The prime minister as reader

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses exhibition looks at Canada’s prime ministers through the lens of their relationships with the arts. One aspect of the exhibition is an exploration of the prime minister as collector and fan. Among the items featured that explore this theme are correspondence between Sir Wilfrid Laurier and painter Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, a painting from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s personal collection, and a fan letter from John Diefenbaker to artist Alma Duncan.

But the exhibition mainly focuses on the prime ministers’ libraries. If you read enough prime ministerial biographies, a pattern emerges: almost every one contains references to its subject’s prodigious reading habits. A biography of Alexander Mackenzie (OCLC 20920624), for example, notes that Mackenzie “was a greedy reader, and never tired of poring over his books.” According to the authors, Mackenzie’s family would spend their winter evenings

“sitting round the wide, old-fashioned fire-place, cheerful and ruddy with the blaze of the big logs, reading and discussing literary subjects and authors, especially Shakespeare and Byron, two prime favourites of theirs. It was a very interesting group, and its intellectual life was a fitting preparation for the future statesman. All who have heard Mr. Mackenzie speak, know that he could readily quote from the poets, and from current literature, and that his addresses were invariably pitched on the high plane of presupposing intelligent hearers.”

Sir John A. Macdonald, too, was known for quoting from literature in his speeches, according to biographers. In his book about Macdonald (OCLC 2886256), Joseph Pope claimed Macdonald was an “omnivorous” reader, meaning that he would read almost anything, but his favourite genre was political memoirs. Sir Robert Borden studied classical languages. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto now holds a number of very old Greek and Latin books that contain Borden’s bookplate; one of these, a 1725 edition of writings by Cicero, is currently on loan to LAC for the exhibition. Mackenzie King was an avid reader who regularly commented in his diary on the books he had been reading. Many of his books are now in LAC’s collection, but a portion of his extensive library remains on view in his study at Laurier House.

Each of the prime ministers likely had favourite books and authors—Macdonald was a devotee of novelist Anthony Trollope, and King was so enamoured with poet Matthew Arnold that he began collecting books from Arnold’s own library.

A book open to the inside front cover. Attached to the left-hand page is the bookplate of Matthew Arnold. The right-hand page is blank and held down by a weight.

Bookplate of Matthew Arnold affixed to the inside front cover of The Holy Bible (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828), from the Collection of Books from the Library of William Lyon Mackenzie King (OCLC 1007776528) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

But Arthur Meighen stands out among them all for his dedication to one particular literary figure: William Shakespeare. Meighen was known to be able to quote long passages of Shakespeare from memory. In 1934, during an ocean voyage to Australia, he composed and memorized a speech on Shakespeare, which he entitled “The Greatest Englishman of History.” Meighen delivered this speech a number of times; one address, at the Canadian Club in Toronto in February 1936, was recorded. This recording was eventually released on vinyl (OCLC 981934627), giving Meighen the unusual distinction of being the first Canadian prime minister ever to release an album.

A black 12-inch vinyl record with a yellow label.

Photograph of the vinyl record The Greatest Englishman of History by Arthur Meighen (OCLC 270719760) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

You can hear a clip of the audio recording of Arthur Meighen delivering his speech “The Greatest Englishman of History” in the Prime Ministers and the Arts episode of the LAC podcast.

The exhibition is open at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until December 3, 2019.


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

The 50th anniversary of Canada’s Official Languages Act

By Normand Laplante

Canada’s Official Languages Act celebrates its 50th anniversary in July 2019! Library and Archives Canada holds many archival documents chronicling the genesis and evolution of the Act, which has been so important for the recognition of Canada’s linguistic duality.

In 1963, the government of Lester B. Pearson created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism “to inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada and to recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races, taking into account the contribution made by the other ethnic groups to the cultural enrichment of Canada and the measures that should be taken to safeguard that contribution.” The Commission archives bear witness to meetings between the Commission’s two co-chairs, André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton, and provincial governments, as well as public hearings held in 1964 and 1965 across Canada, during which over 400 briefs were submitted by individuals and organizations. A broad research program was also put in place to document the main points of discussion. In the first volume of the final report, tabled in the House of Commons in December 1967, the Commission recommended a federal law on official languages as “the keystone of any general programme of bilingualism in Canada.”

A black-and-white photograph of two men with a microphone between them.

André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton, co-chairs of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. ©Library and Archives Canada (a209871)

During its meeting on March 26, 1968, the federal Cabinet approved Prime Minister Pearson’s proposal to follow up on the Commission’s recommendation of a bill on official languages and to introduce it in Parliament during the upcoming parliamentary session. With the goal of reinforcing national unity, the proposal was one of Pearson’s last acts before leaving politics in April 1968. He was succeeded as leader of the Liberal Party and as Prime Minister of Canada by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The Trudeau Cabinet’s deliberations on the bill are well documented in the Cabinet Conclusions for the period from August 1968 to the coming into force of the Act in September 1969.

Two typewritten pages titled “Official Languages Bill.”

Cabinet conclusions, meeting of August 14, 1968, pages 6 and 7 (note that Cabinet conclusions were written in English only at that time). © Governement of Canada (e000836640 and e000836641) © Governement of Canada

These documents reveal some of the nationwide issues that the government considered in drafting the bill, including possible amendments to Canada’s constitution, the definition of “first official language spoken as a mother tongue” as a criterion for creating bilingual districts, and the use of official languages for the administration of justice in provincial courts. The Cabinet at the time also studied the duties and responsibilities of a new Commissioner of Official Languages, and the time needed to implement the dispositions of the Act in the federal public service.

The new Official Languages Act, which came into force on September 7, 1969, confirmed the status of English and French as the two official languages of Canada. It reflected the endorsement by the Trudeau government of various recommendations made by the Royal Commission. From that point on, all orders in council, regulations, acts, ordinances and other public documents of the Parliament of Canada and the federal government had to be produced in both official languages, and it was the responsibility of departments and agencies, and judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, to ensure that the public could communicate with them and receive their services in both official languages. In the same spirit, anyone testifying before a judicial or quasi-judicial body could do so in his or her official language of choice.

The Act also established the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. The role of the Commissioner, who is directly accountable to Parliament, is to ensure recognition of the status of each of the official languages and compliance with the spirit of the Act in the administration of the affairs of Parliament and the Government of Canada. The Commissioner has the authority to investigate public complaints about the application of the Act, to conduct such studies as are deemed necessary, and to report annually to Parliament on the status of the Act. In 1970, Keith Spicer became the first Commissioner of Official Languages for a seven-year term.

A colour reproduction of a page from a learning kit about bilingualism with a story of two children learning French / English and a drawing of the kids thanking M. Spicer.

A page taken from hte learning kit called Oh! Canada produced in 1971. © Government of Canada (e011163973)

Maxwell Yalden (1977–1984), D’Iberville Fortier (1984–1991), Victor Goldbloom (1991–1999), Dyane Adam (1999–2006), Graham Fraser (2006–2016), Ghislaine Saikaley (interim, 2016–2018) and Raymond Théberge (since 2018) have succeeded Spicer as Commissioner.

The Act also gave the federal government the power to designate bilingual districts, a concept suggested by the Commission, within which federal offices must provide bilingual services. The boundaries of these regions were to be determined by the Bilingual Districts Advisory Board; however, this section of the Act was never implemented. Despite the recommendations of two iterations of the advisory board in 1971 and 1975, the government abandoned the concept of bilingual districts, considering it to be unworkable since a consensus on the boundaries could not be achieved.

The proclamation of the new Constitution Act, 1982 and its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms led to the modernization of the Official Languages Act. The Charter enshrines the language rights of Canadians. It guarantees the protection of English and French as the official languages of Canada and New Brunswick, as well as the right to minority-language education for Francophone communities outside Quebec and the Anglophone community in Quebec. In 1988, the Canadian government adopted the new Official Languages Act, which more precisely defines constitutional language guarantees, the federal government’s role and responsibilities in supporting these rights, including the services provided to Canadians and possible legal remedies for non-compliance with the law, and the effective use of both official languages in the federal public service workplace.

A colour copy of the Charter with a piece of adhesive tape in the corner. The coat-of-arms of Canada is centred at the top of the page, with the title, Canadian flag and silhouettes on both sides below it. At the bottom is an illustration of the Parliament building. The text of the Charter is displayed in four columns.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Robert Stacey fonds. © Government of Canada (e010758222_s1)

Part VII of the new Act sets out the federal government’s commitment, through positive measures, to enhance the vitality and support the development of official-language minority communities, and to significantly promote English and French in Canadian society.

Find out more …

Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism:

Cabinet Conclusions:

Official Languages Act:


Normand Laplante is a senior archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Potatoes now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of a man collecting potatoes in a field and filling a basket.

A potato harvest, New Brunswick [e011176012]

Potatoes are native to South America and date back many thousands of years.

A black-and-white photograph of a man riding a potato planter pulled by two horses.

A potato planter, Leeds County, Ontario [PA-043221]

Spanish conquistadors brought back potato samples to Europe during the 1500s. However, it was not until the 1700s that views toward the tuber had changed. No longer a curiosity from South America, the potato was cultivated as a stable and ample food source. Farming of the tuber spread slowly across Europe and eventually to North America.

A black-and-white photograph of four men examining potatoes on a small conveyor belt in a barn.

Master Farmer Lewis Winterburn and three men examining potatoes on a conveyor belt during the potato harvest [e010950952]

Cultivation of potatoes occurs in every Canadian province. The largest-scale farming happens in the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and Alberta. The potato ranks among the top global food crops along with rice, wheat, and corn.

A black-and-white photograph of women factory workers involved in the preparation and production of potatoes.

Women working in a factory where potatoes are dehydrated, Kentville, Nova Scotia [e010962111]

Visit the Flickr album now!

The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike: six weeks of solidarity in the fight for workers’ rights

By Kelly Anne Griffin

In the spring of 1919, tensions boiled over in Winnipeg. Social classes were divided by both wealth and status. Labourers gathered in a common front, and ideas about workers’ rights spread.

Canada’s largest strike and its greatest class confrontation began on May 15. Even though changes were slow to come in the aftermath of the six-week general strike, it was a turning point for the labour movement, not just in the city of Winnipeg but for workers across this sprawling country.

During those important weeks in 1919 Manitoba, workers fought peacefully and tirelessly for basic rights such as a living wage, safety at work and the right to be heard; these things are often easily taken for granted in our own day and age. The Winnipeg General Strike was a revolt of ordinary working-class citizens frustrated with an unreliable labour market, inflation and poor working conditions. Collectively they fought, and united they stood.

The perfect storm

The labour market in Canada was precarious in 1919. Times were difficult for skilled labour, and inflation made it harder and harder for workers to make ends meet. For example, in the year 1913, the cost of living rose by 64 percent. In addition to insecure employment and inflation, the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917 contributed to unrest among workers.

Unions were gaining traction in Canada and growing quickly. As a result, labour leaders met in an attempt to form One Big Union. Although unions had become more common, employers did not recognize bargaining rights.

The First World War also contributed to what happened in Winnipeg in spring 1919. The length and magnitude of that war inevitably resulted in many changes for the economy and an increase in employment at home. But when the war ended, production dropped, and a rush of returning soldiers struggled not only to adjust to civilian life but also to find jobs.

Work was scarce in the once-booming prairie city. Some returning soldiers also viewed immigrants as having taken jobs that should have been theirs instead. Many Canadians, both soldiers and civilians, had sacrificed much during the war, and many thought that their reward would be a better life. Instead, at war’s end, their hardships increased as they faced unemployment, inflation and an unstable economic outlook.

On May 1, 1919, building workers in Manitoba declared a strike after many futile attempts at negotiation. They were followed the next day by metalworkers. Two weeks later, the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council called for a general strike.

On the morning of May 15, telephone operators in Winnipeg did not report for work. Factories and storefronts remained closed, mail service stopped, and transportation ground to a halt. Over the next six weeks, around 30,000 workers, both unionized and non-unionized, took to the streets and made their sacrifices for the greater good.

Black-and-white image of strikers in a crowded city street holding signs.

Strikers gathered peacefully on the streets for six weeks in 1919, standing as one to fight for basic labour rights that we often take for granted today. (a202201)

A city divided will not stand

The strikers were orderly and peaceful, but the reaction from the government and employers was often hostile. As is the case with any labour dispute, the views of the working class and the views of the ruling class were very different. Some attempts were made to bridge the communication gap in the lead-up to the strike, to no avail.

The social setting in the city at the time aggravated the situation. Though strikes were not new—in 1918, for example, North America had a record number of strikes—the events in Winnipeg were unprecedented in size, nature and the seeming determination of those on strike.

Sign reading “Permitted by authority of strike committee,” with a date stamp and a signature authorizing the notice.

The Central Strike Committee, which represented all of the unions affiliated with the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council, was tasked with communication and keeping order in the city. The lack of services because of the strike caused suffering for many poor families. To tackle this, the committee authorized operation permits, as seen here, for essential services. (e000008173)

The Central Strike Committee, made up of representatives from each of the unions, was created to negotiate on behalf of the workers and to coordinate essential services during the strike. The Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand was the organized opposition from the government and employers. From the outset, the Citizens’ Committee ignored the strikers’ demands. The strikers were portrayed in the media as a revolutionary conspiracy, a dangerous radical uprising based on Bolshevik extremism.

There were many displays of solidarity across the country in the form of sympathy strikes. The issues that had reached a boiling point in Winnipeg were manifest across the country, and these acts of support were of great concern to the government, and to employers throughout Canada. This fear saw the government finally intervene in the strike.

The Citizens’ Committee held the firm view that immigrants were largely to blame for the strike. As a result, the Canadian government amended the Immigration Act to allow British-born immigrants to be deported. The definition of sedition in the Criminal Code (controversial section 98, repealed in 1936) was broadened so that more charges could be laid. The government’s actions also included jailing seven Winnipeg strike leaders on June 17, who were eventually convicted of a conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to two years.

Saturday, Bloody Saturday

On June 21, 1919, the strike reached a tragic boiling point. Main Street in Winnipeg was a scene of unprecedented upheaval.

Black-and-white image of strikers filling a street in front of a large building.

On June 21, 1919, crowds gathered outside the Union Bank of Canada building on Main Street. By the end of the day, 2 strikers were dead and 34 wounded in what became known as Bloody Saturday. (a163001)

The normally peaceful demonstrations took a violent turn. Strikers overturned a streetcar and set it ablaze. The Royal North-West Mounted Police and the newly created Special Police Force, astride their horses and heavily armed, waded through the crowd swinging bats and wielding wagon spokes as weaponry. Machine guns were also used. Two strikers were killed, 34 wounded, and the police made a total of 94 arrests. Western Labor News, the official publication of the movement, was shut down. Five days later, feeling dejected and fearful of what they had witnessed on Bloody Saturday, the strikers ended their efforts for change.

Black-and-white image of a streetcar with smoke rising from it, with onlookers in the foreground.

On Bloody Saturday, the usually peaceful demonstrations turned violent. Strikers overturned a streetcar and set it on fire, and the authorities escalated the situation. (e004666106)

Short-term pain for long-term gain

Those who have been on strike will attest to the struggle of living on strike pay. The extent and duration of the Winnipeg General Strike reflect the deep passion, and anger over their plight, of the workers at the time.

As we consider the history 100 years later, what do we see as the legacy of the events that unfolded over six weeks in Winnipeg?

At the end of the strike, the workers won very little for their valiant efforts, and some were even imprisoned. It would take nearly 30 more years for Canadian workers to secure union recognition and collective bargaining rights. To add insult to injury, the immediate situation in Winnipeg worsened, with the economy in decline. The tensions and sentiments that led to the uprising lingered, which caused increasing divisiveness in labour relations in the city.

Still, it is undeniable that the strikers’ fight helped to pave the way for where we are today. The provincial election in Manitoba the following year, 1920, saw 11 labour candidates win seats, a positive step toward legislative change. Strike leader J.S. Woodsworth, who was imprisoned for a year because of his leadership during the strike, founded the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of today’s New Democratic Party.

Black-and-white image of protestors in a street, with a sign reading “Prison bars cannot confine ideas.”

The arrest of leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike in June 17 led to Bloody Sunday. Here, a group of demonstrators protest the trials of the men arrested. (C-037329)

Although the strike ended without the desired gains, the ideals it stood for live on. Workers in Winnipeg rallied around the common challenges faced despite differences in race, language or creed. A century later, Canada has made great strides regarding workers’ rights, and much of this is thanks to the solidarity and resilience of the general strikers in Winnipeg during that fateful spring in 1919.


Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival assistant in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Railway Stations now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of the exterior of an Intercolonial Railway station. A train is parked to the left, and a group of people stand on the platform, Pictou, Nova Scotia.

Intercolonial Railway station, Pictou, Nova Scotia [PA-029397]

At one time there were approximately 1,300 railway stations across Canada, which included everything from grand urban stations to small flag stops found in remote areas and in-between cities.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of immigrants on the platform of Union Station, Toronto, Ontario.

Arrival of immigrants at Union Station, Toronto, Ontario [C-047042]

Railway stations were the first buildings passengers stepped into when they arrived or the last building they occupied when they left a town by train. A station serves a variety of purposes: it is the central community hub bringing people together, and it operates as one of the main connections to surrounding areas.

A black-and-white photograph of five men with their baggage, standing outside a small Canadian Pacific Railway station, Leanchoil, British Columbia.

Canadian Pacific Railway station, Leanchoil, British Columbia [PA-023198]

Railway companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway, designed and constructed attractive stations with diverse and distinctive architecture.

A black-and-white photograph of a trolley car, and horses and carriages outside Windsor Station, Montréal, Quebec.

Windsor Station, Montréal, Quebec [PA-008678]

Visit the Flickr album now!

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “The Battlefield Art of Mary Riter Hamilton”

Our latest podcast episode is now available. Check out “The Battlefield Art of Mary Riter Hamilton.”

Colour image of a painting depicting two gun emplacements at the edge of a burnt out forest. In the foreground, there are two graves with white crosses. At the bottom-left of the painting is a signature and year: Mary Riter Hamilton 1919.

Gun Emplacements, Farbus Wood, Vimy Ridge [e000000656]

What drove a successful artist from a comfortable life in Canada to one of hardship in the battlefields of France and Belgium after the First World War? From 1919 to 1922, Mary Riter Hamilton undertook a “special mission” for The War Amps to document the scarred landscape where Canadian soldiers had fought and died.

Her canvases capture the devastation of war but also signs of hope and renewal. At great cost to her health, this artist created one of the few authentic collections of paintings of war-torn Europe. She considered her work to be a gift to Canada. She donated the majority of the collection of paintings to the Public Archives of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada, in 1926.

We sit down with retired assistant professor of history at the University of Manitoba, Kathryn Young, and Dr. Sarah McKinnon, former vice-president at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and former curator at the University of Manitoba.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album

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

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

Images of Maple Syrup now on Flickr

Maple syrup is made by boiling down or reducing sap collected from sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees. It is a sweet condiment unique to North America and enjoyed worldwide. The First Nations communities of southeastern Canada and northeastern United States were the first people to collect maple sap and discover its many benefits.

A black-and-white photograph of two men inside a log building boiling down maple sap in trough-like metal containers.

Boiling down maple sap inside a sugar house [e010862109]

First Nations communities taught British and French settlers how to collect sap and make maple syrup. Europeans incorporated the use of iron or copper pots, making it easier to boil the sap longer to create syrup with a thicker consistency.

A black-and-white photograph of Jerry Boyce in a wooded lot of maple trees pouring sap from a collection bucket into a larger can.

Jerry Boyce pouring maple sap from a collection bucket into a larger can [e011176188]

A black-and-white photograph of a farmer delivering large cans of maple syrup by wagon to a train car for shipping. Another man holding a clipboard takes an inventory of the items.

Delivering large cans of maple syrup for shipment by train [e010860379]

Today, Canada is the leading producer and exporter of maple syrup and related maple products, commanding over 70 percent of the global market for these commodities. The province of Quebec alone produces more than 90 percent of Canada’s maple syrup quota.

A black-and-white photograph of a young boy next to a large maple tree taking a sip of sap from a collection bucket.

A young boy takes a sip from a bucket of maple sap [e011177458]

Visit the Flickr album now!

The Inuit Ulu – Diverse, Strong, Spiritual

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 Ellen Bond

A colour photo of an Inuk woman using an ulu to cut meat

Rynee Flaherty cleaning an animal skin with an “ulu” (a short knife with a crescent-shaped blade used by Inuit women) on a stony landscape, Ausuittuq, Nunavut ( e002394465)

The ulu is a knife with a semi-circular shaped blade which translates as “women’s knife” in the Inuit language of Inuttut. Ulus date back 4,519 years ago (2500 BCE). Ulus from 1880 discovered on Baffin Island were found with the blade adhered to the handle by an adhesive made from clay, dog hair and seal blood. In the 1890s, some ulus created by Western Inuit had holes through the handle and the blade. The two pieces were joined together using rawhide, whalebone and pine root. The Copper Inuit of Victoria Island (the eighth largest island in the world and part of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) used copper they mined to make ulu blades. When slate and copper were scarce, some Inuit turned to whale baleen or ivory for the blades. The crescent-shaped blade was originally made of slate, but today it is made of steel. Steel was available after 1719, through the Hudson’s Bay Company. Blades could be semi-circular or triangular and were attached to the handle with a single post or with the post having a piece in the centre taken out. The handle of the ulu might include ornate drawings and engravings specific to the woman who owned the knife. Handles are usually made of wood but can also be made of bone, antler or ivory.

A black-and-white photo of an Inuk woman using an ulu.

Taktu cleaning fat from sealskin with an ulu, Kinngait, Nunavut (e010836269)

The size of an ulu depends on the personal preference of its owner or the region where it was made. A husband or other male relative sometimes presents an ulu to a woman or they are passed down from one generation to the next.

A black-and-white photo of an Inuk woman using her ulu

Sheouak Petaulassie using an ulu, Kinngait, Nunavut (e010868997)

The cutting and slicing power of the ulu blade comes from the handle, allowing the force of the blade to be directed over the object to be cut. This allows the woman to cut through strong, dense objects, such as bone. The design of the ulu makes it easy to use with one hand. Ulus are multi-faceted tools that vary in design to suit diverse needs. Larger ulus cut game or fish and a smaller ulu removes blubber and shaves skin. Even smaller ulus cut skins or trim small pieces. Tiny ulus help sew or cut ornate pieces used as inlays in sealskin clothing.

A black-and-white photo of an Inuk woman using her ulu to cut meat

Noanighok, mother of William Kakolak, Kugluktuk, Nunavut (a143915)

Looking at most tools designed by humans, the ulu holds a special place. It is one of the only tools that is female-centric and has become an important cultural symbol. Its likeness serves as an award medal in events such as the Arctic Winter Games and is a prominent design element in contemporary Inuit art, crafts, and fashion design. They are often displayed prominently in the home as works of art in and of themselves.  Used for thousands of years across the northern regions of North America, the ulu continues to be functional, powerful, and diverse.


Ellen Bond is a Project Assistant with the Online Content Team at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Working Dogs now on Flickr

Working dogs learn and perform tasks to support and sometimes amuse their owners.

A black-and-white photograph of a boy with his dog harnessed to a two-wheeled cart. The cart is loaded with dried cod.

Dog cart loaded with cod “Ready for market,” Gaspé, Quebec [e010861908]

A black-and-white photograph of a circus dog jumping from a platform on a tall pole. Four men below hold a large blanket to catch the falling dog.

Professor Gentry’s diving dog, Toronto Industrial Exhibition, Ontario [PA-068465]

Regardless of whether they are purebreds or mixed breeds, these dogs are trained to do a variety of jobs very well. Some of the jobs include pulling carts and sleds, herding livestock, hunting, as well as providing valued services to the community such as policing, search and rescue, therapy, and guarding homes, businesses and buildings.

A black-and-white photograph of 11 dogs pulling a sled through the snow. Two men are supporting and balancing the weight of a large canoe on the sled.

A dog team on Gordon Bay, Hudson Strait, Nunavut [PA-121599]

A black-and-white photograph of a man with his four dogs wearing pack harnesses.

Dogs carrying packs ready for the trail, Valley of the Firth River, Yukon [PA-044646]

The breed chosen often depends on what the job requires; however, most dogs share common canine traits of strength, discipline, intelligence and loyalty.

A black-and-white photograph of a dog harnessed to a small two-wheeled passenger cart. A girl sits on the cart and holds the reins to her dog.

A girl driving a cart at Harvey’s, Toronto, Ontario [PA-069924]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Butterflies, love triangles and the northern lights

By Shane McCord

The recently concluded Library and Archives Canada (LAC) exhibition Premiere included four drawings by midshipman Robert Hood (c. 1797–1821). These drawings were first presented on the Discover Blog in April 2015, shortly after they had been acquired by LAC. Robert Hood was a talented draftsman, cartographer, scientist, natural historian, and anthropologist before the term existed. He is remembered today for his participation in the 1819–1822 Coppermine Expedition, led by John Franklin. While on this expedition, Hood was the first to document various species of animals and insects. He was also the first to note the electromagnetic nature of the aurora borealis. Posthumously, some of his drawings were reproduced and published in Franklin’s account of the expedition, which included a glowing report on Hood’s work and conduct.

While Hood is known, to a degree, for the contributions to scientific knowledge he made during the expedition, his story is also remembered for the part he played in a now infamous love triangle between himself, a Dené woman known as Greenstockings, and Sir George Back, another artist who was part of the expedition. The story, which includes a failed duel between Back and Hood, has been told many times and is neatly summarized in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for Hood.

A colour lithograph of a woman sitting on the ground and mending a snowshoe, with a man standing on the right. Both figures are wearing long fur cloaks.

Keskarrah a guide from the Yellowknife Denes and his daughter Green Stockings, mending a snow shoe (e011156563)

All the members of the expedition were suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, and Hood did not survive. He was likely near death when he was killed by a fellow member of the expedition, the voyageur Michel Terohaute. Terohaute was executed for the murder, and was later suspected of cannibalism.

A watercolour of two young Inuit men wearing western-style clothing. One is captioned “Augustus”, the other “Junius”.

Portraits of the [Inuit] interpreters from Churchill, employed by the North Land Expedition. (e011154367)

The first of the four drawings shown in the Premiere exhibition is a double portrait of two Inuit guides and interpreters, Tattanoeuck (“Augustus”) and Hoeootoerock (“Junius”). Tattannoeuck was a member of three expeditions, two with Franklin (1819–1821, 1825–1827) and one with Back (1833–1835). He was heavily involved in these expeditions and was well respected by his companions, to the point that Sir John Richardson, a member of both the first and second Franklin expeditions, named a species of butterfly Callophrys augustinus in his honour. Hoeootoerock was separated from the members of the Coppermine Expedition during the crossing of the Coppermine, and is presumed to have died there.

Two of the drawings are depictions of northern mammals: a mink and a cross fox. At the time these works were produced, such species were becoming objects of study in Western European science. Images such as these were among the primary reasons why Hood, an officer with a talent for drawing, was selected for the expedition. Apart from their aesthetic value, these images were important as evidence of wildlife in the region of the expedition and provided valuable information for the expansion of the fur trade.

A watercolour of a mink peering into the water by a rocky river shore.

[Mink] (e011154368)

A watercolour of a white fox hunting a mouse in a snowy landscape.

[Cross Fox catching a Mouse] (e011154369)

The final and most interesting drawing shows the interior of a Cree tent. The inscription is “Interior of a Southern Indian tent; taken on the Basquiase Hill, Cumberland House, Hudson’s Bay. The tent is made of Moose skin parchment; the cloathes [sic] of the indians are made of skins. The cloth obtained from the English factories. March 25th 1820 Robert Hood North Land Expedition.” The drawing is valuable for the anthropological information it provides and for its historical context. In Hood’s journal from the expedition, he describes making such a drawing on March 31, and he provides several anecdotes regarding the people in the tent. It is yet to be determined if this is that same drawing and there is an inaccuracy in the dates, or if Hood made a second drawing.

A watercolour showing the interior of a tent. Seven people are sitting around a fire. One is a mother with a child in a cradleboard. Pelts or meat are drying on a cross beam and a pot of food is over the fire. A musket and a bow and arrows are leaning against the side of the tent. One person is eating and another is smoking a pipe, while the others appear to be observing the artist (Hood) at work.

[Interior of a Cree tent] (e011154370)

All four of these drawings relay important documentary evidence about the region of Cumberland House, in what is now northern Saskatchewan. These drawings are also fascinating simply as items carried on that ill-fated journey. The Franklin expeditions are an important part of the history of Canada’s development as a nation, and the tragic aspects of the first expedition in particular have made it one of the most popular and well-known episodes in Arctic history.


Shane McCord is an art archivist in the Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.