Breaking ground: 150 years of federal infrastructure in British Columbia – Cariboo Region: Railway Mail Service, Prince George to Prince Rupert

By Caitlin Webster

British Columbia joined Canada 150 years ago, and in the years that followed, federal infrastructure expanded throughout the province. This infrastructure is well documented throughout Library and Archives Canada’s collections. This eight part blog series highlights some of those buildings, services and programs, as well as their impact on B.C.’s many distinct regions.

After British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, the extension of rail service to the province allowed the freer movement of people and goods within B.C. and to other parts of Canada. This included the transport of mail for individuals, organizations and businesses. Trains have carried mail since their invention, but in 1897, the federal government officially formed the Railway Mail Service within the Post Office Department.

Departmental order from Deputy Postmaster General William White, dated February 22, 1897, announcing the establishment of the Railway Mail Service Branch. The announcement includes the initial locations and other details regarding the service.

Department Order, No. 38 [Establishment of the Railway Mail Service Branch] (e002151860)

This service used a system of travelling post offices aboard trains, staffed by crews of specialized railway mail clerks. These clerks performed the regular work of receiving, sorting, cancelling and distributing mail, all done while on board trains travelling from town to town. Clerks needed to be speedy, accurate, strong and trustworthy as they prepared often-valuable items for the mail service. Especially tricky was the pickup of mailbags on the fly. The clerk would swing out a catch arm on the side of the rail car to pick up the waiting bag, while simultaneously kicking out a delivery mailbag for that location. The manoeuvre was particularly challenging if the train was running late and going by a station at full speed.

Railway mail cars had various configurations, but all were fitted with dumping tables, sorting cases and other furniture for preparing mail, as well as stoves, toilets and sinks. Although this made for cramped quarters, such equipment was an absolute necessity for crews who often lived on board the cars for long runs.

Black-and-white photograph of a young man beside tables and mailbags in a railway mail car.

Portrait of railway mail clerk A.L. Robinson on the Grand Trunk line’s first Prince George–Prince Rupert run, 1914 (s002386)

In B.C.’s Cariboo region, railways and the accompanying railway mail service arrived somewhat later than in other parts of the province. In 1914, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway completed a line from Prince George to Prince Rupert as part of its larger network. The company located the terminus of the line on the traditional lands of the Ts’msyen at Prince Rupert, and it purchased 553 hectares of Lheidi T’enneh land to form the new town site of Prince George. However, by 1915, the company was in financial trouble, and the federal government nationalized the railway and integrated it into Canadian National Railways in 1920.

Colour map of Canada and the northern portion of the United States, showing various railway lines across the continent.

Map showing the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the lines of the Grand Trunk Railway system in Canada; also the relative position of the Grand Trunk Pacific to the three northern transcontinental lines now completed: Canadian Pacific Railway, Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway, 1903 (e01751895-v6)

The Railway Mail Service reached its peak in 1950, when it employed 1,385 railway clerks on lines all across the country. However, the service was in decline by the mid-1960s, and while some mail was still carried by rail up to the 1980s, the Railway Mail Service officially ended in 1971.

To learn more about the Railway Mail Service, railways in B.C., and the purchase of the Lheidi T’enneh land for the Prince George town site, check out the following resources:


Caitlin Webster is a senior archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Vancouver office of Library and Archives Canada

A page in Canada’s history: Carnegie libraries

By Sara Chatfield

A black-and-white photograph of a two-storey stone building with a columned portico and ivy growing up its sides.

The Ottawa Public Library opened in 1905, funded by a Carnegie grant. (a044774-v8)

Libraries have always been special places for me. When I was young, my grandmother worked as a reference librarian at my local library, making my visits to the library extra memorable. I have always appreciated the scope of what you could find within the walls of a library: I loved the books, the magazines and chatting with the librarians about new arrivals. But the thing I loved most (and still love most today) about libraries are the buildings that house library collections, especially historic Carnegie library buildings. Carnegie libraries are distinctive buildings built in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Andrew Carnegie to promote free library access in North America and the world.

A colour photo of a one-storey building with brown-brick exterior walls and a green roof. A small set of stairs and a railing lead up to the entrance.

The Renfrew Public library, built in 1919/1920 and funded by a Carnegie grant. Photo credit: Sara Chatfield

To me, Carnegie library buildings have a majestic yet welcoming appearance. The early buildings (1901–1905) were not designed according to standardized plans. The architects, who hailed from Canada and the United States, were free to use their imaginations. Later buildings have similar design elements, such as arched windows, cupolas, porticos and symmetrical columns.

A black-and-white photo of a two-storey building with a columned portico. A man is walking in front of the building. Power lines can be seen to the right and behind the building.

The Galt Public Library, built in 1903, through a Carnegie grant given in 1902 (a031832)

I am not alone in my love of Carnegie library buildings. A former Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Culture once wrote that “Carnegie libraries represent a significant part of the cultural history and architectural heritage of Ontario.”

Carnegie libraries would not have existed without Andrew Carnegie and his lifelong love of libraries and learning. Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1848. He amassed a fortune with his Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold in 1901. He placed the money from the sale in trust for philanthropy, which became his main occupation. In total, the philanthropist gave grants to build 2,509 free public libraries to English-speaking communities worldwide. Andrew Carnegie believed the best way to provide free education and foster growing communities was to establish public libraries.

A black-and-white photograph of two ornate buildings, one with a columned portico and a cupola. People walking, a street car, and power lines are in the foreground.

The Vancouver Public Library (right) opened in 1903 with funding from a Carnegie grant. Since 1980, this building has served as the Carnegie Community Centre, which houses a library branch on the main floor. (a009531)

Carnegie provided the grant for each library building, but did not contribute funds towards the purchase of books or staff salaries. To secure a Carnegie grant for a library, cities and towns had to fulfill the “Carnegie Formula.” Among other criteria, this formula stipulated that cities provide the site, guarantee an annual budget and ensure free public access. Many applications for grants were refused because a town or city already had adequate library services or would not be able to guarantee the yearly funds needed for the upkeep of the facility. Some communities did not apply for or accept money from the Carnegie foundation, as they viewed Andrew Carnegie as a robber baron and disapproved of his business methods.

Of the 2,509 Carnegie libraries built in the early 1900s, 125 were constructed in Canada. Of those 125 libraries, 111 were built in Ontario. The majority of the libraries were built in the United States and Great Britain/Ireland. Carnegie libraries were also built in South Africa, Australia, Serbia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Barbados and Guyana, among other places.

A colour photo of a brown-brick building with several beige accent columns as well as pediments and curved windows. There are red flowers to the left in the foreground.

The former Perth Carnegie Library, now known as the Macmillan Building. The two-storey library was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by renowned architect Frank Darling. The building was severely damaged by fire in 1980 and restored in 1982. Photo credit: Emily Tregunno

I have always found it interesting that the Carnegie Foundation gave grants to build libraries in both small towns and large cities. For example, in 1901, a grant was given to Ayr, Ontario, whose population was 807. At the time of construction of its Carnegie library, Perth, Ontario, had a population of slightly more than 3,500 residents.

A brown brick 2 storey building with curved windows on the top floor. The entrance is glass and there is a yellow fire hydrant in the foreground.

Ottawa’s Rosemount Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, built in 1918. A major renovation to upgrade the branch took place recently. Photo credit: Sara Chatfield

Many library collections outgrew their original Carnegie library buildings. Some of the buildings have been torn down, some have been damaged by fire, some of the buildings have been repurposed, and some municipalities have chosen to expand and renovate. Ottawa’s Rosemount Branch, originally known as the Ottawa West Branch, is an example of a Carnegie building that has undergone substantial renovations. Interestingly, the 1917 grant to build the Ottawa West/Rosemount Branch was the last of its type given in Canada.

A black-and-white photo of a two-storey square building with a large number of pedimented windows, a columned portico and a small balcony. There is text written across the bottom, which reads “HJW, 1788, Dawson Yukon, Carnegie Library July 1907.”

The Dawson City, Yukon, Carnegie Library. The grant for this library was given in 1903. The building was designed by Robert Montcrieff. Construction was completed in 1904. (a016721-v8)

Unfortunately, some communities could not sustain the financial strain of maintaining a library. The Dawson City library, built in 1903/1904 was popular and well attended. However, by 1920, the city’s population had shrunk to fewer than one thousand people, and the city could not continue to fund the institution. In 1920, the building was sold to the Masonic Lodge.

A black-and-white photo of a two-storey square building with several windows, some of them arched, an arched entrance, and columns. The building is surrounded by a decorative metal gate. There is text written across the bottom, which reads “Carnegie Library.”

The Winnipeg Carnegie Library, built in 1904/1905. This was the city’s first public library. It served as the city’s main branch until 1977. (a031593)

From 1995 to 2013, the Winnipeg Carnegie Library building was home to the City of Winnipeg Archives. According to a 2019 report by the Association of Manitoba Archives, construction was under way in 2013 to transform the former Carnegie Library into state-of-the-art facilities for the municipal archives, when an intense rainstorm damaged the roof and sent staff and the archive holdings to a temporary warehouse location.

Of the 125 library buildings built in Canada from 1904 to 1922, approximately 20 have been demolished. Several of the buildings are still being used as libraries as originally intended.

  • A colour photograph of a brown-brick building with a curved entrance. Two short flights of stairs lead to the building entrance.
  • A colour photograph of the inside of a library. A large skylight, book shelving and computer terminals can be seen in the room. There are four windows at back.
  • A colour photograph of a beige building with a columned entrance and a pediment above the front door. There is single set of stairs leading to the building. The words “Public Library” are etched above the entrance.
  • A colour photograph of a large room with three windows, two hanging lights, a black mat and book shelves.
 

Keep an eye out for these historic buildings. You might come across one in a small town near you!

Additional resources:

  • Local Library, Global Passport: The Evolution of a Carnegie Library, by J. Patrick Boyer (OCLC 191759655)
  • The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie, by Andrew Larsen and Katty Maurey (OCLC 970404908)
  • The Best Gift: A Record of the Carnegie Libraries in Ontario, by Margaret Beckman, Stephen Langmead and John Black (OCLC 11546081)
  • Ottawa Carnegie Library – Application for State papers (RG2, Privy Council Office, Series A-1-a, vol 964)

Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Women in the war: a Co-Lab challenge

By Rebecca Murray

Canadian women are part of the photographic record of the Second World War. The Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112) includes over two million photographs, from Comox in British Columbia to Naples in Italy. These women are our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and friends.

This Co-Lab challenge invites you to identify servicewomen and nursing sisters who served in Canada and abroad between 1942 and 1945. The photographs range from images of a single person to large groups. The selected photographs depict them at work and play, on ships, in kitchens and libraries, playing sports and dancing. In most cases, none of the women have been identified; in fact, the word “unidentified” is often part of the title of the image.

Identifying these individuals is key to having a better understanding and knowledge of the roles they played during the Second World War. In tandem with other efforts to identify images of servicewomen and nursing sisters within the archival record, this Co-Lab challenge will help to expand the narrative.

Can you help us to identify these women who served? Here are some examples of the photographs you will find in the challenge.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a military uniform looking at the camera. She has a pen in her right hand, papers on her desk and a black candlestick-style telephone to her left.

An unidentified member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), England, July 19, 1944. Credit: Capt. Jack H. Smith (a162428-v6)

A black-and-white photo of a group of women in military uniforms smiling at the camera. There are two women in dark suits. The women in the first row are seated and holding hands. Some of the women standing in the back row have their arms linked.

Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service members (“Wrens”), August 1943 (e011180809)

A black-and-white photo of four women and a man in a shop with tools and tables. There are three windows and a sign that reads YMCA.

Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division craft shop, Rockcliffe, Ontario, April 11, 1944 (a064867-v8)

To search the holdings at Library and Archives Canada for other photographs of servicewomen and nursing sisters, use Collection Search to explore accession 1967-052, where photographs are organized by branches of the armed forces, or try a keyword search (e.g. 1967-052 Halifax Wren).

For more information on the women’s divisions in the three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, please refer to these blog posts:

Canadian women served in numerous capacities throughout the Second World War—well beyond what is represented in these photographs. Naming these women and identifying them within the archival record will build a more inclusive narrative and allow generations of servicewomen, their families and Canadians to recognize and highlight the extraordinary roles that they played during the Second World War.

We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized records in this challenge. You can also make contributions to any image through our Collection Search tool.


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The Dinosaurs of St. George’s Island, Calgary

By Richard Howe

One day in the 1930s, a group of people were enjoying a beautiful day on the park grounds of central Calgary’s St. George’s Island. The group’s peaceful picnic was disturbed when a drunk man appeared and began to bother them. A park officer approached, and the man, sensing danger, ran away unsteadily. Pursued by the park officer, the intoxicated man just barely managed to navigate the park’s pathways. Then, suddenly, he stopped in shock, staring spellbound at the bright green dinosaur standing right in front of him. After a short pause, the man straightened up and turned around, heading directly for the park’s exit. As he exited the park, his strides were steady. The park officer abandoned his pursuit, deciding that the shock had sufficiently sobered the troublemaker.

If you have some doubts about this story, I don’t blame you, but The Calgary Daily Herald reported on the incident shortly after it was alleged to have occurred. And the part about dinosaurs on St. George’s Island, at least, is true. Back in the late 1930s, there were close to 20 different prehistoric creatures there, and by the 1970s, there were over 40. These life-sized concrete sculptures were part of the Natural History Park at the Calgary Zoo. All of them are gone now, except for one. By the time I was old enough to visit the zoo on St. George’s Island, I didn’t even know that the others had been there at all.

The story about the drunk man comes from the front page of the newspaper on August 28, 1937, in an article about the completion of the new “Dinosaur Gardens.” In the accompanying photo, three human figures gather around the feet of a giant brontosaurus sculpture, not even reaching the dinosaur’s knees. That dinosaur—120 tons, 10 metres high, 32 metres long—would quickly become known as “Dinny,” and over 80 years later, it is the sole surviving dinosaur sculpture still standing on St. George’s Island.

A large sculpture of a brontosaurus in front of some tall trees, with two children running toward it.

“Dinny” is the last dinosaur sculpture remaining on St. George’s Island (e010973614)

As a child growing up in Calgary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember that Dinny held a special place in the hearts of many adult Calgarians. It was notable how often they spoke of their fond memories of visiting the zoo as children and of climbing Dinny as a rite of passage. The urban landscape changes quickly in Calgary. The preparations for the 1988 Olympics had recently transformed much of the city’s downtown. If being a dinosaur wasn’t enough, Dinny was special just because it was something from Calgary’s ever-vanishing past.

The suggestion for building a dinosaur park in Calgary is said to have come from zoo society member (and later zoo society president from 1959 to 1965) Lars Willumsen after he visited the dinosaur park in Tierpark Hagenbeck (Hagenbeck Zoo) in Hamburg, Germany, in 1934. The world’s very first dinosaur park had been built back in 1854, in Crystal Palace Park in London, England. A few other parks, like the one in Germany, had sprung up around the world in the decades since. One of the goals of these parks was to help the public to understand the emerging field of paleontology and its discoveries, and to provide this education in an entertaining way.

Work on Calgary’s Natural History Park started in 1935. Alberta had been especially hard hit by the economic problems of the 1930s, but despite a meagre budget, a determined group of people were able to make something that the city would be proud of for years to come. Sculptor Charles A. Beil, a well-known artist living in nearby Banff, was recruited to help design the first dinosaurs. He was aided by engineer Aarne Koskeleinen and sculptor John Kanerva, who helped to figure out the method of construction and ended up doing most of the physical work. Charles Mortram Sternberg, a paleontologist working for the National Museum of Canada (a precursor to the Canadian Museum of Nature), was provided by the federal government to consult and guide the project and to ensure that the representations were appropriate and accurate. Dr. Omer H. Patrick, founding president of the Calgary Zoological Society since 1929, spearheaded the project. When Dr. Patrick presented the park to the city, former prime minister R.B. Bennett was invited to give the dedication address. “It was his initiative, foresight and expenditure which made this thing possible,” Bennett said of Patrick. “He took the lead.”

A woman, child and man stand under a large model of a dinosaur, surrounded by trees. The group is looking toward another dinosaur model.

Tourists admire sculptures of dinosaurs on St. George’s Island in Calgary, Alberta, in 1961 (e010976082)

The park turned out to be a great success and a popular tourist attraction. In 1952, one of the first-ever CBC television news broadcasts featured a story on the Natural History Park. When Scottish paleontologist Dr. William Elgin Swinton visited the park in 1957, he told stories of British service members who brought back postcards from the dinosaur park after serving in Canada during the Second World War. It became local legend that Dinny was the most-photographed object in all of Calgary. Dinny was made the zoo’s official symbol in 1959 and even appeared on the cover of an issue of Maclean’s magazine the following year. Until 1967, when the Husky Tower (four years later renamed the Calgary Tower) was built, Dinny was probably Calgary’s best-known landmark.

Today, near where Dinny stands, a bronze plaque commemorates the Natural History Park and the people who worked to create it. The names of Patrick, Willumsen, Sternberg, Beil, Koskeleinen and Kanerva are listed as founders. The plaque was unveiled in 1974 in a small ceremony near the park’s entrance. Dr. Patrick had died in 1947, but the five other men, most of them in their eighties, attended the ceremony.

A man is in a garage or workshop, standing near three sculptures of prehistoric reptiles and holding a can of paint and a paintbrush in his hands.

John Kanerva with some of his creations. Published in The Albertan, November 14, 1956 (Jack De Lorme, “John Kanerva, dinosaur builder, Calgary, Alberta,” 1956-11 [CU1139955]. Courtesy of Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary)

It was John Kanerva’s name that was mentioned the most. After the park and dinosaurs were built, Kanerva had continued to work at the zoo, making new dinosaurs and maintaining the originals. They became his life’s work. “Yes, John did most of it,” Dr. Sternberg said at the ceremony. Kanerva’s long association with Calgary’s beloved dinosaurs—and especially his role as Dinny’s sculptor—had made him a minor local celebrity. Sitting in his wheelchair as the plaque was uncovered, the 91-year-old smoked a thin cigar. He was surrounded by his family, friends and former colleagues, who applauded as bagpipes played. Many had been pushing the city for years to honour Kanerva and the other men with a permanent landmark, and Alderman Tom Priddle, who unveiled the plaque, apologized for the delay.

In 1975, the Calgary Zoo announced an extensive 10-year redevelopment plan. As Calgary had grown, so had the zoo and its reputation. With the goal of improving living conditions for the zoo’s animals, the decision was made to make room on St. George’s Island for new and expanded animal habitats.

This would be the end for the Natural History Park. However, owing to its popularity and history at the zoo, a new Prehistoric Park was planned just north of St. George’s Island, on the other side of the Bow River. The original plan was to move many of the original dinosaurs to the new park, in addition to adding some new sculptures. By this time, many of the dinosaurs, including Dinny, were showing signs of age and in disrepair.

The new park opened in 1983. While most of the plans for the Prehistoric Park were fulfilled, the dinosaurs were not moved, and they were destroyed at some point. However, new sculptures were indeed added at the new location. They were made of fibreglass this time, which would be easier to maintain, and their depictions were more modern, more in line with the public’s perception of what dinosaurs looked like. The original dinosaurs would have been difficult and costly to move and repair. A tough economic climate during development of the park had made sacrifice a necessity in order to ensure its completion. The dinosaurs were subject to the same boom-to-bust economic cycle as every other resident of Calgary, and in their case, they fell victim to it.

Dinny was thankfully—and perhaps literally—spared the wrecking ball. In 1987, at the zoo’s urging, the sculpture was made a provincial historical resource, protecting it as an important historical work. Along with Dinny’s new designation, the sculpture received some attention that year to repair some of the damage incurred over many decades.

A black-and-white photograph of two children climbing up a large model dinosaur.

Children climb on Dinny the dinosaur at the Calgary Zoo, Alberta (e010973689)

In recent years, the Calgary Zoo has taken a renewed interest in Dinny. Structural work was completed in 2019, involving reinforcement of the neck and rear left leg. Surface restoration and repainting started in June 2021 and is set to be completed by the end of the summer.

There was a time when John Kanerva would repaint Dinny every few years, but I don’t know when the sculpture was last repainted. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dinny with a fresh coat of paint. I’m looking forward to it. Dinny was meant to transport people to the past, to millions of years ago. But for me, I’ll be reminded of a much more recent time. Seeing Dinny looking once again like the pride of the city will be like visiting a Calgary I had always heard about but never got to know.


Richard Howe is a digital imaging technician in the Digitization Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

A colonial governor’s creative math

By Forrest Pass

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

On July 20, 2021, British Columbia marks 150 years of provincehood. This photograph of Victoria unintentionally tells an often forgotten story about the new province-to-be on the eve of its entry into Confederation. In the background, across the Inner Harbour, we see a colonial frontier capital with the old government buildings, nicknamed “the Birdcages,” to the right and the warehouses and wharves of the commercial district to the left.

A black-and-white photograph of villages on either side of a harbour, with a large ship on the water. There are forests behind each village.

View of Victoria Harbour, about 1870, by Frederick Dally. (c023418)

The foreground provides a different perspective. The buildings are the lək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) village at p’álәc’әs (Songhees Point). The lək̓ʷəŋən people have lived in what is now Greater Victoria since time immemorial. Although he may not have intended it, photographer Frederick Dally captured an important truth: “British Columbia” in 1871 was, in fact, a series of First Nations and Métis Nation communities with a very small European settler one.

This fact influenced British Columbia’s entry into Confederation in unexpected ways. Documents in the collection at Library and Archives Canada record the British Columbia negotiators’ efforts to use the large First Nations population in the colony to their own advantage while simultaneously dispossessing those same Nations of their traditional territories and resources.

Vancouver Island had become a British colony in 1849. Nine years later, the discovery of gold in the Fraser River brought some 30,000 fortune seekers to the nearby mainland and prompted the organization of a second colony, British Columbia.

By the late 1860s, however, the gold rush had ended. The island and mainland colonies were united in 1866 as a cost-saving measure, and the settler population of united British Columbia dropped to about 10,000. Having spent a fortune on wagon roads and other construction projects, the government was almost bankrupt. The Canadian government sensed an opportunity and orchestrated the appointment of Sir Anthony Musgrave as British Columbia’s governor in 1869. Musgrave had served as Governor of Newfoundland and although he had failed to unite that colony with Canada, his commitment to Confederation was well known.

A watercolour painting of two trees with a body of water and a mountain in the background

“View from the Morning House, Government House, Victoria,” watercolour by Frances Musgrave, about 1870. Frances’ brother, Governor Sir Anthony Musgrave, may have enjoyed a similar view when writing his dispatches on British Columbia’s proposed entry into Confederation. (c028380k)

On arriving in Victoria, Musgrave wrote to the British Colonial Secretary about the prospects of Confederation with Canada. Cost was a major obstacle. Governing a large but sparsely colonized territory was expensive and the annual federal subsidy of eighty cents per resident that all provinces received would be “insignificant” in British Columbia’s case.

Two pages with handwriting in black ink.

Letter from Sir Anthony Musgrave to Lord Granville, British Colonial Secretary, describing the obstacles to Confederation, October 30, 1869: “The machinery of government is unavoidably expensive from the great cost of living which is at least twice as much as in Canada…” (RG7 G21 Vol 8 File 25a Pt 1, Heritage).

Insignificant, that is, unless Musgrave could justify a larger population estimate. This involved some creative math. In an 1870 letter to the Governor General of Canada, Sir John Young (later Lord Lisgar), Musgrave showed his work. British Columbia relied heavily on imported goods, so Musgrave divided the colony’s annual customs revenue (about $350,000, or $7.2 million today) by the per capita customs revenue of the eastern provinces ($2.75, or $56.51 today). By this calculation, British Columbia had a population of 120,000 rather than 10,000 for setting its annual subsidy and its representation in the Parliament of Canada.

To bolster his argument, Musgrave pointed to the First Nations population. After all, he noted, First Nations people in British Columbia were “consumers” and paid customs duties just as settlers did. Including First Nations people brought the real population closer to Musgrave’s creative calculation.

Remarkably, Canada’s negotiators agreed in principle, though the draft Terms of Union reduced the population estimate to 60,000. Nevertheless, when the Parliament of Canada debated the British Columbia agreement in March 1871, the opposition howled that by including First Nations people the Terms violated the principle of representation by population. “We have never given representation under our system to Indians,” complained Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie. Similarly, David Mills, an Ontario MP, argued that First Nations people were not part of “the social bond, and could not stand on the same footing as the white population.”

But Musgrave never suggested that First Nations people should “stand on the same footing” as settlers. He did not believe that they should vote nor that they should benefit from that larger annual subsidy. In this sense, his formula was similar to the infamous clause in the Constitution of the United States that counted each enslaved person as three fifths of a person when calculating a state’s representation in Congress. Just as the three-fifths compromise used the enslaved population to increase the political influence of slaveholders, Musgrave’s formula increased British Columbia’s national influence without acknowledging the existing rights, title and sovereignty of the Indigenous majority.

Despite opposition objections, British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province on July 20, 1871. The correspondence on the subject in the Governor General’s records at Library and Archives Canada concludes with an official copy of the Terms of Union—a rare original printing of this important constitutional document. In his cover letter, the Colonial Secretary, Lord Kimberley, wished Canada and British Columbia “a career of progress and prosperity worthy of their great natural fertility and resources.”

Two pages, one with black ink handwriting and one typed with two long columns.

An original printing of the British Columbia Terms of Union, with the Colonial Secretary’s cover letter to the Governor General of Canada (RG7 G21 Vol 8 File 25a Pt 1, Heritage)

First Nations people would not share much in that “progress and prosperity.” Under the Terms of Union, Canada agreed to follow “a policy as liberal as that hitherto pursued” when dealing with First Nations. This was a cruel joke, as neither pre- nor post-Confederation policy was particularly “liberal.” Except for the Douglas Treaties, a series of controversial land purchases around Victoria in the 1850s, the colonial governments of British Columbia had signed no treaties with First Nations. After Confederation, federal and provincial policy would result in the marginalization of First Nations and the Métis Nation in their own territories and communities. For example, the lək̓ʷəŋən residents at p’álәc’әs would move to another village site in 1911, to make way for the growing settler city. First Nations people were integral to Musgrave’s population formula, which had helped to convince British Columbia settlers to support Confederation with Canada. However, the province’s entry into Confederation was no cause for celebration for most Indigenous people in the region, an important point to remember as we observe the 150th anniversary.


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes: a Co-Lab challenge

By Brianna Fitzgerald

As COVID-19 restrictions have suspended in-person children’s programming, the rush of energy, noise and creativity often found on early weekend mornings at art galleries across the country now seems like a distant memory. Since art classes and workshops have moved online to adapt to these times, we are in a period of great innovation in the sphere of children’s art education, meeting new challenges in engaging children’s creativity in a virtual space. This is not the first time that there has been a major shift in the way that children’s art education is delivered. In the 1930s, Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer (1885–1969) attempted to radically shift how Canada thought about art education and to transform the art gallery from a formal space into a vibrant community space.

When I came across images of Lismer’s children’s art classes in the Ronny Jaques fonds in the Library and Archives Canada collection, I felt a rush of memories of my own childhood spent in art classes and the frenzied excitement of little hands and young minds at work making things. Before finding these images, I was unaware of the large role that being an art educator played in Lismer’s life, and his tireless efforts to popularize and emphasize the importance of art education. I was also unaware of how closely his model of education in the 1930s matched what I grew up with decades later. Children’s art classes in Canada grew in popularity across the country in the 1930s, and much of the growth was due to Lismer’s hard work and innovation.

A black-and-white photograph of a girl with dark braids and a light apron kneeling on the floor and holding a paintbrush in her right hand. The bottom of a framed painting can be seen behind her.

Girl with paintbrush at Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes in Toronto (e010958789)

In 1929, when Lismer was appointed supervisor of education at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), he began implementing many programs in line with his desire to democratize art, make it accessible to the average person and turn the gallery into a community space. Lismer’s first successful program was gallery tours for schools, which became part of the curriculum for some grades in the Toronto Board of Education. Lismer then launched Saturday morning children’s art classes. Teachers and principals from local schools would nominate their best art students to be invited to take part in the classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto. There was no tuition for these classes, only a small fee for material costs, and students had the chance to earn a scholarship for a junior course at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University).

With roughly 300 students attending the classes each week, the gallery was a lively place on Saturday mornings. Children were allowed to work freely and encouraged to explore their ideas and creative impulses. Children took part not only in painting and drawing, but also in clay sculpting, creating costumes, and acting in pageants. The classes were held within the galleries themselves, with children spreading out across the floor to work in various media, always in the presence of great works of art hung on the gallery’s walls. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, exhibitions of work from children in the Saturday morning classes were a regular feature on the gallery’s calendar.

A black-and-white photograph of children kneeling in the middle of the floor in a gallery, surrounded by paper and art supplies. A teacher stands near the middle of the room, assisting a student. The walls are hung with framed paintings, and an adjacent gallery is visible behind four dark columns. The scene is full of energy as the children build paper houses.

Children participating in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980053)

The Saturday classes would eventually result in the opening of the Art Centre at the Art Gallery of Toronto, which would facilitate education activities for the gallery. The Art Centre allowed for smaller classes and more direct interaction with each child, and it expanded the possibilities of Lismer’s vision. After several successful years of running the program at the Art Centre, Lismer was invited to undertake a lecture tour across the country to talk about Canadian art and the children’s art classes. Lismer had already been giving talks for teachers in Toronto to teach them about art and his own methods, hoping it would find its way into their lessons. With the lecture tour, Lismer had the chance to change how art was taught across the country.

The Art Gallery of Toronto was not Lismer’s first or last venture into children’s art education. Lismer ran Saturday morning classes at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in Halifax in 1917, where he was the principal at the time. Following his tenure in Toronto and his cross-Canada lecture tour, Lismer became the educational supervisor at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1940. He once again established an Art Centre and education programming, as he had done in Toronto. Lismer continued to be involved with the Art Centre in Montréal, even after his retirement in 1967, until his death in 1969 at age 83.

A black-and-white photograph of six boys sitting on chairs in a gallery. Each boy has a second chair in front of him being used as a drawing easel. Two framed paintings can be seen on the wall in the background, and there are newspapers scattered on the floor.

Boys painting in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980075)

There are over a hundred images available to view online from these children’s art classes, which depict the wide variety of activities that Lismer developed for his education programming. These photographs give us a delightful peek at the classes some 80 years later. They welcome us to familiar scenes of children sprawled out on gallery floors, gathering art materials, painting at makeshift easels or sculpting in clay over tables well wrapped with newspaper. Although art classes for kids look and sound different during the pandemic, we can all look forward to having noise, mess and excitement take over gallery spaces on weekend mornings once again.

If you recognize someone, a location in the museum or a piece of art in the Arthur Lismer children’s art classes Co-Lab challenge, please tag the photograph!


Brianna Fitzgerald is a Digital Imaging Technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

From the Lowy Room: Acquisitions in the age of COVID

By Michael Kent

Like most Canadians, my work environment has changed significantly due to COVID-19. While adapting to new protocols and working from home have transformed how I do my job, I am quite thankful that many of my tasks and goals are still accomplishable, though slightly modified. I would like to share one recent experience that I doubt would have occurred without the pandemic.

I started the COVID lockdown in March 2020 with grand goals of getting fit, taking online classes and starting new hobbies. It did not take long for these plans to give way to spending entirely too much time online. Like many people, I quickly found myself engaging in online shopping. With little else to do in my downtime, I was able to spend time searching through Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, and Facebook buy-and-sell groups. Being the book lover that I am, I was able to track down many books that I had long been looking for.

One day I came across a free copy of the book A Descriptive Catalogue of the Bension Collection of Sephardic Manuscripts and Texts by Saul Aranov. This volume is a catalogue of a collection of Hebrew manuscripts held by the University of Alberta. I was very excited to find this book, as I had been looking for it for some time. While this text is obviously related to my work as a Judaica librarian, I was also interested in it because Aranov had previously worked for the National Library of Canada on the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which is now my responsibility.

I sent a message expressing my interest to the woman who was giving the book away. As coincidence would have it, she remembered me from the time I spoke about the Lowy Collection to her seniors group. We quickly arranged a time for me to come and get the volume. To my surprise, she then messaged me that her husband had a Talmud that once belonged to the former Chief Rabbi of Eastern Silesia. She asked if I would be interested in seeing it, and of course I answered yes.

A couple of days later, I went to the couple’s home. While my role at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has involved going into many people’s homes to look at rare books, this was my first such outing in the age of COVID. We all wore masks, and they had placed the Hebrew volumes for me on their large dining-room table, allowing us to keep distanced. I was very impressed with the items before me. The Talmud that the wife had messaged me about was volumes from the Berlin edition of the Babylonian Talmud published in the 1860s. I was very excited to see these volumes, as they come from a very important period in the printing of the Talmud, which is both a topic of interest for me and an area of specialization for the Lowy Collection. The couple also showed me several other items belonging to the Rabbi, including Jewish civil codes and commentaries on Hebrew scripture.

A colour photograph of aged hardcover books on a book truck, in front of a glass book cabinet.

Some of the recently donated volumes in the Jacob M. Lowy Room. Photo: Michael Kent

Of the various volumes in their collection, my favourite is Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot, an 1880 work by Abraham David ben Judah Leib Lawat. This work builds on an earlier work, the Toledot Aharon (1583) by Aaron of Pesaro. These works provide a form of index to the Talmud, linking the Talmudic legal discourse to the sources in Hebrew Scripture. I am familiar with the Toledot Aharon since I have consulted it in the past while studying the Talmud, and I have always been proud of our first edition in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Despite my familiarity with this work, I did not know about the Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot. It is a thrilling part of librarianship to always be learning about new things!

A colour photograph of a page written in Hebrew.

The Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot that is now part of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

I was thrilled when the couple generously offered to donate the books they were showing me to the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which was a process that also required modification during COVID. After some discussion, we settled on how LAC would physically receive the donation. The donor drove the books to our public facility at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. He remained in his vehicle while a member of our circulation team removed them from the trunk. The books then went into one of the storage rooms in the building, to remain in quarantine to avoid possible COVID exposure. After the quarantine period had passed, the books were taken to one of our conservators for mould inspection before we could add them to the Lowy Collection. After this inspection, I brought the books to the Jacob M. Lowy Room. This experience was without a doubt the lengthiest period of time it ever took me to bring a donation from our front door to the collection area! While it was certainly a modification to our usual methods, I was thrilled that in spite of COVID, we were still able to preserve these remarkable volumes.

When I started filling some of my free time during lockdown with online shopping, I never imagined it would lead me to acquire a collection of rare Hebrew books for LAC. While the process required some adjustment because of the pandemic, I am proud of our ability to continue to acquire and preserve history.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Donald Nelson Baird and the 1945–46 Parliamentary Flag Design Committee

By James Bone

From Confederation through to the Great Canadian Flag Debate of 1964, the quest to give visual identification to the Canadian nation through an official flag was an elusive one. At various times the Union flag of the United Kingdom and the Canadian Red Ensign stood in unofficially for Canada, but attempts to create our own flag never bore fruit. Prime Minister Mackenzie King made an attempt between 1924–31 and there were periods of renewed interest during the Second World War, however these invariably fizzled due to partisan differences in Parliament. At the end of the War, Mackenzie King again sought a solution to the problem. In November 1945, his government struck a joint House of Commons and Senate committee to consider and report upon finding a suitable and distinct flag for Canada. To achieve this task, the Committee announced its intention to accept design submissions from the public.

Flag Design Submissions

To say that the Committee was inundated with potential designs would be an understatement. By the submission deadline, the official count was 2,695 and many more continued to arrive. The Committee’s records, which include a sampling of correspondence thanking people for their submissions, reveal that among those to submit design proposals were people such as the artist David Milne and Dominion Archivist Gustave Lanctôt. There were also designs received from children, veterans and Canadians of all sorts. To facilitate discussion, voting and the elimination of designs, the Committee created a process to count and classify the elements found in each submission. Prominent elements were maple leaves, beavers, the Union Jack and the fleur-de-lys.

During its mandate, the Committee also received and kept correspondence from the public. Some Canadians supported the process to find a suitable national flag, while others felt that any new flag would dishonour the memory of the recent Second World War dead. Likewise, some correspondents felt it would be unacceptable to include any element of French identity, while others pushed for a flag that reflected both the British and the French heritages of Canada.

Donald Nelson Baird’s Submission

One submission to the Committee arrived by way of Dorothy Baird of Truro, Nova Scotia, on behalf of her younger brother, Donald Nelson Baird (1920–2001). Originally from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Donald had suffered the effects of polio as a child and had only limited use of his arms, hands and legs. Despite this hardship, he learned to draw and paint with watercolours and would soon find himself at the centre of a national debate on the future of the Canadian flag.

A black-and-white photograph of a man looking towards the camera with a flag design in the background.

Donald Nelson Baird, Abbass Studio Limited, 1946 (Mikan no. 5082349)

Baird’s design was not overly complex. As described in the Committee minutes, it was simply a “Canadian Red Ensign with a maple leaf in autumn golden colour replacing the Coat-of-Arms on the fly.” The design was submitted as a small watercolour painting on paper and, like all submissions, received an identifying number from the Committee.

A flag design with the Union Jack in the left-hand top corner and a gold maple leaf on the right with a red background.

Donald Nelson Baird’s flag design, 1946, watercolour on paper (e011213692)

The design appealed to many members of the Committee, which had received several similar designs. However, given its prominent use of the Union Jack, its red field, and the lack of a French symbol, this appeal was far from unanimous.

Committee Deliberations

In the first quarter of 1946, the Committee deliberated over the many designs it had received in order to make a final selection. Votes were conducted periodically to eliminate certain submissions from the competition. By May 17, 1946, only five designs remained in competition and soon thereafter that number was whittled down to just two: Baird’s design and the Ligue du drapeau national’s design, the latter of which did not include a Union Jack.

The main proponent in the Committee for Baird’s design was R.W. Gladstone, Member of Parliament for Wellington South (Ontario). In the expectation that the Committee would select Baird’s design, Gladstone wrote to Dorothy Baird asking for a suitable photograph of Donald for publicity purposes. The letter also reveals that many similar designs had been received and that, of these, Donald’s seemed the most suitable and typified what Gladstone believed to be the desire of most Committee members. As discussed below, the final design proposed by the Committee for consideration by Parliament was modified slightly from Baird’s and officially was a product of the Committee itself, with no reference to Baird in its reports or minutes. Gladstone’s letter to Dorothy Baird is thus the best available evidence to show that it was indeed Baird’s design selected by the Committee.

A typed page with a crest and House of Commons written at the top.

Correspondence from R.W. Gladstone, MP for Wellington South (Ontario), to Dorothy Baird (Mikan 5082237)

A typed page with R.W. Gladstone’s signature at the bottom.

Correspondence from R.W. Gladstone, MP for Wellington South (Ontario), to Dorothy Baird (Mikan 5082237)

With just two designs remaining in competition, Gladstone then moved to have Baird’s design designated the new Flag of Canada. Deliberations stalled and a separate subcommittee was formed to study the question of whether or not a symbol other than the Union Jack could be used that would satisfy the majority of the Committee. Newspapers began running pieces about the new flag, with most Anglophone papers supporting Baird’s design, while Francophone newspapers such as La Presse supported the design by the Ligue du drapeau national. Cartoonist Bob Chambers, in an editorial cartoon for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, depicted Baird being lifted into the history books by Betsy Ross, the apocryphal designer of one of the first American flags. Baird’s name was also included in the November 1946 supplement to the biographical dictionary periodical Who’s Who.

On July 10, 1946, the subcommittee returned and reported that no alternate symbol could be found. Two members of the Committee remained opposed to Baird’s design as it both included a Union Jack and lacked any element of French Canadian heritage. By the time the Committee reconvened the following evening, the subcommittee had negotiated a compromise that the golden maple leaf would be “in a bordered background of white.” According to the minutes, this was to represent the French presence in Canada. This small modification was, in essence, the only change made to Baird’s original submission. This altered design was put to the Committee and passed in a vote of 22 to 1—thus making it their non-unanimous recommendation for the new flag. The Committee then prepared a final report for both houses of Parliament and recommended the appropriation of funds for the Secretary of State to produce prototypes of the new flag. Artist Frances Gage painted small prototypes, one of which is at the Canadian Museum of History, and an unknown number of full-sized prototypes were made and used for publicity photographs.

A colour photograph of two women holding a flag on a rooftop.

Flag prototype photograph, Weekend Magazine, 1946, photographer Louis Jacques (Mikan 5082300)

Outcome and legacy

Despite all the work that went into the Committee and its selection process, the final report was never presented to Parliament. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was reportedly in favour of the design but, out of consideration for national unity, it was more politic to quietly forget about the episode by invoking the fact that the Committee’s final vote had not quite been unanimous. As Baird’s name was not associated with the design in the Committee minutes and with the final design having been technically the creation of the Committee, his work was largely unknown as having been its inspiration and was soon forgotten outside of his family and community. Like most of the designs for which the Committee had a return address, Baird’s work was returned to his sister Dorothy and was kept by the family. For the next two decades, Dorothy frequently wrote to members of the provincial and federal governments when the question of a national flag resurfaced, urging them to reconsider Donald’s design. The last attempt was made in April 1964, when a sympathetic Member of Parliament, Robert Muir, informed Dorothy that Donald’s design would certainly find no favour with the government, as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson had promised that the new national flag of Canada would be without the Union Jack.

This author speculates that had Baird’s design been adopted for a national flag in 1946, it likely would not have lasted through the period of renewed interest in establishing a more distinct national identity that came about in the 1960s and that produced the current National Flag of Canada. Nonetheless, Baird’s design and the work of the 1945–46 flag design committee most certainly help to illustrate aspects of the national mood towards Canadian identity in this perhaps lesser-known event in our history. Today, reproductions of Baird’s design can sometimes be found in specialty flag stores, though probably few know its whole story.

Library and Archives Canada has recently acquired the Donald Nelson Baird fonds, which features the original watercolour flag design, correspondence from the Committee and members of the public, newspaper clippings about Baird, and family photographs.

A man standing outside, facing the camera wearing jeans and a red plaid shirt holding the corner of a flag.

Author James Bone with Baird’s flag at Dominion City Brewing, Ottawa, June 2019, copyright James Bone.


James Bone is a philatelic and art archivist with the Private Specialized Media team at Library and Archives Canada.

Mountains of Blackflies

By Martha Sellens

One of my favourite parts of being an archivist is solving archival mysteries, especially when they result in something unexpected. One of my recent mysteries took me from a piece of artwork to blackflies—and I’m not talking about an unexpected (and unwanted!) visitor in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) archival vault.

It all started with a couple of prints from the Geological Survey of Canada. I was working on improving their description in our database so that people could find them. (These are the improved descriptions for item 5067117 and item 5067118.) The prints were from 1883 and had been acquired by the archives so long ago—before 1925!—that there wasn’t much information about them in our records.

So I started digging. The prints were panoramas, nearly an arm-span wide and as tall as a trade paperback book. Both were prints of the same drawing showing the view of the Notre-Dame or Shickshock (now known as Chic-Chocs) Mountains in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. To make things easier, they also had a title, artist and printing house included in the print image, so I was immediately able to link it back to A.P. Low’s report on his 1883 expedition for the Geological Survey.

Black and white print of a drawing depicting a series of rounded mountains. There are trees and grass in the foreground. The print is titled and has some small labels along the top edge indicating cardinal directions.

Panoramic photolithographic print of the Notre-Dame or Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains in Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. Drawn by L. Lambe from a sketch by A.P. Low, to accompany A.P. Low’s 1883 report to the Geological Survey of Canada. The prints in LAC’s collection (R214-2887-9) are not yet digitized. Image courtesy of NRCan (GEOSCAN).

A.P. Low led a small team of surveyors into the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula in the summer of 1883 to examine the geology of the area, as well as to create and improve maps of the region. The Geological Survey of Canada was often one of the first groups of surveyors in an area and they quickly realized that they couldn’t document geological features without creating maps as well. Low’s report describes some of their day-to-day tasks as well as their scientific findings. It was published as part of an 800-page volume with all of the Geological Survey field reports from 1882–84. You can download a digitized version from the Natural Resources Canada website or consult the physical book in LAC’s library holdings.

LAC also holds many of the field books from these surveys. These are the notebooks the surveyors used in the field to keep track of their daily findings. With my curiosity piqued, I ordered in A.P. Low’s notebooks to take a look. I’m not a geologist so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to understand his notes, but that’s half the fun! Most of the notebooks were filled with numbers and quick sketches, but in the back of one, I hit the jackpot.

Most people expect government records to be bureaucratic and boring—and many of our records live down to these expectations—but it’s so exciting when you find something that proves that even the work lives of nineteenth-century public servants could be funny and interesting.

In the back of one of A.P. Low’s field books, I found the pencil sketch he drew of the Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains. The very one that they used to create the final drawing that accompanied his report and in the prints that started my current investigation. It’s a fairly simple pencil drawing, spread over two lined pages in the back of the book, but the shading and the line work starts to trail off somewhere in the middle.

Why did he stop? Fortunately for us, he wrote down the reason: “Unable to finish on account of the Black Flies!” His comment is accompanied by a suspicious smudge and three little blackflies doodled near the description of his sketch.

Photograph of a red leather notebook, open on page 98. The pages are lined and there is a pencil drawing of some mountains and three small flies. A note at the bottom reads, “Sketch of some of the Mountains seen from Mount Albert looking North.” To the right another note reads, “Unable to finish on account of the Black Flies.”

Sketch of the Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains on page 98 of A.P. Low’s field book #2276, Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. Geological Survey of Canada (RG45 Vol 142). Photo by Martha Sellens.

I can just picture the surveyors baking in the June sun on the top of a Quebec mountain and cursing one of Canada’s most annoying predators. It can be easy to forget that behind every record—even the bureaucratic and boring ones—are the people that worked together to create it. This notebook, and the more formal prints that led me there, is a great reminder of the people—and blackflies—behind the records.

Other LAC related resources:


Martha Sellens is an archivist for the natural resources portfolio in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

When Ugandan Asian refugees arrived in Canada in 1972

By Sheyfali Saujani

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of people standing in a big room, with luggage and suitcases on the floor, and a Canadian flag and a sign reading “Bienvenue, Welcome.”

Ugandan Asian refugees arrive at a Canadian Forces Base in Longue-Pointe, Quebec (e011052358)

In September 1972, Canada welcomed the first of some 7,500 Ugandan Asian refugees. At the time, people who had migrated from the Indian subcontinent were called Asian, rather than South Asian. This was the first large-scale influx of non-European immigrants to Canada following a series of changes to the country’s immigration policy that started in 1962. These changes eliminated racial barriers to entry. My family was lucky enough to be among those immigrants.

Both of my parents were born in Africa. My mother, Shanta Saujani, was born in Durban, South Africa, and that is where she went, to be with her mother, when she was pregnant with me, her first child, in 1964. My father, Rai Saujani, was born in Uganda, where his father had arrived sometime around 1914 (we are not completely certain about the date). Asians from around the British Empire migrated to its African colonies in much the same way that Europeans circulated through the colonies (including Canada), and for many of the same reasons: economic opportunity, adventure and change.

But the colonial world did not treat all of its subjects equally, and divisions established under imperial rule persisted, or even deepened, after independence. In South Africa, Asians (people from the Indian subcontinent) were racially segregated, as were Black Africans under the country’s notorious apartheid policy. People designated “white” could go anywhere and everywhere. Those designated “black,” “brown” or “coloured” were restricted in their freedom of movement, residence, education and work. Even though my mother and I were both born there, I was not allowed to become a citizen because my father was a citizen of Uganda.

In Uganda, racial divisions were not legislated, but cultural mingling was discouraged by separate schools and social services. Under colonial rule, it was harder for Black Africans to obtain business licences and other benefits that might have allowed them to compete with entrepreneurial Asians who controlled many key sectors of the economy. Asians thus became a relatively privileged middle class that some Africans resented. Although many Asians, like my father, acquired Ugandan citizenship in order to serve their country, many others, fearful of losing British status, chose to remain British subjects.

In 1971, General Idi Amin ousted Uganda’s government in a military coup. The following year, he declared that there was no longer room for Asians in Uganda, even if they were citizens. In August 1972, he ordered the expulsion of all of the country’s roughly 80,000 Asians and gave us 90 days to leave.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of children sitting together on the floor eating.

A group of children who had recently arrived in Canada (e011052361)

That was a frightening time for us. Although my brothers and I were too young to fully understand the political tensions, we soon realized how bad things could get when some of our relatives were jailed. There had been an argument of some sort in one of the many long lines to acquire government documents, and three of my uncles were arrested by the army. At the time, my father was a deputy superintendent in the Ugandan police force, and he was able to use his connections to get my uncles released. I remember vividly the red welts left on their backs by the terrible beatings they had received while in prison. They were free, but now the army officers who had arrested them were looking for my father. We spent our last few weeks in Uganda in hiding, desperate to find a country that would give us sanctuary.

Because of the refugee crisis caused by Amin’s expulsion order, Canada offered to immediately accept 5,000 (though more eventually came) people needing a new home. Canada also sent a special team of immigration agents to Uganda to help expedite the selection and processing of those who would come here.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform looking at a piece of paper, a man in a dark shirt and a light coloured jacket holding documents, a boy, and a woman with her hair tied back in a ponytail.

A Canadian official and a Ugandan Asian family who had recently arrived in Canada (e011052346)

Those officials suggested that we might be able to enter Canada more quickly if we came as sponsored refugees. Family members reached out to an aunt living in Hamilton. She had moved from Tanzania to Canada with her husband and three daughters a few years earlier.

To qualify as a sponsor, you needed to prove that you had a certain level of income. My aunt’s family fell just short of that number. My aunt feared that they might not qualify as sponsors, but then a helpful immigration officer asked about the monthly mother’s allowance cheques that the government gave out back then. Those small cheques, which my aunt received to help support my three cousins, allowed them to clear the financial threshold needed to qualify as sponsors.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a uniform serving food to a woman holding a small child.

Food being given to recently arrived Ugandan refugees (e011052348)

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in an apron and a hat handing a paper cup to a smiling man in a suit, as a woman in a scarf holds a cookie and a paper cup.

Recently arrived Ugandan refugees receiving drinks (e011052353)

The day we arrived in Canada was a day of exhaustion, relief and elation for us, much like it probably was for the people in these photos. It was September 28, 1972, a cold and clear fall day in the army barracks near Montréal where officials received the refugee families. My brother and I recall the unexpected chill, for which we were unprepared after coming from equatorial Africa. Luckily, immigration officials had arranged for us to have access to winter clothes. My brother remembers that it was the first time he saw the famous four Hudson’s Bay colours (green, red, yellow and indigo) on some of the coats. We both remember the amazing colours of the autumn leaves. But the best memory of all is my mother’s. She remembers that there were 11 black-and-white television sets scattered around the hall where our paperwork was being processed. Suddenly all of the officials, soldiers and cafeteria staff started jumping up and down, yelling and screaming, hugging each other and shouting for joy. What we did not know but soon learned was that it was the day of the final game of the famous Canada-Soviet Summit Series, and Paul Henderson had just scored the winning goal. And my mother thought: what an auspicious day for us to arrive! We are very grateful for the refuge that Canada gave us, and the opportunity to become citizens of a peaceful country that strives toward inclusion.

For more images of the arrival of Ugandan Asian refugees in Canada in 1972, visit the Library and Archives Canada Flickr Album.

©  Sheyfali Saujani


Sheyfali Saujani worked as a radio producer with CBC Radio for 30 years. She is a writer and producer living in Toronto.