was “too rough for girls,” as Clarence Campbell, President of the National Hockey League, argued in 1946. Maybe it was because communities prohibited people from watching women play hockey. Maybe it was because of beliefs that watching women play hockey was too frivolous or that women took the game too seriously. Or maybe, as Wayne Norton suggests in his book Women on Ice: The Early Years of Women’s Hockey in Western Canada, it was because in 1923 the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) voted NOT to give women official recognition as hockey players. In their book, Too Many Men on the Ice: Women’s Hockey in North America, Joanna Avery and Julie Stevens propose that Canada’s participation in the Second World War led to the decline of women’s hockey. Many women took on factory jobs when the majority of men went to fight in the war, leaving them little time to play the game. Whatever the reason, for decades it was hard for women to play a beloved game and this meant that many girls and women never had the opportunity to play hockey.

A black and white photo of a woman as a professional hockey player.

Miss Eva Ault. When men headed to Europe in the First World War, women got their first chance to play professional hockey. Eva Ault became a fan favourite, but when the war ended so did the careers of the first female pros. (PA-043029)

A black and white photo of a women’s hockey team lined up with the butt end of their sticks on the ground and dressed in their team uniform.

Women’s hockey team from Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, 1921. Names available in the record. (PA-074583)

I had the opportunity to play hockey from grades eight to thirteen, both in my community and at my high school in Peterborough, Ontario. I was also fortunate to have varsity teams to play on at McMaster and Queen’s universities. This was the closest I ever got to playing professional hockey. We were provided with equipment, ice time for practices and games, and transportation to all our games. At McMaster the entire budget for our team was less than the men’s team spent on sticks alone, but I had the chance to play varsity hockey for my university and to play with and against some of the best players in the world.

Two of those players were Margot (Verlaan) Page and Andria Hunter. Both of these athletes wore the Team Canada jersey at World Championships. I played with Margot for three years at McMaster. She was our captain and the best player out on the ice. At the time, this was the highest level of hockey Margot could play. She went on to play for Canada at the IIHF World Championships in 1987 (not sanctioned), 1990, 1992 and 1994. From 2000–2007 Margot coached Canada’s IIHF and Olympic women’s hockey teams. Margot is now Head Coach of the Brock Badgers Women’s Varsity Ice Hockey Team. Andria and I knew each other from living in Peterborough and because I was a counsellor at Camp Quin-Mo-Lac when she was a camper. Living in a small town, our paths crossed numerous times. I asked Andria what it was like when she first played hockey. Here is her story, in her own words.

I first started playing hockey in 1976. At that time, it was not very common for females to play. I was fortunate to play in Peterborough when girls’ hockey was just taking off. There were many small towns that had no female hockey at all at that time. I played in a boy’s house league my first year, but after that I was always able to play girls’ hockey.

When I was a kid, it was always my dream to play university hockey, because that was the highest level at the time; there was no national team, and certainly no World Championship or Olympics. I was very fortunate that some major changes in women’s hockey happened at an ideal time for me. I went on to play university hockey in the USA on a hockey scholarship; I was only the second international female player to receive a women’s hockey scholarship in the USA. I also had the opportunity to play for Team Canada in 1992 and in 1994! I have always thought that if I had been born just five years earlier, I may have missed these amazing experiences.

I played at the University of Toronto as a graduate student between 1990 and 1996. During these years, the program went through a tumultuous period of transition. In 1990, our team kept our equipment in a small locker and our games were only three fifteen-minute periods with one flood. Then, during the 1993–94 season (when I was away from U of T playing hockey in Switzerland), the women’s hockey program was almost cancelled. There was a big rally that helped to keep the program alive. When I returned from Switzerland the next year to play for U of T again, women’s hockey had been upgraded to a high-performance sport. We now had two-hour practices four days a week, and no longer had to keep our equipment in a storage locker!

I played in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) when it was in its infancy. We had an enthusiastic owner when I played for the Mississauga Ice Bears who arranged for us to play at the Hershey Centre [now the Paramount Centre] and we even had our own dressing room there. Unfortunately, we just did not get enough fans to allow us to play in such an expensive venue so, after two seasons, the team moved to Oakville.

Since my retirement from the NWHL in 2001, women’s hockey has continued to grow. It is certainly much more socially acceptable for females to play [now] than it was when I was a kid. The skill level has increased, as players get more development opportunities. The quality of the coaching, the level of competition, and the amount of ice time at the grassroots level, are certainly contributing factors. The number of teams at the university level in both Canada and the USA and the amount of resources for these players has continued to increase as well. It is unfortunate that women’s hockey still struggles to attract fans and that there are limited professional opportunities for women’s hockey players today. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of employment opportunities for women in coaching positions.

A black and white photo of a women’s hockey team. The women have team sweaters on and are holding their hockey sticks.

Team portrait of Queen’s University women’s hockey team, 1917. Some names are available in the record. (PA-127274)

Like Andria says, girls today have many opportunities to play hockey. Teams are available in many communities across Canada. Girls can aspire to play varsity hockey at many Canadian universities, to play in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States, and to play in many European countries. They can dream about playing for their country at the Olympics and in the World Championships. Elite players from Canada and the USA played 3-on-3 games during the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, Missouri, showing their skills to million of fans. As the game continues to grow, competition between countries will increase and maybe the NHL will offer a women’s professional league to play in. The future is bright for the young girls of today who yearn to play hockey. Margot, Andria and I gained many life lessons from playing hockey growing up and we are so excited for the girls of today and the opportunities that await them playing the great game of hockey.


Ellen Bond is a project assistant with the Online Content Team at Library and Archives Canada

The Freedom to Read

By Liane Belway

A colour photograph showing the spines of a stack of books against a black background.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection, which have been challenged.  Photo credit: Tom Thompson

In Canada, we enjoy the freedom to read what we choose, so much so that we may not always consider how important this right is, or whether it could be interfered with in a country such as ours. After all, our intellectual freedom is guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet, freedom to read can never be taken for granted.  Even in Canada, books and magazines are frequently challenged in libraries and schools, and these pressures affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they should or should not read. Freedom to Read Week encourages Canadians to talk about and celebrate our intellectual freedom. Each year, Canada’s Book and Periodical Council ensures that this event raises awareness of Canada’s often little-known history of censorship and book banning, and the battles fought to keep books on the shelves of schools and libraries. Nationwide events throughout this week help raise awareness about the importance of protecting our right to read.

The right to intellectual freedom means that each person has the right to choose what to read, within the limits of Canadian law. Challenging a book’s right to be on a shelf and available to readers involves more than a personal expression of taste or the choice not to participate in a conversation about controversial issues. It is an attempt to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries, or bookstores, often for political or moral reasons, and prevent others from reading them. Libraries have a core responsibility to protect the freedom to read and are required to have library policies reflect this duty.

Each case is different, and libraries respond differently, according to their mandate and their responsibilities to users. Most public libraries have intellectual freedom policies in place to deal with individual concerns while protecting the collective right to read, for example by shelving according to age appropriateness, while the mandate of many school libraries is mainly to support the curriculum for the school’s relevant age group. At Library and Archives Canada, our mandate is to acquire, describe, and make accessible all Canadian publications to readers and researchers from Canada and around the world.

Not all challenged books wind up being banned. When a famous author like Margaret Atwood has a book like The Handmaid’s Tale challenged, the result is often greater media attention, increased sales, and more readers. Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women was challenged decades before she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

However, the process of trying to ban a book can have a more insidious effect, especially in school and public libraries. A children’s book with a controversial reputation can simply be dropped from reading lists and curricula to avoid confrontation. When books with themes like that of Maxine’s Tree, a picture book with an environmentally friendly message, are challenged, sometimes the challenge is denied, as in this case from 1992, where the book was allowed to remain in elementary schools. Today, we take for granted picture books that teach kids about the environment, or same-sex families, or different religious views, or any number of topics, but this was not always the case.

Who knows how many such books were not purchased (or not written) over the decades because of a culture of banning? We like to think that, today, we are more open to the views of others. Nevertheless, as Canadians, we should remain aware at all times of how valuable our right to read is and should protect this right for ourselves as well as for other readers.


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

For more information, check out Freedom to Read Week online.

Canada in Colour

By Samantha Shields

Early colour photography

Colour photography has existed in some form since the 19th century, but it was not until around 1935 that the technology had advanced enough to be considered practical for amateurs. The mass production of single-shot colour film transparencies, such as the colour reversal film Kodachrome, made it possible to easily create impressive, vibrant colour images. Despite requiring a light source or a projector to view them, colour transparencies grew quickly in popularity, whereas printing in colour remained elusive for the average hobbyist.

The colour printing processes of the mid-20th century were expensive, time-consuming, and complex, requiring greater technical precision and greater knowledge of chemistry than the production of either black-and-white prints or colour transparencies. However, for all the effort necessary to create them, these early prints were frequently a disappointment to their creators. With bright clashing colours and a narrow tonal range, colour prints were frequently described by critics as unrealistic and “garish.” As a result, the early adoption of colour prints was slow, generally left to wealthier amateurs and basement scientists, or to those printing magazines, advertisements, and materials for commercial distribution.

A member of the RCMP poses in front of the Parliament buildings for tourists taking snapshots. Ottawa, Ontario, 1949. Photo credit: Chris Lund (e010955585)

A man in a shirt and tie sitting with a young girl in a plaid dress, smiling and looking at a photograph. The brand name “Kodak” appears in the top left-hand corner.

Kodak advertising proof, 1946. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh-Kodak (a215007k)

The colour printing process

During the rise of colour photography, manufacturers around the globe were working hard to develop products that would simplify and improve the colour printing process. One of the cornerstone methods during this era of innovation was printing from colour separation negatives.

Simplified, the printing process required the separation of a colour image, from either life or a colour transparency, into three negatives—each filtered for one colour: red, green, or blue. Typically, the photographer would either: create these negatives in succession, an action that risked the subject or camera shifting between exposures; or use a one-shot camera that split the image to expose multiple plates simultaneously. The negatives were used to create relief positives (matrices) to hold corresponding photo dyes (cyan, magenta, and yellow). The dyed matrices were pressed or rolled successively onto the photo-paper in perfect alignment (registration) to create a single full-colour print.

Colour photograph of a carrying case and three identical negatives, each in a different colour: magenta, cyan, and yellow.

[Carrying case advertisement: three colour matrices and final print]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310465–e011310468)

By the early 1940s, more colour print options were available to photographers, including the three-colour pigment process, bromoil printing, and the bleach-out process. Among these, the imbibition printing process—first commercially introduced by the Eastman Kodak Company as the Wash-Off Relief process in the mid-1930s—quickly gained attention. This process was later replaced by the Dye Transfer process (1946), in which the assembly of colour prints was most akin to the lithographic colour printmaking processes, making it more practical to run duplicates and batch print orders than with earlier colour printing methods. It also allowed for greater manipulation at various stages in the printing process, and the materials involved were less sensitive to temperature and humidity.

Technical and logistical challenges

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the printing of colour photographs in Canada faced a host of geographic, economic, and chemical challenges.

Black-and-white photograph of a camera from 1943.

[Example of an] automatic colour camera. Photo credit: Department of National Defence (a064809)

Black-and-white photograph of a camera from 1943.

Macpherson’s Devin-style one-shot colour separation camera. (e011312590)

Canadians were in-touch, but out of stock. While Canada was typically among the first countries to receive new photographic processes, access to materials was not reliable because colour-printing supplies were largely manufactured internationally and shipping was unreliable and slow. This forced many photographers and printers to find innovative solutions and to work together.

Eastman Kodak Co. was a pioneer in imbibition printing photography supplies and services. However, given that the company’s main office and manufacturing plant were located in Rochester, N.Y., the reach of Kodak’s Canadian distribution was limited. Central Canada benefitted the most from having a distribution centre and manufacturing operation based in Toronto (Canadian Kodak Co., established in 1899; later, Kodak Canada Inc.), but its Canadian operations did not stock everything, nor did they produce colour supplies until the late 1960s. While outside central Ontario, photographers did not see another Kodak installation until 1961, when a Kodak colour-film-processing lab first appeared in North Vancouver to service all of western Canada. As a result, most Canadians hoping to purchase Kodak colour goods relied heavily upon their local suppliers.

Purchasing or ordering supplies through the “local guy,” whose goods came from international manufacturers or from distribution centres, meant the following:

  • Delays—deliveries could take five weeks or longer.
  • Dependency—the availability of products and irregular shipments spanning weeks disrupted the ability of colour-print labs to complete or accept new or large orders.
  • Travel—supply orders placed and received in the United States often arrived much quicker (in about five days).
  • Collaboration—colour printers frequently loaned or exchanged supplies when facing deadlines amid delivery delays.
Page with five duplicate photographs advertising a tiny blue piano and bench inside a red and yellow box covered with music notes. There is also print that reads “200 Direct Color photographs cost less than quadri-color engravings!”

[Advertisement for Brodie Macpherson’s services, with price sheet] Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310469)

Economic challenges

Colour photo printing was a much larger financial investment than black-and-white printing, for both the printer and the client. Given the considerable expense and the perceived likelihood of the final images being undesirable as a result of “unnatural” colouring, clients and companies were hesitant to invest. Consequently, colour printers were motivated to produce pleasing high-quality prints for the lowest reasonable price. Many early printers made colour feasible by

  • limiting small print orders, which were labour-intensive and costly to produce, as any open, unused chemicals could expire between orders;
  • engaging in larger print runs, thus distributing the high cost associated with making the perfect initial print over many duplicates. Subsequent prints were much cheaper to produce, as they required only time, repetition, and consistency, and could be re-ordered even years later;
  • targeting advertising and commercial businesses, since they benefitted from the vibrant attention-grabbing colours and could place the necessary bulk orders, and would re-order old prints;
  • working together, via camera clubs and photography newsletters, to recommend “dupes” for the more expensive prepared chemicals, as well as to share insights on how to improve print quality and processes;
  • importing privately. Supplies were often more expensive to purchase in Canada, even factoring in the added cost of importing. Those lucky enough to live near the Canada–U.S. border could get faster delivery by placing an order with a U.S. supplier and cross the border to purchase cheaper, fresher colour-printing supplies.

Colour print of eight different types of cookies and biscuits in clear packaging, as sold by Purity Factories Ltd.

Purity Factories Ltd. biscuits and cookies [advertisement]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011312592)

Since small, inconsistent orders made colour printing impractical for most businesses of the time, many portrait studios did not offer colour photography. Those that did, rather than convert their darkrooms, would often photograph in colour and hire out to colour labs to do the processing and printing. The high cost of small print runs was then passed onto the client. For these reasons, black-and-white prints for portraits persisted despite the advancements in colour. Some notable exceptions were wedding and group portraits and holiday cards, for which clients needed additional copies and the cost of ordering colour prints was less prohibitive as a result.

Colour portrait of a woman in a floral dress, front lit, seated in a wooden armchair.

C309 – [Unidentified woman]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310460)

Three black-and-white detail shots of the previous image, identical apart from the density of the exposure relative to the colour filtered: A = red, B = green, C = blue.

Test prints of the separation negatives for C309 – [Unidentified woman] (e011310461- e011310463)

As colour printing improved and colour advertising increased in popularity, colour printers would sometimes receive multiple large orders from different clients. Given the demand on resources, rather than push out a poor-quality product or delay delivery, some colour printers worked in small, trusted networks to refer work to each other when necessary.

There was also a significant expense associated with developing a darkroom for colour processing, as well as learning, largely via trial-and-error, how to make quality colour prints. The high cost and the difficulty of producing colour prints were enough to dissuade the mildly curious, while others, rather than convert their own darkrooms for colour, turned instead to their local camera clubs to learn and experiment with the medium.

Chemical challenges

Early colour printing, like all photography, was a science as much as an art. Practitioners were often challenged by the exactitude required by the process, having to control all associated variables to maintain quality and ensure consistent printing (e.g., times, temperature, voltage, water treatment).

There were also limitations posed by the chemicals themselves. They expired, and they did so more rapidly once opened. Expired chemicals performed inconsistently and were less effective, making quality printing frustrating and impossible to maintain over a print run. As well, the shelf life of supplies was already shorter in Canada when shipping times were taken into account. This made the stockpiling of supplies risky. Once more, bulk orders and batch printing practices were encouraged in order to maximize the value of the pricey chemicals.

Twelve-colour grids, four across and three down.

[Colour matrix]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310470)

Manufacturers issued recommended times, measurements, and additives for using their products. These were generally serviceable, but were rarely perfect for everyone. The difficulties and solution(s) with respect to controlling the different variables were largely dependent on the location of the printer (city or town, hot or cold temperature, stable or variable climate, etc.).

Water

  • Variations in water sources and treatments over time and between regions meant that not all water was chemically equal. For example, with the Tricolour Pigment Process, printers needed to account for the presence of any lime or hardening salts in their water because these would react with the bromide silver.

Temperature

  • Fluctuations in temperature during the multi-week transport to Canada negatively affected the integrity of some coated paper.
  • Operating in a climate with a wide temperature variation meant Canadian printers had to find innovative ways to maintain consistent darkroom temperatures throughout the year. An asbestos-insulated heating element placed under an out-of-phase rocking tray was the solution for warming a developer presented by colour printer Brodie Macpherson of Toronto.

Young boy sitting in a large winter sleigh. Photo Credit: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton (e010980928)

Voltage

  • A difference of even a few volts can cause variations in the light intensity of enlargers. These inconsistent exposures result in an imbalance in the density of the separation negatives and, by extension, in the appearance of the colour print. Using a regulator and monitoring the voltage was standard procedure.
  • Some printers also sought out the U.S.-made “cold lamp,” a cold cathode fluorescent tube bent into a “U” shape that eliminated “hot spots” in printing, for their photo enlargers. This allowed for larger prints, a longer life for supplies, and reduced dependence on variations in voltage. However, since importing these lamps to Canada was prohibited, motivated printers commissioned parts and built their own!
Black-and-white photo of a woman in military uniform using an enlarger.

Enlarger, general view. Photo credit: Unknown/Department of National Defence (a064866)

Black-and-white photo of a man leaning on a desk next to an enlarger.

Jack Marsters with horizontal enlarger in Montreal Gazette darkroom. Photo credit: Richard Arless (a114447)

In the end, experimentation with the variables in order for printers to determine the optimal printing conditions for their specific environment and their print preferences was critical to the success of the medium. Through both success and failure, camera clubs and photography publications (e.g., Canadian Photography, Photographic Canadiana) were regular avenues for photographers to seek advice, share their research, and make recommendations.

Black-and-white photographers belonging to Toronto’s Camera Club posing outdoors with their camera equipment.

“A few workers of the Toronto Camera Club.” Photo credit: T. Cannon (a132365)

The final picture

Despite the difficulties involved, colour printing in Canada persisted in the years following the Second World War. This perseverance and the commercial success that this process subsequently earned are due in large part to the early enthusiasm of colour printers. They regularly collaborated to troubleshoot their printing woes, shared insights and theories via camera clubs, lecture series, and international conferences, and published in national and international photography magazines and club newsletters. This dedication—their drive to experiment, perfect, and promote colour prints as a viable medium—laid the groundwork for colour printing’s later success.

Colour photograph of the long lineup for the Kodak pavilion at Expo 67.

Kodak pavilion at Expo 67, in Montréal [exterior with crowds]. Photo credit: Unknown/LAC (e011199279)

Kodak representative posing outside the Kodak Pavilion at Expo 67.

Kodak pavilion [exterior detail with representative] at Expo 67, in Montréal. Photo credit: Unknown/LAC (e011199282)

In the background is a grid of backlit colour transparencies of aerial shots. In the foreground are a Kodak representative and a male figure.

[inside] Kodak pavilion at Expo 67, in Montréal. Photo credit: Unknown/LAC (e011199283)

Also see: Brodie Macpherson: Early photo printer, a blog about a prominent colour printer based in Toronto. A clever and opinionated individual, Macpherson frequently wrote and lectured on colour printing and photography. His work and contributions to the local industry earned him a place among the best colour printers of his day.


Samantha Shields is a Photographic Archivist within Private Specialized Media at Library and Archives Canada.

François-Hyacinthe Séguin’s storytelling: a Co-Lab challenge

A watercolour painting with two large trees and a large stone house in the foreground, and a town in the distance.

Terrebonne, 1810 (e000756681)

Genealogy serves many purposes; it can be a hobby or a way to connect with those who came before you. It can help to strengthen your identity within your community asyou learn about your ancestors and where they came from. Be warned, it can be addictive!

As enjoyable and meaningful as researching your family history can be, it can also be very frustrating. One of the challenges I encountered when answering inquiries from the public during my time with the Library and Archives Canada Genealogy team was that it is sometimes difficult to find contextual information about people in the past. It is reasonably easy to learn basic information about ancestors, such as their dates and places of birth or the names of the witnesses who signed the marriage record, but this does not tell you much about their day-to-day lives or what their communities were like.

For example, birth, marriage and death records usually contain information such as full name, year and place of birth, and name of parents. Census records contain a little more information, such as religious denomination, ethnic origin and occupation. This information is useful, but it does not complete the picture. An occupation title, such as labourer or domestic, is helpful, but does not tell you where the person worked, how long the days were, and what kind of life that person came home to in the evening. In my own research, I found that to understand why ancestors made the decisions they did, you need to see the bigger picture. This is why notary François-Hyacinthe Séguin’s journal of the Terrebonne area in Quebec was so valuable as a non-traditional genealogy resource in understanding Canadian history in the early to mid-1800s.

François-Hyacinthe Séguin received his notary commission on October 15, 1808, and he opened an office in Terrebonne, where he served the community for all of his life. Not only did he keep detailed notes of births, marriages and deaths in the small town, but he also recorded details of social, political and environmental activities in the area. The journal, written in French, spans February 7, 1831, to March 2, 1834, and is a fascinating account of religious and social life in Terrebonne. Séguin writes about a variety of subjects, such as charivaris after local weddings, the cholera epidemic in the community, a solar eclipse and the first thunderstorm of the year.

A handwritten page from a journal.

A page from Séguin’s journal, where he states that, as Antoine Collard and Louis Turgeon have died, even the doubters must now admit that there is a cholera outbreak in the community. He also gives a short—and judgmental—biography of the two men, which genealogists may find helpful. (e004158805)

Another important subject in Séguin’s journal is his account of the Patriote movement. He diligently chronicles the history and politics of the day. His entries describe local politicians who were elected but not admitted into the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. He also writes about tensions during recent elections and the violence that people experienced while trying to vote.

Séguin’s journal also delves into local lives. He freely expresses his feelings about friends, neighbours and relatives in terms that are not always flattering. In one of the entries, he writes about how one of his students was recently arrested and that although he knew he should feel sympathy, he did not. In his entry noting the death of a local widow, he criticizes her frugal tendencies and her lack of social interactions. While noting the death of the priest from a neighbouring town, Séguin sneaks in a critique about the clergyman’s appearance.

A handwritten page from a journal.

A page from Séguin’s journal, where topics range from a winter thunderstorm to the deaths of local residents. (e004158841)

Do you want to know more about the good, the bad and the ugly in 1831 Terrebonne? Our Co-Lab challenge is dedicated to François-Hyacinthe Séguin’s fascinating French-language journal. Each page is filled with captivating and often critical observations, which help us to deepen our understanding of what it was like to live in a small town in Quebec in the mid-1800s. You can help to transcribe Séguin’s journal in the original French, or help to translate this no-holds-barred journal into English, so Anglophones can relish Séguin’s storytelling.

Interested in learning about your own ancestors? Visit our Genealogy and family history pages.


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

Ready for Rwanda!

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In a few days, I’ll be leaving Canada for a very special assignment in Kigali, Rwanda. A few months ago, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) to provide training in professional activities, international standards and best practices. Along with Karl-Xavier Thomas, an archivist at LAC, I’ll spend a month living and working with the staff of RALSA.

I was honoured and thrilled to be chosen to represent the “library” side of LAC, and I’ve been hard at work for months preparing for the trip. I’ll be sharing expertise with RALSA’s librarians and have been asked to focus on bibliographic description—that is, cataloguing and classification. As a cataloguing librarian who has spent her entire career developing these skills (16 years at LAC and counting), I couldn’t agree more that these are the fundamental building blocks of librarianship. All other library activities—making acquisition decisions, serving researchers, answering reference questions, digitization projects, exhibitions, conservation, and more—depend on a well-organized catalogue with clear, detailed descriptions of every item in the collection. You have to know what you have and where it is before you can do anything else! Although it’s sometimes dismissed as boring, I would argue instead that cataloguing is often misunderstood. A fascinating, vibrant and ever-changing field, the work is always focused on the goal of providing the best possible access to the collection. Every day brings a new challenge, and new opportunity to learn, as every item that we catalogue requires research and thought, to understand how best to classify, describe and connect it to other parts of the collection. It’s this philosophy, and the tools needed to achieve it, that I hope to share with my library colleagues in Rwanda.

Over the four weeks that I’m in Kigali, I’ll be tackling such topics as the international standard for description (RDA), how to create and use name authorities, different classification systems, navigating the public and staff view of the integrated library system (ILS), and more. A lot of time will involve hands-on work, cataloguing books together and discussing the challenges and intricacies of each individual item. There’s always a challenge, even in what seems like the most straightforward book to catalogue! My goal is that at the end of the four weeks, RALSA will have all of the tools needed to provide access to their collection and to support all of the important and valuable work by RALSA in Rwanda. And even after I return to Canada, I’ll always be only an email away and can continue to act as a support and resource!

So the training materials are almost all prepared, the vaccination shots received, the tickets booked, the suitcase packed. There’s an enormous challenge before me, but it’s also the most exciting opportunity of my career so far. The pressure’s on, both in developing four weeks of curriculum and instruction, which is not part of my day-to-day job, and in the international travel (22 hours and three flights, here I come). But I’m confident that I can rise to the challenge and do LAC proud. The opportunity to share my expertise and passion for librarianship and cataloguing with new librarians in another country is an exciting and inspiring one

A colour photo of a woman with a suitcase outside a building.

The author with her suitcase, ready to go!


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Tommy Burns, Hanover’s Hero

By Isabel Larocque

In 1906, as American boxers took turns being world heavyweight champions, no one could have predicted the victory of Canadian Tommy Burns. At 170 cm tall, this boxer was not only the shortest ever to win the title of world champion, but also the only Canadian to do so. Often underestimated by his opponents because of his size, Burns had exemplary technique that allowed him to crush even the toughest of adversaries.                                                                                                                                                Born Noah Brusso in Hanover, Ontario, Tommy Burns was the 12th child in a family of 13 children. He grew up in a modest environment and, at a very young age, was taken out of school by his mother following a fight with a classmate.

She completely disapproved of boxing. That is why, as an adult, after a fight that put one of his opponents in a coma, Noah chose to change his name. He believed that, by doing so, his mother would not be able to follow his exploits. Since Irish boxers had an excellent reputation, he chose an Irish-sounding name, Tommy Burns, in the hope of boosting his career.

Black-and-white photo of a man wearing boxing gloves, shorts and shoes.

Boxer Tommy Burns, date unknown. (c014091)

Black-and-white photo of a man wearing boxing gloves, shorts and shoes.

Boxer Tommy Burns, 1912. (c014094)

In the ring, Tommy Burns used strategy; each of his actions was calculated. He insulted his opponents to put them off balance. He avoided being hit. When he attacked, he managed to eliminate them through his speed and hook. His many years of hockey and lacrosse training had given him strong legs, while his long arms gave him a reach that surprised his opponents. His amazing technique won him many victories, as most of his competitors relied only on physical strength.

Burns considered boxing technique a science unto itself. He even wrote a book on this topic, Scientific Boxing and Self Defence. Published in 1908, the book is part of the Library and Archives Canada collection.

Black-and-white photo of a hand holding a book open at the title page.

Book written by Tommy Burns, Scientific Boxing and Self Defence Photo: David Knox

However, what distinguished Tommy Burns most from the boxers of his time was his willingness to fight opponents of all nationalities. While most boxers refused to compete against athletes of different backgrounds, Burns saw this as an opportunity to gain experience and prove that he was the very best. He was the first heavyweight champion to defend his title against an African-American.

As Burns climbed to the top, he faced champions from around the world. Becoming the best white or Canadian boxer was not enough for him: he wanted to be the best in the world. That is why, in 1908, he chose to fight Jack Johnson, a boxer of imposing stature. Burns lost the fight, and Johnson became the first black boxer in history to win the world champion title. Burns’s bold performance won him a standing ovation when he left the arena.

Tommy Burns had a few fights after this battle, but he was never be able to reclaim his title as world champion. After his boxing career, he became a promoter and coach, before turning to religion and converting to evangelism. He died in 1955 in Vancouver from heart disease. His legendary confidence and daring make him one of the most famous boxers of all time.

To find out more about Tommy Burns’ achievements, consult Legendary world champion boxer Tommy Burns.


Isabel Larocque is a project officer in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.