How the death of one prime minister inspired Canadian art on an unusually grand scale

A head and shoulders portrait of former Canadian prime minister Sir John Sparrow Thompson

Sir John Sparrow David Thompson by Bonne de Bock, c. 1895 (e000000122)

Canadians were shocked and saddened when Canada’s fourth prime minister, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson (1845–1894), died suddenly during a formal lunch in the United Kingdom, at Windsor Castle. They were honoured when Queen Victoria laid the funerary wreath upon “her dead premier’s” casket with her own hands.

This was a period of shared national mourning. The unexpected nature of the death, combined with the extended, high-profile pomp and splendour of the funerary proceedings—on both sides of the Atlantic—made it the major Canadian news story of the day. Much of the coverage took on an imperial-nationalistic tone.

Head and shoulders photograph of Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith

Portraits of Artists from Archives Of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

One Canadian artist, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (1846–1923) was inspired to capture the sentiment through a timely and ambitious program of commemorative public art.

Bell-Smith planned and prepared a series of three monumental canvases, which he intended to sell to the Canadian government. Ultimately, Bell-Smith hoped the series would be displayed in perpetuity, either at the National Gallery of Canada or on Parliament Hill.

In each of the three paintings that make up the series, the artist chose to portray one important homage to the dead prime minister. The first, Queen Victoria’s Tribute to Her Dead Canadian Premier, which is known as “The Tribute,” is set at Windsor Castle and centres around Queen Victoria’s official act of laying the wreath on Thompson’s casket.

A portrait of those attending the mass held at Windsor Castle for former prime minister Sir John Thompson. Queen Victoria lays a wreath on Thompson’s casket while prominent guests and members of her court look on

Queen Victoria’s Tribute to her Dead Canadian Premier, by Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1896, (c141808k)

The second, The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax, known as “The Arrival,” portrays solemnities held on the deck of Queen Victoria’s “fastest warship,” the HMS Blenheim. The Blenheim was chosen to convey Thompson’s body back to Canada, with highest honours. The ship’s sides were painted black and its gangway draped in black cloth.

A photograph of an original oil painting which shows the deck of the HMS Blenheim upon its arrival in Halifax with former prime minister Thompson’s remains.

The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax, photograph of the original 1895 painting, c. 1902, by Cunningham Studios, (e011213232)

Unfortunately, the only remaining record of this painting is a black and white photograph. The original was destroyed in the Parliament Hill fire of 1916.

The third, and final, painting in the series, The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson at Halifax, known as “The State Funeral,” portrays Thompson’s Canadian state funeral, which was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on January 3, 1896.

A painting of the state funeral of Sir John Thompson, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, featuring portraits of many of those attending

The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson at Halifax, by Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1897, Library and Archives Canada (c147277k)

Bell-Smith’s paintings don’t portray Thompson himself: instead they provide accurate portraits of the former prime minister’s most prominent mourners. While these include British royalty (Queen Victoria granted Bell-Smith a life sitting) and court personalities (the queen’s “loyal Indian servant,” Mohammed Abdul Karim (1863–1909), often referred to as “Abdul,” features prominently in the first canvas), the cast is primarily made up of politicians and prominent citizens in Halifax and Ottawa—those with the power to eventually buy the works for the people of Canada.

Detail shows Mohammed Abdul Karim

Detail of “Abdul,” from “The Tribute” (c141808k)

 

Detail shows politicians and prominent citizens of the day

Detail of mourners , from “The State Funeral”, (c141808k)

Unfortunately, Bell Smith’s very attempts to connect the paintings to potential patrons may have led to the failure of his commemoration.

By the time the works were finished, the government had changed hands. As Eva Major-Marothy, former chief curator and senior art archivist at Library and Archives Canada, has written in her important study on the series: “The new Liberal government was not interested in acquiring portraits of its opponents or paintings of activities that glorified them.”

The aesthetic quality of the works may also have been a determining factor. The composition of “the State Funeral” appears especially clunky and forced, perhaps due to Bell-Smith’s overzealous attempts to include every important sitter. In some cases, the size of the figures is exaggerated. In most cases the positions are as unnatural as if the portraits had been cut and pasted from another source. At the time, the then-curator of the National Gallery of Canada felt “unable to recommend their purchase….”

In the end, the entire series fell into obscurity, and two of the paintings were presumed lost for a number of years. But what really happened to each of Bell-Smith’s monumental canvases?

“The Tribute” was purchased by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto in about 1914 and donated to the then National Archives sometime before 1931. It was lost in the archives and discovered again much later, during an inventory of large rolled up items. The canvas had been badly damaged, but Library and Archives Canada’s team of conservators was able to restore it expertly… it remains an example of an extraordinary conservation effort.

“The Arrival” was purchased by a senator whose portrait figures prominently in it. After his death, his widow donated the work to the National Gallery, but it was transferred to the Railway Room, on Parliament Hill, where it was destroyed in the fire.

“The State Funeral,” the third and last painting in Bell-Smith’s series, was never sold and remained in the artist’s family. It was donated to Library and Archives Canada by the artist’s descendants in 1997.

Today, the two remaining paintings—reunited in Library and Archives Canada’s collection—provide us with a fascinating insight into the history of public commemoration in Canada.

For further information, see Eva Major-Marothy, The Wrong Commemoration: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith’s Paintings of the State Funeral of Sir John Thompson, in Public Art in Canada, Toronto (2009).

Igor Gouzenko and the Start of the Cold War

By Daniel German

The “hot war” that was the Second World War officially ended on September 2, 1945, with the surrender of Japan. Three days later, on the evening of September 5, the Cold War—or at least public knowledge of what would come to be known as the Cold War—began. On that day, a junior officer at the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Ottawa, carrying assorted documents he had removed from the embassy, attempted to defect to Canada.

The man in question, Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko, was more than simply a junior diplomat: he was actually a member of the Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye (GRU), the Soviet military’s foreign military-intelligence agency. His main duties as part of the Soviet legation in Ottawa included encrypting and decrypting messages for the GRU head in Ottawa, Colonel Nikolai Zabotin, who, under the guise of being the Soviet military attaché, operated a string of agents in Canada who gathered intelligence for the Soviet Union.

Gouzenko had found out that he was to be returned to the Soviet Union, and feared the possible consequences. He therefore decided to defect, gathering documents that he hoped would show Canadian authorities his value as a source of information on Soviet intelligence activities. Unfortunately for his nerves, and those of his wife, the initial stages of this defection possessed far too much of the farce mixed with melodrama to befit the intelligence he wished to share.

During the 24 hours following his departure from the embassy, Gouzenko bounced from pillar to post, as he attempted to tell his story to the news media, the police and the government. At every turn, he seems to have been stymied. People thought that he was making things up, that someone else should deal with him, or simply that acknowledging him would cause too many problems with the Soviets.

A colour photograph of a brown brick low-rise apartment building, with a white door.

Photograph of the apartment building where Igor Gouzenko lived with his wife in 1945. Photo credit: LAC

The evening of the September 6, 1945, started much on the same note. At first, Gouzenko and his wife hid in their apartment, frightened because they could get no one to take them seriously. Their concerns were heightened when they spotted two men keeping the apartment building under surveillance, and someone knocked on their door and called out. Gouzenko recognized the voice as belonging to another Soviet officer. The Gouzenkos then approached a neighbouring apartment, occupied by a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and his family, and sought refuge there. The RCAF member offered to go out on his bicycle and seek police help.

Following the departure of the helpful neighbour, the comedy of errors proceeded apace. Initially, it seemed that the appeal from the RCAF member had borne fruit, as two officers from the Ottawa Police arrived and interviewed Gouzenko, who informed them that he had secret information of great value and that the Soviets would do anything to get it back. Perhaps attempting to appease Gouzenko, who by then may have been frantic, the officers informed him that they would keep an eye on the building all night and that, should any problem arise, the Gouzenkos need only turn off the light in the bathroom of the RCAF family’s apartment and help would soon arrive. The officers then left, leaving the Gouzenkos hiding in their neighbour’s apartment.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and a man with a hood covering his face, looking at a book entitled The Fall of a Titan bearing an image of Joseph Stalin along with the name of the author, Igor Gouzenko, on the cover.

Igor Gouzenko on television holding his book The Fall of a Titan. (a129625)

Just before midnight, the apartment building’s nervous occupants became aware that someone had broken into the Gouzenkos’ apartment, and the intruder could be heard moving about. When the police arrived, they found four representatives from the Soviet Embassy in the Gouzenkos’ apartment, including one who was identified as Second Secretary at the embassy (actually the Canadian head of the Naródnyy Komissariát Vnútrennikh Del (NKVD) [the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs], otherwise known as Soviet Internal Security). He was accompanied by the assistant military attaché and two junior figures, one of whom was also a member of the NKVD. The four claimed that they had permission to be there, but had greater difficulty explaining why, if they were there with the Gouzenkos’ knowledge, they had broken the lock on the door in order to enter. Although the Soviets were asked to remain in order to answer questions, they left soon after a more senior officer of the city police arrived to investigate what now seemed to be a much more serious affair.

The next morning, the city police escorted Igor Gouzenko to the offices of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), where Gouzenko shared his story and handed over the documents he had abstracted from the embassy. Now sensitized to the import of Gouzenko’s testimony, the RCMP studied his documents very carefully.

Unbeknownst to Gouzenko, his actions on September 6 had already been brought to the attention of the highest levels of the Canadian government, although had he known the original opinion of the Prime Minister (W.L.M. King) regarding the affair, he would not have been so sanguine. According to a personal note found with Mr. King’s diary, King was informed on the morning of the September 6 that Gouzenko wanted to defect and hand over his documents. King, on his part, decided that taking in the defector would cause too many problems and in any case thought that the claims of a Soviet spy service operating in Canada were no doubt overblown. When told that Gouzenko was distraught and might commit suicide, the Prime Minister directed that a member of Canadian security should watch the Gouzenkos’ apartment and that, if Gouzenko committed suicide, the matter should be left to the local police, but that the secret documents should be secured by the government.

This approach by the government was blown open by the events of that night and the documents Gouzenko shown to the RCMP the next day. Confronted with the information contained therein, the Prime Minister and the security services of Canada, Great Britain, and the United States were shocked at the extent and depth of Soviet espionage activities.

A 1946 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the affair named names, including those of scientists, soldiers, bureaucrats and politicians. By the end of the public inquiry, citizens of the Western Alliance were stunned to find prominent scientists, and even a member of Parliament, named as having betrayed Canada. It was the end of the peaceable kingdom’s hopes for postwar tranquillity and amity among the wartime allies, as relations between the Soviet Union and the West chilled—cooling down into the Cold War.

A red plaque with gold writing featuring the Arms of Canada in the top left corner.

A photograph of the plaque commemorating Igor Gouzenko and providing information on the Gouzenko Affair. Photo credit: LAC


Daniel German is a senior archivist in the Government Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Textiles made in Canada: the archives of the Dominion Textile Company

By Jennifer Anderson and Dalton Campbell

Archives can reveal the details of Canadians’ everyday work lives, suggest to contemporary researchers what earlier generations experienced in the workplace, and show how the Canadian economy has changed over time. A case in point: the extensive photographs in the collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) related to the production and marketing of Canadian-made textiles. Many of these photographs have been digitized and are available through the LAC collection search.

A colour photograph of five packages of Texmade sheets, in different colours and styles.

A promotional photograph for Texmade products, a Dominion Textile brand (e011201409)

For generations, the Dominion Textile Company was synonymous with Canadian-made cotton textiles. Established in 1905 through a merger of four independent textile firms, Dominion Textile originally operated 11 mills, producing primarily griege cotton and finished cotton cloth for Canadian markets. As the company consolidated its position, it began to expand its reach in the textile industry and across the country. The firm’s headquarters were in Montréal, Quebec.

When the first textile companies were founded, the majority of Canadians were making their own clothing. According to Serge Gaudreau, the textile industry, like the railroad, was a visible symbol of Canada’s modernity at the beginning of the 20th century, a complex industry that combined human labour with machinery. Facing competition from the United States and the United Kingdom, Canadian companies were given tax breaks under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s National Policy, allowing the Canadian textile mills to make headway in the competitive 1870s market.

In the textile industry, race/ethnicity, gender and class had relevance. As was commonplace in the Quebec manufacturing sector in those days, the workforce that carried the industry into the new era was largely Francophone and Irish, with English-speaking managers. The cotton itself would likely have been sourced in the United States, and the photographs do include some American mills.

Textile mills in Canada relied on a very high percentage of female workers, as Gail Cuthbert Brandt has shown in Through the Mill: Girls and Women in the Quebec Cotton Textile Industry, 1881–1951 and Joy Parr in The Gender of Breadwinners: Women, Men and Change in Two Industrial Towns, 1880–1950.

A black-and-white photograph showing men and women posed in a factory with large machines in the foreground.

Seven male and three female factory workers posed behind machinery, ca. 1895, Magog, Quebec (e011213545)

Dominion Textile maintained its own archives before transferring the documents to LAC. The archival fonds includes a rich collection of photographs, textual records and audiovisual recordings documenting the work life and community of employees, the architecture of mills in diverse locations, the process of textile fabrication, and the finished products. Like many company towns, the cotton mills organized sports teams, whose legacy lives on in the archives.

A black-and-white matted photograph of a soccer team, with the players in striped jerseys and the coaches in suits.

Montmorency Association Football Club soccer league champions, 1915, Montmorency, Quebec (e011213574)

The collection contains the administrative and operational records of the parent company as well as minute books and financial records of 62 other firms associated with Dominion Textile. These firms include the original four predecessor companies that merged in 1905, subsidiary companies and the independent textile companies acquired by Dominion Textile as it expanded to become Canada’s largest textile firm.

For some fabric companies, the Dominion Textile merger was a necessity. Montmorency Cotton Mills, established in 1898, produced a variety of products (grey cloth, hosiery yarns, towelling, sheeting and flannels) for domestic and international markets. The company was forced into the merger in part because of the effects on international trade caused by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Montmorency mills remained operational well into the 1980s. The archival photographs at LAC illustrate the mill’s longevity and the powerful waterfall that produced energy for its operations.

A black-and-white aerial photograph showing a factory beside a river, with a large waterfall in the background.

Dominion Textile Limited, 1925, Montmorency, Quebec (e011213592)

In 1929, as part of a larger acquisition, Dominion Textile also acquired what would be called the Sherbrooke Cotton Company. The acquisition included the stock of the Sherbrooke Housing Company, which sought to build a model city for the mill’s employees. The plant, retooled to manufacture synthetic fibres in 1935, continued to operate until the 1990s.

A page from a binder featuring a colour aerial photograph of a factory in a town, near a river, with statistics printed below the photograph.

Sherbrooke Fabrics, ca. 1980, Sherbrooke, Quebec (e011213596)

Penman Manufacturing Company, first incorporated in 1882, dates back to 1868, when its first knitted goods factory opened. Under John Penman, the company became the largest knitting firm in Canada when it assumed control of six smaller knitting mills in Port Dover, Paris and other towns in Ontario and Quebec.

In 1906, the company was acquired by Dominion Textile and reorganized under the name Penmans Limited. The company continued to expand, producing hosiery, underwear and other knitted goods.

A page from a binder featuring a colour aerial photograph of a factory with a chimney near the centre, surrounded by trees and a town, with statistics below the photograph.

Penmans plant, ca. 1980, Paris, Ontario (e011213581)

The Dominion Textile photographs depict mills in towns and cities across central and eastern Canada, representing the close proximity between factory buildings and the local community and workforce. They are complemented by archival material in other collections at LAC.

The material also shows changes to technology as well as health and safety protections in the workplace, and it reflects the industry’s evolution.

A black-and-white photograph of two women standing and operating devices in a laboratory, with machinery and a large window in the background, and pipes and fluorescent lighting overhead.

Testing laboratory, ca. 1945, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (e011213547)

A black-and-white photograph of a man wearing jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt monitoring a spooling machine.

A worker monitors a spooling machine at Long Sault Fabrics, 1984 (e011213534)

The archival collection also includes textual records related to the negotiation of the 1987 free trade agreement with the United States, and the expected impact on the textile industry.

The collection shows that the marketing of Canadian-made fashion was also about cultural diplomacy and international trade. Over the years, economic pressures, market competition and difficult work conditions often led to restructuring and downsizing, which met resistance from the workforce. The collection includes images related to strikes and labour unrest at the textile mills.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of people marching in the street, carrying a banner that reads “Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Textile, CSD [Centrale des syndicats démocratiques], Usine de Montmorency” [Textile workers, CSD (Congress of Democratic Trade Unions), Montmorency factory].

Protesters in labour dispute, ca. 1970 (e011213559)

The fonds also includes vibrant promotional imagery and moving images featuring the finished products, which made Dominion Textile quite literally a household name in Canada.

A colour photograph of two women wearing patterned cotton dresses, jackets and headscarves, walking on a runway.

Fashion show, 1986 (e011201412)

We look forward to seeing how researchers will incorporate the recently digitized photographs into new projects on the importance of the textile industry in Canada and further explore the breadth of the resources preserved at LAC. If Reference Services can be of assistance, please reach out to us.

To see more images related to the Dominion Textile Company and textile manufacturing, visit our Flickr album.

Here are some other sources at LAC:

Hamilton Cotton Company fonds

Lennard and Sons Ltd. fonds

Mercury-Chipman Knit Ltd. fonds

Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union: Textile Division fonds

Jacob Lawrence Cohen fonds

Madeleine Parent and Kent Rowley fonds

Margot Trevelyan fonds

Royal Commission on the Textile Industry

Department of Industry records


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Reference Services Division, and Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section, at Library and Archives Canada. The authors wish to thank Kerry O’Neill for her contributions to this blog.

Working while parenting isn’t new, most of us are just out of practice

By Krista Cooke

A black-and-white photograph of two women seated on benches in a log cabin. They are working at a large weaving frame while a small child rocks a baby in a cradle nearby.

Two women work at a weaving frame while a nearby child amuses the baby, Cap à l’Aigle, Quebec, ca. 1910 (a040744)

“Pandemic parenting” has been causing stress for families around the globe, above and beyond the strain of living in a global health crisis. This period has been tough, even for those lucky enough to be able to take a leave of absence or access emergency funding sources. For emergency workers, single parents, those living in tight spaces, those in poverty, or families dealing with domestic violence or mental health issues, the stress of pandemic parenting is acute. For others, like me, having both parents working at home with young children to care for, home-school, clean up after, feed and entertain, the past few months have not been easy either.

By turns hilarious and tragic, the blogosphere is filled to bursting with home videos and personal reflections about parenting during COVID-19. As a mother, I have been learning from other parents: creating new routines, being grateful for our family’s good fortune, and taking one day at a time. As a historian, I have been looking to the past for insights, studying the women captured in photographs from Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collections. How did families do this in the past? How did we get here? What will happen next? Employment numbers early in the pandemic showed Canadian women losing jobs twice as fast as men, and more recently Statistics Canada recorded job numbers bouncing back much more quickly for men than for women. Online speculation is running rampant about how this epidemic will impact women in the workplaces of the future. How can we “Lean In” (as influential American author Sheryl Sandberg advocated) without child care, when many of us are spending our days with a laptop in one hand and a handful of colouring sheets in the other?

Generations of Canadian women have been intimately acquainted with the work/child care balancing act. Before the age of industrialization, most women juggled child-rearing responsibilities with home-based work (both paid and unpaid), contributing as they could to the family economy. Indigenous communities cared for children collectively while young mothers worked at clothing or food production. Early settler women earned money from home by taking farm products or handicrafts to market, sewing for pay, or taking in laundry. Fathers worked long hours on the land, in growing urban centres, or away from home in seasonal jobs while mothers managed as best they could with children at their heels. Early marriage and large families were the norm (according to Statistics Canada surveys, in the mid-1800s, the average Canadian family had six children). Children were expected to contribute early by helping with farm and housework, by taking care of younger siblings, and often by leaving school at a young age to help pay the bills.

A black-and-white photograph of a factory interior with four women working in a production line on a fish-canning machine. Two of the women have babies strapped to their back with wraps. There is a young child in a stroller behind the women.

Japanese women work in a fish cannery with their Japanese-Canadian babies strapped to their backs, Steveston, B.C., 1913 (Vancouver Public Library 2071)

Industrialization brought mass manufacturing and new opportunities for women to earn wages. Urban working-class women joined the male factory workforce, mainly in jobs related to textiles and food processing. The number of women workers grew through the 1800s; by 1901, they accounted for 13 percent of the Canadian workforce. Some women, whose families could afford it, worked only before they married or after their children had grown, reverting to home-based work like needlework to earn money while their children were young. For women who needed to keep their factory jobs, child care fell to the extended family. Many mothers left small children behind while they worked, in the care of elderly family members or older siblings. Some women brought their children with them when they did not have other options. The Japanese women shown above, part of the first generation of immigrants from Japan, would not have had grandmothers or elderly aunts in Canada to provide child care.

A black-and-white photograph of a mother waving goodbye to her two small children. The children are holding the hands of a daycare worker. The day nursery appears to be in a fenced yard in a residential neighbourhood. There is a swing set in the background.

Mrs. Jack Wright, a munitions worker, waves goodbye to her children at a day nursery, Toronto, 1943 (e000761764)

The two world wars (1914–1918 and 1939–1945) ensured new visibility for women in the workforce, as middle-class women joined working-class women in previously male-dominated fields. The fight for women’s right to vote and the opening of Canadian universities to women in the early part of the century had gradually increased the presence of women in the workforce, a trend that accelerated during the war years. Teaching, nursing and secretarial jobs were soon staffed mainly by young or unmarried women, and small numbers of women broke into other fields such as journalism, medicine and science. The Second World War created a massive need for labour, as men joined the military and the economy geared up for wartime. Women were urgently needed to fill jobs, so employers and governments were forced to address the issue of child care, in order to free mothers to join the wartime workforce in large numbers. Between 1939 and 1942, the number of women in the workforce doubled, with women accounting for one third of Canadian workers. The Canadian government responded by establishing a wartime day nursery program to help working mothers, in eight industrial cities across the country. A 1943 film, Before They Are Six, held in the collections at LAC and available online through the National Film Board’s website, promoted the day nursery program. Historian Lisa Pasolli found that these nurseries cared for just over 4,000 children between 1942 and 1946, mainly in Ontario and Quebec where most heavy industry was located. Another 2,500 children were part of the hot lunch and after-school care programs. Mrs. Jack Wright, pictured above, has become Canada’s most famous wartime working mother, featured in a series of Wartime Information Board images held at LAC. In the photos, Wright balances her war work with the responsibilities of feeding her family and raising her children with the help of the day nursery program. Most Canadian women, however, did not have access to day nurseries, and they continued to juggle informal child-care arrangements or paid work from home.

The end of the Second World War brought an end to the day nursery program. Newspaper and magazine articles urged middle-class working mothers back into their homes to make way for men returning from military service. The unusual wartime circumstances that had made child care a federal priority had ended, and widespread availability of government-sponsored daycares would not come again for decades. Throughout the 1950s, child care split regionally, often along class lines. Historian Larry Prochner’s research on child care found that professionally educated nursery school teachers cared for the children of wealthier households, while many child-care centres followed older patterns, providing crèche services as a stopgap solution for lower-income families. The 1966 Canada Assistance Plan again brought some federal attention and consistency to daycares, with government recognition of the rapidly growing number of working women.

A father spoons food into the mouth of his child, who is seated in a high chair in the kitchen. The father’s mouth is open, as he mimics his baby.

Magazine photo featuring a father overseeing a baby’s mealtime, Star Weekly, 1960 (e010692838)

The women’s movements of the 1960s (what some have dubbed the “Second Wave” of feminism) saw women increasingly taking their place in the workforce, with numbers of working women growing to match wartime levels. As the number of working mothers has grown, household duties and child care have become a shared responsibility. Fathers, once expected to “man” the barbecue and lawnmower on weekends, are increasingly involved in child rearing, cooking and cleaning. The man in the Star Weekly magazine spread above may have been newsworthy in 1960, but most modern fathers are fully versed in the joys of baby mush. Although Canadian men spend less time on housework than women (according to Statistics Canada, 1.5 hours less per day on average), today’s fathers are much more likely than Baby Boomer dads to take charge of parenting. The 1950s-style nuclear family with a working husband and stay-at-home mother is in the minority. According to the same Statistics Canada report, almost 60 percent of Canadian families have two income earners, up from under 40 percent in 1976, and single-parent households have almost doubled during the same period. Double-income households, single parenting, co-parenting and other family models hinge on reliable child care. With most Canadian families consisting of two full-time wage earners, daycares, schools, summer camps and after-school programs have become essential to the smooth running of most households. Department of Manpower and Immigration photographs at LAC include dozens of images of daycares and nursery schools and show the increasing importance of early childhood education. The conversation about their importance to the Canadian economy is also likely to increase in the eventual wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A colour photograph of the backs of two small children seated at a table in a cluttered room. The children are pretending to work on handmade cardboard computers while talking on plastic telephones.

Two small children “work from home,” Gatineau, Quebec, March 2020

Families facing a long summer without day camps and worrying about a new school year filled with uncertainty are asking questions about how long “pandemic parenting” is sustainable. Only time will tell if the gap between female and male employment will continue grow as the pandemic wears on and families are forced to choose which wage earner will stay home with children. A recent survey by Statistics Canada looks at how families are coping during the pandemic, in order to identify how to help those most in need. As with so many things during COVID-19, child-care solutions seem to be as individual as a family’s circumstances. I myself have no answers, except to reflect that this constant juggling of family and work responsibilities is not new. Communal child rearing, the rapid mobilization of wartime day nurseries to meet the needs of a nation in crisis, increasing parenting responsibilities for fathers, employers’ openness to flextime, and the availability of new technologies like telework are all possible models to take with us into this summer and beyond.


Krista Cooke is a curator in the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

Red tape in the archives

By Leah Sander

Nearly 20 years ago, as a young archivist, I had the privilege of working for a year at the National Archives of Scotland (now the National Records of Scotland) in Edinburgh. Archival practices in Scotland are generally similar to those in Canada. One important difference, of course, is that Scotland has a much longer paper recordkeeping history than Canada, and the holdings of the Scottish national archives reflect this.

Another difference that I noted at the time was in terminology. To keep records of the same origin together in a way that would not damage the records, staff at the National Archives of Scotland used a natural-coloured woven ribbon that to my surprise was called “archival tape.” It was clearly different from the adhesive substance that I associated with the word “tape.” This ribbon was not adhesive in any way, was simply used to tie things, and was made of archivally safe material.

After learning about the use of the word “tape” for this particular material, I came across original documents tied with a dark pink ribbon, which would have been used by the original recordkeepers. A Scottish colleague pointed out that this was the origin of the expression “red tape”—the red or pink ribbon used to keep related bundles of records together was literally red tape, before the term had any figurative meaning.

 A colour photograph of a register with pink ribbon wrapped around it.

Original pink ribbon (red tape) around a register, before conservation treatment, at the Library and Archives Canada storage facility in Renfrew, Ontario. Photo credit: Elise Rowsome, LAC

It was not an exclusively Scottish practice to use red tape in recordkeeping. Many European countries used this material for binding records in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, exporting it to the colonies that later became the countries of Canada and the United States of America. My first job after working at the National Archives of Scotland was at the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Archives in Winnipeg. I quickly became aware that the HBC, whose headquarters until 1970 were in London, England, also used red tape.

A colour photograph of rolled maps tied with undyed ribbon.

For preservation purposes, pink ribbon was removed from these rolled maps and replaced with undyed ribbon at the Library and Archives Canada storage facility in Renfrew, Ontario. Photo credit: Cory Dunfield, LAC

Because many Western bureaucratic organizations and governments frequently used red tape in their recordkeeping, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, the term became synonymous in the English language with the excessive procedures and delays of administration that were common among modern bureaucracies. Many archives that hold records from this time period, including Library and Archives Canada, therefore also retain examples of real “red tape” in their collections.


Leah Sander is the Lead Archivist for Description in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

100 Years of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

By Michael Dufresne

From partisanship to professionalism

2020 is the 100th anniversary of Elections Canada and its founding legislation, the Dominion Elections Act (DEA). The DEA contained significant changes that brought lasting and positive impacts to the Canadian electoral system. Since 1867, according to the dean of electoral studies, political scientist John C. Courtney, our system has developed “from partisanship to professionalism.” It has experienced multiple changes over the years, but Courtney says, “without doubt the greatest single improvement in the administration of elections in Canada came with the establishment of the offices of our various chief electoral officers.”

As of July 1, 1920, the DEA centralized the administration of federal elections and created the new role of General Electoral Officer, now called the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). Not only did the Act drastically change the administration of federal elections, but Parliament also used the DEA as a springboard to enact more reforms. To militate against the partisan manipulation of elections, the CEO became an Officer of Parliament, with an independent role; the incumbent could not be removed from office by the government without just cause.

“That Canada be not disgraced”: the 1917 Military Voters Act and War-time Elections Act

The DEA followed two earlier Acts of Parliament that were part of a rather obvious two-pronged electoral strategy to ensure the re-election of Prime Minister Robert Borden and his Unionist government. Borden had become prime minister in 1911 and was not defeated until the end of the First World War.

Visiting the Western Front, Borden was reportedly “shaken” by the magnitude of the loss of life; he was convinced that conscription was the only way to contribute more soldiers. “Our first duty is to win at any cost,” Borden confided to his diary, “so that we may continue to do our part in winning the war and that Canada be not disgraced.”

Passed in September 1917, in time for its application in the December federal election, the Military Voters Act (MVA) enfranchised British subjects in the Canadian Armed Forces, regardless of active or retired status, age, ethnicity, or gender, as well as British subjects ordinarily resident in Canada on active duty in Europe in an allied army. The MVA also empowered the party of the military voter’s choice to apply that vote to any riding if the voter had not selected a riding. These votes, overwhelmingly in favour of the government, were assigned 31 days after the election to ridings where they helped government candidates win.

Black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform standing and reading a propaganda poster that reads, “A vote against the Government means: You are here for life. A vote for the Government means: Another man is coming to take your place.”

Propaganda for the Dominion elections of Canada, posted on a salvage company dumpster in France, 1917 (a008158)

The War-time Elections Act (WEA) was the MVA’s civilian counterpart. Also passed in the fall of 1917, the WEA enfranchised women who were spouses, widows, mothers, sisters or daughters of anyone, male or female, living or dead, in the Canadian military, as long as these female voters met certain requirements, including age, nationality and residency. The WEA also disenfranchised conscientious objectors and others. These included British subjects born in countries with whom Canada was at war who were naturalized after March 31, 1902, as well as those naturalized after that date whose first language was that of an enemy country.

Broadening the franchise

In the wake of the 1917 federal election, the opposition Liberals largely supported the 1920 legislation that saw the enfranchisement of most women. The bill was criticized, though, for not removing an old instrument of partisan politics: patronage appointments. The government did not forgo the power to appoint revision officers, now called returning officers. This kept the ability to hand out “possibly the greatest instrument of political patronage at the local level” in the hands of the government of the day, says Courtney. This oft-criticized feature of Canadian federal election law remained on the books until 2006, when the Federal Accountability Act ended the practice. Another significant issue, gerrymandering, was also left untouched by the DEA; this is where the boundaries of a riding are manipulated to favour one candidate over another. The means to end the practice, the use of non-partisan electoral boundary commissions, did not become a regular part of the political landscape until the 1960s.

The enfranchisement of women and the elimination of property restrictions effectively doubled the size of the electorate in one stroke. But problems remained. As Courtney maintains, “The most serious deficiencies” involved the “exclusion from the franchise of specific groups for racial, religious or economic reasons.”

The DEA did, however, grant women the right to become candidates in federal elections. The first woman to become a Member of Parliament was elected to the House of Commons in the December 1921 election: Agnes Macphail, a teacher who ran for the Progressives in the rural Ontario riding of Grey South East. Not everyone agreed with this broadening of the federal franchise. MP J.J. Denis, for example, held that a women’s place was “not amid the strife of the political arena, but in her home.” Henri Bourassa, an early advocate of a new nationality of Canadians embracing both French and English, voiced a position that probably echoed that of others in the province of Quebec. He predicted that granting the vote to women would “reduce the birth rate, undermine parental authority, and eventually destroy the family as an institution.”

If the fears of its opponents were never realized, the impact of the broadening of the franchise did not always meet the expectations of its proponents. Some expected the enfranchisement of women to have a significant impact on the composition of Parliament and the kinds of laws and programs that would result. There was little of this impact in evidence.

Also, the possibility that women would vote as a bloc overestimated the significance of their identity as women in the voting booth. “Instead of voting en bloc, as feminists had urged and as politicians had feared, women divided their votes among Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, and Labour candidates in almost the same proportions men did. Rather than voting according to sex, women voted as members of a class, region, or ethnic group,” Courtney writes.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman placing her vote in a box, while smiling at the camera and holding her dog’s leash. In the background are other women waiting to vote and checking the list of voters.

A woman votes during the 1953 federal election (e011200969)

An ongoing conversation

A significant benefit from the 1920 DEA is the provision obliging the CEO to prepare a post-election report for Parliament. As a result, the CEO takes a critical look at the most recent election, identifies its problems and challenges, and proposes remedies for the next one. This encourages an ongoing conversation about our electoral system. Following the 1921 federal election, the first CEO, Oliver Mowat Biggar, reported that those entitled to vote had trouble doing so because their names were left off the list of voters. Others, he said, were not able to vote because of the day on which the election was held. Biggar recommended that more revision officers be used when compiling the voters list to ensure its accuracy; to make it more convenient to vote, he also recommended that more advanced polls be established. Both of these solutions were accepted by Parliament.

Even today, from a worldwide perspective, “the creation of Elections Canada is heralded as a key contribution to the development of neutral electoral practices,” writes Courtney, one that “distanced the general supervision of the electoral process from the government of the day.” The 1920 DEA (renamed the Canada Elections Act in 1951) was less of a beginning and more of an important development in an ongoing conversation about the nature, character and limits of Canadian parliamentary democracy. To be sure, the advent of an independent office administering a mechanism so crucial to the legitimate exercise of power is a significant and noteworthy event in Canadian electoral history.

For images of elections from our collection, visit the Flickr album.

Additional sources

David J. Bercuson and J.L. Granatstein, Dictionary of Canadian Military History, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1992

John C. Courtney, Elections, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2004

Dominion Elections Act, from the Canadian Museum of History’s online Chronicle: a spotlight on 1920–1997

The Electoral System of Canada, 4th edition

A History of the Vote in Canada (2007)

Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (also referred to as the Lortie Commission)

John Herd Thompson and Allen Seager, Canada, 1922–1939: Decades of Discord, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1985


Michael Dufresne was the archivist responsible for Elections Canada and is now an access archivist in the ATIP division at Library and Archives Canada.

Making Connections, Growing Collections

By Michael Kent

When I lead workshops, attendees are often fascinated to learn about the all-encompassing nature of our agency’s acquisitions mandate when it comes to Canadiana. Simply put, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) strives to have every Canadian publication intended for sale or public distribution that has ever been produced. By Canadian, we mean either published in Canada, written by a Canadian, or about Canada. We acquire items published in Canada through legal deposit, a program that requires publishers to send us copies of their publications.

Works published outside of Canada are more complicated to acquire. For one thing, we have to pursue them more actively. Often the greatest challenge is knowing they exist. This is no simple task as Canadian authors write on all topics, are published around the world, and produce in a diverse range of languages. I have discovered that one way of uncovering this information is through informal encounters.

I had one such experience recently at a conference dedicated to Yiddish literature in Canada. At the conference dinner, I started up a conversation with the woman sitting across from me and to my delight discovered I was speaking with Goldie Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is a professor of literature at the University of Lethbridge and a noted translator of Yiddish literature. She is also the daughter of acclaimed Canadian Yiddish author Chava Rosenfarb, a Holocaust survivor who settled in Montreal.

Chava Rosenfarb sitting with her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is sitting on the right and has her arm over Rosenfarb’s shoulders.

Chava Rosenfarb with her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler. Photo courtesy of Goldie Morgentaler.

When our conversation shifted to my work at LAC, Dr. Morgentaler inquired about our holdings of her mother’s books. I explained we should have all of Rosenfarb’s books published in Canada that meet the legal deposit criteria. I noted that, given her mother had many books published outside of Canada, LAC could very well be missing some of those publications, since those are not subject to legal deposit. Wanting to see her mother’s works preserved as part of LAC’s collection, we agreed to follow up after the conference to see what gaps might exist in LAC’s holdings.

Through latter emails, Dr. Morgentaler and I were able to identify a few Rosenfarb works that LAC was missing. These included translations published in the United States, Poland, and Spain. Translations of Canadian authors published abroad provide important insights into the reach of Canadian culture and how Canadians are perceived abroad.

In addition to offering her mother’s works, Dr. Morgentaler proposed to give LAC some Yiddish periodicals published outside of Canada that feature Canadian authors. These included issues of Di Pen and Yiddishe Kulture. We graciously accepted. Canadian culture exists in more than just English and French. Acquiring international publications such as these, in minority languages, provides a fuller appreciation of the cultural diversity found in Canada.

When these periodicals arrived, I was excited to discover that Dr. Morgentaler had attached to each issue a sticky-note providing information about the Canadian content. These notes mention the Canadian authors, on which pages their content appears, and the city in Canada they come from. In including these notes, Dr. Morgentaler not only gifted LAC with the actual publication but also provided us with important bibliographic content.

12 periodicals laying on a table. Attached to each periodical is a post-it-note written by Dr. Morgentaler identifying Canadian content in the issue.

Some of the Yiddish periodicals donated by Dr. Morgentaler, with the attached post-it-notes containing the bibliographic information she identified for LAC. Photo credit: Michael Kent.

While I am a Judaica librarian, I am far from knowing every Jewish author. Connecting with Dr. Morgentaler allowed me to discover authors and publications I had not previously known about and bring minority language publications into our national collection. I am always thankful for people such as Dr. Morgentaler, who are knowledgeable and passionate about Canada’s history and culture. Connecting with individuals outside our organization is essential to growing LAC’s collections and the public’s knowledge about Canada.

I was honoured to connect with Dr. Morgentaler on this small project, and I look forward to my next opportunity to introduce myself to a stranger.


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

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.