Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “William Topley: Exposure on Ottawa”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “William Topley: Exposure on Ottawa”.

The William James Topley photographic collection is one of the most important visual records of Canada. The photographs produced by the Topley Studio provide a vivid documentation of the political, social, cultural, economic, technological and architectural changes during the first fifty years of Canada after Confederation. The collection documents life in the Ottawa area—as well as people and events in other regions of the country—between 1868 and 1923.

In this episode, we speak with Library and Archives Canada Archivist, Emma Hamilton-Hobbs, about the Topley collection, which is one of the most widely consulted sources of late 19th– and early 20th-century photographs held at LAC.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Inuit women and seals: a relationship like no other now on Flickr

Seals are a central part of life and an essential source of locally-harvested food for Inuit peoples. Many traditions, customs, beliefs and oral histories revolve around the seal. Inuit peoples were and still are in an important and direct relationship with this animal. Inuit hunters have great respect for the spirit of the seal, an animal that is so heavily relied upon. Every single part of the seal is used, as the harvesting must be sustainable, humane and respectful. Most importantly, cold and harsh arctic climates demand that people have the right shelter and clothing to keep warm and dry, and seals help meet this need through their skins, fur and oil.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman standing in front of a tent, hanging seal boots to dry on a clothesline.

Inuit woman “Aasivak Evic” hangs kamiits (sealskin boots) to dry, Pangnirtuuq (Pangnirtung), Nunavut. George Hunter. Canada. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque (MIKAN 3198727)

Inuit women developed highly skilled techniques in order to treat and use seal in various ways throughout the seasons. They scraped the skins clean of blubber with an ulu (a traditional, women’s knife with a crescent-shaped blade).

Visit the Flickr album!

Images for the Last Spike, 1885 now on Flickr

Craigellachie, British Columbia, located near Eagle Pass in the Rocky Mountains, is where Donald Smith, on November 7, 1885, drove the symbolic “last spike” in a ceremony marking the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). The CPR company was incorporated in 1881 to construct a transcontinental railway connecting British Columbia with the rest of Canada upon the province’s entry into Confederation. It was four years of dangerous work and controversies, with thousands of workers, including 15,000 temporary Chinese labourers, laying ties and rails, hammering spikes and exploding pathways through the mountains. The result of this hard labour was a country joined by transportation and enhanced communication—thanks to greater ease of mail delivery and telegraph lines that were built along the railway—and moving steadily into the twentieth century.

Voices of the Past

By Harriett Mathews

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has roughly 30 million photographs from various collections in its possession, a large number of which have Aboriginal content. During my time here as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) working on Project Naming, I have been able to explore the database and discover breath-taking photographs from different Aboriginal communities all over Canada.

Correcting the Historical Record

Although the photographs themselves are quite wonderful to behold, the records often leave something to be desired. For many Aboriginal images, the titles contain antiquated and offensive language, or are simply vague. It is imperative that these records be updated with modern terminology and information gathered from members of the communities where these photographic records originated. The involvement of Aboriginal people in this process is crucial because these records depict their history, their culture, and their families; their voices are the ones that have been omitted and lost. As I myself belong to the First Nations, I have greatly enjoyed being able to share my culture and help restore the lost voices of photographs by helping to update the records.

One example is an image titled “Dirty Daisy and her baby.” The photograph depicts an Inuit woman and her child suffering from malnutrition. “Daisy” was not the name of this woman; it is more likely the name that was assigned to her by a government official. By calling this woman “Dirty Daisy”, the individual who wrote the caption effectively stripped her of both her dignity and her name. Hopefully, through Project Naming, the real name of this woman and her child will be uncovered. In the meantime, the record has been updated so that the title now reads “An Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut.”

Black and white photograph of a gaunt looking Inuit woman and child sitting in a small tent with cooking supplies in the background. The woman is feeding the baby with a rectangular bottle.

Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut (MIKAN 3855414)

Improving Access – Photo by Photo

Since Project Naming began in 2002, more than 2,000 photographs have been identified. Additionally, thousands of records have had inaccurate and insensitive terminology removed from their titles and moved into a general notes field in order to provide historical context and perspective. Identifying names, places, events, and cultural objects facilitates the sharing of Aboriginal culture and stories with all who are interested in searching the archives. These include stories about Aboriginal politicians, for example Inuit Senator Charlie Watt who represents Quebec. I had the pleasure of working on DIAND Album 38, which contains several photographs of young Charlie Watt and his parents, Daisy and Johnny Watt. The photographs take place at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, and even though the photographs are black and white, the vibrancy of that Inuit community shines through.

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 154, 156, and 157) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of an Inuit woman in a plain dress and plaid shawl standing on a porch with a little girl in a parka drinking glass of milk. The photograph in the top right corner is of two Inuit women in plaid shawls and flower headbands sitting in front of wooden crates, one holding an accordion, with a baby sitting in the foreground to the left and a little boy in dress clothes standing beside the woman with the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of a woman in a blazer and ribbon headband dancing with a man in a suit; the woman on the left is holding a man’s hand – the rest of the man is out of the shot – and there are three women and an oil lamp in the background.

Album page fifty-three with photographs of an Inuit woman and girl (Daisy Watt, possibly with Harriat Ruston), a group of Inuit women and children—Daisy Watt is playing the accordion, Christina Gordon is on the right, and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) is standing on the left—and S.J. Bailey and H. Lamberton dancing with two Inuit women—Daisy Watt is on the right with S.J. Bailey, the woman behind her is Susie, and Hannah (Susie’s sister) is on the left holding H. Lamberton’s hand—in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec (MIKAN 4326945)

Black and white photograph of five women, four of them seated and one on the far right standing with a baby wrapped in a plaid shawl. The woman in the centre of the photograph is playing an accordion, and the woman to her left has a young boy in her lap. Behind them are several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.”

A group of women and children at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, the woman playing the accordion is Lizzie Suppa and to her immediate left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) (MIKAN 3855585)

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 158, 159, and 160) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of women and children sitting in front of several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.” The photograph in the top right corner is of two couples dancing while a woman plays the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of an Arctic ground squirrel in a grassy field with a rock in the foreground.

Album page fifty-four with photographs of a group of women and children [Lizzie Suppa is playing the accordion, seated to her left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt], two Inuit couples dancing [Johnny and Daisy Watt are on the left, on the far right is Lizzie (with her accordion again)], and a Siksik (an Arctic ground squirrel) (MIKAN 4326946)

Restoring Aboriginal Voices

All of these photographs are essential to the telling of Canadian history. They demonstrate the narrative of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the Canadian government, and most significantly, they tell the stories of the individuals in the photographs and share their culture. For decades, First Nations, the Metis Nation, and Inuit voices have been lost in these records. Project Naming is vital because it provides Aboriginal people a forum through which they can reclaim their stories and identities. I am glad that I have been able to contribute my voice, as a First Nations woman, to these records. There are so many stories to be told, and I am sure that as LAC continues to move forward in partnership with Aboriginal peoples, we will be able to hear them.


Harriett Mathews was an FSWEP student who worked in the Exhibition and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada during the summer of 2016.

Paws and reflect: the legacy of Margaret Marshall Saunders’s Beautiful Joe

By Alyssa Currie

The Story

Beautiful Joe is a bestselling children’s story written by Margaret Marshall Saunders. The novel describes the life of a mistreated dog who finds happiness when he is adopted by a kind family. It gives a voice to domestic animals by presenting the story from Joe’s perspective and stressing animal cruelty. Using the name Marshall Saunders, the author originally entered her story into a contest by the American Humane Society in 1893 and won first place. The text was published a year later and quickly became a bestseller, reportedly the first Canadian book to sell over a million copies.

Our collections include two photographs and two autographed postcards related to Beautiful Joe. These records are remarkable because they document the real-life inspiration for the story and its connection to Saunders’s animal advocacy efforts. The preface to Beautiful Joe reads:

BEAUTIFUL JOE is a real dog, and “Beautiful Joe” is his real name. He belonged during the first part of his life to a cruel master, who mutilated him in the manner described in the story. He was rescued from him, and is now living in a happy home with pleasant surroundings, and enjoys a wide local celebrity.

The character of Laura is drawn from life, and to the smallest detail is truthfully depicted. The Morris family has its counterparts in real life, and nearly all of the incidents of the story are founded on fact.

Margaret Marshall Saunders, Preface to Beautiful Joe

The Photographs

Margaret Marshall Saunders first encountered “Beautiful Joe” during a visit to her brother and his fiancé, Louise Moore, in Meaford, Ontario. Upon returning to her family home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Saunders began writing, determined to share Joe’s story. Though Saunders based her novel on reality, she adapted elements of the story to suit her fictional setting. For example, the location was changed to an American town to suit the rules of the contest and appeal to American readers. Saunders also renamed the Moore family, who originally adopted “Beautiful Joe,” as the Morris family and introduced elements of her own family into their narrative.

Black-and-white photograph featuring Dr. Edward M. Saunders, standing on the front staircase of a three-story Victorian style house. Dr. Saunders is wearing a black clerical suit and a black hat. The photograph was taken from across a residential street.

The Saunders family residence in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Beautiful Joe was written (MIKAN 3305717)

Throughout the narrative, Saunders appears to model the Morris family after her own. This likeness is supported by a photograph of Dr. Edward M. Saunders donated by the author. A handwritten note, possibly from Margaret herself, on the reverse of the photograph reads:

Dr. Saunders original of Mr. Morris in “Beautiful Joe”

Black-and-white photograph of a middle-aged man sitting in an ornate chair with a small dog, possibly a Russell terrier, laying at his feet. The man is wearing a black clerical suit. Dark drapery and a potted plant appear in the right of the portrait. The back of the photograph includes a stamp from Gauvin & Gentzel Studio.

Dr. Edward M. Saunders, father of Margaret Marshall Saunders and inspiration for the character Mr. Morris in Beautiful Joe. Handwritten notes on the back of the photograph document its connection to Beautiful Joe (MIKAN 3220890)

The Postcards

Two recently described postcards from our literary archives further emphasize the story’s connection to reality and the enduring legacy; both postcards were printed years after the book’s original publication and signed by the author. The first postcard features a picture of the original “Beautiful Joe” and provides a visual counterpart for the story’s protagonist.

Black-and-white postcard featuring a photograph of a dark dog with no ears in a sitting position. The postcard is captioned “BEAUTIFUL JOE” and autographed in black ink, “Marshall Saunders, 1930.” The back of the postcard features a small picture of Margaret Marshall Saunders with the caption, “Marshall Saunders, author of the world famous book, ‘Beautiful Joe.’” The postcard has not been mailed.

Autographed postcard featuring the original “Beautiful Joe” who inspired the story (MIKAN 4921901)

As Beautiful Joe gained national and then international recognition, Saunders used its popularity to promote animal welfare. She collaborated with animal advocacy groups on campaigns, which in turn promoted the sale of her own literary works. A postcard issued by the Canadian Antivivisection Society demonstrates this reciprocal relationship; it features Saunders, with the caption, “Author of the world-famous book ‘BEAUTIFUL JOE.’” The author autographed the front of the postcard and signed the back:

“Please do not vivisect our dear dogs, Marshall Saunders.”

Black-and-white postcard featuring a photograph of a middle-aged woman wearing a lab coat and holding a small dog on her lap. The postcard is captioned, “Author of the world-famous book, ‘BEAUTIFUL JOE’” and autographed in black ink, “Yours truly, Marshall Saunders.” The back of the postcard reads “ISSUED BY THE CANADIAN ANTIVIVISECTION SOCIETY, 445A YONGE ST., TORONTO” and is signed by the author. The postcard has not been mailed.

Autographed postcard featuring Margaret Marshall Saunders, “Author of the world-famous book, ‘BEAUTIFUL JOE’” (MIKAN 4921902)

The Legacy

Saunders was a bestselling author by the time of her death on February 15, 1947. Later that year, the Government of Canada recognized her accomplishments by naming her a “Person of National Historical Significance.” Over a century has passed since Margaret Marshall Saunders wrote Beautiful Joe, but still her legacy remains.

Related resources:


Alyssa Currie is a master’s student from the University of Victoria working in the Literature, Music, and Performing Arts Archives Section at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Swimming and Pools now on Flickr

Swimming is an important survival skill. However, it wasn’t considered a sport or leisure activity until organized competitions were held in countries like Japan in the 1600s, and eventually in Europe in the 1800s. Men’s swimming was included in the 1896 Olympic Games, and women competed in the 1912 competitions, cementing its place as a sport. Various associations around the world were created to support and promote swimming as a leisure activity and sport. Canada was no different, in this regard.

Over time, a variety of pool facilities appeared across Canada, near natural bodies of water and purpose-built ones in more populated urban centres. Examples include in Vancouver near English Bay, Toronto’s Lakeshore Drive, and Montreal’s Bain Maisonneuve and Bain Généreux. Swimming and its facilities eventually evolved into places of fitness, hygiene, leisure and community gathering.

Images of Dentists and Dentistry now on Flickr

Few dentists were available during Canada’s early colonial period. Individuals made claims of dental expertise, however, it was “buyer-beware” if someone needed care. Professional dentistry in Canada was far behind professional and medical developments in Europe at the time.

During the 1800s, Canada benefited from the arrival of dental practitioners from the United States. These professionals started a movement for better education, training and practices in the country, which sparked the first Canadian publication on dentistry, The Summum Bonum, in 1815 by L.S. Parmly based in Montréal. Eventually, medical expertise took root in Canada and various associations were formed such as the Ontario Dental Association (1867), and the Royal College of Dental Surgeons (1868).

As standards of practice and education evolved, the inclusion of dental schools into university programmes cemented dentistry’s standing in the medical professions. Dental practices and services continued to spread and became available in cities and towns across the county. Care was also provided to our soldiers outside of the country during times of conflict such as during the First and Second World Wars.

Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada Collection – Part II

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

Glass Deterioration

Depending on conditions, the rates of deterioration of the materials that make up a daguerreotype package (e.g., copper, silver, paper, brass, leather, velvet, silk and glass) can vary substantially. One of the most common problems found by conservators is glass deterioration.

Glass deterioration often makes the daguerreotype appear dull and hazy. This does not necessarily mean that the plate itself has deteriorated. A number of the daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection that were prepared and treated for exhibition showed distinct signs of glass deterioration

Glass deterioration can occur as a result of fluctuations in either temperature or humidity. There are a couple of ways in which this type of degradation can manifest itself. One is cracking, which is when tiny hairline cracks appear on the surface of the glass. The other is chemical decomposition, which affects older glass with a higher concentration of sodium oxide, causing the glass to appear hazy or cloudy.

Keeping the original glass of a daguerreotype is always encouraged, and in cases where the glass is in an early stage of deterioration, e.g., it appears hazy or foggy, it can possibly be cleaned and reused. Treating this type of deterioration is relatively straightforward: the glass is removed, cleaned with distilled water and a neutral soap, rinsed with ethanol, then left to air dry. When placed back onto the daguerreotype, the plate will immediately appear brighter and clearer. Continue reading

Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes in the Library and Archives Canada Collection—Part I

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

The Daguerreotype, a one-of-a-kind photograph, was largely produced between 1839 and 1864. It was the first publicly-available photographic process and was renowned for its image detail and clarity.

The photographs are highly susceptible to image loss, corrosion build-up and other forms of deterioration caused by poor handling and environmental exposure.

To protect the image, the photographic plate was delicately placed under glass, from which it was separated by a protective mat.  This assembly was then hermetically sealed using paper tape and covered with a brass foil called a “preserver”. The entire package was housed in a small, often decorative, case made of leather, wood, papier mâché or moulded plastic, with an interior lining of silk or velvet.

Daguerreotype hallmarks or plate marks

Makers’ marks, known as hallmarks or plate marks are stamped markings found on many, but not all, daguerreotypes. When they are present, they are often found on the edge of the plate and are, thus, invisible when the daguerreotype is sealed. Marks typically consist of initials, symbols and numbers. The number most commonly found is “40”, which refers to the physical makeup of the plate, 1 part silver to 39 parts copper. Plate marks can offer clues about where the copper plate was manufactured and where the photographer sourced materials. They can sometimes also help to date an image.

When daguerreotypes were being prepared for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, several of them were found to contain plate marks.A hand-tinted daguerreotype of three young women. The woman in the middle is standing between two women, who are seated. Continue reading

Ottawa’s Uppertown: A lost neighbourhood uncovered

By Andrew Elliott

A black-and-white photograph showing a streetscape at a crossroads.

Wellington and Bank, ca. 1900 (MIKAN 3325940)

On February 27, 1912, following what appears to have been at least a few years of behind the scenes deliberations, the federal government expropriated all properties located in Uppertown, an area bounded by Bank, Wellington, and Bay streets and the cliff along the Ottawa River. On March 9, 1912, a notice of expropriation was filed at the Ottawa City Registry Office (the area can be seen on these fire insurance plans: east view and west view (MIKAN 3816030).

The area was expropriated to make way for a new supreme court and other federal buildings. In 1913, the government launched a design competition, in response to which many of the major architects of the day submitted designs for the building complex. The designs can be found in the following LAC collection, which comprises 11 designs for the location of proposed departmental buildings. With the outbreak of the First World War, the fire and subsequent reconstruction of the Parliament Buildings, and changes in government, no concrete action was taken with respect to these plans until the early 1930s.

The area expropriated was both commercial and residential in nature. We have come to think of the stretch of Wellington between Bank and Bay streets as a boulevard flanked by grand, iconic government structures and large green spaces, but this is a relatively recent development. The towers of the Confederation and Justice buildings were built in the 1930s, followed by the Supreme Court building and, finally, the National Library building (now Library and Archives Canada), which was erected for the 1967 centennial. Continue reading