How to Search for Enfranchisement Records

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

By Jasmine Charette

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.

In a previous blog post, “Enfranchisement of First Nations Peoples,” I discussed the history and impact of enfranchisement on First Nation communities. This blog post explains how to search for enfranchisement records.

Some parts of your search may require an on-site visit. If you are unable to visit us, you can hire a freelance researcher or request assistance from Reference Services through our Ask Us a Question form. Please note that our research services are limited.

Collections Search

The simplest way to find enfranchisement records is through Collections Search. You can do this if you know the individual’s name at the time, the approximate year of enfranchisement and their band. Sometimes, instead of the band, records will name the agency or district that administered the band at the time.

Screenshot of the Collection Search interface and search results.

Screenshot of a search for enfranchisement records for the Moravian Agency

If you are unsure which agency or district administered the band, you can check these finding aids to identify this information. Sorted by region, the finding aids list agencies, districts and superintendencies, noting which bands were under their administration, the years of responsibility, and allows for tracing administration over time. These guides are available in our Reference Room and are all part of RG10 (Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds).

  • 10-202: British Columbia
  • 10-12: Western Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and Northwest Territories)
  • 10-157: Ontario
  • 10-249: Quebec
  • 10-475: The Maritimes (Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland from 1984)
  • 10-145: Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia had a different system than the rest of Canada)

Here’s how to search for enfranchisement records with the Collections Search database.

  1. Under the “Search the Collection” menu of the LAC website, click Collection Search.
  2. In the search bar, search for “enfranchisement [NAME] [BAND/AGENCY].”
  3. In the drop-down menu, change “All” to “Archives.”
  4. Click the magnifying glass.
  5. Browse the results and select the one for the individual you are searching for.

A complete reference for a record will look something like this:

RG10-B-3, vol. 7222, file number 8015-25, title “Moravian Agency – Enfranchisement – Hill, D.C.”

Please note that the enfranchisement records you identify may be restricted and require an access request under the Access to Information or Privacy acts. For more information on these requests, please consult our site.

Orders-in-Council

A screenshot of the Collection Search database.

A screenshot of a search for the enfranchisement records of James Marsdewan

Another way to search for enfranchisement records is by searching Orders-in-Council (OICs). This is because enfranchisement was confirmed through OICs. While the OICs themselves do not include the main enfranchisement documents, they can provide the following information.

  • Whether or not someone was enfranchised
  • The band they were enfranchised from
  • Their name at enfranchisement
  • Whether or not the enfranchisement was due to marriage

With this information you may find more records in Collection Search.

OICs are indexed by year in our Red Registers, red books in our Reference Room. The registers are split into two parts. The first part lists OICs by number (which are loosely sorted by date), the second part lists keywords to help find specific OICs. Prior to the 1920s, people were mentioned individually in our Red Registers. An external tool can help you find individuals and families in later OICs—the Order In Council Lists website has an index with names of enfranchised people up to 1968.

For specific information on how to search OICs, please consult our previous blog posts “Orders-in-Council: What You Can Access Online” and “How to find Privy Council Orders at Library and Archives Canada.”

If you have any questions, are unable to identify an individual, or need assistance with navigating our holdings, please do not hesitate to contact Reference Services! We are always happy to help.


Jasmine Charette is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Denied Entry

By Forrest Pass

Canadians have a reputation for being quiet and unassuming. As we mark Freedom to Read Week, it is worth noting that even censors have demonstrated these national traits, working quietly in the shadows to determine what Canadians can and cannot read.

Consider how different countries censored D.H. Lawrence’s erotic classic, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the United States, the question of banning this work warranted a congressional debate. In the United Kingdom, the release of an unexpurgated edition provoked a well-publicized obscenity trial.

In Canada, by contrast, the decision to ban Lady Chatterley’s Lover was announced in the back pages of the National Revenue Review, an internal magazine for customs officers:

A newspaper article with the words Prohibition importation in bold

Announcement of the ban on the importation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, National Revenue Review, 3, no. 5 (February 1930), p. 13. (OCLC 42299612)

From Confederation onward, the Minister of National Revenue, who was responsible for customs enforcement, and his staff had virtually absolute power to prohibit the importation of publications that they deemed obscene or seditious. By the 1950s, customs censors had banned well over a thousand titles.

Although authors and publishers sometimes protested, they could not appeal these decisions until 1958. Even then, the importer had to prove that a challenged publication was not obscene or seditious. Only in 2000 did the Supreme Court of Canada rule that it was unconstitutional to consider questionable books and magazines guilty until proven innocent.

Customs censors worked discreetly. For decades, the Department of National Revenue refused to publish a cumulative list of banned publications. However, Library and Archives Canada’s collections preserve evidence of the books and magazines that the department’s censors targeted.

When the minister decided that a publication was obscene or seditious, he issued a brief memorandum instructing customs officers to intercept the book or magazine at ports of entry. Copies of these memoranda survive, pasted into a series of scrapbooks alongside notices of duty exemptions and procedures for staff holidays. Beginning in the 1920s, notices also appeared in the National Revenue Review; the magazine was publicly available, and newspaper editors regularly reprinted these announcements.  

The customs censors’ earliest targets, before the First World War, were mostly American newspapers and magazines. With titles like Chicago Despatch and American House and Home, these publications seemed innocent enough, but one memorandum warned that they might contain advertisements unfit for Canadian eyes.

In the twentieth century, a wide range of books and magazines attracted the customs censors’ attention. Unsurprisingly, sexually suggestive content—mild by today’s standards—was a persistent concern, as were some “true crime” stories, which allegedly glorified gangsterism. The customs censors also banned extreme anti-Catholic propaganda, some of which might qualify as hate literature today. During the 1920s and 1930s, communist and socialist newspapers in foreign languages also appeared regularly in announcements of prohibited publications. 

More surprising is the department’s effort to keep out publications promoting atheism. In 1931, the Toronto Globe praised the exclusion of works by the American freethinker Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. “To let this sort of literature into the country would be to welcome ridicule on religion,” warned the Globe. “If the Department errs, it is in not going far enough with its ban on subversive reading matter.”

A photograph of a typed document with a signature on the bottom right hand corner

A typical memorandum announcing a ban on the importation of certain publications. The Bible Unmasked was an atheist tract. Art Lovers Magazine published suggestive photographs alongside commentary on artistic and cultural subjects. Film Fun featured “pin-up” illustrations. (RG16-A-3, Volume number: 888)

Canadian customs censors seldom targeted well-known literary works. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a rare exception; so was James Joyce’s Ulysses, banned in 1923. Such decisions were the most likely to provoke criticism. Some magazines and newspapers, including Maclean’s and the Ottawa Citizen, occasionally criticized the customs censors. So, too, did Quill & Quire, the magazine of the Canadian publishing trade.

A typed document with the a signature at the bottom

Memorandum announcing the banning of Two Worlds Monthly in 1926. The New York City literary magazine serialized Ulysses by James Joyce, which Canada’s customs censors had already banned. (RG16-A-3, Volume number: 888)

Canadian publishers knew, however, that there were ways to evade censorship. Customs censors could prohibit only the importation of publications, not the production and distribution of those publications in Canada. Seizure records hint at publishers’ efforts to use this loophole. In 1932, customs officers seized two copies of A Jew in Love, a racy novel by Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht that the department had banned some months earlier. The importer, Toronto publishers G.J. Macleod and Company, specialized in reprinting foreign titles and may have planned a legal Canadian edition of Hecht’s novel. To ban a book produced in Canada, the aspiring censor had to convince a judge that the work was criminally obscene or seditious—a high standard that only the most offensive publications met.

A ledger with columns and blue ink writing.

Record of the seizure of “2 books, – ‘A Jew in Love,’ – prohibited importation” imported by G.J. McLeod and Company, and of the Department of National Revenue’s decision concerning them: “That the books be and remain forfeited and be destroyed.” (RG16-A-3, Volume number: 864)

The standard for banning imported publications was much lower, and customs censors almost never gave justifications for their decisions. Canadian censors’ objections to Lady Chatterley’s Lover probably echoed those of their British and American counterparts. The title of Frederic Arnold Kummer’s Gentlemen in Hades: The Story of a Damned Debutante hints at grounds for its 1932 exclusion from Canada; libraries in Canada and elsewhere preserve several copies of this all-but-forgotten flapper fantasy. But no library in the world holds Krums of Komford (banned in 1895) or American Beauties magazine (banned in 1926).

We can only guess at the reasons for banning these lost works because the customs censors did not keep their reading copies. In 1938, the department’s chief censor, J. Sydney Roe, revealed to the Ottawa Citizen that, twice a year, he and a departmental messenger took a wheelbarrow-load of illicit publications to the basement of his office building and threw them in the coal furnace.

Private and without ceremony, these were very Canadian book burnings.

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

The extraordinary life of John Freemont Smith—a Black History Month Co-Lab challenge

By Caitlin Webster

Please note that some of the terms used and documents displayed in this article may contain language that is outdated, insensitive or offensive.

The late 19th century saw thousands of people flock to British Columbia, but few were as remarkable as John Freemont Smith. With an enthusiasm for his new home and a determination to succeed, he flourished as a businessperson, a municipal and federal official, and a civic volunteer. His accomplishments were all the more outstanding given that he was a Black man in a white settler community. He endured racism throughout his life while also earning respect and admiration from his contemporaries. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds many records relating to Smith’s work as the Indian Agent for the Kamloops Agency from 1912 to 1923, and a selection of these documents has been prepared as a Co-Lab challenge.

Head-and-shoulders portrait of John Freemont Smith.

John Freemont Smith, ca. 1870s. Credit: Kamloops Museum and Archives KMA 6163

John Freemont (also spelled Fremont) Smith was born in Saint Croix on October 16, 1850, a few years after slavery was abolished in the Danish West Indies. He received his education and training as a shoemaker in Copenhagen and Liverpool before travelling through Europe and South America. He arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1872, set up a shoemaking business, and in 1877, he married Mary Anastasia Miller.

Black-and-white studio family portrait, showing Mary Smith and John Freemont Smith seated, and five of their children standing around them.

John Freemont Smith and family, including wife Mary and children Agnes, Louise, Mary, Leo and Amy, ca. 1907–1910. Credit: Kamloops Museum and Archives KMA 10008

After brief stays in New Westminster and Kamloops, the family settled in the Louis Creek area in 1886. There Smith set up a store, prospected for minerals and dabbled in freelance journalism. He also served as Louis Creek’s first postmaster, a position he held until 1898.

That year, a fire destroyed the Smith home in Louis Creek, and the family relocated to Kamloops.

Colour-coded map of a portion of the city of Kamloops, showing streets and building locations.

Fire insurance plan of Kamloops, British Columbia, May 1914 (e010688881-v8)

Smith continued to thrive in Kamloops, serving as alderman from 1902 to 1907, and as city assessor in 1908. He was also active in the community in other ways, helping to organize groups such as the local Agricultural Association, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Conservative Association, and the Kamloops Board of Trade, where he served as secretary for several years. In 1911, Smith constructed the Freemont Block building on Victoria Street in Kamloops, which still stands today.

Black-and-white photograph of seven men in suits posing on a wooden sidewalk in front of a building entrance. Bystanders, including two men in suits and two unidentified young girls in white dresses and hats, appear in the background.

Kamloops City Council of 1905: Alderman J.F. Smith, Alderman D.C. McLaren, Alderman R.M. MacKay, Mayor C.S. Stevens, Alderman J.M. Harper, Alderman J. Milton and Alderman A.E. McLean; in background: J.H. Clements and William Charles; taken at the corner of Victoria Street and 3rd Avenue. Credit: Kamloops Museum and Archives KMA 2858

In 1912, at the age of 62, Smith was appointed Indian Agent for Kamloops, a position he held for over a decade. Smith took this role at a challenging time. His predecessor was generally considered ineffective and absent, and the interests of the local First Nation, the Secwepemc, suffered even further as a result. In addition, the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs for the Province of British Columbia was established in 1912. Commonly known as the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission, it had a significant impact on First Nations land bases by adding to, reducing or eliminating reserves throughout the province. Some of Smith’s earliest tasks as Agent were to travel throughout the sprawling agency to collect data for the commission, and then to advocate for the Secwepemc against attempts to cut off the most valuable portions of their reserve lands.

Map showing reserves in the Nicola and Kamloops agencies, with colour coding indicating existing reserves, new reserves and land cut off from reserves.

Kamloops Agency, 1916 (e010772172)

In addition, Smith’s situation was complicated. As a Black settler in a predominantly white society, he experienced racism from many in his community. Yet his task as Agent was to carry out the Canadian government’s policy of assimilation for Indigenous peoples. As shown by the 1910 general instructions given to new Agents in British Columbia, the goal was to steer the Secwepemc toward farming and ranching rather than their traditional ways of living, implement a Western system of separate land plots for each family instead of collective land, and encourage an ideal of individual independence over values of mutual aid.

One page of a typewritten letter, with some handwritten annotations.

Page six of a “copy of general instructions to newly appointed Indian Agents in British Columbia,” 1910 (e007817641)

Given Smith’s status and work, it is likely he was not naïve about the nature of these policies, as implementing them would be a requirement of any Agent. This resulted in a complex situation: a racialized individual imposing assimilation policies on another racialized community, on behalf of a colonial governance system. It is evident throughout Smith’s time as an Agent, however, that he approached the work with intelligent pragmatism, an outstanding work ethic and a spirit of advocacy for the Secwepemc.

The vast size of the Kamloops Agency and a constant lack of funds were two overarching challenges of Smith’s tenure as Agent. Additionally, the difficulties of encroaching settlement and its resulting strain on reserve land and irrigation were issues that plagued Smith throughout the 11 years that he held the position. From Smith’s earliest Royal Commission testimony to his reports that were logged a decade later, LAC’s holdings show the frustrating dilemma he faced. His task was to implement a policy to encourage farming and ranching, but there were few financial resources to help move this goal forward. Meanwhile farmers, ranchers and corporations from the settler community diverted water sources, trespassed on Secwepemc territory and lobbied for the removal of desirable lands from reserves.

An example of this pressure was the continual vigilance and advocacy required to protect and retain Kamloops Reserve No. 1, which was situated directly across the Thompson River from the city of Kamloops. Prominent individuals in the city lobbied for the removal of the Secwepemc from the reserve as well as the subsequent sale of the land. Attempts during Smith’s tenure as Agent included a submission by the Kamloops Board of Trade to the Royal Commission in 1913 arguing that the Secwepemc would be better off if they sold the land and moved away from Kamloops, and that the city could more readily expand with the removal of the reserve.

Handwritten letter on Kamloops Board of Trade letterhead, affixed to a Royal Commission form with an exhibit number.

Application to the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs for British Columbia by the Kamloops Board of Trade, to sell all or most of Kamloops Reserve No. 1 (RG10 volume 11021 file 538C from Canadiana Héritage)

An additional attempt took place in 1919 when Henry Denison, secretary of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund, put forward a proposal to use the land as a settlement colony for soldiers returning from the First World War. Unsurprisingly, Smith opposed the renewed bid to obtain the reserve land. This elicited a racist response from Denison in a letter to Member of Parliament H.H. Stevens claiming, without evidence, that the Secwepemc resented having a Black man serve as Agent.

One page of a typewritten letter, with some handwritten annotations.

Page two of a letter from Henry Denison to H.H. Stevens, expressing racist and anti-Catholic views (RG10 Volume 7538 File 26 154-1 from Canadiana Héritage)

These experiences, as well as his wealth of knowledge of local politics and officials, made Smith well placed to identify unfair tactics used against the Secwepemc. Acquainted with the cronyism operating in many small towns, Smith could spot the discriminatory practices of some local governments. For example, while attempting to have a peddler’s fee refunded to Chief Titlanetza of the Cook’s Ferry Band, Smith explained the approach of one municipal government: “It is common property that the overhead maintenance charges of the City of Merritt are considerably maintained from money extorted from Indians in fines and other methods.”

Smith continued as Agent until 1923, and he remained in Kamloops for the rest of his life. He continued to write for the local newspaper and carried on with his volunteer duties in civic organizations such as the local Rotary Club. Smith died at his office in the Freemont Block on October 5, 1934.

Co-Lab is LAC’s online tool to tag, transcribe, translate and describe digitized holdings on our website. To commemorate Black History Month, LAC has created a Co-Lab challenge to transcribe records relating to John Freemont Smith’s work as the Kamloops Agent. Please note that some of the documents in this challenge may contain language that is outdated, insensitive or offensive.

To learn more about John Freemont Smith and the lives of the Secwepemc at the time, 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.

Kirkina Mucko at a wedding in Rigolet, Labrador

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

By Heather Campbell

Content warning: This blog contains graphic content (death/medical/amputation) that may be offensive or triggering to some readers.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men, women and children standing or sitting side by side in a field with flowers. There is water and land behind them, and a dog in the left foreground.

Wedding of Wilfred and Beatrice Shiwak; original title: A wedding party, at Rigolet. Wilfred and Beatrice stand in the centre, while Kirkina Mucko kneels between Wilfred’s mother and Wilfred (e011439717)

When I first began working at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in 2018, I naturally did a quick search to see what we had from my hometown in Labrador in the collection. I simply typed “Rigolet” and got a few hits, including one record that had yet to be digitized: “A wedding in Rigolet, 1923.” Because it was not digitized, I put it on the back burner and forgot about it until last summer, when I was searching through the International Grenfell Association (IGA) collection from the same time period. I thought I would give it a shot and ordered the box to take a look. When the photos came, I flipped through quickly, looking for that photo; I just had a hunch it was going to be something interesting. After all, the population of my community is only 320, so I was bound to know the family and their relatives.

I finally found it at the back of the batch.

They looked familiar.

Wait, I know that face.

Once, many years ago, I drew a portrait of him for my grandmother’s Christmas present, so I knew that face well. It was indeed him, my great-grandfather “Papa Wilfred,” and standing to his left was my grandmother’s mother, Beatrice! For all those years, the photo was tucked away in the archives, and I could finally show it to my family members back home!

I posted the image to Facebook, tagging Project Naming in the hope that we might be able to identify more people in the photo. Within minutes, we were in luck. The woman standing to his right is his mother, Sarah Susanna, and kneeling between them is well-known Inuk nurse Kirkina Mucko (born Elizabeth Jeffries). Reports vary, but local lore says that Elizabeth’s mother was in labour and her father went to find a midwife. When he got back to their home, his wife and their newborn baby had died, and little Elizabeth, age two, had severe frostbite on her legs and gangrene had set in. There were no doctors in the vicinity. He made the difficult decision to amputate Elizabeth’s legs himself using an axe. To stop the bleeding, he put her legs in a flour barrel! An article from years later states that when the local doctor Wilfred Grenfell (who later became Sir Wilfred Grenfell) learned of her story, he wept. Consequently, Grenfell took Elizabeth to the orphanage in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, and was able to raise money to provide her with artificial limbs. She travelled with him to the United States and Mexico to help raise funds for the IGA. The IGA provided health care to everyone in Labrador at that time, as well as conducting other charitable endeavours.

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of men, women and children standing on a pier with water behind them and a boat and land in the distance.

People from 20 miles around gathered for the annual service of the Anglican clergyman Parson Gordon, who is wearing his robes and standing toward the right of the group (e011439717)

Later, a doctor in Boston, for reasons unknown, changed her name to Kirkina. As stated by other Inuit regarding this era, Inuit children in southern hospitals were sometimes treated like pets. As such, they were taken home and raised by hospital staff, never to be heard from again by their families in the Arctic. I presume that this attitude is what led the doctor to change Elizabeth’s name. Her name changed once more when she was married and became Kirkina Mucko.

During the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, Kirkina lost her husband and between three and six of her children (some accounts may have included her stepchildren, which would explain the discrepancy). Spurred by this immense loss, Kirkina decided to become a nurse. She received her training and went on to specialize in midwifery. Her career spanned 36 years! Many mentions of Kirkina Mucko and her amazing story can be found in newspaper articles as well as in writings from the IGA, many of which are in the holdings at LAC. In 2008, the local women’s shelter in Rigolet was named Kirkina House as a tribute to her strength and perseverance.

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


Heather Campbell is an Inuk artist originally from Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador. She was a researcher on the We Are Here: Sharing Stories team at Library and Archives Canada.

Don’t fear virtual conferences!

By Sarah Potts

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) staff, like many Canadians, have been working full time from home for almost a year. I also thought about how my work has changed during the pandemic. The reality is, my work as an acquisitions librarian never stopped, but my usual way of working and interacting with my field did. So when I had the opportunity to attend a virtual professional event, I jumped at it.

A colour photograph of a laptop on a wooden table, with a lamp and pens in the background.
Welcome to my office (it’s really just my dining room table)

Virtually engaged

I attended the Library Journal (LJ) Day of Dialog, an event that was launched over 20 years ago. Traditionally, it’s a one-day in-person event with multiple iterations throughout the year. The LJ Day of Dialog allows librarians and publishers to connect, talk and highlight the latest trends in books.

Because of COVID-19, the event became free and went online. Most of the sessions were pre-recorded. What had originally sold me on attending the conference was having live sessions, because it would remind me of what it was like to participate in a discussion in person.

The conference did have elements of an in-person event, though. There were opportunities to interact with fellow attendees, but through a chat function. We were able to exchange ideas, and sometimes to have a group discussion with authors. This situation was challenging, since both my mental tabs and my Internet tabs were at their maximum. I spent so much time looking up concepts that I forgot to engage with the very conversation I was a part of and to pay attention to the event! There was so much I could do that I worried I wasn’t doing enough on the day of the conference.

Despite knowing that I could access the sessions afterward, I still worried that if I didn’t attend the event as it happened, I would miss something important at the moment. I found it hard to step away from my computer and take a break. I even found myself checking social media “just in case” I missed something. I knew then that I was experiencing FOMO, the “fear of missing out.”

Too much to attend, too little “time”

The term FOMO was popularized in the early 2000s by American author and researcher Patrick McGinnis. Essentially, it means that when you step away from an event or discussion, you worry that you’ll miss something important or exciting. In my case, I thought of never-ending what-ifs and questions. I asked things like, “If I step away from the event, will I miss making a connection with someone?,” “Could stepping away mean that I’m not fully engaged?,” “What if I don’t ask a question during the session? Will my colleagues think less of me?” I spent more time worrying about what could happen than enjoying what was actually happening.

My FOMO extended beyond the conference sessions. I had trouble disconnecting from my other work, too. When attending an in-person conference, I often don’t check my work emails, instant messages or phone. But while attending the LJ Day of Dialog, I couldn’t help myself. If a client emailed me, I would email back immediately; if one of my colleagues sent me an instant message, I felt compelled to respond right away. I felt that if I left my work for a while, I was doing something wrong. It’s an unsettling feeling, and it’s heightened when I work from home. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I couldn’t disconnect.

Ottawa, we have a problem

It took someone else, in this case my mom, twisting my arm to get me out of that state of mind. She reminded me that it’s healthy to step away and reconnect with myself. Stepping away allowed me to refresh and engage in a more meaningful dialogue with publishers.

A colour photograph of a park with trees.
I became so obsessed with staying connected that I didn’t disconnect and ended up using my “break” when I went for a walk at a local park to continue listening to the conference (location: Queenston Heights National Historic Site, Niagara, Ontario)

I’m not saying that attending a virtual conference is terrible, but it presents challenges that I had never encountered before. I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with librarians worldwide; I connected with international authors and their publishers. Looking back, I now see the benefit of going and viewing the pre-recorded sessions once more. I can learn at my leisure, and catch concepts I missed the first time when I was caught up “in the moment.” I was able to grow and learn more about my work style.

Many Canadians have published online articles (in French) (isn’t it ironic?) and shared ideas (in French) about overcoming FOMO (in French). Most shared the same solution: step away and embrace the joy that comes with living in the moment. It may be hard at first—I can attest to this!—but it makes the event more enjoyable and, in my case, more comfortable to focus on.

At LAC, we’re lucky to hold a few books by Canadian authors and publishers on this topic. These are some fantastic options!

  • The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World by Christina Crook, New Society Publishers (2015). OCLC 897352546
  • Taking a Break from Saving the World: A Conservation Activist’s Journey from Burnout to Balance by Stephen Legault, Rocky Mountain Books (2020). OCLC 1201519705
  • It’s My Tree (translation of C’est mon arbre) by Olivier Tallec, Kids Can Press (2020). OCLC 1135581755

Sarah Potts is an acquisitions librarian in the Legal Deposit section of the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Pushing Back: The Ongoing History of Black Activism in Canada

By Amina Musa and Krista Cooke

Black and white photograph showing three young people seated at a meeting room table, holding what appear to be speaking notes or meeting agendas. On the left is a white woman with short cropped hair and a suede jacket. In the centre, a Black woman wearing sunglasses and wide headband. To the right, a Black man wearing a patterned shirt and plain coloured jacket. Behind them, on the wall above their heads, is a large formal photographic portrait of an older white man in a jacket and tie.

Speakers at a Greater Windsor Foundation meeting, 1963 (MG28-I119)

Fighting for respect and legal equality has been a centuries-old battle for Black Canadians. These young people, photographed in 1963 by Irv King at the height of the American civil rights movement, were working with the Greater Windsor Foundation in Ontario to make positive changes in their community. From individual moments of courage to collective actions like this one, improving the lives of a racially marginalized people has been an ongoing fight.

In 1628, a six-year-old boy taken by slave traders in Madagascar became New France’s first documented slave. The fight against slavery and its long lasting legacy of racism continues today. The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection includes works of art, photographs, documents, maps and audiovisual materials that capture the changes and continuities of Black Canadian lives. While many gaps remain, the Black history collection has some notable strengths, including resources related to the United Empire Loyalists, the Elgin Settlement, railway porters, and late 20th century authors, politicians and civil rights activists, like the ones featured here.

For hundreds of years, many individuals have pushed back against systemic racism in Canada. Some concentrated their efforts on celebrating, documenting and preserving their community’s rich and diverse cultures. Some have fought the status quo through legal challenges and policy changes. Some have worked to build networks of support to help others thrive financially and emotionally. Many have done all three, building better futures for coming generations of Black Canadians.

A crowd of people walk down the centre of the road in a small town parade. On either side, wooden storefronts line the street. The crowd, led by a distinguished mustached Black man wearing a top hat and tails and riding a horse, consists of a marching band, groups of small boys, and a handful of adults. Most of the people whose faces are visible in the crowd appear to be Black. In the background, a second horse pulls a parade float with women in white dresses and large hats.

Emancipation Day parade in Amherstburg, Ontario, 1894 (a163923)

Celebrating Black culture in Canada today takes many forms. Rich literary, musical and artistic scenes; a number of cultural centres, museums and historic sites; Black History Month; Black Studies university programs; and several festivals mark the importance of the Black community to Canadian culture. Emancipation Day—pictured above in Amherstburg, Ontario, in 1894—is one such annual event. It has been celebrating the Abolition of Slavery Act since 1834! All of these festivals, books and museums have one thing in common: determined people who believed in the importance of celebrating Black culture and history. LAC holds collections related to many of these individuals and organizations, including authors like Dionne Brand; the historically-minded Daniel G. Hill, one of the co-founders of the Ontario Black History Society; journalist Mary Ann Shadd Cary; advocacy groups including the Jamaican Canadian Association and Black Artists in Action; scholar Clarence Bayne, co-founder of the Black Theatre Workshop; and many others. Their activism, along with that of so many others, has shaped how Canadians of all backgrounds have understood the Black experience.

A painted head and shoulders portrait showing an older Black man dressed in judge’s robes and a crisp white shirt. His black robes are embellished with a burgundy sash. The man, who looks directly at the viewer, has short grey hair and a white moustache.

Portrait of Citizenship Judge Stanley Grizzle by William Stapleton (c151473k)

The fight against anti-Black discrimination involved many legal hurdles. During the early 20th century, many Black people were not given access to resources or allowed the same opportunities as others. Struggling for equality often meant challenging these restrictions in court. Stanley Grizzle began fighting for equality in the 1930s as a founding member of the Railway Porter’s Trade Union Council in Toronto. Grizzle worked to document other community activists and left an extensive collection of research files at LAC.

One of the people Grizzle documented was Charles Roach, a human rights lawyer and activist. Roach used his legal expertise to represent many people who were dealing with oppression and hardships, including refugees immigrating to Canada. Roach was one of the co-founders of the Black Action Defence Committee, a Toronto-based organization created in the 1970s in response to the deaths of several Black men at the hands of police. This Committee was instrumental in the formation of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Pearleen Oliver, recently the subject of a new biography, led a successful 1940s campaign that overturned the exclusion of Black women from nursing schools. She and her husband, Dr. William Pearly Oliver, founded the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People to fight against discrimination related to employment, education and housing. Roach, Grizzle and the Olivers were just a few change makers in a community of activists, many of whom have left important marks on Canadian society.

A sketched portrait of a seated woman. The artist has used the barest of lines at the base of the portrait to depict the woman’s skirt, but has completed the watercolour portrait of the woman’s face, with detail increasing toward the top of the page. The woman, who is Black, is wearing a black-and-white patterned headscarf, a shawl, a wide-sleeved blouse gathered at the wrists, gloves, and a skirt. She is seated with her hands folded in her lap and appears to be looking off into the distance, over the viewer’s left shoulder.

The “Good Woman of Colour” by artist Lady Caroline B. Estcourt (c093963k)

Racial prejudice in Canada has taken many forms. From outright slavery, through legally sanctioned inequality that left many Black Canadians unable to choose where to work, live, worship or study, to the grinding reality of systemic racism, generations of Black Canadians have suffered marginalization. As a result, it has been especially important for community members to support each other. This unnamed Niagara region woman impressed the artist who sketched her portrait by taking in an impoverished Black man who had taken ill and fallen behind on rent. The Black Swan (Elizabeth Greenfield), an American concert singer and former slave, donated the benefits of an 1855 concert to help fund the movement of runaway slaves to Canada. More recently, organizations like the Home Service Association in Toronto and the Negro Community Centre in Montréal have provided aid to those who needed it, promoted Black cultural events, and hosted speakers on important topics such as apartheid and the civil rights movement.

A black-and-white photograph of three little girls holding toys. The two girls on the left are holding porcelain dolls and the girl on the right is holding a large stuffed teddy bear. All three of the children, who are Black, are smiling shyly at the photographer and onlookers. They are dressed up, with their hair in braids and ribbons, and are standing in front of a poster-covered wall.

Three young girls celebrate Brotherhood Week at the Negro Community Centre in Montréal—(left to right) Eleitha Haynes, Elizabeth Phillips and Camille Haynes, 1959. Photo Credit: Dave Legget (e011051725)

From individual acts of courage and support, to community organization and formal legal challenges, the Black community in Canada has worked for centuries to overcome racism. The Black Lives Matter movement, which in 2020 brought anti-racist activism into the media spotlight, has built upon the bravery and outspokenness of previous generations of Black Canadians, drawing attention once again to the realities of racism in Canada.


Krista Cooke is a curator with the Public Services Branch and Amina Musa is an Archival Assistant with the Archives Branch.

 

A day in the life of a reference librarian

By Kristen Frame

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a vast collection of published material that includes fiction and non-fiction, newspapers, government reports, Parliamentary debates, maps and atlases, music scores and recordings, and films. This blog article will give you an idea of how this vast collection helps reference librarians to answer research questions.

As a reference librarian, I receive questions on a wide variety of topics, which require different types of published material to answer. I recently received a request to find a copy of a Militia General Order from the First World War. This specific General Order from August 1915 cancelled a regulation that required married men to have consent from their wives in order to enlist. To answer this particular question, I had to make use of multiple sources of published material from our collection.

General Orders

A photograph of the title page of a book.
Department of National Defence, General Orders, 1915

I began my search with LAC’s bound copies of published General Orders from 1897 to 1945. These can be requested using our online catalogue, Aurora.

I consulted the volume from 1915, but the General Order that cancelled the requirement to have consent from wives to enlist was not in this volume.

Canada Gazette

A typed page with two columns from the Canada Gazette.
Page from Canada Gazette, August 21, 1915, that includes General Orders; image from A Nation’s Chronicle: The Canada Gazette

Next, I decided to check to see if the Canada Gazette published this General Order, as it regularly published General Orders during wartime. Issues of the Canada Gazette from 1941 to 1997 are available online in our A Nation’s Chronicle: The Canada Gazette database. Again, my search came up empty, as there was no mention of the order in the 1915 Canada Gazette.

Secondary sources

My next step was to consult secondary sources (books and articles) to see if any research had already been done on this General Order. I did find references to the General Order in the following publications:

However, these references did not include any information about where—or whether—this General Order was published. This General Order was becoming a real mystery!

Newspapers

Two newspaper articles side by side.
The Toronto Daily Star, August 20, 1915, page 7; The Globe, August 21, 1915, page 6

At this point in my research, I decided to search newspapers to confirm that this order was passed in August 1915. I searched the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail from August 1915 and found articles from both newspapers reporting that the regulations for enlistment had changed, and men were now free to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force without the consent of their wives (if married) or parents (if under 17).

Orders in Council

A typed page with General Orders 1915 at the top.
P.C. 1915–1948, Overseas Expeditionary Forces, Regulations Enlistment 1915/08/19, Actg M. M. and D. [Acting Minister of Militia and Defence], 1915/08/14 (e010920460)

Now that I had confirmation that the General Order was passed in August 1915, I felt it was likely that the government did not publish this General Order. But as a last resort, I searched our Orders-in-Council database using Collection Search. At that time, some General Orders were approved by Orders-in-Council. And there it was! At long last, I had found the General Order that cancelled the regulation requiring married men to have consent from their wives to enlist.

As you can see, the General Order was not easy to find. This particular search illustrates how many different kinds of published material can be used to answer a research question.

Do you have a question that could use the assistance of a librarian or archivist? Submit your question in writing to us today .


Kristen Frame is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Métis Nation river lot plans

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

By William Benoit

An oil painting depicting a person on a Red River cart being pulled by an ox on a dirt road. In the background, there is a small white house and two other small buildings.
“Manitobah” settler’s house and Red River cart (c013965k)

Library and Archives Canada holds plans of Métis river lots that the Canadian government produced, as required by the Manitoba Act and the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory. These river lot plans are important pieces in understanding the Métis Nation. The plans are invaluable to the entire Métis Nation because they show where Métis ancestors lived before Canada’s acquisition of the region. While these river lot plans do not include any Michif, they clearly show where this language originated in Red River, and they also delineate the families that spoke this unique Métis heritage language.

A large map showing narrow rectangle river lots and the names of the owners of the lots, written in red ink. At the top of the map is a compass, indicating north.
Plan of river lots in the Parish of Lorette, Province of Manitoba; surveyed by (signed) G. McPhillips, Deputy Surveyor; examined and certified by (signed) A.H. Whitcher, Inspector of Surveys; Dominion Lands Survey Office, Winnipeg, February 16, 1878 (e011213852)

The Métis created settlements across the Métis Nation Homeland. The cradle of this homeland was the Red River Settlement. By 1869, there were 12,000 inhabitants there, of which 10,000 were Métis, and 7,000 of those Métis were children.

King Charles II granted the territory known as Rupert’s Land to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670. This territory comprised all of the land watered by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. These areas included what is now the whole of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, and northern parts of Ontario and Quebec. In the United States, Rupert’s Land included parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

On November 19, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory under its letters patent to the British Crown. By Order-in-Council dated June 23, 1870, the British government admitted the territory to Canada, under section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now the Constitution Act, 1867), effective July 15, 1870. This was subject to the making of treaties with the sovereign Indigenous nations. They had to provide their consent to the Imperial Crown’s exercising its sovereignty in accordance with the limitations and conditions of the Rupert’s Land documents and the treaties.

The Métis in Red River did not agree with the transfer and were concerned that it would threaten their way of life. They were uneasy about their land rights and their democratic rights under the proposed new regime. The federal government sent out survey parties prior to the transfer of Rupert’s Land. Their surveys were to be carried out in accordance with the Ontario style of survey, in squares, instead of the system of long, narrow lots with river frontage used by the Métis. The new system cut across properties already in existence. On October 11, 1869, proclaiming that the federal government had no right to act without permission, 16 Métis stopped a crew of surveyors on a Métis river lot. This challenge to the way that the Government of Canada conducted these activities served notice that the residents would need to be consulted and have their rights guaranteed.

In November 1869, the Métis seized Upper Fort Garry and established a provisional government. The Métis government drafted a list of demands that Canada had to satisfy before they would accept incorporation into Canada. The result was the Manitoba Act. The Manitoba Act “arrangement” is one of the foundational deals (or compacts) that led to Canada’s expansion westward.

Under the Manitoba Act, the intention was to respect the concern of the Métis for their traditional lands. This took two forms: a provision to protect the existing land holdings of the 3,000 Métis adult landholders (section 32), and a provision to give 7,000 Métis children a “head start” in the province with a land grant of 1.4 million acres (section 31).

In post Confederation Manitoba, the position of the Métis deteriorated. New settlers from Ontario were hostile. Métis elders, over generations, described that period as a “Reign of Terror” against the Métis people. The processing of land under sections 31 and 32 was slow and fraught with corruption. As a result, many Métis sold their promised interests in the land and moved outside of the province that they had helped to create. The 1874 plan of river lots in the parishes of St. Norbert and St. Vital is included below as an example that depicts the early stages of the Métis diaspora. It also documents land speculation by individuals such as Donald Smith of national railway fame, and the Roman Catholic clergy’s attempt to create and maintain a French-speaking enclave in advance of the oncoming wave of immigration.

The Métis river lot maps are very important documents today because they are used to identify and register citizens of the Métis Nation.

A large map showing narrow rectangle river lots and the names of the owners of the lots, written in red ink. A railroad and a river are shown on the map.
Plan of river lots in the parishes of St. Norbert and St. Vital, Province of Manitoba (e011205909)

Visit the Flickr album for images of Métis Nation river lot plans.


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

The postage stamp designs of Helen Roberta Fitzgerald

By James Bone

Helen Roberta Fitzgerald (Helen Bacon, in some documents) was the first woman to design postage stamps for Canada. Her earliest work was the Associated Country Women of the World stamp (1959). She would complete six further designs that were accepted by the Post Office Department. Including a Christmas design that was used for two different stamps, her work appeared on a total of eight Canadian postage stamp issues.

Born in 1919 in Edmonton, Alberta, Fitzgerald was raised in Toronto and lived most of her life in Ontario. She began studying art and design at a young age and eventually completed her studies at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), where she later taught. In addition to teaching, she worked on commercial art for the Eaton’s catalogue, freelanced as a graphic designer and layout artist, was heavily involved in textile, mosaic and embroidery arts, and worked on commissioned ecclesiastical art for churches across Ontario.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling woman.

Helen Roberta Fitzgerald in 1978, provided by Fitzgerald for the Canadian Postal Archives database project

Later Canadian stamp issues designed by Fitzgerald include Girl Guides Association (1960), Strength Through Education (1962), Victoria, 1862–1962 (1962), Christmas: Gifts from the wise men (1965) and Highway Safety (1966). Unlike other stamp designers, Fitzgerald frequently designed at the same size and scale as the intended finished postage stamp, rather than make a larger design that would then be scaled-down. The Strength Through Education stamp shows the effect of this method, with the elements of the design making careful and full use of the available space.

A two-tone stamp design showing a boy and a girl with diplomas in their hands looking off into the distance, with symbols representing aspects of knowledge in orange: classical building, crown, gavel, gears, typewriter, scientific equation, violin, globe, book, microscope, etc.

Strength Through Education (e001218439), copyright Canada Post Corporation; note that the issued stamp has a different title in French (L’instruction fait la force)

Fitzgerald’s work on postage stamp design occupied only a brief period in her life, from 1959 to 1967. The design for her final Canadian stamp issue, Votes for Women (1967), was poorly received, and this might have brought about an end to Fitzgerald’s work with the Post Office Department.

In addition to postage stamp design for Canada, Fitzgerald submitted designs for the 1967 Canadian centennial emblem, and she painted fish designs that were used, in part, for a 1963 series of Maldives postage stamps.

A colour design showing a brightly coloured fish with yellow, blue and black stripes on a blue background.

Pygoplites diacanthus (Angelfish), design painted for a Maldives postage stamp (e011202373)

Fitzgerald eventually retired to King City, Ontario, continuing her practice of the arts, where she lived with her husband Wilfred Bacon until she passed away in 2009.

Library and Archives Canada received a small donation of archival material related to Fitzgerald, which includes paintings from the Maldives series, slides showing a mosaic of the Associated Country Women of the World design, Canadian centennial emblem designs, design essays for the Highway Safety postage stamp issue, correspondence, postal covers, and newspaper clippings related to her work. All of the material in the Helen Roberta Fitzgerald fonds is open for consultation.


James Bone is a Philatelic and Art Archivist within Private Specialized Media at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Tunniit/Tattoos: The Complicated History of Photographing Inuit Tattoos

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

By Heather Campbell

Last year my colleague Beth Greenhorn and I were chatting about a photograph she had come across of two Inuit women and a child. They were wearing elaborate atigii (inner parkas) with a cloth background behind them. One of the women was wearing odd mittens—one black and one with a distinctive knitted diamond pattern. I was sure I had seen this woman before. I have been researching Inuit tattoos for over ten years, as part of my own art practice. At first, I just collected images and did not take note of the source of the material, something I have been kicking myself for ever since! A few years ago, I started creating a more detailed collection, saving the original image identification numbers. When I began working at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in 2018, I started searching through our collection for more images and created a list for future reference. In that list, I found “Hattie.”

Black-and-white photograph of two women and a child wearing parkas, sitting in front of a fabric background.
[Two Inuuk women and a child]. The woman on the left is Ooktook (Niviaqsarjuk, also called Uuttuq), who is Qairnirmiut. Her name means “lying on the ice.” She was called “Hattie” by photographers Geraldine and Douglas Moodie. The boy is Harry Unainuk Gibbons. The woman on the right is Taptaqut, Harry’s mom. Photo credit: George Comer, 1905. (e011310102) These names were provided by Hassan Bosta via Project Naming on Facebook.

At least four different people have photographed “Hattie”: George Comer, Geraldine Moodie, Albert Peter Low, and J.E. Bernier. In some photos, I think she has been misidentified. In others, a different woman is also called “Hattie,” “Ooktook,” and “Niviaqsarjuk.” This is perhaps because the women had similar-sounding names, or they were thought to look alike, or the photographer simply got confused after returning to the south and having the photographs processed.

Another institution instrumental to my work that informed my findings is the Glenbow Museum. This museum houses the Geraldine Moodie collection, which also includes photographs of women from the same region and time period. In the Glenbow descriptions, and in a comment on our Project Naming Facebook page, this woman was identified as Ooktook. Through Project Naming, people are identified by community members. For this reason, I consider it to be the most reliable source.

A black-and-white photograph of six women with facial tattoos wearing parkas, before a cloth backdrop.
[Photograph of six women with facial tattoos wearing parkas, before a cloth backdrop. Niviaqsarjuk is seated in the centre in the first row] [Left to right—back row: [unknown], Atunuck, Uckonuck; front row: Aka “Pikey” Niviaqsajuk/Shoofly?, Taptaqut], March 8, 1905. Credit: J.E. Bernier         (C-001499)

In the image above, one can see the woman seated at front and centre is the same person Ooktook/Niviaqsarjuk/Hattie. She is wearing the exact same outfit as in the photo by Comer right down to the patterned mitten on her left hand, except that, in this photo, she has facial tattoos. In the original photo Beth shared with me, her face is bare! What does this mean? Is it the same woman? Are the tattoos draw on? Were they tracing pre-existing tattoos, or were they completely fabricating these designs?

Recently, I came across an interesting article about the photographic work of Michael Bradley and his project Puaki, which featured photographs of Maori people of New Zealand, well-known for their facial tattoos called Tā moko. The process Bradley uses is wet plate collodion, popular in the 1800s. When Maori people with tattoos were photographed by means of this process, their Tā moko disappeared! The collodion process could not properly capture colours in the blue/green spectrum. Is this what happened with the tattoos of Inuit women from the early 1900s?

With the guidance of Joanne Rycaj Guillemette, the Indigenous Portfolio archivist for Private Archives here at LAC, we did some digging to see exactly which photographic process was used in this photograph of Niviaqsarjuk. Mikan (LAC’s internal archival catalogue) did not have the answer; neither did the former paper-based filing system. The Comer collection of photos are actually copies, and it turned out the originals are held at the Mystic Seaport Museum, in Connecticut. Going through my personal collection of photos, I found an image that looked familiar, and then searched the Mystic Seaport Museum for the ID number. I found the woman referred to by Comer as “Jumbo.” In the description, I found what I was looking for. It states:

Glass negative by Capt. George Comer, taken at Cape Fullerton, Hudson Bay, on February 16, 1904. Comer identified this image as a young girl known as Jumbo, showing the tattooing of the Southampton Natives. This is one of a group of photos taken by Comer to record facial tattooing of various Inuit groups of Hudson Bay. He had Aivilik women paint their faces to simulate the tattooing styles of various other groups. Information from original envelope identifies this as Photo 55, # 33. The number 30 is etched into emulsion on plate. Lantern slide 1966.339.15 was made from this negative. Identical to 1963.1767.112. 1963.339.58 shows the same young woman in a similar pose.

This was the confirmation I needed that the designs were in fact painted on and that the designs were from other regions! I do not know how often this happened, but finding similar images from other collections has me concerned about the authenticity of tattoo designs in photographs from this period and into the 1950s. I searched the Comer collection further and found more than one woman photographed with and without tattoos, including the woman called “Shoofly,” Comer’s “companion,” whose real name was Nivisanaaq.

A black-and-white photograph of five Inuit women with facial tattoos standing in front of a white cloth backdrop
Aivilliq Women, 1903–1904. Credit: Albert Peter Low (a038271). Nivisanaaq (nicknamed “Shoofly) at centre in a beaded atigii with painted tattoos. Note the woman to her right, whom we also see in the image below.
A black-and-white photo of 15 women and two babies, posed in three rows.
Aivillik women and children on the “Era” Credit: Albert Peter Low 1888–1909, location unknown. (a053565) Nivisanaaq is present again, to the right of centre, second row, in this photograph, wearing her beaded atigii with boot motifs. Note that the woman at her left in the image above is now in front of her at centre; both are without tattoos in this photo.

In the Donald Benjamin Marsh fonds, also held at LAC, we see another example of painted tattoos. The unidentified women from Arviat in these two photographs by Donald Benjamin Marsh are most likely the same person, as one can tell from comparing their facial features, especially the broken or missing tooth on the left side of her mouth. On the right side of her face, she has no tattoos; on the left side, however, the tattoos are quite prominent. The lines are very dark and wide. When one compares these images to photographs of women with authentic tattoos, one can see the difference. Here, the lines are quite fine and faint, but still visible.

Left: A colour photo of an Inuk woman with facial tattoos wearing a white parka with red straps looking at the camera. Right: A black-and-white photo of an Inuk woman wearing a decorated parka standing in snow.
Left: Inuit woman with facial tattoos and braids. Donald Benjamin Marsh fonds, Arviat, date unknown. (e007914459) Right: [Smiling Inuk woman in a beaded amauti]. Original title: Smiling Inuit woman in a decorated amauti, Donald Benjamin Marsh fonds, Unknown Location, N.W.T. [Nunavut]: c. 1926–1943. (e004922736)
A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk woman with tattoos on her face and arms smiling while braiding her hair. Right: A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk woman in a fur parka.
Left: Mary Edetoak, a patient, who still has traditional Inuit tattoos, 1958. (e011176882) Right: Elderly Inuit woman with her hair down [graphic material], 1929. Inscription reads, “Old native woman Eskimo, heavily tattooed but does not photograph.” Credit: G.H. Blanchet (e004665345),

This discovery reminds me of the actions of well-known photographer Edward S. Curtis, who travelled through North America photographing Native American peoples. (Note: We use the term “First Nations” in Canada, but “Native American” is used in the United States of America). Curtis often manipulated scenes by dressing sitters in clothing from an earlier era, removed contemporary elements, and added props that created a romanticized and inauthentic representation of them. Not only is this type of manipulation dehumanizing, it leaves behind a legacy of misinformation.

As a reaction to colonialization and assimilation policies, Indigenous Peoples are going through a period of cultural resurgence. When those of us who are looking to reclaim elements of our culture, such as tattooing, come across these images and assume the designs originate in the region the people are living in. Someone in Arviat, seeing a photo of her great-grandmother, for example, might want to reclaim the markings of her relative and mistakenly get the same markings, not knowing the design is from a completely different family and region. One can only imagine how distressing this would be.

A main goal of We Are Here Sharing Stories is to update descriptions to make them culturally sensitive and accurate. To this end, we are updating descriptions for the above-mentioned collections, to add the women’s correct names if known and a note explaining the significance of the tattoos. This note also addresses the practices of some photographers of the time that may result in tattoo designs that are not authentic to the women or their region. Although we cannot change the past, it is my hope that these actions will help inform researchers and community members alike from this point on. Nakurmiik (thank you).

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling Inuk woman with facial tattoos.
Kila, a tattooed Inuit woman, from the Dolphin and Union Strait area, Coronation Gulf, N.W.T. [Nunavut], 1916. (a165665)

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