Polysar, or the adventure of producing synthetic rubber in Canada

By François Larivée

If you were born before 1980, you may remember a picture of a large industrial complex on the back of the ten-dollar bill. An image of the Polysar (originally Polymer) plant in Sarnia, Ontario, was featured on the bill between 1971 and 1989. The company was created by the Government of Canada in 1942 as a Crown corporation, and its archives are held by Library and Archives Canada. Its history is nothing short of fascinating.

Black and white photograph showing three large spherical reservoirs and a complex network of pipes in the foreground. In the background we see a tall chimney spewing out flames and smoke as well as a building with five other chimneys.

View of pipes and three Horton Spheres storing a mixture of butylene and butadiene used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber at the Polymer Rubber Corporation plant, September 1944 (MIKAN 3627791)

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Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada Collection – Part II

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

Glass Deterioration

Depending on conditions, the rates of deterioration of the materials that make up a daguerreotype package (e.g., copper, silver, paper, brass, leather, velvet, silk and glass) can vary substantially. One of the most common problems found by conservators is glass deterioration.

Glass deterioration often makes the daguerreotype appear dull and hazy. This does not necessarily mean that the plate itself has deteriorated. A number of the daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection that were prepared and treated for exhibition showed distinct signs of glass deterioration

Glass deterioration can occur as a result of fluctuations in either temperature or humidity. There are a couple of ways in which this type of degradation can manifest itself. One is cracking, which is when tiny hairline cracks appear on the surface of the glass. The other is chemical decomposition, which affects older glass with a higher concentration of sodium oxide, causing the glass to appear hazy or cloudy.

Keeping the original glass of a daguerreotype is always encouraged, and in cases where the glass is in an early stage of deterioration, e.g., it appears hazy or foggy, it can possibly be cleaned and reused. Treating this type of deterioration is relatively straightforward: the glass is removed, cleaned with distilled water and a neutral soap, rinsed with ethanol, then left to air dry. When placed back onto the daguerreotype, the plate will immediately appear brighter and clearer. Continue reading

Letters of a passionate politician: Library and Archives Canada’s collection of Wilfrid Laurier’s correspondence

By Théo Martin

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is home to the fascinating correspondence of Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister and the first French-Canadian to hold that office. Wilfrid Laurier (1841–1919) was born in Saint-Lin, Quebec, and would go on to enjoy an outstanding career as a journalist, a lawyer, a politician and, of course, a prime minister.

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Sir Wilfrid Laurier, ca. 1906, unknown photographer (MIKAN 3623433)

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Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes in the Library and Archives Canada Collection—Part I

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

The Daguerreotype, a one-of-a-kind photograph, was largely produced between 1839 and 1864. It was the first publicly-available photographic process and was renowned for its image detail and clarity.

The photographs are highly susceptible to image loss, corrosion build-up and other forms of deterioration caused by poor handling and environmental exposure.

To protect the image, the photographic plate was delicately placed under glass, from which it was separated by a protective mat.  This assembly was then hermetically sealed using paper tape and covered with a brass foil called a “preserver”. The entire package was housed in a small, often decorative, case made of leather, wood, papier mâché or moulded plastic, with an interior lining of silk or velvet.

Daguerreotype hallmarks or plate marks

Makers’ marks, known as hallmarks or plate marks are stamped markings found on many, but not all, daguerreotypes. When they are present, they are often found on the edge of the plate and are, thus, invisible when the daguerreotype is sealed. Marks typically consist of initials, symbols and numbers. The number most commonly found is “40”, which refers to the physical makeup of the plate, 1 part silver to 39 parts copper. Plate marks can offer clues about where the copper plate was manufactured and where the photographer sourced materials. They can sometimes also help to date an image.

When daguerreotypes were being prepared for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, several of them were found to contain plate marks.A hand-tinted daguerreotype of three young women. The woman in the middle is standing between two women, who are seated. Continue reading

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of May 2016

As of today 286,285 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

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

  • Latest box digitized: Box 4810 and Jellyman.

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

The real deal vs. the microfilm reel

Access is a key part of Library and Archives Canada’s mandate. Staff strive to provide access to original material whenever possible, but what happens when material has been removed from circulation and you need to consult the original?

Screenshot of Library and Archives Canada’s internal Collection Management System highlighting a message stating “Please consult copies which exist for the material you are attempting to order. Refer to MIKAN for copy information.”

Screenshot of Library and Archives Canada’s internal Collection Management System

Material may be withdrawn from circulation for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Material has been copied and is available in another format (usually microfilm copies)
  • Material has been identified as requiring conservation treatment
  • Material is fragile or at risk of being damaged
  • Material is withdrawn for health reasons (e.g. the material is contaminated with mould)

When you request material that has been removed from circulation, a staff member from the consultation desk will contact a Collection Manager or Holdings Management Assistant and inform them that a researcher wishes to consult originals and provide the reason the researcher needs to view them.

Some of the common reasons for needing to consult originals are:

  • You need to view originals for litigation purposes
  • Microfilm copies are illegible
  • Microfilm copies are missing pages
  • Health reasons (e.g. the use of microfilm readers causes vertigo)

The Collection Manager or Holdings Management Assistant will assess the requested material and determine whether the material can safely travel to 395 Wellington for consultation.

An open container showing textual material ready to be assessed.

Textual material ready to be assessed.

Common reasons for refusing a request to view originals are:

  • Material is too fragile to transport from the storage facility
  • Material is restricted by law (you must first apply for access rights)
  • Material poses a health risk and must be treated first (e.g. mould)
  • Material has been requested for a loan or an exhibition

Additionally, the following material does not travel outside of the Preservation Centre:

  • Treaties
  • Pre-1899 atlases, early maps, oversized matted documents
  • Oil paintings, pastels, charcoal works, miniatures
  • Medals, globes
  • Glass plate negatives, large panoramas, cased photographic objects
  • Certain philatelic material

If the material is considered to be too fragile or exceptionally valuable, the Collection Manager will stipulate that supervised consultation is required.

Library and Archives Canada staff do their best to facilitate access but in some cases material simply cannot travel. When this happens, you have the option of setting up an appointment to view the originals at the Preservation Center in Gatineau under the supervision of a reference archivist and a member of the Holdings Management team.

EMP….. Electro-Magnetic Pulse?! No: Environmental Monitoring Program!

Did you know Library and Archives Canada has an Environmental Monitoring Program in place in most areas where collections are stored? We collect information on the temperature and humidity levels in the collection storage areas to ensure that the material is held in the optimum conditions so it will remain in its current state as long as possible. If material is stored in too hot an environment, the rate of degradation or discolouration increases, especially if the items are chemically unstable, such as colour photographs. If stored in too cold an environment, items can get brittle and tend to crack. The worst case is where the temperature rapidly fluctuates between too warm and too cold: the worst of both conditions!

Relative humidity is also critical. Too high a relative humidity can cause items to start to swell, oxidize and grow mould, whereas too low a relative humidity can cause items to shrink and crack. Books are especially susceptible to humidity problems, with their multiple components and the wide variety of materials used to construct and bind them.

Below are two of the many different types of data loggers used at Library and Archives Canada to monitor environmental conditions. They range from old-fashioned looking linear chart recorders to web-enabled electronic data loggers.

A colour photograph showing two levers with pens marking a red lined drum, enclosed in a plastic case with a handle on top.

A linear chart recorder, which is a two-pen, drum-style device about the size of a toaster. The drum is wrapped with a paper chart that can log for one day, one week or one month.

A colour photograph of a box about the size of an audio cassette that is mounted to a wall. It - records -twodifferent types of items: - Relative Humidity, Temperature-internally, along with hook-ups for external temperature and humidity sensors.

An ACR SmartReader is an electronic data logger. It records relative humidity and temperature.

With monthly data dumps and random spot checks, we are able to monitor the collection storage conditions to ensure that the temperature and humidity are at the optimum levels, in accordance with internationally recognized standards. So there you have it:EMP, what it is, and why we do it at Library and Archives Canada!

Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity

By Meaghan Scanlon

The first Canadian comic book, Better Comics no. 1, was published 75 years ago by Vancouver’s Maple Leaf Publishing. Since that time, Canada has produced many talented comic book artists. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) presents a new exhibition of reproductions of these artists’ work. Entitled Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity, the exhibition runs from May 12 to September 14 in the lobby of LAC’s main building at 395 Wellington St. in Ottawa.

Alter Ego takes three different approaches to the subject of comics and Canadian identity. The works featured are organized into three thematic groupings: “Collective Identity,” “Secret Identity,” and “Personal Identity.”

“Collective Identity” looks at the ways Canadian artists have engaged with national identity in their work. The Canadian identity is built through shared symbols and a shared history. Many Canadian comics, particularly in the superhero genre, have used the country’s national symbols to build patriotic feeling. There are also several comics about important figures and events from Canadian history. Through their depictions of distinctly Canadian stories, these comics help us consider what it means to be Canadian.

“Secret Identity” spotlights some of the Canadian artists who have found success outside Canada. From the earliest days of American comic books when Canadian Joe Shuster co-created Superman, Canadian artists have made significant contributions to international comics. Often, these artists’ work has little to do with their home country. To fit in with the wider world, they keep their Canadian origins hidden below the surface—like a superhero’s secret identity.

“Personal Identity” delves into Canada’s impact on the genre of autobiographical and realist comics. A number of Canadian cartoonists have drawn comics about “normal” characters—people who are more like Clark Kent than Superman. Dealing with issues such as family relationships, trauma and recovery, and sexual identity, these comics are highly personal. At the same time, their portrayal of circumstances that countless readers can relate to makes them universal.

The archetypal superhero, with his dual identity, is an extreme illustration of the idea that each of us is many things simultaneously. We define ourselves by our various qualities, and choose which side of ourselves to emphasize depending on our circumstances. Alter Ego examines some of the many perspectives on identity revealed through the work of Canadian comic artists. All of these perspectives work together to show that there is no single “Canadian identity,” but rather as many versions of the concept as there are Canadians.

Visit Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity and see which parts of your unique version of Canadian identity are reflected in Canadian comics! See you at 395 Wellington St. starting May 12. Admission is free.

Additional resources


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

Images by Jean-Joseph Girouard now on Flickr

Jean-Joseph Girouard (1794–1855) was a notary, an amateur artist, and a member of the Parti Patriote in Lower Canada during the first part of the 19th century. The Parti Patriote was a political party that sought political reform and rallied for French Canadian cultural heritage, rights and interests.

Girouard was incarcerated twice for his role in the Rebellion. He maintained a notarial office and, unexpectedly, an artist’s studio while imprisoned in Montreal.

“If my work has stirred any interest in our country and its past, I am more than paid”––Charles William Jefferys

Charles William Jefferys (August 25, 1869 – October 8, 1951) determined that Canada needed a visual history and a national mythology and he would create it. He chose to portray Canada’s epic events of discovery, courage, war and nation-building. His images placed an almost mythological importance on the nation’s historical events.

In the early 20th century Canadians struggled to define what it meant to be Canadian and how to express their budding feelings of nationalism. Jefferys’ work reflects this and; his historical illustrations are an expression of this growing nationalism. They are representative of the period, and may not be how we would define ourselves today.

A pen and black ink drawing of four men standing and a vignette of four head portraits of other men wearing hats.

Métis Prisoners, North-West Rebellion, 1885 (MIKAN 2834663)

Some of his illustrations were faithfully copied from existing images such as portraits or photographs, while others were based on meticulous historical research on period costumes. In either case, he strove to accurately portray all aspects of early Canadian life. Continue reading