Imagining Canada – Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Michael Kent

I had the great pleasure recently of being one of the librarians responsible for selecting an item for Premiere, the new acquisitions exhibition at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This opportunity allowed me to look back and reflect upon the acquisitions work I have done for LAC, specifically in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection of rare Judaica, which I curate. Working with this collection, I am immensely privileged to be able to tell the story of Canada’s Jewish community through its published heritage. Much of my selection work focuses on books printed in Canada. However, sometimes I am able to look farther back in time and tell the story of how the Jewish community came to Canada.

One example of looking farther back is my selection for the Premiere exhibition of the Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah, published circa 1806. It is the first book in Hebrew to tell the story of the discovery of the Americas. The book, whose title translates as “the discovery of the New World,” is an item that I was especially pleased to be able to add to the Jacob M. Lowy Collection.

A colour photograph of an open book with Hebrew text and a map of the world.

The Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah opened to the introductory section, which includes a map of the Americas (AMICUS 44961986)

The original German work Die Entdeckung von Amerika, by Joachim Heinrich Campe, was a book for children. The Hebrew translator, Moses Frankfurt Mendelsohn, adapted it by changing the style from a dialogue between a father and his children to a straightforward historical narrative. He was motivated to produce this book because of the widespread interest in Columbus among European Jews at the time. There was serious speculation that the Italian explorer was in fact Jewish.

Originally produced because of interest in Columbus, the book was also created during an important period for what would later become the Jewish community in Canada. The 1800s brought many changes to the lives of European Jews. Emancipation, pogroms and opportunities for emigration to North America would profoundly reshape the community. These changes helped give birth to a Canadian Jewish community.

When I open this book, I do not just see a book about Columbus, I see a work that is probably the first exposure that many Jews in Europe would have had to information about the Americas. When I examine the map included in the book, I see what was probably the first representation for many Jews of the lands that would become Canada. In short, I consider this book to be an important step in raising awareness about the Americas and a tool in allowing this community to imagine a new life in Canada.

Canada is a country made up of diverse immigrant communities. In acquiring the Metsia’at ha-Arets ha-Hadashah, I am honoured to help tell the story of one of these communities, and of an early step in that community’s journey of becoming Canadian and building the Canada we know today.


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

A Unique Example of Canadian Research: HMCS Bras d’Or

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Marcelle Cinq-Mars

What is the connection between a digital watch, a GPS in a car, a microwave oven in a kitchen, and an epinephrine auto-injector for allergic reactions? Hint: It is the same as the link between radar, night vision goggles and the Internet. They are all technological developments from scientific research for military purposes.

Military-related scientific research has led to countless technological developments. And it goes back a long time!

In Canada, the Defence Research Board (DRB) was created in 1947; its mandate concerned military research in areas of Canadian expertise such as the Arctic, ballistics and biochemical warfare. Over the years, the DRB developed Canada’s first (and only) air-to-air missile, called the Velvet Glove. The DRB was also directly involved in the development of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, an extensive network of radar stations to detect enemies in Canadian airspace.

A colour photograph of the red nose cone of a rocket next to two men working on the instruments that will go inside it.

Defence Research Board technicians adjust an antenna in a Javelin rocket in 1961 (e010975999)

At the height of the Cold War, the detection of enemies was also needed in the oceans. Submarines posed a real threat there, especially when they became armed with nuclear warheads. Accordingly, DRB scientists started working on a type of boat designed specifically to hunt enemy submarines. What they developed was a hydrofoil.

Hydrofoil technology dates back to the early 1900s. The famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell even made prototypes of them, which he tested on Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia. Wing-like structures called “foils” are mounted under a vessel and lift it out of the water as the speed increases. As a result, water friction on the hull is reduced, and the vessel can reach impressive speeds.

In the 1960s, Marine Industries Limited in Sorel, Quebec, started building a hydrofoil for the Royal Canadian Navy. The hull was made of aluminum, the foils of steel. This special boat had features and technologies from both aeronautics and nautical science, so the captain had to be both an aircraft pilot and a naval captain.

The new vessel was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on July 12, 1968, as HMCS Bras d’Or. Sea trials began off Halifax in April 1969. During the trials, the vessel reached an impressive speed of 63 knots (117 km/h), a record speed for a warship at the time.

A colour photograph of a hydrofoil in motion.

HMCS Bras d’Or, Royal Canadian Navy, demonstrates its hydrofoil system on February 18, 1970 (e011154076)

HMCS Bras d’Or saw service for a short time only. On November 2, 1971, the Government of Canada ended the hydrofoil program. Canada’s priority shifted from anti-submarine warfare to the protection of sovereignty. The Bras d’Or was donated to the Musée maritime du Québec in L’Islet-sur-Mer, where it remains on display.

Related resources


Marcelle Cinq-Mars is a senior military archivist.

The Artist’s Mirror: Celebrating a new exhibition of artist self-portraits at Glenbow

On June 15, 2018, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Glenbow Museum come together in Calgary, Alberta, to officially celebrate the beginning of a very successful collaboration. March 10th marked the opening of the first in a series of five co-curated exhibitions. All of the exhibitions feature portraits from LAC’s collection. In some cases, they also include portraits from Glenbow’s collection.

This exciting collaboration provides the opportunity for more Canadians to see many of Canada’s most important national treasures: all of the exhibitions will be presented at Glenbow, in Calgary. Each of the exhibitions in the series has a different theme related to portraits and portraiture.

A colour photograph of the entrance to the exhibition space at the Glenbow Museum.

Installation photograph of The Artist’s Mirror at Glenbow, courtesy of Glenbow Museum

A special kind of portrait

The first exhibition in the series focuses on one of the most fascinating types of portrait: images that artists create of themselves. The proliferation of mirrors during the 15th century is said to have contributed to the popularization of artist self-portraits. When artists hold the mirror to themselves, it is very difficult not to be drawn in.

A painting of a mirror and a still-life arrangement on a dressing table with several books, a brush, a radio, and two oranges on a plate on top of a newspaper. The mirror’s reflection shows the artist and another painting.

Self-portrait in Mirror, William Lewy Leroy Stevenson, ca. 1928, e011200954

Artist self-portraits are particularly intriguing because they appear to give privileged insight into the creative process. They are also exciting for their variety. The choice of medium is just one way in which artists have experimented with self-portraits, over the years, as statements of creative identity.

The exhibition includes 17 historical and modern self-portraits of Canadian artists, drawn from LAC’s collection. There are examples of video and sculpture self-portraiture as well as paintings, drawings and prints.

Many faces, many stories

A stand-out self-portrait in the exhibition is this sculpture by Inuit artist Floyd Kuptana.

A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man with his tongue sticking out.

Self-portrait by Floyd Kuptana, 2007, MIKAN 3922914

It is important to view this self-portrait from a variety of angles. The playful stone sculpture smiles, when viewed from one angle, and sticks out his tongue when viewed from another:

A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man with his head tilted to the side. A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man sticking his tongue out.The humour in this self-portrait masks a much more serious exploration of self, on a variety of levels. Kuptana created this self-portrait with traditional ideas as well as modern ones. The multiple faces and angles reflect shamanic beliefs about transformation. Yet, the idea of multiple personalities, within one self, is also associated with modern psychology.

A colour photograph of the side of a stylized sculpture of a man.Self-portrait… or portrait?

The exhibition provides a chance to see a portrait that remains at the centre of one of Canadian art history’s most interesting unresolved mysteries. Certain scholars feel strongly that this portrait, created by important British Columbia artist Emily Carr, is a rare, early self-portrait. However, others have argued that this drawing is merely an image Carr may have made of somebody else.

A charcoal drawing on paper of a young woman with bare shoulders seen from the back with her face in profile. Her hair is styled in a loose bun with short curls framing her face. Her gaze is off to the right.

Self-portrait thought to be of Emily Carr, ca. 1899, e006078795

Most agree that Carr created the drawing when she was an art student in London, United Kingdom. The drawing is done in a traditional academic style, not typical of Carr’s later work, but very much typical of a student demonstrating her mastery.

Those who believe this to be an image of Carr herself point to the strong resemblance between the drawing and contemporary photographs of her. They acknowledge that Carr was notoriously prudish and thus unlikely to pose with bare shoulders. However, they point out that it would be quite common, in women’s drawing classes of the day, to practise drawing the human form from suitably draped ancient classical sculptures. An artist could place their own head on a body copied from one of these unexceptionable nudes.

A vignette of the Emily Carr portrait showing the drawing’s classical lines of the shoulders and chin.With this image, Carr may have been striving to project herself within a particular style, fashionable when she was a young woman.

The exhibition invites you to judge for yourself.

A western connection

The exhibition provides a chance for LAC to present self-portraits that have a particular connection to Calgary.

One example is this amusing self-portrait by Calgary-based artist Gary Olson.

A pencil drawing of a man’s face squished up against a piece of glass. Most of the left side of his face is indistinguishable, but his right eye is keenly focused.

I Am Up Against the Picture Plane Again, by Gary Olson, 1977, e011195950. @ Gary Olson

The image is part of a series created by Olson while he was a college art instructor. He came up with these lighthearted images to convey the difficult theoretical art concept of the picture plane to his students. He portrays the plane literally, in these images, by flattening and distorting his own features against it. At the same time, Olson takes the opportunity to poke fun at the theory of art, capturing something of his own irreverent desire to push the envelope

Come see the exhibition

A colour photograph of a dimly lit room with various art pieces hung on the walls.

Installation photograph of The Artist’s Mirror at Glenbow, courtesy of Glenbow Museum

Be sure to visit The Artist’s Mirror, if you happen to be in Calgary. The exhibition runs from March 10, 2018 to January 6, 2019 and is open every day. For more information, please contact Glenbow Museum.

“My darling dearest Jeanie” The Joseph Gaetz fonds

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Katie Cholette

“My darling dearest Jeanie.” That’s how Joseph Gaetz began every one of the more than 530 letters he wrote to his fiancée, Jean McRae, during the Second World War. Stationed in England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during and after the Second World War, Joseph was, at times, desperately homesick. His deepest desire was for the war to be over so that he could return to Canada and marry his sweetheart. Between July 1943 and November 1945, Joseph wrote to Jean whenever he could, sometimes sending both an airmail and a regular letter in the same day. He also collected a number of souvenirs from German prisoners that he sent to Jean with his letters. In 2017, his three daughters, Cathy Gaetz-Brothen, Bonnie Gaetz-Simpson and Linda Gaetz-Roberts donated his letters and souvenirs to Library and Archives Canada.

A colour photograph of piles of letters, with one bundle held together by a red ribbon. Underneath them is a photograph of a young woman wearing a coat and stylish hat.

Letters addressed to Jean McRae of Turner Valley

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a military uniform with his arm around a young woman wearing a flowered dress standing in front of a clapboard house.

Joe and Jean on their first day of engagement. November 1, 1942, Turner Valley.

Joseph Gaetz was from the small community of Faith, Alberta. His parents were Russian immigrants and he grew up speaking English and German. On 13 May 1942, he attested in the Calgary Highlanders; five months later, he became engaged to Jean McRae of Turner Valley, Alberta. In early 1943, he shipped out to England with the Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of 18 soldiers in uniform in a tilled field.

Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Scout Platoon.

In August 1944, Joe was sent into action in France with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry; he would soon move into Belgium and Holland. When his superiors realized that he spoke German, Joe became an interpreter with their scout platoon, going on a number of expeditions behind enemy lines to bring back German prisoners. In one letter to Jean from late 1944, he wrote, “My officer and I went a mile into the Jerry lines one night and took 52 prisoners to a barn…That was quite an experience.” In another letter, he told Jean how odd it felt to be capturing Germans who had lived in Canada before the war. In still other letters, he talks about picking up a pistol (one of several he acquired during the war) from No Man’s Land. Joe also told Jean how he got nervous before every patrol but learned to walk silently to avoid detection. He attributed his ability to avoid injury or capture to the photo of Jean that he kept in his breast pocket. He called it his “lucky charm” and said that all the other men had some sort of talisman.

Joe’s ability to speak German allowed him to converse with the men they captured. Although Joe had no particular fondness for Germans, he did recognize their humanity and common plight. While guarding captured prisoners, or bringing them back to camp, Joe often talked with them. Sometimes he challenged their convictions—in one instance, he asked a group of prisoners if they thought Hitler was still a god. One young soldier, who surrendered, told Joe he was afraid he was going to be sent back to Germany after the war and shot for being a deserter. Joe told the young man not to worry; there wasn’t going to be a Germany after the war.

A colour photograph of a book opened at the first page. A pamphlet has been glued on the inside cover which has a photograph on one side and an ode to the women who stayed home entitled “For Honour and for Her!”

Joe’s Service Book showing the poem and photograph of Jeanie glued on the inside cover (e011202230)

Like many other soldiers, Joe kept a photo of his sweetheart tucked in the front of his Service Book, accompanied by a patriotic and moralistic poem entitled For Service and for Her! After inquiring about Jean’s health, he would reassure her that he was fine, tell her whether he had received her most recent letters, and then discuss the weather or some other inconsequential details. He followed these pleasantries with observations on military life—the routine chores he had to perform, what his accommodations were like, the food, who he’d met from back home, and so on.

Conditions at the front were often harsh, but Joe rarely complained. In fact, he joked about sleeping in trenches he’d dug himself and constructing makeshift chimneys from empty tin cans. Joe had a strong sense of personal duty; he refused to send anyone else in to do his job, and he went for seven months without a single day of leave. In one letter, he stoically told Jean about spending Christmas Day 1944 on duty in No Man’s Land.

Sometimes Joe and his fellow scouts were billeted with local families. Joe quickly picked up enough Flemish to be able to communicate with the people he came into contact with, and he writes how the locals would often invite the soldiers to dinner or offer to do their laundry. In his letters, he describes the little children he met, and he occasionally included photos of them in his letters home.

He came back to Canada on November 1945 and was discharged in Calgary, Alberta, on January 18, 1946, at the rank of Sergeant. He worked his way up to manager of the Fort Macleod lumberyard and he and Jean were finally married on June 21, 1948. They had three daughters before he died at the age of 41 of chronic hypertension. Cathy Gaetz-Brothen, the youngest of the girls was only one-year-old when her father died. The letters he wrote to her mother are especially important to her because they allowed her to get to know a father she had no memory of.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform.

Joseph Gaetz in uniform (e011202231)

Joseph Gaetz didn’t have a particularly heroic war. He wasn’t a high-ranking commissioned officer leading a battalion; he didn’t singlehandedly storm any nests of German snipers. Instead he did what thousands of other Canadian soldiers did. He joined the army and fought alongside his fellow soldiers in the hope that he would one day come home to his sweetheart. Joe was one of the lucky ones.

Visit the exhibition Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. The exhibition, which runs until December 3, 2018, features our most recent acquisitions and celebrates the expertise of Library and Archives Canada’s acquisition specialists. A librarian or an archivist thoughtfully selected every one of the items in the exhibition and wrote the caption for the item that they chose. Admission is free.


Katie Cholette is an archivist in the Specialized Media section of Library and Archives Canada.

Come see our latest exhibition – Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada …

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the right

And keep an eye on this blog series…

There is something a bit different about Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) latest exhibition, opening at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, on April 24, 2018.

New exhibition showcases variety

Like other exhibitions, Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showcases the great variety found in LAC’s collection. A few examples include a Chinese embroidery and a 1952–1953 replica of the original Stanley Cup.

An embroidered golden cloth of two dragons reaching for a pearl and flying amongst clouds with ocean waves rolling below them.

Design for Canada Post’s Year of the Dragon Stamp, Punchline Embroidery Centre, 1998 (e011202235) ©Canada Post. Selected by Emma Hamilton-Hobbs, Archivist, Government Archives.

A colour photograph of a copper silver-plated bowl engraved with “National Hockey League, Stanley Cup Winners, Season 1952–53.”

1952–1953 Stanley Cup souvenir bowl awarded to Montreal Canadiens Executive Vice-President William Northey, Roden Brothers Ltd., 1953 (e011202220). Selected by Normand Laplante, Senior Archivist, Social Life and Culture Private Archives.

New exhibition also showcases acquisitions expertise

However, this exhibition featuring LAC’s most recent acquisitions also celebrates the expertise of LAC’s acquisition specialists. Every one of the items featured in the exhibition was thoughtfully selected by one of LAC’s librarians or archivists. The same librarian or archivist also prepared the exhibition text for his or her own item, and each text is “signed” with the name and title of the specialist who prepared it. The Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Dr. Guy Berthiaume, even selected an item!

A colour photograph of an open book written in Hebrew.

Mivachar Ha-Peninim (Choice of Pearls) by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, 1484 (AMICUS 45283149). Acquired with the assistance of the Friends of Library and Archives Canada through the generous support of Ruth and Arnon Miller. Selected by Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Whether donated, purchased, or assigned to LAC as part of established or evolving legal agreements, new acquisitions represent the lifeblood of Canada’s collection. Building a collection that captures Canada’s story is an essential part of LAC’s mandate.

Watercolour portraits of two young Inuit men wearing western-style clothing. One is captioned Augustus and the other, Junius.

Inuit interpreters from Churchill, Robert Hood, May 1821 (e011154367). Selected by Shane McCord, Art Archivist, Social Life and Culture Private Archives.

… and keep an eye on the Premiere blog series…

Through this blog series, which features in-depth articles on many of the items chosen for the exhibition, this emphasis on the importance of expertise in acquisitions is underlined. Each of the blog articles in this series will feature the work of one of LAC’s acquisition specialists. The blogs will be published once a month.

A colour photograph of a record label that reads “Improved Berliner Gram-O-Phone Record. Manufactured by [illegible] Montreal, Canada. Patented [illegible] 1897. Ye Banks and Braes. Played by The Kilties Band – Belleville, Ont.”

Ye Banks and Braes (Caledonian Hunt’s Delight), performed by the Kilties Band of Canada, released October 25, 1902, arranged by Bonniseau. Listen here! (AMICUS 31383290). Selected by Margaret Ashburner, Project Librarian, Retrospective Music, Published Heritage.

Look for new articles during the course of the exhibition, which closes on December 3, 2018.

And please visit the physical exhibition in Ottawa!

Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada opens on April 24, 2018, at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa and runs until December 3, 2018. Admission is free.

A Little History: the Hidden Stories of Children—an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History

Too often the experiences, stories and contributions of children are romanticized, overlooked, or entirely absent from our history books. As is often the case, the least powerful in society leave little trace of their lives. Those childhoods that were documented and preserved can be quite telling.

The exhibition, A Little History: the Hidden Stories of Children, at the Canadian Museum of History presents rarely seen archival documents, photographs, works of art and artifacts from the collections of both the Canadian Museum of History and Library and Archives Canada. The exhibition recounts the unique experiences of children found in archival documents.

Children are rarely the authors of their own histories. Fragments of their stories lie within the materials that adults produce—from formal portraits found in family collections to documents in government and institutional records. These traces of their experiences help reveal the attitudes of adults toward them and the impact of laws and policies on them throughout history.

An oil painting of two young girls dressed in identical red dresses with lace around the neckline and red necklaces. One of them holds a small dog.

Céline and Rosalvina Pelletier, attributed to James Bowman, ca. 1838, oil on canvas (MIKAN 2837219)

Before the advent of photography, painted portraits were the only visual records of individuals. The absence of portraits of poor children demonstrates how this type of art was exclusive to the affluent. This portrait of the Pelletier sisters reflects their wealth and status. Depicted as little adults, the girls are dressed stiffly, holding a miniature dachshund (a symbol of fidelity), and wearing coral necklaces, which were believed to ward off childhood diseases.

A black-and-white studio photograph of three children. One is sitting in a chair and the two others stand beside.

The Children We Seek to Help, photographer unknown, ca. 1900, silver gelatin print. (MIKAN 3351178)

Institutional records are a key source of information about children. The “child-saving” era of the late 19th century saw the creation of a number of child welfare organizations, such as the Children’s Aid Society. These charities sought to help poor, abandoned and neglected children by operating orphanages and training schools, and providing adoption services. Child-rescue workers used photography to both document and promote their work, often invoking contradictory images to draw attention to their cause by portraying children as both innocent victims and criminals in training.

When viewing the past through adult eyes, the role and presence of children is sometimes obscured. But children were also involved in or felt the impact of significant events in Canadian history.

A black-and-white studio photograph of two children leaning against a side table, each with a hand on a cheek.

Jean-Louis and Marie-Angélique Riel, ca. 1888, by Steele & Wing, albumen print (MIKAN 3195233)

Jean-Louis and Marie-Angélique were born in Montana during the political exile of their father and Métis leader, Louis Riel for his role in the 1870 Red River Resistance. After their father’s execution in 1885, Marie-Angélique went to live with an uncle in Winnipeg, where she died of tuberculosis in 1896. Jean-Louis took his mother’s family name, moved to Montréal, and later died at the age of 25 in a horse-and-cart accident.

A handwritten letter from Louis Riel to his wife and children.

Letter from Louis Riel to his wife and children, dated November 16, 1885, ink on paper (MIKAN 126629)

This last letter from Louis Riel to his wife and children offers a private view of the Métis leader. Written on November 16, 1885, the day of his hanging in Regina, Riel speaks of his children, asks his wife to “have them pray for me” [translation] and ends his letter with “Take courage. Bless you. Your father, Louis ‘David’ Riel.” [translation].

Items created by children are often ephemeral and seldom preserved in collections. Those that have been preserved can be challenging to find as they are frequently subsumed within the broader histories and heritage of their families and communities and are rarely catalogued as being child-made. For these reasons, it is easiest to find material created by children who grew up to be important adults or were related to a famous adult.

The handwritten diary of Sandford Fleming, open and showing his writings.

Diary of Sandford Fleming, 1843, pencil and paper (MIKAN 4938908)

This diary, kept by 16-year-old Sandford Fleming, seems to foretell his later success as an engineer and inventor. Filled with architectural plans, scientific formulas, and inventions, the diary exemplifies Fleming’s industriousness.

Children’s letters and diaries provide a rare glimpse into their private worlds, revealing their unique ways of speaking, thinking and interpreting the world around them. Intimate, candid, and sometimes whimsical, the diaries, letters and drawings created by children invite us to see history with fresh eyes.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a young man in uniform, with arms crossed.

Portrait of Arthur Wendell Phillips Lawson, photographer unknown, 1918, matt collodion print (MIKAN 187937)

A handwritten diary with boxes on each date that includes the scores of the World Series games.

Diary of Arthur Wendell Phillips Lawson, 1914, ink, paper, and leather (MIKAN 129683)

This diary of 16-year-old Arthur Lawson invites us to understand his childhood sense of self and the world around him. Written at the beginning of the First World War, Lawson’s headlines about the battles raging overseas seem casually inserted alongside mundane notes about the weather, family events (like his brother’s birthday) and the scores of the 1914 World Series between the Boston Braves and the Philadelphia Athletics. Before the war was over, Lawson enlisted.

For more examples of these intriguing stories, visit A Little History: the Hidden Stories of Children on display in the Treasures from Library and Archives Canada gallery at the Canadian Museum of History from March 30, 2018 to January 27, 2019.

Guest curator: Scott Dickinson

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


A wedding portrait of Samuel Leonard Tilley and Julia Ann Hanford

A colour photograph of a sepia-tone image in a wood and gold frame showing a seated man and woman. The man is wearing a suit, waistcoat and cravat. The woman is wearing a bonnet, dress and patterned shawl.

A daguerreotype of Samuel Leonard Tilley and Julia Ann Hanford, ca. 1843. (MIKAN 3192569)

Canada is no longer known as a “Dominion” of Great Britain. According to legend, Father of Confederation Samuel L. Tilley borrowed the word from a biblical psalm. It would become part of our nation’s first formal identity.


Tell us a bit about yourself

I became interested in history—more specifically, the history of technology and of industry—while growing up in Brantford, Ontario, an old factory town not too far from Hamilton. If Hamilton was known for making steel, Brantford was known for making farming equipment. By the time I lived there, all the big Canadian farming companies had left, leaving nothing but the old factory buildings and the memories of the older generation. Exploring that history left me deeply interested in the machines that Canadians invented, made and used—and the places where they did all three. It was the start of my journey into history. I no longer live in Brantford, but everywhere I go I find myself searching for signs of Canada’s industrial past.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

The first practical photographic process was invented in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, which is why this type of photograph is called a daguerreotype. Although the photograph is normal to us, the daguerreotype process is not, and probably requires a bit of explanation.

The daguerreotype used a silvered copper plate as “film.” The surface of the plate was chemically treated so that it would be sensitive to light. This light-sensitive plate was placed in a dark box—the camera—until it was exposed to the scene it was meant to capture. After another chemical treatment, the image of what the plate had been exposed to was plain to see, in a very crisp black and white. Daguerreotype images seem to float above their plates, giving them the illusion of depth, a unique property that no other form of photography has managed to duplicate.

Daguerreotype exposures are not instantaneous. One would have to hold still for up to two minutes, or the resulting image would be blurry. This is the reason why most early photographs are formal portraits of sitting individuals or other static scenes. The expense and time required also meant that taking a photograph was an event worth dressing up for.

Have you ever had to keep smiling as someone fumbles with their camera? Holding a smile for more than a few seconds can be painful. Now imagine trying to hold a smile for two whole minutes. Early photographs like this one show our ancestors to be grim, but a frown is much easier to hold than a smile!

When we look at historical photographs, we must think about not just the subject matter, but the technology used to capture the image. The Tilleys, pictured here in stiff and formal poses, were not necessarily stiff and formal people. We would never know it from these daguerreotypes, as the limitations of that technology meant only some sorts of scenes could be captured. When historians look at historic photographs, we have to think about what we have seen—and what we have not.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

A black-and-white photograph of two small boys wearing wool coats and hats sitting on a wooden bench. One is slumped over sleeping; the other is staring the camera and holding a suitcase. A blurred crowd of people can be seen in the background.

New arrivals aboard S.S. ARGENTINA awaiting clearance in the Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21, March 1952 (MIKAN 3212241)

There is an item in LAC’s collection that complements this daguerreotype quite well. It is another photograph, one that shows a scene quite different from the genteel setting that the Tilleys were photographed in.

More than a century after the daguerreotype of Samuel Tilley was taken, Canada was in the midst of one of its periodic booms in immigration. Photography was now more than developed enough to do what the old daguerreotype could not—candid snapshots. More importantly, photographers were now interested in taking pictures of regular people, like those of new immigrants, and later of refugees. Both are represented in this exhibit.

This snapshot is of a pair of young immigrants, waiting to be processed through Pier 21 in Halifax. The year is 1952, and these two tired-eyed children have just disembarked from the S. S. Argentina. Their faces show exhaustion, trepidation and perhaps some annoyance at the wait.

Which of these photographs show a better image of Canada? I would suggest that the versions of Canada that these photographs depict are equally valid. Both photographs show stories that are worth telling.

This photograph does not show a Founding Father of Canada. The names of these two children are not recorded. But they are Canadians, all the same. Their experience of Canada was quite different from the experience of Samuel Tilley, but both were important to the growth of our nation. Photography has become a great social leveller. It is no longer the preserve of the well-off. We are indebted to those early daguerreotypists for capturing the faces of early Canadians, but they could not capture how they looked outside of the studio. More modern photographers have given us windows into what Canadians really look like.

Biography

A colour photograph of a young man standing with a diploma.Scott Dickinson is a young museum professional with a great interest in the history of the technology that Canadians use every day. He holds an Honours Specialization in History from the University of Western Ontario (2014) and a Master’s Degree in Public History, also from the University of Western Ontario (2015). He is currently a student in the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College.

Guest curator: Nicoletta Michienzi

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Cover from a Canada West immigration atlas published by the Department of Immigration, ca. 1923

A colour atlas cover showing a blonde woman in a white Grecian-like robe holding open a curtain of golden grain to reveal a busy farming scene complete with green and gold fields, farmhouses, barns and cattle.

Cover from a Canada West immigration atlas published by the Department of Immigration, ca. 1923 (MIKAN 183827)

Behind golden curtains of grain, we see an idealized—and inaccurate—vision of Canada. Mythologizing was common in immigration advertising. At the time, the west was just not as modern or developed as shown here.


Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in London, Ontario as part of a close-knit Italian-Canadian family. My family’s stories about my culture inspired me to become passionate about the history of Italy.

As a result, I have travelled Italy and other parts of Europe on several occasions, and try to travel whenever I can. I had the privilege of travelling to England for school. While there, I participated in an archaeological dig along Hadrian’s Wall, and during my spare time, I was able to visit parts of northern England and Scotland. I have also travelled Europe with family and friends. During my travels, I always make an effort to visit as many historical and cultural institutions as I can. Visiting these sorts of places is interesting, as it shows you what society values.

My next travel mission is to try to see more of Canada. While I have done quite a bit of travelling outside of North America, I have never taken the time to see my country. I hope that with Canada’s sesquicentennial I will have an opportunity to look more at my country and see what sorts of things we value as Canadians.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

This Canada West cover is a terrific example of Canadian immigration posters from the 20th century. The Canadian Department of Immigration had begun an aggressive advertising campaign in the late 19th century hoping to attract immigrants to the sparsely populated Western provinces.

A colour poster showing a landscape with green fields and mountains with two men standing in the foreground on opposite sides of a river. One has an American flag at his feet while the other holds the Union Jack and has a cornucopia at his feet; he is beckoning the American to come to Canada. Underneath are the departure and arrival locations and dates as well as the price ($12) for the journey.

Promotional immigration poster “40,000 Men Needed in Western Canada” (MIKAN 2837964)

Canada and the British government originally sought to recruit English-speaking immigrants, with many advertisements circulated around the British Isles and the United States. The Department of Immigration did eventually diversify, but in the beginning still focused on white European countries as main sources for immigration. The Netherlands, Germany, and Austria-Hungary were the main targets of immigration campaigns, with text translated from English to other languages. The poster below is an example of promoting Manitoba as a viable area to settle Dutch immigrants.

A colour poster showing giant hands pointing to little vignettes of the different cities in Canada: Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver against a light green background bordered by green and red stripes. The text is in Dutch and advertises the available land and the length of the journey by boat (10 days from Holland).

Immigration poster “Lees Dit!” [Read this!] advertising Manitoba to Dutch immigrants, ca. 1890 (MIKAN 2837963)

The Canada West cover is part of a larger tradition that used the ideal of land opportunity, abundance and farming as an idyllic lifestyle to attract newcomers to Canada. The focus was to promote Canada’s natural resource as a lifestyle for people who were not landowners in their home countries. Attractive images of wheat fields, cornucopias, and picturesque farming communities were made to sell Canada as a peaceful country full of opportunities, though the art idealized the reality. Atlases like this one also contained pages worth of information on Canada with maps of the western provinces. The information included was to further showcase Canada as a country where land and resources were readily available. Canada West was heavily distributed by the Department of Immigration all over the United States and mainland Europe.

Though these simplistic campaigns seem ineffective now, the Canadian Department of Immigration was successful. By 1911 immigration numbers were around 331, 288 per year. After the First World War, the numbers jumped to over 400,000 per year. Imaged-based advertisements, and the notion of Canada as a land of abundance were successful. These early endorsements sold Canada to people who identified as something other than Canadian. Though the images depicted in the propaganda, were not always realistic, they portrayed Canada as a land of opportunity and abundance.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

Canadian immigration and advertising has evolved substantially since the early 20th century. Our ideas of who is an immigrant, and why people choose to come to Canada has changed. How we document immigration has also changed. Technology such as photography and videography have been used to record immigration stories in the modern period.

Library and Archives Canada has an amazing collection of contemporary photographs of immigrants ranging from the late 19th century to the present. These images often depict a different immigrant experience. Photos in the archives show that our immigration policies had a global impact. Many of the immigrants who arrived in Canada would not only work in rural areas, but in urban centers and have an impact on the way Canada has formed. Presently, Library and Archives Canada is working on adding more photos to their collection, highlighting the different materials in their collections. More modern photos like those in the exhibition join older photos like those shown here.

A black-and-white photograph of groups of immigrants on a train platform wearing a variety of clothing from traditional Indian garb with turbans to European styles of clothing. Behind them is the railway station, a small hut with the town’s name on the roof. The mountain rises behind the station, and a young boy stands on the tracks.

Group including Indian immigrants on platform of Canadian Pacific Railway station, Frank, Alberta. ca. 1903 (MIKAN 3367767)

A small black-and-white photograph of a man and woman on either side of a hay bale. A description of the family includes their family name, where they came from, how they arrived, where they live, and a short description of their farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Friedrich Pahl on their farm, Romanian immigrants who arrived May 13, 1927, aboard the S.S. Estonia, Baltic-America Steamship Line (MIKAN 3516853)

Library and Archives Canada also has a collection of videos and oral histories related to the immigrant experience. This collection includes videos on the history of Pier 21, one of the largest immigration points in Canada. These video testimonies show the changes in immigration trends, and how the idea of Canada is continually evolving. While we no longer see Canada as an expanse of open field, the idea behind immigration to Canada is the same. Canada is a land of opportunity for global people, and like our earlier poster, Canada is available for immigrants.

Biography

Nicoletta Michienzi has completed an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario with an Honors Specialization in History and a Major in Classical Studies. During her degree, she participated in an archaeological dig in the north of England and was able to see the effects of tourism on historic sites. She continued her education at Western, completing a Master’s degree in Public History. Since graduation she has been employed by various historical institutions in London, Ontario. She is currently working as the Public Programmer at the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum and as a Historical Interpreter at Eldon House. At the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum, she organizes and conducts tours, educating the public about London’s military history and its connection to global conflict. At Eldon House, she interacts with tourists and helps conduct education programs about London’s oldest heritage home. At both institutions, she focuses on visitor services and educating the public, hopefully making visitors enthusiastic about the history of their community and their country.

Related Resources

Francis, Daniel. Selling Canada: Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation. Vancouver: Stanton Atkins & Dosil Publishers, c.2011.

Guest curator: Katie Cholette

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Red and black Norwegian text on a cream background awards the prize to Lester Bowles Pearson. Text is topped by a red lion holding an axe on a blue mountain bordered by blue waves with a circled star at the top.

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Lester B. Pearson for his role in establishing United Nations Peacekeeping, 1957. Designed by Gerhard Munthe for the Nobel Committee (MIKAN 4900031)

Former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s idea for a neutral military force, to help stabilize conflict zones, earned him the Nobel Prize. Most Canadians now regard peacekeeping as uniquely ours.


Tell us about yourself

I have always had an interest in graphic design. My first career was as a graphic artist and typesetter. I eventually found my way into art history, teaching and now archival work. Although I work primarily with textual documents these days, I am frequently delighted by the array of aesthetically pleasing items in LAC’s collection.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Prize for his role in negotiating a peaceful resolution to the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. The crisis erupted when Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser seized and nationalized the Suez Canal (then jointly owned by France and Great Britain), a move that threatened the supply of oil to Europe. In retaliation, France, Great Britain and Israel secretly collaborated to attack the Sinai Peninsula. The United States and the Soviet Union subsequently became embroiled in the conflict, with the Soviet Union threatening to use nuclear weapons against the assailants. Pearson, at the time Secretary of State for External Affairs and head of Canada’s delegation at the United Nations, stepped in and helped establish the United Nations Emergency Force, which was instrumental in de-escalating the conflict.

At the presentation ceremony on December 10, 1957, in Oslo, Norway, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Gunnar Jahn, stated that the prize was being awarded to Pearson because of “the powerful initiative, strength, and perseverance he has displayed in attempting to prevent or limit war operations and to restore peace in situations where quick, tactful, and wise action has been necessary to prevent unrest from spreading and developing into a worldwide conflagration.”

Although Pearson was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1957, the design of the certificate dates from the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to hand-drawn calligraphy, it features a lithograph designed by Gerhard Munthe in 1901, the year the Nobel Peace Prize was first awarded. A Norwegian painter, decorative artist and illustrator, Munthe took many of his artistic motifs from his native Norway. He worked in the National Romantic Style, the Scandinavian version of Art Nouveau in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This style, which was a reaction against industrialism, promoted ideas of northern nationalism based on the renewal of interest in Norse mythology and sagas. The illustration at the top of the certificate shows a lion holding an axe, a symbol of power and courage that appeared in Norwegian folk art as far back as the 13th century. The motif also appears on the coat of arms of Norway. Atop a decorative frieze of stylized fir trees, the lion stands proudly in a wild northern landscape. Northern lights swirl above his head, and the image is surmounted by the North Star. Although the overall design is delicately rendered and restrained, it is nevertheless a powerfully evocative image.

Detail of the certificate showing a red lion holding an axe on a blue mountain bordered by blue waves and a star in a circle.

Detail of Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize showing the lion on the certificate  (MIKAN 4900031)

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

Pearson wearing a suit with a bow tie and holding a pencil in his upraised hand.

Lester B. Pearson holding a pencil. Photo taken August 11, 1944. (MIKAN 3607934)

A smiling man speaking with another man against a curtained window with the drapes drawn back. Both men are wearing suits and ties.

Anthony Eden. Photo by the Alexandra Studio. (MIKAN 3215249)

I was particularly struck by a photograph that shows Lester B. Pearson with another of the key players in the Suez Crisis: British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden. Duncan Cameron, an Ottawa photographer from Capital Press Limited (and the only Canadian contract photographer for Time Life Inc.), snapped the photo of Pearson and Eden outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on February 6, 1956. Eden, who had known Pearson since the 1930s, was visiting Canada and had just given a speech to the House of Commons. A long-time politician known for his skill in public affairs, Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1955. In the photograph, the two men appear relaxed and happy; there is no premonition that a rift would develop between Canada and Great Britain a few months later, after Eden collaborated with France and Israel to invade Egypt. While Pearson went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, become Canada’s 14th prime minister, and gain a reputation for international diplomacy, Eden’s popularity took a nosedive, and as he was in ill health, he resigned in February 1957. Interesting side note: the photographer, Duncan Cameron, would eventually join the Public Archives of Canada, where he became Photo Custodian of the National Photographic Collection. LAC holds his fonds, which consists of 175,000 prints, negatives and slides.

Biography

Katie Cholette is an archivist in the Governance and Political Archives section. She is currently working in the private military and non-LAC Act institutions areas. Katie has a BA in Art History, an MA in Canadian Art History, and a PhD in Canadian Studies. She has previously worked as the Curator of Acquisitions and Research and the Curator of Exhibitions at the Portrait Gallery of Canada (2007–2008; 2011), held two Research Fellowships in Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada (2006; 2012–2013), and taught courses in Art History and Canadian Studies and at the College of the Humanities at Carleton University (2003 to present). She has delivered papers and published articles on various aspects of art, architecture, culture and identity, and has worked on a number of freelance curatorial and research projects. As a student at Carleton, she was a regular patron of Mike’s Place, the graduate student pub named in Lester B. Pearson’s honour.

Portraits on Metal: Tintypes from Library and Archives Canada – an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

By Jennifer Roger

The tintype process was introduced in 1855 and quickly became one of the most popular ways for people to access and experience photography.

Tintypes are direct positive images, meaning they have no negatives. Created on a thin sheet of iron that is coated in a dark lacquer or enamel and layered with a collodion emulsion, tintypes are one of the most durable photographic processes. Prevalent in both museum and personal collections, they are compelling records of 19th-century life.

Much more affordable than a daguerreotype, tintypes became the medium of choice for people seeking to have their portrait made. Portrait studios offered tintypes for mere pennies. Their ease of processing created more portability, allowing mobile studios to flourish and expand their services to outdoor fairs or tourist destinations. Tintypes were used to record many outdoor scenes and events. The new medium offered the public an accessible option for capturing likenesses, and it became a catalyst in the acceptance of photography into popular culture.

A hand-tinted, black-and-white portrait of a seated woman.

Portrait of a woman, possibly a member of the Boivin family, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3262334)

Because of their affordability and ease of production, tintypes were appealing to the middle and working classes. The move from the controlled environment of the studio to the outdoors led to a proliferation of never-before photographed scenes of 19th-century life, including people at work, street scenes, buildings and structures, and even battle scenes.

A black-and-white photograph of five men assembling wooden boxes inside a mill.

Interior of a mill, showing men assembling cheese boxes, Maberly, Ontario, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3316695)

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada features a selection of these intriguing objects. Drawn from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, these tintype portraits were created both inside and outside the studio and offer glimpses of life in 19th-century Canada.

The exhibition features several studio portraits, such as one of an unidentified woman posing in front of a Niagara Falls backdrop. Backdrops and studio props were widely used in 19th-century portrait studios, not only for aesthetic reasons but also as a method of self-expression.

Niagara Falls was one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the 19th century, so when used as a backdrop, it could have served as an expression of prestige or of personal interest in the attraction. If one could not personally travel to the site, a backdrop could be the next best thing. Backdrops can also provide clues as to the identity of the photographic studio.

A black-and-white studio portrait of an unidentified woman standing next to a fence with a scene of Niagara Falls in the background.

A studio portrait of an unidentified woman standing next to a fence with a scene of Niagara Falls as the backdrop, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3210905)

People often posed with personal items that were of sentimental value or professional significance, as a way to convey who they were or express what was important to them. Sitters chose items that they felt characterized them, such as tools of their trade, musical instruments and photography equipment. Known as “occupational” portraits, these images are revealing and intimate records of past identities.

A black-and-white portrait of two young men seated. One is holding a violin and the other is holding a cello.

Two young men seated, one is holding a violin and the other is holding a cello, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3262290)

For more examples of these intriguing tintype portraits, visit Portraits on Metal: Tintypes from Library and Archives Canada on display within the Canadian Indigenous Galleries at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from December 12, 2017 to July 6, 2018.


Jennifer Roger is a Curator in the Exhibition and Loans section at Library and Archives Canada.