The Art of Dene Handgames / Stick Gambling / ᐅᐨᘛ / oodzi

By Angela Code

The Dene are a group of Indigenous People who are part of the Na-Dene language family. The Dene are also commonly referred to as Athabaskans or Athapaskans. We are one of the largest Indigenous groups in North America. Our land covers over 4,000,000 square kilometres, spanning from across northern North America to the American Southwest. There are three distinct Dene groups: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern/Apachean. There are approximately 50 distinct languages within the Na-Dene language family, and various dialects.

There is a game that the Northern Dene have been playing for many years called Dene Handgame, also called Stick Gambling, or simply referred to as handgames. Dënesųłiné yatiyé, also known as Chipewyan Dene, is one of the more widely spoken languages from within the Na-Dene language family. In the Sayisi Dënesųłiné dialect, Dene Handgame is called  ᐅᐨᘛ (oodzi).

There are different rules and various hand signals of the game across the north; however, the object of the game and how it is played is essentially the same. Basically, Dene Handgame is an elaborate guessing game. It is a fun pastime that requires a good sense of “reading people” and concealment. The players who compete with high energy, humour, good sportsmanship and performative gestures are often the most fun to play with and to observe.

How to play Dene Handgame

There must be an even number of players on each team. Tournaments will specify how many people per team will play—the number varies from region to region, and it often ranges from 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 per team. Two teams play against each other at a time. Each player must have a personal token—a small object that can be easily hidden in one hand (a stone, a coin, a button, a .22 shell, etc.).

When players are not personally competing in the game, they, as well as some onlookers, will hit individual caribou-skin hand drums with handmade wooden drumsticks in a fast-paced, rhythmic beat. The music of the drums, whoops, cheers, chants and songs fuel the high energy of the game. Drummers who are not personally playing in the game will often drum behind the team that they support. They drum when their “side” is hiding their tokens, to encourage them and protect them from being guessed out.

A black-and-white photograph of about 20 men and boys, some standing and some kneeling on the ground. One man near the centre of the photo is wearing a white buttoned-up shirt and dark pants with a wooden tobacco pipe in his mouth. He is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. There is a white canvas wall tent set up in the background, and fresh meat hanging to dry on a wooden rack.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame while a man drums, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories (a102486)

Each team has a captain. To begin the game, the two opposing team captains will play against each other. They will each hide their token in one of their hands, and then they will simultaneously indicate which hand they think their opponents’ token is in.

A colour photograph of eight men and one child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks. Two men are gesturing with Dene Handgame hand signals.

Men playing Dene Handgame, photographs from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples visit to Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, the community of the Sayisi Dene (Denesuline), 1992–1993. Back (left to right): Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Jimmy Clipping, Fred Duck, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck. Front (left to right): Unknown, Evan Yassie, Thomas Cutlip, Ray Ellis. (e011300424)

Once one of the captains correctly guesses where the opponent’s token is, then their respective teammates will join the game. The winning captain’s team becomes the first team to have the opportunity to win points.

Each member of a team will line up side by side, kneeling on the floor or on the ground, facing the opposing team. Because handgames can often go on for long periods of time, players will kneel on something soft like a mat or a bed of spruce bough.

It is not necessary, but often one or two designated, unbiased scorekeepers/referees will keep a keen eye on every player to ensure that scores are tallied correctly, no one cheats and any disputes are settled fairly. They sit close by on the sidelines between the two opposing teams so that they have the best vantage points to view the players and have access to move the winning handgame sticks.

The sticks are placed between the two teams and are used to keep score of the game. The number of sticks correlate with the number of players. For example, when 4 people are playing per team then 12 sticks are used, when 6 are playing per team then 14 sticks are used, when 8 are playing per team then 21 sticks are used, when 10 are playing per team then 24 or 25 sticks are used, and when 12 are playing per team then 28 or 29 sticks are used.

A colour photograph of the back of an elderly man wearing a “Sayisi Dene Traditional Handgame Club” jacket, watching a Dene Handgame match.

An Elder (Charlie Learjaw) observes a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300421)

The team whose turn it is to hide their tokens will place their hands under a cloth covering (like a blanket or spare coats). They will move their token from hand to hand until they decide which hand to hide it in. Then, when they have chosen their hiding hand, they will take their fists out from under the cloth covering and face their opponents. Commonly, players keep their arms straight in front of them or they cross them over their chests; however, players also develop their own elaborate and unique positioning of their hands. Players will use facial gestures, body movements and sounds to try and confuse or “psyche out” the opposing captain, who is the one who will guess and signal to where they think each token is hidden.

A colour photograph of six men and one small child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks and singing.

Men drumming and playing Dene Handgame, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993. Left to right: Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Fred Duck, Jimmy Clipping, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck and Ray Ellis. (e011300426)

Before the captain makes the hand signal indicating where they think the tokens are hidden, they make a loud sound—a big clap, or they hit the floor with their hand—to let everyone know that they are ready to call. There are many different signals that can be used; however, there are four main ones that the Arctic Winter Games follow.

Once the captain reveals their hand signal, all the opposing players must then open the hand that the captain has indicated so everyone can see if the token is there. If the token is not there, meaning that the captain was wrong in their guess, the opposition player(s) must then show the other hand containing the object. Each time the captain is wrong in their guess, a stick is awarded to the opposing team. For example, if the captain guesses and makes one correct guess and three wrong guesses, the opposition will receive three sticks. The player who was guessed correctly is eliminated from the round, and now there are only three players remaining. This will continue until the captain has correctly guessed all of the players remaining, or until the opposing team wins all of the sticks. If the captain guesses all of the opposition players correctly, it is their team’s turn to hide their tokens and for the other team captain to try and guess which hands the tokens are in. The team to win all of the sticks wins the game.

A black-and-white composite photograph of about 16 boys, some standing, some kneeling on the ground. They are playing Dene Handgame. One young man is standing and hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories, ca. 1930 (a102488)

Handgame tournaments

There are many small Dene Handgame tournaments happening all across the north all the time. My home community of Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, aims to play every Friday evening. There are also some very big Dene Handgame tournaments that happen a few times a year in various regions. Some of the prizes for winning teams are in the thousands of dollars!

Historically, there have been stories told about when people would play handgame—they would gamble goods such as firearms, bullets, axes, etc. I have even heard about men losing their wives to a game and having to win her back at another game!

Gender controversy in handgames

Children, both boys and girls, are taught how to play Dene Handgame at home and at handgame tournaments. In some regions, they are taught how to play at school as a part of physical education.

A colour photograph of a man, a teenage boy and a small child watching a Dene Handgame match. The man is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. The small child is mimicking the drumbeat with his own small hand drum.

A man (Peter Cheekie) hits a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick while a teenage boy (Christopher Yassie) and a small child (Brandon Cheekie) watch a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300429)

However, for adults, the sport is predominantly played by men. This is because some regions, particularly in the Northwest Territories, do not allow adult women to play. However, in the Yukon and in some northern Prairie provinces, women are not only allowed to play, they are encouraged and widely supported. This inclusion of women makes the games much larger and more fun to participate in and to observe. Tournaments will state whether they allow men’s teams only or mixed teams. There has only been one women’s handgame tournament (that I know of), which was held in Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2016. The inclusion of women to play handgames is a hot topic in the north. Some say that it is not “traditional” to allow women to play and that women “have too much power—so they would just win all the time.” Some communities do not even allow women to drum.

Others say that women played a long time ago, but that this changed with the imposition of Christianity. Some Christian missionaries actually banned the drum and playing Dene Handgames altogether. The drum in Dene culture is very important. It is spiritual and some Christian missionaries saw it as heathen and therefore unacceptable. They actually burned drums in some communities. Some people continued to play handgames in secret, but in other communities it only came back into practice in recent years. In one community in particular, I heard that handgames were not played for a long time, and it was the women who brought it back, encouraging the men and others to play again.

I think that in this day and age, it is not fair to exclude women from playing Dene Handgame, or to prevent them from drumming, for that matter. Gender dynamics change and shift within all cultures. I believe that more gender inclusion to compete in this fun pastime is a good, positive change for everyone.

I personally love to watch people play, but I much prefer to compete in the game myself, and I would love to see more women participate and have fun playing handgames as well.

Visit the Flickr Album for images of the Dene.


Angela Code is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

Christmas in the Archives

By Jennifer Anderson

In December, many of our clients, donors and readers are preparing for Christmas. So many Christmas traditions are linked to anticipation—preparing surprises for loved ones, dreaming up projects for the New Year, offering comfort and warmth to family, friends and strangers.

Simpson’s, the Christmas Tree Store, around 1955 (e011172111)

That feeling of anticipation is not unlike what it is to work as an archivist. In some ways, it feels like Christmas all year round in the archives: opening boxes, making discoveries, and anticipating the interest that the public will find in our collections. The work of a reference archivist is like customer service: it gives us great satisfaction to be able to assist researchers. Archival work also inspires a sense of gratitude to colleagues who work together to make good things happen.

Black-and-white photograph showing children lined up to see Santa Claus, together with three adult women. Everyone is smiling, although some of the children look nervous.

“Secrets to Santa,” 1952 (e011172113)

A case in point: working with the Sears Canada fonds has been the source of much enjoyment for me, and for my colleagues. The collection includes material relating to Sears stores across the country, as well as Sears Canada’s parent companies, all of which are household names in Canada: Simpson’s, Simpsons-Sears and Sears-Roebuck. The fonds consists of textual documents, photographs, scrapbooks, audiovisuals, drawings and architectural blueprints. Included in the acquisition were 200 boxes of published catalogues, which will supplement the already substantial and frequently consulted catalogue collection in Library and Archives Canada’s holdings.

Black-and-white photograph showing shoppers, mostly women, wearing winter coats and hats, studying catalogues at a counter, as well as the store staff behind the counter. There is a sign on the wall reading “Catalogue Shopping Centre,” together with Christmas decorations.

Catalogue Shopping Centre at Christmastime, around 1955 (e011172120)

One very pleasant surprise in the fonds: thousands upon thousands of archival photographs, which are of exceptional quality and interest. Documenting the leisure pursuit of shopping, but also the practical elements of the retail economy and the working lives of store personnel, the photographs are sure to interest the public. And they are fun! These photos also include glimpses of company-sponsored social and cultural extracurricular events like curling, bowling, dance parties and concerts.

Christmas shopping, Regina, Saskatchewan, around 1950 (e011172152)

Thanks to colleagues across Library and Archives Canada, as well as outside this institution, who were involved in the acquisition, organization, description and digitization work, all geared toward making the Sears Canada fonds discoverable.

Black-and-white photograph showing a large group of men, women and children watching an electric train in a store.

Crowd watching an electric train, Regina, around 1950 (e011172147)

Over the coming years, we look forward to seeing this material being used to generate new research findings. Please reach out to us if we can assist you in getting started on your own research.

Black-and-white photograph showing a little boy talking with Santa Claus, while other children and many parents, dressed for winter, are lined up nearby. In the background are two signs that read “Trains” and “Meccano.”

Visiting Santa Claus, around 1955 (e011172112)


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Public Services Branch, and she previously worked in the Science, Environment and Economy section of the Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

Manitoba: Kwaata-nihtaawakihk—A Hard Birth

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 William Benoit

The year 2020 marks an important year in the history of Canada. One hundred and fifty years have gone by since the 1870 transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. It is also the year that Manitoba entered Confederation. This was no small feat. There were discussions as to whether the Canadian government would create a province or just keep it as a vast territory.

The Métis would push Canada toward creating the new province.

Painting of a person holding a riding crop above his head, standing on a sleigh being pulled through the snow by a rearing brown horse.

Breaking a Road in Manitoba (e011072986)

Manitoba would be the first addition to the list of four original Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There was no template to use. Deep, careful and altruistic thinking about the future should have been the order of the day. Instead, for the Métis, what resulted from the experience were feelings of displacement, trauma and resilience. In post-Confederation Manitoba, the position of the Métis deteriorated. New settlers from Ontario were hostile. Métis elders, over generations, described that period as a “Reign of Terror” against the Métis.

Métis Nation Elder Verna DeMontigny recently described the province-building exercise that led to Manitoba as a hard birth, or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk in the Michif language. It was certainly difficult.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its 2013 decision in Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. v. Canada, provides a detailed narrative of the Métis people, the Red River Settlement, and the conflict that gave rise to the Manitoba Act and Manitoba’s entry into Canada:

The story begins with the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited what is now the province of Manitoba—the Cree and other less populous nations. In the late 17th century, European adventurers and explorers passed through. The lands were claimed nominally by England, which granted the Hudson’s Bay Company […] control over a vast territory called Rupert’s Land, which included modern Manitoba. Aboriginal peoples continued to occupy the territory. In addition to the original First Nations, a new Aboriginal group, the Métis, arose—people descended from early unions between European adventurers and traders, and Aboriginal women. In the early days, the descendants of English-speaking parents were referred to as half-breeds, while those with French roots were called Métis.

On November 19, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory under its letters patent to the British Crown. By Order-in-Council dated June 23, 1870, the British government admitted these territories to Canada, under section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now the Constitution Act, 1867), effective July 15, 1870.

It took almost eight months from the Hudson’s Bay Company surrender until the completed land transfer took full effect.

The Canadian government, led by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, intended to absorb the territories and open them up to settlement. Before this could happen, Canada would need to deal with the Indigenous peoples who were living in these territories. Under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada was duty-bound to treat with the sovereign Indigenous nations to obtain their consent to the Imperial Crown to exercise its sovereignty over them. Written more than a hundred years before, the proclamation’s purpose was to organize and manage the newly expanded British North American territories after the Seven Years’ War. Included in the proclamation were regulations to stabilize relations with Indigenous peoples through the regulation of trade, settlement and land purchases on the frontier.

A drawing of people sitting in a circle around a person standing in the middle who is speaking. There is a building with people sitting and standing on the balcony in the background.

The Manitoba Indian Treaty; a chief lecturing at length at the Stone Fort (the Métis man seated on a chair within the circle may be the translator) (e010967476)

Therefore, for the First Nations, the process would be to enter into treaties, whereby they agreed to settlement of their lands in exchange for reservations of land and other promises. The government policy with respect to the Métis was less clear.

A sepia photograph of a town with buildings on either side of a wide dirt road with wagon tracks.

Main Street, Winnipeg, looking south, 1879; the street’s width was to accommodate the space needed for Red River Carts (e011156541)

Prior to confederation with Canada, white settlers had begun pouring into the Red River, displacing the social and political control of the Métis. This led to resistance and conflict. To settle the conflict and assure annexation of the territory, the Canadian government entered into negotiations with representatives of the Métis-led provisional government. The result was the adoption in 1870 of the Manitoba Act, which made Manitoba a province of Canada.

The Manitoba Act is a constitutional document with many treaty-like characteristics. It enshrines the promises and obligations that Canada has to the Métis people. These promises represent the terms under which the Métis agreed to surrender their claims to govern themselves and their territory, and to become part of Canada. These obligations remain in force today.

The Métis Nation is an internationally recognized Indigenous people. In Canada, it is one of three Indigenous groups with constitutionally entrenched Aboriginal and treaty rights, alongside First Nations (“Indians”) and Inuit (“Eskimos”). The Métis Nation Homeland is a vast area of land in west-central North America. The Métis, as the Founders of Manitoba in 1870 and Canada’s negotiating partners in Confederation, continue to play an important role in Canada’s development.

(In Michif: Li Michif Naasyoon nishtowinikaatew oobor lii piyii pi li moond nishtowiinikasowak li moond autochtone. Daan li Canada si te payyek enn band di moond avek lii dray tretii daan li constitution, aloon bor li Promii Naasyoon pi li Ziskimoo. Li Michif Naasyoon Nataal li piyii mitoni kihchi-mishow, li taryaen daan li sawntrel west Nor America. Lii Michif, koum li fondateur di Manitoba daan li 1870 pi Canada’s naasaasyi-iwow di maashkihtonikaywin daan li Confederation, kiiyapit il li enportaan daan li Canada’s oosishchikeywiin.)


William Benoit is the Advisor for Internal Indigenous Engagement in the Office of the Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada at Library and Archives Canada.

Shopping at Sears: A window into the archives

By Jennifer Anderson

So much has changed in 2020. Working with archives is about studying change over time, and reflecting on what that has meant to people’s lives. A case in point: the retail industry. What can we learn from studying the archives of a major department store?

Sears Canada was an icon of the retail industry through the second half of the 20th century, with stores in cities large and small, and a mail-order catalogue that spanned the country. The company was part of the Canadian urban landscape, and a major employer. The Sears department store often anchored local shopping malls, and the mall itself was a popular destination for purchasing household goods as well as for leisure shopping. The Sears Wish Book Christmas catalogue was familiar to Canadian families, rural and urban alike, and consumers were used to scoping, pricing and comparing big-ticket items like mattresses and appliances in its pages. Several brands of merchandise carried by Sears were themselves household names, including Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, Silvertone electronics and the Jessica clothing line.

Sears was a transnational success story, rooted in North American retail culture. U.S.-based Sears, Roebuck and Co. entered Canada in 1952, partnering with the Canada-based Robert Simpson Company (Simpsons) to create Simpsons-Sears Ltd. This new company operated a mail-order business worth $100 million in its first full year. It opened its first store in Stratford, Ontario, in 1953, and then expanded its retail stores to cities across the country. The new shopping experience offered by Simpsons-Sears challenged, most notably, the other Canadian retail behemoth: Eaton’s. Together these enterprises drew millions of Canadian shoppers to their stores and their catalogues, and they touched Canadians in their work and leisure pursuits.

In 2017, Sears Canada transferred its archives to Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This included 200 boxes of textual, photographic and audiovisual material, as well as another 200 boxes of published catalogues. These boxes contained more than 40,000 photographs, depicting Canadians shopping as well as Sears Canada employees working and participating in staff social events.

Since Sears Canada had maintained its own archives over a long period of time, it was relatively easy for LAC to arrange the material and begin to make it available to the public. The records came from a clean and well-organized facility, and for archivists, this facilitated the task of labelling files and arranging online descriptions. Recognizing the likelihood that the public would be interested in the photographs, LAC also moved quickly to digitize photographs. I am pleased to be able to share this collection with you here, along with a few suggestions for possible research avenues.

At first, the photographs included in this archival collection struck me as pure fun! For instance, I was amazed by the crowds at store-opening events.

Black-and-white photograph showing a crowd shopping in a department store, with a security guard in the left foreground.

A crowded store, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1957 (e011172149)

For younger generations of Canadians, who are used to making most of their purchases online, these stores might be unfamiliar, and yet the shopping centres built around them have been part our communities since before many of us were born. We did not personally experience the transition from having your clothes made at home or by a self-employed seamstress or tailor, to purchasing them in a small community shop, to buying factory-made, accessibly priced fashion in the large department stores of the postwar era. I had read about the establishment of shopping malls only in history books like Donica Belisle’s Retail Nation: Department Stores and the Making of Modern Canada (2011). Yet these changes took place in a relatively short time.

Black-and-white photograph of four women closely examining the jewelry on a department store table, which has a sign that reads “Special: Necklaces, Earrings and Broaches, $1.00.”

Shoppers at the jewelry counter, Burnaby, British Columbia, 1954 (e011172138)

Sometimes the photographs in the Sears Canada collection show how things have changed, and at other times, how they have remained the same. I was interested in the way that the photographs reflected a gendered workplace, where by and large the men were managers and the women worked the sales floor. On the other hand, the photographs depict auto service as a masculine workplace, as it still tends to be today. I had read about the high degree of “emotional labour” required for those working on the department store floor in Joan Sangster’s Transforming Labour: Women and Work in Postwar Canada (2010), but the photographs illustrate this concept graphically.

Black-and-white photograph of a man standing on a table speaking to a large group of women.

Manager addressing department store staff, Oshawa, Ontario, 1968 (e011172137)

 

Black-and-white photograph of a mechanic wearing an overcoat and a cap who is working on a tire with a counter in the background and part of a car visible in the foreground.

Mechanic Bill Youngson working in a garage, around 1955 (e011172122)

I remember slogans like “Your money’s worth and more!” but I did not know that Sears once offered mortgage and real estate services, or that the stores included pharmacies.

Black-and-white photograph showing three women and a child at a counter, and three women working behind the counter, with “Prescriptions” on a sign above their heads.

Pharmacy counter, Regina, Saskatchewan, around 1950 (e011172153)

But I do remember when you could buy a bicycle at your local department store.

Black-and-white photograph showing the sports department of a department store, with hockey sticks, clothing, fishing rods and figure skates visible on the shelves.

Sports department, around 1950 (e011172157)

In the many hours that I spent carefully organizing and describing the photographs in this collection, I found myself considering some other themes evoked by the material: leisure shopping, accessible fashion, connections to community through local stores, and sales staff. You could finish an afternoon spent chasing a good deal with a sociable cup of coffee or tea in the store cafeteria!

  • A black-and-white photographs showing the staff at department store cafeterias. It shows customers in line to purchase food items, a woman working at the cash register and a man at a table with a cup of coffee
  • A formal posed group shot with seven women seated and seven women and two men standing, wearing white staff uniforms.
 

The careful attention paid to window displays, lighting and signage, and celebrity appearances and endorsements, spoke volumes about the marketing techniques of the late 20th century.

Black and white photograph showing children gathered around a large Winnie-the-Pooh mascot, with a treehouse and a “Winnie-the-Pooh Collection” sign in the background.
Winnie-the-Pooh at store opening, Kelowna, British Columbia, 1971 (e011172158)

As I continued to work through the archival photographs, I moved closer to my own era. One day, I remembered that my first social outing with close friends, with my freshly minted driver’s licence, was to the shopping mall. Then I came upon the original photograph used in the Sears catalogue for clothing that I remember having convinced my parents to purchase for me. And later I found photographs of places where I had shopped recently. I knew then that the public would also find this archival material relevant to their everyday lives.

  • The interior photograph shows shoppers on the upper floor of the mall with “Pennington’s” and “Simpsons-Sears” signs in the background.
  • The exterior photograph shows cars parked at the edge of the road, people walking on the sidewalk, and the “Simpsons-Sears” sign on the wall of the building
 

As a long-standing transnational private enterprise, Sears Canada touched Canadians’ economic and social lives through employment, income, finance, leisure and consumer products. The company sponsored charitable organizations, cultural festivals, concerts and other performing arts, and in its appeal to shoppers, it diffused messages about leisure pursuits, consumer culture, fashion and suburban living in Canada. After 65 years in business, it officially closed all Sears Canada stores in 2018.

Researchers interested in the history of other department stores in Canada should look to the Archives of Ontario for the T. Eaton Company fonds, the Archives of Manitoba for the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and Bibliothèque et Archives national du Québec for archival records related to Dupuis Frères.

In common with my colleagues at these institutions, my goal is to emphasize the importance of verifiable primary sources, and to make archival resources publicly known and accessible, so that collectively, we can better understand our past. In the case of the Sears Canada fonds (R15993), it is my hope that the collection will enable the study of economic history and bring new perspectives to Canadians’ personal memories of the late 20th century. What memories do these photographs evoke for you? What do you notice that is different today? What research would you like to see or do using these archival materials?

Please let us know if we can help you get started on your research project.


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Public Services Branch, and she previously worked in the Science, Environment and Economy section of the Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

Manitoba history and the penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, 1871–1877

By David Horky

The records documenting the Manitoba Penitentiary’s beginnings at the “Stone Fort” (Lower Fort Garry), from 1871 to 1877, are almost as old as the province of Manitoba itself and are a testament to the turbulent origins of the new province. Many of the records from this early period of the penitentiary, such as the Inmate Admittance Books, Warden’s Order Books and Surgeon’s Daily Letters, held at the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), are also available online at Canadiana Héritage. There are also various other documents pertaining to the Manitoba Penitentiary held by LAC or other sources, many of which are accessible online. Together, these records supply details about the penitentiary and some of the inmates themselves, providing a fascinating perspective on Manitoba’s early history immediately following its creation in 1870.

The Stone Fort

A black-and-white photograph of a white building with a dark roof behind a fence.

Fur store, interior of Lower or Stone Fort, 1858 (e011156706); this building housed the original Manitoba Penitentiary and Asylum from 1871 to 1877

The Manitoba Penitentiary was established at Lower Fort Garry in 1871, shortly after Manitoba entered Confederation as the Dominion of Canada’s fifth province in 1870. The fort was originally built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1830 on the western bank of the Red River, 32 kilometres north of the original Fort Garry (in present-day Winnipeg), and it served as a trading centre and supply depot for the Red River settlement.

The Stone Fort had previously been the headquarters for the British and Canadian troops under the command of Colonel Garnet J. Wolseley. This military force was sent by the Canadian government in 1870 to establish peace and maintain order following the Métis-led Red River Resistance that ushered in the creation of the province of Manitoba. Ironically, the Canadian troops, particularly those from Ontario, were widely accused of conducting a “Reign of Terror” (English only) of violence and intimidation with impunity against the Métis of the Red River settlement.

When Wolseley and the British troops vacated the fort in 1871, the Canadian troops were relocated to Upper Fort Garry and the Fort Osborne barracks. One of their number, Samuel L. Bedson, a quartermaster sergeant in the 2nd (Quebec) Battalion of Rifles, remained behind to serve as the first warden of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry.

Within the fort, the stone warehouse was converted into a prison for criminals and an asylum for people living with mental illness. Bars were added to all windows and dormers, the western doorway was blocked up, the eastern door was adapted for prison security, a signal mast and ball were added, and palisades were erected.

No ordinary prisoners: Indigenous inmates and Manitoba’s history, 1871–1877

A two-page ledger with handwritten entries.

Inmate Admittance Book, 1871–1885 (T-11089, Image 810; R942-29-1-E, RG73-C-7)

The number of inmates listed on the admittance register for the first couple of years of the Manitoba Penitentiary’s operations was quite small, only seven. In 1871 and 1872, the crimes listed involved horse theft, petty larceny, theft, and breaking and entering. Even at this early date, the inmates had surprisingly diverse origins: a Swede, a few Americans, an Englishman, some Canadians from Ontario, and a few from the Red River settlement itself. Included in this early listing is a person identified in 1874 as a “lunatic”—a harsh term then used to describe someone living with a mental illness. The penitentiary, both here and at its later location at Stony Mountain, served as an asylum for these people until the opening of the provincial asylum in 1886 in Selkirk, Manitoba, which was the first of its kind in Western Canada.

The admittance register recorded the names, convictions and sentences of this initially small number of inmates. However, other sources provide information about the circumstances leading to their imprisonment. In the case of Indigenous prisoners from First Nations and Métis communities incarcerated at the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, the context of contemporaneous events within the Red River settlement, and more broadly the Northwest Territories, is especially important.

In fact, the very first inmate listed on the admittance register in May 1871 was John Longbones from the Dakota First Nation, sentenced to two years for “assault with intention to maim.” A few years later in 1873, two other men from his community, Pee-ma-ta-kow and Mc-ha-ha, would be sentenced to prison at Lower Fort Garry for larceny and breaking-and-entering respectively.

The small number of First Nations inmates at Lower Fort Garry at this time reflected the fact that they were being punished for breaking the law—and being caught—within an established settler community. Indeed, at the time, the broader applicability of the law of the Dominion of Canada to the outlying regions of the northwest was not recognized by First Nations peoples, nor was there then a means to enforce it.

On the question of extending the laws of the Dominion of Canada to First Nations communities, the Manitoba Penitentiary was to play a significant, if largely symbolic, role. The Canadian government sought to prepare the way for the orderly settlement of the new province of Manitoba and the recently acquired Northwest Territories. With an increasing number of newcomers arriving from Eastern Canada (particularly Ontario) and abroad, the Canadian government attached great importance to negotiating treaties with First Nations as a key element in establishing “peace, order and good government” in the Canadian West.

A typed page from a government report.

Adams G. Archibald, July 29, 1871, Report of the Indian Branch of the Department of the Secretary of State for the Provinces, 1871 (e18710014)

As fate would have it, the first of these treaties took place under the shadow of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry on July 25, 1871, as the topics of law and punishment became central issues in the negotiations. In a report by the Indian Branch dated July 29, 1871, Adams George Archibald, the first Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, describes his meeting with the Chiefs of the Chippewa and Swampy Cree to negotiate the signing of Treaty No. 1. To his astonishment, the Chiefs were unwilling to proceed until first a “cloud was dispersed.” Archibald learned that the Chiefs were troubled by the imprisonment of a number of their brethren at the Manitoba Penitentiary for breach of contract and desertion of service with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In reply to the Chiefs’ demands for their freedom, Archibald insisted, “every offender against the law must be punished.” Nonetheless, given the importance of the treaty to the Canadian government, he assented to their release, not as a matter of law but as a “favour” extended on behalf of the Crown. Negotiations then resumed, and Treaty No. 1 was signed a few days later on August 3, 1871.

At the same time that the Canadian government was initiating treaties with First Nations, there was also growing concern with continued Métis unrest in the Red River settlement. Angered and frustrated with the Reign of Terror perpetrated by the Canadian militia and with the broken promises over the protection of their rights and land, a small number of Métis allied themselves with a group of Fenians operating across the American border at Pembina (in present-day North Dakota). The Fenians were Irish nationalists living in the United States who sought to capture Canadian territory to exchange for Irish independence from British rule.

In October 1871, a few Métis participated in the Fenian-led raid (English only) on a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost at Emerson, near the American border. Intended as a prelude to a potentially wider incursion on the entire Red River settlement, the raid was foiled by the intervention of the American cavalry from Pembina. Some captured Métis participants were later taken by Canadian officials to Winnipeg for trial for “feloniously and unlawfully levying war against Her Majesty.”

Only one of these Métis, Oiseau Letendre, is among the small number of inmates recorded on the Manitoba Penitentiary admittance register for 1871. Listed as being from Red River, Letendre actually resided across the American border at Pembina. No reason is given for his incarceration, although it clearly shows that he was given a hefty 20-year sentence. A small note subsequently added indicates that he was later released in 1873 by order of the Governor General.

A lined page with handwritten entries. The words “capital case” and the number 1673 are written at the top.

Oiseau Letendre was tried before Mr. Justice Johnson in a capital case at Fort Garry, Manitoba, for levying war on Her Majesty; the sentence was commuted to [imprisonment] for 20 years, 1871–1872 (e002230571)

Records from his capital case file indicate that Letendre was a buffalo hunter and cart driver on the trails that transported goods between Fort Garry and St. Paul. Letendre had numerous family ties to the Red River settlement and the community of Batoche along the South Saskatchewan River. Consequently, Dominion officials were fearful that Letendre’s opposition to the Manitoba government was not an isolated case, so he was made an example and sentenced to hang. In an act of clemency, Letendre’s sentence was commuted to 20 years by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. However, as Letendre claimed American citizenship, substantial diplomatic pressure was exerted by the United States government for his release. Consequently, Letendre was granted a pardon by the Governor General in January 1873 on the condition of his exile from Canada until the expiry of the 20-year sentence.

Shortly after Letendre’s release, there was another and even more high-profile case involving the arrest and trial of a prominent Métis individual who was also incarcerated at the Stone Fort, though briefly. Ambroise Lépine, Louis Riel’s adjutant in the provisional government, was arrested in September 1873 and tried for his involvement in the execution of Thomas Scott during the Red River Resistance in 1870. Ironically, both he and Riel opposed Métis involvement in Fenian plans to invade the Red River settlement. In fact, while both were still fugitives, they returned surreptitiously in October 1871 to lead volunteer troops from St. Boniface to defend the settlement against the Fenian threat.

After his capture, Lépine was initially conveyed to the Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry for “safe keeping.” It is not clear how long he was incarcerated there, as his imprisonment was not recorded on the inmate admittance register. At some point toward the end of 1873 or the beginning of 1874, Lépine was transferred to the new provincial prison that was being built next to the courthouse in Winnipeg. This is where Lépine’s subsequent trial took place and where he later served his sentence.

Lépine’s trial was followed with intense interest not only in Manitoba, but also throughout the country. As would be the case a dozen years later with Riel’s trial in Regina, Lépine’s trial in Winnipeg also polarized the nation, provoking his condemnation in Ontario while evoking sympathy for his cause in Quebec. And like Letendre, Lépine was initially sentenced to hang. However, the Governor General eventually commuted his sentence to two years but nonetheless revoked his civic rights indefinitely. Later, Lépine was even offered a full amnesty subject to exile for five years, but he refused and served his full sentence, finally obtaining his release in October 1876.

Hand-drawn portraits of four men on a page.

Frontispiece to the book Preliminary Investigation and Trial of Ambroise D. Lépine for the Murder of Thomas Scott, 1874 (a digitized version is available at Internet Archive); Lépine is at the bottom, Riel at the top, and Lépine’s lawyers J.A. Chapleau and Joseph Royal are to the left and right respectively

End of an era

Many of the issues encountered during the early history of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, reflecting the turbulent origins of the province and its uneasy relations with First Nations and Métis communities, would have wider repercussions as the Canadian government promoted settlement further westward.

By 1877, the Canadian government had negotiated most of the numbered treaties 1 through 7 with First Nations, covering vast portions of the Northwest Territories in present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. This paved the way for the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the advancement of colonial settlement across the Prairies. Conversely, as settlement progressed, the situation of many First Nations became more desperate as their traditional means of securing food supplies were increasingly compromised or—in the case of the bison hunt—had suffered irreversible collapse.

The Métis communities of the Red River settlement were also reeling under the pressure of more settlers pouring into Manitoba from Eastern Canada and abroad. Despite the assurances made in the Manitoba Act, the Métis had suffered from the Reign of Terror conducted by the Canadian Militia and from land swindles perpetrated in the law courts. Consequently, thousands of Red River Métis left Manitoba in the 1870s in a westward diaspora, either joining pre-existing or establishing new Métis communities in present-day Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Perhaps in anticipation of encountering increased trouble in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories from the desperate and dispossessed, the Canadian government took steps to extend the long arm of Canadian law in the northwest. Territorial courts were established for prosecution, and the North West Mounted Police was created for enforcement. Moreover, preparations were being made as early as 1872 to replace the Stone Fort at Lower Fort Garry with a new and larger federal penitentiary to serve as the site of punishment for the entire region.

Thus, the era of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry ended with the completion of the new Manitoba Penitentiary at Stony Mountain in 1878. By this time, Manitoba was also entering a new era in the nation’s history, assuming its role as the “keystone province,” the administrative and logistical centre for all of Western Canada.

The Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada also has many of the records of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Stony Mountain (or Stony Mountain Penitentiary, as it was later called), available online at Canadiana Héritage, but they are deserving of many more, equally fascinating, stories.


David Horky is a senior archivist in the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada.

“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.

Canadian achievement in the air: the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow

By Kyle Huth

I first saw the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow when I was 10 years old. It was on the cover of a book in a bookstore in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, some 40-plus years after the last Arrow had flown. Something about this sleek-looking white jet in Canadian markings climbing skyward captivated me. I would spend the rest of that family vacation poring over my newly purchased book; I wanted to learn everything I could about the Arrow! From an early age, I, like so many other Canadians, had my imagination captured by the Arrow.

The first Arrow, serial number 25201, was rolled out of the Avro Canada aircraft manufacturing plant in Malton (present-day Mississauga), Ontario, and unveiled to the public on October 4, 1957. A product of the Cold War, this large twin-engined delta-winged jet interceptor was designed to guard Canadian cities against the threat of Soviet jet bomber aircraft attacking from over the North Pole.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people around a white aircraft.

The rollout of the first Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow in Malton, Ontario, October 4, 1957. The people in the crowd give a sense of the size of the aircraft. (e999912501)

Avro Canada began design work on the Arrow in 1953, and by the end of the year, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) had ordered two developmental prototypes. The RCAF wanted an aircraft that could operate at Mach 1.5, at an altitude of at least 50,000 feet, and be armed with the latest array of guided missiles. At the time, no aircraft company in the United States, the United Kingdom or France had an aircraft in production or on the drawing board that could meet these requirements.

As Cold War tensions increased, so did the need for the Arrow. Soviet long-range jet bomber development was proceeding faster than expected, threatening to make the RCAF’s current jet interceptors obsolete. In 1955, the RCAF increased its order to 5 pre-production flight test Arrow Mk. 1s and 32 production Arrow Mk. 2s. The urgent need for the Arrow meant that it would go straight into production, skipping the traditional development phase for an aircraft of its type.

The Arrow Mk. 2, the production variant destined for RCAF squadron service, was to be powered by two Canadian-built Orenda Engines PS-13 Iroquois turbojet engines and equipped with the Astra I weapons control system and Sparrow II missiles. All three would be developed alongside the airframe, adding extra costs to the Arrow program. To avoid delaying the program, the Arrow Mk. 1s that were used to evaluate the design’s flight and handling characteristics were powered by two American-built Pratt & Whitney J-75 turbojet engines.

A hand-drawn map of North America with a red circle drawn around Canada and yellow, green and purple lines.

A map showing the subsonic operational range and proposed bases in Canada, Alaska, and Greenland for the Arrow Mk. 2, as well as other RCAF airbases (red). The locations of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line (yellow), Mid-Canada Line (green) and Pine Tree Line (purple) radar sites are also shown. (e011202368)

After five months of ground testing, Arrow 25201 took to the air on March 25, 1958, with famous test pilot Janusz Zurakowski at the controls. Over the next 11 months, four additional Arrow Mk. 1s would join the flight test program, with the Arrow Mk. 2, equipped with the more powerful Iroquois engines, slated to fly in March 1959.

While the flight test program was proceeding mostly as planned, and test pilots commenting positively about the performance and handling of the Arrow Mk. 1, behind the scenes, all was not going well for the Arrow program.

As development costs rose, the program was coming under increased financial scrutiny from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s newly elected Progressive Conservative government. At the same time, Soviet rocket development had overtaken the West, (they launched Sputnik 1 the same day the Arrow was unveiled to the public) and it now appeared that Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, not bombers were the main threat facing Canada. This technological shift cast doubts over the need for the Arrow and, there were those, such as the Minister of National Defence, George Pearkes, who questioned the need for manned interceptor aircraft altogether, believing that anti-aircraft missiles could replace them for a fraction of the cost. In September 1958, the government announced that it would order the Boeing CIM-10B Super Bomarc long-range surface-to-air missile, and it cancelled the Arrow’s troubled Astra I weapons control system and the Sparrow II missile program. Furthermore, the government notified Avro Canada that the rest of the Arrow program was up for review in March 1959.

On February 20, 1959, Diefenbaker announced to the House of Commons that the Arrow program was cancelled. In response, Avro Canada immediately terminated the 14,500 employees who were working on the program, claiming the company had been caught off guard by the government’s announcement.

A black-and-white photograph of a man holding a model airplane kit.

“Better get one of these in memory of the plane that will never see the air,” quips recently laid off Avro Canada employee Pat Gallacher as he holds up the Arrow model kit he purchased at the Malton plant’s hobby store on February 20, 1959. (e999911901)

At the time of the cancellation, the five existing Arrows had flown 66 times and chalked up a total of 69:50 flying hours. The first Iroquois engine powered Arrow, 25206, was 98 percent complete on the day of the government’s announcement. Attempts to save one or more of the five completed Arrows for use as high-speed test aircraft failed. In the end, all completed aircraft, along with those on the assembly line, as well as the related drawings, were ordered destroyed on May 15, 1959. The Cabinet and Canada’s Defence Chiefs of Staff cited security concerns over the advanced nature of the aircraft and the classified material involved in the project as the reasoning behind the order. Arrow 25201 made the last flight of any Arrow on the afternoon of February 19, 1959, the day before the announcement of the Arrow’s cancellation.

A black-and-white photograph of eight airplanes and a building, seen from above.

Arrows 25202, 25205, 25201, 25204 and 25203 (from top to bottom) await their fate outside Avro Canada’s experimental building in Malton, Ontario, May 8, 1959. Three straight-winged Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck jet interceptors, the aircraft type that the Arrow was meant to replace, are parked alongside the Arrows. (e999911909)

The Arrow would not end up fulfilling its intended purpose of patrolling Canadian skies; instead, its impact on Canada would be a cultural one. Since its cancellation, the Arrow has been the subject of countless books, magazine articles and documentaries, as well as starring in its own CBC miniseries alongside Dan Aykroyd in 1997. The largest remaining pieces of the Arrow are the nose section of 25206 and the wing tips of 25203, held by the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. To this day, the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow continues to be a symbol of Canadian achievement, a source of much debate and speculation, and a point of pride and fascination for Canadians.

To learn more about the Avro Arrow, check out the following Library and Archives Canada resources:


Kyle Huth is an archival assistant in the Government Records Initiatives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Centuries of kinship—Exploring Métis identity through genealogy

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 Delia Chartrand

Examining the ancestry of my father, Maurice Emile William Chartrand, has brought me closer to my own Métis roots. I am what could be called “a modern Métis.” I did not grow up on my traditional territory, like my father did on his homestead near Inwood, Manitoba. Rather, I grew up in a small mining town in northern Manitoba. I did not grow up speaking my traditional language. Michif was not an option in our household as my father had long forgotten how to speak what he called “Bush French.”

I did listen to Métis fiddling music at family reunions and to my father’s colourful stories of growing up on the land, but there was not a huge year-round family presence, living as we did, isolated in the North. Over time, many Métis of newer generations have become a more geographically dispersed people, moving farther from our communities and territories. Sometimes I wonder if we are not merely revisiting our atavistic “coureurs des bois” traits, which I assume are built into the DNA of many of us.

A handwritten and typed document

A page of the scrip affidavit for Josephte Chartrand (e000011889)

Studying genealogy has been an important way for younger generations of Métis like me to rediscover their roots and the successive generations of ancestors, both Indigenous and European, who found each other and created a unique people who embraced aspects of both cultures. Prior to the formation of the Métis Nation in the late eighteenth century, patterns emerged in the immigration and migration of European settlers, as well as in the marriage and cohabitation trends amongst settlers and Indigenous cultures. These can be seen when tracing familial roots.

My particular family tree stems from various regions of France, such as Gironde and Picardie. These regions are recognized as common areas of origin for early New France settlers. For example, Jacques Lussier, who was baptized in 1620 in Rouen, Normandy, and Marie Guyon, who was baptized in 1624 in St. Jean de Mortagne, Perche, are among my ancestors.

In New France, long before the Métis Nation coalesced, military alliances with neighbouring First Nations became critical. Those relationships are reflected in my genealogy. The French and Huron initially had a symbiotic relationship by allying themselves against their long-standing opponents: the British Empire and the Iroquois Nations. Evidence of the threat of conflict between the Huron and Iroquois can be found in my genealogy. The passing of my 9th generation grandfather, Nicolas Arendanki, in 1649 is marked by the phrase “Huron tué par les Iroquois” [“Huron, killed by the Iroquois”]. Arendanki’s daughter, Catherine Anenontha/Annennontak would go on to marry French settler Jean Durand dit Lafortune in 1662. The lives of these ancestors demonstrate the conflict among First Nations in the region during the colony’s early years and affirm the practice of marriage between the Huron and French settlers. And while the children of these unions would have been of mixed descent, they were not considered to be Métis.

As French settlers moved farther into the interior of the continent, intermarriage with other First Nations peoples began to occur and tied to these marriages were different social and economic impacts. Marriage records support these findings. Diversity among marriages to women of different Indigenous groups can be found with much frequency among my ancestral grandparents who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In my research, I noticed French men from Quebec marrying various Indigenous women, who were often designated by their first names followed only by a remark regarding their specific Indigenous group ties. Some of these historic terms are no longer in use.

A watercolour painting of two white buildings with a river in the foreground. There are two boats on the river.

St. Boniface, Red River Settlement by William Henry William Napier (c001065k)

In my family, the historical documents state that Laurent Cadotte, baptized in 1766 at Ste-Genevieve-de-Batiscan, Quebec, married Susanne Crise/Cree in St-Boniface, Manitoba; Etienne Boucher married Marie Siouse/Sioux; Pierre St-Germaine married Louise Montagnaise/Chipewyan; and Joseph Rocque married Amerindienne/Amerindian—no first name was given. This movement into the interior and the increased rate of intermarriage indicates many if not all of these individuals were involved in the fur trade. They likely depended on marriage and familial ties to Indigenous groups as a means to solidify their economic stability as they pursued hunting and trapping for furs.

The changing political structures of the nineteenth-century fur trade led to successive generations of mixed heritage families who no longer identified with either an exclusively European or Indigenous cultural framework, but who instead developed their own sense of cultural expression through a coalescence of cultures. This collective of people were referred to as the Métis Nation.

While Métis identity is often linked to certain families of dual descent within Red River, it is important to recognize that there are communities located outside the settlement. One such settlement is St. Laurent, a location on Lake Manitoba in the southwestern part of the province. My family traces its more recent genealogy to St. Laurent. By the late 1820s, those Métis who lived in semi-permanent settlements in that area were uniquely involved in various subsistence patterns, such as fishing and salt production, as a result of the demand for provisions coming from other established posts around them.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the St. Laurent region in Manitoba was permanently settled by four Métis families: the Chartrands, the Pangmans, the Lavallées and the Sayers. The Chartrand and Lavallée surnames are particularly significant to me. The matrilineal line of my father’s genealogy stems from Marie Rose Germaine Lavallée, baptized in St. Laurent in 1918, or Granny as I knew her. The patrilineal line stems from Joseph Gedeon Harvey Chartrand, baptized in 1907 in St. Laurent. Although we never met, I’m told he went by Harvey.

Colour photograph of a man and a young girl smiling at the camera with a white camper and a car in the background.

A contemporary example of Métis kinship. The author is pictured with her father, Maurice Chartrand, circa late 1990s.

There are many variants comprised within the cultural term “Métis.” I wanted to provide a closer look at the development of just one of the unique Métis communities in southern Manitoba. By examining eleven generations in the family tree of my father, Maurice Emile William Chartrand, we can connect to the personal stories of seventeenth-century French immigrants to New France, through to the European traders who migrated into the interior. A specific focus on the marriages occurring over the last four centuries shows the gradual development of just one example of interconnected Métis heritage.

Personally, I like to think about all the grandparents who came before me. How they shared their distinct cultural perspectives and teachings with one another in order to create new communities and unique identities for their children. And I smile a little knowing my parents did the same for me, a self-professed modern Métis.

If you are interested in learning more about your family’s story or your Indigenous identity, you can find more information on Library and Archives Canada’s genealogy pages.

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.


Delia Chartrand is an archivist for the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.