Images of Sweaters, Jackets and Coats now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of a woman sitting outside knitting a traditional Cowichan sweater. A boy and a girl sit next to her on the grass.

Ms. Pat Charlie knits a Cowichan sweater, British Columbia [e011176278]

Canada is a large and geographically diverse country with a wide range of seasons. Temperatures can vary from 40 degrees Celsius to minus 50 degrees. With the changing temperatures and environmental patterns across the country, Canadians naturally like to discuss the weather.

A black-and-white photograph of a tailor adjusting a suit jacket on a tailor’s mannequin.

Tailor adjusting a suit jacket on a tailor’s mannequin, Montreal, Quebec [e004666235]

A black-and-white photograph of a woman standing straight to model a military uniform consisting of a Norfolk jacket, skirt, and black shoes.

Woman wearing a Norfolk jacket, skirt, and black shoes [PA-063849]

During the autumn and winter months, clothing options get included in the conversation. Sweaters, jackets and coats come out with the cooling temperatures, first one at a time, then to be layered one on top of the other.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman wearing a coat and standing at the side of a road in front of her car.

Madge Macbeth wearing a coat and standing at the side of a road in front of her car “Amaryllis” [e008406104]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Maritime voices: Alistair MacLeod

By Leah Rae

About 360 kilometres from downtown Halifax, on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, lies the tiny community of Dunvegan. Too small to be a town, Dunvegan is a fork in the road located between Inverness and Margaree Harbour. It was here, in a small, hand-built shed overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (with Prince Edward Island in the distance) that writer Alistair MacLeod spent his summer vacations. It was in this shed that he wrote some of the greatest short stories in the English language and his one and only novel No Great Mischief.

A handwritten first page of The Boat.

Front page of the manuscript for The Boat by Alistair MacLeod. © Estate of Alistair MacLeod.

Like many “Capers” before him, MacLeod spent his youth working as a miner and a logger. He used his income to pay for his education, earning both his undergraduate degree and teaching degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. MacLeod spent his career as an English and creative writing professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario. Between the demands of being a full-time professor and a father to six children, he found it challenging to find time for his writing during the school year. However, during his summer vacations, he and his family returned to the family home in Dunvegan (named for Dun Bheagan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland) where he had the opportunity to focus on his writing. MacLeod’s work examines the daily struggles of the people of Cape Breton Island. What gives MacLeod’s writing its power and its majesty is its lyricism: MacLeod often read his work out loud as a way to perfect the cadence of each line. He was a slow and methodical writer, carefully considering every word. Although he produced a very small body of work in his lifetime, the quality of that work is outstanding.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is lucky to be the repository for the Alistair MacLeod fonds. In the early 2000s, LAC acquired about 4.5 metres of material (both textual and graphic) created by MacLeod in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. The material spans his career as both a writer and a teacher. The fonds includes manuscripts, correspondence, essays, thesis notes, clippings, photos of MacLeod and more.

A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting at a rough desk with paper and pen in hand.

Alistair MacLeod working in his writing shed in Dunvegan, Nova Scotia. © Chuk Clark.

Looking at MacLeod’s original manuscripts gives us a fascinating glimpse into his process as a writer. He was known in the Canadian literary community as a perfectionist, and you can see this is true in his manuscripts. The first draft of his short story The Boat is handwritten in an examination booklet from Notre Dame University (where MacLeod earned his PhD). If we look at the published version of the first paragraph of that story—perhaps one of the most beautiful paragraphs in English literature—it is nearly identical to the author’s draft version.

MacLeod continued the practice of handwriting his work throughout his career (a practice perhaps perceived by many writers today as very old fashioned!) He also wrote part of his manuscript for his novel No Great Mischief by hand. It is quite a special thing to see a work of this calibre written in long hand rather than as typewritten words on a page that we are so used to seeing nowadays. It gives you a very personal sense of MacLeod working diligently away during his few precious hours of free time, overlooking the beautiful cliffs of Cape Breton and the sea below.

Leah Rae is an archivist based in Halifax in the Regional Services and ATIP Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Soldiers at the Front, Workers in Factories

By Lucie Paquet

In August 1914, countries in Europe started a war that was expected to be over quickly. Like many Western countries, Canada mobilized and sent troops to fight on the Allied side during the First World War. The French army, largely deprived of heavy industry and mining resources, soon ran out of military materiel, which led to a marked increase in demand for all kinds of products. So from 1914 to 1918, Canada took action to address this situation by requisitioning nearly 540 industrial facilities across the country, from Halifax to Vancouver. Steel factories deemed essential by the government were converted to manufacture war materiel. To support the army, their activities were closely supervised by the Imperial Munitions Board, which appointed and sent more than 2,300 government inspectors to factories to supervise, test and evaluate the production of military goods. It was under these circumstances that The Steel Company of Canada (now Stelco) converted a large part of its operations to produce materiel for war.

Handwritten list of orders sent by the Imperial Munitions Board, in black text with some red underlining, listing the number of shells produced by various industrial facilities in Canada.

Handwritten list of orders sent by the Imperial Munitions Board detailing the number of shells produced by various industrial facilities in Canada. (e011198346)

However, this change led to problems. Since the factories were not prepared to manufacture weapons quickly and to ensure consistent high quality, orders were delivered late and, very often, the equipment was defective. Stelco faced this reality and experienced these difficulties.

First page (pink) of a letter written in September 1916 by Montréal plant manager Ross H. McMaster to Stelco president Robert Hobson describing problems in producing and delivering shells.

Letter written in September 1916 by Montréal plant manager Ross H. McMaster to Stelco president Robert Hobson describing problems in producing and delivering shells. (e011198359-001)

Stelco’s biggest challenge involved the supply of raw materials. First, these had to be found and extracted; then the raw ore had to be transported from the mines to the plants; the necessary machinery and equipment had to be acquired and the new blast furnaces put into operation; and, finally, workers had to be trained for each stage of the manufacturing process. With its newly electric-powered mill for making steel bars, Stelco was able to start production quickly. It hired women to replace the hundred workers sent to the front, and it bought mining properties in Pennsylvania and Minnesota to supply coal and iron to its factories. Stelco also renovated and modernized its plants.

Table listing, in blue and red text, Stelco’s capital expenditures for the construction of new plants and the acquisition of additional equipment.

Statement prepared by Stelco outlining capital expenditures for the construction of new plants and the acquisition of additional equipment (e011198354)

Transportation systems were built to carry raw metals to Stelco’s processing plants in Montréal, Brantford, Gananoque and Hamilton. At the time, most major Canadian cities were linked by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railway lines, to transport soldiers and military goods.

Fall 1916 was a turning point in the steel industry, after two years of experimentation and production. As war continued to rage in Europe, metallurgists and industrialists decided to hold strategic meetings. The first meeting of the Metallurgical Association was held in Montréal on October 25, 1916, to discuss scientific advances in manufacturing military equipment. On that occasion, Stelco held an exhibition to showcase its products.


Two printed pages from the Canadian Mining Institute Bulletin with black-and-white photographs of shells produced by Stelco.

Photos in the Canadian Mining Institute Bulletin showing shells produced by Stelco. (e011198345)

In 1917, Stelco built two new plants in Hamilton. In addition to artillery pieces, steel panels were also manufactured for the construction of ships, rail cars, vehicles and aircraft parts.

As the war intensified, the demand for munitions increased dramatically. Production levels rose, prompting a reorganization of the world of work. To speed up production, workers were now paid wages based on the time allocated to manufacture each part. Bonuses were also awarded to the fastest workers.

Table showing the average number of minutes that workers spent on each step in manufacturing a 9.2-inch shell part, as well as the estimated number of minutes normally required to complete each task.

Table showing the average number of minutes that workers spent on each step in manufacturing a 9.2-inch shell part, as well as the estimated number of minutes normally required to complete each task. (e011198358)

Black-and-white photograph showing the interior of a munitions and barbed-wire factory in 1916.

View of the interior of a munitions and barbed-wire factory in 1916. (e011198375)

The war effort created a strong sense of brotherhood and patriotism, and workers put their demands on hold. A message from the superintendent of the shell department, delivered on January 4, 1917, clearly shows the pressure in the factories and the crucial role of the workers.

Handwritten letter written by superintendent E. Frankland to employees of Stelco’s shell department. (e011198367; a French version of this letter is also available: e011198368)

More than a hundred workers from the steel mills would fight in the trenches; most of them were sent to France. This list, dated November 16, 1918, shows the name and rank of each worker who went to fight, the name of his battalion or regiment, and his last known home base.

Four typewritten pages listing Stelco workers who went to fight in the First World War (1914–1918).

List of Stelco workers who went to fight in the First World War (1914–1918). (e011198365)

Fundraising campaigns were organized during the war to help soldiers and their families. Workers contributed a portion of their wages to the Canadian Patriotic Fund.

Cover page, in black and white, and pages 23 and 24, in black and red, of a record of contributions to the Canadian Patriotic Fund.

Cover page and pages 23 and 24 of a record of contributions to the Canadian Patriotic Fund. (e0111983867 and e011198385)

The work of factory workers was very demanding. Although the tasks required a high degree of precision, they were repetitive and had to be performed swiftly on the production line.

Left, a black-and-white photograph of workers on a production line for shells. Right, a blue Imperial Munitions Board form for progress achieved by a production line in a given week.

Left, Stelco workers on a production line for 9.2-inch shells. Right, an Imperial Munitions Board form for progress achieved by a production line in a given week. (e011198374 and e011198362)

The products were heavy and dangerous to handle. The workers melted the steel in the blast furnaces and then poured it into rectangular moulds. With tongs, they removed the glowing hot steel ingots and placed them on wagons. The ingots were then transported to the forge, where they were rolled into round bars according to the dimensions required to form the various shell tubes.

Black-and-white photograph of a worker using long tongs on a glowing hot steel ingot.

Reproduction of a photograph of a worker using long tongs to remove a glowing hot 80-pound steel ingot from a 500-tonne press. (e01118391)

Black-and-white photograph of workers posing beside hundreds of shell cylinders.

Stelco workers pose proudly beside hundreds of shell cylinders made from molten steel. (e01118373)

A large quantity of steel bars was produced to manufacture 9.2-inch, 8-inch, 6.45-inch and 4.5-inch shells.

Black-and-white photograph of the interior of a shell factory in Montréal on May 12, 1916.

View of the inside of Stelco’s shell factory on Notre-Dame Street, Montréal, May 12, 1916. (e01118377)

In 1915, Stelco’s plants in Brantford, Ontario, and on Notre-Dame Street in Montréal forged some 119,000 shells. The combined production of the two plants increased to 537,555 shells in 1917, then reached 1,312,616 shells in 1918. Under great pressure, Canadian factories continued to process millions of tonnes of steel into military materiel until the Armistice ending the First World War was signed in November 1918.

Lucie Paquet is a senior archivist in the Science, Governance and Political Division at Library and Archives Canada

Images of Automobiles now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of an early automobile parked outside of a barn.

An early automobile [PA-013110

Henry Seth Taylor built the first automobile in Canada in 1867. At the time, all automobiles, whether produced domestically or imported from the United States, were unique luxury items only a few could afford.

A black-and-white photograph of a man, a woman and six children in a convertible car parked in front of a house.

A man, a woman and six children pose in an automobile parked in front of David Gillies’ home in Carleton Place, Ontario [PA-059307

In 1904, the Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited started operations, and by 1913 there were approximately 50,0000 automobiles on Canadian roads. Following in Ford’s footsteps, General Motors and Chrysler eventually opened up Canadian plants to manufacture automobiles.

A black-and-white photograph of an automobile coming off the factory production line. There are groups of men on either side of the vehicle.

Last civilian passenger car built at the General Motors plant, Oshawa, Ontario [e000760672]

Domestic automobile manufacturing companies could not compete with the American companies and were eventually bought out, or went bankrupt. However, the Canadian subsidiaries of American companies flourished, and by 1923 Canada became the second largest producer and exporter of automobiles and parts.

A colour photograph of two men guiding the frame of a red station wagon onto a moving production line.

Lowering car onto production line tracks, Ford Motor Company of Canada [e010975565]

Today Canada continues to be a major producer and global exporter of automobiles and parts. The industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the country.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Juvenilia in the archives: a reading of Jane Urquhart’s early works

By Sara Viinalass-Smith

Juvenilia is defined as works produced by an author while still young. Juvenilia can provide unique insights into a creator’s early influences and the evolution of their writing. For many reasons, researchers will unfortunately find that examples of juvenilia are not always present amongst an author’s papers. Over time, juvenilia might go missing, be discarded, or even destroyed.

Some famous examples of lost juvenilia include Ernest Hemingway’s early works. When Hemingway was 23, a suitcase full of his early drafts and their carbon copies was stolen at a train station. All that remained of his early works, then, were a couple of short stories, a poem and some carbon copies of articles he had written. In the case of Truman Capote, his lost juvenilia weren’t really lost at all. Upon his death, his papers were donated to the New York Public Library (NYPL). Amongst them were several short stories written by Capote in his teens and early 20s. In 2013, a researcher came across the stories, and in 2015 they were published in The Early Stories of Truman Capote (Random House) and hailed as newly discovered texts. However, the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division was quick to make the distinction between “undiscovered” and “unpublished” in the media. While the stories had not necessarily ever been in print, they had been catalogued and were available to anyone wishing to consult Capote’s papers.

Though there are many reasons why early works might not find their way into the archives, Library and Archives Canada’s Literary Archives Collection is fortunate to include a variety of pieces of juvenilia. One very special example comes from the Jane Urquhart fonds.

The celebrated author of such works as The Underpainter and The Stone Carvers showed an early interest in creative pursuits. Urquhart (née Carter) was keen to experiment with different literary forms and studied acting from a young age. As a girl in the 1950s, she loved the books of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and adapted the novel Anne of Green Gables into a play.

A notebook with pencil handwriting of a dramatization of Anne of Green Gables.

A page from Jane Urquhart’s notebook titled “Anne of Green Gables” (e011202224)

Written in a blue Hilroy notebook, an elementary school mainstay for decades, Urquhart’s play opens with the familiar scene of Matthew Cuthbert and Anne Shirley in what Urquhart describes as a stage coach, on their way to Green Gables for the first time. While the script represents only a small portion of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, the text illuminates Urquhart’s own early reading interests and writing style. Even at such a young age, Urquhart follows the conventions of scriptwriting by beginning with a setting description and designating dialogue to different speakers. She was perhaps familiar with how a script is formatted because of her interest in acting. Within a few years of drafting her adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, Urquhart was a member of an acting workshop under the direction of Canadian theatre pioneer Dora Mavor Moore.

What makes this example of juvenilia even more important is how it contributes to our understanding of the lasting influence of Lucy Maud Montgomery and her works on Urquhart. Montgomery’s novels continue to have a worldwide audience, even though more than a century has elapsed since the original publication of Anne of Green Gables. Like many girls and boys, Urquhart discovered Montgomery’s novels as a child. Urquhart, however, had the unique opportunity of reflecting on Montgomery and her works as an adult, formally encapsulating her feelings about the books and their author in a biography written for Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians series. L. M. Montgomery was published in 2009. In it, Urquhart examines Lucy Maud Montgomery, the writer and the woman. She describes the struggles of an author who achieves commercial success, but who is ignored by literary critics who dismiss her writing as sentimental and lowbrow—criticisms levelled at female Canadian authors such as Carol Shields even decades later. Perhaps the most personal section of the biography is the final chapter entitled, “Her Reader.” In it, Urquhart describes an 11-year-old girl’s discovery of Anne Shirley in the 1920s, an experience that provokes the desire to write herself. That young girl, Marian, grew up to be Jane Urquhart’s mother, and it was Marian’s own copy of Montgomery’s first novel that Urquhart read as a child, inspiring one of her very first literary efforts.

This example of juvenilia and others can be found in fonds within the Literary Archives Collection. To browse the collection, visit LAC’s website.

Sara Viinalas-Smith is a literary archivist (English language) in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.

“Hostilities will cease at 1100 hours on Nov. 11th. Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour which will be reported to Corps H.Q.”

Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) units maintained a daily account of their actions in the field, known as a War Diary. Using their diary, you can now follow in the footsteps of the 1st Canadian Division –throughout November 1918, including the day they received the ceasefire message by wire.

You can transcribe, tag and translate the words of the War Diary that documented the 1st Canadian Division’s story. With each page transcribed, Canada’s history becomes more accessible and easier to discover.

Want to see more War Diaries? There are hundreds for you to explore. Read our detailed instructions on how to search for CEF War Diaries.

If you find a War Diary image that you would like to contribute to, copy the MIKAN reference number, open our new Collection Search (Beta) and paste the number into the search field. Click the Search button. From the results page, click on an image to open it. Below the viewer, click the button called “Enable this image for Co-Lab contributions” and you will be transcribing, tagging and translating in no time!

Using the Railway index to access railway plans and profiles

By Rebecca Murray

Earlier this year I was working on a request for a researcher that involved spending some quality time with accession RG12M 77803/17 “Railway index,” a set of 30,000 index cards that provide detailed, item-level listings for railway plans and profiles from across Canada, dating from 1866 through 1937. Although I am used to working with accessions of cartographic material and their finding aids on a regular basis, this particular one was a challenge. It provides a great example of how difficult it can be to organize and understand extensive sets of records such as these.

Why might you even venture into this type of research, then? Why not rely on published sources? I am a huge advocate for the use of and reliance on primary sources for research. You can consult the original document and draw your own conclusions, both from the document itself and from its arrangement among the other records. Perhaps the plan you are looking for demonstrates a particular moment in time not usually shown in secondary sources. Or perhaps you’re investigating the evolution of a particular section of railway. No matter the reason, it’s time to get your hands into some white gloves and get into the archives!

Step 1

The first step is to review the index cards that are available on digitized microfilm. The index cards are arranged alphabetically by both railway company and location.

When you identify plans of interest, please note the plan number. For example, if I were interested in the “Plan & profile showing the approach of the Bridge in the city of Montreal P.Q. as located,” as listed on the index card below, I would note plan number 7457.

A ruled index card with black text.

An excerpt from the alphabetical index by railway company taken from RG12 reel C-6823


Step 2

When you are working onsite at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, Ontario, you can consult a set of paper index cards in our Reference Room. Once you have identified the plan numbers for items you wish to consult or copy, you can use an additional set of index cards, found with the other map and plan finding aids and organized by plan number, to identify the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) item number for each. A team member in the Reference Room can assist you with both steps as required.

Colour photograph of metal drawers of index cards for accession RG12M 77803/17.

Photograph of RG12M 77803/17 Railway index card drawers in the annex to the Reference Room.

Colour photograph of index card drawer with card for plan 7457 sticking up.

Photograph of index card drawer showing card for plan 7457.

Colour photograph of index card with the item number circled in red.

Photograph of index card with complete reference information (item numbers) for plan 7457.

Step 3

If you are not on site, you can write to us using our online form and request assistance in completing the references for each item. For example, you could cite RG12M 77803/17, plan 7457, and ask for the item number in order to complete the reference. One of our team members can check the index cards to confirm the item number and then determine the container barcode to facilitate your consultation or reproduction request.

Many of these items are also available on microfiche, which helps with consultation. If you are on site, you can head straight up to the Microform Consultation Room on the 3rd floor and ask for assistance from LAC staff (during service hours) or take advantage of the self-service microfiche drawer labelled RG12M 77803/17. Don’t forget to wear gloves!

Did you know that the Microform Consultation Room has new flatbed scanners that provide high quality self-service copies of microfiche? Bring your USB key so that you can bring copies home with you.

These types of finding aids can be daunting to work with as they require collecting information along the way rather than simply finding all relevant information within one line of text. This represents a good challenge for the seasoned researcher (or archivist!) and a steep learning curve for new researchers. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team for help with this or other types of requests. We are here to help you navigate LAC’s holdings, and we thrive on learning new things every day!

Rebecca Murray is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Restaurants now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of the exterior of a restaurant located on a dirt road in a remote area.

Restaurant at Entrance, Alberta [PA-100223]

The growth of restaurants correlates with the growth of cities. As trade routes expanded in ancient China and the Roman Empire, travelling merchants stopped at public eateries, such as inns, for rest and nourishment as they brought their merchandise to cities from the surrounding areas. Within a growing city’s confines, taverns and inns became the principal location for people to find simple local food, drink and shelter.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman carrying a tray with a teapot and cups on it as she exits a restaurant kitchen.

A server at Diana Sweets carries a tray with a teapot and cups out of the kitchen, Toronto, Ontario [PA-068091]

A black-and-white stereoscopic photograph of dozens of waiters standing at two rows of tables with chandeliers overhead, inside the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, Quebec.

Dozens of waiters standing at two rows of tables with chandeliers overhead, Windsor Hotel, Montreal, Quebec [e011093681]

It was not until the mid-18th century in France that luxury and specialized restaurants opened for those who could afford them. These early restaurants offered a greater variety of meat, vegetable and drink options on their menus, prepared in ways that were more elaborate. Other countries followed suit, and restaurant culture flourished throughout Europe and beyond.

A black-and-white photograph of the exterior of Nick's Chicken Barbecue restaurant. A neon sign in the window advertises “Good Food” and “Beer & Wine”.

Nick’s Chicken Barbecue restaurant, Quebec City, Quebec [PA-080674]

Restaurant options are plentiful in Canadian cities today, with cuisine from around the world offered at varying prices.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Sergeant Hugh Cairns, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember the last Canadian soldier of the First World War to receive the Victoria Cross, Sergeant Hugh Cairns, for his bravery at Valenciennes, France.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated soldier in uniform.

Sergeant Hugh Cairns, VC, undated (a006735)

Born in Ashington, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, on December 4, 1896, Hugh Cairns and his family immigrated to Canada and settled in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Cairns was a plumber before the war. Hugh and his older brother Albert Cairns both enlisted on August 2, 1915 and August 11, 1915, respectively, in Saskatoon. They both joined the 65th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), which was absorbed into the 46th Battalion on June 30, 1916 On September 10, 1918, Albert died of head wounds caused by a shell.

Hugh Cairns served in France, proving his determination and resilience as a soldier on several occasions. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on August 25, 1917 as a private. He was promoted to corporal in the summer of 1918, then to sergeant three months later.

A black-and-white photograph of a uniformed soldier, facing away from the camera and standing in the middle of the bricks and rubble of a destroyed building. A cart with a large wheel is on the left.

A Canadian post in Valenciennes, November 1918 (a003355)

Through October and into November 1918, the Canadians continued their assault on the German lines. Despite German efforts to stubbornly defend their retreating lines, the Allies’ persistent offensives resulted in heavy German losses, the capture of thousands of prisoners, as well as dozens of kilometres in ground gained. By November 1, 1918, the Germans were clinging to the city of Valenciennes and maintaining their stronghold near Marly.

The push into Valenciennes from the 46th Battalion’s “A” Company included an assault on a two-platoon frontage with one support platoon. Cairns was leading the support wave platoon. The Canadian barrage opened at 5:15 a.m. and the platoons began to move toward their objectives. After advancing about 500 yards, they were met with heavy machine gun fire from their left. The platoons pushed on, squashing the resistance from the German machine guns, capturing prisoners and weapons along the way.

A black-and-white photograph of abandoned buildings, crumbling and filled with holes. The ground is covered in debris, mud, and rocks. Four soldiers are walking away from the camera, having crossed an expanse on a bridge made of debris.

Canadians entering Valenciennes over an improvised bridge, November, 1918 (a003376)

As the advance inched along, the Company was held up by very heavy machine gun fire. Under a spray of bullets, Cairns and other soldiers moved to outflank the gun. Crawling on their hands and knees, under cover from friendly rapid machine gun fire, the party succeeded in closing in on the battery. They seized 3 field guns, a trench mortar, 7 machine guns, and over 50 prisoners. Cairns went on to lead his men to capture the railway and establish a post.

As Cairns was heading off to examine a nearby factory, a German soldier opened direct fire on him with an automatic rifle from a nearby post. Cairns, wielding a Lewis gun, made a run for the post of German soldiers, and fired. He killed and wounded many German soldiers in his assault as they ran for a nearby courtyard.

A black-and-white photograph of an ornate railway station in the background, crumpled and heaving, with broken windows and missing walls. The ground is cut diagonally with railway tracks, flooded with water, and littered with debris, planks of wood, and assorted rubble.

The flooded railway station at Valenciennes, November, 1918 (a003452)

Later, Cairns and another soldier were patrolling the city when they entered a courtyard and found 50 German soldiers. While in the process of taking them prisoner and confiscating their weapons, a German officer grabbed for his pistol and shot Cairns through the stomach. In retaliation, Cairns opened fire, killing or wounding about 30 German soldiers. The would-be German prisoners, realizing they needed to fight for their lives, descended upon Cairns and opened fire. Cairns was shot through the wrist, but continued to fire his Lewis gun at the enemy. He was again shot through the hand, nearly taking it off, and breaking his Lewis gun. Cairns threw the useless gun in the face of a German soldier who was firing at him, knocking him over. With his remaining strength, Cairns staggered to a gateway and collapsed, where he was carried off by his comrades.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of people standing in front of a building with an open door. Women wearing wide white hats are shaking the hands of soldiers in uniforms. On both ends of the photograph, groups of civilian men and women are smiling into the camera. Someone in the back of the group is holding the French flag.

French nuns and civilians in Valenciennes greet the first Canadians entering the town, November, 1918 (a003578)

Cairns’ heroic maneuvers and self-sacrifice are detailed in the 46th Battalion’s war diaries for November 1918 (pp. 21, 22, 23), where he is mentioned by name throughout the whole account. He is one of several names given special recognition for his actions in Valenciennes. His efforts and bravery helped his company achieve their objectives. By the end of the day, the Canadian Corps captured approximately 1,800 German soldiers and killed more than 800 men. The Canadian losses including Cairns were 80 killed, and approximately 300 wounded.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a white blouse with her arms around a soldier in uniform, kissing his cheek.

French civilian woman kissing a Canadian soldier after the Canadians cleared the Germans out of Valenciennes, November 1918 (a003451)

Cairns died of his wounds on November 2, 1918 and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

Cairns is buried at Auberchicourt British Cemetery in Nord, France.

Several dedications have been made in his memory, honouring his gallantry. The town of Valenciennes renamed one of its main streets to Avenue du Sergent Cairns. His parents travelled to France to attend the civic ceremony held on July 25, 1936. Back in Canada, an elementary school is named after him, Hugh Cairns V. C. School, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The 38 Combat Engineer Regiment armoury in Saskatoon bears his name, Sgt. Hugh Cairns VC Armoury.

His Victoria Cross is on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant Hugh Cairns.

Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Canada’s zombie army

By Andrew Horrall

In the early morning of October 24, 1944, one week before Halloween, Prime Minister Mackenzie King dreamed about close friends. King—who was fascinated by spiritualism—felt that his dream signified “the presence of relations interested in matters pertaining to myself, and wishing to let their presence be known” (WLMK diary, October 24, 1944, p. 1). During that day, King noticed further signs of otherworldly guidance, as he tried to resolve an issue that was splitting his government and the country.

At the start of the Second World War in 1939, King had promised not to introduce conscription, but now Canada’s army in Europe desperately needed reinforcements. King spent the afternoon chairing a heated discussion in Cabinet about whether to force young men into the military. He was especially annoyed when Thomas Crerar, the Minister of Mines and Resources, insisted that “Zombies ought to be sent overseas” to help end the war (WLMK diary, October 24, 1944, p. 8).

A colour poster of a smiling soldier with the caption: Come On, pal ... ENLIST!

“Come On, pal … ENLIST!” recruiting poster, ca. 1942 (c087427k)

Modern readers might ask themselves, did the government debate sending one-time humans, transformed by infection into cannibalistic undead monsters, into battle? The answer is no. The Cabinet discussion reflected how wartime tensions had transformed the relatively uncommon term “zombie” into a popular Canadian colloquial expression.

Zombies appear in many contemporary movies, comics, books and television programs; however, in the 1940s, zombies were much more obscure and still firmly rooted in Haitian folklore as mindless, mute automatons raised from the dead to perform manual tasks. Most North Americans first heard about zombies in a bestselling 1929 book, The Magic Island, whose author claimed to have met actual zombies in Haiti. Hollywood adapted the book three years later into the first zombie movie: White Zombie. Bartenders also began mixing the “zombie,” a potent rum cocktail whose stupefying effects put people in mind of the addled creature.

The story of zombies in the Canadian army is more complicated. At the start of the war in September 1939, King pledged that he would not introduce conscription for overseas military service. The issue had split the country in 1917, and it threatened to do so once again. Volunteers were instead asked whether they agreed to fight overseas. In 1940, the National Resources Mobilization Act gave the government the power to conscript men, but only for service within Canada. Individuals still had to declare their willingness to become General Service, or “GS” men. Tensions between the two groups—the GS men and those who refused to serve overseas—soon became apparent at basic training stations throughout Canada. GS men derided those who had elected to serve in Canada as “Maple Leaf Wonders” for not accepting dangerous front-line posts. After completing their training, many GS men proceeded overseas, while those who remained at home undertook administrative
tasks and guarded Canada’s coasts.

A colour photograph of three men climbing over a wooden fence clad in helmets, short-sleeved shirts, shorts, and socks and boots, and carrying rifles.

Troops in basic training, Lansdowne Park, Ottawa (e010778708)

Ongoing political, social and military tensions about conscription resulted in a national plebiscite in April 1942, in which English Canadians voted to give the government the power to force men to fight, while French Canadians opposed the idea in equal numbers. The deep divisions were apparent to King, who tried to chart a middle ground under the slogan “conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.”

A black-and-white photograph of a man standing at a lectern that is wrapped in the Union Jack, in front of a large audience of workers. Policemen are in the first row.

James S. Duncan, President and General Manager of the Massey-Harris Company, urging workers to vote in favour of conscription in the forthcoming national plebiscite, 1942 (a164429)

By early 1943, men who refused to fight overseas were being ridiculed as “zombies” by GS men, women in uniform and the public at large. It is not clear when the insult was first used to depict these men as cowardly, passive and unable to think for themselves. The image was reinforced by English-Canadian newspapers and magazines, which reported on how zombies were the target of jokes and were linked to supposedly subversive elements in Canadian society, and how women refused to date zombies. A photograph in the Toronto Star in January 1943, showing a group of shipyard workers who had painted zombie faces on their welding masks, suggests that some men were proud of their decision not to fight and embraced the supposedly degrading term (“Shots behind scenes in Canada’s war factories,” Toronto Star [January 13, 1943], p. 17).

The idea of zombies was seared into the Canadian imagination in July 1943 by reports about a riot at a Calgary military base. Fighting broke out there after GS men taunted those who refused to serve overseas with “Salute to a Zombie,” a song that appears to have been commonly heard across Canada. The copy sent to Colonel J.L. Ralston, the Minister of National Defence, who strongly advocated sending zombies overseas, is preserved at Library and Archives Canada.

A typed poem with a rubber stamp marking on the side and some handwritten text on the bottom.

“Salute to a Zombie,” RG24, vol. 2197, file HQ 54-27-63-38

By the time King chaired the Cabinet meeting a week before Halloween in 1944, he faced intense pressure from ministers, military commanders and large sections of the public to send zombies into combat, because Canadian army casualties could no longer be replaced by volunteers alone. King resisted until November, when he decided to compel some 17,000 zombies to go overseas, causing a wave of desertions and a short-lived mutiny in British Columbia. In the end, about 2,500 zombies fought in Europe, where 69 of these soldiers died.

A generation of Canadians, mostly in English Canada, associated zombies with bitter social divisions caused by the Second World War. The term’s modern meaning and the creature’s prominent status in popular culture dates to the release of the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.

Andrew Horrall is a senior archivist in the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.