Air Marshal William Avery Bishop, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

The subject of today’s post in our blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, is one of the best-known Canadians of the First World War: flying ace William “Billy” Bishop.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer seated with his hands in his lap. He is wearing the characteristic Sam Browne belt, which is a wide leather belt with a narrower strap that passes diagonally across the body over the right shoulder.

Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Bishop, VC, in Lieutenant Quinn’s studio, undated, London, England (MIKAN 3191874)

William Avery Bishop was a cadet in the Royal Military College of Canada when he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on September 30, 1914. After briefly serving in the trenches, Bishop transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He received his wings in November 1916, and shot down a total of 12 planes in April 1917 alone, which won him the Military Cross and saw his promotion to Captain. By the end of the First World War, Billy Bishop had been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and was credited with 72 victories.

A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting in the open cockpit of an airplane looking at the viewer.

Captain W.A. Bishop, VC, Royal Flying Corps, August 1917. Photographer: William Rider-Rider (MIKAN 3191873)

Bishop was the first Canadian airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his single-handed attack on a German airfield near Cambrai, France, on June 2, 1917. According to his citation in The London Gazette:

Captain Bishop, who had been sent out to work independently, flew first of all to an enemy aerodrome; finding no machine about, he flew on to another aerodrome about three miles south-east, which was at least twelve miles the other side of the line. Seven machines, some with their engines running, were on the ground. He attacked these from about fifty feet, and a mechanic, who was starting one of the engines, was seen to fall. One of the machines got off the ground, but at a height of sixty feet Captain Bishop fired fifteen rounds into it at very close range, and it crashed to the ground.

A second machine got off the ground, into which he fired thirty rounds at 150 yards range, and it fell into a tree.

Two more machines then rose from the aerodrome. One of these he engaged at the height of 1,000 feet, emptying the rest of his drum of ammunition. This machine crashed 300 yards from the aerodrome, after which Captain Bishop emptied a whole drum into the fourth hostile machine, and then flew back to his station (The London Gazette, no. 30228, Saturday, 11 August, 1917).

Air Marshal William Avery Bishop died on September 11, 1956 in Palm Beach, Florida. He is interred in the Bishop family plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file of William Avery Bishop.

Related Resources


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Guest Curator: Caroline Forcier-Holloway

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Film still from the R.C.M.P series, “Storm O’Brien,” by Crawley Films Ltd., 1959

Black-and-white still of an actor in an RCMP uniform leaning against a Bombardier truck.

Film still from “Storm O’Brien,” an episode of the television show R.C.M.P, by Crawley Films Ltd., 1959 (MIKAN 3563899) ©Michal Anne Crawley

This series set out to create a more realistic picture of Canada’s Mounties. It hints at complex and difficult relationships—with Indigenous peoples, for example. Still, the overall look and feel is surprisingly romantic.


Tell us about yourself

My research interests focus on Canada’s northern peoples and exploration in the Canadian Arctic documented in government-sponsored films, lesser-known independent and unpublished amateur films, as well as home movies. When the opportunity arises, I turn my efforts towards often-forgotten orphaned films that require much needed attention, with the hopes of making them accessible.

My interest in LAC’s oral history collection began as a reference archivist, and later it became one of my major acquisition portfolios. This fueled a need to conduct donor interviews, as part of the long-established National Archives oral history program. Since 2015, I have been co-lead of LAC’s newly established Oral History Initiative—an oral history interview program that gives voice to and celebrates donors and LAC employees alike.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

The following is a sampling of early RCMP content from LAC’s vast collection of audiovisual records. The information is arranged in three categories: early fictional television dramas; early fictional feature films; and early documentaries and amateur films.

The RCMP portrayed in early fictional television dramas

The R.C.M.P. series was produced in 1959–1960 by Crawley Films Ltd., in partnership with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Based on actual cases from the RCMP files, these 39 half-hour shows were filmed in 35 mm black-and-white, and were broadcast in Canada, England, and Australia.

LAC acquired the Crawley Films fonds in 1983. The holdings consist of 38,837 film reels, 12,800 photographs, 42 metres of textual records, and other media. Crawley Films was officially founded in 1939 by Frank Radford “Budge” Crawley and Judith Crawley in Ottawa. Amongst the various categories of film that Crawley Films produced—industrial, feature, documentary, animation, and commercials—the R.C.M.P. television drama series really set Crawley Films apart from other production companies.

Canadians welcomed television into their homes in 1952, and by 1955 there were 23 television stations operating in Canada, where demand was growing for more content to be aired. In 1958, “Budge”, struck a partnership with the CBC and the BBC to produce a series that was to be the “day to day story of Canada’s federal police force.”

Munroe Scott, one of the script writers for the series, explained why Crawley Films chose the theme: “The RCMP fascinated us because they’d been into virtually every aspect of Canadian life. The story lines for each episode were meant to reflect mostly real life, although they were dramatized for television purposes.”

To produce the episodes, Crawley Films purchased 40 acres of land near Chelsea, Quebec, where an 8,500-square foot studio was built. The towns of Aylmer, Quebec and Outlook, Saskatchewan, stood in for the fictional western town of Shamattawa. Gilles Pelletier, a French-speaking actor, played the lead role of Corporal Jacques Gagnier, who was the head of the detachment. John Perkins played Constable Frank Scott, and Don Francks as the rookie sidekick Constable Bill Mitchell. Recurring roles of Special Constable Ben Aputagen was played by Angus Baptiste and Mayor Bill Cartwright, by Bernard McManus.

LAC has a complete set of the 39 episodes, as well as a version of episode 18, The Hunt, in German. Viewers tuned in to watch the series on CBC, Wednesdays at 8:00 pm. A list of all the episodes was compiled by The Classic TV Archive.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

Prior to the R.C.M.P. series, and already popular amongst viewers and listeners was the American fictional drama adventure series of 78 episodes, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, broadcast on CBS television between 1955 and 1958. The series was based on Sergeant William Preston, a Canadian Mountie with the North West Mounted Police, patrolling the wilds of the Yukon with his horse Rex and his faithful dog Yukon King. Together they fought evildoers in northern parts during the Gold Rush of the 1890s.

The television series was based on the popular radio drama, Challenge of the Yukon, a 15-minute radio serial about Sergeant Preston that first aired in Detroit between 1938 and 1947, and then on different radio stations up until 1955. The series was written by Tom Dougall, who was influenced by the poems of Robert W. Service. For those eager to travel down memory lane, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group website has all 609 radio episodes. LAC has some episodes of Challenge of the Yukon and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.

The RCMP portrayed in early fictional feature films

An iconic Canadian symbol, the RCMP was portrayed in several hundred Hollywood fictional works which saturated the film industry. Classics such as Rose-Marie (1936), a musical by MGM, and Renfrew of the Royal Mounted,(1937), a series of eight features by Criterion Pictures Corporation were distributed throughout North America and elsewhere.

The earliest fictional feature about Mounties was The Cattle Thieves (1909), made by the American-based Kalem Company, which was the first film studio to travel to Canada to film dramas on location. In doing so, they introduced the Northwest Mounted Police to the American public. American production companies also produced films with Canadian plots that were filmed on location in the U.S., a pattern followed well into the 1950s, when the emphasis was on the romance of Canada’s vast wilderness. A recurring cast of characters often included a French-Canadian trapper or lumberjack as the villain, a few Aboriginal people, miners, prospectors, whisky runners, and of course, a “noble Mountie.”

On the King’s Highway (1915) was an early Mountie drama story, directed by A.J. Edwards, of the Conness Till Film Company of Toronto, and the James Oliver Curwood story, Wapi the Walrus that became Back to God’s Country (1919), Canada’s earliest surviving feature film. Film historian Peter Morris described the story as a “melodramatic triangle of heroine, hero, and villain, with a setting in the wilds of North Canada, a dog as co-hero, plus bears, living amid their natural surroundings in the snow fastness of the North, and the omnipresent North West Mounted Police.”

A colourized image showing a man and woman on horseback in a clearing before tall green trees and snow-capped mountains. The man is wearing a yellow shirt unbuttoned to expose his chest. He is reaching over to the woman who is wearing a white cap and red cloak. At the bottom left is a second image, a black-and-white cut-out of a uniformed officer leading his horse to a campfire with a tall tree in the background. The movie title is on the right side of the poster.

Promotional poster for the film Cameron of the Royal Mounted, 1921, by Winnipeg Productions Ltd. (MIKAN 199330)

Cameron of the Royal Mounted (1921) is a silent fictional adventure feature with English intertitles, made by Winnipeg Productions Ltd., and based on the book, Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police, by Ralph Connor. It tells the story of a young man who comes to Canada escaping arrest for forging a cheque. He falls in love but is shot by a jealous rival. The occasion presents itself to join the RNWMP. He rescues his kidnapped girlfriend, and clears his name of the initial offense. What really sets this feature apart from others is the bold decision to cast real Mounties from the RNWMP Fort McLeod post in Alberta as extras. LAC has an incomplete version of the film, with only two reels of a six-part feature.

Other films include Policing the Plains (1927) by A.D. Kean of Canadian Historic Features Ltd. in Vancouver, and His Destiny (1928) also known as North of 49 by British Canadian Pictures Ltd. in Calgary. The latter was shot on location in Alberta, and includes scenes of the 1928 Calgary Stampede. LAC has two incomplete versions.

The RCMP portrayed in early documentaries and amateur films

There are plenty of films made about the Mounties but not as many made by them. LAC has over 1,230 moving image and sound records for both governmental and private collections documenting activities of the RCMP. Documentaries provide a narrative of activities and events, such as Through the Northwest Passage, a film documenting a unique voyage in the history of navigation. The documentary shot by Corporal F.S. Farrar tells the story of the voyage of the wooden schooner St. Roch, Captain Henry Larsen, and her eight member crew as they sail from Vancouver, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia via the Northwest Passage from 1940 to 1942.

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed in winter clothing aboard a boat with icy water in the background.

Captain Henry Larsen aboard the RCMP patrol vessel St. Roch, in the Northwest Territories, ca. 1944. (MIKAN 3191981)

Amateur films play a significant role in documenting history, culture, and lives and activities of individuals. Many archives aim to promote their broader value or significance, as they are considered primary source material in the context of the historical record, especially given the increasing demand from researchers for their invaluable use in productions, sociological studies, websites, exhibitions, and more.

Real life stories about Mounties are also told through amateur footage. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Henry Larsen shot seven reels of amateur film documenting varied activities, people and places encountered during his northern voyages.

In 1932, Doug Betts became an RCMP Constable and trained at the Fairmont Barracks in Vancouver. Shortly afterwards, he was posted to Dawson, Yukon Territory and Whitehorse, and was promoted to the rank of Corporal in the late 1940s.

The Norman Betts fonds consists of 23 reels of silent black-and-white 8 mm home movies. Corporal Doug Betts was an avid cameraman who took his camera on various work assignments, as well as during recreational leave, documenting placer mining operations, patrols by dog sled, investigation of a plane crash site, assisted hunting parties, and more. In addition, LAC conducted a donor interview with Doug Betts’ son Norman, to gain contextual information about the silent films.

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed in winter clothing sitting on a sled with six sled dogs on leads.

Doug Betts sitting with Kluane, his lead sled dog from Doug Betts No. 8: home movie, ca. 1935–1939. (MIKAN 188444)

A colour photograph of a yellow film package with writing identifying the film.

Kodak film box that contained a 16 mm 100 ft. reel of film shot by Constable Doug Betts. (Information such as annotations, stamp cancellation, and film due date, provide important clues to identifying the content and dates of a film).

Biography

A colour photograph of a woman with a very broad smile.Caroline Forcier-Holloway is an Audiovisual Archivist at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). During her career at LAC, she has worked in various capacities beginning in 1989 as a Specialized Audiovisual Reference Archivist, General Reference Archivist, Film Researcher, and finally, an Audiovisual Archivist. Since 2000, she has acquired audiovisual fonds and collections of oral history, and Aboriginal and northern content, as well as French and English, private and government, professional and amateur filmmakers and broadcasters.

Related Resources

  • Search – Film, Video and Sound (LAC database)
  • Wade Rose, Barbara. Budge: What Happened to Canada’s King of Film, Toronto: ECW Press, 1998. AMICUS 18144389
  • Morris, Peter. Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema 1895–1939, Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, c1978. AMICUS 877273

Images of Ontario now on Flickr

Ontario is the most populous and second largest province of Canada. It is bordered by Manitoba to the west and Quebec to the east. The landscape is extremely varied, with three distinct regions defining the province: the Hudson’s Bay Lowlands, the Canadian Shield, and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Lowlands. Ontario was populated by First Peoples approximately 10,000 years ago and today’s indigenous communities, such as the Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois, can trace their origins to that time. European explorers arrived in the 17th century and initially conducted basic trade and exploration. After the American Revolution the population increased as an influx of British Loyalists moved northwards. After the War of 1812 another wave of immigration came from Europe.

Black and white photograph of nine women wearing dresses, coats and hats standing in front of a residential building.

Group of African-Canadian women in front of the YWCA boarding house at 698 Ontario Street, Toronto, Ontario (MIKAN 3191591)

Upper Canada was established in 1791 and included what is now known as southern Ontario. In 1837, the Upper Canada Rebellion took place against the British government-appointed administrators and in favour of responsible government. The rebellion was quickly put down, but in 1841 the new Province of Canada was formed. The colony formerly known as Upper Canada became Canada West, while the colony formerly known as Lower Canada became Canada East. In 1848, Canada West was awarded self-government. This power-shift was influenced largely by the continuing population growth of the province, mainly of English-speaking settlers. By the 1850s, Canada West was enjoying considerable economic strength due to the continued influx of immigrants who moved, along with many locally born citizens, to urban centres where industrial jobs were available. During the 1860s, Canada West participated in a series of conferences, along with Canada East, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to work out the terms of confederation. This led to the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

Did you know?

  • Ontario has over 200 reported ethnic languages, and 26% of the population identifies as a visible minority.
  • In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the permanent location of the nation’s capital.
  • Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896, fought for provincial rights and greatly decentralized the power of the federal government over provincial affairs.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1925

Are you looking for documents offering credible information to use in research on the period between the late 19th century and the interwar years of the 20th century? You may find that the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada contain much useful information.

History and organization

Sessional papers are among the oldest form of government serial records, and are part of the family of parliamentary publications that includes journals, debates, votes and proceedings. They have been published since pre-Confederation times and were formerly collected in the appendices to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. A distinctive group of these papers, titled Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, exists for the period of 1867 to 1925. After this period the papers were issued separately.

Sessional papers are any documents formally presented in the House of Commons, filed with the Clerk, and tabled in the House during a given session of Parliament. Each report is recorded as a sessional paper and, as such, is open to public review. They are assigned a unique number in chronological order, known as the sessional paper number.

Sessional papers include the following:

  • Annual departmental reports
  • Reports of committees and task forces
  • Royal commission reports
  • Census returns
  • White papers (issued by the government as statements of policy) and Green papers (official documents sponsored by Ministers of the Crown to invite public comment and discussion on an issue prior to policy formulation)

Sessional papers are classified as either “Printed” (i.e., available for distribution) or “not Printed. Printed papers are collected and published by session in bound volumes that include the full text of the reports. They are proof of the government’s business and support government decisions. They also constitute a collection of data on a variety of topics related to the military, political, social and economic issues in the country at a specific point in time.

Each bound volume includes the text of papers for a given session of Parliament, separated into issues. The spine of each volume has the date along with the volume and issue numbers.

Inside each volume is an alphabetical list of papers as well as a numerical list arranged by sessional paper number. Some volumes have a limited subject index at the back of the final volume for a specific session of Parliament.

Finding a sessional paper

How do you find a sessional paper? If you know the date of the parliamentary session, the chronological arrangement of the volumes allows you to locate the paper by year of publication. The alphabetical and numerical lists at the front of each volume will provide the sessional paper number; you can then locate the paper by its number in the text of the volumes.

If you don’t know the date but you do know the subject, title or some keywords, you can access the comprehensive five-volume set of indexes to this collection of sessional papers: General index to the journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada and of the sessional papers of Parliament, AMICUS No. 568918.

The indexes provide the number and date of the sessional paper. However, many sessional papers are published separately, so even if you don’t know the date of a particular parliamentary session, you can conduct a search using AMICUS, the online catalogue of Library and Archives Canada.

Many of these sessional papers are now available online through the following databases:

Title page of the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1870, Volume I, 1st Parliament, 3rd Session, from Early Canadiana Online.

Table of contents providing an alphabetical listing of the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, Vol. III, 1870, from Early Canadiana Online.

Other formats of the sessional papers include microfilm. The following publication can provide additional information on sessional papers and other parliamentary proceedings:

Library and Archives Canada holds a complete collection of sessional papers (in print) for the period of 1867 to 1925. These are located on the 2nd floor at our 395 Wellington Street location in Ottawa. Should you need assistance in using these documents, please feel free to contact the LAC Reference Services.

Images of Nunavut now on Flickr

Nunavut is the easternmost and newest of Canada’s three territories, sharing a border with the Northwest Territories to the west and Manitoba to the south. It is the largest of all the provinces and territories of Canada and includes most of the Arctic Archipelago. The region has been home to a continuous population of First Peoples for roughly 4,000 years. The Inuit are the dominant group in Nunavut, forming the majority of the population in all communities. Europeans first began exploring the area in the late 16th century while searching for the Northwest Passage.

Black and white photograph of three men sitting outside in a row wearing parkas and smiling.

Three Inuit men (L to R: Lucas, Bobbie and Johnnie) posing for a photograph outside, Port Burwell, Nunavut (MIKAN 3223586)

Throughout the Cold War, the Canadian government forced many Inuit from northern Quebec to relocate to the northern reaches of what was then the Northwest Territories, in an effort to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic Archipelago. The Canadian government compensated their descendants for the hardship several decades later in response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. In the late 1970s, inhabitants of what is now Nunavut began discussions with the federal government about the creation of a separate territory. This came to fruition in 1999 when Nunavut became the third Canadian territory, giving the Inuit greater autonomy.

Did you know?

  • The name Nunavut is from the Inuktitut dialect of Eastern Arctic Inuit and translates into “Our Land.”
  • Nunavut recognizes four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of May 2017

As of today, 438,679 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 7452 and last name Oliver.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Ernst Neumann

By Judith Enright-Smith
Artist and printmaker Ernst Neumann was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1907. His family immigrated to Canada five years later, taking up residence in Montreal, Quebec.

Conté and pencil drawing of a young man seated at a drawing board looking at the viewer. It is signed EN31.

Self-portrait by Ernst Neumann, dated 1931 (MIKAN 3028626)

Following high school, Neumann began his artistic studies at both the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and the Art Association of Montreal. At the latter, Neumann met and studied with Canadian painter and engraver Edwin Holgate (MIKAN 3929083), renowned in the Montreal art scene at that time. Holgate was responsible for cultivating Neumann’s interest in and enthusiasm for wood engraving and printmaking.

An etching of a female nude seated, holding her face and resting her elbows on bent knees.

“Seated Nude,” dated 1935 (MIKAN 3025069)

Neumann made a consistent and meaningful living working as an artist. He created and sold commercial prints of Montreal’s streets and other urban scenes as well as portraits of the city’s social elite. However, Neumann found his true passion in depicting the marginalized of society during the Great Depression. These engravings of the poor and unemployed would often appear in the less mainstream Montreal newspapers and periodicals, particularly those with a left-leaning perspective.
In 1936, together with fellow École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal graduate Goodridge Roberts, Neumann opened the Roberts-Neumann School of Art. The school provided classes in painting and drawing as well as art appreciation. It remained open for only three years.

An etching of a person walking downhill along a snowy path toward a city, with its buildings visible through the trees.

“Descent from Mt. Royal,” signed and dated 1951 (MIKAN 3025050)

Neumann was also a member of an unofficial collective of Montreal artists later termed by art historian Esther Trépanier as the “Jewish Painters of Montreal.” According to Trépanier in Jewish Painters of Montreal: Witnesses of Their Time, 1930–1948, this group of artists, whose members also included Harry Mayerovitch and Ghitta Caisserman-Roth to name a few, were responsible for “… [depicting] the social realism of Montreal during the 1930s and 1940s.”

A lithograph of a harbour landscape with the slightest suggestion of boat masts, buildings and construction.

Montreal Harbour, dated 1935 (MIKAN 3024945)

The Ernst Neumann fonds at Library and Archives Canada was acquired from a private donor in 2005 and 2010. It consists of 156 etchings and lithographs, 49 drawings, 5 watercolours and 36 printing plates. The textual material includes a small amount of Neumann’s personal correspondence along with some catalogues.

Funded by a fellowship grant, Ernst Neumann travelled to Europe in 1956. In March of that year, while visiting a fellow artist in France, Neumann suffered a heart attack, and died at the early age of 49. His remains were brought back and interred in Montreal thanks to the generosity of his peers.


Judith Enright is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Guest curator: Brian Thompson

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


The opening measures of “Une Couronne de Lauriers” by Calixa Lavallée, ca. 1864

Sepia page of handwritten musical notations signed C. Lavallée.

Sheet music of “Une Couronne de Lauriers” by Calixa Lavallée, ca. 1864 (MIKAN 4903777)

Calixa Lavallée didn’t think Canada would work as a nation. He may even have written anti-Confederation music. There were certainly heavy hints in the newspapers about a radical known for his crown (couronne) and laurels (lauriers).


Tell us about yourself

As a boy, hockey, music, history and politics all fascinated me. The first two I had in common with most kids my age. The third and fourth were more obscure. Nevertheless, as a musicologist, I made music, history and politics part of my work, and while writing about Calixa Lavallée, the composer of “O Canada,” I realized that I had found a way to bring hockey into the mix—the national anthem, as sung by the great Roger Doucet, had been a part of my Saturday nights from fall until spring.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Lavallée was born just outside Montréal in 1842. By the time he was in his mid-teens, he was a professional musician, employed as musical director of travelling minstrel troupes and performing as a pianist. He would go on to become an important educator, both in Canada and the United States, and a composer of nearly every form of music common in his time. His published works include songs, sacred music, concert overtures, operas, numerous piano pieces and “O Canada,” which he composed in 1880.

Lavallée returned to Montréal from the U.S. in 1863 and remained until late in 1865. It was a momentous time on both sides of the border. In 1864, while the U.S. Civil War entered its third year, Canadians began to debate the merits of Confederation. In Montréal, opinions were divided on the creation of a new country. Through his contributions to nationalist newspapers La Presse and l’Union nationale, the 22-year-old Lavallée aligned himself with opponents of Confederation who believed it would lead to the assimilation of French Canadians. On stage, he maintained a high profile, leading a group of young vocalists and instrumentalists in numerous concerts, and devoting much of his time to raising funds for charity.

On February 19, 1864, Lavallée gave a concert at Nordheimer’s Hall, in Montréal, and played “Une Couronne de Lauriers” for the first time in public. The local firm of Laurent, Laforce et cie published it that summer, and in August La Presse printed a review of it by the pianist Gustave Smith, who called it “the first major piece that has been issued by a Montréal music publisher” [« la premier morceau d’importance qui ait paru chez un éditeur de musique de Montréal »]. It would seem likely that Lavallée jotted down these opening bars of “Une Couronne de Lauriers” at about this time.

Two pages containing signatures of major opera singers.

Autograph sheets containing signatures from major opera singers of the time (MIKAN 4936687)

This fascinating document raises many questions. It was acquired by LAC together with a double-sided sheet titled “Autographes des dames et messieurs de l’Opéra Italien.” Markings clearly indicate that the first sheet, containing a musical fragment, was from the same book as the second, a page of autographs. They were both acquired by LACthrough a rare book dealer, and we can now only speculate on their origins and purpose.

The autograph sheet contains the signatures of many opera personalities of the time, including the impresario Max Strakosch and the mezzo-soprano Amalia Patti Strakosch. Most of the performers, if not all, were active in New York City in the mid-1860s. The page also contains a cryptic message: “What will be the future for us? Montréal 5 Nov. 1866” (« Que sera l’avenir pour nous deux? Montréal 5 nov 1866 »).

So, to whom did these two sheets belong? I can only speculate. One possibility is that they were the property of Lavallée himself, perhaps passed on to his widow after his death in Boston in 1891, and then to someone else. Lavallée often worked with opera singers and may have collected their autographs. A photograph album that he owned has survived and contains many signed pictures of other artists. It would, however, have been unusual for him to have contributed a short piece of music to his own autograph book.

Perhaps a more likely possibility, then, is that these pages were the property of the pianist Gustave Smith. He was Lavallée’s colleague in Montréal in the 1860s, and he also often worked with opera singers. He too left for the U.S. late in 1865, or in early 1866, staying for a brief period in New York before settling in New Orleans. He returned to Canada later that decade to take a position as organist in Ottawa’s Catholic cathedral.

A third possibility is that these items belonged to another of Lavallée’s collaborators: the violinist Frantz Jehin-Prume. This Belgian musician paid an extended visit to Montréal in 1865, during which time he performed at least once with Lavallée. The two later became close friends and frequent performing partners. He toured on more than one occasion with a company that included Amalia Patti Strakosch. He was in New York City in the fall of 1865 and returned to Montréal in 1866.

While this manuscript still has secrets to reveal, it provides a little window into the past, giving us a glimpse of cultural life at the time in which Canada was being conceived and into the life of the musician whose music would help to define a country to whose creation he initially objected.

Through their training and experience, historians and archivists—and musicologists—learn the potential importance of a handwritten document. They know that a letter, a memo or a few notes of music written quickly on a scrap of paper may help us to better understand an earlier time and may hold far more value than is immediately apparent. Studying history can be about analyzing major historical and political events, but it can also be detective work. Those exploring our time are likely to rely largely on information in electronic formats: digital images, emails, posts, blogs. This exhibition may then provide an opportunity for the public to consider and admire original documents, such as these—documents created by human hands, and by people who have left something of themselves and their time for the future.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

Sheet music cover. In the centre, there is a photo of a man in an overcoat and trousers holding a top hat and a cane. The composer’s and lyricist’s names are at the bottom between a sketch of the city of Québec and a tree that stretches to the top of the page to decorate the title with maple leaves.

Cover of the first edition of “O Canada” (AMICUS 5281119) L.N. Dufresne, cover “O Canada” (Québec: Arthur Lavigne, 1880). Musée de la civilisation, bibliothèque du séminaire de Québec. Fonds ancient, 204, SQ047145.

The cover of the first edition of “O Canada” (“Chant national”) is a rare item of important historical significance. The anthem was composed for the Congrès Catholique Canadien-français of 1880, a gathering of intellectuals, politicians and thousands of members of the general public, intended to celebrate French-Canadian culture and reflect on the future. The event included many musical performances. It was also seen as an opportunity to create a national song that had the dignity of “God Save the Queen,” the anthem then sung at all public events in Canada.

The organizing committee of the Congrès selected Calixa Lavallée as the composer, and judge Adolphe-Basile Routhier as the poet, of the new anthem. Both were then living in Québec and knew each other at least casually. They completed their work by April of 1880 and newspapers announced that it would published by the local music dealer Arthur Lavigne. The cover’s designer was L.N. Dufresne, a painter and illustrator. Dufresne intended his artwork to capture visually the essence of the music. The title is presented at the top, surrounded by maple garlands. On the right is the Québec Citadel, on the left a beaver, at the bottom the St. Lawrence River. The centre of the page features a photograph of Lieutenant-Governor Théodore Robitaille. His prominence on the cover was an acknowledgement of his place as a patron of the arts and a leading proponent of the creation of a new national song—a song that he hoped would come to represent the people of Quebec and French-Canadians everywhere.

Biography

A colour photograph of a man with a beard Brian Christopher Thompson is the author of Anthems and Minstrel Shows: The Life and Times of Calixa Lavallée, 1842–1891 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 2015), and the compiler and editor of Calixa Lavallée: L’œuvre pour piano seul / The Complete Works for Solo Piano (Vancouver: The Avondale Press, 2016). He completed his PhD in musicology at the University of Hong Kong, under the supervision of Michael Noone and Katherine Preston, in 2001, after completing degrees at Concordia University, the University of Victoria and McGill University. He is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Music at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Related resources

Images of Nova Scotia now on Flickr

Nova Scotia is one of three Maritime provinces in Canada, with New Brunswick to the northwest and Prince Edward Island to the north across the Northumberland Strait. The Mi’kmaq are the dominant First Nations group in the area, with ancestral roots tracing back 10,000 years.

Interactions between First Nations groups and French settlers early during the fur trade were positive overall, and Nova Scotia in time became part of the area called Acadia. Yet, over the course of the 18th century, Britain gained control of all of France’s possessions in North America and renamed these colonies. After the American Civil War, the migration of Loyalists northward drove up the British colonial population, as settlers with grants claimed the land and pushed the Mi’kmaq to the margins of their territory.

Black and white photo of two women and a man standing on the edge of a dirt road near the coast looking at the ocean

Tourists with Mike Sullivan’s Bus take in the view at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia (MIKAN 3265746)

Nova Scotia was awarded responsible government in 1848, ahead of the other British colonies, and took part in the road to Confederation. It became one of the first Canadian provinces in 1867 under pro-Confederation leader Charles Tupper. However, many Nova Scotians were largely against it, voting for an anti-Confederation government in the following provincial election.

Did you know?

  • Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland,” named for its first Scottish settlers during the British colonial period.
  • Nova Scotia was home to the largest free Black settlement in North America, inhabited by Black Loyalists who migrated north after the American Revolution.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 2

A banner that changes from a black-and-white photograph of a battle scene on the left to a colour photograph of the Vimy Memorial on the right.Library and Archives Canada is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 2”.

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the attack and capture of Vimy Ridge, when all four divisions of the Canadian Corps worked together for the first time. During the First World War, over 25,000 Canadians served with the British Flying Service as pilots, observers and mechanics, and even though the Battle of Vimy Ridge is better known as a ground offensive, many of the preparations for the assault on Vimy took place in the air. In Part 2 of this episode, we sit down with Bill Rawling, historian and author of the book Surviving Trench Warfare, and Hugh Halliday, author and retired curator at the Canadian War Museum, to discuss the role Canada and her allies played in the air over Vimy Ridge and Arras in April 1917, a month known as “Bloody April.”
A black-and-white photograph of a biplane with two aviators in the cockpits: one is piloting and the other is at the machine gun.

A Curtiss JN-4 gun installation, pilot’s gunnery, Royal Flying Corps, Canada, School of Aerial Gunnery at Camp Borden, Ontario, 1917 (MIKAN 3404272)

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

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