Don’t fear virtual conferences!

By Sarah Potts

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

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

Virtually engaged

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

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

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

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

Too much to attend, too little “time”

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

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

Ottawa, we have a problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing Back: The Ongoing History of Black Activism in Canada

By Amina Musa and Krista Cooke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

A day in the life of a reference librarian

By Kristen Frame

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

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

General Orders

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

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

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

Canada Gazette

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

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

Secondary sources

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

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

Newspapers

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

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

Orders in Council

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

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

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

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


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

Métis Nation river lot plans

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

By William Benoit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The postage stamp designs of Helen Roberta Fitzgerald

By James Bone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Tunniit/Tattoos: The Complicated History of Photographing Inuit Tattoos

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

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.

By Heather Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Dene Handgames / Stick Gambling / ᐅᐨᘛ / oodzi

By Angela Code

The Dene are a group of Indigenous People who are part of the Na-Dene language family. The Dene are also commonly referred to as Athabaskans or Athapaskans. We are one of the largest Indigenous groups in North America. Our land covers over 4,000,000 square kilometres, spanning from across northern North America to the American Southwest. There are three distinct Dene groups: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern/Apachean. There are approximately 50 distinct languages within the Na-Dene language family, and various dialects.

There is a game that the Northern Dene have been playing for many years called Dene Handgame, also called Stick Gambling, or simply referred to as handgames. Dënesųłiné yatiyé, also known as Chipewyan Dene, is one of the more widely spoken languages from within the Na-Dene language family. In the Sayisi Dënesųłiné dialect, Dene Handgame is called  ᐅᐨᘛ (oodzi).

There are different rules and various hand signals of the game across the north; however, the object of the game and how it is played is essentially the same. Basically, Dene Handgame is an elaborate guessing game. It is a fun pastime that requires a good sense of “reading people” and concealment. The players who compete with high energy, humour, good sportsmanship and performative gestures are often the most fun to play with and to observe.

How to play Dene Handgame

There must be an even number of players on each team. Tournaments will specify how many people per team will play—the number varies from region to region, and it often ranges from 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 per team. Two teams play against each other at a time. Each player must have a personal token—a small object that can be easily hidden in one hand (a stone, a coin, a button, a .22 shell, etc.).

When players are not personally competing in the game, they, as well as some onlookers, will hit individual caribou-skin hand drums with handmade wooden drumsticks in a fast-paced, rhythmic beat. The music of the drums, whoops, cheers, chants and songs fuel the high energy of the game. Drummers who are not personally playing in the game will often drum behind the team that they support. They drum when their “side” is hiding their tokens, to encourage them and protect them from being guessed out.

A black-and-white photograph of about 20 men and boys, some standing and some kneeling on the ground. One man near the centre of the photo is wearing a white buttoned-up shirt and dark pants with a wooden tobacco pipe in his mouth. He is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. There is a white canvas wall tent set up in the background, and fresh meat hanging to dry on a wooden rack.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame while a man drums, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories (a102486)

Each team has a captain. To begin the game, the two opposing team captains will play against each other. They will each hide their token in one of their hands, and then they will simultaneously indicate which hand they think their opponents’ token is in.

A colour photograph of eight men and one child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks. Two men are gesturing with Dene Handgame hand signals.

Men playing Dene Handgame, photographs from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples visit to Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, the community of the Sayisi Dene (Denesuline), 1992–1993. Back (left to right): Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Jimmy Clipping, Fred Duck, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck. Front (left to right): Unknown, Evan Yassie, Thomas Cutlip, Ray Ellis. (e011300424)

Once one of the captains correctly guesses where the opponent’s token is, then their respective teammates will join the game. The winning captain’s team becomes the first team to have the opportunity to win points.

Each member of a team will line up side by side, kneeling on the floor or on the ground, facing the opposing team. Because handgames can often go on for long periods of time, players will kneel on something soft like a mat or a bed of spruce bough.

It is not necessary, but often one or two designated, unbiased scorekeepers/referees will keep a keen eye on every player to ensure that scores are tallied correctly, no one cheats and any disputes are settled fairly. They sit close by on the sidelines between the two opposing teams so that they have the best vantage points to view the players and have access to move the winning handgame sticks.

The sticks are placed between the two teams and are used to keep score of the game. The number of sticks correlate with the number of players. For example, when 4 people are playing per team then 12 sticks are used, when 6 are playing per team then 14 sticks are used, when 8 are playing per team then 21 sticks are used, when 10 are playing per team then 24 or 25 sticks are used, and when 12 are playing per team then 28 or 29 sticks are used.

A colour photograph of the back of an elderly man wearing a “Sayisi Dene Traditional Handgame Club” jacket, watching a Dene Handgame match.

An Elder (Charlie Learjaw) observes a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300421)

The team whose turn it is to hide their tokens will place their hands under a cloth covering (like a blanket or spare coats). They will move their token from hand to hand until they decide which hand to hide it in. Then, when they have chosen their hiding hand, they will take their fists out from under the cloth covering and face their opponents. Commonly, players keep their arms straight in front of them or they cross them over their chests; however, players also develop their own elaborate and unique positioning of their hands. Players will use facial gestures, body movements and sounds to try and confuse or “psyche out” the opposing captain, who is the one who will guess and signal to where they think each token is hidden.

A colour photograph of six men and one small child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks and singing.

Men drumming and playing Dene Handgame, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993. Left to right: Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Fred Duck, Jimmy Clipping, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck and Ray Ellis. (e011300426)

Before the captain makes the hand signal indicating where they think the tokens are hidden, they make a loud sound—a big clap, or they hit the floor with their hand—to let everyone know that they are ready to call. There are many different signals that can be used; however, there are four main ones that the Arctic Winter Games follow.

Once the captain reveals their hand signal, all the opposing players must then open the hand that the captain has indicated so everyone can see if the token is there. If the token is not there, meaning that the captain was wrong in their guess, the opposition player(s) must then show the other hand containing the object. Each time the captain is wrong in their guess, a stick is awarded to the opposing team. For example, if the captain guesses and makes one correct guess and three wrong guesses, the opposition will receive three sticks. The player who was guessed correctly is eliminated from the round, and now there are only three players remaining. This will continue until the captain has correctly guessed all of the players remaining, or until the opposing team wins all of the sticks. If the captain guesses all of the opposition players correctly, it is their team’s turn to hide their tokens and for the other team captain to try and guess which hands the tokens are in. The team to win all of the sticks wins the game.

A black-and-white composite photograph of about 16 boys, some standing, some kneeling on the ground. They are playing Dene Handgame. One young man is standing and hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories, ca. 1930 (a102488)

Handgame tournaments

There are many small Dene Handgame tournaments happening all across the north all the time. My home community of Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, aims to play every Friday evening. There are also some very big Dene Handgame tournaments that happen a few times a year in various regions. Some of the prizes for winning teams are in the thousands of dollars!

Historically, there have been stories told about when people would play handgame—they would gamble goods such as firearms, bullets, axes, etc. I have even heard about men losing their wives to a game and having to win her back at another game!

Gender controversy in handgames

Children, both boys and girls, are taught how to play Dene Handgame at home and at handgame tournaments. In some regions, they are taught how to play at school as a part of physical education.

A colour photograph of a man, a teenage boy and a small child watching a Dene Handgame match. The man is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. The small child is mimicking the drumbeat with his own small hand drum.

A man (Peter Cheekie) hits a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick while a teenage boy (Christopher Yassie) and a small child (Brandon Cheekie) watch a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300429)

However, for adults, the sport is predominantly played by men. This is because some regions, particularly in the Northwest Territories, do not allow adult women to play. However, in the Yukon and in some northern Prairie provinces, women are not only allowed to play, they are encouraged and widely supported. This inclusion of women makes the games much larger and more fun to participate in and to observe. Tournaments will state whether they allow men’s teams only or mixed teams. There has only been one women’s handgame tournament (that I know of), which was held in Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2016. The inclusion of women to play handgames is a hot topic in the north. Some say that it is not “traditional” to allow women to play and that women “have too much power—so they would just win all the time.” Some communities do not even allow women to drum.

Others say that women played a long time ago, but that this changed with the imposition of Christianity. Some Christian missionaries actually banned the drum and playing Dene Handgames altogether. The drum in Dene culture is very important. It is spiritual and some Christian missionaries saw it as heathen and therefore unacceptable. They actually burned drums in some communities. Some people continued to play handgames in secret, but in other communities it only came back into practice in recent years. In one community in particular, I heard that handgames were not played for a long time, and it was the women who brought it back, encouraging the men and others to play again.

I think that in this day and age, it is not fair to exclude women from playing Dene Handgame, or to prevent them from drumming, for that matter. Gender dynamics change and shift within all cultures. I believe that more gender inclusion to compete in this fun pastime is a good, positive change for everyone.

I personally love to watch people play, but I much prefer to compete in the game myself, and I would love to see more women participate and have fun playing handgames as well.

Visit the Flickr Album for images of the Dene.


Angela Code is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council — Defining Inuit art

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.

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.

by Heather Campbell

The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council (CEAC) was created through funding from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in 1961 as a solution to the perceived problem of declining quality in Inuit art and a need for a system to approve images for the new Inuit printmaking practice. The CEAC assumed responsibility for creating a jury to select prints for annual Inuit print collections, primarily in Cape Dorset and Baker Lake, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut). It also launched the internationally celebrated Masterworks exhibition, which toured internationally between November 1971 and June 1973. The CEAC brought Inuit art to the world stage and assisted in the expansion of the Inuit art market. It helped shape what we know as Inuit art today.

A black-and-white photograph of seven men in suits standing around a table and looking at art.
Members of the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, 1962 (e011177569-v8)

The Canadian Eskimo Arts Collection was transferred to Library and Archives Canada in 1991. The collection consists of various operational documents, reports, copyright requests, correspondence, audio recordings of meetings, interview transcripts and documents related to the Masterworks exhibition (also known as Sculpture/Inuit). The collection provides insight into how the Inuit art market was developed from the 1960s to the late 1980s. The CEAC was in charge of approving annual print collections for the Cape Dorset Eskimo Arts Council, and other collections from communities such as Ulukhaktok (formerly Holman) in the Northwest Territories, Pangnirtung in present-day Nunavut, and Povungnituk and Inukjuak in Nunavik (northern Quebec). The CEAC also created the Igloo Tag program, which authenticated Inuit sculptures through a tag or sticker affixed to artwork that included information about the artist (see last image in blog).

A black-and-white photograph of four adults and a child smiling at the camera.
Group shot at installation at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, with Ruby Arngn’naaq (right) and Osuitok Ipeelee (centre), 1973 (e011312911)

In addition to the textual documents in the collection, there is also an extensive collection of Inuit art print and sculpture catalogues, organized by community, as well as audio recordings of conferences and workshops related to sculpture and prints. In these recordings in particular, we hear the concerns of Inuit artists first hand and can better understand the dynamics between the artists and the CEAC. For example, when reading through reports regarding site visits, we learn that they met with artists who wanted their artwork promoted in the south and whose work was deemed marketable. We can read the general criteria for the acceptance or rejection of certain prints. When combing through the minutes or correspondence, we get an idea of the artistic tastes of the CEAC and see why certain artworks were not deemed suitable for promotion.

A document with three typed paragraphs under the title “Rejected” Prints.
The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council’s mandate for jurying print collections, 1980, p. 5 (e011270883)

When seen in its entirety, we recognize the CEAC as a symbol of its time and the prevailing societal attitudes toward Indigenous peoples and their artwork. When we read through the interviews with artists in particular, we start to notice a distinct difference between what the CEAC members considered “good” Inuit art and what the artists themselves thought was “good” art. Generally speaking, Inuit also valued art that was representational and well finished. They did not share the same appreciation that many collectors and CEAC members had at the time for sculptures that were not well finished and were perceived by southerners as “primitive.”

The CEAC influence over Inuit art helped to create a certain “primitive” aesthetic that was, one could argue, not fully representative of the traditional aesthetic of Inuit culture. For example, reading through interviews with artists from Nunavik, we can see that they were baffled as to why the works of some artists were so popular with people in the south. Why were so many Inuit artists forced into this repressive and inauthentic paradigm? In many cases, an Inuit artist was just that—not an individual with his or her own sense of what was aesthetically pleasing or worth expressing on paper, in stone or through whatever material the person deemed fit. As illustrated in the image below from a Government of the Northwest Territories pricing brochure, only “traditional” materials were bought by the wholesalers. Today, we would not dream of imposing these types of restrictions on a non-Indigenous artist living in downtown Toronto, for example, but during that time, this imposition on Indigenous artists was prevalent. Thankfully, there were CEAC members who opposed this approach, but it has taken decades for the expectations of the Inuit art world to change, to set aside this anthropological lens and to be receptive toward artistic expressions by Inuit artists as individuals, rather than as representatives of some collective Inuit consciousness.

A page with lists and other typed text under the title Avoid Using.
“Survey of Price Guide,” K.C. Crassweller, 1971, p. 30 (e011270066)

On this subject, Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, stated in his keynote speech at the 2019 Inuit Studies Conference:

The right to be diverse in society is something that we are fighting for. . . . We don’t have to always have these straw polls about whether or not an Inuk can create something and if that creation is in line with the expectations that the society has. Or a person can be of any faith. A person can reject or take on Inuit traditions, Inuit history. You can be a computer programmer just as much as you can be a hunter. That’s not to say that we’re not encouraging Inuit to live healthy lives within Inuit Nunangat and do traditional things; it’s to say that when Inuit do not feel that that is their path, that we somehow are able to not have those conversations that demean them, that put them down, and that “other” them when it is their right in a society as a peoples to do whatever it is that they feel that they want to do with their lives.

A large contributing factor to the creation of this definition of Inuit art was the fact that formal governance of our own art did not exist in the early years of the art movement. There was minimal communication between the artists themselves and those marketing and selling their art. And without meaningful conversations about the nature of art making, how can true understanding be achieved? How could the practical needs of artists be met if they were not being asked what they truly needed? The CEAC did not have an Inuk member until 1973, with the appointments of Joanasie Salomonie (1938–1977) and Armand Tagoona (1926–1991), who both resigned before ever attending a meeting. Other appointments followed over the last few years of the CEAC.

It was not until the formation of the Inuit Art Foundation (IAF) in 1988 that a governing board was created that consisted of a majority of Inuit artists, beginning in 1994. A concerted effort was made by the IAF to train Inuit artists in art marketing, promotion and copyright. In 1995, the IAF created the Cultural Industries Training Program, which taught students Inuit art history and gave an introduction to exhibition design. Thanks in part to the IAF and its programming, Inuit slowly began to enter the arts administration sector. In 1997, July Papatsie, one of the first Inuk curators, co-curated the internationally touring exhibition Transitions at the Indian and Inuit Art Centres (now the Indigenous Art Centre) of the former Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (currently Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada). In 2015, Heather Igloliorte became the first Inuk to edit an issue of the IAF’s Inuit Art Quarterly.

A drawing of a tag with a string. The tag has an igloo on it, with the words “Canada” and “Eskimo art” above and below.
Image of an Igloo Tag from an Igloo Tag brochure written in Inuktitut syllabics, from the file “Igloo Tag Information,” 1972, p. 81 (e011270680)

In 2017, the IAF took over the administration of the Igloo Tag Inuit art authentication. For the very first time in 2018, licensee status was given to an Inuit-owned gallery: Carvings Nunavut Inc., belonging to Lori Idlout of Iqaluit. Inuit are finally in the position of saying when a piece of art is genuine Inuit art! Also in that year, four Inuit guest curators—Kablusiak, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Asinnajaq and Heather Igloliorte—were selected to curate the first exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for the former Inuit Art Centre, recently renamed Qaumajuq, which is set to open in February 2021. Inuit are opening, expanding and leading discourse about our own artistic expressions, and I look forward to seeing what the next 50 years hold for the Inuit art world.

These related collections are also found at Library and Archives Canada:

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


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

Hudson’s Bay Company: 350 years of archives

By Anik Laflèche

The year 2020 marked the 350th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Founded on May 2, 1670, HBC is one of the oldest still-operating companies in the world.

While HBC’s longevity is a feat on its own, this company stands out for another reason: a very large portion of its historical records has survived, kept, for most of its history, in London, England. Considering that the documents survived centuries of existence, life in the Canadian wilderness, trips across the Atlantic, poor conservation conditions, fires and floods, and two world wars, it is amazing that so many records can still be consulted today.

A black-and-white photograph of a building seen through a gate that reads “Hudson’s Bay Company, incorporated 1670” and a second building seen beyond a fence to the right.

A photograph of HBC Post [Fort] Chipewyan, Alberta, 1900. (a019629)

The HBC records have their own fascinating story, separate from the company’s history. The records were originally kept for legal and business reasons, not historical purposes.

While the records were arranged alphabetically in 1796, the first true efforts to describe and organize the collection date to 1931, when HBC hired its first archivist, Richard Leveson Gower. This was the result of mounting pressure from researchers and historians to access the collection.

In the 1960s, with the 100th anniversary of Canada’s confederation (1967) and the approaching centennial of the creation of the province of Manitoba (1970), serious thought was given to transferring the HBC archives to Canada. This idea became a reality in 1974, when all of HBC’s corporate archives were donated to the Archives of Manitoba. The HBC’s museum collection, on the other hand, is showcased in the Manitoba Museum.

While LAC is not the institution mandated to conserve the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, we do hold microfilmed copies of many—although not all—documents in MG20. Glimpses into the role that HBC played in the development of the North-West and land grants after the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory can be had in some of LAC’s other fonds, such as RG15, the fonds for the Department of the Interior.

Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company are classified in LAC’s collection as MG20. The fonds holds a large variety of documents, such as board minute books, letterbooks, journals, ledgers, staff records, ships’ logs, photographs, post journals, diaries, maps, architectural drawings and photographs, dating from 1667 to 1956. The organization of the records is the same as that originally created by the company and matches that of the collection in the Archives of Manitoba.

Black-and-white image of a textual document, specifically, a minute book. The date “24th October 1671” can be seen in the top-right corner. On the left is a list of men who attended the meeting. The rest of the text comprises two paragraphs describing the discussion had during the meeting.

This document, a minute book in which the first entry was made on October 24, 1671, is the oldest surviving record in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives. The minute book includes the records written during the first 18 months of the company’s existence. King Charles II granted the HBC charter on May 2, 1670. (MG20-A1, file A.1/1, Microfilm reel HBC-1)

Although the Hudson’s Bay Company holds a controversial place in Canadian history, having been one of the main tools for the resource exploitation period of colonization, its records are a crucial source of information of the history of Canada and the First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit. These documents offer insights into our colonial past, westward and northward expansion, economic and cultural development, as well as the daily life of fur traders, Indigenous peoples and frontier communities.

The HBC records offer insights into the birth and development of the Métis Nation, an independent people of First Nation and European ancestry who coalesced into a distinct nation in the northwest in the late 18th century. They would rise to resist the takeover of their homeland in the next century after the Hudson’s Bay Company transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada.

These records can help Canada on its journey towards Reconciliation with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit.

For more information on the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, I recommend reading Deidre Simmons’s Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives or consulting the Archives of Manitoba page “Hudson’s Bay Company Archives – About HBCA.”

If you are doing or planning to do research using the Hudson Bay Company archives records or research on a related topic, our reference specialists can assist you. Simply complete our form to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!


Anik Laflèche is an archivist in the Reference Services Division.

Christmas in the Archives

By Jennifer Anderson

In December, many of our clients, donors and readers are preparing for Christmas. So many Christmas traditions are linked to anticipation—preparing surprises for loved ones, dreaming up projects for the New Year, offering comfort and warmth to family, friends and strangers.

Simpson’s, the Christmas Tree Store, around 1955 (e011172111)

That feeling of anticipation is not unlike what it is to work as an archivist. In some ways, it feels like Christmas all year round in the archives: opening boxes, making discoveries, and anticipating the interest that the public will find in our collections. The work of a reference archivist is like customer service: it gives us great satisfaction to be able to assist researchers. Archival work also inspires a sense of gratitude to colleagues who work together to make good things happen.

Black-and-white photograph showing children lined up to see Santa Claus, together with three adult women. Everyone is smiling, although some of the children look nervous.

“Secrets to Santa,” 1952 (e011172113)

A case in point: working with the Sears Canada fonds has been the source of much enjoyment for me, and for my colleagues. The collection includes material relating to Sears stores across the country, as well as Sears Canada’s parent companies, all of which are household names in Canada: Simpson’s, Simpsons-Sears and Sears-Roebuck. The fonds consists of textual documents, photographs, scrapbooks, audiovisuals, drawings and architectural blueprints. Included in the acquisition were 200 boxes of published catalogues, which will supplement the already substantial and frequently consulted catalogue collection in Library and Archives Canada’s holdings.

Black-and-white photograph showing shoppers, mostly women, wearing winter coats and hats, studying catalogues at a counter, as well as the store staff behind the counter. There is a sign on the wall reading “Catalogue Shopping Centre,” together with Christmas decorations.

Catalogue Shopping Centre at Christmastime, around 1955 (e011172120)

One very pleasant surprise in the fonds: thousands upon thousands of archival photographs, which are of exceptional quality and interest. Documenting the leisure pursuit of shopping, but also the practical elements of the retail economy and the working lives of store personnel, the photographs are sure to interest the public. And they are fun! These photos also include glimpses of company-sponsored social and cultural extracurricular events like curling, bowling, dance parties and concerts.

Christmas shopping, Regina, Saskatchewan, around 1950 (e011172152)

Thanks to colleagues across Library and Archives Canada, as well as outside this institution, who were involved in the acquisition, organization, description and digitization work, all geared toward making the Sears Canada fonds discoverable.

Black-and-white photograph showing a large group of men, women and children watching an electric train in a store.

Crowd watching an electric train, Regina, around 1950 (e011172147)

Over the coming years, we look forward to seeing this material being used to generate new research findings. Please reach out to us if we can assist you in getting started on your own research.

Black-and-white photograph showing a little boy talking with Santa Claus, while other children and many parents, dressed for winter, are lined up nearby. In the background are two signs that read “Trains” and “Meccano.”

Visiting Santa Claus, around 1955 (e011172112)


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Public Services Branch, and she previously worked in the Science, Environment and Economy section of the Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.