First Nations cradleboards: understanding their significance and versatility

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 Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Cradleboards are still an integral part of the cultural practices of First Nations peoples. I experienced using a cradleboard for my family when we received one from my mother-in-law. It was not new, the paint was flaking off and its footrest was wobbly. An antique restorer stabilized the paint and repaired the footrest. I selected a floral printed fabric to make a pad and embroidered a long sash of denim with multiple colours. I bundled my infant daughter in a thin flannel blanket, placed her on the cradleboard and wrapped the sash snugly around her. She was content when on the cradleboard and would usually fall asleep within minutes. I used it to bring her to local community events. Unfortunately, she outgrew it in about a month.

The cradleboard now decorates my home and is a reminder of those first few months of her life—it brings back cherished memories. Only later did I become aware of its cultural and historical significance while reading a book on First Nations cultural materials. The features of our cradleboard matched one that was over a hundred years old. Early First Nations cradleboards are in museums or private collections, as anthropologists and antique collectors visited communities and approached families directly to purchase and collect them.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard.

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], ca. 1910 (e010859891)

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the design and materials for cradleboards correspond to the culture of each First Nation. Generally, cradleboards are used by the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois), Plains and West Coast First Nations. Cradleboards are different from other infant carrier–type baskets, bags, slings, carrying hoods and dugout-trough-style cradles.

A black-and-white photograph of three children. The youngest child is in a cradleboard that is embroidered with a pattern of flowers.

Two young girls standing on a wooden porch beside a boy in a cradleboard, Temagami First Nation, probably Lake Temagami, Ontario, unknown date (e011156793)

The construction of a cradleboard starts with a flat plank of wood to which functional components are added. The handle or canopy is at the top end and provides protection for the head. This part may be a bar of curved wood or a canopy of arched bark. A flat piece of wood or bark rail is attached close to the bottom of the board as a footrest and keeps the infant in place when the board is placed in an upright position. Materials that are used for the cradleboard may include wood, leather, bark, cord, plant fibres, woven fabrics or a combination of these. Cradleboards can be stylized by carving, shaping, painting or adding decoration to the different components. Since a newborn grows quickly, a second, larger board may be used to accommodate a growth spurt. Boards may be shared between families, with a new mother borrowing one when needed. Cradleboards can be commissioned ahead of the arrival of an infant and range from a simple utilitarian style to more artistic creations.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and two children in a canoe. One of the children is sleeping in a cradleboard.

Atikamekw woman, infant on a cradleboard and young girl in a canoe, Sanmaur, Quebec, ca. 1928 (a044224)

A cradleboard enables a mother to return to her daily activities more easily after birth, while keeping her newborn close by her. The infant can be carried safely, while being comforted by the stimulation of being swaddled. Swaddling is done by bundling the newborn and securing its arms in a thin blanket with light pressure. This is thought to be good for the infant’s posture, as the back is flat on the board and the spine can be kept straight. When the cradleboard is placed horizontally, a cross bar attached under the board on the top end raises the head slightly higher than the bottom end. Using gravity, the infant’s blood circulation is enhanced. Of course, not all of the infant’s early life is spent on the cradleboard, as it is used as occasions warrant.

A black-and-white photograph of eight people, including a baby in a cradleboard in a forest. There is a canoe in the foreground.

First Nations family, Ishkaugua portage, [Newton Island, Ontario], 1905 (a059502)

Once the infant is wrapped in the swaddling material, it is placed on the cradleboard on a thinly padded cushion and secured by wrapping the sash several times around the child and board. Another technique is to place the infant in a leather or cloth bunting bag (also known as a moss bag) that is easily placed on or removed from the cradleboard. The bag is then attached to the cradleboard, the infant is placed in it and then secured with leather or cord laces. Sashes and extra covers may be made by the mother, relatives or friends and could include unique embroidery, beadwork and ribbon work designs. Designs featured may represent clans, traditional symbols, or motifs of plants, animals and nature.

Smaller versions of cradleboards are made for the children. These provide the opportunity for young girls to practice their nurturing skills while at play and prepares them for motherhood or caregiving. A cloth or corn-husk doll or a bundle of sage or other dried plant material is usually placed on the board

A black-and-white photograph of 7 women, a teenager and children on the shore of a lake. Two babies are in cradleboards.

Cree women and children at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, 1925 (a019995)

Eastern area

Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois) and Algonquin-style cradleboards start with a flat plank of wood. On the backs of older Haudenosaunee boards, there are usually low-relief carved images of animals, flowers and leaves painted in basic colours of red, black, green, yellow and blue. There may be additional carving on the top end of the board, handle, footboard and wood bar. In rare examples, silver or metal inlays have been inserted on the wood bar.

A colour photograph of a man in a purple and white shirt sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. In front of him is a baby in a cradleboard with red and white fabric.

Kenneth Atsenienton (“the fire still burns”) Deer and grandson Shakowennenhawi (“he is carrying the words”) Deer at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Kahnawake, Quebec, May 1993 (e011207022)

Some of the wooden structural elements were attached with wood pegs. Handles were reinforced with leather strips, gut or cord. The curves on the wood handles were hardwood that had been steamed and bent. Haudenosaunee wood handles were straight across, while the Algonquin boards had a bowed wood handle. A cover can be draped over the handle to provide a quiet space or shield the infant from the elements. Objects might be hung from the handle for the child to look at, such as beaded strings, charms or possibly a baby rattle. Some Algonquin cradleboards had a one-piece rail attached to the board, which would go up each side, curving at the bottom and serving as a footrest.

A cradleboard could be carried on a person’s back by attaching straps or a tumpline to the cradleboard; these then went around the chest or forehead and left the hands free.

A watercolour painting of two women and a man. One of the women has a pipe in her hand and a baby in a cradleboard on her back. The man has a rifle in his hand.

This watercolour painting shows a woman carrying a baby in a cradleboard, ca. 1825–1826 (e008299398)

Western area

First Nations in the Plains region would cover the leather or fabric used for the cradleboard with their traditional beadwork styles. The infant was placed in an enveloping enclosure attached to the cradleboard.

Northwest Coast First Nations had more than one type of cradleboard, as well as a dugout-trough cradle. Cradleboards were made of woven plant fibres, cedar boards and hollowed-out logs.

The tradition of making new cradleboards is carried on today by First Nations carvers and craftspeople. In celebration of the birth of new generations, they may incorporate past knowledge in new designs including personalized elements and stylistic representations of present culture.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of cradleboards.

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.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

“I leave you Éva Gauthier”

By Isabel Larocque

When Éva Gauthier made her first professional performance at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, none could have predicted that the 17-year-old girl would one day rank among the greatest singers in the history of Canada.

Éva Gauthier was born in 1885 in a Francophone neighbourhood in Ottawa; she was the niece of Zoé Lafontaine and her husband Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Éva showed an innate ability for music at a tender age, and her family soon recognized her potential, encouraging her to continue on that path. Aside from taking singing classes with several renowned teachers, Éva also sang as a soloist at Saint Patrick’s Basilica in Ottawa.

She also benefitted from financial support from her uncle, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. As such, at age 17, she was able to go study at the Conservatoire de Paris with one of the most famous teachers of the time, Auguste-Jean Dubulle. A big believer in Éva’s talent, Aunt Zoé brought her to Europe and even played the piano for Éva’s audition at the Conservatoire.

Black-and-white photo of a young woman in a white lace dress, facing the camera.

Éva Gauthier, 1906. Photo: William James Topley (a193008)

During her studies and early career, Éva Gauthier was lucky enough to rub shoulders with the greatest musicians and teachers of her time. So it wasn’t long before she was noticed. In 1906, the great singer Emma Albani, her mentor, introduced her thus during her farewell tour: “As my artistic legacy to my country, I leave you Éva Gauthier.” With an introduction like that, there was no doubt young Éva’s future was very promising!

Black-and-white photo of a woman standing and facing the camera, wearing a dark-coloured dress, a fancy hat and a fur stole.

Éva Gauthier, 1906. Photo: William James Topley (a193009)

Despite her small size, Éva Gauthier had a powerful voice that certainly turned heads. In 1909 in Italy, she got the role of Micaela in the opera Carmen and she made a standout performance. But her career in opera was very short. While preparing for her second role―at Covent Garden in the opera Lakmé―the stage director removed her from the cast, fearing that her talent would outshine the lead actress. Devastated, Éva Gauthier turned her back on opera and decided to leave Europe.

She went to Indonesia to join Frans Knoot, who would eventually become her husband. She remained in Asia for four years, an adventure that gave her life a new direction. During her stay, she studied Javanese music with Indonesian gamelans and immersed herself into an exotic, unfamiliar musical and cultural style. She put on several shows, notably in China and Japan, and received glowing reviews: “This dainty Canadian singer has a voice of great flexibility, power and range. The entire evening was a musical treat. The applause was loud, long and well deserved.”

Her experience in Asia gave Éva a particular sound and a unique style. This allowed her to stand out when she returned to North America, where far-eastern music was still relatively unknown. Her refusal to adhere to traditions was one of Éva’s characteristic traits. She never let conventions define her and so brought about a renewal of musical culture in the 20th century.

Black-and-white photo of a woman facing the camera and wearing a traditional Javanese dress.

Éva Gauthier wearing one of the Javanese costumes she was known for. (ncl002461)

After her return to North America, Éva Gauthier―who now enjoyed a certain notoriety―put on several shows a year. The greatest musicians approached her, asking her to sing their compositions. Igor Stravinsky swore by her alone and demanded that she be the first to sing every one of his pieces. Éva mingled with musical personalities and befriended a good number of them, including pianists and composers Maurice Ravel and George Gerswhin.

It was with the latter that she gave a memorable concert at the Aeolian Hall in New York, in 1923, that brought together classical and modern music. Gershwin accompanied the singer on the piano during a daring premiere. Éva Gauthier even integrated jazz music into the program, a style she greatly loved but which was still poorly regarded. Although critics were not kind, the general public enjoyed the breath of fresh air and the event became a landmark in musical history.

Éva Gauthier gave hundreds of performances during the rest of her career, both in America and Europe, integrating various styles into her ever-entertaining performances. She focused the final years of her life on teaching students how to sing and, though she was no longer on stage, she remained very active in the music scene, acting as mentor to the next generation of artists. Her impeccable technique, her daring attitude and her refusal to follow convention opened the way to new artists and helped make Éva Gauthier a true legend of modern music.

If you want to hear some musical excerpts sung by Éva Gauthier, visit the Virtual Gramophone by Library and Archives Canada. There you will find several French Canadian folklore classics performed by the singer.

You can also listen to our Éva Gauthier podcast and flip through our Éva Gauthier Flickr album.


Isabel Larocque is project manager for Library and Archives Canada’s Online Content team.

The Group of Seven and me: A few degrees of separation

By Ellen Bond

The bus trip from Barrie to Kleinburg, Ontario, in 1972 did not take long. We arrived at the McMichael Gallery, home to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, on a sunny spring day. I remember a wide, open space with long pathways from the parking lot that were lined with small trees leading to a cool-looking wooden building with massive stone pillars.

At that time in my life, my family would spend parts of our summers on Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) at Wymbolwood Beach and on the north shore of Lake Superior in Terrace Bay. Walking into the McMichael Gallery was like looking through the lens of my summer: paintings of the places that provided me with so much joy and happiness. I was instantly drawn to the colours, lines, thick brush strokes, and how the paintings captured the rocks, the windswept trees and the majestic landscape.

A watercolour painting of people in a red canoe with colourful trees and windswept trees in the background.

The Red Canoe, painted by J.E.H. MacDonald, 1915 (e003894355)

One hundred years ago, on May 7, 1920, the Group of Seven mounted their first formal exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now known as the Art Gallery of Ontario). It was the first time that the public had the chance to see over 120 of their paintings in a single location. At that first exhibition, according to the McMichael website, only six paintings sold. One of those paintings today would be worth much more than the total amount originally paid for all six.

In 1920, the Group of Seven consisted of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley. Johnston left the group in 1920 and moved to Winnipeg, and in 1926, A.J. Casson was invited to join. Two other members, Edwin Holgate and L.L. FitzGerald, joined in 1930 and 1932 respectively. Although Tom Thompson is sometimes mistakenly considered a founding member, he died tragically in 1917 before the group was even formed.

A black-and-white photo of a group of men in suits seated around a table during a meal.

Group at the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto. Pictured: Bertram Booker, A.Y. Jackson, Merrill Denison, J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris, Frederick B. Housser and an unidentified man. (PA-196166)

The Group of Seven are famous across Canada. In schools, libraries and art schools, their paintings are used as examples, and students are often taught to paint landscapes in their style. I remember my niece Emma painting a group-like painting at school. It hung on the wall of her house by the stairs and looked very professional. The Group of Seven are easily “googled,” and you can find some of their paintings regularly displayed, or even for sale, from coast to coast in Canada. Recently, while visiting the Thompson Landry Gallery in the Distillery District in Toronto, I actually saw a Group of Seven painting for sale. It was my first time, and I stood and stared at it, wishing I had an extra $133,000 to buy it right then and there. I was in awe!

According to the theory of six degrees of separation, any person can be connected to any other person through six or fewer social connections. Two of my friends have close connections (two or fewer) to Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and A.Y. Jackson.

I first met Ronna Mogelon through a friend and was amazed at her cake-decorating skills. When I found out she lived in the historic log cabin that I admired every time I drove by, I was even more excited to know her. Then I found out about her connection to Lismer. Here is her story:

My mum and dad were very artsy and involved in the art community in Montréal in the ’60s. They hosted art shows in their home, before artists could find galleries to represent them. My mother, Lila, was from Saint John, New Brunswick, and was very close with painter Fred Ross, who was her teacher at art school. (Several of his works are hanging in the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario.) Before he had a regular gallery, he showed his artwork at our house.

As well, my father, Alex, wrote the monthly art column in The Montrealer, a magazine from the ’60s and ’70s. Mum usually interviewed the artists, and Dad wrote the story from her reel-to-reel recordings. A real tag team! So our family was very involved with the arts.

Anyhow, my parents wanted us to have a good background in art, and so they sent us to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday mornings to take art classes with Arthur Lismer. Most kids went to nursery school. We went to Arthur Lismer school.

A black-and-white photo of a man standing with his left hand on his hip and a pipe in his hand.

Portrait of Arthur Lismer, photographed in Quebec by Basil Zarov in 1953 (e011000857)

Because I was so young, my recollections are rather scattered. I remember how tall he was, but then again, being only six years old, I was pretty short at the time. I seem to recall he smoked a pipe. I remember how I felt like a real artist because we got to stand at an easel and paint. My older sister, Marcia, who took the class a few years previous to me, remembers the big art show at the end of the year, where all the artists’ paintings were on display and she got to dress up in her best outfit. My cousin Richard remembers the licorice pipes that we got at the end of the class on our way home.

I’m not sure if his classes had an effect on me, but I suppose they might have. Years later, I chose art as my field of endeavour and graduated from Concordia University, Montréal, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Maybe some of his teaching rubbed off after all!

As I mentioned earlier, I have spent many of my summers partially on Lake Superior. My parents were both born and raised in the northwestern Ontario area, I was born in Terrace Bay, and for me it seems like home. One of my sister’s friends, Johanna Rowe, was born and raised in Wawa, Ontario. We have visited and even stayed at Johanna’s camp on the mouth of the Michipicoten River where it meets Lake Superior. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. White sand beaches, incredible rocks to hop on, a huge sand spit—at the mouth of the river—that sometimes disappears after a storm, giant driftwood logs from unknown forests …  truly spectacular!

A black-and-white photo of a man in a military uniform.

A.Y. Jackson, 1915, in his First World War uniform. (e002712910) Take a look at Jackson’s military record (PDF).

Johanna, a local Wawa historian and member of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, has a special relationship with this area where A.Y. Jackson chose to create his art. Here is her story:

I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories about how a member of the Group of Seven had a cottage in Wawa and regularly took trips with local boat owners to explore and paint along the Superior shoreline.

During a special Glenn Gould and Group of Seven training event in 2015, I was introduced to Ken Ross, son of Harry and Jennie Ross, friends of A.Y. Jackson who co-purchased a cottage together on Sandy Beach in 1955.

Between 1955 and 1966, Jackson ventured by foot and by boat from his tiny Sandy Beach cabin. Accompanied by friends and fellow explorers, he created hundreds of sketches and paintings depicting the Lake Superior landscape from Batchawana Bay to Pukaskwa. Many of Jackson’s Wawa sketches were painted in the vicinity of Sandy Beach.

At the end of Jackson’s Wawa paint trips, he and the Ross family would invite friends and neighbours to a social and bonfire on the beach. Jackson would have all his sketches on display leaning against large pieces of driftwood or tacked to the logs on the outside of his cabin. Folks could purchase one of his creations for $30 to $50, or commission Jackson to make a larger version over the winter back in his studio for $300-plus. Apparently, those he did not sell would sometimes end up as fuel in the bonfire. Jackson was also very generous with his sketches and often gifted them to locals who provided transportation out on Superior, invited him to their homes for dinner, or simply let him sit and paint the view in front of their property.

During my research, I discovered there is no complete inventory of his creations. These sketches are now turning up at fine-art auctions across the continent. In the past five years, there have been at least 30 paintings pop out of the woodwork which we know Jackson painted in the Wawa area. He often wrote Wawa or Michipicoten on the back of the painting. And for those of us who have a first-hand knowledge of the landscape, the roll of the hills, the dent in the shoreline, we are able to pick out the exact spot where Jackson sat and painted. It is the ultimate Canadian scavenger hunt … discovering the site where a member of the Group of Seven was inspired to sit and let the creative spirit flow through their paintbrush to a blank canvas. Still gives me a tingle up my spine each time. …

A black-and-white photo of a man rowing a wooden boat.

A.Y. Jackson in a boat, 1959 (e011177131)

The times I have spent on Georgian Bay and Lake Superior have burned memories in my mind so bright, I can still feel the wind of the Great Lakes blowing in my hair, the waves crashing and pounding in my ears, and the brilliant blue of the water dancing in my eyes. I am thankful for my experiences there, and also thankful that Canada’s most well-known artists were able to capture those feelings in their paintings. I look forward to connecting again on my next trip.

For more images, visit the Flickr album!


Ellen Bond is a Project Assistant in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

Women lightkeepers, heroes by the sea: A Co-lab challenge

By Leah Rae

Imagine the solitary life of a lighthouse keeper: working alone in a remote location, throughout the night and during storms, always making sure that the light never goes out. Add to that being a grieving widow, or a person caring for an ailing spouse or young children. Such was the life for Canada’s women lightkeepers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Officially, lightkeepers were usually men but, in reality, the whole family helped to keep the lights going. As the position was awarded for life, when a lightkeeper passed away, someone had to immediately take over. That person was often the lightkeeper’s wife or child because they were already in place and had the knowledge and experience to operate the light. As such, there were several women lightkeepers across the country throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mary Croft—Discovery Island Lighthouse, Discovery Island, British Columbia

It is possible that Mary Croft was Canada’s first woman lightkeeper. Although she officially became the Discovery Island lightkeeper in 1902, she had already been caring for the lighthouse for five years while her father, the official lightkeeper, was suffering from a long illness. At the time she was appointed lightkeeper, Mary had two daughters and was supporting her own family while also caring for her ailing father. She kept the light on at Discovery Island for over thirty years before finally retiring to Victoria, British Columbia, at the age of 67. She received the Imperial Service Medal in 1934 for her work as a lightkeeper.

Blue typewriting on off-white letter paper.

A letter of recommendation for Mrs. Mary Croft (The lightkeeper’s name was Brinn, not Dunn.) (e011435495)

A colour postcard depicting a large yellow and brown building and a lighthouse.

Inch Arran Hotel and Lighthouse (e011435492)

Denise Arsenault—Inch Arran Lighthouse, Dalhousie, New Brunswick

The Inch Arran lighthouse (sometimes referred to as the Bon Ami lighthouse) was built in 1870. A beautiful salt-shaker style lighthouse, it has a unique birdcage-shaped lantern gallery. It overlooks the Chaleur Bay in New Brunswick and is still in operation as a range light. In the late 1800s, this was a resort destination and home to the grand Inch Arran Hotel. The Arsenault family was responsible for the light for 65 years. In 1913, lightkeeper James Arsenault died, leaving his wife, Denise, in charge of the light. Denise cared for the lighthouse until 1927, when she fell down the slippery lighthouse stairs and broke her arm, leaving her unable to perform her duties.

Maisie Adams—New London Lighthouse, Prince Edward Island

Maisie Adams was Prince Edward Island’s only woman lightkeeper. She operated the New London Lighthouse from 1943 to 1959, having become the lightkeeper after her husband, Claude, died of cancer at age 40. At that point, Maisie Adams was 30 years old and caring for three children between the ages of 1 and 7. She had already been taking care of the lighthouse for the final year and half of her husband’s life, due to his illness. Mrs. Adams lived in a house near the lighthouse and every spring she opened the light for the season and every winter she closed it down after the fishermen had pulled their boats in for the winter.

Handwritten text in blue ink on three pages of off-white writing paper. There are official stamps in the upper right corner of the first page.

A letter of recommendation for Masie Adams (e044435793-058)

The life of a lightkeeper was a challenging one. They dealt with isolation and challenging weather conditions, and needed to be constantly vigilant. Women lightkeepers worked tirelessly and often in solitude. They were not only responsible for the well-being of their own families, but also for the safety of mariners.

Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of documents related to lighthouses and lightkeepers. As part of International Women’s Day on March 8, we shine a light on Canada’s women lightkeepers and invite you to explore a sample of documents and images that illuminate their challenging lives and contributions to maritime life in Canada. We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe these digitized records from our collection.


Leah Rae is an archivist in the Halifax office of the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

From the Lowy Room: A Scroll of Serendipity

By Michael Kent

One of the most exciting aspects of working with rare books is the story of the individual items in our collections. The life an item had before finding its way to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) can be fascinating, and is sometimes as interesting as the content of the work itself. In some cases, the story of an item can share amazing parallels with the work itself. One such example is a scroll containing the Biblical Book of Esther. This scroll is now housed in LAC’s Jacob M. Lowy Collection.

A colour photograph of a handwritten Hebrew manuscript on parchment completely rolled out across a table, approximately seven feet in length. Also on the table is the protective metal casing that originally housed the manuscript.

The Megillah of Esther unrolled in the Jacob M. Lowy Room, located at 395 Wellington, in Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

This scroll is handwritten in Hebrew in a format suited for ritual use as part of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The story of how it ended up at Library and Archives Canada was passed down to me through an oral history from previous curators of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. It is a story too good not to share.

When I show the scroll to visitors, they are instantly struck by its damaged metal case. People often exclaim that it looks like it has gone through a war, and in fact it has. As the story goes, a British soldier found this case sticking out of the rubble of a bombed-out building in continental Europe at the end of the Second World War. Upon discovering that the case contained a scroll, the soldier decided to keep the item as a war souvenir. Later in life, that soldier would move to Canada and bring the scroll with him.

The next chapter in the story of the scroll took place after this soldier passed away. As it has been recounted to me, the soldier had no children, and his neighbours volunteered to clean out his apartment. Through that process, they discovered the scroll, recalling that he had previously shown it to them. Recognizing it was an item of value, they decided to find a home for it. As chance would have it, these neighbours had a relative who worked at the then-National Archives. They sent the scroll to this relative, who passed it off to an archivist. Several years later, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection of rare Judaica was donated to the National Library of Canada. The decision was made to transfer the scroll to that collection so that it would be housed with other Judaica.

So why do I feel that the story of the physical scroll mirrors the story contained within? The answer comes from a unique aspect of the Biblical Book of Esther as one of the two books from the Hebrew Scriptures that does not mention God. The traditional rabbinic explanation to textual oddity is that the name of God was left out of the book to highlight the hidden nature of the miracle contained within the story. It is a story of a series of small and unlikely worldly events that culminate in the survival of the Jewish people.

When I look at the scroll, I too see an item that survived through a series of small and unlikely event. That the original owner would house it in a strong protective material. That the item would survive a bombing. That it would end up in a visible place. That a soldier would stop to investigate it and decide it was worth saving. That his neighbours would volunteer to clear out his apartment after his death. That those volunteers would carefully examine the apartment’s contents and seek a proper home for the scroll. That they would have a connection at the National Archives. These unlikely occurrences come together to form a powerful story of survival and a fantastic journey for this scroll that brought it to LAC.

While I am in no place to offer spiritual reflections on the survival of this scroll, the serendipity is remarkable. This story, and others like it, highlight the powerful past the items in our collections have. These stories go far beyond the written word, and I am always humbled to learn and share them.


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

An update from Kigali!

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In February 2020, my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, where we are both guests of the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA). As we approach the end of our second week in Kigali, it is hard to believe that our time is almost half over! After months of preparation, we have packed so much into the first two weeks. RALSA invited us to train their staff of three librarians and four archivists in best practices and international professional standards. A small but mighty staff, they are keenly aware of their responsibilities and obligations as the national library and archives, and anxious to implement the best standards they can, not only to properly manage and describe their own collection, but also to provide guidance and assistance to other memory institutions across Rwanda. Representing the library side, I have been focusing on cataloguing (my own specialty), but I am also answering questions and helping them to develop policies on everything from administering the national ISBN program to digital rights management to generating the library’s social media content. It has been interesting for me, coming from a large institution where different aspects of our collection and services are managed by different sections and large teams, to see a handful of people striving to do it all here. They are ambitious and incredibly hard-working, and every day I admire and respect them even more for what they are trying to accomplish.

A colour photograph of archival materials on bookshelves.

Part of RALSA’s archival collection. Photo credit: Karl-Xavier Thomas

As part of our work here, RALSA has also invited librarians and archivists from across Rwanda to attend a four-day conference in Kigali, where Karl-Xavier and I will be giving the same training we have delivered over the last two weeks to a bigger audience. It is an opportunity for us to meet and make connections with many of the professionals working in the field in this country, and for them to learn and develop their skills so they can better serve their clients and collections. Although I have always felt that my work has value and have always been proud of what I do, it is special to be able to see the immediate impact of my knowledge and expertise. I really do feel that I am making a difference here, helping professionals across Rwanda learn to better describe and provide access to their collections. These are lessons that they will be able to continue using long after I have returned to Canada.

Another interesting activity that was part of the cultural exchange was participating in Umuganda, the countrywide community clean-up day. This takes place on the last Saturday of every month and is mandatory for all citizens between the ages of 16 and 65. People gather in their villages and neighbourhoods to work on a project that improves their local community. The idea is to make things a little bit better each month than they were the month before. The day that we joined in, people were clearing brush from around newly planted trees, and digging out a drainage canal that was overgrown with weeds. Following the work, the members of the village gathered for a meeting where news and reminders were shared, and members of the community were able to raise issues of concern. I was struck by how respectful the tone of the meeting was, how all members felt free to stand and express themselves, and how they listened to each other and reached solutions together.

I feel that what we are accomplishing here is in the spirit of Umuganda, in a small way. We too are bringing what we have to share, contributing it to the community, and leaving things a little bit better than they were before.

A colour photograph of an office building.

RALSA is moving to a custom-built facility next year, but it currently operates out of several rooms on the top floor of this office building in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo credit: Alison Harding-Hlady


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Women’s hockey: She shoots, she scores!

By Ellen Bond

In January 2020, the Canadian men’s team won the gold medal against Russia at the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship. It was a hard-fought competition with millions watching from all over the world. This is any Canadian hockey player’s dream: winning gold at an international championship and hearing your national anthem at the end of the game. Meanwhile, only a few days earlier, Team Canada played against the United States of America (USA) in the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship with, by comparison, almost no one watching.

Unlike basketball, which has different sized balls, and volleyball, which has different net heights, hockey is the same game for men and women. Yes, women play “non-contact” hockey, but the ice surface is the same, the puck size and weight are the same, and the nets are of equal height, width and depth. Both men and women began playing hockey in its infancy (men in early 1870s and women in 1890s). This begs the question: Why did men’s hockey continue to grow and develop, while women’s hockey had a great start but then failed to gain the same attention?

A black and white photo taken outside with women in long skirts.

A group of women gather to play hockey in 1906, Ottawa, ON (PA-042256)

When I was young, all I wanted to do was play hockey. I remember watching my brother play with lots of other boys out on the ice. They would divide the ice up with long hoses across the blue lines to make up three smaller ice surfaces. I wanted to be out there, but girls were not allowed. That changed in the late 1970s when we moved to Campbellford, Ontario. One day in early fall, a man came to our door and asked my dad if he wanted to coach the girls’ hockey team. He said yes and, at the beginning of grade eight, I started playing organized hockey.

A sepia photo of a girls’ hockey team with Campbellford Minor Hockey written on their sweaters.

My championship team the first year I was allowed to play hockey. My dad is on the right and my brother is kneeling in front of him. I’m in the top row, third from the left. (Photo supplied by the author.)

This made me wonder: If women, like men, started to play hockey in the late 1800s, why wasn’t I allowed to play hockey prior to our move to Campbellford, when we had lived in a moderately large city?

A black and white photo of a woman dressed in a skirt to play hockey outside.

“Queen of the Ice.” A woman stands on ice wearing figure skates and holding a hockey stick, 1903. (C-3192610)

The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA) claims the first women’s hockey game took place in 1891 in Ottawa, Ontario. At this time, the University of Toronto (U of T), Queen’s University and McGill University had women’s hockey teams, but they had to compete behind closed doors. Men couldn’t watch and the only men allowed inside were the referees. In 1914, the first women’s provincial championship took place in Picton, Ontario. There were six teams involved, including some of the university teams. In 1921, U of T defeated McGill to win the first Canadian women’s university championship. These teams and others helped the game grow steadily but unevenly in the 1920s and 1930s.

Then women’s hockey just stopped growing. Maybe it was because hockey was “too rough for girls,” as Clarence Campbell, President of the National Hockey League, argued in 1946. Maybe it was because communities prohibited people from watching women play hockey. Maybe it was because of beliefs that watching women play hockey was too frivolous or that women took the game too seriously. Or maybe, as Wayne Norton suggests in his book Women on Ice: The Early Years of Women’s Hockey in Western Canada, it was because in 1923 the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) voted NOT to give women official recognition as hockey players. In their book, Too Many Men on the Ice: Women’s Hockey in North America, Joanna Avery and Julie Stevens propose that Canada’s participation in the Second World War led to the decline of women’s hockey. Many women took on factory jobs when the majority of men went to fight in the war, leaving them little time to play the game. Whatever the reason, for decades it was hard for women to play a beloved game and this meant that many girls and women never had the opportunity to play hockey.

A black and white photo of a woman as a professional hockey player.

Miss Eva Ault. When men headed to Europe in the First World War, women got their first chance to play professional hockey. Eva Ault became a fan favourite, but when the war ended so did the careers of the first female pros. (PA-043029)

A black and white photo of a women’s hockey team lined up with the butt end of their sticks on the ground and dressed in their team uniform.

Women’s hockey team from Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, 1921. Names available in the record. (PA-074583)

I had the opportunity to play hockey from grades eight to thirteen, both in my community and at my high school in Peterborough, Ontario. I was also fortunate to have varsity teams to play on at McMaster and Queen’s universities. This was the closest I ever got to playing professional hockey. We were provided with equipment, ice time for practices and games, and transportation to all our games. At McMaster the entire budget for our team was less than the men’s team spent on sticks alone, but I had the chance to play varsity hockey for my university and to play with and against some of the best players in the world.

Two of those players were Margot (Verlaan) Page and Andria Hunter. Both of these athletes wore the Team Canada jersey at World Championships. I played with Margot for three years at McMaster. She was our captain and the best player out on the ice. At the time, this was the highest level of hockey Margot could play. She went on to play for Canada at the IIHF World Championships in 1987 (not sanctioned), 1990, 1992 and 1994. From 2000–2007 Margot coached Canada’s IIHF and Olympic women’s hockey teams. Margot is now Head Coach of the Brock Badgers Women’s Varsity Ice Hockey Team. Andria and I knew each other from living in Peterborough and because I was a counsellor at Camp Quin-Mo-Lac when she was a camper. Living in a small town, our paths crossed numerous times. I asked Andria what it was like when she first played hockey. Here is her story, in her own words.

I first started playing hockey in 1976. At that time, it was not very common for females to play. I was fortunate to play in Peterborough when girls’ hockey was just taking off. There were many small towns that had no female hockey at all at that time. I played in a boy’s house league my first year, but after that I was always able to play girls’ hockey.

When I was a kid, it was always my dream to play university hockey, because that was the highest level at the time; there was no national team, and certainly no World Championship or Olympics. I was very fortunate that some major changes in women’s hockey happened at an ideal time for me. I went on to play university hockey in the USA on a hockey scholarship; I was only the second international female player to receive a women’s hockey scholarship in the USA. I also had the opportunity to play for Team Canada in 1992 and in 1994! I have always thought that if I had been born just five years earlier, I may have missed these amazing experiences.

I played at the University of Toronto as a graduate student between 1990 and 1996. During these years, the program went through a tumultuous period of transition. In 1990, our team kept our equipment in a small locker and our games were only three fifteen-minute periods with one flood. Then, during the 1993–94 season (when I was away from U of T playing hockey in Switzerland), the women’s hockey program was almost cancelled. There was a big rally that helped to keep the program alive. When I returned from Switzerland the next year to play for U of T again, women’s hockey had been upgraded to a high-performance sport. We now had two-hour practices four days a week, and no longer had to keep our equipment in a storage locker!

I played in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) when it was in its infancy. We had an enthusiastic owner when I played for the Mississauga Ice Bears who arranged for us to play at the Hershey Centre [now the Paramount Centre] and we even had our own dressing room there. Unfortunately, we just did not get enough fans to allow us to play in such an expensive venue so, after two seasons, the team moved to Oakville.

Since my retirement from the NWHL in 2001, women’s hockey has continued to grow. It is certainly much more socially acceptable for females to play [now] than it was when I was a kid. The skill level has increased, as players get more development opportunities. The quality of the coaching, the level of competition, and the amount of ice time at the grassroots level, are certainly contributing factors. The number of teams at the university level in both Canada and the USA and the amount of resources for these players has continued to increase as well. It is unfortunate that women’s hockey still struggles to attract fans and that there are limited professional opportunities for women’s hockey players today. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of employment opportunities for women in coaching positions.

A black and white photo of a women’s hockey team. The women have team sweaters on and are holding their hockey sticks.

Team portrait of Queen’s University women’s hockey team, 1917. Some names are available in the record. (PA-127274)

Like Andria says, girls today have many opportunities to play hockey. Teams are available in many communities across Canada. Girls can aspire to play varsity hockey at many Canadian universities, to play in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States, and to play in many European countries. They can dream about playing for their country at the Olympics and in the World Championships. Elite players from Canada and the USA played 3-on-3 games during the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, Missouri, showing their skills to million of fans. As the game continues to grow, competition between countries will increase and maybe the NHL will offer a women’s professional league to play in. The future is bright for the young girls of today who yearn to play hockey. Margot, Andria and I gained many life lessons from playing hockey growing up and we are so excited for the girls of today and the opportunities that await them playing the great game of hockey.


Ellen Bond is a project assistant with the Online Content Team at Library and Archives Canada

The Freedom to Read

By Liane Belway

A colour photograph showing the spines of a stack of books against a black background.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection, which have been challenged.  Photo credit: Tom Thompson

In Canada, we enjoy the freedom to read what we choose, so much so that we may not always consider how important this right is, or whether it could be interfered with in a country such as ours. After all, our intellectual freedom is guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet, freedom to read can never be taken for granted.  Even in Canada, books and magazines are frequently challenged in libraries and schools, and these pressures affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they should or should not read. Freedom to Read Week encourages Canadians to talk about and celebrate our intellectual freedom. Each year, Canada’s Book and Periodical Council ensures that this event raises awareness of Canada’s often little-known history of censorship and book banning, and the battles fought to keep books on the shelves of schools and libraries. Nationwide events throughout this week help raise awareness about the importance of protecting our right to read.

The right to intellectual freedom means that each person has the right to choose what to read, within the limits of Canadian law. Challenging a book’s right to be on a shelf and available to readers involves more than a personal expression of taste or the choice not to participate in a conversation about controversial issues. It is an attempt to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries, or bookstores, often for political or moral reasons, and prevent others from reading them. Libraries have a core responsibility to protect the freedom to read and are required to have library policies reflect this duty.

Each case is different, and libraries respond differently, according to their mandate and their responsibilities to users. Most public libraries have intellectual freedom policies in place to deal with individual concerns while protecting the collective right to read, for example by shelving according to age appropriateness, while the mandate of many school libraries is mainly to support the curriculum for the school’s relevant age group. At Library and Archives Canada, our mandate is to acquire, describe, and make accessible all Canadian publications to readers and researchers from Canada and around the world.

Not all challenged books wind up being banned. When a famous author like Margaret Atwood has a book like The Handmaid’s Tale challenged, the result is often greater media attention, increased sales, and more readers. Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women was challenged decades before she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

However, the process of trying to ban a book can have a more insidious effect, especially in school and public libraries. A children’s book with a controversial reputation can simply be dropped from reading lists and curricula to avoid confrontation. When books with themes like that of Maxine’s Tree, a picture book with an environmentally friendly message, are challenged, sometimes the challenge is denied, as in this case from 1992, where the book was allowed to remain in elementary schools. Today, we take for granted picture books that teach kids about the environment, or same-sex families, or different religious views, or any number of topics, but this was not always the case.

Who knows how many such books were not purchased (or not written) over the decades because of a culture of banning? We like to think that, today, we are more open to the views of others. Nevertheless, as Canadians, we should remain aware at all times of how valuable our right to read is and should protect this right for ourselves as well as for other readers.


Liane Belway is a librarian in the Acquisitions section of Published Heritage at Library and Archives Canada.

For more information, check out Freedom to Read Week online.

François-Hyacinthe Séguin’s storytelling: a Co-Lab challenge

A watercolour painting with two large trees and a large stone house in the foreground, and a town in the distance.

Terrebonne, 1810 (e000756681)

Genealogy serves many purposes; it can be a hobby or a way to connect with those who came before you. It can help to strengthen your identity within your community asyou learn about your ancestors and where they came from. Be warned, it can be addictive!

As enjoyable and meaningful as researching your family history can be, it can also be very frustrating. One of the challenges I encountered when answering inquiries from the public during my time with the Library and Archives Canada Genealogy team was that it is sometimes difficult to find contextual information about people in the past. It is reasonably easy to learn basic information about ancestors, such as their dates and places of birth or the names of the witnesses who signed the marriage record, but this does not tell you much about their day-to-day lives or what their communities were like.

For example, birth, marriage and death records usually contain information such as full name, year and place of birth, and name of parents. Census records contain a little more information, such as religious denomination, ethnic origin and occupation. This information is useful, but it does not complete the picture. An occupation title, such as labourer or domestic, is helpful, but does not tell you where the person worked, how long the days were, and what kind of life that person came home to in the evening. In my own research, I found that to understand why ancestors made the decisions they did, you need to see the bigger picture. This is why notary François-Hyacinthe Séguin’s journal of the Terrebonne area in Quebec was so valuable as a non-traditional genealogy resource in understanding Canadian history in the early to mid-1800s.

François-Hyacinthe Séguin received his notary commission on October 15, 1808, and he opened an office in Terrebonne, where he served the community for all of his life. Not only did he keep detailed notes of births, marriages and deaths in the small town, but he also recorded details of social, political and environmental activities in the area. The journal, written in French, spans February 7, 1831, to March 2, 1834, and is a fascinating account of religious and social life in Terrebonne. Séguin writes about a variety of subjects, such as charivaris after local weddings, the cholera epidemic in the community, a solar eclipse and the first thunderstorm of the year.

A handwritten page from a journal.

A page from Séguin’s journal, where he states that, as Antoine Collard and Louis Turgeon have died, even the doubters must now admit that there is a cholera outbreak in the community. He also gives a short—and judgmental—biography of the two men, which genealogists may find helpful. (e004158805)

Another important subject in Séguin’s journal is his account of the Patriote movement. He diligently chronicles the history and politics of the day. His entries describe local politicians who were elected but not admitted into the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. He also writes about tensions during recent elections and the violence that people experienced while trying to vote.

Séguin’s journal also delves into local lives. He freely expresses his feelings about friends, neighbours and relatives in terms that are not always flattering. In one of the entries, he writes about how one of his students was recently arrested and that although he knew he should feel sympathy, he did not. In his entry noting the death of a local widow, he criticizes her frugal tendencies and her lack of social interactions. While noting the death of the priest from a neighbouring town, Séguin sneaks in a critique about the clergyman’s appearance.

A handwritten page from a journal.

A page from Séguin’s journal, where topics range from a winter thunderstorm to the deaths of local residents. (e004158841)

Do you want to know more about the good, the bad and the ugly in 1831 Terrebonne? Our Co-Lab challenge is dedicated to François-Hyacinthe Séguin’s fascinating French-language journal. Each page is filled with captivating and often critical observations, which help us to deepen our understanding of what it was like to live in a small town in Quebec in the mid-1800s. You can help to transcribe Séguin’s journal in the original French, or help to translate this no-holds-barred journal into English, so Anglophones can relish Séguin’s storytelling.

Interested in learning about your own ancestors? Visit our Genealogy and family history pages.


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

The Death of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin

by Sarah Bellefleur Bondu

Canada’s history is filled with fascinating characters. As reference archivists, we discover some of these characters and new historical facts whenever researchers ask for our help in finding archival material on a subject or person. This was the case for me when I came across the story of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin.

Albert Goodwin was born on May 10, 1887, in the small village of Treeton, England. Following in the footsteps of his father, Walter, he went to work in the coal mines at the age of 15. In 1906, Albert left his native country and immigrated to Canada where he worked for the Dominion Coal Company Limited in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

In 1909, difficult working conditions drove workers at many Cape Breton mines to declare a strike. Albert Goodwin took part in this strike, which marked the beginning of his involvement with miners’ unions. A redhead, Albert was known to his colleagues as “Ginger” or “Red” Goodwin.

Black and white photograph of a typed document.

Chronology of Dominion Coal Company Dispute in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. RG 27, volume 296, file 3163, container T-2686

The following year, in 1910, he moved to British Columbia, where he soon became a key figure in labour movements. He became, among other things, a local delegate for the United Mine Workers of America and took part in the British Columbia Federation of Labour forum in 1914. His involvement led him to participate in other strikes, to publish opinion pieces on working conditions in the Western Clarion (the newspaper of the Socialist Party of Canada), and then to become an organizer for that political party.

Black and white photograph of a mine. On the right is a sub-station and a wood-frame tipple used to load the coal extracted for transport. On the left are closed buildings. Overhead wires connect the buildings in the foreground.

General view of No. 5 Mine, showing tipple and sub-station, Cumberland, B.C. (a017472)

Some months before the end of the First World War, Albert Goodwin applied for an exemption from conscription, most likely on the basis of his political beliefs and ideals. The Military Service Act had been passed in summer 1917, a divisive measure in both national politics and public opinion. The tribunal provisionally denied “Ginger” Goodwin’s application in January 1918 and formally rejected it in April. Goodwin then decided to hide in the mountains near Cumberland on Vancouver Island, along with others who opposed conscription.

On July 27, 1918, while Dominion Police officers were searching for deserters, Officer Daniel Campbell came across Albert Goodwin in the forest. Reports of the incident claim that the police officer, with barely enough time to draw his weapon, shot the deserter, killing him on the spot. The unclear circumstances surrounding Goodwin’s death led to a trial against Officer Campbell, who was finally acquitted of murder.

Goodwin’s sudden and tragic death sparked what many consider to be the first general labour strike in British Columbia. On August 2, 1918, a “holiday” was declared for all the unions associated with the Metal Trades Council. Newspapers at the time reported that nearly 200 men, including several returning soldiers, ransacked union offices to protest this day of strike that honoured a dissident.

Despite the controversial nature of the strike, Albert “Ginger” Goodwin’s fascinating story struck a chord with many and his union involvement helped to usher in the eight-hour workday for foundry workers in the province.

Other resources held by LAC:


Sarah Bellefleur Bondu is an archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.