Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell, Private William Johnstone Milne and Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton

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.The Discover Blog returns to the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, in which we profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions took place for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we present the story of three Canadian soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

On April 9, 1917, Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell of Lachute, Quebec, and two runners, Private James T. Kobus and Arthur James Hay, became separated from their unit while storming a German position. MacDowell destroyed one machine gun and put another out of action. With Kobus and Hay, MacDowell entered a dugout, where he convinced the German soldiers he encountered that the three were part of a much larger force. Two officers and 75 soldiers surrendered to MacDowell, Kobus and Hay. The three men held the position for five days until relieved (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5702). MacDowell, a previous recipient of the Distinguished Service Order, was promoted to the rank of Major and later became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Frontenac Regiment in Napanee, Ontario. He died in Nassau, Bahamas, on March 29, 1960, and is buried in Brockville, Ontario.

A black-and-white photograph of two men in uniform standing in a field.

Lieutenant-Colonel C.M. Edwards, D.S.O., and Major T.W. MacDowell, V.C., D.S.O., 38th Battalion, October 1917 (MIKAN 3521126)

A typewritten page of the accounts of the day, from 8:45 a.m. to 6:05 p.m. The account starting at 11 a.m. states the following: “A report from Capt.MacDowell, timed 10.30 was sent in by runner stating that he could see no sign of the 78th Battn and that the Bosche were firing with machine guns on him but that he had not been able to locate these (it subsequently turned out to be in CLAUDE Trench Junction of CLUTCH), and calling for reinforcements. This report was forwarded to Brigade. At the same time a Reserve Lewis Gun crew was sent up to Capt. MacDowell and Private G.J.P. Nunney, who had come in to get a wound dressed, stated he had a Lewis gun and had salved 32 pans of ammunition and volunteered, if he got a carrying party, to go out again, get the ammunition and go over to Capt. MacDowell. All men going out to this point carried ammunition and bombs. Major Howland was ordered to send men over to reinforce Capt. MacDowell which he did sending a Machine Gun crew and ammunition. Three officers and specialists who were at Chateau de la Haie were ordered up at this time and on arrival reinforced Capt. MacDowell.”

Second page of the “Report on the operations of 38th Canadian Infantry Battalion, April 9th to 13th, 1917” from the War Diaries, 38th Canadian Infantry Battalion, April 1917, page 34 (MIKAN 1883252)

Private William Johnstone Milne was born in Cambusnethan, Scotland, and immigrated to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1910. He enlisted in the 16th (Scottish) Battalion and was serving near Thelus, France, on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. That day, as the advance of Milne’s company was held up by a German machine gun, Milne crawled forward and captured the gun. When his company was on the move again, Milne targeted another machine gun in the German line and succeeded in silencing it. His citation for the Victoria Cross states that his “wonderful bravery and resource on these two occasions undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his comrades” (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5705). Private Milne was killed shortly after destroying the second German machine gun. His body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, along with 11,000 other Canadians who died in France and have no known graves.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform. His cap and collar are adorned with maple leaves, and he is looking directly at the photographer.

Private W.J. Milne, undated photograph (MIKAN 3357327)

Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton of Wallacetown, Ontario, enlisted with the 18th (Western Ontario) Battalion to serve as a battalion driver. Before the attack on Vimy Ridge, Sifton was asked to “take a chance with the boys in the front line,” a challenge he accepted. With his company under heavy machine-gun fire near Neuville-St. Vaast, France, Sifton located the German machine gun nest. He went through a gap in the wire, ran across open ground, charged the gun crew and managed to knock over the gun before fighting the gunners. As others in his company came forward, Sifton held off a German counter-attack (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5704). Just as he was about to be relieved, he was killed by a wounded German soldier.

A black-and-white photograph of two men adorning a makeshift grave with white stones in a desolate landscape that has patches of snow and frost on the ground. The grave is marked by a cross with the words “L.S. [Lance-Sergeant] E.W. Sifton, VC” and adorned with a maple leaf. Beside the grave is a larger cross with the words “RIP Canadian soldiers killed in action 9-4-17.”

Two comrades of the late Lance-Sergeant E.W. Sifton, V.C., 18th Battalion, visit his grave, February 1918 (MIKAN 3194451)

A typewritten account of the actions that led to Lance-Sergeant Sifton’s Victoria Cross medal: “An act of conspicuous gallantry was performed by Sergt. E.W.Sifton of ‘C’ Coy [Company]. A M.G. [machine gun] was holding up his Company and doing considerable damage. Sergt. Sifton, single-handed, attacked the Gun crew and bayoneted every man, but was unhappily shot by a dying Boche.”

War Diaries, 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion, April 9, 1917, page 6 (MIKAN 1883227)

Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton of Wallacetown, Ontario, enlisted with the 18th (Western Ontario) Battalion to serve as a battalion driver. Before the attack on Vimy Ridge, Sifton was asked to “take a chance with the boys in the front line,” a challenge he accepted. With his company under heavy machine-gun fire near Neuville-St. Vaast, France, Sifton located the German machine gun nest. He went through a gap in the wire, ran across open ground, charged the gun crew and managed to knock over the gun before fighting the gunners. As others in his company came forward, Sifton held off a German counter-attack (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5704). Just as he was about to be relieved, he was killed by a wounded German soldier.

Library and Archives Canada holds the military service files for Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell, Private William Johnstone Milne and Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton.

Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 1

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 1”.

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 1 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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The Battle of Vimy Ridge—preparations

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.By Dr. George Hay

The Arras offensive of 1917 was divided into ten distinct actions comprising sizable battles along with flanking and subsidiary attacks. The first two actions of the first phase, the simultaneous battles at Vimy Ridge to the north of Arras and astride the river Scarpe in the centre, took place between April 9 and 14. The former was to be the Canadian Corps’ contribution to the offensive—the first time all four Canadian divisions had fought together—and was directed towards the formidable defences on the high ground. The original purpose of the attack was to form a defensive flank for the operations of the Third Army to the south, but given the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line the month before, its operational importance grew in magnitude. Possession of the ridge allowed German forces a commanding view of British and Commonwealth positions below; its capture would not only alleviate this issue for attacking forces, but would put that same advantage into the hands of the British.

A colour map showing places, rivers, and the moving lines of defence.

Situation map showing the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. (The National Archives, WO 95/1049/9)

As previously outlined, these operations had been planned in principle since the end of the previous year and very careful preparations had been made in respect of the training of personnel and the accumulation of artillery and the materiel of war. Furthermore, the actual attack on April 9 was the culminating thrust of a phase of operations including a large number of raids and an incredibly destructive artillery bombardment. The steady wearing down of the enemy’s morale and defences, combined with the diligent training and preparation conducted by the Canadians, set the stage for a climactic and decisive battle.

As in any major offensive operation, objectives were set for the Canadian Corps but they were specific and limited in their scope. Some were common to the divisions while others were assigned to particular sections of the line. They consisted of two primary (a black and a red line) and two secondary (a blue and a brown line).

A map of the Vimy crest showing the four stages of military objectives in colour: 1st objective in black, 2nd objective in red, 3rd objective in blue and 4th objective in brown.

A map of the Canadian Corps military objectives from the General Staff war diary, April 1917. (The National Archives, WO 95/1049/9)

A mimeographed map using different lines to illustrate the German regiments that were located behind the trenches at these two different time periods.

Order of battle showing the lines on April 6th and 26th. The map also shows the German regiments behind the lines on both those dates. It is dated April 27th and was produced by the Canadian Corps Intelligence. (The National Archives, WO 95/1049/9)

The first of these meant passing through the German frontline to a depth of around 700 yards. Once the ground was taken, the 3rd and 4th divisions would reform German support trenches into their main line of defence. The red line stood between 400 and 1000 yards ahead of the first objectives and represented the farthest goal of 3rd and 4th divisions. The blue and brown lines ran between 1,200 and 4,000 yards in front of the red line and were exclusively the responsibility of the 1st and 2nd divisions. Collectively these objectives incorporated an extensive and intricate system of trenches, dugouts, tunnels and strong points, which the German army had spent two years constructing. Their taking was to be intimately bound to the artillery fire plan, which would lift from each objective just before the infantry arrived.

A mimeographed, typewritten page divided into three different sections: successive stages, distribution of troops, and headquarters and boundaries.

Proposed plan of attack showing the four different stages and timings of the advance. (The National Archives, WO 95/169/6)

A mimeographed, typewritten extract from a page explaining the strategy behind the artillery barrages supporting the assault: the “rolling” barrage, the “standing” barrage and field batteries in forward positions (known as silent forward batteries that were silent until it was time for them to be used on the more distant objectives).

Plan of bombardment in support of the assault. (The National Archives, WO 95/1049/10)

A black-and-white map showing the area around Vimy Ridge. The map is covered in wavy lines representing the rolling artillery barrage while the different objectives of the attack (black, red, blue, and brown) are represented by thicker lines.

Barrage map for the Vimy attack. (The National Archives, WO 153/1284)

Artillery preparation was understandably meticulous, beginning 20 days in advance and increasing in intensity as the day of the attack approached, all the while never giving away the full weight of firepower available. Both wire and strong points were kept under barrage, weakening German defences as well as the morale of those stationed at the front. Fire in support of the assault was similarly well planned, with a rolling shrapnel barrage due to fall in 100 yard lifts and standing barrages on defensive systems ahead of the advance. More than 200 machine guns were also to be brought to bear on the relatively narrow front, with 150 providing an indirect barrage and supporting fire; 130 due to be carried by the assaulting brigades for use in consolidation; and a further 78 held in reserve. The heavy artillery and companies of the Special Brigade Royal Engineers (gas companies armed with Livens Projectors) were to use high explosives and gas in counter-battery work to suppress German artillery.

Tanks, too, were allotted to the Canadian Corps in support of their operations. Having seen their debut at Flers-Courcelette on the Somme just seven months before, eight tanks were given the task of working around the defences of Thélus which sat between the 1st and 2nd Division—the two divisions with the furthest to travel. Despite their promise on the battlefield, all artillery and infantry planning was made without reliance on the contribution of the tanks given their limited number and reliability issues.

A black-and-white photograph of at least three teams of six horses pulling cannons into place.

Canadian Field Artillery bringing up the guns, Vimy Ridge, April, 1917. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3521867)

Reconnaissance by the Royal Flying Corps 16 Squadron and No. 1 Kite Balloon Company informed the plan of attack, while elaborate communications plans using buried cable, wireless and visual receiving stations for Forward Observation Officers of the artillery mitigated against complications on the day. Mining was used not only offensively with the intention of demolishing German strong points, but also to produce nearly four miles of tunnels and subways for the infantry coming forward for the attack and to evacuate the wounded.

Everything was in place for the hour of the assault, 5:30 am on April 9, 1917. The preceding hours of darkness aided by cloud cover had permitted the infantry to file forward unobserved into their jumping off positions, many of which were clearly observable to the enemy in daylight. Had this movement been witnessed, an enemy barrage may have broken up the assault wave with serious casualties; as it was, the positions were gained without notice. In the half-light of zero-hour under a cold overcast sky, when manoeuvring was still largely obscured from the enemy, the intense bombardment opened with sudden fury and the advance of the infantry began.


Dr. George Hay is a principal military record specialist at The National Archives of the United Kingdom and a historian of the British amateur military tradition. He holds a PhD in History.

This blog was developed under a collaborative agreement between Library and Archives Canada and The National Archives.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge – the Canadian Corps and its preparations

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.By Marcelle Cinq-Mars

Following Britain’s ultimatum to Germany and the resulting declaration of war, the Dominion of Canada found itself de facto swept up in the turmoil. Such were the ties of Empire between Great Britain and Canada in August 1914. In Canada, few opposed Canadian participation in a “European war,” as it was referred to at the time.

A black-and-white photo showing a field of white tents as far as the eye can see, and a long line of soldiers conducting military exercises in the foreground.

The First Canadian Army – a scene at Valcartier, 1914 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 3642184)

The King accepted the Government of Canada’s offer of an expeditionary force. With a great deal of enthusiasm—and disorganization—the first Canadian volunteers were quickly sent to Valcartier Military Camp, hastily built about 30 kilometres north of Québec. In just over a month, the first Canadian contingent of about 36,000 soldiers and officers was ready to sail for England.

Canadian volunteers

Who were the first Canadian volunteers who agreed to serve “for the duration” under the British Army Act?

Almost all of the roughly 1,500 officers in the first Canadian contingent had received military training in the Canadian militia. More than two thirds had been born in Canada, while the others came from other parts of the Empire. The proportion was reversed for the soldiers: over 65% had been born in other parts of the Empire, just under 30% were born in Canada, and the rest came from the United States and other allied countries.

By March 1917, when it was preparing to take Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps had changed considerably. Since arriving on Salisbury Plain 30 months earlier, the Canadians had been through a trial by fire, facing the first poison gas attacks at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 and fighting in the battles of Festubert (May 1915), St. Éloi (June 1916) and the Somme (July 1916). In 1916, Lieutenant-General Alderson had been replaced as Commander of the Canadian Corps by a new officer, Lieutenant-General Julian Byng.

A black-and-white photo of a uniformed man with a moustache, wearing an officer’s cap and a Sam Browne belt. His tunic is festooned with medals and military decorations, and he is staring directly and impassively into the camera.

Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng in May 1917. Photo taken by William Ivor Castle (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 3213526)

Byng was thus leading the Canadian Corps, which now consisted of four divisions. It should be noted that the 2nd Canadian Division included the only francophone battalion in the whole British Empire engaged at the front: the 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (now the Royal 22e Régiment). Created in October 1914, this battalion was commanded entirely by francophone officers; French Canadians were able to serve their country in their own language.

Attack preparations

Once Byng’s plan had been submitted, modified and approved by the military command, preparations began for the attack on Vimy Ridge. The Canadian Corps, which had been assigned this task, prepared for the assault with great determination and meticulous care. Byng had a scale model of the German defences made, and he used it behind the lines as he personally supervised the Canadians’ training. Every day, officers and soldiers practiced, as realistically as possible, the tactics that they would employ during the attack. They worked on timing their advances to follow, and benefit from, the artillery’s creeping barrage.

During this time, Canadian and British engineers had to prepare ammunition stores, water tanks and pumps. Twenty-five feet below the trenches, the tunnel system was expanded, to ensure that the troops could move toward the front-line trenches and that the communications network was secure.

A map showing a close-up of part of the Canadian and German military positions. The inset shows the front line, from the North Sea to Reims in the south.

Map of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, before the battle started (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 178969

Royal Flying Corps pilots were tasked with observing German positions and bombarding key targets, such as railways and German airfields. The invaluable information that they gathered was relayed behind the lines and led to over 80% of the German artillery batteries’ locations being identified.

In the lead-up to the attack, the artillery began pounding the German trenches on March 20. This bombardment continued until April 2, when it reached its maximum intensity. It is estimated that more than 1 million artillery shells were fired during this preparatory period, with over 50,000 tons of explosives hitting the German positions. The damage to the German lines of communication from the artillery fire slowed the supply line to defenders in the front lines considerably.

A black-and-white photo of soldiers advancing across a field, with shells exploding just in front of the advancing column.

Canadians advancing through German barbed wire, April 1917 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 3404765)

On the day of the attack, the 15,000 Canadians who took part in the assault on Vimy Ridge were confident of achieving their objectives. It was a momentous day for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which expected to clearly show its determination and effectiveness. Although the soldiers in the assault did not know it yet, it would also be a momentous day for Canada.

Related resources


Marcelle Cinq-Mars is a senior military archivist in the Government Records Branch at Library and Archives Canada. She has authored many books focusing mainly on the First World War.

This blog was developed under a collaborative agreement between Library and Archives Canada and The National Archives.

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge: a collaboration with The National Archives

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.Over the next month, Library and Archives Canada and The National Archives of the United Kingdom will be shining a light on the role that the Canadian contingent played in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of this First World War battle.

In a series of blog posts exploring the Battle of Vimy Ridge through our respective records, we will cover the following topics:

  • the composition of the Canadian Corps and the context leading up to Vimy
  • what happened during the battle itself
  • how the battle ended
  • memorialization following the battle
  • artistic representations of the battle

Look for the first blog in the series on April 3 and the final one on April 21.

During that same period, we will be continuing the series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients, which looks at soldiers honoured for their actions during the battle.

From the Lowy Room: remnants of Spanish Jewry

By Michael Kent

As a librarian, people often question me about the value of the print book in the digital age. After all, many of the books in the collections I serve can be found in digital formats online. While it is true that even the oldest works in Library and Archives Canada’s collections are now accessible in a range of formats online, I maintain that the power of the physical items—and the stories behind them—go far beyond the mere content of the page.

One of the items that evokes this sentiment in a powerful way is the fragment of the 1491 Pentateuch, the Jewish canonical scriptures, from Spain.

This Bible, printed by Eliezer ibn Alantansi in Hijar, Spain, was the last dated Hebrew book printed in Spain before the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. While the age, the print quality, or the level of scholarship necessary to produce this book alone make it an important work in early printing, it is the story it tells about the expulsion of Spain’s Jews that makes it a powerful item to behold.

Sadly, refugee crises are not new. Currently, our world is in the midst of a global refugee crisis, a crisis we are able to observe almost first-hand due to the rise of social media. The modern world has allowed us to gain an important and humbling glimpse into the struggles of those living in refugee camps.

The breadth of media content, blogs, pictures and personal accounts will allow future generations of scholars to understand the struggles of contemporary refugees in a way previous generations of scholars could never have imagined. But what about past refugees—how do we try to understand the struggles of medieval refugees, their expectations, their former lives, their hopes for the future, and the devastation caused by their upheavals?

These questions represent a tremendous challenge for historians who wish to uncover the experiences of those in the past. History needs to be more than dates and the stories of the elites; the stories of the masses and the collective experiences we need to learn from are the important episodes that should be investigated.

This is where I return to the biblical fragment found in the Lowy collection. From a content-on-the-page perspective, does the Pentateuch represent anything more than a standard Rabbinic Bible, the type that could be downloaded for free? The simple answer is no. Looking outside the text, does this item provide insights into the lives of Spanish Jewry on the eve of expulsion? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

A colour photograph of a yellowed, printed page written in Hebrew.

A leaf of the 1490 Hebrew Bible printed by Eliezer ben Avraham Alantansi (AMICUS 32329787)

I look at this page and see a community that saw itself as stable and with a future in Spain. In the early days of printing, a Bible like this would have been a major undertaking. The establishment of communal infrastructure in the form of a printing press, the investment in scholarship, and a major economic undertaking are, to me, evidence that Spain’s Jews saw themselves as secure and with a long and stable future in the Iberian Peninsula. I look at this page and see people who did not imagine the major upheaval and communal devastation that was less than two years away. In short, I see firsthand evidence of one of Medieval Europe’s largest refugee experiences.

As a librarian and curator, I strongly believe in the power of the physical book, a power that goes far beyond the content of the work. While e-books and websites ensure global access to a range of intellectual content, the humbling experience and historic evidence offered by the physical book are irreplaceable.

Michael Kent is the Curator of the Jacob M. Lowy collection

Images for British Columbia now on Flickr

British Columbia is Canada’s westernmost province—a mountainous area bordering the Pacific Ocean whose population is mainly centred in its southwestern corner. The province’s name was chosen in 1858 and New Westminster, a settlement on the mainland, became the capital. When the mainland and island colonies joined in 1866, the island city of Victoria was designated the capital instead. British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871, making it the 6th province.

Did you know?

  • British Columbia’s majestic landscapes and interesting geological features are the result of a thick sheet of ice that covered the province during the ice age.
  • Paleoamericans arrived in the Pacific Northwest 12,000–20,000 years ago and the region has since seen the development of Aboriginal communities on the provincial coast, and in the richly diverse interior.
  • The introduction of the fur trade in the early 19th century and the discovery of gold along the Lower Fraser River in 1858 saw an increase in settlers and the establishment of permanent towns. The 20th century brought industrialization and the intense exploitation of natural resources. Consequently, environmental and natural resource preservation would become a priority for the province in the post-war period.
  • British Columbia is one of the most ethnically diverse provinces in the country, with the highest percentage of visible minorities, most notably from Asian and South-Asian descent.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, VC

The Discover Blog returns to the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, in which we profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross took place. Today we present the story of Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, an Irish-born Canadian VC recipient from Medicine Hat, Alberta.

A black-and-white portrait of an officer wearing a Sam Brown belt and looking directly at the viewer.

Captain Frederick M. Harvey, V.C., undated (MIKAN 3216613)

Harvey, born in Athboy, County Meath, Ireland, was one of three Irish rugby union internationals to have been awarded the Victoria Cross, and the only one to have been awarded the medal during the First World War. He settled in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in 1908 and enlisted on May 18, 1916 with the 13th Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, transferring to Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) after arriving in France.

On March 27, 1917, Harvey’s troops advanced on the village of Guyencourt, France. As German machine gun fire inflicted heavy casualties, Harvey’s Victoria Cross citation recounts what occurred next:

At this critical moment, when the enemy showed no intention whatever of retiring and fire was still intense, Lt. Harvey, who was in command of the leading troop, ran forward well ahead of his men and dashed at the trench, still fully manned, jumped the wire, shot the machine gunner and captured the gun. His most courageous act undoubtedly had a decisive effect on the success of the operation (London Gazette, no.30122, June 8, 1917).

A black and white reproduction of a war diary entry showing the place, date, hour and a summary of events and information.

Extract from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diaries for March 27, 1917 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Harvey was initially granted the Distinguished Service Order but was later awarded the Victoria Cross. He received the Military Cross for his role in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse advance on Moreuil Wood on March 30, 1918 and was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

Harvey remained with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and was promoted to Captain in 1923. He instructed in physical training at the Royal Military College of Canada from 1923 to 1927, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1938, and, in 1939, was made Brigadier General. Harvey served as Honorary Colonel in Lord Strathcona’s Horse from 1958 to 1966. He died in August 1980 at age 91.

A black and white photograph of a man pining an award on another man’s pocket. Another man is reading the citation while a third man is carrying a case. In the background, rows of soldiers are standing at ease.

H.M. The King decorating Lieutenant Harvey L.S.H. with the Victoria Cross (MIKAN 3362384)

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey.

Related Resources

Guest Curator: Tania Passafiume

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 in 2017! Experts from LAC, from across Canada and from other countries provide additional information about 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, Ottawa, from June 5, 2017, to March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

Temples of Today by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934

Black-and-white photo of a grain elevator with tall, circular towers in front of a taller rectangular building.

“Temples of Today” by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934. (MIKAN 3784205)

Photographer John Vanderpant saw Canada’s grain elevators as temples. They were part of his utopian vision for the country, based on a faith in trade and industry. For him, industry would define the nation’s future.

Tell us about yourself

I knew I wanted to be a conservator since I was 13 years old. At this time, my uncle had married a wonderful woman named Janice. She was a fine art conservator, hence she treated paintings, works of art on paper, and photographs. I was very influenced by her, and it led me to work in her private lab as I was studying at university. It provided me with experience before I even started my graduate classes in conservation. When I graduated, there was no employment in Canada, and my aunt had closed her lab and was traveling that particular year. I ended up going to the George Eastman House on a whim. It was supposed to be just for three months. Instead I stayed there three years and three months! It was when I became passionate about photography, particularly historical processes. My hands were often black due to all the silver nitrate I was playing with! And now, I see my aunt’s name on a report or two, as she had actually interned here at LAC many years before me.

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

LAC’s collection of photographs is really diverse. You can always find a variety of processes and images. For this exhibition, I favor Temples of Today by John Vanderpant. I am a photograph conservator, so often I look beyond the image, looking deeper at the materials and how the photograph was made, or if anything has been altered. Many times, not to be distracted by the image itself, I turn the photograph around, so that the image is upside down, making it less distracting, so that I can concentrate on the material and not the image before me. But for this item, all I had to do was lean down and look at the surface of the photograph in raking light. That is when light is falling across the surface and I am almost at eye level with the surface. It is at this point you can really “see” an object; all the handling dents and deformities are really pronounced. When you do that with this item you see cat paw prints! We actually think that the cat walked one way, turned around and walked back! The photograph was already mounted on the paper support when the cat had walked on it. This is noted as one of the prints lies on both the photograph and the support. Perhaps Vanderpant had a cat who would visit him in the studio? I really enjoy finding these hidden secrets. I did try to remove or at least reduce the paw prints, but they appear to be stuck within the emulsion. So I could not do much as for treatment, and the paw prints remain.

A photo on a table with a bright light raking over it reveals a cat’s paw prints.

Viewing Temples of Today under raking light reveals a cat’s paw prints. Photo taken by Tom Thompson.

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

A photograph that I enjoy showing people is a daguerreotype from July 1858. The daguerreotype has captured the Molson Brewery in Montréal, after a fire. It is a half plate in good condition. The image is sombre as the fire has left nothing. In the centre of this emptiness stands a man with a seated female to the left with a small child, who moved as the image was taken and is blurry. It is a moving image, as you can imagine that the daguerreotypist had to be physically there, at this moment to document this period of time. A few years ago, this item was going on exhibition; therefore I was fortunate enough to be able to open the daguerreotype package (the original sealing tape had been previously removed), to examine the plate. Upon removal of the brass mat, I immediately noticed in the upper left corner, a finger mark. This was hidden behind the brass mat. This fingerprint could be from the daguerreotypist, who is, at this moment still unknown. It could have been accidently placed there as he or she was developing the plate or placing it into the daguerreotype package. For me it is a sign of the mysterious past—a bridge, a connector between these people in the image and to the person behind the camera who is not visible and us, the current viewer.

 The corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. The plate depicts a closeup of the Molson Brewery after a fire. A woman with a baby is sitting at the bottom edge.

A detail of a corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. Photo taken by Jennie Woodley. (MIKAN 3192967)

Black-and-white image of rubble in the foreground with a damaged building in the background. A woman with a baby sits in the middle to left of a standing man.¬

Full image of the Molson family brewery after the fire of 1858. (MIKAN 3192967)

On this theme of animals and photography, I would like to include the “Decadog,” as we call it at the Preservation Centre. This is a perfect example of an animal being an animal. It is a nitrate panorama negative of 7th Draft, “C” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA). These were the units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and the Royal Air Force who trained at various camps in Ontario; here it was in Kingston. It was taken between 1914 and 1918. The nitrate negative was discovered when my colleagues Carla Klück and Louise Perrault were scanning the nitrate panorama collection in 2011. At first glance this long negative, which is 200 mm high x 1060 mm wide, is another documented proof of military troops from the turn of the century. On closer examination, a dog appears in the foreground. But not just any dog—a dog with eleven legs! Viewers are always confused when they notice this unusual aspect. Someone has previously outlined in black ink on the negative (which appears white on the positive print), ten of the legs (hence the name Decadog), omitting the second last paw on the left. You may be asking—how did this dog exist in Kingston? Easy enough answer is that the photograph was taken by a panoramic camera also known as a Cirkut. The Cirkut is a rotating camera that would capture a panoramic scene by pivoting horizontally while a roll of film moved across the film plane. At just the right moment, the dog must have walked as the camera was rotating from left to right. Consequently, the slow capture could capture the slow movement of the dog walking across the plane of view. To prove that this Decadog is a “normal” four-legged friend, I have included an additional nitrate panorama from our collection. This time it is from the 8th Draft “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF, Petawawa Camp on June 1916. From his face markings, we think that this is the same dog in both nitrate panoramas.

Black-and-white panorama shot of two rows of uniformed soldiers between two wheeled cannons. The Decadog is in front of the group. Barracks can be seen in the background.

7th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF group photo with the Decadog by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4474227)

Black-and-white panorama shot of three and a half rows of uniformed soldiers in front of trees and tents. A soldier in the centre of the front row holds a dog on his lap.

8th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF Petawawa Camp with a dog in the centre by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4473482)


Colour photograph of a woman looking at the viewer.

Credit Tom Thompson

Tania Passafiume has been the Head Conservator of Photographic Materials for Library and Archives Canada since 2005. After graduating from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Art Conservation (specializing in photographs, works on paper and book conservation), she moved to Rochester, New York. It was in Rochester at the George Eastman House where she remained for over three years, first participating in the Certificate Program in Photographic Preservation and Archival Practice and then as a Fellow in the first cycle of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. For the following three years, Tania was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, in Photographic Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tania has also worked in the following institutions and private labs: Jana Conservation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, National Archives of Canada, City of Vancouver Archives, and Canadian Centre for Architecture. With the Canadian Conservation Institute she has published “Silver Gelatin Paper Sample Sets,” which is based on her George Eastman House thesis. Also stemming from this was research on Hippolyte Bayard, a topic on which she is currently working with the Centre de recherché sur la conservation des collections (CRCC), Paris. More recently, she spearheaded a LAC project with the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Paris/Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de la Ville de Paris (ARCP) in a collaboration to create the first English-French visual glossary of photo conservation terms in enhanced eBook format called Lingua Franca: A Common Language for Conservators of Photographic Materials which will soon be available for free on iTunes.

Railway accident records at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

In recent years, large-scale railway derailments and collisions have caught our attention and have become questions of public safety, but this is not a new chapter in Canadian transportation history. Rail accidents dot the history of railways in Canada and have shaped the lives of many Canadians.

A black and white photograph of a partially derailed train in a train yard. Snow covers the ground and a city can be seen in the background.

Cars off track at Strachan Avenue, Toronto, December 19, 1916. Photograph taken by John Boyd (MIKAN 3364261)

Have you witnessed a railway accident? Was a family member or friend involved in a railway accident? Do you have an interest in railway history in a specific region or for a specific railway company? These are just some of the many reasons that researchers consult Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Reference Services regarding railway accident records.

Starting your railway accident research

First, gather as much information as you can about the rail accident prior to contacting or visiting LAC. The exact date and location are extremely important, as are details such as individuals involved and if possible, type of accident (e.g. public crossing, derailment, crash). If you are missing some of these details, consult newspapers on microfilm or online before undertaking your search with LAC’s online tools. Accident records are usually organized chronologically by date, so the date is key for you to start your research with the correct institution.

LAC holds rail accident records for investigations that began in 1990 or earlier, whereas the Transportation Safety Board maintains an online database for investigations from 1991 to the present.

Records at LAC

Railway accident records can be found in various series of the Canadian Transport Commission fonds (RG46) depending on the time period and type of accident.

I suggest relying on the following search strategies and finding aids to begin your research:

Finding Aid # Format Time Period How to Use the Finding Aid
46-21 Archives Search 1838–1987 In the first box, click on the down arrow and select Finding aid number. In the box to the right, type 46-21. In the second row of boxes, the default is Any keyword. Type in accident in the box to its right. Press Enter. In the results list, you can use the right menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.
46-10 Online Finding Aid 46-10 1904–1949, 1964–1972 The finding aid is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by railway company. Each report varies in content, but often references accidents.
46-55 Online Finding Aid 46-55 1900–1992 Accidents at public crossings arranged alphabetically by geographic subdivision
46-58 Online Finding Aid 46-58 1982–1983 Chronological
46-59 Online Finding Aid 46-59 1984 Chronological

There are also additional resources online and onsite at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. You can use Archives Search to do general keyword searches with terms like “rail” AND “accident” (or “derailment” or “collision”) and use the right menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.

If you follow the steps described above and still can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t despair! Reference Services staff are always just a call or click away. You are also welcome to visit in person. No matter how you contact us, we are happy to help researchers with their questions.

Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.