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.

Dave Heath: sexuality, death and other demons

By Lisandra Cortina de la Noval

 “The themes that absorb him above all others are eros and God; or the mysteries of women and death.”

Cynthia Ozick

Two headshot photographs of the artist Dave Heath wearing glasses.

Diptych of Dave Heath, 2005, by Michael Schreier (e008299923)

Who is Dave Heath?

The late David Martin Heath was born on June 27, 1931, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Abandoned by both parents by the age of four and rejected by the rest of his family, Heath grew up in a series of Jewish foster homes until he was placed in an orphanage at age 12. Three years later, he began to pursue photography as an escape from loneliness, setting the stage for a long and outstanding career that would leave a mark on modern photography. In 1970, he came to Canada and settled in Toronto.

Mostly self-taught, Heath was a photographer, printmaker, writer, critic, editor and teacher. Best known for his book A Dialogue with Solitude (1965), he experimented with different expressive forms: traditional darkroom work, audiovisual slide presentations, Polaroid technology, digital colour photography and artistic journals. Heath’s journals, spanning 1974 to 2016, are now part of Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

Following in the traditions of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Heath considered photographic sequence as an art form and put the relations between words and images at the centre of his work. He understood photography as a “wordless poetry” (Dave Heath journals). His art, though deeply personal, is an exploration of the human condition.

A gentle yet haunted soul

Reclusive by nature, Heath lived his life as a continuous struggle. The abandonment in his early years, by his mother in particular, was a curse he was unable to exorcise throughout his adult life. Adopting the name “Dave” was his way of gaining the necessary dimension, presence and character denied to him as a child. This became his name as an artist.

Despite his abandonment issues and his inability to connect with others or to maintain a long-term relationship, his work reveals his love for women. In his journals, he wonders: “Is the repetitive preoccupation with women in my work an avenue to escape the original trauma by investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery so that she becomes reassuring rather than dangerous, thus transforming her into something satisfying in itself, a work of art?” This might explain his fascination with the female body, breasts in particular, not only as sexual objects but also as “loving warmth and heart of a woman—forgiving, comforting, consoling and life-affirming” (self-interview by painter Paul Matthews, September 26, 2006, Dave Heath journals). Sexuality was for him a source of artistic ideas. He created and gathered an amazing collection of pictorial erotica over the years. His last book, Eros and the Wounded Self, brings together a selection of his polaroids of women.

Always the loner, Heath had very few friends, but he loved them dearly. His journals show a gentle soul, a man who unhesitatingly supported his friends and fellow artists, economically and emotionally. “You must persist without guarantee of recognition, fame, fortune or posterity. It is the burden of being a true artist rather than a spurious imitation” (Dave Heath journals).

“Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end”

(from “Just A Smack At Auden,” poem by William Empson, Dave Heath journals)

“We live, we die. Only death and oblivion our true destiny.”

Dave Heath

Death is treated extensively in Heath’s work, but not in the traditional “fear of death” way. He confessed that he had thought of death since he was seven years old, or probably even four, when his mother deserted him. His work, based on profound loss, explores the inevitability of death. Everyone is born to die, but what really mattered to him was what we do before then, what we are able to accomplish while living: legacy versus oblivion.

His final years were a race against death, as he worked hard to finish a last body of work, his swan song. Despite some health issues, he managed to complete and publish his last two books: Dave Heath’s Art Show (2007), featuring some of his digital work, and Eros and the Wounded Self (2010).

Heath died on June 27, 2016, his 85th birthday, at his home in Toronto. He lived his life wanting to redeem the stain of rejection through creative work. “It has always been my wish, my thought, my desire, my ambition that my work would be the marker of my life on earth, the truer memorial of my advent” (Dave Heath journals).

If you are in the National Capital Region this summer and want to see his work, visit the Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, which continues until September 2, 2019.


Lisandra Cortina de la Noval is a photo archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

A selection of records about D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, June 6 to August 30, 1944

By Alex Comber

With part 1 of this post, we marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day and commemorated Canada’s participation in the June 6, 1944, invasion of northwestern Europe, and the Normandy Campaign, which ended on August 30, 1944. In part 2, we explore some of the unique collections that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds about these events, and highlight some records that are the most accessible to our clients online. Through outreach activities, targeted and large-scale digitization, DigiLab and our new and Co-Lab initiatives, LAC is striving to make records more easily available.

A black-and-white image taken from moving film, showing soldiers exiting a landing craft.

A frame of Canadian Army Newsreel No. 33, which includes a sequence of film from the Canadian D-Day landings on June 6, 1944

LAC staff receive many reference requests about our collections of photos. Canadian Film and Photo Unit (CFPU) personnel went ashore 75 years ago, on D-Day, filming and photographing as they landed. During the Normandy Campaign, they continued to produce a visual record that showed more front-line operations than official photographers had been able to capture in previous conflicts. Film clips were incorporated into “Canadian Army Newsreels” for the audiences back home, with some clips, such as the D-Day sequence above, being used internationally.

Photographers attached to the army and navy used both black-and-white and colour cameras, and the ZK Army and CT Navy series group the magnificent colour images together.

A colour photograph showing an armoured vehicle with a large main gun.

A British Centaur close-support howitzer tank assisting Canadians during the Normandy Campaign (e010750628)

Some of the most iconic imagery of the Canadian military effort in Normandy was incorporated into the Army Numerical series; by the end of hostilities, this had grown to include more than 60,000 photographs. The print albums that were originally produced during the Second World War to handle reproduction requests can help in navigating this overwhelming amount of material. Researchers at our Ottawa location refer to these volumes as the “Red Albums,” because of their red covers. These albums allow visitors to flip through a day-by-day visual record of Canadian army activities from the Second World War. LAC has recently digitized print albums 74, 75, 76 and 77, which show events in France from June 6 until mid-August 1944.

A page of black-and-white photographs showing photos of landing craft, destroyed enemy beach defences, and villages and landing beaches.

A page from Army Numerical print album Volume 74 of 110, showing the immediate aftermath of the landings (e011217614)

LAC also holds an extensive collection of textual records related to the events of June–August 1944. One of the most important collections is the War Diaries of Canadian army units that participated in the campaign. Units overseas were required to keep a daily record, or “War Diary,” of their activities, for historical purposes. These usually summarized important events, training, preparations and operations. In the Second World War, unit war diaries also often included the names of soldiers who were killed or seriously injured. Officers added additional information, reports, campaign maps, unit newsletters and other important sources in appendices. Selected diaries are being digitized and made accessible through our online catalogue. One remarkable diary, loaded in two separate PDF scans under MIKAN 928089, is for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the first Canadian soldiers in action on D-Day, as part of “Operation Tonga,” the British 6th Airborne Division landings.

A colour digitized image of a typescript account of D-Day operations.

Daily entry for June 6, 1944, from the War Diary of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, detailing unit objectives for Operation Overlord (D-Day) (e011268052)

War diaries of command and headquarters units are also important sources because they provide a wider perspective on the successes or failures of military operations. These war diaries included documents sourced from the units under their command. Examples that are currently digitized include the Headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, from June and July 1944.

: A colour digitized image of a typescript account of D-Day operations.

War Diary daily entries for early June 1944, including the first section of a lengthy passage about operations on June 6, 1944 (e999919600)

LAC is also the repository for all Second World War personnel files of the Canadian Active Service Force (Overseas Canadian Army), Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. The service files of approximately 44,000 men and women who died while serving in these forces from 1939 to 1947 are open to the public. These records include the more than 5,000 files of those who died in operations during the Normandy Campaign. As the result of a partnership with Ancestry.ca, a portion of every open service file was digitized. This selection of documents was then loaded on Ancestry.ca, fully accessible to Canadians who register for a free account. To set up a free account and access these files on Ancestry.ca, see this information and instruction page on our website.

These records have great genealogical and historical value. As the following documents show, they continue to be relevant, and they can powerfully connect us to the men and women who served in the Second World War, and their families.

Medical document that shows a schematic view of upper and lower teeth, with annotations indicating missing teeth and dental work.

Private Ralph T. Ferns of Toronto went missing on August 14, 1944, during a friendly-fire incident. His unit, the Royal Regiment of Canada, was bombed by Allied aircraft as soldiers were moving up to take part in Operation Tractable, south of Caen. Sixty years later, near Haut Mesnil, France, skeletal remains were discovered. The Department of National Defence’s Casualty Identification Program staff were able to positively identify Private Ferns. The medical documents in his service file, including this dental history sheet, were important sources of information. Ferns was buried with full military honours at Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in 2008, with his family in attendance

An official document written in French, dated July 1948, that responds to a family request to communicate with those caring for the grave of Private Alexis Albert, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.

Private Alexis Albert, serving with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, was killed in action in France on June 11, 1944. Four years later, his father, Bruno Albert, living in Caraquet, New Brunswick, requested the address of the family that was tending his son’s grave at Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France, to thank them. The Director of War Service Records, Department of Veterans Affairs, provided this response, which helped to connect the grieving family in Canada with French citizens carefully maintaining the burial plot in Normandy.

These are only a few examples of LAC records related to the Canadian military effort in France from June 6 until the end of August 1944. Our Collection Search tool can locate many other invaluable sources to help our clients explore the planning and logistical efforts to sustain Canadian military operations in France, delve deeper into the events themselves, and discover personal stories of hardships, accomplishments, suffering and loss.

A black-and-white photograph showing many rows of Imperial War Graves Commission headstones, and a large Cross of Sacrifice.

Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, which includes the graves of 2,000 Canadian soldiers who died during the early phases of the Normandy Campaign (e011176110)


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The Winnipeg General Strike trials: a new Co-Lab challenge

By David Cuthbert

This year marks the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike, one of the most pivotal events in Canadian and world labour history. As my colleague Kelly Anne Griffin described in an earlier blog post, the strike saw over 30,000 men and women from various backgrounds stand together for six weeks to demand collective bargaining rights, fair wages and more power for working people.

The strike is also historically noteworthy for the federal government’s role in its suppression, and for the deportations and criminal prosecutions of some of the strike’s leaders on questionable charges. Among the numerous records related to the Winnipeg General Strike held by Library and Archives Canada (LAC), a large, two-volume Department of Justice file provides powerful evidence of the federal government’s involvement in the strikes and of the public’s response to the arrests and trials of the strike leaders. This file is known as RG 13 (Department of Justice), 1987-88/103, Box 36, 9-A-1688, “William Ivens and Robert Russell the King Vs. the A/M Regarding the Winnipeg Strike.”

A selection of digitized documents from the first volume of this file is now available as LAC’s latest Co-Lab challenge. The Co-Lab is a crowdsourcing tool that the public is invited to use to enhance the description and discoverability of particular archival documents. By contributing transcriptions, translations, tags and descriptive text through the Co-Lab challenge, individuals can help improve LAC’s search tools and enrich everyone’s experience of the historical record.

Telegram dated August 29, 1919, from the Women’s Labor League of Elmwood Winnipeg to the Minister of Justice condemning the government’s actions toward the strike leaders and demanding their release.

Telegram from Women’s Labor League of Elmwood Winnipeg to the Minister of Justice, August 29, 1919 (e011201449)

Arthur Meighen and A.J. Andrews

Department of Justice file 9-A-1688 earned some notoriety among historians of the Winnipeg General Strike following the publication in 2010 of a book by Reinhold Kramer and Tom Mitchell, When the State Trembled: How A.J. Andrews and the Citizens’ Committee Broke the Winnipeg General Strike. Kramer and Mitchell carefully examine the correspondence in the second volume of this file. They demonstrate the extraordinary extent to which the federal government’s response to the strike was guided by representatives of the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand, a private group established by members of Winnipeg’s business and ruling classes to oppose the strike.

Prominent local lawyer and former Winnipeg mayor A.J. Andrews emerged as the principal strategist of the Citizens’ Committee. After persuading Acting Justice Minister Arthur Meighen to appoint him as an informal representative of the federal Department of Justice, Andrews sent frequent reports to Meighen on developments in Winnipeg. Andrews argued that foreign revolutionaries had orchestrated the strike, and he urged the federal government to take decisive action. He saw the strike as a political opportunity to defeat the labour movement and tried to thwart any negotiations with the Central Strike Committee.

Meighen was initially reluctant to encroach on the jurisdictions of the civic and provincial governments by intervening in the strike. Nevertheless, with the encouragement of Andrews, Meighen amended the Immigration Act in early June to permit the federal government to deport British-born individuals suspected of subversive activities. This amendment allowed the government to target some prominent leaders of the strike, many of whom were trade unionists born in Great Britain, who had previously enjoyed the same rights as Canadian-born citizens.

Arrests in the night

In the early hours of June 17, Andrews ordered the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP) and a squad of “special constables” recruited by the Citizens’ Committee to raid the Central Strike Committee headquarters and the homes of several strike leaders. The RNWMP seized documents and books as evidence, and arrested R.B. Russell, William Ivens, George Armstrong, R.E. Bray, A.A. Heaps, John Queen, Max Charitonoff, Oscar Schoppelrei and Moses Almazoff. More arrests, of others also perceived as strike leaders, including William Pritchard, J.S. Woodsworth, Samuel Blumenberg and Fred Dixon, followed over the next week. R.J. Johns was arrested when he returned to the city.

The first page of a typewritten document listing and summarizing the documents obtained from Room 30 of the Ukrainian Labour Temple. The descriptions include short summaries of minutes from Central Strike Committee meetings.

A list of documents confiscated from the Ukrainian Labour Temple after the Royal North-West Mounted Police raided the Central Strike Committee headquarters in the early morning of June 17, 1919 (e011201486)

The federal state’s apprehension of the leaders inspired immediate outrage among supporters of the strike. A group of war veterans organized a silent march to protest the arrests, which led to the large June 21 gathering on Main Street that triggered the explosive events of Bloody Saturday. Another group of veterans submitted a petition to the Department of Justice requesting their own deportations from Canada, because they felt that “this Country is not Governed in the Democratic Spirit for which we fought.”

A petition dated June 24, 1919, with a typewritten statement followed by columns for signatures, addresses and the number of family members. The signatures, addresses and family members listed below the statement are in manuscript.

A petition signed by war veterans requesting their own deportations because Canada is no longer “Governed in the Democratic Spirit for which we fought.” (e011201484)

A “seditious conspiracy”

Shortly after the detention of the strike leaders, Meighen was surprised to learn that Andrews wanted to charge some of the men under the Criminal Code, rather than the Immigration Act. Meighen resisted this approach for as long as he could, but with the return from Europe in early July of Charles Doherty, the Justice Minister for whom Meighen had been acting, Andrews found an audience more receptive to his plan. Ultimately, only the four detained strike leaders of Eastern European ancestry—Blumenberg, Charitonoff, Schoppelrei and Almazoff—had immigration hearings, and all but Almazoff were deported.

The intention of Andrews to criminalize the strike was evident at the preliminary hearing for Russell, Ivens, Armstrong, Bray, Heaps, Queen, Pritchard and Johns. (The trials of Woodsworth and Dixon took place later.) Each man faced charges of six counts of involvement in a seditious conspiracy and one count of committing a common nuisance. Importantly, the charges related not only to the men’s actions during the strike but also to the ideas they had espoused and the public statements they had made over the previous year. The Crown, with Andrews as its lead prosecutor, maintained that the men had contributed to the strike by promoting conflict between social classes and by advocating the overthrow of the Canadian government. As Andrews phrased it during the preliminary hearing, “They started the fire and it was still burning.”

Moreover, the judges presiding over the preliminary hearing concurred with the argument by Andrews that the eight men could not be trusted to refrain from speaking and agitating for their cause in public. In a shocking decision, the judges denied the strike leaders release on bail while they awaited their trial date. Although an appeal would overturn this decision a month later, the injustice endured by the jailed strike leaders inspired another campaign of protest, one that is richly documented in the Co-Lab documents.

A manuscript letter on yellowing paper dated August 26, 1919.

Letter to the Minister of Justice, Charles Doherty, from William G. Irwin of Winnipeg (e011201451)

Shortly before the trial was set to begin in November 1919, the prosecution separated R.B. Russell’s case from those of the other seven accused leaders, partly to facilitate the appointment of a jury more favourable to a conviction. Found guilty by the jury on all counts, Russell was sentenced to two years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. The trial of the remaining seven leaders in January 1920 resulted in the convictions of six of the defendants, with only Heaps cleared of all charges.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld Russell’s guilty verdict. With no dissenting opinions in the provincial appeal, the case was ineligible for reference to the Supreme Court of Canada. Nevertheless, Russell’s supporters elected to send his case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in Great Britain. The JCPC was reluctant to interfere in a foreign criminal case and declined the appeal, but the document submitted to petition for appeal offered a detailed summary of the charges and evidence against Russell and the other leaders. It also contained lengthy extracts from the transcript of the trial and a summary of some of the legal indiscretions that, in the petitioners’ view, contributed to Russell’s wrongful conviction.

A page of typescript, with a handwritten note in the left-hand margin at the top of the page.

First page of the Petition for Special Leave to Appeal (e011201487)

According to Mary V. Jordan, Russell’s long-time secretary, the judge who presided over Russell’s first trial asked on his deathbed to speak with Russell, presumably because the judge felt guilty about the trial’s outcome. However, Russell refused to visit him.

An appeal for collaboration

LAC’s latest Co-Lab challenge offers participants a chance to examine in great detail some of the public and legal responses to the Winnipeg General Strike. As noted above, Kramer and Mitchell’s When the State Trembled provides a thorough discussion of the behind-the-scenes efforts by A.J. Andrews to break the strike, as documented in the second volume of Department of Justice file 9-A-1688. By focusing on the first volume of the same file, this Co-Lab challenge highlights some of the public expressions of support for the strike leaders and invites participants to reconsider the verdicts of the Winnipeg General Strike trials.


David Cuthbert is an archivist in the References Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada’s Winnipeg office.

Treaties with Indigenous peoples: past and present

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 Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Treaties between Indigenous peoples and settlers were made during early contact and continue to be negotiated today. Subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal (Indigenous) and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) holdings include pre-Confederation and post-Confederation Indigenous treaties and treaty-related material. A range of this content is available on our website, to promote public awareness and improve access. Modern treaty agreements are located in the Inuit and Indian Affairs Program sous-fonds. LAC preserves many treaties but does not have all of them. There are descriptions of modern treaties in our catalogue, but some are not yet available for public viewing. Many early treaties and agreements from the Western and Maritime regions are archived in other institutions.

Gray-toned illustration of a hilltop with a tent and flags, soldiers on horseback, First Nation peoples, and tipis and a cart, with trees in the foreground and clouds in the background. The words “Canadian Illustrated News” and “December 16, 1876” appear on the side of the image.

Treaty with Saskatchewan Saka wiyiniwak (Cree) at Fort Carlton (Western Treaty No. 6) (e002140161)

The word “treaty” may seem like a dated diplomatic term. In fact, treaties are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. They are therefore still negotiated and signed today. Treaties document how Canada developed into its present form. The historical development of treaties is very complex, and each is unique. Ideally, the intent and scope of a treaty should be based on a clear, shared understanding of the interests and outcomes for the participating parties. In reality, the early treaties were agreements between two parties from two different cultures, which affected understandings and outcomes. Many of these types of documents were detrimental for Indigenous people, resulting in the erosion of their culture and the loss of their territorial land bases.

A handwritten page that includes the location, date, parties, signatories and some of the text of Western Treaty No. 5.

Western Treaty No. 5 – treaty and supplementary treaties with First Nations at Berens River, Norway House, Grand Rapids and Wapang – IT 285 (e002995143)

A black-and-white photograph of an obelisk monument with a wheeled cart nearby.

First Nations treaty monument at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan (Western Treaty No. 4) (a019282)

Pre-Confederation: from contact to 1867

Treaties before Confederation involved several changing political entities. The colonists involved may have been Dutch, French, British or other; the land may have been classified under names like New France, British North America, Rupert’s Land, Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada West (Ontario), Canada East (Quebec) and Colonial America (the Thirteen Colonies). Early Eastern treaties were known as “peace and friendship” treaties, since their purpose was to prevent conflict. Some involved protocols with the use of oral traditions, symbolic items and gestures such as using pipes, tobacco and wampum belts. This conveyed and signified the importance of a shared message. Beginning in 1818, annual treaty payments were made to individual First Nations who had signed treaties. This practice continues with some disbursements still honoured today and paid out to those who are eligible.

Post-Confederation: from 1867 to 1975

The Western numbered treaties, from 1 to 11, covered areas from the southern tip of James Bay and west to the Rocky Mountains, from the United States boundary line and north to the Beaufort Sea. These should not be confused with the Upper Canada Land Surrenders, which are also numbered. Most of the western plains were ceded to the Canadian government through treaties, which was significant because the Royal Proclamation of 1763 stated that settlers could not occupy land unless it had been surrendered to the Crown by First Nations. In 1871, British Columbia was brought into Confederation with the promise of a transcontinental railway within 10 years. Manitoba was created out of Rupert’s Land in 1870, with Alberta and Saskatchewan following in 1905.

A black-and-white photograph of First Nations men and government officials posing in front of treaty documents, with a flag in the background.

Signing of the treaty at Windigo, Ontario, on July 18, 1930 (Western Treaty No. 9) (C068920)

A black-and-white photograph of a line of First Nations men dancing, with a building and tents in the background.

1937: “6 A.M. and the treaty dance is still going strong” at Fort Rae, Northwest Territories; Tlicho (Dogrib-Behchoko/Rae-Edzo/Edzo) (a073741)

A black-and-white photograph of an aerial view of a riverbank with narrow roads, tents and people walking. On the right are trees and a barn-like building.

Maskeko wiyiniwak (Cree) camped along the shore in 1935 for Treaty 9 payments at Moose Factory, Ontario (a094977)

Modern treaties: from 1975 to the present

The landmark James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975) was the first major agreement between the Crown and Indigenous peoples in Canada since the numbered treaties. It was amended in 1978, by the Naskapi First Nations, who joined the accord through the Northeastern Quebec Agreement. Additional agreements followed: the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (1993), the Nisga’a Final Agreement (2000), the Labrador Inuit – Nunatsiavut (2005) and the Nunavik Inuit – Northern Quebec (2006) agreements, the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement (2010), the Tshash Petapen (New Dawn) Agreement with the Innu of Labrador (2011), and more.

Treaties Recognition Week Act, 2016 (Ontario)

A handwritten page written in black ink with red accents. Titled “Indian Treaty,” it includes the date, parties and signatories.

Williams Treaty No. 2 – Mississauga First Nations of Rice, Mud and Scugog Lakes and Alderville – IT 488 (e011185581)

The Treaties Recognition Week Act, 2016 was recently enacted by the Government of Ontario. During Treaties Recognition Week in 2018, LAC displayed the original Williams Treaty of 1923, the last historic land cession treaty in Canada, at the University of Ottawa.

The Lubicon (Saka wiyiniwak) Land Claim Settlement (2018)

A land claim settlement was awarded to the Lubicon Lake Band of Cree in Northern Alberta in 2018. They were inadvertently not included in Treaty 8 in 1899, and for decades they had asked the federal and provincial governments to allocate a reserve for them. By the 1980s, oil exploration and wells in their traditional territory made their claim urgent. They made themselves heard in 1988, when the Winter Olympics were about to be held in Calgary, Alberta, with a boycott of a landmark exhibition of Indigenous art and culture, “The Spirit Sings” (ironically, it was originally titled “Forget Not My Land”).


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Service Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

 

D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, June 6 to August 30, 1944

By Alex Comber

A colour photograph showing a landing craft approaching the beach, with smoke coming from a village and barrage balloons overhead.

Infantry landing craft at D-Day, June 6, 1944. (e010777287)

On this day 75 years ago, Canadian soldiers, sailors, pilots and aircrew were fighting in France in one of the largest military operations in history. Operation Neptune, or “D-Day,” was the first phase in the overall ground operations in Normandy, code-named “Operation Overlord.” Soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division conducted an assault landing on a stretch of French coast, in the massive Allied effort to establish a new theatre of operations in Western Europe. Canadian units were tasked with creating a beachhead on a section of coast code-named Juno Beach. The assignment for Canadian forces was considered an honour, as the other four beaches, code-named “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Gold,” and “Sword,” were earmarked for landings by units of the powerful Allied members of the United States and Great Britain.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer briefing a small group of non-commissioned officers with a map of a village.

Lieutenant R.R. Smith briefing the non-commissioned officers of the Regina Rifles with a sketch of their objective, Courseulles-sur-Mer, France. (e011084119)

Senior Allied commanders and military planners at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force had learned from previous operations, such as the failure at Dieppe two years before, and the successful landings in Sicily in July 1943. This effort to open a new front in the war would benefit from a coordinated approach between land, sea, and air forces, along with comprehensive planning, attention to logistics, a massive build-up of equipment and personnel, feints and decoys to keep the enemy guessing, and a steady flow of accurate intelligence about enemy strengths and dispositions.

An armada of naval vessels escorted the invasion forces across the English Channel, while the airspace was controlled by squadrons of Allied aircraft. A vast array of specialized landing craft transported personnel, tanks, and artillery. In the Canadian sector, craft deposited men and equipment near the villages of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer, and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.

A colour photograph showing soldiers, laden with arms and equipment, walking in shallow water towards a French village.

Canadian infantry going ashore at Bernières-sur-Mer in Normandy, France. (e010750646)

Tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade struggled ashore and began supporting the advancing infantry soldiers by firing on reinforced enemy positions, while some units of the Royal Canadian Artillery had already been bombarding enemy positions from their landing craft on the final approach. Hours earlier, paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been dropped deep behind enemy lines as part of Operation Tonga, the airborne landings by the British 6th Airborne Division. Their mission was to destroy bridges, secure strongpoints, support a nearby attack by British paratroopers, and generally create chaos and hamper enemy efforts to counter-attack.

A black-and-white photograph showing a soldier in a paratrooper jump smock, holding a Sten sub-machine gun, sitting on a bicycle in a field.

Private Tom J. Phelan, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was wounded at Le Mesnil on June 16, 1944, rides his airborne folding bicycle at the battalion’s reinforcement camp, England, 1944. (a204971)

A black-and-white photograph showing a column of soldiers marching up a street in a damaged village.

Infantrymen of Le Régiment de la Chaudière moving through Bernières-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 1944. (a131436)

The fighting on the ground was accompanied by more involvement from Canadians serving in other forces. Pilots and aircrew flying with many Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force squadrons provided air cover for the naval operation and ground fighting, patrolled the coasts, attacked enemy troops and armour, provided photo-reconnaissance, and served on bombing missions to support the landings.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of RCAF personnel posing beside and on top of a fighter-bomber aircraft, fitted with a large bomb.

RCAF 440 Squadron members pose with a Hawker Typhoon in Normandy, France. (e010775786)

On D-Day, Royal Canadian Navy personnel served in more than 70 naval vessels (landing craft, destroyers bombarding the coast, and minesweepers clearing the way for the invasion forces). In early July, a naval Beach Commando unit went ashore to direct forces and maintain order on the invasion beaches.

A black-and-white photograph showing two rows of sailors in battle dress, front row crouching, with a damaged fortified concrete structure behind them.

Personnel of W-2 Party, Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” outside a German fortification in the Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead, France, July 20, 1944. (a180831)

The first Canadian boots on the ground in France would be joined by an entire army in mid-July. The First Canadian Army would become the largest formation of men and women in uniform in Canadian history. Bitter fighting continued as the Allied ground forces resisted counter-attacks and pushed inland. Canadian army units would gain objectives in operations at Carpiquet, around Caen, and advancing towards Falaise, but at great human cost.

Approximately 350 Canadian military personnel were killed during the D-Day landings. By the end of August, Canadian land, sea, and air forces had suffered about 5,000 fatalities as a result of operations in France, while many more were wounded. Operation Overlord closed in late August, as opposition crumbled in Normandy and surviving German units withdrew to regroup.

A black-and-white photograph showing a long column of German soldiers being directed by Allied soldiers along a beach, with vehicles, a sea wall, and a prominent house in the background.

German personnel captured on D-Day embarking for England. (a132474)

Check back on July 4th to read Part two of LAC’s 75th Anniversary of D-day series, which will explore some of the unique collections LAC holds about these events.


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Join us in celebrating our 1,000th blog post!

The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Discover Blog has hit an important milestone! We have published 1,000 blog posts! For the past eight years, the blog has showcased our amazing documentary heritage collection, let researchers know what we are working on, and answered frequently asked questions.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, we are looking back at some of our most popular blog posts.

1940 National Registration File

A typed, two-column questionnaire titled “Dominion of Canada—National Registration Card for Women” with “For Information Only” written diagonally across the middle.

Sample of a questionnaire for women, courtesy of Statistics Canada.

Year after year, this early blog post has consistently been at the top of our list of views and comments. It is not surprising that a genealogy themed post took the top place; what is surprising is that the 1940 National Registration File is not held at LAC, but can be found at Statistics Canada. Either way, it is a great resource and very useful to genealogists across the country.

Want to read more blog posts about genealogy at LAC? Try the post, Top three genealogy questions.

Do you have Aboriginal ancestry? The census might tell you

A woman and a man sit in the grass with their two young children in front of a canvas tent.

Aboriginal man and woman [Alfred and Therese Billette] seated on the grass with two children [Rose and Gordon] outside their tent (e010999168).

Another popular post is the 2016 blog explaining how Canadian censuses could help you examine your past and research your unknown ancestral lineage to Indigenous heritage. Canadians might search for their Indigenous heritage to resolve questions of self-identity, or to know if they may participate with Indigenous organizations, or get Indigenous benefits.

Want to read more blog posts on how to research your Indigenous heritage? Try one of these posts, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development records: Estate files or The Inuit: Disc numbers and Project Surname.

The Grey Fox: Legendary train robber and prison escapee Bill Miner

Poster showing a photograph of Bill Miner, announcing a $500 reward for his recapture, listing details as to his escape, and describing his physical characteristics.

Reward notice for the recapture of Bill Miner that was sent to police departments, publications and private detective agencies (e011201060-210-v8).

This exciting post tells the story of Bill Miner, who was nicknamed “The Grey Fox” and “The Gentleman Bandit.” Bill Miner was a legendary criminal on both sides of the Canada–U.S. border. Although he committed dozens of robberies and escaped from multiple prisons, many saw him as a generous folk hero who targeted exploitative corporations only. LAC holds many documents, publications, sound and video recordings, and other materials relating to Miner, and hundreds of these documents are now available on our website as a Co-Lab crowdsourcing challenge.

Want to learn more about records from the B.C. Penitentiary system? Try the post, British Columbia Penitentiary’s Goose Island: Help is 20 km away, or 9 to 17 hours as the pigeon flies.

Samuel de Champlain’s General Maps of New France

: A black-and-white hand-drawn map depicting Quebec, the Maritime provinces and the eastern part of Ontario in 1613.

Carte geographique de la Nouelle Franse en son vray meridiein Faictte par le Sr. Champlain, Cappine. por le Roy en la marine—1613 (in french only) (e010764734).

This popular 2013 post combines two aspects of Canadian interest: cartography and explorers! This article gives an overview of Champlain’s maps of New France held in the LAC collection. Also included in the post is a “suggested reading list” so researchers can learn more about Champlain’s cartography and travels.

Want to read more about the history of New France? Try the post, Jean Talon, Intendant of New France, 1665-1672.

Journey to Red River 1821—Peter Rindisbacher

Painting depicting travellers walking single file while portaging their boats overland to avoid a waterfall.

Extremely wearisome journeys at the portages [1821] (e008299434).

This popular blog post describes the work of Peter Rindisbacher. Rindisbacher was 15 years old when he immigrated to Selkirk’s Red River settlement in 1821. Already an accomplished artist when he arrived in North America, he produced a series of watercolours documenting the voyage to Rupert’s Land and life in the settlement. His watercolours from the Red River area are among the earliest images of western Canada. Rindisbacher is considered the first pioneer artist of the Canadian and the American West.

Want to learn more about Peter Rindisbacher? Try the podcast, Peter Rindisbacher: Beauty by commission.

The Persons Case

Five women in gowns wearing corsages and one man in a tuxedo standing in front of a plaque.

Unveiling of a plaque commemorating the five Alberta women whose efforts resulted in the Persons Case, which established the rights of women to hold public office in Canada (c054523).

This blog post illuminates the history of women’s fight for political equality in Canada. The Persons Case, a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate, began in 1916 when Emily F. Murphy was appointed as the first female police magistrate in the British Empire. Undermining her authority, lawyers challenged her position as illegal on the grounds that a woman was not considered to be a person under the British North America Act, and therefore she was unable to act as magistrate. Murphy enlisted the help of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Irene Marryat Parlby—now known as the “Famous Five”—who were engaged politically and championed equal rights for women.

Want to learn more about women’s rights throughout Canada’s history? Try the post, A greater sisterhood: the women’s rights struggle in Canada.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force Digitization Project is Complete!

A page from the service file of “Scotty” Davidson describing how he was killed in action in the field by a shell falling in the trench, and how he is buried in a grave with three other 2nd Battalion men.

A page from Allan “Scotty” Davidson’s digitized service file describes how he was killed in action (CEF 280738).

The last post on our list is an impressive one! The blog announcing the completion of LAC’s 5-year project to digitize all 622,290 files of soldiers who enlisted in the First World War was well-received by many researchers.

Want to learn more about how the Canadian Expeditionary Force digitization project started? Try the post, Current status of the digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel service files.

We hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane. You may also be interested in blogs about Canada’s zombie army, the Polysar plant, LAC’s music collection, historical French measurement standards, or the iconic posters from the Empire Marketing Board.

Women in the War: The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS)

We often receive reference requests for photographs of loved ones serving with the Canadian Forces. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a vast photographic collection, over 30 million images, a substantial portion of which is found within the Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112). A project to survey accession 1967-052 “Canada. Dept. of National Defence collection” 1939–1953 and to index all photographs of servicewomen began in April 2018 and is well under way. I hope to see the work completed for all three arms of the service, Navy, Army and Air Force, by 2022. Representing all three branches of the armed forces and comprising over 500,000 photographs, this collection is one of my favourites and at the top of my list for review when a researcher requests photographs from the Second World War or the Korean War. It includes photographs from the home front and theatre of war, making it a rich, well-described collection.

My colleague’s post “75th Anniversary of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service ” published in 2017 serves as a perfect complement to this work and features many photographs, both colour and black and white, of servicewomen at work and play. To quote from the post, I want to highlight here that: “Those serving with the WRCNS were commonly called ‘Wrens,’ the nickname used by their British counterparts, who were members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).” Throughout the captions, I found both terms “Wren” and “WRCNS” used to identify servicewomen.

A black-and-white photograph of two members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service washing the front of a bus while their colleague sprays the side of the bus with a hose.

Personnel of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) washing a bus at H.M.C.S. CONESTOGA, Galt, Ontario, Canada, July 1943. (a108171)

The accession is broken down into prefixes, most often by location (such as base or city) or by ship. For example, the MAG prefix is comprised of photographs documenting “the HMCS Magnificent between 1948 and 1957.”

The finding aids for each prefix, also referred to as caption lists, are available for consultation in the second-floor reference room at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. They are also part of LAC’s initiative to digitize the majority of existing finding aids, ongoing until 2024.

A survey of the caption lists for each of the prefixes specific to naval photographs has been completed, and all those captions that mention servicewomen have been noted. The result is 2,652 photographs, or 1.3 percent.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a military uniform leaning across a counter to interview three women beside a sign that reads “Canadian Wives’ Bureau.”

Leading Wren Evelyn Kerr (right) of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) interviewing British wives of Canadian sailors, Canadian Wives’ Bureau, London, England, 30 November 1944. (a128179)

One of the pleasures of the project has been the exposure to the various trades and functions that the Wrens performed. From photographers and dieticians, to motor transport drivers and librarians, the servicewomen performed all sorts of valuable work at home and abroad to support the war effort. I also came across and included numerous images of Nursing Sisters.

A black-and-white photograph of a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service handing a man a tall stack of books beside a ship.

Leading Wren Ruth Church, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), delivering a supply of library books to Able Seaman Bill Swetman of the HMCS Petrolia, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, November 1944. (a189717)

How to Search for “Your” Servicewoman

You can write to us with information about “your” Wren or Nursing Sister to see if there are any indexed photographs that identify her by name. It would be helpful to know her maiden name, where and when she served, as this will help us narrow the search. Similarly, once you identify relevant records within a series, a review of those photographs by yourself or a freelance researcher may reveal additional photographs that did not identify her by name OR that did not indicate that any servicewomen were in the image. For example, many captions simply describe the photograph as “Christmas Dance” or “Holiday Party” and were not included.

To know more about “your” servicewoman’s time with the Canadian Forces, request a copy of her Military Service file.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service carrying a large bag on her shoulder.

Leading Wren June Whiting of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) disembarking at Liverpool, England, April 1945 (a142415)

Please feel free to visit us at one of our public service points in Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg or Vancouver or write to us with questions about LAC’s holdings, both archival and published.


Rebecca Murray is an Archivist in the Reference Services Division.

Enfranchisement of First Nations peoples

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 Jasmine Charette

I have always been interested in the concept of identity in the Canadian context. I enjoy learning about how people tie themselves to identities to connect with their community, or sever those same ties for the benefit of being seen another way. However, this was not always done in fairness or voluntarily. A striking example of this is the enfranchisement of First Nations peoples.

What is enfranchisement?

Enfranchisement meant losing legal identity as an “Indian” in the eyes of the government to become a full Canadian citizen, with all the rights and privileges attached. This process was enshrined in the Indian Act of 1876, which consolidated several pieces of colonial legislation in force at the time.

A black-and-white typed page of a legal statute.

A page from the Indian Act as published in the Statutes of Canada, 1876 (Canadian Research Knowledge Network, Acts of Parliament)

Enfranchisement could be sought by a First Nations person, as long as certain requirements were met, including age, sex and competency in either English or French. Someone outside the band, such as a priest or Indian agent, needed to determine the person’s fitness for becoming enfranchised. Some records show individuals, in their own words or the correspondence of an Indian agent, wanting to enfranchise for the benefits of land titles and band monies. The loss of legal status meant they were no longer subject to the Indian Act.

Many people were enfranchised against their will, some because of employment as lawyers, doctors or clergy. Others were enfranchised because of serving in the First or Second World War, attending university, or simply because an Indian agent thought they were “civilized” enough. Eventually, compulsory enfranchisement expanded to include any First Nations woman who married a non-Status individual (see below for 1985 changes to the Indian Act).

What does this mean for First Nations peoples?

The Indian Act was and is still seen in many ways as restrictive for First Nations individuals. The loss of identity brought repercussions such as becoming ineligible for social services, the loss of hunting and land rights, and for many, becoming both physically and intangibly distant from their homes and cultures. There are examples in the record of Councils of Chiefs refusing the Enfranchisement of individuals because they do not believe the Franchise Act applies to them, noting a fear that lands may be sold off and the community would be lost.

For some, enfranchisement was a direct trespass on previous agreements. A petition from the Mohawk members of the Five Confederated Nations (now Six Nations of the Grand River) notes that a treaty with the British stated the British would never try to make those Indigenous persons British subjects. Enfranchisement involved breaking that promise.

A black-and-white reproduction of a handwritten petition addressed to His Excellency the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada, the Right Honourable Lord Stanley.

Six Nations agency—correspondence regarding a petition from the Six Nations Indians to be exempted from the provisions of the Franchise Act of 1885. (e006183352)

Was it only individuals?

One case exists of an entire band being enfranchised: Michel Band in northern Alberta. An Order-in-Council enfranchised all eligible members of the Michel Band as of March 31, 1958.

A black-and-white typewritten text outlining the disposal of the funds of the Michel Band and the lands of the Michel Indian Reserve No. 132.

Schedule B, “Plan for the disposal of the funds of the Michel Band and of the lands of the Michel Indian Reserve No. 132,” dated March 31, 1958. RG2-A-1-a, Volume 2215, PC 1958-375 (Canadian Research Knowledge Foundation, Orders-in-Council)

This enfranchisement order split the reserve lands among enfranchised individuals, dissolving the band entirely. Only three years later, compulsory enfranchisement was repealed, and some members of the historic Michel Band are still seeking to regain band status today.

Why is this relevant today?

When the Indian Act’s enfranchisement sections were repealed in 1985, they were replaced with what we now know as Indian Status. It became impossible to give up one’s Status, and many who were enfranchised regained Status through various provisions of the 1985 repeal, and subsequent amendments to the Indian Act. The sex-based discrimination in the Act was changed, and Status was returned to people who lost it by marrying a non-Status individual or because of the “double mother” rule of 1951 (Status was lost at age 21 if both the paternal grandmother and the mother had acquired Status through marriage).

Do you have a question about enfranchisement?

Reference Services is available to answer your queries and to help you navigate archival and published materials, including records on enfranchisement. Ask Us a Question; we are always glad to help!

Sources

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.


Jasmine Charette is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Plaisance: A French fishing colony in Newfoundland

By Valerie Casbourn

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds records related to the French colonial period in early Canada, and some of these records are available online. Included are records about the French cod fishery in the Atlantic region and the French colony of Plaisance in Newfoundland (1662–1713).

During the 17th century, the cod fishery in Newfoundland became increasingly important to the European fishing industry. France was one of several European countries competing for a share of this fishery, and in 1662, the French established a garrison town at Plaisance, on the western side of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. The French wanted to secure their merchant fishing fleet’s access to the fishery and their share of the European market for cod.

The site of Plaisance was chosen for its proximity to rich fishing grounds, its sheltered and relatively ice-free harbour, and its strategic location. Eventually, the colony of Plaisance grew to have a small permanent population, with military fortifications, and served as a base for the French Atlantic cod fishery.

A hand-drawn and coloured illustration that shows the shore with people on a wooden stage working on curing and drying cod in Newfoundland.

A view of a stage and also of the manner of fishing for, curing and drying cod at New Found Land […] (c003686) A digitized copy of the map L’Amerique, divisee selon l’etendue de ses Principales Parties, et dont les Points Principaux sont placez sur les Observations de Messieurs de L’Academie Royale des Sciences. Dressee Par N. de Fer, Geographe de Monseigneur le Dauphin can be seen at the Osher Map Library website.

The French and English established colonies along the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, which encroached on the Indigenous territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq. The French had little recorded interaction with the Beothuk, who withdrew from the coast and its resources to avoid contact with the European fishermen and colonists. Before the arrival of the colonies the Mi’kmaq navigated the waters between Cape Breton and Newfoundland by canoe. They established friendly relations with the French, becoming important trading partners and military allies.

The colony of Plaisance encountered many difficulties, particularly during its first few decades. Its population was small and poorly supplied, and its early governors were ineffective. However, in the 1690s, the colony became stronger, and the French administration highly valued the Atlantic fishery.

The economy of Plaisance was largely based on the cod fishery. The colony’s small permanent population with its “habitants-pêcheurs” was bolstered each year with the arrival of a large seasonal workforce on the merchant fleet from French ports. All worked intensely to catch and preserve cod during the summer months. The residents of Plaisance relied on the merchant fleet to bring extra labourers, food and manufactured goods, and to ship their dried catch back to Europe to be sold.

During this period, there was ongoing conflict between the French and the English, as well as between the Mi’kmaq and the English. In the 1690s and early 1700s, both the French and the Mi’kmaq conducted raids, sometimes jointly, on English settlements on the Avalon Peninsula. The War of the Spanish Succession culminated in the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713, in which France ceded its claim to Newfoundland to England. The English took over the settlement of Plaisance, changing its name to Placentia. Most of the French colonists moved south to the colony of Ile Royale (now Cape Breton). There they established themselves in the new French settlement of Louisbourg and continued their work in the French cod fishery. The French also retained the right to fish off the coasts of Newfoundland and to process their catch along stretches of the shoreline, known as the French Shore.

Nautical chart, on vellum in coloured ink, of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Nautical chart of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Produced after 1713, the chart shows both Plaisance and Louisbourg (e011182107)

Records at Library and Archives Canada

LAC holds records related to the colony of Plaisance, among other topics, in the Fonds des Colonies (MG1). This fonds includes copies and transcriptions of selected records related to the French colonial period in early Canada. The records are in French, and the original documents are held at the Archives nationales d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. The Fonds des Colonies consists of records including correspondence, reports, journals, instructions, records of fortifications and commerce, civil registers, and notary documents.

Many records in the Fonds des Colonies have been digitized and are available directly on the LAC website. Use LAC’s Collection Search to search for records about the colony of Plaisance. Try keyword searches, such as “MG1 Plaisance” or “MG1 pêche” (without quotation marks), and use the drop-down menu to search “Archives.” Including “MG1” will limit your search results to records in the Fonds des Colonies; you can search more broadly by not including it. Because the original records are in French, try using French keywords such as “pêche” (fishing), “Terre-Neuve” (Newfoundland), or “morue” (cod).

Related resources


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.