Red tape in the archives

By Leah Sander

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

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

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

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

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

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

A colour photograph of rolled maps tied with undyed ribbon.

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

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


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

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

By Michael Dufresne

From partisanship to professionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broadening the franchise

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

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

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

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

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

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

A woman votes during the 1953 federal election (e011200969)

An ongoing conversation

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

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

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

Additional sources

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

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

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

The Electoral System of Canada, 4th edition

A History of the Vote in Canada (2007)

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

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


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

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.

Archives as resources for revitalizing First Nations languages

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 Karyne Holmes

The preservation of First Nations languages is crucial for the survival of the unique identity of each nation and community. The ability to speak your language strengthens your connection to your ancestral heritage, community, and land and nature. In effect, language knowledge instills a strong sense of pride and confidence in your identity, and it is interconnected to mental and emotional well-being.

Since colonial contact, government policies have caused the displacement and separation of our people from their families, communities, lands and languages. Attempts at assimilation, such as the establishment of residential schools and the ongoing Millennium Scoop, have distanced multiple generations from their languages and cultures. Canada recognizes only English and French as official languages. First Nations communities have therefore taken leadership in ensuring that their languages are maintained, relearned and passed down. The decline in the natural inheritance of language through kinship has led to the rise of language-preservation and language-revitalization projects.

Revitalization initiatives value both traditional and technological approaches to learning. Digital resources are also important, as they offer various supplements to land-based language learning, such as video lessons, online dictionaries and interactive games. Social media platforms like Facebook allow for online classroom communities with communication opportunities between teachers and learners that would otherwise not be possible because of distance. Language-learning apps are rising in popularity and continue to be developed to support the needs both of beginners and of students who wish to spend extra time learning independently on their own schedules.

In addition to individuals recovering their languages, communities are empowering themselves by collectively reclaiming the original-language place names of the geographic territories that they occupy. These original names give insight into the history of the area and provide knowledge about it. The names are highly descriptive, reflecting physical characteristics of bodies of water and terrain, or honouring notable events, stories and activities associated with the locations. Some names reveal ecological knowledge or communicate information about travel and navigation. These insights were gradually diminished through the imposition of settler-drawn maps that assigned and formalized their own names to locations. As part of the movement toward decolonizing spaces, the restoration of place names in First Nations languages is being done through the redrawing of maps, and through designating names in First Nations languages to traditional territories and the institutions located there.

A hand-drawn map showing a river and bodies of water, with writing indicating locations and directions. On the right of the page is a white ruler, shown for scale.

A drawing, dated 1896, of a canoe route between Lake Waswanipi and Lake Mistassini showing Cree place names (n0117726)

Archives can play a supporting role both in current language revitalization and in future language preservation. Historical research into archives can be of value to language initiatives, as researchers can find documentation of languages in several forms. Although mostly created by non-Indigenous explorers, missionaries and anthropologists, types of records that are of special interest include journals, maps and dictionaries. These may reveal what the creators of these records learned from their encounters with First Nations peoples. Of particular interest are recordings of songs and stories, as well as historical documents that may recover traditional place names and include older vocabularies with insights into the origins of and the knowledge associated with those names.

A typed page with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Nakoda.

Transcription of a page from an English-Nakoda dictionary written between 1883 and 1886 (e011055392)

A handwritten document with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Innu-aiman.

Page from a notebook of Innu-aimun vocabulary learned while trading, ca. 1805 (e011211380)

Archives are relevant for finding out about our past, but they can also be valuable for assisting language maintenance and protection. They can function as spaces to preserve and make accessible for future generations newly created resources that reflect the current language knowledge of fluent speakers. Archives can be either physical or digital resource centres for language learners to access a vast collection of language content. Collaborations between leaders of language-revitalization initiatives, language keepers and archivists can ensure that our grandchildren have pride and flourish in their identity, not only by speaking their original language, but also by hearing it through our ancestors’ voices.

Check back for future blogs related to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation language resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

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


Karyne Holmes is an archivist for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Reflections on Rwanda

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In February 2020, after four weeks of work and 33 hours of travel (thanks to a delayed flight and a missed connection), my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I returned home to Canada from Africa safe and sound, full of stories and insights to share with our colleagues (and families and friends) about our assignment with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) in Kigali. The question I am asked most often (after “How was the food?”—everyone wants to know about the food) is, What did I bring back to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) from the experience? The purpose of the assignment and my goals were pretty clearly defined (to provide four weeks of training on bibliographic description and cataloguing), and I think that all involved would agree that the objectives were met and the assignment was a success. The lasting impact of this opportunity on me and my work is a little less tangible. Of course, there are all the benefits of travel, and living and working in another place, even for a short period of time—broadening your understanding of the world, seeing new perspectives, and appreciating in a new way things that you have come to take for granted.

Professionally, I saw many other benefits as well. I really had the opportunity to improve and refine my skills in training and teaching. While I have participated in the formal and informal training of many colleagues over the years, this was the first time I had to develop a curriculum and learning plans, and spent such a concentrated amount of time delivering instructions. I learned to adapt as I went, identifying newly discovered needs and incorporating them into the plans. Patience and flexibility are always key! I also developed a new understanding of the cataloguing tools and standards that I already use every day. When you are teaching someone else how to use something, you really have to stop and take a step back, and you get a better picture of how that thing is constructed and how the different parts fit together. It was good for me to go back to basics and refresh my fundamental understanding of the tools and concepts. This will help me as I return to my “everyday” work of cataloguing.

A colour photo of people gathered in a conference room.

Delivering training on the Dewey Decimal Classification system to librarians from across Rwanda. Photo credit: LAC

Living and working in Rwanda, even for a month, was a life-changing experience for me, personally and professionally. It was a major challenge, taking me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am proud of the work that I did, glad that LAC is an institution committed to these kinds of partnerships and the development of the library and archival professions in Canada and around the world, and so grateful to have had the chance to share my knowledge and expertise with fellow librarians in another country.

To learn more about this special assignment, and to get an overview of the training that my colleague and I gave the RALSA staff, I invite you to read my previous posts: Ready for Rwanda! and An update from Kigali!

A colour photo of a group of people gathered around a table.

Our going-away party with staff at RALSA on our last day in the office.


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada. Her blog articles depicting her work trip to Rwanda were written before the COVID-19 pandemic context.

 

Making Connections, Growing Collections

By Michael Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

First Nations cradleboards: understanding their significance and versatility

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

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Cradleboards are still an integral part of the cultural practices of First Nations peoples. I experienced using a cradleboard for my family when we received one from my mother-in-law. It was not new, the paint was flaking off and its footrest was wobbly. An antique restorer stabilized the paint and repaired the footrest. I selected a floral printed fabric to make a pad and embroidered a long sash of denim with multiple colours. I bundled my infant daughter in a thin flannel blanket, placed her on the cradleboard and wrapped the sash snugly around her. She was content when on the cradleboard and would usually fall asleep within minutes. I used it to bring her to local community events. Unfortunately, she outgrew it in about a month.

The cradleboard now decorates my home and is a reminder of those first few months of her life—it brings back cherished memories. Only later did I become aware of its cultural and historical significance while reading a book on First Nations cultural materials. The features of our cradleboard matched one that was over a hundred years old. Early First Nations cradleboards are in museums or private collections, as anthropologists and antique collectors visited communities and approached families directly to purchase and collect them.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard.

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], ca. 1910 (e010859891)

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the design and materials for cradleboards correspond to the culture of each First Nation. Generally, cradleboards are used by the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois), Plains and West Coast First Nations. Cradleboards are different from other infant carrier–type baskets, bags, slings, carrying hoods and dugout-trough-style cradles.

A black-and-white photograph of three children. The youngest child is in a cradleboard that is embroidered with a pattern of flowers.

Two young girls standing on a wooden porch beside a boy in a cradleboard, Temagami First Nation, probably Lake Temagami, Ontario, unknown date (e011156793)

The construction of a cradleboard starts with a flat plank of wood to which functional components are added. The handle or canopy is at the top end and provides protection for the head. This part may be a bar of curved wood or a canopy of arched bark. A flat piece of wood or bark rail is attached close to the bottom of the board as a footrest and keeps the infant in place when the board is placed in an upright position. Materials that are used for the cradleboard may include wood, leather, bark, cord, plant fibres, woven fabrics or a combination of these. Cradleboards can be stylized by carving, shaping, painting or adding decoration to the different components. Since a newborn grows quickly, a second, larger board may be used to accommodate a growth spurt. Boards may be shared between families, with a new mother borrowing one when needed. Cradleboards can be commissioned ahead of the arrival of an infant and range from a simple utilitarian style to more artistic creations.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and two children in a canoe. One of the children is sleeping in a cradleboard.

Atikamekw woman, infant on a cradleboard and young girl in a canoe, Sanmaur, Quebec, ca. 1928 (a044224)

A cradleboard enables a mother to return to her daily activities more easily after birth, while keeping her newborn close by her. The infant can be carried safely, while being comforted by the stimulation of being swaddled. Swaddling is done by bundling the newborn and securing its arms in a thin blanket with light pressure. This is thought to be good for the infant’s posture, as the back is flat on the board and the spine can be kept straight. When the cradleboard is placed horizontally, a cross bar attached under the board on the top end raises the head slightly higher than the bottom end. Using gravity, the infant’s blood circulation is enhanced. Of course, not all of the infant’s early life is spent on the cradleboard, as it is used as occasions warrant.

A black-and-white photograph of eight people, including a baby in a cradleboard in a forest. There is a canoe in the foreground.

First Nations family, Ishkaugua portage, [Newton Island, Ontario], 1905 (a059502)

Once the infant is wrapped in the swaddling material, it is placed on the cradleboard on a thinly padded cushion and secured by wrapping the sash several times around the child and board. Another technique is to place the infant in a leather or cloth bunting bag (also known as a moss bag) that is easily placed on or removed from the cradleboard. The bag is then attached to the cradleboard, the infant is placed in it and then secured with leather or cord laces. Sashes and extra covers may be made by the mother, relatives or friends and could include unique embroidery, beadwork and ribbon work designs. Designs featured may represent clans, traditional symbols, or motifs of plants, animals and nature.

Smaller versions of cradleboards are made for the children. These provide the opportunity for young girls to practice their nurturing skills while at play and prepares them for motherhood or caregiving. A cloth or corn-husk doll or a bundle of sage or other dried plant material is usually placed on the board

A black-and-white photograph of 7 women, a teenager and children on the shore of a lake. Two babies are in cradleboards.

Cree women and children at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, 1925 (a019995)

Eastern area

Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois) and Algonquin-style cradleboards start with a flat plank of wood. On the backs of older Haudenosaunee boards, there are usually low-relief carved images of animals, flowers and leaves painted in basic colours of red, black, green, yellow and blue. There may be additional carving on the top end of the board, handle, footboard and wood bar. In rare examples, silver or metal inlays have been inserted on the wood bar.

A colour photograph of a man in a purple and white shirt sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. In front of him is a baby in a cradleboard with red and white fabric.

Kenneth Atsenienton (“the fire still burns”) Deer and grandson Shakowennenhawi (“he is carrying the words”) Deer at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Kahnawake, Quebec, May 1993 (e011207022)

Some of the wooden structural elements were attached with wood pegs. Handles were reinforced with leather strips, gut or cord. The curves on the wood handles were hardwood that had been steamed and bent. Haudenosaunee wood handles were straight across, while the Algonquin boards had a bowed wood handle. A cover can be draped over the handle to provide a quiet space or shield the infant from the elements. Objects might be hung from the handle for the child to look at, such as beaded strings, charms or possibly a baby rattle. Some Algonquin cradleboards had a one-piece rail attached to the board, which would go up each side, curving at the bottom and serving as a footrest.

A cradleboard could be carried on a person’s back by attaching straps or a tumpline to the cradleboard; these then went around the chest or forehead and left the hands free.

A watercolour painting of two women and a man. One of the women has a pipe in her hand and a baby in a cradleboard on her back. The man has a rifle in his hand.

This watercolour painting shows a woman carrying a baby in a cradleboard, ca. 1825–1826 (e008299398)

Western area

First Nations in the Plains region would cover the leather or fabric used for the cradleboard with their traditional beadwork styles. The infant was placed in an enveloping enclosure attached to the cradleboard.

Northwest Coast First Nations had more than one type of cradleboard, as well as a dugout-trough cradle. Cradleboards were made of woven plant fibres, cedar boards and hollowed-out logs.

The tradition of making new cradleboards is carried on today by First Nations carvers and craftspeople. In celebration of the birth of new generations, they may incorporate past knowledge in new designs including personalized elements and stylistic representations of present culture.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of cradleboards.

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


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Forgotten Flags

By Forrest Pass

In 2015, Canadians observed the 50th anniversary of the National Flag of Canada with its iconic red maple leaf. Library and Archives Canada’s collection features materials related to the tumultuous debate that led to the flag’s adoption in 1965. However, our collection also sheds light on the earlier adoption of some lesser-known Canadian flags, also featuring maple leaves. If these flags proposed in 1870 were still in use, we would be marking their 150th anniversary this year.

Paintings of six early flag designs survive in the records of the Privy Council, attached to an 1870 Order-in-Council. Five of these, based on the Union Jack, served as personal flags for the Governor General and the lieutenant governors of the four original provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The sixth, a British Blue Ensign with a Canadian shield, identified federal government ships such as fisheries vessels.

A painting of a blue flag with a Union Jack design in the upper-left-hand corner and a crest in the bottom-right-hand corner. There is handwriting to the right and at the bottom of the flag.

Proposed Blue Ensign, 1870 (e011309109)

The Governor General’s flag features a wreath of maple leaves This was the first use of the maple leaf on an official Canadian flag. Within the wreath is a shield bearing the coats of arms of the first four provinces. This was Canada’s first national coat of arms, designed by the heralds of the College of Arms in London and proclaimed by Queen Victoria in 1868.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Governor General, 1870 (e011309110)

The provincial lieutenant governors’ flags feature the newly designed arms of their respective provinces, each within a wreath of maple leaves. The designs for the Ontario and New Brunswick shields survive unchanged to this day, but time itself has altered the Ontario painting slightly. The anonymous artist may have coloured the top portion, or “chief,” of the Ontario shield with real silver paint. This has tarnished over the years, giving it a dark grey hue. Today, most heraldic artists use white paint to represent the heraldic metal “argent” to avoid this change.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, 1870 (e011309113)

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, 1870 (e011309111)

The fleurs-de-lis, lion and maple leaves of the Quebec arms represent three periods in the province’s history: the French regime, British colonial rule and the Confederation era. The provincial government still uses these arms today, but it added one more fleur-de-lis and altered the colours slightly in 1939. These changes make a stronger visual allusion to the former royal arms of France.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, 1870 (e011309114)

The arms on the 1870 flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia are different from the provincial coat of arms today and recall a misunderstanding. Today’s Nova Scotia coat of arms dates from Sir William Alexander’s failed attempt to found a Scottish colony in North America in the 1620s. In 1868, the English heralds may not have known about the earlier Scottish design, and they designed an entirely new emblem for the province. The Lieutenant Governor’s flag displayed this new coat of arms, featuring three Scottish thistles and a salmon to honour the province’s fisheries. At the request of the provincial and federal governments, the College of Arms reinstated the original Nova Scotia arms in 1929.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, 1870 (e011309112)

As the choice of emblems suggests, the impetus for these flags came not from within Canada but from Great Britain. In 1869, Queen Victoria authorized the governor of each British colony to use a Union Jack bearing his colony’s emblem as a distinctive personal flag. In Canada, an unknown artist at the Department of Marine and Fisheries painted these illustrations at the request of the federal Cabinet.

Canadians would not have seen these flags very often; initially, they flew on ships at sea only. As late as 1911, the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan decided that he did not need an official flag because his province was landlocked. Over the years, the federal and provincial governments have adopted new, less “colonial” flags for the Governor General and the lieutenant governors. These fly daily on official residences and on other buildings when the Governor General or a lieutenant governor is present. Preserved in the archives, these paintings recall the British origins of some of our national and provincial emblems.


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

“I leave you Éva Gauthier”

By Isabel Larocque

When Éva Gauthier made her first professional performance at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, none could have predicted that the 17-year-old girl would one day rank among the greatest singers in the history of Canada.

Éva Gauthier was born in 1885 in a Francophone neighbourhood in Ottawa; she was the niece of Zoé Lafontaine and her husband Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Éva showed an innate ability for music at a tender age, and her family soon recognized her potential, encouraging her to continue on that path. Aside from taking singing classes with several renowned teachers, Éva also sang as a soloist at Saint Patrick’s Basilica in Ottawa.

She also benefitted from financial support from her uncle, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. As such, at age 17, she was able to go study at the Conservatoire de Paris with one of the most famous teachers of the time, Auguste-Jean Dubulle. A big believer in Éva’s talent, Aunt Zoé brought her to Europe and even played the piano for Éva’s audition at the Conservatoire.

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

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

During her studies and early career, Éva Gauthier was lucky enough to rub shoulders with the greatest musicians and teachers of her time. So it wasn’t long before she was noticed. In 1906, the great singer Emma Albani, her mentor, introduced her thus during her farewell tour: “As my artistic legacy to my country, I leave you Éva Gauthier.” With an introduction like that, there was no doubt young Éva’s future was very promising!

Black-and-white photo of a woman standing and facing the camera, wearing a dark-coloured dress, a fancy hat and a fur stole.

Éva Gauthier, 1906. Photo: William James Topley (a193009)

Despite her small size, Éva Gauthier had a powerful voice that certainly turned heads. In 1909 in Italy, she got the role of Micaela in the opera Carmen and she made a standout performance. But her career in opera was very short. While preparing for her second role―at Covent Garden in the opera Lakmé―the stage director removed her from the cast, fearing that her talent would outshine the lead actress. Devastated, Éva Gauthier turned her back on opera and decided to leave Europe.

She went to Indonesia to join Frans Knoot, who would eventually become her husband. She remained in Asia for four years, an adventure that gave her life a new direction. During her stay, she studied Javanese music with Indonesian gamelans and immersed herself into an exotic, unfamiliar musical and cultural style. She put on several shows, notably in China and Japan, and received glowing reviews: “This dainty Canadian singer has a voice of great flexibility, power and range. The entire evening was a musical treat. The applause was loud, long and well deserved.”

Her experience in Asia gave Éva a particular sound and a unique style. This allowed her to stand out when she returned to North America, where far-eastern music was still relatively unknown. Her refusal to adhere to traditions was one of Éva’s characteristic traits. She never let conventions define her and so brought about a renewal of musical culture in the 20th century.

Black-and-white photo of a woman facing the camera and wearing a traditional Javanese dress.

Éva Gauthier wearing one of the Javanese costumes she was known for. (ncl002461)

After her return to North America, Éva Gauthier―who now enjoyed a certain notoriety―put on several shows a year. The greatest musicians approached her, asking her to sing their compositions. Igor Stravinsky swore by her alone and demanded that she be the first to sing every one of his pieces. Éva mingled with musical personalities and befriended a good number of them, including pianists and composers Maurice Ravel and George Gerswhin.

It was with the latter that she gave a memorable concert at the Aeolian Hall in New York, in 1923, that brought together classical and modern music. Gershwin accompanied the singer on the piano during a daring premiere. Éva Gauthier even integrated jazz music into the program, a style she greatly loved but which was still poorly regarded. Although critics were not kind, the general public enjoyed the breath of fresh air and the event became a landmark in musical history.

Éva Gauthier gave hundreds of performances during the rest of her career, both in America and Europe, integrating various styles into her ever-entertaining performances. She focused the final years of her life on teaching students how to sing and, though she was no longer on stage, she remained very active in the music scene, acting as mentor to the next generation of artists. Her impeccable technique, her daring attitude and her refusal to follow convention opened the way to new artists and helped make Éva Gauthier a true legend of modern music.

If you want to hear some musical excerpts sung by Éva Gauthier, visit the Virtual Gramophone by Library and Archives Canada. There you will find several French Canadian folklore classics performed by the singer.

You can also listen to our Éva Gauthier podcast and flip through our Éva Gauthier Flickr album.


Isabel Larocque is project manager for Library and Archives Canada’s Online Content team.

The Group of Seven and me: A few degrees of separation

By Ellen Bond

The bus trip from Barrie to Kleinburg, Ontario, in 1972 did not take long. We arrived at the McMichael Gallery, home to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, on a sunny spring day. I remember a wide, open space with long pathways from the parking lot that were lined with small trees leading to a cool-looking wooden building with massive stone pillars.

At that time in my life, my family would spend parts of our summers on Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) at Wymbolwood Beach and on the north shore of Lake Superior in Terrace Bay. Walking into the McMichael Gallery was like looking through the lens of my summer: paintings of the places that provided me with so much joy and happiness. I was instantly drawn to the colours, lines, thick brush strokes, and how the paintings captured the rocks, the windswept trees and the majestic landscape.

A watercolour painting of people in a red canoe with colourful trees and windswept trees in the background.

The Red Canoe, painted by J.E.H. MacDonald, 1915 (e003894355)

One hundred years ago, on May 7, 1920, the Group of Seven mounted their first formal exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now known as the Art Gallery of Ontario). It was the first time that the public had the chance to see over 120 of their paintings in a single location. At that first exhibition, according to the McMichael website, only six paintings sold. One of those paintings today would be worth much more than the total amount originally paid for all six.

In 1920, the Group of Seven consisted of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley. Johnston left the group in 1920 and moved to Winnipeg, and in 1926, A.J. Casson was invited to join. Two other members, Edwin Holgate and L.L. FitzGerald, joined in 1930 and 1932 respectively. Although Tom Thompson is sometimes mistakenly considered a founding member, he died tragically in 1917 before the group was even formed.

A black-and-white photo of a group of men in suits seated around a table during a meal.

Group at the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto. Pictured: Bertram Booker, A.Y. Jackson, Merrill Denison, J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris, Frederick B. Housser and an unidentified man. (PA-196166)

The Group of Seven are famous across Canada. In schools, libraries and art schools, their paintings are used as examples, and students are often taught to paint landscapes in their style. I remember my niece Emma painting a group-like painting at school. It hung on the wall of her house by the stairs and looked very professional. The Group of Seven are easily “googled,” and you can find some of their paintings regularly displayed, or even for sale, from coast to coast in Canada. Recently, while visiting the Thompson Landry Gallery in the Distillery District in Toronto, I actually saw a Group of Seven painting for sale. It was my first time, and I stood and stared at it, wishing I had an extra $133,000 to buy it right then and there. I was in awe!

According to the theory of six degrees of separation, any person can be connected to any other person through six or fewer social connections. Two of my friends have close connections (two or fewer) to Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and A.Y. Jackson.

I first met Ronna Mogelon through a friend and was amazed at her cake-decorating skills. When I found out she lived in the historic log cabin that I admired every time I drove by, I was even more excited to know her. Then I found out about her connection to Lismer. Here is her story:

My mum and dad were very artsy and involved in the art community in Montréal in the ’60s. They hosted art shows in their home, before artists could find galleries to represent them. My mother, Lila, was from Saint John, New Brunswick, and was very close with painter Fred Ross, who was her teacher at art school. (Several of his works are hanging in the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario.) Before he had a regular gallery, he showed his artwork at our house.

As well, my father, Alex, wrote the monthly art column in The Montrealer, a magazine from the ’60s and ’70s. Mum usually interviewed the artists, and Dad wrote the story from her reel-to-reel recordings. A real tag team! So our family was very involved with the arts.

Anyhow, my parents wanted us to have a good background in art, and so they sent us to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday mornings to take art classes with Arthur Lismer. Most kids went to nursery school. We went to Arthur Lismer school.

A black-and-white photo of a man standing with his left hand on his hip and a pipe in his hand.

Portrait of Arthur Lismer, photographed in Quebec by Basil Zarov in 1953 (e011000857)

Because I was so young, my recollections are rather scattered. I remember how tall he was, but then again, being only six years old, I was pretty short at the time. I seem to recall he smoked a pipe. I remember how I felt like a real artist because we got to stand at an easel and paint. My older sister, Marcia, who took the class a few years previous to me, remembers the big art show at the end of the year, where all the artists’ paintings were on display and she got to dress up in her best outfit. My cousin Richard remembers the licorice pipes that we got at the end of the class on our way home.

I’m not sure if his classes had an effect on me, but I suppose they might have. Years later, I chose art as my field of endeavour and graduated from Concordia University, Montréal, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Maybe some of his teaching rubbed off after all!

As I mentioned earlier, I have spent many of my summers partially on Lake Superior. My parents were both born and raised in the northwestern Ontario area, I was born in Terrace Bay, and for me it seems like home. One of my sister’s friends, Johanna Rowe, was born and raised in Wawa, Ontario. We have visited and even stayed at Johanna’s camp on the mouth of the Michipicoten River where it meets Lake Superior. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. White sand beaches, incredible rocks to hop on, a huge sand spit—at the mouth of the river—that sometimes disappears after a storm, giant driftwood logs from unknown forests …  truly spectacular!

A black-and-white photo of a man in a military uniform.

A.Y. Jackson, 1915, in his First World War uniform. (e002712910) Take a look at Jackson’s military record (PDF).

Johanna, a local Wawa historian and member of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, has a special relationship with this area where A.Y. Jackson chose to create his art. Here is her story:

I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories about how a member of the Group of Seven had a cottage in Wawa and regularly took trips with local boat owners to explore and paint along the Superior shoreline.

During a special Glenn Gould and Group of Seven training event in 2015, I was introduced to Ken Ross, son of Harry and Jennie Ross, friends of A.Y. Jackson who co-purchased a cottage together on Sandy Beach in 1955.

Between 1955 and 1966, Jackson ventured by foot and by boat from his tiny Sandy Beach cabin. Accompanied by friends and fellow explorers, he created hundreds of sketches and paintings depicting the Lake Superior landscape from Batchawana Bay to Pukaskwa. Many of Jackson’s Wawa sketches were painted in the vicinity of Sandy Beach.

At the end of Jackson’s Wawa paint trips, he and the Ross family would invite friends and neighbours to a social and bonfire on the beach. Jackson would have all his sketches on display leaning against large pieces of driftwood or tacked to the logs on the outside of his cabin. Folks could purchase one of his creations for $30 to $50, or commission Jackson to make a larger version over the winter back in his studio for $300-plus. Apparently, those he did not sell would sometimes end up as fuel in the bonfire. Jackson was also very generous with his sketches and often gifted them to locals who provided transportation out on Superior, invited him to their homes for dinner, or simply let him sit and paint the view in front of their property.

During my research, I discovered there is no complete inventory of his creations. These sketches are now turning up at fine-art auctions across the continent. In the past five years, there have been at least 30 paintings pop out of the woodwork which we know Jackson painted in the Wawa area. He often wrote Wawa or Michipicoten on the back of the painting. And for those of us who have a first-hand knowledge of the landscape, the roll of the hills, the dent in the shoreline, we are able to pick out the exact spot where Jackson sat and painted. It is the ultimate Canadian scavenger hunt … discovering the site where a member of the Group of Seven was inspired to sit and let the creative spirit flow through their paintbrush to a blank canvas. Still gives me a tingle up my spine each time. …

A black-and-white photo of a man rowing a wooden boat.

A.Y. Jackson in a boat, 1959 (e011177131)

The times I have spent on Georgian Bay and Lake Superior have burned memories in my mind so bright, I can still feel the wind of the Great Lakes blowing in my hair, the waves crashing and pounding in my ears, and the brilliant blue of the water dancing in my eyes. I am thankful for my experiences there, and also thankful that Canada’s most well-known artists were able to capture those feelings in their paintings. I look forward to connecting again on my next trip.

For more images, visit the Flickr album!


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