“It made you intensely proud to see it standing there”: How the Vimy Memorial survived the Second World War

By Andrew Horrall

Canadian Army Newsreel No. 42 must have been very exciting to watch in September 1944. In an era before television, cinema audiences followed the events of the Second World War through these short films.

Scenes of liberated cities in this newsreel indicated that the war in Europe had entered its final phase. A particularly poignant segment showed Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, commander of the Canadian Army, visiting the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, which commemorates the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

: A black-and-white photograph of a small airplane in the sky near a stone war memorial featuring two tall vertical columns.

Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar’s plane approaching the Vimy Memorial, September 11, 1944 (e011166203)

The Vimy Memorial, which was unveiled in 1936 before thousands of Canadian veterans and their families, dominates the battlefield and is the most moving shrine to Canada’s wartime sacrifices. Photographs of Adolf Hitler visiting the memorial soon after it was captured by the Germans in 1940 were the last images that Canadians had seen of it, and many believed it had been destroyed. When Canadian war correspondent Ross Munro visited the newly liberated memorial on September 1, 1944, he marveled that it “seemed almost as if it had been swept and polished for this visit, but it had been like this through four years of war. It made you intensely proud to see it standing there, a symbol of the gallantry and sacrifice of the last war and which might well become the same for this war.”

A colour photograph of a man in a military uniform standing in front of a stone war memorial. A man in a tweed coat and beret is partially visible nearby.

Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar and Paul Piroson (left) at Vimy Ridge, September 11, 1944 (e011166202)

Newsreel images of General Crerar’s entourage walking across well-tended grounds to the memorial, which gleamed in the late-summer sun, confirmed Munro’s description. The group was followed by a man in a tweed jacket and beret who was eventually seen speaking with Crerar as the narrator proclaimed, “Even during the occupation, the caretaker kept the Vimy Memorial grounds in order.”

The man in the newsreel was Paul Piroson. Still photographs taken during the visit also show Crerar talking to George Stubbs, who seems too old for his private’s uniform. The two men told Crerar about how they and their wives had safeguarded the memorial during the German occupation.

A group of men in military uniforms talking, watched from a distance by a man in civilian clothes. A stone war memorial featuring two tall vertical columns can be seen in the background.

Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar talks to George Stubbs, with Paul Piroson in the distance, Vimy Ridge, September 11, 1944 (e011166202)

George Stubbs was an English-born butcher who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Winnipeg in 1914. He fought at Vimy Ridge, married a woman named Blanche in 1919 and settled in England.

Like many veterans, Stubbs had been deeply moved by the war. He returned to Vimy in the early 1920s, paying tribute to those with whom he had served by helping the Canadian government to preserve the battlefield. Piroson, who had grown up nearby, was hired at about the same time.

Stubbs became a familiar figure at Vimy, helping to build the memorial and explaining the valour and sacrifice of Canadians to thousands of visitors each year. When the memorial was unveiled, he became its official caretaker.

George and Blanche Stubbs decided to remain at Vimy with their four children when the Second World War started in 1939. The Allies still controlled France the following spring, when George sent $25 to the Canadian Legion, expressing a desire to help “those of my comrades who are not so fortunately placed as myself.” The words seem ironic today, because the Germans overran France within weeks, sending the Stubbs family racing to the port of Bordeaux in hopes of escape. They were too late and went into hiding, but were arrested in October 1940.

George Stubbs spent the rest of the occupation in an internment camp near Paris, while Blanche and the children returned to the family cottage at Vimy, where they reunited with Paul Piroson and his wife Alice.

The trio of adults ensured that the memorial was treated respectfully while in enemy hands, by explaining to German soldiers about its significance and also preventing damage from vandals. While they were outwardly courteous and deferential, Paul hid weapons for the Resistance in the tunnels under the battlefield.

When George Stubbs was liberated in August 1944, the Canadian Army provided him with the uniform he wore to meet Crerar. Though Stubbs was a civilian, these were likely his first new clothes in years. George then joined Blanche and the Pirosons at Vimy, where they greeted Allied soldiers, told their stories to reporters, and hired local workers to clean and repair the site.

A colour photograph of a young woman in a white blouse and dark skirt, sitting in front of a large stone statue of a mourning woman.

Simone Stubbs, daughter of George and Blanche Stubbs, on the Vimy Memorial, ca. 1944–1948 (e010786286-v8)

George and Blanche Stubbs stayed at Vimy until 1948, when they returned to Canada. After experiencing two world wars, it is not surprising that George proclaimed he would never go back to Europe.

Paul Piroson succeeded George Stubbs as the Vimy Memorial’s caretaker, protector and guide. The Pirosons were devoted to Canada, a country they had never visited at the time. The couple named their cottage “The Maple Leaf” and always wore the symbol on their jackets. Though only Paul was paid, the pair both led tours and enforced a strict, old-fashioned reverence for the site—women were not permitted to wear shorts, children had to be well behaved, and food was forbidden. Each year on Remembrance Day, Paul laid a wreath for the Canadian government.

When Paul retired in 1965, veterans convinced Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to invite the Pirosons to Canada as official guests for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Though Pearson’s invitation dates from a time when women’s work was regularly overlooked, he thanked the pair equally for their “close personal association with so many Canadian service personnel during both world wars, your great kindness to so many of them and your hospitality and help to Canadians who have returned to Vimy Ridge.”

The Pirosons took part in Vimy commemorations across Canada in 1967. When a reporter asked about their impressions of the country they had represented for so long, Alice replied, “We both think a lot of Canadians.” Her simple words expressed the deep gratitude for Canadian wartime sacrifices that had inspired the devotion of the Stubbs and Piroson families to the Vimy Memorial.

Visit the Flickr album for images of Canadian National Vimy Memorial.


Andrew Horrall is an archivist at Library and Archives Canada.

Dressing the Troops: Knitting During the Wars

By Cara Downey

Canadian knitters played a significant role in outfitting those who served in various wars, including the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War. Knitters made socks, sweaters and other items for soldiers, pilots, sailors, merchant seamen, the sick and wounded, as well as prisoners of war and refugees. This work was encouraged by various volunteer groups: the Canadian Red Cross Society, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire (IODE), branches of the armed services and their auxiliaries (for example, the Navy League), and others. Special patterns were printed, and the required knitting materials were distributed to volunteers. (See Shirley A. Scott, Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land, pages 32 to 39)

The patterns listed strict requirements for the garments, with knitters generally requested to stick to “plain knitting” (that is, stocking stitch), since unnecessary decoration decreased speed and increased use of yarn. (Shirley A. Scott, Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land, page 39) 

The book Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, issued by the Canadian Red Cross Society in 1940, provides further instructions:

  • Knit items in specific colours, for example:
    • Socks for the Navy were to be knit in navy blue or grey, Army socks in khaki, grey or “heathers,” Air Force socks in black or grey, bed socks for hospitals in white or grey;
    • Toques were to be knit in navy blue for the Navy and in khaki for the Army; toques were not required for the Air Force.
  • Join wool by splicing, not with knots;
  • Cast on all ribbing stitches loosely;
  • “Join two socks of pair together with light coloured wool pulled through two inside thicknesses of cuff. Do not knot, but tie in firm bow. Fasten one size label (on each pair of socks) on the outside on cuff, if size runs between sizes, label smaller size.” (Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, pages 3, 13, and 15).
    A black-and-white photograph of soldiers in uniform sitting outdoors while knitting.

    Resting but busy (e010963520)

    Knitting was generally performed by women on the home front (regardless of class), children (particularly girls), as well as the sick or injured. The photo Resting but busy (dated c. 1918–1925) shows convalescing soldiers knitting as a form of relaxation and therapy. 

    Knitting was encouraged through various means. One example is the printed posters exhorting people to “knit for the boys.” The American Red Cross produced the poster Our Boys Need Sox, Knit Your Bit during the First World War, and Canada’s National War Finance Committee published the poster Whoever You Are … Whatever Your Job … Here is What Canada Needs of YOU … Work – Save – Lend for Victory in 1942, which included a picture of a woman knitting.

    A poster that reads “Whoever You Are ... Whatever Your Job ... Here is What Canada Needs of YOU ... Work - Save - Lend for Victory” and features drawn portraits of two men and two women.

    Whoever You Are … Whatever Your Job … Here is What Canada Needs of YOU … Work – Save – Lend for Victory (e010695660)

    Knitting was so common during this time that it entered popular culture—in songs such as Knitting socks for Daddy’s men (published in 1915) and The pretty little mitt that Kitty knit (published in 1940)—and in books. Characters in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside (published in 1921) participated in knitting circles and knitted at home to contribute to the war effort. Katherine Hale dedicated the book Grey Knitting and Other Poems (published in Toronto in 1914) to “The Women Who Knit.” 

    The contribution of knitters should not be dismissed. While it is difficult to count the number of items given to the diverse groups that collected goods and to know the number of individuals involved, the Canadian Red Cross estimates that a total of 750,000 volunteers knit 50 million articles (for soldiers, the sick, refugees, and others) during the Second World War alone. (Halifax Women’s History Society, “The Monument Design: The Design for The Volunteers.”) For the Scotia Chapter of the IODE during this period, this meant a contribution that included 350 pairs of socks, 525 sweaters, 125 helmets, 50 pairs of mittens, 12 pairs of gloves, and 65 scarves. (Sharon M.H. MacDonald, Hidden Costs, Hidden Labours: Women in Nova Scotia During Two World Wars, page 141)

    Visit the Flickr album for more images of knitting!


    Cara Downey is a senior analyst in the Governance, Liaison and Partnerships Division. 

Canadians and the military occupation of Iceland (1940–1941): from squalls to the “black death”

By Marcelle Cinq-Mars

During the Second World War, the participation of Canadian military personnel in the occupation of Iceland, then a neutral country, is a little-known episode in Canada’s military history.

From the beginning of the conflict, the Allies tried to stop the expansion of German troops as they began to invade Germany’s neighbours. After invading Denmark, the Germans were preparing to capture Norway in April 1940. Would Iceland, Norway’s neighbour, be the next to suffer the same fate? In order to prevent the Germans from invading Iceland, the Allies decided to take a position there first, sending troops to occupy it despite opposition from the local government.

Although history shows that the Germans never invaded Iceland and never intended to, the Allies could not know this in 1940. What is certain is that, at the time, this island represented a very strategic point for the Allies. Iceland offered a major advantage for the defence of sea convoys transporting troops and equipment from America to Britain. As soon as an airport was built there, planes would be able to take off, patrol the area and detect the well-known German U-boats. In addition, Ferry Command pilots―responsible for flying North American-built military aircraft to Britain―would be able to land and refuel aircraft en route to their final destinations. This underscored the strategic value of Iceland for Allied Forces.

Colour photograph of a large ship in front of an island.

HMCS Assiniboine patrolling the waters off Iceland, May 1942. (e010777260)

The British vanguard arrived in Iceland on May 8, 1940. A week later, an entire brigade disembarked and settled there, in an operation codenamed Alabaster. The country is rough; the roads are covered with gravel; and there is no airport. Reykjavik harbour has to be adapted to allow the arrival of soldiers and military equipment.

The British quickly realized that they would need more soldiers to occupy and defend the island in the event of an attempted German invasion. On May 18, the Canadian government was asked, and agreed, to send reinforcements to Iceland. Brigadier L.F. Page was given command of Canadian troops, comprising three battalions: the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Machine Gun). Canadian troops and service units were designated by the code name “Z” Force.

The Canadian “Z” Force joined Operation Alabaster. The Canadian Troop War Diary contains a wealth of information and details about this operation; a historical report written after the fact also provides a very good summary of the operation.

Cover page of a war diary. The words “Secret” and “War Diary” are written in black ink on a white background.

Cover page of the “Z” Force Headquarters War Diary, September 1940. It is available online at Canadiana Heritage. (RG24, vol. 13813)

Upon arriving in Iceland, the Canadians experienced a series of setbacks that hampered their settlement. The main problem was the small size of Reykjavik’s harbour, which could accommodate only one ship at a time. The British insisted that their cargo had precedence over that of the Canadians. When Canadian ships were finally able to access the dock, there was no unloading crane. All equipment had to be transported by teams of men. The Government of Canada had shipped everything necessary to build Yukon-style cabins. However, the equipment was not shipped in kits. Soldiers had to wait for all the cargo to arrive before they could assemble their first cabin. As if that weren’t enough, there were no assembly plans shipped with the material to guide its construction.

By mid-September, as nights began to reach freezing temperatures, only half of “Z” Force had a roof over their heads; the rest had been sleeping in tents since June. And it wasn’t in Yukon cabins that Canadians slept, but rather in Nissen cabins provided by the British! The strong winds, heavy rain and gusts of wind that constantly rage in Iceland in the fall would sweep away the tents and bundles of clothing of units stationed near the coast. This was a constant concern for Brigadier L.F. Page, who cared deeply for the well-being of the troops under his command.

The soldiers, for their part, were growing accustomed, as best as they could, to living conditions in Iceland. Between work chores and shooting exercises, they used their free time to go into town. In his monthly report to the military authorities, Brigadier Page reports that these outings to town were a source of drunkenness and indiscipline. Deprived of Canadian alcohol in their camps, the soldiers quickly developed a taste for a local alcohol nicknamed “black death” by the Icelanders: it was most likely aquavit, a flavoured brandy with a high alcohol content. In order to remedy the situation, “Z” Force placed an order for the products that the soldiers needed each week:

  • 100,000 cigarettes in packs of 10
  • 12,000 bars of popular branded chocolate of standard quality
  • 120 bottles of whisky, 60 bottles of brandy, and 18,000 bottles of good beer (12,000 bottles of John Labatt (India Pale) and 6,000 bottles of Molson)
  • 75 pounds of good-quality, popular branded coffee

Thanks to Brigadier Page’s repeated interventions, the living conditions of Canadian soldiers began to improve in Iceland. Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, visited the Canadian troops still in training in Great Britain. It was then that he learned that some of the Canadians had been sent to Iceland to serve as occupation and defence troops. On July 7, 1940, he wrote to the Secretary of State for War (War Secretary):

“You shared my astonishment when General McNaughton declared that the entire 2nd Canadian Division was to go to Iceland. It would certainly be a great mistake to allow the use of these excellent troops in such a distant theatre (of operations). It seems that the first three battalions are already there. No one has been informed. We request that two Canadian divisions work together in one corps as soon as possible.”

The British Prime Minister has such a high opinion of Canadian soldiers that he could not understand why they were being underutilized for the defence of Iceland, a role he preferred British territorials to fulfil. After discussions with the Government of Canada on the matter, the decision was made that Iceland’s Canadian troops would join the rest of the Canadian Corps in Britain. Brigadier L.F. Page left Iceland in October 1940 with the majority of “Z” Force troops. The last Canadian elements left the island in April 1941. The following month, the Americans accepted the request of the Icelandic and British authorities to take over the defence of Iceland, where they have remained, in various capacities, ever since.

Typed page of a historical report. The words “Cancelled” and “Declassified” can be read in black ink on a white background, in the upper right-hand corner.

First page of Historical Report No. 33 on “Z” Force operations in Iceland, December 1949. (RG24, vol. 6924)

The War Diary and the Historical Report are essential sources for documenting this little-known chapter of Canada’s military history.


Marcelle Cinq-Mars is Senior Archivist of Military Affairs, Government Archives, at Library and Archives Canada.

Molly Lamb Bobak, Canada’s first female official war artist overseas: A Co-Lab challenge

By Krista Cooke

Black-and-white photograph taken from the side showing a smiling woman in uniform sitting on a pier with a drawing tablet and pencil in hand. In the background, a young blond child is standing, and sailboats are docked nearby

War artist Lieutenant Molly Lamb, Canadian Women’s Army Corps, sketching at Volendam, Netherlands, September 1945 (a115762)

Molly Lamb Bobak, the first female official war artist overseas, is arguably the Second World War painter who best captured Canadian women’s experiences of military life. In 1942, Molly Lamb (later Bobak) was fresh out of art school in Vancouver. The talented young painter promptly joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) as a draftswoman—dreaming of one day becoming an official war artist.

Canada’s war art program, established during the First World War, resulted in a vast collection of artworks. Molly Lamb Bobak, who contributed to the Canadian War Records of the Second World War, was exceptional. She was Canada’s first female official war artist overseas. Works from her lifetime of painting and drawing are held at numerous institutions across Canada, including Library and Archives Canada (LAC), where a large collection of her works resides. One of the most compelling pieces, her wartime diary, is now more accessible: it has been digitized and can be transcribed through the collaboration tool Co-Lab.

Shortly after enlisting, Molly Lamb Bobak began writing a unique diary, which provides an invaluable record of the CWAC’s role in the war effort. Titled simply W110278, after her service number, it is a personal and insightful handwritten account of the everyday events of army life, accompanied by her drawings. Covering the period from November 1942 to June 1945, the diary contains 226 illustrated pages and almost 50 single sheet sketches interleaved among its pages.

A hand-drawn newspaper-style page with a column of text and illustrations of a woman in a military uniform and a diner scene. The titles “W110278” (Molly Lamb Bobak’s service number) and “Girl Takes Drastic Step!” are written at the top

Molly Lamb Bobak’s handwritten diary, amplified with colourful sketches (e006078933)

A hand-drawn page with text and illustrations of two women in military uniforms, women posing for images, women eating at a restaurant, a small pink pig, and women marching. The title reads, “Life Begins as Second Lieutenant!”

Another example from Molly Lamb Bobak’s handwritten diary (e011161136)

The diary’s first page (top) captures the humorous tone and unique approach of the diary, which is written in newspaper style, with the pages resembling big-city broadsheets. The first headline reads “Girl Takes Drastic Step! ‘You’re in the Army now’ as Medical Test Okayed.” What follows are handwritten news bulletins with amusing anecdotes and vibrant illustrations, revealing women’s experiences in Second World War army life. These comprise a personal daily record of Lamb Bobak’s time in the CWAC. She worked serving in canteens before being sent on basic training in Alberta, eventually being promoted to Lieutenant in the Canadian Army Historical Section, in 1945. Throughout her years of service in Canada, she captured the world around her, later using many of these sketches as studies for her paintings.

Three years after enlisting, Molly Lamb Bobak achieved her ultimate goal when she became the first woman to be sent overseas as an official war artist. She recorded her excitement in her diary, writing “Lamb’s Fate Revealed…To Be First Woman War Artist!” Despite her talent, Lamb Bobak’s appointment as an official war artist was far from a foregone conclusion. Women’s perspectives had not been a priority for the program. As she later recalled, “[B]eing the first female war artist, with 9 men [in my group] . . . was sort of a great thing to have happened to me . . . because I know the Army didn’t want women [artists], in those days.” She credited family friend and Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson with her success. Indeed, he had written on her behalf to the director of the National Gallery of Canada, who was involved in the war art program, stating “If she had half a chance, she could go places.” And go places she did!

A black-and-white photograph, taken from the side, of a woman painting at an easel, holding a paintbrush and palette

Molly Lamb Bobak paints #1 Static Base Laundry (shown completed below) (a188549)

A colourful painting depicting a building and women (some in uniform) in a line, with rolling hills and trees in the background. This painting is the completed version of the painting on which Bobak is working in the photograph above

#1 Static Base Laundry, a painting now in the collections of the Canadian War Museum Canadian War Museum 19710261-1617

After the ceasefire in 1945, the military sent Molly Lamb Bobak to England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. As one of almost 30 Canadian official war artists working during the Second World War, Lamb Bobak created works that are unique because of their focus on servicewomen. Roughly 50,000 Canadian women enlisted in the military during the Second World War, but their experiences were not generally of interest to male war artists or administrators of the war art program, who tended to focus on battlefield scenes and servicemen. As a CWAC herself, Molly Lamb Bobak had unparalleled access to her subjects and was able to capture the daily experiences of being a servicewoman. She later explained that “[T]he whole structure of army life is agreeable to a painter… and everywhere you turn there is something terrific to paint…. one could spend hours … drawing the C.W.A.C.s checking in and out, the new recruits, the fatigue girls in their overalls, the orderly officer.” During her time overseas, she produced dozens of paintings that today are part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art at the Canadian War Museum. Together with the material at Library and Archives Canada, it is possible to build a rich portrait of Molly Lamb Bobak’s military experiences and of her life as a painter. Following the war, she married fellow official war artist Bruno Bobak. Their assignment to a shared studio space in London, U.K., began a romance that lasted until their deaths (Molly Lamb Bobak died in 2014, and Bruno Bobak died in 2012). Their shared archival collection is housed at Library and Archives Canada.

We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized records from our collection, such as Molly Lamb Bobak’s wartime diary.


Krista Cooke is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada. This blog post draws from an earlier version written by Carolyn Cook, formerly of LAC.

CIL: The story of a brand

By François Larivée

The CIL name is a commercial brand that immediately evokes something in the collective consciousness, namely paint. However, for those who explore the history behind this well-known brand, it probably comes as a surprise to learn that CIL’s origins are in the manufacturing of explosives and munitions.

Black-and-white photograph showing a large rectangular billboard anchored to an embankment and featuring an advertisement for CIL. The ad looks like a painting, with a house at each end, in a suburban landscape. Between the two houses, the oval CIL logo is visible, with the words “Peintures” in the top left and “Paints” in the bottom right.

CIL advertising billboard on Monkland Boulevard, Ville LaSalle, Quebec, circa 1950 (a069072)

Explosive beginnings

The origins of CIL can be traced back to 1862, before Confederation. That year, the Hamilton Powder Company was formed in Hamilton, Ontario. The company specialized in the production of black powder, which was then used as an explosive for a variety of purposes, particularly for railway construction, a booming industry at the time.

The Hamilton Powder Company’s activities culminated in 1877, when it was awarded a major contract to participate in the construction of the national railway linking Eastern Canada and British Columbia. (This railway was famously a condition set by British Columbia for joining Confederation.) The black powder produced by the company was then used to enable the railway’s perilous crossing of the Rocky Mountains in 1884 and 1885.

Following its expansion, the Hamilton Powder Company moved its head office to Montréal. It was also near Montréal, in Belœil, that from 1878 onward, the company developed what would become its main explosives production site.

In 1910, it merged with six other Canadian companies, most of which also specialized in the production of explosives. Together, they formed a new company: the Canadian Explosives Company (CXL). Although explosives remained the bulk of the company’s production, new activities were added, including the manufacture of chemical products and munitions.

One of the companies involved in the merger, the Dominion Cartridge Company, already specialized in the manufacture of munitions, particularly rifle cartridges (used mainly for hunting). It was founded in Brownsburg, Quebec, in 1886 by two Americans—Arthur Howard and Thomas Brainerd—and Canadian John Abbott, who would later become the country’s third prime minister. In 2017, Library and Archives Canada acquired a significant portion of CIL’s archival holdings relating to its Brownsburg plant.

World wars and munitions

During the first half of the 20th century, the company produced more and more munitions. Indeed, as a consequence of the two world wars, the demand for military ammunition in particular increased sharply.

As early as 1915, the Dominion Arsenal (responsible for the production of military ammunition in Canada) could not meet the demand on its own. The Canadian government therefore sought the help of Dominion Cartridge, then one of the largest private companies in this sector. The company thus obtained major contracts to produce military ammunition.

Order-in-Council approved and signed on May 4, 1915, by the Privy Council Office on the recommendation of the Department of Militia and Defence. It authorizes the establishment of a contract with the Dominion Cartridge Company Limited of Montréal for the production of 100 million .303 Mark VII munitions, according to the specifications of the British War Office, at $36 per thousand pounds.

Privy Council Office Order-in-Council approving a contract with the Dominion Cartridge Company for the production of munitions, May 1915 (e010916133)

To reflect the gradual diversification of its operations, the company changed its name to Canadian Industries Limited (CIL) in 1927.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, CIL further increased its production of munitions. In 1939, in partnership with the Crown, it established a subsidiary company dedicated exclusively to this sector of activity, Defence Industries Limited (DIL). The Crown owned the factories and equipment, but it delegated the management of operations to CIL. The Crown also provided CIL with the funds to operate the plants, although it did not purchase their production.

Given the considerable ammunition requirements of the Allied forces, DIL expanded rapidly. It opened many factories: in Ontario, in Pickering (Ajax), Windsor, Nobel and Cornwall; in Quebec, in Montréal, Brownsburg, Verdun, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite (Cherrier plant), Sainte-Thérèse (Bouchard plant), Belœil and Shawinigan; and in Manitoba, in Winnipeg.

Some occupied huge sites, turning DIL into one of the largest industrial complexes of the time. In 1943, at the peak of its activity, it employed more than 32,000 people, the vast majority of whom were women.

Black-and-white photograph of a female employee wearing a white uniform and cap, holding a projectile for presentation to the Honourable C.D. Howe. Behind them, several projectiles of different sizes are displayed on a table. In the background, a few civilians and military personnel are standing on a platform behind a lectern.

Edna Poirier, an employee of Defence Industries Limited, presents the Honourable C.D. Howe with the hundred-millionth projectile manufactured in the Cherrier plant, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite, Quebec, September 1944 (e000762462)

Black-and-white photograph showing employees in front of factory buildings, moving away from what appears to be a locker building. Most are seen from behind; others are facing the camera or talking to each other. In the background are a few train carriages.

Workers leaving the Cherrier plant of Defence Industries Limited to take the train, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite, Quebec, June 1944 (e000762822)

New products and a centennial

After the Second World War, CIL gradually reduced its production of munitions, which it abandoned definitively in 1976 to concentrate on chemical and synthetic products, agricultural fertilizers, and paints. It then began to invest a large part of its operating budget into the research and development of new products. Its central research laboratory, which was established in 1916 near the Belœil plant, grew in size, as evidenced by a large part of CIL’s archival holdings held at Library and Archives Canada.

The development of the explosives factory and laboratory in the Belœil region led to the creation of a brand-new town in 1917: McMasterville, named after William McMaster, first chairman of the Canadian Explosives Company in 1910.

Black-and-white photograph of a worker wearing protective equipment and a visor, pouring a white liquid from a machine. The liquid flows out as a uniform band into a cylinder that the worker holds in his right hand. Some smoke rises from the liquid.

Worker pouring liquid nylon from an autoclave, Canadian Industries Limited, Kingston, Ontario, circa 1960 (e011051701)

Black-and-white photograph of a worker filling a bag by holding it under the spout of a machine. A stack of empty bags sits next to him. The bags read “CIL Fertilizer.”

Bagging of chemical fertilizer at the Canadian Industries Limited plant, Halifax, Nova Scotia, circa 1960 (e010996324)

Although CIL was diversifying its operations, the production of explosives remained the company’s main driver of growth and profitability. These explosives were used in many major ventures, including mining projects in Sudbury, Elliot Lake, Thompson, Matagami and Murdochville, and hydroelectric projects in Manicouagan, Niagara and Churchill Falls. They were also used in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Highway.

To mark its centennial in 1962, the company had a major building constructed in downtown Montréal: the CIL House (now the Telus Tower). The work was carried out between 1960 and 1962 and is a testament to CIL’s growth.

Around the same time, the company bought a heritage house in Old Montréal, which it restored and named the CIL Centennial House initially, then the Del Vecchio House (in honour of the man who had it built). The company periodically exhibited collection pieces there from its weapons and ammunition museum in Brownsburg.

The company faded, but the brand endures

In 1981, CIL moved its head office from Montréal to Toronto. Its central research laboratory was moved from McMasterville to Mississauga. The McMasterville explosives factory remained in operation, despite the many workplace accidents—some fatal—that happened there. It gradually reduced its production before closing for good in 2000.

However, CIL’s heyday had long since passed. From 1988 onward, the company had just been a subsidiary of the British chemical company ICI (which was itself acquired by the Dutch company AkzoNobel in 2008).

But to complete the story, in 2012, the American company PPG purchased AkzoNobel’s coatings and paint production division, thereby acquiring the well-known CIL paint brand, which still exists today.

Related resources


François Larivée is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Archives Branch.

Your ancestor was a Canadian volunteer in the Spanish Civil War?

By Nicole Watier

One of the more complex questions that our Genealogy desk receives is “Where do I begin to find the service records of my relative who served in the Spanish Civil War?”

Canadians might know a little about the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) through Pablo Picasso’s painting of the destruction of the town of Guernica or from reading Ernest Hemingway’s popular novel For Whom the Bell TollsOr perhaps through watching one of the films about Dr. Norman Bethune showing his mobile blood transfusion unit and the Instituto Hispano Canadiense de Transfusión de Sangre.

A black and white photograph of a man and a woman standing in front of a truck whose back is marked with a white cross.

Canadian Blood Transfusion Unit operating during the Spanish Civil War. Dr. Norman Bethune is at right. (a117423)

The Spanish Civil War began on July 18, 1936, and Canada, like many other countries, did not officially intervene. Although the Canadian government made it illegal for Canadians to serve by passing the Foreign Enlistment Act, more than 1,400 Canadians volunteered to defend the Spanish government. Along with more than 40,000 volunteer combatants worldwide, they fought for the democratic Republican government (supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico) against the Spanish Army officers led by General Francisco Franco (supported by Germany and Italy). The Communist Party of Canada organized the recruitment campaign in Canada.

A variety of reasons make it difficult to determine the exact number of Canadian volunteers and to find trace of them after the war ended.
As more and more Canadian volunteers arrived in Spain, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion was formed and named after Louis-Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie, leaders of the Rebellions of 1837-1838. The battalion was also known as the “Mac-Paps.” Canadians also served amongst the other battalions of the International Brigades, such as the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and the Washington Battalion.

Many of those who wished to serve in Spain used various means to leave Canada. Many travelled to New York or other countries to board ships destined for Spain. Some used aliases. There is the usual issue of variations of the spelling of names in records, which always makes research more complicated. Since many of the Canadian volunteers originally came from Europe, some had changed or simplified their names. The lack of detailed recordkeeping on both sides in itself presents a huge research challenge.

To help you with your research, here are a few hints from Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) unique collection. You may be interested in looking at the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion collection (MG30-E-173), which contains material collected by the Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, its veterans’ organization, and other individuals who worked to compile records. The collection contains a variety of records of Canadians who served in the International Brigades, correspondence with veterans, articles, backgrounders, reminiscences, lists of names, and photographs. This includes some individual photographs of the volunteers, such as Elias Aviezer, a Canadian in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1938, killed at Jarama. Some of these photos are digitized in Collection Search.

A black and white photograph of a man in a suit and tie staring towards the camera.

Elias Aviezer, a Canadian in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1938, killed at Jarama. (a066954-v8)

LAC also holds the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion fonds (MG10-K2). This fonds consists of copies of selected records on microfilm reels of the International Brigades from the Communist International, or Comintern. This was the Soviet-sponsored agency founded in 1919 to coordinate the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism worldwide. When the Republican forces were defeated and Soviet officials, the commissars, left Spain in 1939, they took their records, including the records of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. These records include a variety of administrative records, statistics, daily orders, various lists (nominal rolls, wounded, killed, deserted and repatriated), correspondence, and biographies. The original records and more are held by the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Records of Contemporary History, in Moscow, whose permission is required to copy any record.

Other archival records held at LAC that make mention of the Canadian volunteers can be found in a large variety of archival fonds, such as the repatriation of the volunteers starting in February 1939 and the Canadian prisoners of war that followed in the Department of External Affairs (RG25) and the Immigration Branch (RG76). Over 700 returned to Canada, many stayed in Europe, over 200 were killed in action, and some are missing in action.

Some of the volunteers had previously served in the First World War or subsequently served in the Second World War. For Elias Aviezer, killed in action in 1937, we can find his name in the Personnel Records of the First World War database, under the name Elias Achiezer, having previous service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Published sources available at Library and Archives Canada to trace the volunteers include The Daily Clarion, the Communist Party of Canada’s newspaper. It includes stories from foreign correspondent Jean Watts, one of the few women in the field. Newspapers all across Canada wrote about the volunteers, and some local newspapers wrote of their departure and their subsequent return to their communities.

In the September 5, 1938, issue of the The Montreal Gazette, page 9, the following article announces the return of James Wilson to Edmonton, and includes his future-telling comments.

A column of text from a newspaper, with the heading “Edmonton Man Returns.”

“Edmonton Man Returns,” The Montreal Gazette, September 5, 1938, p. 9. (OCLC 1035398537).

For further reading, you can search the Aurora catalogue to find books that list volunteers and provide context to events, including

  • Canadian Volunteers: Spain 1936-1939 by William C. Beaching (OCLC 19517663)
  • The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion: Canadian Participation in the Spanish Civil War by Victor Howard (OCLC 79017)
  • “Ukrainian Volunteers from Canada in the International Brigades, Spain, 1936-39: A Profile” by Myron Momryk in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies, volume 16, nos. 1-2 Summer-Winter, 1991 (OCLC 6744531)
  • Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War by Michael Petrou (OCLC 185078047 [Translation in French available at OCLC 1007098925])

Online indexes of Canadian volunteers and other information can be found at

For help on this subject, or other genealogical questions, feel free to contact the Genealogy team by completing the “Ask us a genealogy question” online form.


Nicole Watier is a genealogy consultant with the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and legacy

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s name is associated with speed, athleticism, determination, courage and perseverance. His Onondaga name, “Cogwagee,” translates as “all” or “everything.” Facts, stories and photographs of his life have been collected, published and examined over the past century, in an attempt to capture, recreate and demystify his life.

Thomas Charles Cogwagee Longboat was born to George Longboat and Elizabeth Skye on July 4, 1886 (some sources have June 4, 1887). He was Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation from Six Nations Territory and lived a traditional life of the Haudenosaunee (Longhouse). At the age of 12 or 13, Longboat was forcibly sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School, an Anglican denominational and English-language school, which operated from 1823 and closed in 1970. This experience did not go well for him and his fellow First Nations students, who were forced to abandon their language and beliefs to speak English and practice Christianity. Longboat reacted by escaping the school and running home. He was caught and punished, but then escaped a second time, with the foresight to run to his uncle’s farm, where he would be harder to find. This proved successful and marked the end of Longboat’s formal education. He worked as a farm labourer in various locations, which involved travelling great distances on foot.

Longboat began racing as an amateur in 1905. He won the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1907, in two hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds, shaving nearly five minutes off the previous record for the world’s most prestigious annual running event. With this incredible race, he brought tremendous pride and inspiration to Indigenous peoples and Canadians. The following article was published the day after he won the marathon:

“The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdily.” (The Boston Globe, April 20, 1907)

A year after winning that race, Longboat competed in the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London, England. He collapsed and dropped out at 32 kilometres, unable to finish the 42.2 km race. He then turned to professional running, and in 1909 received the title of Professional Champion of the World at a Madison Square Garden race in New York City.

A black-and-white page from the 1911 Canadian census with entries for each of 38 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, occupation and citizenship, and language and education.

A page from the 1911 census listing Thomas C. Longboat and his wife Loretta [Lauretta], in York County, Ontario. His profession is listed as “runner.” (e002039395)

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long-distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

In 1916, Longboat went overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in the First World War. He employed his natural talent and served as a dispatch runner. Longboat was mistakenly declared dead in the battlefields of Belgium, after being buried in rubble as a result of heavy shelling. His wife, Lauretta Maracle, a Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk) woman, whom he had married in 1908, believed him to be deceased and remarried. Longboat subsequently married Martha Silversmith, an Onondaga woman, with whom he had four children. He continued his military career, serving as a member of the Veterans Guard in the Second World War while stationed at a military camp near Brantford, Ontario. The Longboat family settled in Toronto. Upon his retirement from employment with the City of Toronto, Longboat moved back to Six Nations. He passed away on January 9, 1949.

In 1951, he received posthumous recognition with the establishment of the prestigious Tom Longboat Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to Indigenous athletes who exemplify the hard work and determination they put forth in their chosen endeavours. The original trophy remains at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary, with a travelling replica held by the Aboriginal Sports Circle in Ottawa. In 1955, he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

A red rectangle plaque with gold writing, with the crest of Canada and “Tom Longboat 1886–1949” at the top.

A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque honouring Tom Longboat, located at 4th Line Road, Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Parks Canada)

Tributes in recognition of Longboat’s achievements continue today in many forms. A Government of Canada plaque was erected in his honour in 1976 at 4th Line Road, Six Nations, Ohsweken, Ontario. In 1999, Maclean’s magazine recognized him as the top Canadian athlete of the 20th century. Canada Post issued a stamp in 2000 commemorating his winning time. In Ontario, the Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008 designated June 4 as “Tom Longboat Day.” Tom Longboat Corner in Six Nations, a Tom Longboat Trail in Brantford, Ontario, a Tom Longboat Lane in Toronto, and a Tom Longboat Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. There is also a Longboat Hall at 1087 Queen Street West in Toronto, the location of the YMCA where he trained. A statue of Longboat entitled “Challenge and Triumph,” created by David General, and an exhibit about him are on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre at Six Nations. Most recently, a children’s book about his life called Meet Tom Longboat was published in 2019.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and accomplishments are both fascinating and inspiring. To learn more about him, listen to our podcast, “Tom Longboat is Cogwagee is Everything,” which includes additional information.  Also check out the Tom Longboat Flickr album.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


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

Inuit soldiers of the First World War: Lance Corporal John Shiwak

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

by Heather Campbell

A black and white photograph of a young Inuk man in a military uniform staring towards the camera.

Lance Corporal John Shiwak, First Royal Newfoundland Regiment, c. 1915. Courtesy of Veteran’s Affairs Canada

As we remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars, many of us are aware of the First Nations and Métis soldiers who fought for our country. But only a few of us may know about the Inuit soldiers who also fought alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. My great-great-uncle, Lance Corporal John Shiwak, was one of those men. Due to his skills as a hunter, he became a sniper—“one of the best in the British Army,” according to a fellow officer.

My uncle hailed from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region in northern and central Labrador, which was part of the British Dominion of Newfoundland in 1914. When the call came for Newfoundland men to enlist, it also made its way up the north coast of Labrador to the Inuit men of these settlements. Inuit culture was, and still is, largely a non-confrontational culture. Many of these young Inuit men were encouraged to enlist by people in positions of authority, such as Dr. Harry Paddon, a physician for the International Grenfell Association. Regardless of their motivations, approximately fifteen Inuit men enlisted and set sail for England in the summer of 1915.

A black and white photograph of two Inuit women and an Inuit child standing beside a wooden house.

Hopedale, Newfoundland and Labrador, 1913. Credit: Edith S. Watson (e010791418)

What a culture shock it must have been for these men who, like my uncle, were all from tiny, isolated communities of a few hundred people at most. In addition to the size, hustle and bustle of European towns and cities, the worldview was very different. Although Inuit hunt for survival, we respect each life we take and are taught from a young age to not cause an animal pain or distress. When we take a shot, we want to be certain it is precise and effective. Especially during the early 20th century, when the cost and scarcity of ammunition meant that every bullet had to count. Sometimes that meant going home empty handed.

I imagine those Inuit soldiers felt exactly the same way when they discharged their firearms in war. It must have been a huge adjustment for them to fire in haste, knowing they may have wounded someone. However, they knew that the men on the other side of the trenches had to be stopped for others to live, just as animals in Labrador had to die for their families to live. I imagine it was the only way to reconcile themselves with the horrors of war.

A black and white photograph of trees and white houses with black roofs. In the background, there is a boat on the water.

Hudson’s Bay Company Buildings, Rigolet, Labrador, September 1926. Photo Credit: L.T. Burwash (a099501)

The story of my great-great-uncle Lance Corporal John Shiwak is unique because in addition to his traditional activities as a hunter, trapper and fisherman, he was also a writer, poet and artist. He wrote many letters from the front lines to his friend Lacey Amy, a journalist and author from Ontario. Mr. Amy wrote the article “An Eskimo Patriot” in the July 1918 issue of The Canadian Magazine, telling of their friendship and some of Uncle John’s feelings during the war.

The duration of the war was wearing on him. He had no close friends, none to keep warm the link with his distant home. In September he lamented: “I have no letters from home since July. There will be no more now till the ice breaks”. And in his last he longed again for the old hunting days. Labrador, that had never satisfied his ambitions, looked warm and friendly to him now… That was in mid-November. A month later an official envelope came to me. Inside was my last letter. On its face was the soulless stamp. “Deceased”.

Every year on Remembrance Day, our family would talk about Uncle John with a quiet reverence, remembering the deep grief experienced when he did not return home. I have yet to meet a Labradorian living elsewhere who does not long to return to Labrador. The connection that we have to the land is difficult to express. We see firsthand how the land provides us with everything that we need to survive. Many generations of history are embedded in not only the community, but also each fishing spot, trapline, woodcutting path, hunting ground and berry-picking spot. This creates a special bond between people and the land. To be away from Labrador is to be disconnected from a piece of ourselves.

When I first visited the Canadian War Museum, I was drawn to the recreation of a First World War trench. Visitors can walk through it and put themselves in the shoes of soldiers on the front lines. As I slowly made my way through the trench, it affected me deeply. Tears streamed down my face as I imagined Uncle John huddled in the mud, writing in his journal or sketching images of the land and animals, longing for the peace and solitude of his ancestral home. A home that he would never see again.

A black and white photograph of a cemetery behind a fence and small leafless trees near Cambrai, France. There is a house and a farm in the background.

Raillencourt British Cemetery near Cambrai. Shiwak was not buried in this cemetery, but was equally far from home. (a004409-v8)

During the battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917, an exploding shell killed Uncle John and six other soldiers. Eighty-eight years later, in 2005, my cousin, Jason Sikoak (formerly written as Shiwak), took part in the Aboriginal Spiritual Journey. In this journey, a group of Indigenous people travelled to Europe to honour Indigenous soldiers. Jason told me that during this journey, Uncle John’s spirit visited him in a dream. We hope that he followed Jason back to the shores of Rigolet and that he is at peace.

A black and white photograph of ships in body of water. There are trees in the foreground of the photo.

A point of land seen from a distance with Hudson’s Bay Company buildings along the shoreline and boats anchored in the cove. Rigolet, c.1930. Photo credit: Fred. C. Sears (e010771588)

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is an archivist in  the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Recognition and Remembrance: A Métis soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1917–1918

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By David Horky

The Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) maintains a list of over 5,000 individuals whose names are engraved on the National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument in Batoche, Saskatchewan. Unveiled in 2014, the monument serves to recognize, remember and honour veterans from across the Métis Nation Homeland who have served Canada throughout history. The list of Métis veterans (PDF) provides the veteran’s name, service number, enlistment (the war or activity), and the location of their inscription on the monument (by column and row).

The GDI list has been invaluable for my own personal research about one of my distant relatives who fought and died in the First World War. I recently discovered Métis branches on my own family tree on the Métis Genealogy section of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website, and it was while doing this research that I found the digitized military service file of a distant relative, Private Arthur Carriere.

Searching the GDI list, I was proud to find an entry for a Private Arthur Carriere, confirming that he was indeed among the many names engraved on the National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument. I realized in the process that the service number on the GDI list—2293697—corresponded to the regimental number referring to the same soldier on the LAC website. This simple example demonstrates the great value of the GDI list to relatives and researchers interested in identifying Métis veterans from the 600,000 digitized service files in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.

Being able to access a digital copy of Arthur’s First World War service file—a tangible record of his involvement in the war—was a very personal way for me to pay my respects to one of my kin in remembrance of his service and sacrifice to our country. Despite the brevity of much of the information recorded on the various forms and documents in the file, they collectively provide a story, impressionistic to be sure, about Arthur’s brief and tragic wartime experience.

A typed page with the title, Particulars of Recruit, Drafted under Military Service Act, 1917. There are also stamps and handwriting on the page.

The Attestation Paper from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

Although there weren’t any explicit references to Arthur’s Métis heritage recorded in the file, I thought I could detect traces or clues in some of the records, especially the Attestation Paper, which provides basic information about his background at the time of his enlistment—age, occupation, residence, name and address of next of kin, etc. Born in 1893 in St. Adolphe, Manitoba, Arthur was 24 years old, single, and a farmer living in St. Vital, Manitoba at the time of his enlistment. His next of kin is his mother, A. (Angèle) Carriere, of Ste. Rose, Manitoba. The communities in particular struck my attention—all are Franco-Manitoban with strong and continuing Métis roots. The next of kin information is often very useful to trace Métis roots, as ethnic origin is not usually stated in the file.

The Attestation Paper also indicates the circumstances of Arthur’s enlistment—the most obvious being that he did not volunteer, but was drafted under the provisions of the Military Service Act. He reported for medical examination on November 14, 1917 in Fort Frances, Ontario, and was called up on January 11, 1918 in Winnipeg for active service as a private with the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians), a regiment of mounted rifles.

A typed and handwritten form with the title “Casualty Form—Active Service.” The regimental number, rank and name of the soldier is typed underneath in blue ink along with handwritten notations.

The casualty form from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

The Casualty Form—Active Service record provides us with a very brief outline of Arthur’s activities following his enlistment. Leaving Halifax on April 15, 1918 on the S.S. Melita, the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians) arrived in Liverpool, England on April 28, 1918. On August 20, 1918, shortly after arriving in France), Arthur joined the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre where troops were held before being sent to reinforce existing units. A couple of weeks later on September 13, 1918, he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD), a regiment assigned to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade but that mainly played an infantry role throughout the war. Less than a month after joining the RCD, Arthur’s life was tragically cut short. On October 10, 1918, he is simply reported as “killed in action.” This is one month and a day short of the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 that ended the First World War.

A few more details about Arthur’s death is provided by another military record, the Circumstances of Death Registers, First World War, which the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) used to report the cause of a soldier’s death, where and when it occurred, and the soldier’s final resting place. The entry for Private Arthur Carriere indicates that on October 10, 1918 “while acting as a medical orderly at Brigade Headquarters in Troisvilles, he was killed by an enemy shell.” The location of his final resting place is given as Grave 8, Plot 11, Row C in the Highland British Cemetery, recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Register as being one mile south of Le Coteau, France.

Too many to list here, there are other First World War records held at LAC, as well as external sources of information that can provide valuable additional details about WWI soldiers and the various CEF units serving overseas in France and Flanders.

An index card listing the regimental number, rank, surname, Christian name, unit, theatre of war, date of service, remarks and latest address of a soldier. In the top right corner the letters “B” and “V” are written, with a blue checkmark through them.

The medal card from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

An index card with the name “Carriere, Pte. Arthur,” “649-C25592” and a checkmark written at the top. There is also a large “M” written in blue ink.

The Memorial Cross card from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

Arthur’s story does not end simply with his death. The medals he garnered, such as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, indicated by crossed-out capital letters “B” and “V” on the medal card along with the Memorial Cross, Scroll and Plaque, were dutifully given by a grateful nation to his mother in mourning.

The Franco-Manitoban Métis community of St. Norbert also felt the loss of Arthur’s death. Shortly after the end of war, they erected the St. Norbert War Memorial in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Arthur and 12 other local residents.

In this light, one can see in Arthur’s story a tradition of recognition and remembrance of the services rendered to Canada by veterans of Métis Nation communities that stretches back from the memorial erected in St. Norbert at the end of the Great War all the way to the present-day National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument in Batoche. The GDI acknowledges that there are probably many unknown Métis veterans who deserve our recognition and remembrance. Using the GDI form, you can submit the names and military service information of additional Métis veterans to engrave on the National Métis Veterans Historic Monument and ensure that they receive the recognition and honour due them from Canada and the Métis Nation.


David Horky is a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada, Winnipeg office.

Mighty Indigenous Warriors: From Egypt to the First World War

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour and Sara Chatfield

When First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation were recruited in 1914 to fight in the First World War, enlistees were not aware of the new reality of 20th-century warfare. As a prelude to the First World War, in 1884, approximately 56 Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk), 30 Ojibway and 19 Métis men were recruited for Britain’s six-month Nile expedition in Egypt totalling 400 men. The men were chosen for their strength, endurance, and skill in handling boats and rafts—qualities that were needed to navigate up the numerous cataracts and rapids of the Nile River. They did not see active battle, as they arrived two days after the city of Khartoum, Sudan had fallen, and British Major Charles G. Gordon had been killed. The expedition returned with the loss of 16 men and stories of what they had seen. Along their journey on the Nile, they saw monolithic temples and statues carved out of hillsides at Abu Simbel, the Sphinx of Giza, the pyramids, exotic markets and Egyptian life in Cairo.

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of men standing in front of the Parliament buildings.

Canadian voyageurs in front of the Parliament Buildings, a detail from the “Canadian Nile Contingent,” 1884. (c002877)

Three decades later, their next involvement in an overseas military expedition was with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) in the First World War. It was an opportunity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation soldiers to see the world, and to prove their courage and combat skills. Soldiers were facing a major change in combat style and warfare. The new reality of war involved the use of chemical warfare, machine guns, fighter aircraft, armoured vehicles, and trench warfare.

Our latest Co-lab challenge, Correspondence regarding First Nations veterans returning after the First World War, illustrates some Indigenous peoples’ experiences during the war, touches upon how their communities coped during their absence, and gives information about their lives after they returned home. These documents provide us with information that the Personnel Records of the First World War may not. They offer information such as what the solider planned to do after the war, if he owned land or farm animals, or if he was suited to farming. There is also information about whether the soldier suffered any lingering disabilities, who they lived with, and if they had any dependants.

Created by the former Department of Indian Affairs, these records are unique in that an overseeing federal “Indian Agent” included personal information and comments on the returning First Nations soldiers. In contrast, this was not the case for non-Indigenous soldiers, as no similar sets of records exist for the rest of the CEF.

A page from the “Indian Agent’s Office,” Chippewa Hill, Saugeen Agency, February 14, 1919.

Document from RG10 Vol 6771 file 452-30 sent to Duncan Campbell Scott from T.A. Stout on February 14, 1919, providing information about John Besito. (Image found on Canadiana)

This personal information became part of the federal government files in Ottawa. The records are also unique in that the “Indian Agents” delved into the soldier’s post-service life. The information that was collected included gratuitous private information and personal judgements about the veterans and the civilian lives they returned to. For example, the “Indian Agent’s Office” notes dated February 1919 for Private John Besito from Saugeen Agency, Ontario, state, “He has a location of fifty acres in the Reserve. He has a house and some improvements on his location.”

As well as administrative information, such as CEF regimental numbers and membership in First Nation agencies and bands, these records also give us genealogical information. For example, the names of three deceased soldiers are listed in a letter to the Department of Indian Affairs dated February 12, 1919, written by the “Indian Agent” of the Griswold Agency in Manitoba. The letter states that the deceased soldiers are from Oak River and Oak Lake Reserves. The letter also includes the CEF regimental number of one of the deceased, Private John Taylor, and that the Department of Indian Affairs paid a pension to his wife and two children. Other correspondence informs us that Private Gilbert Moore, who was killed in action on March 24, 1918, left behind parents in poor circumstances and that they applied for a pension; and that Private Thomas Kasto left a mother who received a pension.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a First World War soldier in uniform and holding a rifle.

Photograph of Canadian Expeditionary Forces soldier Michael Ackabee. (e005176082)

As well as providing information about the soldiers who fought with the CEF, these files make reference to women in First Nation communities who provided funds to help with the war effort to organizations such as the Red Cross, the Girls Overseas Comfort Club, and the Canadian Patriotic Fund. Women in the communities knitted socks and made shirts to add to the “comfort boxes” that were mailed to the men overseas. They also fundraised by making beadwork, woven baskets, and quilts to sell at box socials and fairs.

Indigenous soldiers who survived the war often returned home changed, both positively and negatively. Sapper Peter Taylor, a Kahnawake soldier, suffered the rest of his life with complications from mustard gas poisoning until he passed away in 1955. Private Tom Longboat, the Olympic long distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, returned home from his duty overseas in France to find his wife had remarried after receiving word that he had been killed.

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

Many who returned home were affected mentally and physically. We give our gratitude for their sacrifices and service, and they will be forever acknowledged, honoured, and respected.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


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