Guest curator: Brian Thompson

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

The opening measures of “Une Couronne de Lauriers” by Calixa Lavallée, ca. 1864

Sepia page of handwritten musical notations signed C. Lavallée.

Sheet music of “Une Couronne de Lauriers” by Calixa Lavallée, ca. 1864 (MIKAN 4903777)

Calixa Lavallée didn’t think Canada would work as a nation. He may even have written anti-Confederation music. There were certainly heavy hints in the newspapers about a radical known for his crown (couronne) and laurels (lauriers).

Tell us about yourself

As a boy, hockey, music, history and politics all fascinated me. The first two I had in common with most kids my age. The third and fourth were more obscure. Nevertheless, as a musicologist, I made music, history and politics part of my work, and while writing about Calixa Lavallée, the composer of “O Canada,” I realized that I had found a way to bring hockey into the mix—the national anthem, as sung by the great Roger Doucet, had been a part of my Saturday nights from fall until spring.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Lavallée was born just outside Montréal in 1842. By the time he was in his mid-teens, he was a professional musician, employed as musical director of travelling minstrel troupes and performing as a pianist. He would go on to become an important educator, both in Canada and the United States, and a composer of nearly every form of music common in his time. His published works include songs, sacred music, concert overtures, operas, numerous piano pieces and “O Canada,” which he composed in 1880.

Lavallée returned to Montréal from the U.S. in 1863 and remained until late in 1865. It was a momentous time on both sides of the border. In 1864, while the U.S. Civil War entered its third year, Canadians began to debate the merits of Confederation. In Montréal, opinions were divided on the creation of a new country. Through his contributions to nationalist newspapers La Presse and l’Union nationale, the 22-year-old Lavallée aligned himself with opponents of Confederation who believed it would lead to the assimilation of French Canadians. On stage, he maintained a high profile, leading a group of young vocalists and instrumentalists in numerous concerts, and devoting much of his time to raising funds for charity.

On February 19, 1864, Lavallée gave a concert at Nordheimer’s Hall, in Montréal, and played “Une Couronne de Lauriers” for the first time in public. The local firm of Laurent, Laforce et cie published it that summer, and in August La Presse printed a review of it by the pianist Gustave Smith, who called it “the first major piece that has been issued by a Montréal music publisher” [« la premier morceau d’importance qui ait paru chez un éditeur de musique de Montréal »]. It would seem likely that Lavallée jotted down these opening bars of “Une Couronne de Lauriers” at about this time.

Two pages containing signatures of major opera singers.

Autograph sheets containing signatures from major opera singers of the time (MIKAN 4936687)

This fascinating document raises many questions. It was acquired by LAC together with a double-sided sheet titled “Autographes des dames et messieurs de l’Opéra Italien.” Markings clearly indicate that the first sheet, containing a musical fragment, was from the same book as the second, a page of autographs. They were both acquired by LACthrough a rare book dealer, and we can now only speculate on their origins and purpose.

The autograph sheet contains the signatures of many opera personalities of the time, including the impresario Max Strakosch and the mezzo-soprano Amalia Patti Strakosch. Most of the performers, if not all, were active in New York City in the mid-1860s. The page also contains a cryptic message: “What will be the future for us? Montréal 5 Nov. 1866” (« Que sera l’avenir pour nous deux? Montréal 5 nov 1866 »).

So, to whom did these two sheets belong? I can only speculate. One possibility is that they were the property of Lavallée himself, perhaps passed on to his widow after his death in Boston in 1891, and then to someone else. Lavallée often worked with opera singers and may have collected their autographs. A photograph album that he owned has survived and contains many signed pictures of other artists. It would, however, have been unusual for him to have contributed a short piece of music to his own autograph book.

Perhaps a more likely possibility, then, is that these pages were the property of the pianist Gustave Smith. He was Lavallée’s colleague in Montréal in the 1860s, and he also often worked with opera singers. He too left for the U.S. late in 1865, or in early 1866, staying for a brief period in New York before settling in New Orleans. He returned to Canada later that decade to take a position as organist in Ottawa’s Catholic cathedral.

A third possibility is that these items belonged to another of Lavallée’s collaborators: the violinist Frantz Jehin-Prume. This Belgian musician paid an extended visit to Montréal in 1865, during which time he performed at least once with Lavallée. The two later became close friends and frequent performing partners. He toured on more than one occasion with a company that included Amalia Patti Strakosch. He was in New York City in the fall of 1865 and returned to Montréal in 1866.

While this manuscript still has secrets to reveal, it provides a little window into the past, giving us a glimpse of cultural life at the time in which Canada was being conceived and into the life of the musician whose music would help to define a country to whose creation he initially objected.

Through their training and experience, historians and archivists—and musicologists—learn the potential importance of a handwritten document. They know that a letter, a memo or a few notes of music written quickly on a scrap of paper may help us to better understand an earlier time and may hold far more value than is immediately apparent. Studying history can be about analyzing major historical and political events, but it can also be detective work. Those exploring our time are likely to rely largely on information in electronic formats: digital images, emails, posts, blogs. This exhibition may then provide an opportunity for the public to consider and admire original documents, such as these—documents created by human hands, and by people who have left something of themselves and their time for the future.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

Sheet music cover. In the centre, there is a photo of a man in an overcoat and trousers holding a top hat and a cane. The composer’s and lyricist’s names are at the bottom between a sketch of the city of Québec and a tree that stretches to the top of the page to decorate the title with maple leaves.

Cover of the first edition of “O Canada” (AMICUS 5281119) L.N. Dufresne, cover “O Canada” (Québec: Arthur Lavigne, 1880). Musée de la civilisation, bibliothèque du séminaire de Québec. Fonds ancient, 204, SQ047145.

The cover of the first edition of “O Canada” (“Chant national”) is a rare item of important historical significance. The anthem was composed for the Congrès Catholique Canadien-français of 1880, a gathering of intellectuals, politicians and thousands of members of the general public, intended to celebrate French-Canadian culture and reflect on the future. The event included many musical performances. It was also seen as an opportunity to create a national song that had the dignity of “God Save the Queen,” the anthem then sung at all public events in Canada.

The organizing committee of the Congrès selected Calixa Lavallée as the composer, and judge Adolphe-Basile Routhier as the poet, of the new anthem. Both were then living in Québec and knew each other at least casually. They completed their work by April of 1880 and newspapers announced that it would published by the local music dealer Arthur Lavigne. The cover’s designer was L.N. Dufresne, a painter and illustrator. Dufresne intended his artwork to capture visually the essence of the music. The title is presented at the top, surrounded by maple garlands. On the right is the Québec Citadel, on the left a beaver, at the bottom the St. Lawrence River. The centre of the page features a photograph of Lieutenant-Governor Théodore Robitaille. His prominence on the cover was an acknowledgement of his place as a patron of the arts and a leading proponent of the creation of a new national song—a song that he hoped would come to represent the people of Quebec and French-Canadians everywhere.


A colour photograph of a man with a beard Brian Christopher Thompson is the author of Anthems and Minstrel Shows: The Life and Times of Calixa Lavallée, 1842–1891 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 2015), and the compiler and editor of Calixa Lavallée: L’œuvre pour piano seul / The Complete Works for Solo Piano (Vancouver: The Avondale Press, 2016). He completed his PhD in musicology at the University of Hong Kong, under the supervision of Michael Noone and Katherine Preston, in 2001, after completing degrees at Concordia University, the University of Victoria and McGill University. He is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Music at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Related resources

Grist for the Mill – Poems on war, labour and progress

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Alex Gibson was an immigrant, a veteran of the First World War, a mill worker and a poet. His experiences are reflected in Grist for the Mill, a book of poetry that he self-published in 1959. A copy of this book was discovered during the processing of the archival records of the Canadian Paperworkers Union.

Gibson was born in 1893 in Scotland, and he immigrated to Canada around 1913. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 10th Field Ambulance Battalion. Many of the poems in his book deal with the challenges of adjusting to the often routine life of working in a paper mill after surviving the horrors of war. Many young Canadian men faced similar challenges when they returned from the war in Europe.

He contemplates the struggles of returning soldiers in “What Shall It Be”:

What shall it be when victory’s won
And our men come marching home;

Shall it mean the same as it always means –
The broken lives and the shattered dreams

And a desolate land to roam?


Answer ye men of the shop and rail –
The mill and the mine – the sea and the mail,

For answer it ye shall?
(pp. 90–92)

A black-and-white photograph showing a crowded war scene: wounded soldiers are on stretchers while soldiers mill around, with destroyed buildings in the background.

The 10th Field Ambulance Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Gibson served in the field, caring for the wounded after battle. This devastating experience underlies his poetry. (MIKAN 3397051)

Gibson worked in the pulp and paper industry for over 38 years and was passionate about labour issues. He served in several important roles within the Canadian Paperworkers Union during his career. He even ran for federal office in the riding of Port Arthur in 1935 and 1940 for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. This party, a predecessor of the New Democratic Party, was dedicated to progressive social and labour issues. Gibson’s socialist stance is clear in nearly all of the poems in the book, which provides an informative first-hand account of working-class struggles. The plight of the worker and the need for workers to come together in a strong brotherhood are recurring themes. In “Hoboes and Heroes,” he writes about the class of society that could be called the working poor:

He said that every place he went
He found that there were thousands such as he;
Who, with the last of all their money spent
Were forced to beg for charity.


And as he spoke I sensed the bitter note.
Of dark despair, the utter lack of hope.
(pp. 77–80)

Working for over three decades in a factory, and being active in union activities, Gibson was acutely aware of the hardships and struggles in a production mill. These come up frequently in his writings. Days were long, pay was poor and conditions were not as regulated as they are today. He continually tried to improve this situation through his work with the union. The vivid picture he paints of what life was like for these men shows his empathy for his fellow workers. In the book’s dedication, he writes:

To ye who toil in the murk;
To ye who swine in the drift

Making an epic of work,
Single or double shift.

Knowing you as I do;
Living the life you live,

This is my gift to you,
All that I have to give.
(p. 3)

A black-and-white photograph of a man leaning over a grinder machine holding a plank of wood in his hands.

Worker in a pulp and paper mill operating a grinder machine. Gibson’s poetry often describes the monotonous and dangerous conditions in mills and the effects on workers. Photo taken by Harry Foster (MIKAN 3196845)

Most of Gibson’s poems cover issues relating to labour and social injustices in Canada, but some provide glimpses into important moments in history. “A Constitutional Crisis” relates the abdication of Edward VIII to wed twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, a huge scandal at the time. “A Note to the Hon. Minister of Justice” is about the jailing of Tim Buck, a leader in the labour movement. Buck’s imprisonment at Kingston Penitentiary caused much public outcry, especially among labourers like Gibson.

This collection of poems, though written primarily about personal conflicts and workers’ struggles, has an underlying tone of hope. Many of Gibson’s poems are still relevant for Canadian readers today. This is one reason why Grist for the Mill is a true treasure in the collection of Library and Archives Canada.

Guest Curator: Arlene Gehmacher

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

Bunch of Wildflowers by Susanna Moodie, ca. 1870

Yellow dandelion in front of blue and pink wildflowers mingled with leaves, painted on sepia card.

Bunch of Wildflowers by Susanna Moodie, ca. 1870. (MIKAN 2837436)

Susanna Moodie called Canada’s woods “the prison house.” Flower painting may have been her form of therapy. It allowed her to impose order and refinement on one small piece of nature.

Tell us about yourself

Studying the visual culture of Canada has been a pursuit of mine since first being hired to research primary archival and printed sources for an exhibition on historical art produced in Canada. I was hooked—the material satisfied both my love of fine art as well as cultural context. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make it my career.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Watercolours, such as Bunch of Wildflowers, were for Moodie not just a pastime to create gifts for family and friends, but also a commodity that could be used for cash income or trade. With a price tag of $3 to $5, she could pay her servant. William Notman, the famed Canadian photographer, is known to have accepted—at his own suggestion—an autographed watercolour as payment for his photographs. (Moodie obliged with A Group of Crimson, White, Yellow, and Pink Roses.)

The bunch of wildflowers—including periwinkle, dandelion, and clematis—may well have been picked by Moodie herself, but her arranging them into a watercolour was part of her domestic economy.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition.

Two colour plates of colourful flowers with green leaves. Left: Wild Orange Red Lily, Harebell, and Showy Lady’s Slipper. Right: Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Anemone, and Spring Beauty.

Image on the left: Wild Orange Red Lily, Harebell, and Showy Lady’s Slipper (MIKAN 2905466) Image on the right: Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Anemone, and Spring Beauty (MIKAN 2905471) Plates from Canadian Wild Flowers by Agnes FitzGibbon, published by John Lovell, Montréal, 1868 (AMICUS 49189)

Agnes FitzGibbon, daughter of Susanna Moodie, collaborated with her aunt Catharine Parr Traill (Susanna’s sister) on Canadian Wild Flowers, published in 1868 and praised for its scientific accuracy. Susanna Moodie’s Bunch of Wildflowers bespeaks her joy and passion in picking and aesthetically arranging flowers, and immortalizes her artistry in watercolour. In contrast, FitzGibbon’s fine illustrations are informative, her delineation precise to ensure legibility of specimen.

FitzGibbon’s project was from the start a business venture, each of the 500 copies containing 10 lithographed plates, each hand coloured (with help!), and accompanied by Parr Traill’s descriptions both poetic and naturalist. Executed over 1867 and 1868, Canadian Wild Flowers in subject and timing surely assumed a mantle of national relevance.


Colour photograph of a woman standing against a turquoise tiled wall.Arlene Gehmacher, PhD, is Curator of Canadian Paintings, Prints & Drawings at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Ontario, where she develops collections-based research and exhibits. She also teaches; her course “Collecting Canada” deals with the acquisition, interpretation and display of the ROM’s picture collection and is offered through the Art History Department of the University of Toronto. Her publications cover the 19th to 21st centuries, and include articles on Ozias Leduc (1996), Cornelius Krieghoff (2003), Naoko Matsubara (2003, 2016), Paul Kane (2010, 2014), Arthur Heming (2013), and William Blair Bruce (1999, 2014).

Related resources

From the Lowy Room: remnants of Spanish Jewry

By Michael Kent

As a librarian, people often question me about the value of the print book in the digital age. After all, many of the books in the collections I serve can be found in digital formats online. While it is true that even the oldest works in Library and Archives Canada’s collections are now accessible in a range of formats online, I maintain that the power of the physical items—and the stories behind them—go far beyond the mere content of the page.

One of the items that evokes this sentiment in a powerful way is the fragment of the 1491 Pentateuch, the Jewish canonical scriptures, from Spain.

This Bible, printed by Eliezer ibn Alantansi in Hijar, Spain, was the last dated Hebrew book printed in Spain before the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. While the age, the print quality, or the level of scholarship necessary to produce this book alone make it an important work in early printing, it is the story it tells about the expulsion of Spain’s Jews that makes it a powerful item to behold.

Sadly, refugee crises are not new. Currently, our world is in the midst of a global refugee crisis, a crisis we are able to observe almost first-hand due to the rise of social media. The modern world has allowed us to gain an important and humbling glimpse into the struggles of those living in refugee camps.

The breadth of media content, blogs, pictures and personal accounts will allow future generations of scholars to understand the struggles of contemporary refugees in a way previous generations of scholars could never have imagined. But what about past refugees—how do we try to understand the struggles of medieval refugees, their expectations, their former lives, their hopes for the future, and the devastation caused by their upheavals?

These questions represent a tremendous challenge for historians who wish to uncover the experiences of those in the past. History needs to be more than dates and the stories of the elites; the stories of the masses and the collective experiences we need to learn from are the important episodes that should be investigated.

This is where I return to the biblical fragment found in the Lowy collection. From a content-on-the-page perspective, does the Pentateuch represent anything more than a standard Rabbinic Bible, the type that could be downloaded for free? The simple answer is no. Looking outside the text, does this item provide insights into the lives of Spanish Jewry on the eve of expulsion? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

A colour photograph of a yellowed, printed page written in Hebrew.

A leaf of the 1490 Hebrew Bible printed by Eliezer ben Avraham Alantansi (AMICUS 32329787)

I look at this page and see a community that saw itself as stable and with a future in Spain. In the early days of printing, a Bible like this would have been a major undertaking. The establishment of communal infrastructure in the form of a printing press, the investment in scholarship, and a major economic undertaking are, to me, evidence that Spain’s Jews saw themselves as secure and with a long and stable future in the Iberian Peninsula. I look at this page and see people who did not imagine the major upheaval and communal devastation that was less than two years away. In short, I see firsthand evidence of one of Medieval Europe’s largest refugee experiences.

As a librarian and curator, I strongly believe in the power of the physical book, a power that goes far beyond the content of the work. While e-books and websites ensure global access to a range of intellectual content, the humbling experience and historic evidence offered by the physical book are irreplaceable.

Michael Kent is the Curator of the Jacob M. Lowy collection

Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, VC

The Discover Blog returns to the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, in which we profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross took place. Today we present the story of Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, an Irish-born Canadian VC recipient from Medicine Hat, Alberta.

A black-and-white portrait of an officer wearing a Sam Brown belt and looking directly at the viewer.

Captain Frederick M. Harvey, V.C., undated (MIKAN 3216613)

Harvey, born in Athboy, County Meath, Ireland, was one of three Irish rugby union internationals to have been awarded the Victoria Cross, and the only one to have been awarded the medal during the First World War. He settled in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in 1908 and enlisted on May 18, 1916 with the 13th Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, transferring to Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) after arriving in France.

On March 27, 1917, Harvey’s troops advanced on the village of Guyencourt, France. As German machine gun fire inflicted heavy casualties, Harvey’s Victoria Cross citation recounts what occurred next:

At this critical moment, when the enemy showed no intention whatever of retiring and fire was still intense, Lt. Harvey, who was in command of the leading troop, ran forward well ahead of his men and dashed at the trench, still fully manned, jumped the wire, shot the machine gunner and captured the gun. His most courageous act undoubtedly had a decisive effect on the success of the operation (London Gazette, no.30122, June 8, 1917).

A black and white reproduction of a war diary entry showing the place, date, hour and a summary of events and information.

Extract from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diaries for March 27, 1917 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Harvey was initially granted the Distinguished Service Order but was later awarded the Victoria Cross. He received the Military Cross for his role in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse advance on Moreuil Wood on March 30, 1918 and was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

Harvey remained with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and was promoted to Captain in 1923. He instructed in physical training at the Royal Military College of Canada from 1923 to 1927, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1938, and, in 1939, was made Brigadier General. Harvey served as Honorary Colonel in Lord Strathcona’s Horse from 1958 to 1966. He died in August 1980 at age 91.

A black and white photograph of a man pining an award on another man’s pocket. Another man is reading the citation while a third man is carrying a case. In the background, rows of soldiers are standing at ease.

H.M. The King decorating Lieutenant Harvey L.S.H. with the Victoria Cross (MIKAN 3362384)

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey.

Related Resources

Guest Curator: Tania Passafiume

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month in 2017! Experts from LAC, from across Canada and from other countries provide additional information about the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, from June 5, 2017, to March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

Temples of Today by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934

Black-and-white photo of a grain elevator with tall, circular towers in front of a taller rectangular building.

“Temples of Today” by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934. (MIKAN 3784205)

Photographer John Vanderpant saw Canada’s grain elevators as temples. They were part of his utopian vision for the country, based on a faith in trade and industry. For him, industry would define the nation’s future.

Tell us about yourself

I knew I wanted to be a conservator since I was 13 years old. At this time, my uncle had married a wonderful woman named Janice. She was a fine art conservator, hence she treated paintings, works of art on paper, and photographs. I was very influenced by her, and it led me to work in her private lab as I was studying at university. It provided me with experience before I even started my graduate classes in conservation. When I graduated, there was no employment in Canada, and my aunt had closed her lab and was traveling that particular year. I ended up going to the George Eastman House on a whim. It was supposed to be just for three months. Instead I stayed there three years and three months! It was when I became passionate about photography, particularly historical processes. My hands were often black due to all the silver nitrate I was playing with! And now, I see my aunt’s name on a report or two, as she had actually interned here at LAC many years before me.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

LAC’s collection of photographs is really diverse. You can always find a variety of processes and images. For this exhibition, I favor Temples of Today by John Vanderpant. I am a photograph conservator, so often I look beyond the image, looking deeper at the materials and how the photograph was made, or if anything has been altered. Many times, not to be distracted by the image itself, I turn the photograph around, so that the image is upside down, making it less distracting, so that I can concentrate on the material and not the image before me. But for this item, all I had to do was lean down and look at the surface of the photograph in raking light. That is when light is falling across the surface and I am almost at eye level with the surface. It is at this point you can really “see” an object; all the handling dents and deformities are really pronounced. When you do that with this item you see cat paw prints! We actually think that the cat walked one way, turned around and walked back! The photograph was already mounted on the paper support when the cat had walked on it. This is noted as one of the prints lies on both the photograph and the support. Perhaps Vanderpant had a cat who would visit him in the studio? I really enjoy finding these hidden secrets. I did try to remove or at least reduce the paw prints, but they appear to be stuck within the emulsion. So I could not do much as for treatment, and the paw prints remain.

A photo on a table with a bright light raking over it reveals a cat’s paw prints.

Viewing Temples of Today under raking light reveals a cat’s paw prints. Photo taken by Tom Thompson.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

A photograph that I enjoy showing people is a daguerreotype from July 1858. The daguerreotype has captured the Molson Brewery in Montréal, after a fire. It is a half plate in good condition. The image is sombre as the fire has left nothing. In the centre of this emptiness stands a man with a seated female to the left with a small child, who moved as the image was taken and is blurry. It is a moving image, as you can imagine that the daguerreotypist had to be physically there, at this moment to document this period of time. A few years ago, this item was going on exhibition; therefore I was fortunate enough to be able to open the daguerreotype package (the original sealing tape had been previously removed), to examine the plate. Upon removal of the brass mat, I immediately noticed in the upper left corner, a finger mark. This was hidden behind the brass mat. This fingerprint could be from the daguerreotypist, who is, at this moment still unknown. It could have been accidently placed there as he or she was developing the plate or placing it into the daguerreotype package. For me it is a sign of the mysterious past—a bridge, a connector between these people in the image and to the person behind the camera who is not visible and us, the current viewer.

 The corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. The plate depicts a closeup of the Molson Brewery after a fire. A woman with a baby is sitting at the bottom edge.

A detail of a corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. Photo taken by Jennie Woodley. (MIKAN 3192967)

Black-and-white image of rubble in the foreground with a damaged building in the background. A woman with a baby sits in the middle to left of a standing man.¬

Full image of the Molson family brewery after the fire of 1858. (MIKAN 3192967)

On this theme of animals and photography, I would like to include the “Decadog,” as we call it at the Preservation Centre. This is a perfect example of an animal being an animal. It is a nitrate panorama negative of 7th Draft, “C” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA). These were the units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and the Royal Air Force who trained at various camps in Ontario; here it was in Kingston. It was taken between 1914 and 1918. The nitrate negative was discovered when my colleagues Carla Klück and Louise Perrault were scanning the nitrate panorama collection in 2011. At first glance this long negative, which is 200 mm high x 1060 mm wide, is another documented proof of military troops from the turn of the century. On closer examination, a dog appears in the foreground. But not just any dog—a dog with eleven legs! Viewers are always confused when they notice this unusual aspect. Someone has previously outlined in black ink on the negative (which appears white on the positive print), ten of the legs (hence the name Decadog), omitting the second last paw on the left. You may be asking—how did this dog exist in Kingston? Easy enough answer is that the photograph was taken by a panoramic camera also known as a Cirkut. The Cirkut is a rotating camera that would capture a panoramic scene by pivoting horizontally while a roll of film moved across the film plane. At just the right moment, the dog must have walked as the camera was rotating from left to right. Consequently, the slow capture could capture the slow movement of the dog walking across the plane of view. To prove that this Decadog is a “normal” four-legged friend, I have included an additional nitrate panorama from our collection. This time it is from the 8th Draft “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF, Petawawa Camp on June 1916. From his face markings, we think that this is the same dog in both nitrate panoramas.

Black-and-white panorama shot of two rows of uniformed soldiers between two wheeled cannons. The Decadog is in front of the group. Barracks can be seen in the background.

7th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF group photo with the Decadog by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4474227)

Black-and-white panorama shot of three and a half rows of uniformed soldiers in front of trees and tents. A soldier in the centre of the front row holds a dog on his lap.

8th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF Petawawa Camp with a dog in the centre by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4473482)


Colour photograph of a woman looking at the viewer.

Credit Tom Thompson

Tania Passafiume has been the Head Conservator of Photographic Materials for Library and Archives Canada since 2005. After graduating from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Art Conservation (specializing in photographs, works on paper and book conservation), she moved to Rochester, New York. It was in Rochester at the George Eastman House where she remained for over three years, first participating in the Certificate Program in Photographic Preservation and Archival Practice and then as a Fellow in the first cycle of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. For the following three years, Tania was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, in Photographic Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tania has also worked in the following institutions and private labs: Jana Conservation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, National Archives of Canada, City of Vancouver Archives, and Canadian Centre for Architecture. With the Canadian Conservation Institute she has published “Silver Gelatin Paper Sample Sets,” which is based on her George Eastman House thesis. Also stemming from this was research on Hippolyte Bayard, a topic on which she is currently working with the Centre de recherché sur la conservation des collections (CRCC), Paris. More recently, she spearheaded a LAC project with the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Paris/Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de la Ville de Paris (ARCP) in a collaboration to create the first English-French visual glossary of photo conservation terms in enhanced eBook format called Lingua Franca: A Common Language for Conservators of Photographic Materials which will soon be available for free on iTunes.

Railway accident records at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

In recent years, large-scale railway derailments and collisions have caught our attention and have become questions of public safety, but this is not a new chapter in Canadian transportation history. Rail accidents dot the history of railways in Canada and have shaped the lives of many Canadians.

A black and white photograph of a partially derailed train in a train yard. Snow covers the ground and a city can be seen in the background.

Cars off track at Strachan Avenue, Toronto, December 19, 1916. Photograph taken by John Boyd (MIKAN 3364261)

Have you witnessed a railway accident? Was a family member or friend involved in a railway accident? Do you have an interest in railway history in a specific region or for a specific railway company? These are just some of the many reasons that researchers consult Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Reference Services regarding railway accident records.

Starting your railway accident research

First, gather as much information as you can about the rail accident prior to contacting or visiting LAC. The exact date and location are extremely important, as are details such as individuals involved and if possible, type of accident (e.g. public crossing, derailment, crash). If you are missing some of these details, consult newspapers on microfilm or online before undertaking your search with LAC’s online tools. Accident records are usually organized chronologically by date, so the date is key for you to start your research with the correct institution.

LAC holds rail accident records for investigations that began in 1990 or earlier, whereas the Transportation Safety Board maintains an online database for investigations from 1991 to the present.

Records at LAC

Railway accident records can be found in various series of the Canadian Transport Commission fonds (RG46) depending on the time period and type of accident.

I suggest relying on the following search strategies and finding aids to begin your research:

Finding Aid # Format Time Period How to Use the Finding Aid
46-21 Archives Search 1838–1987 In the first box, click on the down arrow and select Finding aid number. In the box to the right, type 46-21. In the second row of boxes, the default is Any keyword. Type in accident in the box to its right. Press Enter. In the results list, you can use the right menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.
46-10 Online Finding Aid 46-10 1904–1949, 1964–1972 The finding aid is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by railway company. Each report varies in content, but often references accidents.
46-55 Online Finding Aid 46-55 1900–1992 Accidents at public crossings arranged alphabetically by geographic subdivision
46-58 Online Finding Aid 46-58 1982–1983 Chronological
46-59 Online Finding Aid 46-59 1984 Chronological

There are also additional resources online and onsite at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. You can use Archives Search to do general keyword searches with terms like “rail” AND “accident” (or “derailment” or “collision”) and use the right menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.

If you follow the steps described above and still can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t despair! Reference Services staff are always just a call or click away. You are also welcome to visit in person. No matter how you contact us, we are happy to help researchers with their questions.

Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Images for Clowns now on Flickr

A colour postcard showing a clown at the barber shop getting his hair and beard trimmed by two other clowns.

May you keep up your Heart under all trials this festive Season (MIKAN 4428002)

Whether you love them or hate them, clowns have appeared in various shapes and sizes throughout history and have ties to ancient Greek burlesque, Roman stage shows, and Chinese Imperial Courts. Ever evolving, the clown during the Middle Ages in Europe took on the form of the court jester or fool, amusing patrons and nobles alike, and getting away with impertinence, so long as the master was amused. Adorned with tassels, bells, pointed hats, colourful wardrobe, and wielding a mock sceptre, jesters or fools provided social commentary and comic relief in a court.

The clown eventually returned to the Western stage. In England, France, Italy and Germany clowns provided additional commentary to a performance—standing outside of the main drama, but commenting and provoking the audience. Minor differences in culture were apparent—in England clowns were used as comic foils and relief; in France they were romantic but sad individuals; while in Italy, a clown was a tragic figure with a breaking heart but providing mirth; and finally, in Germany clowns were dressed in bright colours with large footwear and white expressionless faces. Sound familiar?

The resurgence of travelling entertainment shows or circuses during the 18th and 19th centuries saw the venerable clown follow suit providing laughter and diversion between events. As circuses arrived in North America from Europe, the clown was present and quickly took a firm foothold on Canadian society and entertainment. During the early 20th century, many traveling circuses crossed Canada entertaining audiences from small to large cities featuring many performers, acrobats, and animal acts with clowns firmly sandwiched between events delighting crowds with their antics and eliciting laughter.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Block review reaches 25 million pages!

Library and Archives Canada’s Block Review project has just reached another important milestone—25 million pages opened. Since 2010, the project’s goal is to make previously-restricted archival Canadian government records available to the public. The Block Review Team takes a sample from each group of records and assesses the risks involved in sharing them. Since the project started, many Canadian historical records have been opened including those relating to Canada’s 1967 Centennial celebrations, along with early trade and foreign affairs records.

Of particular interest is the recent release of the first group of records from the Department of the Environment dating from 1969 to 1972. These records originate from the department’s Environmental Management Service and the Lands Directorate as well as registry material from the Policy Planning and Research Service. Over 300,000 pages are now open, with a focus on water pollution in the Great Lakes in the late 1960s, solid waste issues confronting municipal governments, and Canada’s relationship with NATO on environmental issues. These records would be of particular interest to researchers studying Canada’s early environmental knowledge and advocacy.

The Exchequer Court of Canada fonds

By Johanne Noël

Exchequer Court of Canada created in 1875

The Exchequer Court and the Supreme Court of Canada were created by the same legislation: the Supreme and Exchequer Courts Act. The Exchequer Court was in existence from 1875 until 1971, the year the Federal Court was created.

Since the Exchequer Court had fewer cases, they were heard by justices of the Supreme Court. These justices travelled across Canada for this purpose on a rotating basis from 1875 to 1887. In 1887, the Exchequer Court became a separate court; its first judge, the Honourable George Wheelock Burbidge, wrote the rules of procedure.

Black-and-white photo of a man with a moustache, wearing a suit and a white shirt.

George Wheelock Burbidge, September 1891. Photo: William James Topley (MIKAN 3213416)

Cases heard before the Exchequer Court

Cases argued before the Exchequer Court included actions brought against the federal government, such as claims arising from accidents involving civilian or military government vehicles. But the government could also initiate lawsuits in the Court, such as expropriations or measures related to intellectual property infringement (patents, industrial drawings and trademarks), as well as disputes between the different levels of government. The Exchequer Court also heard appeals from the admiralty courts and appeals related to maritime law, taxes and citizenship.

Records in the Exchequer Court fonds

The vast majority of records in the Exchequer Court fonds at Library and Archives Canada are files related to cases. Other documents include special work of the Court, correspondence, minutes of hearings, various records and dockets.


The Registrar of the Court kept a large record book, know as the docket record, in which he recorded cases in chronological order. For each case, he entered the number, the names of the plaintiff and the defendant, and the names of their respective solicitors. Throughout the proceedings, he listed the documents filed with the Court, the date they were filed and the cost of registration. A docket record could contain many cases and be up to 10 centimetres thick.

Cover of an album, bound in leather and worn corded velvet, on which is written: “Docket Record. Exchequer Court of Canada. 8435-12544. August 27, 1927–August 5, 1930”.

Cover of a docket record (MIKAN 4628412)

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