Women in the war: a Co-Lab challenge

By Rebecca Murray

Canadian women are part of the photographic record of the Second World War. The Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112) includes over two million photographs, from Comox in British Columbia to Naples in Italy. These women are our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and friends.

This Co-Lab challenge invites you to identify servicewomen and nursing sisters who served in Canada and abroad between 1942 and 1945. The photographs range from images of a single person to large groups. The selected photographs depict them at work and play, on ships, in kitchens and libraries, playing sports and dancing. In most cases, none of the women have been identified; in fact, the word “unidentified” is often part of the title of the image.

Identifying these individuals is key to having a better understanding and knowledge of the roles they played during the Second World War. In tandem with other efforts to identify images of servicewomen and nursing sisters within the archival record, this Co-Lab challenge will help to expand the narrative.

Can you help us to identify these women who served? Here are some examples of the photographs you will find in the challenge.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a military uniform looking at the camera. She has a pen in her right hand, papers on her desk and a black candlestick-style telephone to her left.

An unidentified member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), England, July 19, 1944. Credit: Capt. Jack H. Smith (a162428-v6)

A black-and-white photo of a group of women in military uniforms smiling at the camera. There are two women in dark suits. The women in the first row are seated and holding hands. Some of the women standing in the back row have their arms linked.

Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service members (“Wrens”), August 1943 (e011180809)

A black-and-white photo of four women and a man in a shop with tools and tables. There are three windows and a sign that reads YMCA.

Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division craft shop, Rockcliffe, Ontario, April 11, 1944 (a064867-v8)

To search the holdings at Library and Archives Canada for other photographs of servicewomen and nursing sisters, use Collection Search to explore accession 1967-052, where photographs are organized by branches of the armed forces, or try a keyword search (e.g. 1967-052 Halifax Wren).

For more information on the women’s divisions in the three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, please refer to these blog posts:

Canadian women served in numerous capacities throughout the Second World War—well beyond what is represented in these photographs. Naming these women and identifying them within the archival record will build a more inclusive narrative and allow generations of servicewomen, their families and Canadians to recognize and highlight the extraordinary roles that they played during the Second World War.

We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized records in this challenge. You can also make contributions to any image through our Collection Search tool.


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division 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.

Inuit of the 1975 Canadian $2 bill

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 Ellen Bond

In October 2020, I found an article from the Nunatsiaq News about the Canadian $2 bill printed by the Bank of Canada from 1975 to 1979. The bank note was the first Canadian bill to show Indigenous people. Through further research, I found two other articles about the same bill, another from the Nunatsiaq News in 2018 and one from the Bank of Canada Museum blog in 2020. In the 2018 Nunatsiaq News article “Taissumani, April 7,” there is a photo of the back of the $2 bill, on which the names of those featured on the bank note are written in syllabics by the late Leah Idlout.

A colour photo of the back of the 1975–1979 Canadian $2 bill, on which the names of the six individuals depicted are written in syllabics.

The late Leah Idlout wrote the names of the six men on the back of the Canadian $2 bill in syllabics. (Image courtesy of John MacDonald and the Bank of Canada.)

Below is a chart showing various spellings of the featured Inuit men’s Inuktitut names. The names in the first column will be used in this blog.

The $2 bill was created from an engraving by C. Gordon Yorke based on the photograph taken in 1951 by filmmaker Doug Wilkinson for his film Land of the Long Day. While the actual film is available “onsite only” in the collection held at Library and Archives (LAC), it can be found online at the National Film Board (NFB). The location of the film was Joseph Idlout’s camp at Alukseevee Island, about 60 kilometres from Mittimatalik (also known as Pond Inlet), Nunavut (formerly the Northwest Territories). The scene depicts hunters preparing their qajait (kayaks) to chase, spear and retrieve narwhals spotted swimming in the water and resting among ice floes.

A black-and-white photo of six Inuit hunters loading their qajaqs with supplies for the hunt.

Photo was used to create the engraving for the back of the 1975–1979 Canadian $2 bill. Left to right: Crouching next to a qajaq, Gideonie Qitsualik inflates a sealskin float; Lazarus Paniluk lifts a harpoon; Herodier Kalluk loads a qajaq; Ullattitaq inflates a sealskin float; Joseph Idlout shifts a qajaq into the water; and Elijah Erkloo raises a paddle. Photo was taken during the filming of Land of the Long Day, directed by Doug Wilkinson, Nuvuruluk, Nunavut, 1952. Source: Doug Wilkinson, Baffin Island, Canada, around 1951, NCC 1993.56.541.

Many photographs in the collection held at LAC were acquired and catalogued without detailed information or without information from original inscriptions and captions found on records. Hence, these photographs reflect the biases and attitudes of non-Indigenous society at the time. Project Naming is an initiative conceived by Nunavut Sivuniksavut that initially sought to identify the names of Inuit depicted in archived photographs. Begun in 2002 as a collaboration between Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Government of Nunavut and the National Archives of Canada (now LAC), Project Naming was later expanded to include First Nations and Métis from across Canada. It posts archived photographs to its social media pages. The date, location, event or other identifying information for the photographs may also be missing or may be limited.

The three articles about the $2 bill had our interest piqued. This made us wonder, in a reverse Project Naming way, does LAC have other named photographs of these men? Here is what we found:

Gideonie Qitsualik – On the $2 note, Gideonie is located at the far left. Leaning over a qajaq, he is inflating a sealskin float. There is one other photo (below) of Gideonie in the LAC collection. It was taken at about the same time. In this photo, Gideonie is second from left. Gideonie later became a well-known Anglican minister in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.

Black-and-white photo showing four adults and three children cutting up seals. They are on a rocky beach. Canvas tents are in the background.

At front right, Joseph Idlout is bending over. The others, from left to right, are Herodier Kalluk, Gideonie Qitsualik, Daniel Komangaapik, Uirngut, Ullattitaq (Paul Idlout), and Rebecca Qillaq Idlout. They are cutting up seals. (PA18905)

Lazarus Paniluk – Lazarus is the second man from left on the $2 bill. He is holding a harpoon. He has not yet been named in any other photos in the LAC collection.

Herodier Kalluk – Herodier is the third man from left on the $2 note. He is loading the qajaq. There are two other photos of Herodier in the LAC collection. In this photo, below, taken in 1952, Herodier is on the left, and Joseph Idlout is on the right. Idlout had just caught a seal with his harpoon. Herodier is the grandfather of Juno Award-winning singer Tanya Tagaq.

A black-and-white photo of Inuuk standing next to a seal on the ice.

Herodier Kalluk (left) and Joseph Idlout look at a harpooned seal on the ice off Button Point, near Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut. (PA145172)

Ullattitaq – Ullattitaq (also known as Paul Idlout) is the fourth man from left on the back of the $2 bill. He is shown inflating a sealskin float. There are two other named photos showing Ullattitaq in the LAC collection. The photo below shows Ullattitaq as a young boy in September 1945 in Mittimatalik/Tununiq. Ullattitaq later became Bishop of the Arctic.

Black-and-white photo of a young boy wearing a fur-lined hood.

Ullattitaq (Paul Idlout) at Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut, September 1945. (e002344212)

Joseph Idlout – Joseph, the fifth man from left on the back of the $2 note, who is shifting a qajaq into the water, was the leader of a small community of families, including the Aulatsivik hunting camp, where Doug Wilkinson filmed his movie. Joseph is the person with the most photos in the LAC collection: he is featured in nine! Joseph is in the middle in the photo below.

Black-and-white photo of three Inuit men standing outside in the winter. All three are dressed in traditional clothing.

From left, Daniel N. Salluviniq (Saudlovenick), Joseph Idlout, and Zebeddie Amarualik, all holding Brownie cameras as they await the arrival of the Governor General, Vincent Massey, in Qausuittuq (also known as Resolute Bay), Nunavut, March 1956. (e002265651)

A black-and-white photograph showing a man in a qajaq about to throw a harpoon. There are snow-covered mountains in the distance.

Joseph Idlout prepares to throw an ivory harpoon from his qajaq, Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut, July 1951. (R002169)

Elijah Erkloo – Elijah is the first man at right in the image on the back of the $2 bill. He is getting one of the paddles ready. A search for Elijah did not turn up any photos, but there is a photo of his grandfather. According to the two articles in the Nunatsiaq News, Elijah was a young boy when the film was filmed. Elijah later became the MLA for Amittuq (formerly Foxe Basin). Elijah notes that Joseph Idlout, his uncle, was the leader in camp. This is probably why LAC has so many photos of Joseph.

A black-and-white photo of a man with long hair and a mustache.

Akomalee of Baffin Island, 1924. Akomalee, the grandfather of Elijah Erkloo, was a local Elder of Mittimatalik, Nunavut. (PA102276)

Identification of people and learning their names is important. The work of Project Naming has provided opportunities to identify individuals and give back to communities across the country. If you or anyone you know has more information about the men of the $2 bill, please let us know. That can include other photos of them in the collection at LAC in which they are not named, or more information about any of the individual men. We can then add this new information to the records, making them more complete.

Project Naming social media pages:


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

Frederick W. Waugh’s time in Nunatsiavut

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 Jennelle Doyle

When searching an archive, all too often we find things in places where we would not ordinarily expect. The life journeys of explorers, researchers, anthropologists and other individuals who have donated material to an archive are integral to identifying the scope of a given collection. Frederick W. Waugh was an ethnologist who worked for a time with the Anthropology Division of the Geological Survey of Canada. His visit to the Inuit community of Nain in Nunatsiavut, the region of Inuit Nunangat situated in northern Labrador, in 1921–22 is reflected in a photo album his son R.F. Waugh donated to Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Frederick Waugh had set out for Labrador in 1921, noting in his journal his intent to photograph and study Montagnais people (now Innu Nation [Naskapi–Montagnais]). However, Waugh ended up at Nain and primarily photographed and documented Inuit who lived in that area. His photographs, in an album at LAC, provide a glimpse into the everyday life of Nainimiut: dogsledding, gathering driftwood, skinning seals, ice fishing and more.

A black and white photograph of three men standing around a group of sled dogs, who are eating. There is a white building in the background.

Three Inuit men feeding sled dogs (e011369232-025)

The album captures an interesting time in the community. In Nunatsiavut, Moravian ties are strong and many Nunatsiavummiut (Inuit of Nunatsiavut) still follow Moravian practices. German-speaking Moravian missionaries from Europe began settling in Labrador in the late 1700s. They established eight missions along the coast, one of which was Nain in 1771. In 1921, the Moravian church in Nain burned down. Waugh’s photographs captured the early efforts to rebuild the church using debris from the original structure (pictured here). The Memorial University Archives has images of the Moravian church before the fire, as well as other photographs of Nain in this period.

A black and white photograph of the ruins of a building with snow-covered items scattered around.

Ruins of Nain’s Moravian Mission, which burned in the fall of 1921, Nunatsiavut. Photo Credit: Waugh (e011369232-018)

The Canadian Museum of History houses copies of similar photographs, as well as Waugh’s journals. His journals from this period were titled “Labrador Eskimo Notes.” These journals provide a detailed account of various medicines, games, hunting practices, food knowledge and customs. As noted in his journals from Labrador, one of his most frequent sources was Amos Voisey.

A black and white photograph of four boys in parkas looking towards the camera. There are two buildings in the background.

Four boys in parkas and black-bottom kamek (sealskin boots) (e011369232-009)

Archives can sometimes be tangled webs that are difficult to navigate. I hope that by highlighting this album, it will help connect some of the dots for others who are interested in content relating to Nain, or Fredrik W. Waugh himself. Some of the names of those pictured in the photos may be inaccurate. We encourage you to reach out if you have any additional information that could help us create a more accurate record.

All in all, these beautiful photographs speak for themselves.

If you are interested in Nain, Nunatsiavut and the Nunatsiavummiut, visit Heather Campbell’s blog about Judith Pauline White.

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.


Jennelle Doyle is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices initiative at Library and Archives Canada. Jennelle grew up in Churchill Falls, Labrador, her family being from both the south coast of Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. She has been located in Ottawa since 2019 and is currently a master’s student at the University of Ottawa while continuing her work on the initiative.

Japanese Canadian internment: Over 40,000 pages and 180 photographs digitized by the DigiLab

By Gabrielle Nishiguchi

The DigiLab has hosted many projects since its launch in 2017, two of which were carried out by Landscapes of Injustice. Landscapes of Injustice is a major, seven-year humanities and social justice project led by the University of Victoria, joined to date by fifteen cultural, academic and federal partners, including Library and Archives Canada. The purpose of this project is to research and make known the history of the dispossession—the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property made legal by Order in Council 1943-0469 (19 January 1943) during the Second World War.

In total, over 40,000 pages of textual material and over 180 photographs were digitized by the two researchers with Landscapes of Injustice. Some of the documents are now available online for all to consult, including photographs relating to the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Photographs relating to Japanese Canadian internment

These photographs are from three albums of photographs taken during inspection tours of Japanese Canadian internment camps in 1943 and 1945. The first two albums contain images of camps in the interior of British Columbia taken by Jack Long of the National Film Board of Canada Still Photography Division.

The third album contains twenty-seven images taken by Ernest L. Maag, International Committee of the Red Cross Delegate in Canada, in 1943. Among the Maag images are photographs illustrating the winter hardship of Japanese Canadian internment life. One photograph shows the International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour.

Another image shows snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of the internment shacks. There is tar paper on the outer walls for protection against the elements.

Three men and a car in a snowstorm: (from left to right) one man standing at the rear of the car, a second man bent over the back right tire, and a third man going towards the car to assist.

Picture No. 26 [The International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour] Credit: Ernest L. Maag (e999900382-u)

From right to left: Children in front of shiplap shacks with snow shovelled against walls. Internee in distance walking down makeshift “street.” Tar paper, to protect the shacks from the elements, is visible on the shack walls.

Picture No. 5 [Snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of internment shacks. Notice the tar paper on the outer walls of the shacks for protection against the elements. Credit: Ernest L. Maag] (e999900386-u)

All photographs digitized during the project are available in Collection Search under the key words “Photographs relating to Japanese-Canadian internment.”

A defective and prejudicial logic

It should be noted that the Long photographs were commissioned by the Canadian government during the Second World War to create the false impression that some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, whom it had forcibly interned in 1942, were being especially well treated and were, in fact, enjoying their lives in internment camps.

Bureaucrats employed the defective and prejudicial logic that there was an equivalence between Canadians of Japanese ethnic origin—75% of whom were Canadian citizens by birth or naturalization—and ethnic Japanese in Imperial Japan. The rationale behind this discriminatory belief was that, if these photographs were seen by the Government of Japan, they might secure favourable treatment for Canadian soldiers held captive by the Axis Japanese.

Original captions

The original captions reflect the purpose of the photographs and were a product of 1940s thinking. Internees are not referred to as Canadians. They are all “Japanese” or, in one offensive case, “Japs.” Non-Japanese are “whites,” “Occidentals” or “other racial groups.” The names added to the captions are for non-Japanese persons.

Euphemisms are employed, such as “space-saving” and “snug” for cramped, “evacuees” for internees, “repatriation” for deportation, “cottages” for internment shacks, and “settlements” and “housing centres” for the actual camps. There are “orderly rows of houses” and “tidy valleys.” The point is often made that the internees are being treated the same as other Canadians: “In camp hospitals, babies are born as in any other hospital. This happy mother chats with Dr. Burnett, director of the hospital” and “At the end of the school term Japanese evacuee students have a graduation banquet just as any other students in Canada would. Settlements are unguarded, and evacuees may visit between them, or go out for sports.”

There are descriptions such as “cheerful,” “modern,” “a fine place,” “well-equipped,” “well-stocked,” “clean,” and “as perfect as possible.” In one image of the women’s ward of the hospital at the New Denver, B.C., camp hospital, the caption writer senses “there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles.” In this case, the ribboned ornament that the internee patient has pinned in her hair is perhaps evidence that the photograph was staged.

From left to right: Hospitalized woman (internee) in bed. Nurse standing on the right.

In the women’s ward of the hospital at New Denver, there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles. [The photographer appears to have posed the internee patient. Notice the ribboned ornament she has clipped on the back of her head.] (e999900300-u)

Yet even though the Long photographs have been artfully and professionally staged, there is still no mistaking the posed, self-conscious smiles of people who are detained in internment camps.

When one bureaucrat in Canada’s Department of External Affairs saw Long’s images, he wrote on the file pocket: “These are excellent photographs.” However, the written comments of another bureaucrat, Arthur Redpath Menzies, dated April 26, 1943, appearing just below his colleague’s leave us with a stark reminder of the reality of the situation not revealed by the photographs themselves: “Understand from some who have been there that this spot is actually pretty grim — very cold — no work except sawing wood . . . in fact not a very pleasant spot — for Canadian citizens where only offence is their colour.” Menzies went on to become Canada’s Head of Mission in Japan in 1950 and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.

View of a small town surrounded by mountains. In the foreground are multiple buildings, and in the background on the left are rows of smaller houses.

Evacuee homes in Lemon Creek, B.C., are built with enough space in between for comfort and a garden. Each cottage accommodates one family. [Internee shacks in the Lemon Creek, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900291-u)

A man is standing in front of a large, tilted shelving unit filled with Japanese characters used in a printing press.

Some of the thousands of Japanese typeface characters used for The New Canadian, a newspaper that was published every week in Kaslo, B.C. The offices are now in Winnipeg, Manitoba. [The New Canadian began publishing in 1939, in Vancouver. It was an English-language newspaper founded to be the voice of the Canadian-born Nisei (second-generation Japanese Canadians). After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the internment of some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, it resumed publishing in the Kaslo, B.C., internment camp. A Japanese-language section was added to better serve the Issei, or first-generation Japanese Canadians. In 1945, the paper moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and subsequently, in 1949, to Toronto, Ontario, where it continued publishing until 2001.] Credit: Jack Long (e999900358-u)

Three women, one of whom is a nurse, are standing around a kitchen island on which there are trays, dishes and bottles of milk. Utensils are hanging from the rack that runs down the middle of the unit.

The very modern kitchen of the Greenwood camp hospital. [Hospital kitchen at the Greenwood, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900255-u)

The original captions for these photographs expose vestiges of Canada’s colonial past. Library and Archives Canada continues to provide relevant context as a way of presenting a fuller and more equitable picture of our nation’s history. This is work of value. For, as written on the Landscapes of Injustice website: “A society’s willingness to discuss the shameful episodes of its history provides a powerful gauge of democracy.”

If you have an idea for a project like this one, please email the DigiLab with an overview of your project.

Related LAC sources

Textual documents

Case files

Related links


Gabrielle Nishiguchi is a government records archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section, Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

Brodie Macpherson: Early photo printer

By Samantha Shields

Biography

Brodie Macpherson, born Archibald Brodie Macpherson, nicknamed “Handlebars” (presumably for mustache-related reasons), was a notable figure in Canada for his role in the photographic community during the rise of colour printing.

A colour portrait photograph of Brodie Macpherson in a military uniform sporting a handlebar moustache. The figure is cropped at the chest and appears against a blank background.

Self-portrait, approx. 1945 (e010767976)

Born in Toronto, Ontario, on November 26, 1909, to University Professor Walter Ernest and Elsie Margaret Macpherson, Brodie was the eldest of three children and the first to attend the University of Toronto. He enrolled in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering in 1927 and graduated in 1931. He would go on to serve as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War before returning home to start his photography business in early 1946. Macpherson’s engineering background, in conjunction with his subsequent years of experience working in the lithography business, would serve him well in the colour printing trade.

The rise of colour photography

Colour photography began to gain momentum in the mid-1930s with the advancement of colour transparencies. Colour prints were also possible at this time, but they were far less popular with photographers than black-and-white prints. The process of making and printing separation negatives was too expensive and complicated for most hobbyists, and the finished prints were rarely worth all the effort for professional photographers. Portrait and scenic photographers were certainly not interested in spending a small fortune to produce prints that critics would frequently describe as garish, vulgar, and unnatural.

Dual colour photographs of a tiered display holding Colgate and Palmolive products, such as shaving cream, shampoo, dental cream, and tooth powder. The display was photographed in-studio against a blue background.

A shop display for Colgate Palmolive toiletries. (e011312591)

Despite its many shortcomings, colour truly excelled in the realm of advertising. While bright and clashing colours can be visually jarring, they are also excellent for attracting attention. During this era, colourful photographs increasingly adorned the pages of magazines, billboards, and sales tools.

Advertising was ideally suited for colour, since much of it involved bulk orders, where repetition and quantity could distribute the high cost and complexity of making an initial print over multiple copies.

Brodie Macpherson – the business

In February 1946, rather than resume his pre-war employment with Harris Lithography, Macpherson, embarked on making and selling quantities of colour photographs using modified versions of Eastman Kodak’s Wash-off Relief and Dye Transfer processes. Given the operational similarities, a background as a lithographic camera operator proved particularly useful in this work.

Macpherson’s business approach was simple: provide the best possible product for the lowest reasonable price. This goal was achieved by

  • limiting sales to colour prints, thereby reducing the need to stock equipment and materials to process black-and-white prints, and promoting a specialization in colour.
  • selling prints in bulk only, thereby maximizing the life of the chemicals and lowering costs overall. As chemicals would begin to expire rapidly when poured into trays, it was not economical to let materials spoil between small orders.
  • experimenting and mixing his own chemicals. Macpherson was able to further streamline his printing process, maintain a consistent quality, and avoid some of the higher costs associated with purchasing prepared chemicals. These cost savings were passed on to the consumer.
  • building and customizing tools, from production equipment (e.g., cameras and lights) to printing (e.g., lightbulbs and tray rockers). Macpherson was continually designing, experimenting, and tweaking to improve and perfect the process.
  • communicating and collaborating with suppliers, manufacturers (including Kodak), fellow photographers, and printing labs, and continually sharing research, information, and resources to help improve the production of colour photography.
A black-and-white photograph of Macpherson’s camera.

Macpherson built his own one-shot colour separation camera, which allowed him to expose three plates behind different coloured filters simultaneously. Otherwise, the exact same photo would need to be taken successively for each filter colour. (e011312590)

From the outset, clients considered the quality of Macpherson’s colour prints to be strong, and his prices—while still more expensive than those of black-and-white or hand-colour photographs—reasonable. His price lists were consistently lower than those of other colour-printers in the area, and remained unchanged for the duration of the business. Over the next 18 years, Macpherson would go on to fill orders for clients from all over Canada and from the United States.

Two identical studio portraits of an unknown woman with blond hair, red lipstick, and a red knit sweater. Macpherson’s price list and contact information is superimposed on the bottom left-corner and also appears below the image.

An advertisement and price list for ordering coloured photographs from Brodie Macpherson.
(e011312588)

The colour studio, located at 172 Walmer Road, in Toronto, in the basement of his family home, operated officially until Macpherson’s retirement in 1964.

The Toronto Camera Club (TCC) – Colour Print Group

According to the President of the Toronto Camera Club, Frank E. Hessin, Macpherson was “unquestionably [the] driving force in the [Toronto Camera] Club” for the promotion of colour prints. In 1946, he proposed the creation of—and subsequently chaired—the TCC’s Colour Print Group. Over the next several years, he employed the TCC’s facilities to teach the colour separation process to anyone willing to learn.

A black-and-white photograph of Brodie Macpherson pretending to photograph a reclined Miss 1948, Lialla Raymes.

Brodie Macpherson and Miss 1948, Lialla Raymes, during a skit portraying the changing trends in photography to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Toronto Camera Club. (e011310464)

Everett Roseborough, a fellow TCC member, writes the following characterization of Macpherson, which echoes throughout the correspondence and articles in the Brodie Macpherson fonds (R791).

“Opinionated [and found] seated in the back row at photographic society meetings, stroking his moustache, he could be counted on to object to something. Following a concerted groan by those present, frequently he would be proven correct.” (Photographic Historical Society of Canada, 1994)

Ever the son of a university professor and librarian

Undeniably clever, Macpherson would readily share information and freely offer his opinion and advice. He was an invaluable resource, as photographers active during this era considered Macpherson to be the best colour photographer / printer in the city.

Over the years, as colour-photography technology continued to improve in speed and accuracy, Macpherson’s skills in this area and his knowledge of colour-print specifications continued to be recognized. He regularly shared his research findings and encouraged discussion through various photography publications, private letters, photography clubs, public lectures, and evenings in his studio accompanied by records and top-shelf scotch.

A print of a cut round cake on a black plate, situated atop a box bearing the printing matrix and creator number C363.

An early colour photograph by Brodie Macpherson demonstrating the layering of yellow, magenta, and cyan to achieve a full-colour print. (e011312589)

Retirement

Already spending most of the winter months in Barbados, Macpherson semi-retired from the printing business in 1964, at the age of 55. While he was no longer accepting any new business, during his time in Toronto, he would still fill orders of reprints from existing negatives for previous clients.

A promotional photograph displaying eight different Purity biscuit and cookie products in clear bags against a white background.

A series of promotional prints commissioned by Purity Factories Ltd., Saint John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The company placed several orders with Macpherson, and continued to request reprints until 1970. (e011312592)

By the late 1960s, the photographic processes used by Macpherson had largely been replaced by Kodak’s new—and simpler—Ektacolor material. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary supplies in Canada, and the reprinting stopped altogether.

A black-and-white photograph of Brodie Macpherson using his Devin-style one-shot camera.

Portrait of Brodie Macpherson at work. (e011310471)

A recluse by nature, Macpherson quietly closed up his home and studio sometime in the 1970s, reportedly moving to Florida without a trace (Roseborough, 1994). Subsequent efforts to locate Macpherson in Toronto, Florida, and Bermuda post-1970 were unsuccessful.

Macpherson’s successful career in colour photography, particularly during a period of rapid technological development, is a true testament to his entrepreneurial spirit, his dedication, and his mastery of the craft.


Samantha Shields is a Photo Archivist in the Social Life and Culture Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Madge Macbeth: Writer of everything and anything

By Vasanthi Pendakur

Portrait-style photograph of a woman wearing a lace blouse, jade beads and a diamond pin facing the camera.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth (e010935318)

Madge Macbeth was a prolific American-Canadian writer of short stories, novels, plays, travel books, newspaper articles, and interviews throughout the first half of the 20th century. She was deeply involved with authors’ associations and in theatre, being a founding member of the Ottawa Little Theatre and the first female president of the Canadian Authors Association, a position she held for three terms.

Macbeth was born Madge Hamilton Lyons in Philadelphia, to Bessie Maffitt and Hymen Hart Lyons, on November 6, 1878. As a child, she produced plays and edited her own newspapers. She may have been influenced by her grandmother, Louisa Hart Maffitt, who was one of the first professional American press women and a suffragist.

After the family settled in Baltimore, Madge Lyons was sent to Hellmuth College in London, Ontario, for her education. In her memoir Boulevard Career, she recalled that Hellmuth in the 1890s did not teach Canadian literature and that its curriculum centred on the classics. After completing her schooling, she performed as a mandolinist and vaudeville actress for a few years before marrying Charles Macbeth in 1901.

The couple first moved to Detroit, and then settled in Ottawa. Macbeth instantly loved Ottawa. In her writings, she stated that Ottawa provided a means of satisfying my in-born and unquenchable love of people.” This is certainly true. She became friends with many of the leading lights of Ottawa, including the photographer Yousuf Karsh and Mayor Charlotte Whitton.

Side profile of Madge Macbeth in a black dress and white lace jacket wearing a feathered hat.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth as a young woman in Ottawa (e008406101)

Disaster struck around 1908. Macbeth’s husband caught tuberculosis and later died, her young son became ill, and her mother lost all her money. Writing was one of the few professional careers open to women at the time. As she recounted in an interview with Maclean’s: I began to write…with the deluded idea that it was something I could do at home. Long since I have learned that it is just the place where one can’t write in peace.” At the time, the Canadian market for writing was small. Editors were looking for American or British writers, and in many instances Canadians were confined to advertisements or second runs.

Macbeth began with short pieces in magazines, and had a few early successes with her novels The Changeling (1909), and The Winning Game (1910). This was followed by a dry spell. A helpful mentor at this time was Marjorie MacMurchy, one of the earliest press women in Canada. MacMurchy suggested Macbeth try getting interviews with members of Parliament, because magazines were more interested in public officials than in fiction.

Her luck returned. A Canadian editor accepted a piece she had written, and soon other work followed. Macbeth wrote anything she could get her hands on: advertisements, brochures for the Canadian Pacific Railway, serials, novels, travel books, plays, radio dramas, propaganda (during World War II), newspaper articles, and columns. She wrote under her own name and various pseudonyms, both male and female. Her writing style and subject matter changed from book to book, but most of her pieces were suffused with a strain of humour or satire, and her main characters were usually women. She wrote about marriage, sex, travel, adventure, religion, and political intrigue. Later in her career, she travelled extensively, usually alone, for lecture series or for material to turn into more books.

Madge Macbeth holding a document and looking off to the side.

Madge Macbeth holding a document (e010935329)

Many of her novels focussed on the middle and upper classes. In fact, popular political satire novels, like The Kinder Bees (1935) and The Land of Afternoon (1924), were based on her knowledge of upper-class society in Ottawa. Both were written under the closely guarded pseudonym of “Gilbert Knox.” One of her most popular novels was Shackles (1926), which highlighted first-wave feminist thinking of the time. The novel is the story of Naomi Lennox, a middle-class woman fighting for respect as a writer and for freedom within her church and marriage. The book was highly praised by some and condemned by others for its portrayal of sex in marriage.

Macbeth’s articles discussed similar themes as well as showcased women in the arts, business, education, and suffrage. One article entitled “How much sex should be put into novels?” was published in 1947. In it, Macbeth argued that authors were reporters describing the world around them. She was critical of authors using too much sex in their books, but argued that ignoring it completely was also a disservice to reality and literature. One exchange with a reformer went like this: Why don’t you authors write about nice things?” He complained. … “Do you enjoy uplift books?” I shot at him, “Or do you want them published for the other fellow?

Throughout her career, Macbeth was deeply involved with authors’ associations and in theatre. Not only was she the first female president of the Canadian Authors Association, but she held the position for three terms, a record at the time. She used the position to promote Canadian literature and continually supported younger writers. As well, her interest in theatre led to the founding of the Ottawa Drama League, later the Ottawa Little Theatre. Her stated goal with this project was to wean children from cheap movies, to give them a knowledge and love of good dramatic literature.” Macbeth pestered MPs for support until the project came to fruition. It is now one of the oldest theatre companies in Canada.

Large group of men and women standing in front of the entrance to a building.

Group portrait of the Canadian Authors Association (e008406116)

Macbeth’s work was very progressive, but elements of her writing show her Victorian upbringing. While her subject matter was enlightened, her books tended to fit into the conventions of the time. She supported fledging writers and was proud of supporting herself and creating space for other women to do the same. At the same time, she wrote articles arguing that women had forgotten their domestic responsibilities, and called spinsterhooda half baked life. She wrote as a member of her class, and some of her language would not be used today. These contradictions are symbolic of her long career and the changes that took place in society from her Victorian upbringing to her death in the 1960s.  Boulevard Career ends with a discussion of how much society, and Ottawa in particular, had changed over her career, especially for women. Her writing and her life were part of this change, half in the future and half in the past.

Macbeth donated her papers to the National Archives in 1958. The fonds includes manuscripts of many of her novels, copyright information, and correspondence on a number of topics, including Macbeth’s lecture series, her involvement with the Ottawa Drama League, and her work with the Canadian Authors Association. The fonds also comprises diaries, scrapbooks, and a large collection of photos of Macbeth over her life. These photos show her dramatic side and her love of the theatre. The fonds gives us insight into her long career and ensures that her work will be remembered.

Side portrait of Madge Macbeth wearing a pale patterned cape.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth wearing a cape (e010935313)

Additional resources


Vasanthi Pendakur is a project manager in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

Women’s hockey: She shoots, she scores!

By Ellen Bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Canada in Colour

By Samantha Shields

Early colour photography

Colour photography has existed in some form since the 19th century, but it was not until around 1935 that the technology had advanced enough to be considered practical for amateurs. The mass production of single-shot colour film transparencies, such as the colour reversal film Kodachrome, made it possible to easily create impressive, vibrant colour images. Despite requiring a light source or a projector to view them, colour transparencies grew quickly in popularity, whereas printing in colour remained elusive for the average hobbyist.

The colour printing processes of the mid-20th century were expensive, time-consuming, and complex, requiring greater technical precision and greater knowledge of chemistry than the production of either black-and-white prints or colour transparencies. However, for all the effort necessary to create them, these early prints were frequently a disappointment to their creators. With bright clashing colours and a narrow tonal range, colour prints were frequently described by critics as unrealistic and “garish.” As a result, the early adoption of colour prints was slow, generally left to wealthier amateurs and basement scientists, or to those printing magazines, advertisements, and materials for commercial distribution.

A member of the RCMP poses in front of the Parliament buildings for tourists taking snapshots. Ottawa, Ontario, 1949. Photo credit: Chris Lund (e010955585)

A man in a shirt and tie sitting with a young girl in a plaid dress, smiling and looking at a photograph. The brand name “Kodak” appears in the top left-hand corner.

Kodak advertising proof, 1946. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh-Kodak (a215007k)

The colour printing process

During the rise of colour photography, manufacturers around the globe were working hard to develop products that would simplify and improve the colour printing process. One of the cornerstone methods during this era of innovation was printing from colour separation negatives.

Simplified, the printing process required the separation of a colour image, from either life or a colour transparency, into three negatives—each filtered for one colour: red, green, or blue. Typically, the photographer would either: create these negatives in succession, an action that risked the subject or camera shifting between exposures; or use a one-shot camera that split the image to expose multiple plates simultaneously. The negatives were used to create relief positives (matrices) to hold corresponding photo dyes (cyan, magenta, and yellow). The dyed matrices were pressed or rolled successively onto the photo-paper in perfect alignment (registration) to create a single full-colour print.

Colour photograph of a carrying case and three identical negatives, each in a different colour: magenta, cyan, and yellow.

[Carrying case advertisement: three colour matrices and final print]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310465–e011310468)

By the early 1940s, more colour print options were available to photographers, including the three-colour pigment process, bromoil printing, and the bleach-out process. Among these, the imbibition printing process—first commercially introduced by the Eastman Kodak Company as the Wash-Off Relief process in the mid-1930s—quickly gained attention. This process was later replaced by the Dye Transfer process (1946), in which the assembly of colour prints was most akin to the lithographic colour printmaking processes, making it more practical to run duplicates and batch print orders than with earlier colour printing methods. It also allowed for greater manipulation at various stages in the printing process, and the materials involved were less sensitive to temperature and humidity.

Technical and logistical challenges

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the printing of colour photographs in Canada faced a host of geographic, economic, and chemical challenges.

Black-and-white photograph of a camera from 1943.

[Example of an] automatic colour camera. Photo credit: Department of National Defence (a064809)

Black-and-white photograph of a camera from 1943.

Macpherson’s Devin-style one-shot colour separation camera. (e011312590)

Canadians were in-touch, but out of stock. While Canada was typically among the first countries to receive new photographic processes, access to materials was not reliable because colour-printing supplies were largely manufactured internationally and shipping was unreliable and slow. This forced many photographers and printers to find innovative solutions and to work together.

Eastman Kodak Co. was a pioneer in imbibition printing photography supplies and services. However, given that the company’s main office and manufacturing plant were located in Rochester, N.Y., the reach of Kodak’s Canadian distribution was limited. Central Canada benefitted the most from having a distribution centre and manufacturing operation based in Toronto (Canadian Kodak Co., established in 1899; later, Kodak Canada Inc.), but its Canadian operations did not stock everything, nor did they produce colour supplies until the late 1960s. While outside central Ontario, photographers did not see another Kodak installation until 1961, when a Kodak colour-film-processing lab first appeared in North Vancouver to service all of western Canada. As a result, most Canadians hoping to purchase Kodak colour goods relied heavily upon their local suppliers.

Purchasing or ordering supplies through the “local guy,” whose goods came from international manufacturers or from distribution centres, meant the following:

  • Delays—deliveries could take five weeks or longer.
  • Dependency—the availability of products and irregular shipments spanning weeks disrupted the ability of colour-print labs to complete or accept new or large orders.
  • Travel—supply orders placed and received in the United States often arrived much quicker (in about five days).
  • Collaboration—colour printers frequently loaned or exchanged supplies when facing deadlines amid delivery delays.
Page with five duplicate photographs advertising a tiny blue piano and bench inside a red and yellow box covered with music notes. There is also print that reads “200 Direct Color photographs cost less than quadri-color engravings!”

[Advertisement for Brodie Macpherson’s services, with price sheet] Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310469)

Economic challenges

Colour photo printing was a much larger financial investment than black-and-white printing, for both the printer and the client. Given the considerable expense and the perceived likelihood of the final images being undesirable as a result of “unnatural” colouring, clients and companies were hesitant to invest. Consequently, colour printers were motivated to produce pleasing high-quality prints for the lowest reasonable price. Many early printers made colour feasible by

  • limiting small print orders, which were labour-intensive and costly to produce, as any open, unused chemicals could expire between orders;
  • engaging in larger print runs, thus distributing the high cost associated with making the perfect initial print over many duplicates. Subsequent prints were much cheaper to produce, as they required only time, repetition, and consistency, and could be re-ordered even years later;
  • targeting advertising and commercial businesses, since they benefitted from the vibrant attention-grabbing colours and could place the necessary bulk orders, and would re-order old prints;
  • working together, via camera clubs and photography newsletters, to recommend “dupes” for the more expensive prepared chemicals, as well as to share insights on how to improve print quality and processes;
  • importing privately. Supplies were often more expensive to purchase in Canada, even factoring in the added cost of importing. Those lucky enough to live near the Canada–U.S. border could get faster delivery by placing an order with a U.S. supplier and cross the border to purchase cheaper, fresher colour-printing supplies.

Colour print of eight different types of cookies and biscuits in clear packaging, as sold by Purity Factories Ltd.

Purity Factories Ltd. biscuits and cookies [advertisement]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011312592)

Since small, inconsistent orders made colour printing impractical for most businesses of the time, many portrait studios did not offer colour photography. Those that did, rather than convert their darkrooms, would often photograph in colour and hire out to colour labs to do the processing and printing. The high cost of small print runs was then passed onto the client. For these reasons, black-and-white prints for portraits persisted despite the advancements in colour. Some notable exceptions were wedding and group portraits and holiday cards, for which clients needed additional copies and the cost of ordering colour prints was less prohibitive as a result.

Colour portrait of a woman in a floral dress, front lit, seated in a wooden armchair.

C309 – [Unidentified woman]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310460)

Three black-and-white detail shots of the previous image, identical apart from the density of the exposure relative to the colour filtered: A = red, B = green, C = blue.

Test prints of the separation negatives for C309 – [Unidentified woman] (e011310461- e011310463)

As colour printing improved and colour advertising increased in popularity, colour printers would sometimes receive multiple large orders from different clients. Given the demand on resources, rather than push out a poor-quality product or delay delivery, some colour printers worked in small, trusted networks to refer work to each other when necessary.

There was also a significant expense associated with developing a darkroom for colour processing, as well as learning, largely via trial-and-error, how to make quality colour prints. The high cost and the difficulty of producing colour prints were enough to dissuade the mildly curious, while others, rather than convert their own darkrooms for colour, turned instead to their local camera clubs to learn and experiment with the medium.

Chemical challenges

Early colour printing, like all photography, was a science as much as an art. Practitioners were often challenged by the exactitude required by the process, having to control all associated variables to maintain quality and ensure consistent printing (e.g., times, temperature, voltage, water treatment).

There were also limitations posed by the chemicals themselves. They expired, and they did so more rapidly once opened. Expired chemicals performed inconsistently and were less effective, making quality printing frustrating and impossible to maintain over a print run. As well, the shelf life of supplies was already shorter in Canada when shipping times were taken into account. This made the stockpiling of supplies risky. Once more, bulk orders and batch printing practices were encouraged in order to maximize the value of the pricey chemicals.

Twelve-colour grids, four across and three down.

[Colour matrix]. Photo credit: Brodie Macpherson (e011310470)

Manufacturers issued recommended times, measurements, and additives for using their products. These were generally serviceable, but were rarely perfect for everyone. The difficulties and solution(s) with respect to controlling the different variables were largely dependent on the location of the printer (city or town, hot or cold temperature, stable or variable climate, etc.).

Water

  • Variations in water sources and treatments over time and between regions meant that not all water was chemically equal. For example, with the Tricolour Pigment Process, printers needed to account for the presence of any lime or hardening salts in their water because these would react with the bromide silver.

Temperature

  • Fluctuations in temperature during the multi-week transport to Canada negatively affected the integrity of some coated paper.
  • Operating in a climate with a wide temperature variation meant Canadian printers had to find innovative ways to maintain consistent darkroom temperatures throughout the year. An asbestos-insulated heating element placed under an out-of-phase rocking tray was the solution for warming a developer presented by colour printer Brodie Macpherson of Toronto.

Young boy sitting in a large winter sleigh. Photo Credit: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton (e010980928)

Voltage

  • A difference of even a few volts can cause variations in the light intensity of enlargers. These inconsistent exposures result in an imbalance in the density of the separation negatives and, by extension, in the appearance of the colour print. Using a regulator and monitoring the voltage was standard procedure.
  • Some printers also sought out the U.S.-made “cold lamp,” a cold cathode fluorescent tube bent into a “U” shape that eliminated “hot spots” in printing, for their photo enlargers. This allowed for larger prints, a longer life for supplies, and reduced dependence on variations in voltage. However, since importing these lamps to Canada was prohibited, motivated printers commissioned parts and built their own!
Black-and-white photo of a woman in military uniform using an enlarger.

Enlarger, general view. Photo credit: Unknown/Department of National Defence (a064866)

Black-and-white photo of a man leaning on a desk next to an enlarger.

Jack Marsters with horizontal enlarger in Montreal Gazette darkroom. Photo credit: Richard Arless (a114447)

In the end, experimentation with the variables in order for printers to determine the optimal printing conditions for their specific environment and their print preferences was critical to the success of the medium. Through both success and failure, camera clubs and photography publications (e.g., Canadian Photography, Photographic Canadiana) were regular avenues for photographers to seek advice, share their research, and make recommendations.

Black-and-white photographers belonging to Toronto’s Camera Club posing outdoors with their camera equipment.

“A few workers of the Toronto Camera Club.” Photo credit: T. Cannon (a132365)

The final picture

Despite the difficulties involved, colour printing in Canada persisted in the years following the Second World War. This perseverance and the commercial success that this process subsequently earned are due in large part to the early enthusiasm of colour printers. They regularly collaborated to troubleshoot their printing woes, shared insights and theories via camera clubs, lecture series, and international conferences, and published in national and international photography magazines and club newsletters. This dedication—their drive to experiment, perfect, and promote colour prints as a viable medium—laid the groundwork for colour printing’s later success.

Colour photograph of the long lineup for the Kodak pavilion at Expo 67.

Kodak pavilion at Expo 67, in Montréal [exterior with crowds]. Photo credit: Unknown/LAC (e011199279)

Kodak representative posing outside the Kodak Pavilion at Expo 67.

Kodak pavilion [exterior detail with representative] at Expo 67, in Montréal. Photo credit: Unknown/LAC (e011199282)

In the background is a grid of backlit colour transparencies of aerial shots. In the foreground are a Kodak representative and a male figure.

[inside] Kodak pavilion at Expo 67, in Montréal. Photo credit: Unknown/LAC (e011199283)

Also see: Brodie Macpherson: Early photo printer, a blog about a prominent colour printer based in Toronto. A clever and opinionated individual, Macpherson frequently wrote and lectured on colour printing and photography. His work and contributions to the local industry earned him a place among the best colour printers of his day.


Samantha Shields is a Photographic Archivist within Private Specialized Media at Library and Archives Canada.

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities

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 Annabelle Schattmann

George Mully (1926–1999) was an American playwright and documentary film director. He began as a playwright, working on off-Broadway shows, travelling productions, and operas in the United States and Europe. Mully had various roles, including stagehand, stage manager, lighting designer, and director; he even worked as a puppeteer. After marrying and settling down in England with his wife Ann, Mully pivoted his career from the stage to audiovisual production. He started his own educational production studio, writing, directing, and producing stories on subjects and issues he was passionate about. By 1979, the family had immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

The George Mully collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, consists of personal and professional documentary photographs taken in the later part of Mully’s career. The images demonstrate his varied interests, including international development, the environment, history and socio-cultural topics, music, and art. In Canada, Mully worked closely with the National Film Board and museums in the capital region, directing many documentary films. Acid from Heaven (1981), a documentary film about acid rain, is a notable work included in his collection.

Colour photograph of a young girl staring into the camera.

An Inuk girl with yellow sunglasses, a red jacket, and multicolour mittens. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218259)

Of particular interest to the We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative is a series of 363 photographs taken between 1978 and 1988. They depict First Nations people and Inuit from across Canada, as well as Diné (Navajo) and Inde (Apache) from the United States. Mully’s images document how Indigenous people lived and worked in the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the photographs show people going about their daily lives, often while performing an activity. Sometimes it is a traditional activity, such as hunting, gathering, creating art, and making crafts, or a contemporary activity such as working in a modern industry. Occasionally, Mully captures crossover between traditional and contemporary life.

Colour photograph of four men sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by microphones and facing each other, singing and drumming.

Four unidentified First Nations drummers performing under a tent. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218157)

Mully’s interest in human rights is evident in a series of photographs taken in July 1979, when the Indian women’s rights march arrived in Ottawa. The march, led by Maliseet women Sandra Lovelace and Caroline Ennis, protested inequality and discrimination faced by First Nations women who lost their Indian status upon marrying non-status men. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in June 1985 by removing the relevant provisions and reinstating status for those affected, among other changes. The revisions to the Act have been critiqued for not adequately addressing the issue.

Colour photograph of a person sitting on green grass behind a sign that reads “Save our sisters.”

Unknown individual sitting on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a protest sign. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

It is not initially clear why Mully captured particular images or what purpose they might have served. Some photographs might have been taken in preparation for a possible documentary or as part of research on a future project. The names of the people depicted, the locations, and the dates of the photographs are unknown; none of the images has a detailed caption, and few textual records accompany the collection. As such, a selection of over 300 photographs will be part of an upcoming Co-Lab challenge and Flickr album. If you recognize someone or a location, or know when an event took place, please go to the George Mully Co-Lab challenge and tag the photographs! Tagging the images with names, locations, and dates will allow others to find images of family members and their communities, and ensure that the people and places are remembered. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and for your assistance in this endeavour.

Colour photograph of a man in dark blue clothing wearing sunglasses and sitting on a wooden bench carving a vase.

Unidentified Inuk artist at an arts event, working on a ceramic vase with an abstract design. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

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.


Annabelle Schattmann is an archival assistant for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.