Guest Curator: Tania Passafiume

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 in 2017! Experts from LAC, from across Canada and from other countries provide additional information about 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, Ottawa, from June 5, 2017, to March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Temples of Today by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934

Black-and-white photo of a grain elevator with tall, circular towers in front of a taller rectangular building.

“Temples of Today” by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934. (MIKAN 3784205)

Photographer John Vanderpant saw Canada’s grain elevators as temples. They were part of his utopian vision for the country, based on a faith in trade and industry. For him, industry would define the nation’s future.


Tell us about yourself

I knew I wanted to be a conservator since I was 13 years old. At this time, my uncle had married a wonderful woman named Janice. She was a fine art conservator, hence she treated paintings, works of art on paper, and photographs. I was very influenced by her, and it led me to work in her private lab as I was studying at university. It provided me with experience before I even started my graduate classes in conservation. When I graduated, there was no employment in Canada, and my aunt had closed her lab and was traveling that particular year. I ended up going to the George Eastman House on a whim. It was supposed to be just for three months. Instead I stayed there three years and three months! It was when I became passionate about photography, particularly historical processes. My hands were often black due to all the silver nitrate I was playing with! And now, I see my aunt’s name on a report or two, as she had actually interned here at LAC many years before me.

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

LAC’s collection of photographs is really diverse. You can always find a variety of processes and images. For this exhibition, I favor Temples of Today by John Vanderpant. I am a photograph conservator, so often I look beyond the image, looking deeper at the materials and how the photograph was made, or if anything has been altered. Many times, not to be distracted by the image itself, I turn the photograph around, so that the image is upside down, making it less distracting, so that I can concentrate on the material and not the image before me. But for this item, all I had to do was lean down and look at the surface of the photograph in raking light. That is when light is falling across the surface and I am almost at eye level with the surface. It is at this point you can really “see” an object; all the handling dents and deformities are really pronounced. When you do that with this item you see cat paw prints! We actually think that the cat walked one way, turned around and walked back! The photograph was already mounted on the paper support when the cat had walked on it. This is noted as one of the prints lies on both the photograph and the support. Perhaps Vanderpant had a cat who would visit him in the studio? I really enjoy finding these hidden secrets. I did try to remove or at least reduce the paw prints, but they appear to be stuck within the emulsion. So I could not do much as for treatment, and the paw prints remain.

A photo on a table with a bright light raking over it reveals a cat’s paw prints.

Viewing Temples of Today under raking light reveals a cat’s paw prints. Photo taken by Tom Thompson.

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

A photograph that I enjoy showing people is a daguerreotype from July 1858. The daguerreotype has captured the Molson Brewery in Montréal, after a fire. It is a half plate in good condition. The image is sombre as the fire has left nothing. In the centre of this emptiness stands a man with a seated female to the left with a small child, who moved as the image was taken and is blurry. It is a moving image, as you can imagine that the daguerreotypist had to be physically there, at this moment to document this period of time. A few years ago, this item was going on exhibition; therefore I was fortunate enough to be able to open the daguerreotype package (the original sealing tape had been previously removed), to examine the plate. Upon removal of the brass mat, I immediately noticed in the upper left corner, a finger mark. This was hidden behind the brass mat. This fingerprint could be from the daguerreotypist, who is, at this moment still unknown. It could have been accidently placed there as he or she was developing the plate or placing it into the daguerreotype package. For me it is a sign of the mysterious past—a bridge, a connector between these people in the image and to the person behind the camera who is not visible and us, the current viewer.

 The corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. The plate depicts a closeup of the Molson Brewery after a fire. A woman with a baby is sitting at the bottom edge.

A detail of a corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. Photo taken by Jennie Woodley. (MIKAN 3192967)

Black-and-white image of rubble in the foreground with a damaged building in the background. A woman with a baby sits in the middle to left of a standing man.¬

Full image of the Molson family brewery after the fire of 1858. (MIKAN 3192967)

On this theme of animals and photography, I would like to include the “Decadog,” as we call it at the Preservation Centre. This is a perfect example of an animal being an animal. It is a nitrate panorama negative of 7th Draft, “C” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA). These were the units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and the Royal Air Force who trained at various camps in Ontario; here it was in Kingston. It was taken between 1914 and 1918. The nitrate negative was discovered when my colleagues Carla Klück and Louise Perrault were scanning the nitrate panorama collection in 2011. At first glance this long negative, which is 200 mm high x 1060 mm wide, is another documented proof of military troops from the turn of the century. On closer examination, a dog appears in the foreground. But not just any dog—a dog with eleven legs! Viewers are always confused when they notice this unusual aspect. Someone has previously outlined in black ink on the negative (which appears white on the positive print), ten of the legs (hence the name Decadog), omitting the second last paw on the left. You may be asking—how did this dog exist in Kingston? Easy enough answer is that the photograph was taken by a panoramic camera also known as a Cirkut. The Cirkut is a rotating camera that would capture a panoramic scene by pivoting horizontally while a roll of film moved across the film plane. At just the right moment, the dog must have walked as the camera was rotating from left to right. Consequently, the slow capture could capture the slow movement of the dog walking across the plane of view. To prove that this Decadog is a “normal” four-legged friend, I have included an additional nitrate panorama from our collection. This time it is from the 8th Draft “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF, Petawawa Camp on June 1916. From his face markings, we think that this is the same dog in both nitrate panoramas.

Black-and-white panorama shot of two rows of uniformed soldiers between two wheeled cannons. The Decadog is in front of the group. Barracks can be seen in the background.

7th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF group photo with the Decadog by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4474227)

Black-and-white panorama shot of three and a half rows of uniformed soldiers in front of trees and tents. A soldier in the centre of the front row holds a dog on his lap.

8th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF Petawawa Camp with a dog in the centre by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4473482)

Biography

Colour photograph of a woman looking at the viewer.

Credit Tom Thompson

Tania Passafiume has been the Head Conservator of Photographic Materials for Library and Archives Canada since 2005. After graduating from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Art Conservation (specializing in photographs, works on paper and book conservation), she moved to Rochester, New York. It was in Rochester at the George Eastman House where she remained for over three years, first participating in the Certificate Program in Photographic Preservation and Archival Practice and then as a Fellow in the first cycle of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. For the following three years, Tania was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, in Photographic Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tania has also worked in the following institutions and private labs: Jana Conservation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, National Archives of Canada, City of Vancouver Archives, and Canadian Centre for Architecture. With the Canadian Conservation Institute she has published “Silver Gelatin Paper Sample Sets,” which is based on her George Eastman House thesis. Also stemming from this was research on Hippolyte Bayard, a topic on which she is currently working with the Centre de recherché sur la conservation des collections (CRCC), Paris. More recently, she spearheaded a LAC project with the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Paris/Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de la Ville de Paris (ARCP) in a collaboration to create the first English-French visual glossary of photo conservation terms in enhanced eBook format called Lingua Franca: A Common Language for Conservators of Photographic Materials which will soon be available for free on iTunes.

Guest curator: Vasanthi Pendakur

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.


“Wild” woman of Canada, 1784

A colourful print of a pale woman with blond hair dressed in a yellow dress with green edging, white apron and pink tights. She is also wearing a blue necklace and blue boots.

“Wild” woman of Canada from Mœurs et coutumes des sauvages du Canada, 1784 (MIKAN 3025442)

The images of Canada published by serious travel encyclopaedias are often surprising. This woman seems more European than Indigenous… just look at her blonde hair! Continue reading

Guest curator: James Bone

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?

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 square sepia stamp. Each corner has the number three indicating the cost. A ring around the center reads, “Canada Postage Three Pence” with a crown between the top words. In the center of the circle is a beaver beside running water with a mountain and trees in the background.

The Three-Pence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, 1851 (MIKAN 2184475) ©Canada Post.

The beaver was seen as a good stand-in for the average Canadian: industrious, tenacious… and with great building skills. This is one reason why it appears on the nation’s first postage stamp.


The Three-Pence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, 1851

Tell us about yourself

I acquire and process philatelic archives from private, or non-governmental, sources. Although LAC holds the extremely important Post Office Department fonds containing the records of Canada Post, the study of philately is one that happens entirely in the private sphere. So to complement the official records, LAC also collects the records of stamp designers, engravers and artists along with those of printing companies, Canada’s philatelic study societies and prominent philatelic researchers and exhibitors.

I recently represented LAC at the 2016 British North America Philatelic Society Exhibition in Fredericton, New Brunswick where I sought to foster knowledge of LAC’s holdings and how to use them, while also making a pitch that members of the society could have archival records of interest to LAC’s growing collection.

I did not entirely expect to find myself at LAC. After completing my undergraduate studies in 2006, I received a full scholarship for a year to continue my studies in Chinese language at Beijing Normal University in preparation for a planned MA program in Chinese history. However, illness and a change of direction brought me into the workforce. I worked in technical support in London, Ontario and later supervised a technical support team in Montréal for several years before returning to graduate school. Continue reading

Guest curator Meaghan Scanlon

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.


Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, Samuel de Champlain, 1613 and its map, the Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain, 1613]

Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, 1613 and its map Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain], engraved by David Pelletier in 1612. (MIKAN 3919638) (AMICUS 4700723)

Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, 1613 and its map Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain], engraved by David Pelletier in 1612. (MIKAN 3919638) (AMICUS 4700723)

Explorer Samuel de Champlain saw Canada as a land of potential. He published this book, with an eye-catching map, to advertise its possibilities to investors. The beautiful drawings of plants are probably his own. Continue reading

Word recognition: Governor General’s Literary Awards winners in LAC’s collection

By Sara Viinalass-Smith

The Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of Canada’s most prestigious suites of literary prizes, and the awards’ long history can shed light on the evolution of publishing, writing and reader tastes within Canada over the past eight decades. Created by the Canadian Authors Association and supported by prolific author and Governor General John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, the awards originated in 1937.  This year marks their 80th anniversary. At first honouring works of fiction and non-fiction, over the decades the awards have expanded to include, also, poetry, translation, drama and children’s literature in both French and English.

Since 1969 Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has been building a literary archives collection that includes the papers of many of the English- and French-language Governor General’s literary award winners, such as Robertson Davies, Marie-Claire Blais, Dionne Brand, Gabrielle Roy and Carol Shields. In examining their papers you can, for instance, track the life of an award-winning novel from the author’s original kernel of an idea, developed in notes and drafts, through heavily edited galley proofs and proposed cover art to review clippings and even the author’s invitation to the Governor General’s awards ceremony.

A yellowed black-and-white photograph of an officer in uniform.

Thomas Findley, the source of inspiration for Timothy Findley’s The Wars. (MIKAN 4933177)

The long path a work can take from idea to publication to recognition is well illustrated by Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Findley won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in 1977 for his novel, which tells the story of a young Canadian soldier who enlists in the First World War. The protagonist of the novel was inspired in part by Findley’s uncle, Thomas Irving Findley. Contained within Findley’s archives is a family album of letters from the front written by Thomas Irving Findley to his relatives in Canada. The album also includes one of the few known photographs of Findley’s uncle, dressed in uniform. Findley used these records as source material for the development of the characters in The Wars. From the letters, you can trace how Findley used the thoughts, feelings and actions of his uncle to create the character of Robert Ross and his fictional, wartime experience. Findley’s research, notes, outlines and drafts show the evolution of the text, and a mock-up of the final cover art shows how the book was physically presented to its original audience. Reviews from the year of publication reveal the book’s initial reception by critics. Finally, scripts Findley wrote for radio and film adaptations of The Wars speak to the overwhelming success of the novel and show how he carried his beautifully crafted prose through to different genres.

To honour this milestone anniversary of the awards, the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the awards, is hosting an exhibition in Ottawa entitled People – Places – Things: Reading GG Books. The exhibition celebrates the more than 700 winning titles from the awards’ history, the people who write them and the places where we read them. Archival records from LAC’s literary archives collection make up part of the exhibition. These include the photograph of Thomas Irving Findley, the first page of Gabrielle Roy’s handwritten manuscript of Ces enfants de ma vie (1977), and notes and a manuscript for the children’s book Pien (1996) by Michel Noël. The exhibition is on until February 24th.

Related resources


Sara Viinalass-Smith is a literary archivist (English language) in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Drawn from history: Canadian political figures in comics

By Meaghan Scanlon

Most of us are familiar with newspaper editorial cartoons. These one-panel gag comics often feature exaggerated and satirical images of politicians. But did you know that Canadian politicians have also appeared in web comics, graphic novels, and even Super Hero comics?

Kate Beaton’s web comic Hark! A Vagrant frequently features historical figures. Her strip “A History Debate” sees a collection of well-known individuals from Canadian history, including Sir John A. Macdonald, engaged in a discussion about what they can do to make Canadian history less boring. (Obviously, we don’t think it’s boring at all!)

A few Canadian political figures’ lives have been recounted in biographical graphic novels. Two examples are Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown and Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Suffragette Nellie McClung by Willow Dawson. These biographies may take some liberties with their portrayals of events, but for the most part they are based in reality.

However, Canadian politicians have found themselves in some truly fantastical situations in the pages of Super Hero comics. You may have read recently that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will appear in the pages of a Marvel comic book written by Canadian Chip Zdarsky. This is not the first time the world of comic book heroes has borrowed a character from Canada’s political sphere. In the first issue of New Triumph featuring Northguard, the titular hero uncovers a plot to kill Quebec Premier René Lévesque. Fortunately, Northguard arrives in time to save Lévesque’s life.

In issue No. 120 of The X-Men, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meets with James MacDonald Hudson, codename: Vindicator, of the Canadian Super Hero team Alpha Flight. Trudeau instructs Vindicator to capture the X-Men’s Canadian member, Wolverine, and bring him home to Canada. Canadian artist John Byrne drew the comic.

A large screen shows the X-Men fighting a giant robot. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stands in front of the screen along with Alpha Flight team leader Vindicator. Trudeau asks Vindicator to explain who the X-Men are. The words “The Uncanny X-Men” appear in large text at the top of the page. The story title is “Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!” The location of the scene is given as “The War Room of the Canadian Ministry of Defense – Ottowa [sic], Ontario, Canada …”

Pierre Trudeau gets a lesson on the X-Men from Alpha Flight’s team leader Vindicator in The X-Men no. 120, published by Marvel Comics, April 1979. (Reprinted in X-Men: Alpha Flight (AMICUS 44300363) © MARVEL

Perhaps the most unusual depiction of Canadian politicians in comics occurs in Angloman: Making the World Safe for Apostrophes! Angloman, the heroic champion of bilingualism, encounters a series of super-powered characters who might seem strikingly familiar to students of Canadian politics. Power Chin, for example, is a parody of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, complete with the oversized chin that was Mulroney’s trademark feature for caricaturists. Pierre Trudeau appears as The Northern Magus, a mysterious caped figure with a rose in his lapel. The Northern Magus has incredible magical powers and only speaks in rhyme.

Sketches and textual descriptions of three characters – Poutinette, The Northern Magus, and Power Chin.

Character biographies for Poutinette, The Northern Magus and Power Chin from Angloman: Making the World Safe for Apostrophes! (AMICUS 14740760. © Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette. Reproduced with the permission of Signature Editions.) (AMICUS 14740760)

To learn more about comic book depictions of Canadian history as well as other Canadian comics, visit Library and Archives Canada’s exhibition Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity. The exhibition runs at 395 Wellington St. in Ottawa until September 14th. Admission is free.

Additional resources


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

A greater sisterhood: the Women’s Rights struggle in Canada

“Women are going to form a chain, a greater sisterhood than the world has ever known.” Nellie McClung, 1916

The year 2016 marks an important commemorative milestone for women’s rights: the 100th Anniversary of Women first obtaining the right to vote in Canada. To highlight this egalitarian achievement and many other barriers overcome by Canadian women over the past century, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), working in partnership with Canadian Heritage, will launch an outdoor exhibition titled A Greater Sisterhood: The Women’s Rights Struggle in Canada.

Following on from LAC‘s Let Them Howl: 100 Years of Women’s Suffragea display of portraits  this past winter on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and at Fort Gibraltar in Winnipeg—this new exhibition features reproductions of portraits and documentary photographs of significant and influential persons and groups of women. The women featured in this exhibit broke through barriers to achieve full participation in the economic, political, and social life of Canada, helping to make it a more inclusive and democratic country.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of nursing sisters waiting in line to cast their votes at an outdoor polling station. Four male officers oversee the proceedings while one sister casts her vote behind a screen. In the background are encampment tents.

Canada’s Nursing Sisters at a Canadian hospital casting their votes in the Canadian federal election, December 1917 (MIKAN 3194224)

During the First World War, more than 2,000 nurses, supervised by matron-in-chief Margaret Macdonald, served overseas as members of the Canadian Army. The Military Voters Act, 1917, gave all military personnel, including nurses, the right to vote in federal elections, paving the way to the expansion of women’s voting rights in 1918.

Madeleine Parent, a Quebec labour union activist and a founding member of the Confederation of Canadian Unions, led efforts to achieve better working conditions for women in the textile industry. As a co-founder of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Parent also supported Aboriginal women’s rights.

A black-and-white photograph showing a woman walking down a street; behind, there is a man with a sign that says “L’union fait la force” [Unity makes strength]

Madeleine Parent walking in the May Day Parade in Valleyfield, Quebec, ca. 1949 (MIKAN 3257043)

Throughout her fifty-year career as a singer-songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie has focused on issues facing Indigenous peoples. She has won recognition and countless awards for her music and her work as an activist and educator. In 1997, she founded the Cradleboard Teaching Project, which helps create core teaching curricula based on Indigenous perspectives.

A black-and-white photo portrait of a woman with long dark hair looking directly at the photographer.

Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photograph taken by Robert Taillefer, 1975 ©Robert Taillefer (MIKAN 4167090)

Be sure to visit the outdoor exhibition, A Greater Sisterhood: The Women’s Rights Struggle in Canada, on display on Plaza Bridge, directly opposite the Hotel Château Laurier on Rideau Street in Ottawa, which runs until Thanksgiving weekend.

Learn more about Women First Obtaining the Right to Vote in Canada or read about our other blog articles on the topic.

A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with Parks Canada, is marking the 175th anniversary of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s birth (November 20, 1841) with the exhibition A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The celebrations started this morning at Fairmont Château Laurier, 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, to coincide with the 104th anniversary of the grand opening of the famous hotel. One of the features is a commemorative display of LAC historical items alongside a Sir Wilfrid Laurier bust from Parks Canada—a perfect opportunity for a selfie!

A colour photograph of a woman leaning over towards a book that is held by a cardboard cutout figure.June 1, 1912, the Lauriers are on their way to the opening ceremony of the Château Laurier Hotel. A modest man, Laurier is said to have initially turned down the offer of having this Grand Trunk Railway hotel named after him.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of peopleA black-and-white photograph showing a group of people sitting in a car. sitting in a car.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Lady Laurier and unidentified passengers arrive for the opening of the Château Laurier Hotel, June 1, 1912 (MIKAN 3191987)

Be sure to visit the Laurier House National Historical Site at 335 Laurier Avenue East, in Ottawa, to see the main display on this prominent politician.

The exhibition features photographs, souvenirs, personal and political correspondence, and original historical records from the collection of Library and Archives Canada—some of which are on display for the first time. This selection of items honours Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was known for his articulate vision of a common purpose, his sense of compromise and interest in national unity. A widely admired dignitary with a strong sense of inclusiveness and cultural acceptance, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was Canada’s longest-serving member of Parliament and the first French-Canadian, bilingual prime minister.

Centered text elaborately framed with gold whiplash lines in the form of rose vines, pink coloured roses and leaves on the bottom corners; below the frame is an illustration of the Ottawa Parliament Buildings.

Luncheon in honour of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1902 (MIKAN 186966)

A hand-drawn embellishment consisting of red roses and green leaves on brown stem at top left corner above text.

Menu, Canada Club Menu, 1897 (MIKAN 186966)

Souvenirs on display highlight part of the prime minister’s role in representing Canada at public international events. Often collected in albums, memorabilia such as invitations, tickets to theatre performances, and menus from formal state dinners and luncheons give a glimpse into the social side of the prime minister’s duties. Visit the exhibition at Laurier House to see what was on the dinner menu over 100 years ago!

A newly discovered treasure from the collection—one recently restored by conservators—this illuminated address on parchment paper recognizes the important efforts by Laurier’s government to populate the West.

An illuminated address showing an elaborate scroll to the left of the text and a Red River Cart in the upper right-hand corner.

Illuminated address from the Mayor and Council of Winnipeg (MIKAN 186966)

Join us in celebrating one of the most pragmatic and eloquent Canadian prime ministers and visit the exhibition, A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier, being held in Ottawa until November 20—Laurier’s birthday!

To learn more about Sir Wilfrid Laurier, view a Flickr set, and to discover Canada’s heritage, go to http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/.

Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity

By Meaghan Scanlon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional resources


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

Drawn from Real Life: Hillborough Studio’s First Canadian Comic Book Heroes

By Meaghan Scanlon

In August 1941, a small Toronto-based comic book publisher called Hillborough Studio released the first issue of its first title, Triumph Adventure Comics. The series is an anthology, with each issue containing several one-page humour strips along with a few longer feature stories. These features showcase heroic characters like Cape Breton strongman Derek of Bras d’Or and Inuit demigoddess Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

The fact that these characters both have distinctly Canadian identities is no coincidence. The first issue of Triumph Adventure Comics includes a letter from the comic book’s editor to its readers, which notes that the stories in issue no. 1 “all have a Canadian background, which will delight you not only in this edition, but in the many issues to follow.” Who would produce these Canadian stories? Naturally, the editor says Hillborough employs “the best artists in Canada.”

The team of artists and writers behind Triumph Adventure Comics sometimes drew on real-life Canadians for inspiration. The creators of Derek of Bras d’Or based the character on Angus McAskill (sometimes spelled MacAskill), a Cape Bretoner famous for his incredible strength and gigantic stature. McAskill, who was almost eight feet tall, toured the world as a curiosity during the 1840s and 1850s.

A black-and-white photograph of two men standing: one is very tall and the other is very short.

Angus MacAskill and Tom Thumb. (MIKAN 3531760)

Continue reading