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.

Paws and reflect: the legacy of Margaret Marshall Saunders’s Beautiful Joe

By Alyssa Currie

The Story

Beautiful Joe is a bestselling children’s story written by Margaret Marshall Saunders. The novel describes the life of a mistreated dog who finds happiness when he is adopted by a kind family. It gives a voice to domestic animals by presenting the story from Joe’s perspective and stressing animal cruelty. Using the name Marshall Saunders, the author originally entered her story into a contest by the American Humane Society in 1893 and won first place. The text was published a year later and quickly became a bestseller, reportedly the first Canadian book to sell over a million copies.

Our collections include two photographs and two autographed postcards related to Beautiful Joe. These records are remarkable because they document the real-life inspiration for the story and its connection to Saunders’s animal advocacy efforts. The preface to Beautiful Joe reads:

BEAUTIFUL JOE is a real dog, and “Beautiful Joe” is his real name. He belonged during the first part of his life to a cruel master, who mutilated him in the manner described in the story. He was rescued from him, and is now living in a happy home with pleasant surroundings, and enjoys a wide local celebrity.

The character of Laura is drawn from life, and to the smallest detail is truthfully depicted. The Morris family has its counterparts in real life, and nearly all of the incidents of the story are founded on fact.

Margaret Marshall Saunders, Preface to Beautiful Joe

The Photographs

Margaret Marshall Saunders first encountered “Beautiful Joe” during a visit to her brother and his fiancé, Louise Moore, in Meaford, Ontario. Upon returning to her family home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Saunders began writing, determined to share Joe’s story. Though Saunders based her novel on reality, she adapted elements of the story to suit her fictional setting. For example, the location was changed to an American town to suit the rules of the contest and appeal to American readers. Saunders also renamed the Moore family, who originally adopted “Beautiful Joe,” as the Morris family and introduced elements of her own family into their narrative.

Black-and-white photograph featuring Dr. Edward M. Saunders, standing on the front staircase of a three-story Victorian style house. Dr. Saunders is wearing a black clerical suit and a black hat. The photograph was taken from across a residential street.

The Saunders family residence in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Beautiful Joe was written (MIKAN 3305717)

Throughout the narrative, Saunders appears to model the Morris family after her own. This likeness is supported by a photograph of Dr. Edward M. Saunders donated by the author. A handwritten note, possibly from Margaret herself, on the reverse of the photograph reads:

Dr. Saunders original of Mr. Morris in “Beautiful Joe”

Black-and-white photograph of a middle-aged man sitting in an ornate chair with a small dog, possibly a Russell terrier, laying at his feet. The man is wearing a black clerical suit. Dark drapery and a potted plant appear in the right of the portrait. The back of the photograph includes a stamp from Gauvin & Gentzel Studio.

Dr. Edward M. Saunders, father of Margaret Marshall Saunders and inspiration for the character Mr. Morris in Beautiful Joe. Handwritten notes on the back of the photograph document its connection to Beautiful Joe (MIKAN 3220890)

The Postcards

Two recently described postcards from our literary archives further emphasize the story’s connection to reality and the enduring legacy; both postcards were printed years after the book’s original publication and signed by the author. The first postcard features a picture of the original “Beautiful Joe” and provides a visual counterpart for the story’s protagonist.

Black-and-white postcard featuring a photograph of a dark dog with no ears in a sitting position. The postcard is captioned “BEAUTIFUL JOE” and autographed in black ink, “Marshall Saunders, 1930.” The back of the postcard features a small picture of Margaret Marshall Saunders with the caption, “Marshall Saunders, author of the world famous book, ‘Beautiful Joe.’” The postcard has not been mailed.

Autographed postcard featuring the original “Beautiful Joe” who inspired the story (MIKAN 4921901)

As Beautiful Joe gained national and then international recognition, Saunders used its popularity to promote animal welfare. She collaborated with animal advocacy groups on campaigns, which in turn promoted the sale of her own literary works. A postcard issued by the Canadian Antivivisection Society demonstrates this reciprocal relationship; it features Saunders, with the caption, “Author of the world-famous book ‘BEAUTIFUL JOE.’” The author autographed the front of the postcard and signed the back:

“Please do not vivisect our dear dogs, Marshall Saunders.”

Black-and-white postcard featuring a photograph of a middle-aged woman wearing a lab coat and holding a small dog on her lap. The postcard is captioned, “Author of the world-famous book, ‘BEAUTIFUL JOE’” and autographed in black ink, “Yours truly, Marshall Saunders.” The back of the postcard reads “ISSUED BY THE CANADIAN ANTIVIVISECTION SOCIETY, 445A YONGE ST., TORONTO” and is signed by the author. The postcard has not been mailed.

Autographed postcard featuring Margaret Marshall Saunders, “Author of the world-famous book, ‘BEAUTIFUL JOE’” (MIKAN 4921902)

The Legacy

Saunders was a bestselling author by the time of her death on February 15, 1947. Later that year, the Government of Canada recognized her accomplishments by naming her a “Person of National Historical Significance.” Over a century has passed since Margaret Marshall Saunders wrote Beautiful Joe, but still her legacy remains.

Related resources:


Alyssa Currie is a master’s student from the University of Victoria working in the Literature, Music, and Performing Arts Archives Section at Library and Archives Canada.

Anne of Green Gables podcast images now on Flickr

Few Canadian authors have achieved the universal appeal of Lucy Maud Montgomery, whose iconic series “Anne of Green Gables” continues to resonate with book lovers of all ages.

Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Kindred Spirits After All”

Library and Archives Canada is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Kindred Spirits After All.”

Few Canadian authors have achieved the universal appeal of Lucy Maud Montgomery, whose iconic series “Anne of Green Gables” continues to resonate with book lovers of all ages. In this episode, we speak with inveterate book collector Ronald I. Cohen who donated his entire Lucy Maud Montgomery collection to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) between 1999 and 2003. Mr. Cohen speaks to us about his relentless pursuit of a Lucy Maud Montgomery collection that would be unmatched the world over, and his gracious decision to donate it all to LAC.

LAC Special Collections Librarian, Meaghan Scanlon, took the opportunity to interview Mr. Cohen about his generous donation, and gave him a tour of the vault where the Lucy Maud Montgomery collection now resides.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Anne in the library: introducing the Cohen Collection

By Meaghan Scanlon

In five accessions between 1999 and 2003, Canadian lawyer, film producer, and bibliographer Ronald I. Cohen donated his extensive Lucy Maud Montgomery collection to Library and Archives Canada. (See AMICUS 44572655 for a description of the collection.) The collection contains materials related to adaptations of Montgomery’s work, as well as anthologies and periodicals in which Montgomery is featured. But the bulk of the collection consists of various editions of Montgomery’s published novels, including, of course, her most famous book, Anne of Green Gables.

Among the approximately 420 items in the Cohen Collection are no fewer than 46 copies of Anne of Green Gables. Three of these are in Japanese, two in French, and one each in Korean, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The other 37 are in English.

Why, you might ask, would anyone need 37 English-language copies of Anne of Green Gables? Isn’t the story the same every time? The answer is that for book collectors, it’s often not about the story told in the text. Rather, collecting is an opportunity to discover the story of the book itself, its publication, and the way it has been marketed and received. Many book collectors set out to document the history of an author or title as completely as possible through their collections. For some, this means amassing many copies of the same title.

The Cohen Collection traces the spread of Anne of Green Gables across the English-speaking world through its inclusion of early American, British, Australian, and Canadian editions. The novel was originally published in Boston in April 1908 (AMICUS 9802890). This first edition was extraordinarily popular and Montgomery’s publisher, L. C. Page, reprinted it at least 12 times before the end of 1909. The Cohen Collection contains copies of the sixth (November 1908) and eleventh (August 1909) printings.

Copyright page of the Cohen Collection copy of the sixth printing of the first edition of Anne of Green Gables

Copyright page of the Cohen Collection copy of the sixth printing of the first edition of Anne of Green Gables (AMICUS 9802890, copy 5). “Impression” is another word for printing.

The first British edition of Anne of Green Gables was also published in 1908 (AMICUS 21173240). Anne then made her way to Australia in 1925 (AMICUS 26942864). Interestingly, despite the iconic status of Montgomery and her work in Canada, the first Canadian edition of Anne of Green Gables (AMICUS 1706899) did not appear until 1942. This edition, too, went through several printings; the earliest copy in the Cohen Collection dates from 1948.

Although the story remains the same in each edition, the depiction of its heroine, Anne Shirley, on the books’ covers does not. Audiences in different places and time periods have encountered different representations of Anne, from the mature-looking woman on the first edition to the sometimes cartoonish drawings on later versions. The Cohen Collection’s copies of Anne of Green Gables document the visual history of the character through their illustrations, cover art, and dust jackets.

In fact, when Ronald I. Cohen started collecting L. M. Montgomery’s books, finding copies with dust jackets was one of his main goals. Historically, dust jackets were often discarded by readers (and libraries!) and early examples can be extremely hard to find. The numerous rare dust jackets in the Cohen Collection are therefore a highly valuable resource for researchers looking at the history of one of Canada’s most beloved literary classics.

To learn more about the Ronald I. Cohen Collection of Works by L. M. Montgomery, listen to the latest episode of Library and Archives Canada’s podcast, Kindred spirits after all!


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

Finding Garneau: the importance of archival accessibility

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) houses many national treasures and endeavours to make its collections visible and accessible to the public. One of the projects conducted this summer was aimed at increasing accessibility to Quebec and French Canadian literary fonds, namely the fonds of Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau.

A colour image of a handwritten poem.

Undated manuscript of Un poème a chantonné tout le jour by Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau (MIKAN 4817952). Explore this and other digitized poems.

Garneau was an influential French Canadian writer who wrote in early 20th-century Quebec. He died of a heart attack in 1943, and his posthumous work Poésies complètes (1949) and his Journal (1954) made him an important literary figure of modern Quebec. When LAC acquired his fonds in 1993, visibility for the collection was needed. While Giselle Huot’s text, Œuvres en prose: Édition critique établie (1994), has been an important scholastic link to this fonds, a detailed online finding aid in LAC’s main research database, MIKAN, was needed to help researchers explore the life and works of this important poet.

A colour image of a notebook with “The Peerless Registered Exercise Book” on the cover containing handwritten annotations and inscriptions in Greek.

Cover of de Saint-Denys Garneau’s homework notebook, undated (MIKAN 4817981). Explore other selections from his notebooks.

Now that the finding aid has been entered into MIKAN, researchers can now view a description of each individual item in the fonds from the comfort of their own home and know what is in an archival box before they order it. This finding aid opens a window on the author’s life, his relationships and artistic processes—unveiling a little more of the beautiful handwritten poems and letters of Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau.

Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Guardians of the North: Comic Books in Canada”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, Guardians of the North: Comic Books in Canada.

You don’t have to go far to see the influence that comic books have had on contemporary culture, but you might be surprised to learn that LAC holds an extensive collection of comic books and related material within its vaults. In this episode, we speak with comic book historians Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey about their work and LAC’s role in it. We also talk to special collections librarian Meaghan Scanlon who takes us deep into the comic book collection, and tells us what can be found there and online.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at podcasts@bac-lac.gc.ca.

Comic books at Library and Archives Canada

As the keeper of Canada’s national documentary heritage, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collects a wide range of published Canadiana, including comic books. The collection includes not only comics published in Canada, but also comics by Canadian creators published in other countries. Comic books published in Canada are often acquired via legal deposit. But LAC has also received two important collections from private sources that greatly enhance its holdings of Canadian comics. The largest of these is the John Bell Canadian Comic Book Collection. Donated by comic book historian and former LAC archivist John Bell, the collection includes approximately 4,000 comic books, ranging from Second World War era superhero comics to 21st century zines. Currently, the collection is uncatalogued, but a complete list of all items in the first two accessions is available in AMICUS.

Colour photograph showing a filing box with folders with labels, one is pulled out half-way and a red comic book with the 10¢ price peeks out of the folder.

One box from the catalogued and housed Bell Features Collection

Second World War era Canadian comics are also well-represented in LAC’s Bell Features Collection, which consists of 382 comic books from the corporate archive of one of the major publishers of the period, Toronto-based Bell Features. These older Canadian comics are extremely rare, and the Bell Features Collection is one of the richest resources available. The collection has been fully catalogued, and a collection-level description listing all the titles is available in AMICUS. Over the last few decades, comic books and graphic novels have been increasingly recognized as a literary genre worthy of serious study. In the 1940s, however, comics were considered “throwaway” books for children, as demonstrated by the fact that many Bell Features comics include games and activities for young readers. Because of their ephemeral nature, 1940s comic books were printed on cheap, poor-quality newsprint. As a result, there are various conservation issues to consider when storing comics. Fortunately, the vaults at LAC’s state-of-the-art Preservation Centre provide optimal environmental conditions. The Bell Features Collection is stored in acid-free, closed boxes that protect the comics from harmful light exposure and dirt. Inside the boxes, each comic book is kept in a paper envelope that is open on the top and front edges allowing the comics to slide in and out of their housing with a reduced risk of catching or tearing on a tight opening. The envelopes also contain an alkaline reserve that helps slow down the harmful effects of the acid in the paper. Listen to the podcast Guardians of the North: Comic Books in Canada to learn more about Canadian comics.

Related resources

100th anniversary of the composition of the iconic poem “In Flanders Fields”

John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” is one of the best-known literary works to emerge from the First World War. The poem’s most lasting legacy is its popularization of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those killed in war.

McCrae is thought to have written the poem during the second week of the Second Battle of Ypres while he was stationed at what later became the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station, just north of the town of Ypres. McCrae, a Major and military doctor, was second-in-command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. The exact circumstances in which the poem was written, however, remain the stuff of legend. The most cited stories of the poem’s origin centre on McCrae’s grief over the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, an officer of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery who was killed by a direct hit from a German shell on the morning of May 2. One account says that McCrae was so distraught after his friend’s funeral (for which McCrae, himself, said the committal service in the absence of a chaplain) that he composed the poem in just 20 minutes as a means of calming himself down. Another story has it that McCrae was seen writing his poem the next day, May 3, sitting on the rear step of an ambulance while looking at Helmer’s grave and the poppies that had sprung up near the dressing station. His commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, tells a third story: that McCrae drafted his poem while passing time between the arrivals of wounded soldiers. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the Imperial War Museum in England has a tracing of an original holograph of the poem, written by McCrae for Captain Tyndale-Lea, which claims that McCrae wrote the poem on April 29, 1915, three days before Lieutenant Helmer’s death.

The handwritten poem on yellowed paper in very faded ink.

A copy of “In Flanders Fields” written in John McCrae’s hand. Morrison was a friend and the commanding officer of the poet as well as a physician, December 8, 1915 (MIKAN 179238)

How the poem was submitted for publication is also a matter of speculation. By one account, McCrae threw the poem away but it was recovered by another soldier and sent to a London newspaper. Possibly McCrae himself submitted it, as he made a number of handwritten copies to give to friends shortly after drafting it. The poem was printed by Punch magazine on December 8, 1915. Within months it became the most popular poem of the war.

While no institution is known to have John McCrae’s original first draft of the poem, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has two manuscript versions of it, both written and signed by McCrae. One is dated December 8, 1915 and is part of a collection donated to LAC by Major-General Sir Edward W.B. Morrison, who was McCrae’s friend and fellow officer. The other is typed on paper and is part of a collection of documents donated by James Edward Hervey McDonald, an original member of the Group of Seven painters. LAC also holds an extensive and richly detailed collection of John McCrae’s letters and diaries, spanning much of his life, from childhood to shortly before his death from pneumonia in January 1918.

Black-and-white photograph showing a man in military uniform sitting down on steps with a dog at his side.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae and his dog Bonneau, circa 1914 (MIKAN 3192003)

Additional Resources

Lucy Maud Montgomery: From Potboilers to Poetry

Lucy Maud Montgomery, was born in Prince Edward Island on November 30, 1874 and lived there until her marriage in 1911 to Reverend Ewan Macdonald.

Picture from a page in Everywoman’s World magazine that shows a black-and-white photograph of a house with fruit trees in the foreground and a grove of trees to the left with the following caption, “My old home at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, taken from the front. In the grove to the left was our playhouse with the wonderful door that we made ourselves.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s home at Cavendish, P.E.I. (MIKAN 3641481)

Montgomery began her career writing for Canadian and American children’s magazines. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908 brought her immense international fame. Anne of Green Gables was published by L. C. Page and Company of Boston, Mass., which published another seven of her books before she left them over legal matters and lawsuits in 1917. She turned to Canadian publisher McClelland Stewart and American publisher Frederick Stokes in 1919. During this time period, L. C. Page published a collection of short stories in their possession, Further Chronicles of Avonlea, spurring another lawsuit.

Stamp showing an illustration of a young girl with red hair sitting on a box with a leather satchel beside her. She appears to be thinking or waiting for somebody.

Stamp in honour of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables (MIKAN 2218216)

By the time she died in April 1942, Montgomery had published 22 novels and books of short stories, articles, and a book of poetry, The Watchman, and Other Poems. She also had a portfolio of unfinished poetry. Despite her international fame and success, Montgomery was disappointed that her poetry was not as well received as her popular novels that she sometimes referred to as “potboilers.”

Library and Archives Canada has resources available in:

Related site:

  • L. M. Montgomery Institute—the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island is dedicated to helping students and scholars study Montgomery’s life, works, and influence