A colonial governor’s creative math

By Forrest Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two pages with handwriting in black ink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

From the Lowy Room: a productive quarantine

By Michael Kent

Like many people, I had frustrated moments in spring 2020 when we entered lockdown. Quarantining away from family and friends, and having regular life come to a standstill, is an exceptionally draining experience. One way that I kept busy—and my spirits up—was by getting to some work projects that I had always wanted to tackle but that were constantly delayed due to other priorities.

One such endeavour, related to my own professional development, was to learn more about the key early reference material in my field, Judaic librarianship. We are very fortunate in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection to have several volumes of Early Modern Hebrew bibliographic literature. These books birthed the fields of Hebrew bibliography and the history of Jewish books. While I invariably use far more modern reference material, the legacy of these works influences my job on a daily basis. I was excited to be able to finally delve into the early history of my profession.

A colour photo of book with different coloured spines on a wooden shelf. The books have small white pieces of paper sticking out of their tops.

Some of the early Hebrew bibliographic reference material in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

While doing research at home during lockdown, I was surprised to discover that one of the books I was investigating had its own quarantine story. The volume is Shem ha-Gedolim (1774) by Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (he was also known as the Ḥida). Our collection is fortunate enough to have a first edition. This work, whose title translates as “Names of the Great Ones,” is a bibliography of Jewish scholars and their contributions to Hebrew literature. In authoring this book, Azulai became one of the fathers of Jewish bibliographic scholarship.

Azulai was born in Jerusalem in 1724. He was descended from a family of prominent rabbis with roots in Spain before that country expelled its Jewish population. As a scholar, he was known to treat his interest in religious and mystical subjects with strong intellectual curiosity. He would write many books, ranging across topics of Jewish law, history and folklore, as well as his own diary and travel logs. In all, he authored over 120 works, 50 of which were published during his lifetime. In addition to his scholarship, Azulai served as an emissary of the Jewish community of the land of Israel, visiting communities in Italy, Germany, Holland, France and England, as well as throughout North Africa. During his travels, he would visit public and private libraries, keenly interested in rare manuscripts and early printed books. The research he conducted at these libraries would serve as the basis for Shem ha-Gedolim.

A colour photograph of a page of a book, written in Hebrew.

The copy of the first edition of Shem ha-Gedolim in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

These travels give us the quarantine story. In 1774, on a fundraising mission, Azulai arrived in the port of Livorno, Italy. Upon disembarking from the ship, he was forced to stay in a quarantine camp for 40 days. This was a standard requirement for visitors to the city because of the fear of epidemics. He spent his time in the camp writing the book Shem ha-Gedolim. Upon his release, he worked with members of the local Jewish community to have the work published. While travelling through Italy, he would remain active in the process of publishing the volume, through receiving and editing proofs.

Learning that Rabbi Azulai was able to write a book during quarantine certainly makes me feel humble about my own accomplishments during our COVID-19 lockdowns. I certainly enjoyed the serendipity of discovering this quarantine story while filling my pandemic downtime. This opportunity for investigation has definitely given me a new appreciation for the origins of my field.


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

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

By Brianna Fitzgerald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lights on portrait photography

by Francois Deslauriers

I have always been captivated by portrait photography and the way it goes behind the camera. When I was young, photographs of artists, album covers featuring my favorite bands, and portraits of authors on the dust jackets of books fascinated me. I feel this way even now, when I view portraits of historical figures in the Library and Archives Canada collection on which the digitization team has the opportunity to work. When looking at these images, I ask myself: “How did the photographer arrive at this result? And what brings depth to a portrait?” It’s not just luck. It’s all in the lighting!

Of course, there are several other important aspects to the making of an image: the composition, the shot, the choice of lens, and more. Lighting techniques in portrait photography, as well as in filmmaking, including today’s cinema, have a very solid foundation dating back to the 17th century in the works of the painter Rembrandt. One of the most frequently used lighting technique in modern photography has been named after the Great Master: Rembrandt lighting.

Let’s take a look at this technique and its origins.

The Rembrandt lighting technique owes its name to the Great Master who often used this method in his own portraits. The scenes and portraits he painted often represent scenes lit by light sources such as windows or candles.

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

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

At its most basic level, Rembrandt lighting is usually done with a single light source placed at about 45 degrees from the subject and slightly higher than eye level. The concept is to create an inverted triangle of light on the subject’s cheek on the shadow side. This is very flattering, as it creates lighting that “shapes” the subject’s face and can be controlled. As viewers’ eyes are generally drawn to bright areas of an image, this technique allows the photographer to highlight a profile of the subject, in particular through distinct bright areas of light, while at the same time creating an opposite side in the shadows. (See also: Chiaroscuro) This can be used to the advantage of the subject in order to highlight and emphasize features with bright areas and conceal others by keeping them in the shadows. The contrast thus created between the bright side and the shadow side also brings dimension, atmosphere and drama to the photograph, and therefore gives greater impact to the image.

Black-and-white photo of a man in a dark suit, facing the camera.

Mr. Norman Watt, 1905. Topley Studio (e011169853)

Colour photograph of a woman with glasses looking towards the camera. Beakers and bottles containing liquids are in the foreground.

Portrait of Deborah Zamble, 2002. Susan King (e006610232) Copyright: Susan King.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman holding a cigarette.

Joan Crawford, actress. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh (a212246)

It is important that the viewer’s attention be on the eyes of the subject. This is achieved by creating a catch-light in both eyes. What are “catch-lights,” you may ask? These are the small white dots that appear in the subject’s eyes when the reflection from the light source hits the eyeballs. In a portrait, the position of the light is key. The light source is usually positioned high enough to create that light triangle, and low enough to create catch-lights in the eyes. The viewer’s attention is thus drawn to the eyes, which seem to sparkle.

A black-and-white photograph of a man with his hands clasped together in front of him.

Albert Einstein, 1948. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh. (A212510 )

A black-and-white photograph of a boy in a suit.

Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, 1870. Photo credit: William James Topley. (a025346)

The beauty of technology is that today we have powerful light sources, such as flashes or LED light panels, which are daylight color balanced and portable. These light sources are certainly much more convenient than candles!

Rembrandt lighting is a simple, effective and flattering method of lighting for a wide variety of subjects. If you are attentive, you will be able to see it in many portrait photographs found in the collection, even in your favorite movies and television series.


Francois Deslauriers is a digital imaging technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation division at Library and Archives Canada.

Etiquette, courtesy, good manners and polite society: Retrospective publications at Library and Archives Canada

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

No one who searches through the LAC collection leaves empty-handed. Thirsty for knowledge, LAC’s etiquette collection attracted my attention. My excitement was so strong that I prepared as though I was setting out on a long journey to a destination I like to call “etiquette books published in Canada before 1953.”

We carry the genes of our ancestors with us and we enjoy the benefits of the trails they blazed for us by removing the obstacles that made their daily lives difficult. What’s more, we inherited their know-how and their courtesy.

In fact, etiquette seems like a way to build an orderly, caring and cared-for society. Codes of etiquette allow people to gather for events, joyful or sad, and spend time together in harmony with everyone somehow following the same set of rules. Contact and coexistence with peoples of different cultures have also influenced etiquette on all sides. As such, etiquette textbooks and schools specializing in this area gradually expanded their field of expertise as encounters between different civilizations grew.

The etiquette collection is rich and highly diverse. Far from being outdated, it holds promising interest for many. The works in the collection offer writers or filmmakers possible inspiration for scripts set in an era of interest. For some comedians, retrospective publications provide fodder for skits highlighting the contrast between the customs of modern times and yesteryear. For them, this documentation is vital! Even students researching lifestyles in different eras will find what they are looking for.

Black-and-white photo of people in formal attire seated around a long oval table. The table features place settings and decorative centrepieces.

A group of people demonstrating their good manners (a029856)

What it is exactly?

The terms etiquette and manners differ in that the etiquette is defined as a series of codes that create the conditions for good manners. Etiquette is quite exhaustive and covers all aspects of human life. It applies to behaviours, gestures and expressions both spoken and unspoken.

Many books have been written about etiquette, although the word may not necessarily appear on the title pages. Nevertheless, the following terms or keywords allude to the model practices expected in polite society: courtesy; the art of living; the art of dressing; good manners; the art of presentation; the art of correspondence; home economics; table manners; and politeness in the areas of transportation, leisure, travel and more.

Scope

Good manners are not the focus of publications alone. The once numerous specialized schools often catered to wealthy, elite young women. Finishing schools provided a full range of etiquette training.

Some careers also require employees to graduate from specialized schools, such as schools of protocol or butler schools.

The LAC collection

Vintage publications on etiquette are a treasure trove of information. Among other things, they teach us about the transformations that our society has witnessed. For example, a textbook on good conduct for teenagers informs us about what parents, teachers and society as a whole expected of young people of their generation. Some books describe dress codes. For example, at one time, women were not supposed to go out without a hat, especially to church. Men, however, had to remove their hats in church.

Developments in etiquette

Over time, certain social practices or rules change or fall by the wayside to meet new needs or to adapt to new realities. Etiquette has also adapted to changes in the work world, such as industrialization and the arrival of the female workforce. As communication and correspondence tools evolved, codes of conduct emerged for typed correspondence, the art of speaking by telephone and more.

Sociologists interested in the evolution of society, customs, relationships between men and women, or the role of young people and children in the family are sure to find material for their research. Moreover, when historians describe a major historical figure, they highlight the person’s habits, style of dress, achievements, and the etiquette of the time. Some well-known individuals led a morally questionable existence, while others were more virtuous. Sometimes, what was once considered immoral is no longer so.

Black-and-white photo of a woman setting the kitchen table.

Woman setting the table, 1945 (e010862357)

Some finds in the collection

Mille questions d’étiquette discutées, résolues et classées. M. Sauvalle. Montréal: Éditions Beauchemin, 1907. OCLC 300069021

This encyclopedic-style book covers a range of topics and provides a list of questions and answers about good manners in different situations.

For example, concerning illness:

[Translation] Question—What is the correct way to show concern for close friends who are ill with a mild but contagious sickness?

Answer—Many people with a mild but contagious sickness close their door to their good friends. [In this way,] friends are not exposed to catching the sickness: in this case, their friends should be thoughtful enough to slip their card under the door or in the box […]

Other handbooks are more moralistic.

Traits caractéristiques d’une mauvaise éducation, ou actions et discours contraires à la politesse, et désignés comme tels par les moralistes tant anciens que modernes. L. Gaultier. Quebec: Librairie de W. Cowan et fils, 1839. OCLC 49023922

This collection contains 555 examples of character traits that are contrary to politeness and good manners, and explains what a sensible young person should not do (in terms of clothing, cleanliness, conversations and contact with others).

Finally, people say that some fashions and lifestyles never fade. I like to say that good ideas are timeless. The following publication discusses the art of receiving guests.

Manuel de l’étiquette courante parmi la bonne société canadienne-française. Evelyn Bolduc. [Ottawa]: [1937?]. OCLC 1015541211

[Translation] For the hostess expecting dinner guests […]

We will now turn our attention to the menu that the hostess will have created based on locally available resources and the season. In November, for example, game will be easier to find than it would be in April; grapes are tastier and better than strawberries; and oysters are abundant.

During this season, the following dishes might be served: oysters, consommé, fish (not a crustacean since oysters are already on the menu), a first course, a roast; hopefully not a roast of chicken or turkey every time; salad, a dessert of fruit ice cream or jelly. Coffee is usually served in the living room.

Eating local and seasonal products: a lifestyle choice that nutritionists recommend even today! It also conforms to our responsible consumption principles.

The following pre-1953 publications on etiquette are also in the LAC collection:

How to Arrange a Public Dinner. Walter Gardner Frisby. Toronto, Ryerson Press [1938]. Series: The New Dominion Books, [no. 6]. OCLC 42308995

Etiquette in Canada: The Blue Book of Canadian Social Usage. Gertrude Pringle. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1932. OCLC 5322767

Manners. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1914. OCLC: 222701034

Good Table Manners. Narcissa Burwell. [Toronto: Reader Mail, Ltd., 193-?]. Series: Home Service Booklets, 118. OCLC 1007367401

Every publication is unique and the information they contain is invaluable. Some stylists and fashion designers, vintage and contemporary, say they found their niche through the inspiration they discovered in books from a bygone era or in the styles and manners of their grandparents. The same applies to various other occupations.

In any case, the publications discussed in this article are somehow irresistible. They are absolute page-turners!


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a retrospective acquisitions librarian with the acquisitions team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

An “Epidemic” of Fake News a Century Ago

By Forrest Pass

Vaccines work. Yet vaccination opponents have long questioned their effectiveness, in spite of overwhelming evidence. A century-old pamphlet in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection illustrates how unreliable sources, deliberate misinformation and outrageous conspiracy theories have been used to promote vaccine hesitancy. Reading historical anti-vaccination propaganda with a critical eye can serve as an “inoculation” against misinformation today.

In 1920 as in 2021, epidemic disease was very much on Canadians’ minds. As health authorities and the public worked to contain final flare-ups of the devastating Spanish flu pandemic, they also faced the worrisome resurgence of familiar diseases. In 1919, Ontario experienced a smallpox epidemic, perhaps introduced by returning soldiers or cross-border travellers; by August, the disease had spread westward, appearing among itinerant farm workers in the hops fields of the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver. To stop the spread, British Columbia’s provincial medical officer of health, Dr. Henry Esson Young, enlisted the help of school boards to vaccinate all schoolchildren, except those exempted for reasons of conscience.

Young faced opposition from what he considered “a very active and clamorous minority.” In April 1920, vaccination opponents formed the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of British Columbia. The league’s secretary-treasurer, Ada Muir, argued that mandatory vaccination, even during a public health emergency, was a violation of personal liberty. Its objections dismissed by the provincial government, the league complained to the British Colonial Office and published Muir’s correspondence in a small pamphlet. British authorities forwarded the complaint to Ottawa, as public health was an internal Canadian matter. At the time, the Governor General’s office was a main line of communication between the British and Canadian governments. Thus, a rare—and well-travelled—copy of the pamphlet made its way into the records of the Office of the Governor General of Canada fonds at LAC.

Title page of a pamphlet, published in 1920, entitled Correspondence relating to An Appeal to the Imperial Authorities by The People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C. to secure judicial recognition of the fact that under Constitutional Law every freeman owns his own body and has reasonable right to attend to its welfare.

Title page of Correspondence relating to An Appeal to the Imperial Authorities by the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C., 1920

Foreshadowing the arguments of present-day vaccination opponents, Muir questioned the purity of the smallpox vaccine and warned of serious side effects. She cited newspaper reports of people who had become sick after vaccination or similar treatments. However, the original sources do not agree with Muir’s interpretations. For example, she blamed medical malpractice for the recent deaths of a Vancouver streetcar driver and his young son, but the story in the Vancouver Daily World made no such accusation: the two had died of diphtheria, a once-common disease now controlled by vaccination.

A newspaper clipping from the Vancouver Daily World, June 29, 1920. The headline reads, “Father and son die following diphtheria: Late Mark W. Freure was popular B.C.E.R. motorman.”

Obituary for a father and son who died of diphtheria, Vancouver Daily World, June 29, 1920, p. 11 (OCLC 20377751)

In describing the smallpox vaccine’s most frightening alleged side effect, Muir should have looked before she shared, for she relied on the discredited research of a 19-century British doctor, Charles Creighton. Creighton believed that the smallpox vaccine caused syphilis, and pointed to an increase in syphilis deaths after the United Kingdom enacted mandatory vaccination in 1853. However, the two diseases are not related. Thirty years before Muir penned her pamphlet, experts had pointed out that new reporting policies, not vaccinations, explained Creighton’s supposed syphilis “spike”; public health officials had begun to record syphilis as the cause of deaths that they had previously attributed to unknown “other causes.” That this change coincided with mandatory vaccination was just that: a coincidence.

Mistrust of medical experts led Muir to imagine conspiracies worthy of the dark corners of the COVID-era Internet. According to Muir, a secretive guild of evil doctors controlled once-democratic British Columbia and deliberately infected children with terrible diseases to satisfy their perverted curiosity. “The human race,” Muir ranted in the pamphlet, “has degenerated into a mere stockyard for the practice of the licensed medical monopoly.” Doctors, she alleged, were an “alien element” whose loyalty to their own profession overrode community safety.

Unsurprisingly, Muir’s supporting sources for this conspiracy theory were scanty. The best she could do was to quote a “Dr. Lockhart” of “Dorchester St. Hospital, Montreal” who had supposedly admitted in 1902 that doctors swore never to testify against their colleagues in court. A Dr. F.A.L. Lockhart had indeed worked at the Montreal Maternity Hospital on Dorchester Street in 1902, but I have not found a reliable source for Muir’s quotation. I specify “reliable source” because the quotation did appear in two letters to newspapers, first in Winnipeg in 1907 and again in Vancouver some seven years after the pamphlet appeared. In both cases, the writer was Alan Muir, Ada Muir’s husband and fellow vaccination opponent.

The outcome of the 1920 smallpox outbreak directly contradicted Ada Muir’s conclusion that vaccination offered no protection against disease. Dr. Young reported that the vaccination opponents’ misinformation campaign had had “very little effect”: in six months, over 80 percent of British Columbia schoolchildren had been vaccinated. After identifying 576 cases of smallpox in 1920, the province reported only 137 cases in 1921, a decrease of over 75 percent. Muir interpreted the small number of cases in Vancouver as proof that the outbreak was a “scare” and that vaccination was unnecessary. The facts support the opposite conclusion: a swift vaccination campaign had flattened the curve.

The success of this local effort foreshadowed a coordinated global smallpox vaccination campaign after the Second World War. In 1977, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated; this was the first eradication of a disease in human history.

Muir continued her anti-vaccination advocacy into the 1930s, but it became a secondary interest. Astrology was her new passion, and in a 1930 letter to the Vancouver Sun, she argued that a horoscope was as useful a medical tool as a serum or a vaccine. She denied, as Creighton had, that viruses and bacteria cause disease, believing instead that dirt itself was the culprit. It is hard to tell which bias affected which judgment: did Muir’s unusual ideas about health and sickness lead her to question medical expertise, or was she ready to embrace strange new theories because she already mistrusted medical science?

A newspaper clipping of a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun, November 27, 1930. The title reads, “Astrology Urged as Aid to Physicians and Surgeons.”

Muir recommends medical astrology, Vancouver Sun, November 27, 1930, p. 6 (OCLC 1081083578)

Errors, sensationalism and discredited theories make the propaganda of Ada Muir and the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C. easy to dismiss. Yet today’s slick social media memes and viral videos spread similar anti-vaccination messages. Considering the source, looking for supporting evidence, checking whether others agree, asking the experts, and considering your biases are all useful skills in evaluating medical information, whatever the era.


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

From the Lowy Room: Acquisitions in the age of COVID

By Michael Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A colour photograph of a page written in Hebrew.

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

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

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


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

 

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

By James Bone

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

Flag Design Submissions

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

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

Donald Nelson Baird’s Submission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Deliberations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outcome and legacy

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mountains of Blackflies

By Martha Sellens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other LAC related resources:


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

When Ugandan Asian refugees arrived in Canada in 1972

By Sheyfali Saujani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food being given to recently arrived Ugandan refugees (e011052348)

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

Recently arrived Ugandan refugees receiving drinks (e011052353)

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

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

©  Sheyfali Saujani


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