Guest curator: Nicoletta Michienzi

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.


Cover from a Canada West immigration atlas published by the Department of Immigration, ca. 1923

A colour atlas cover showing a blonde woman in a white Grecian-like robe holding open a curtain of golden grain to reveal a busy farming scene complete with green and gold fields, farmhouses, barns and cattle.

Cover from a Canada West immigration atlas published by the Department of Immigration, ca. 1923 (MIKAN 183827)

Behind golden curtains of grain, we see an idealized—and inaccurate—vision of Canada. Mythologizing was common in immigration advertising. At the time, the west was just not as modern or developed as shown here.


Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in London, Ontario as part of a close-knit Italian-Canadian family. My family’s stories about my culture inspired me to become passionate about the history of Italy.

As a result, I have travelled Italy and other parts of Europe on several occasions, and try to travel whenever I can. I had the privilege of travelling to England for school. While there, I participated in an archaeological dig along Hadrian’s Wall, and during my spare time, I was able to visit parts of northern England and Scotland. I have also travelled Europe with family and friends. During my travels, I always make an effort to visit as many historical and cultural institutions as I can. Visiting these sorts of places is interesting, as it shows you what society values.

My next travel mission is to try to see more of Canada. While I have done quite a bit of travelling outside of North America, I have never taken the time to see my country. I hope that with Canada’s sesquicentennial I will have an opportunity to look more at my country and see what sorts of things we value as Canadians.

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

This Canada West cover is a terrific example of Canadian immigration posters from the 20th century. The Canadian Department of Immigration had begun an aggressive advertising campaign in the late 19th century hoping to attract immigrants to the sparsely populated Western provinces.

A colour poster showing a landscape with green fields and mountains with two men standing in the foreground on opposite sides of a river. One has an American flag at his feet while the other holds the Union Jack and has a cornucopia at his feet; he is beckoning the American to come to Canada. Underneath are the departure and arrival locations and dates as well as the price ($12) for the journey.

Promotional immigration poster “40,000 Men Needed in Western Canada” (MIKAN 2837964)

Canada and the British government originally sought to recruit English-speaking immigrants, with many advertisements circulated around the British Isles and the United States. The Department of Immigration did eventually diversify, but in the beginning still focused on white European countries as main sources for immigration. The Netherlands, Germany, and Austria-Hungary were the main targets of immigration campaigns, with text translated from English to other languages. The poster below is an example of promoting Manitoba as a viable area to settle Dutch immigrants.

A colour poster showing giant hands pointing to little vignettes of the different cities in Canada: Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver against a light green background bordered by green and red stripes. The text is in Dutch and advertises the available land and the length of the journey by boat (10 days from Holland).

Immigration poster “Lees Dit!” [Read this!] advertising Manitoba to Dutch immigrants, ca. 1890 (MIKAN 2837963)

The Canada West cover is part of a larger tradition that used the ideal of land opportunity, abundance and farming as an idyllic lifestyle to attract newcomers to Canada. The focus was to promote Canada’s natural resource as a lifestyle for people who were not landowners in their home countries. Attractive images of wheat fields, cornucopias, and picturesque farming communities were made to sell Canada as a peaceful country full of opportunities, though the art idealized the reality. Atlases like this one also contained pages worth of information on Canada with maps of the western provinces. The information included was to further showcase Canada as a country where land and resources were readily available. Canada West was heavily distributed by the Department of Immigration all over the United States and mainland Europe.

Though these simplistic campaigns seem ineffective now, the Canadian Department of Immigration was successful. By 1911 immigration numbers were around 331, 288 per year. After the First World War, the numbers jumped to over 400,000 per year. Imaged-based advertisements, and the notion of Canada as a land of abundance were successful. These early endorsements sold Canada to people who identified as something other than Canadian. Though the images depicted in the propaganda, were not always realistic, they portrayed Canada as a land of opportunity and abundance.

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

Canadian immigration and advertising has evolved substantially since the early 20th century. Our ideas of who is an immigrant, and why people choose to come to Canada has changed. How we document immigration has also changed. Technology such as photography and videography have been used to record immigration stories in the modern period.

Library and Archives Canada has an amazing collection of contemporary photographs of immigrants ranging from the late 19th century to the present. These images often depict a different immigrant experience. Photos in the archives show that our immigration policies had a global impact. Many of the immigrants who arrived in Canada would not only work in rural areas, but in urban centers and have an impact on the way Canada has formed. Presently, Library and Archives Canada is working on adding more photos to their collection, highlighting the different materials in their collections. More modern photos like those in the exhibition join older photos like those shown here.

A black-and-white photograph of groups of immigrants on a train platform wearing a variety of clothing from traditional Indian garb with turbans to European styles of clothing. Behind them is the railway station, a small hut with the town’s name on the roof. The mountain rises behind the station, and a young boy stands on the tracks.

Group including Indian immigrants on platform of Canadian Pacific Railway station, Frank, Alberta. ca. 1903 (MIKAN 3367767)

A small black-and-white photograph of a man and woman on either side of a hay bale. A description of the family includes their family name, where they came from, how they arrived, where they live, and a short description of their farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Friedrich Pahl on their farm, Romanian immigrants who arrived May 13, 1927, aboard the S.S. Estonia, Baltic-America Steamship Line (MIKAN 3516853)

Library and Archives Canada also has a collection of videos and oral histories related to the immigrant experience. This collection includes videos on the history of Pier 21, one of the largest immigration points in Canada. These video testimonies show the changes in immigration trends, and how the idea of Canada is continually evolving. While we no longer see Canada as an expanse of open field, the idea behind immigration to Canada is the same. Canada is a land of opportunity for global people, and like our earlier poster, Canada is available for immigrants.

Biography

Nicoletta Michienzi has completed an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario with an Honors Specialization in History and a Major in Classical Studies. During her degree, she participated in an archaeological dig in the north of England and was able to see the effects of tourism on historic sites. She continued her education at Western, completing a Master’s degree in Public History. Since graduation she has been employed by various historical institutions in London, Ontario. She is currently working as the Public Programmer at the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum and as a Historical Interpreter at Eldon House. At the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum, she organizes and conducts tours, educating the public about London’s military history and its connection to global conflict. At Eldon House, she interacts with tourists and helps conduct education programs about London’s oldest heritage home. At both institutions, she focuses on visitor services and educating the public, hopefully making visitors enthusiastic about the history of their community and their country.

Related Resources

Francis, Daniel. Selling Canada: Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation. Vancouver: Stanton Atkins & Dosil Publishers, c.2011.

A diplomat, a Prime Minister, and a scholar: remembering Lester B. Pearson

By Mariam Lafrenie

It goes without saying that the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson achieved much in his life. Whether you look at his success politically, academically or even athletically—Pearson always excelled. Although Pearson served as Canada’s 19th prime minister, his legacy and indeed his influence began long before his prime ministership: as chairman of the NATO council (1951), as President of the United Nations General Assembly (1952), and as a Nobel Peace prizewinner (1957).

“Nevertheless, [Pearson’s] five-year legacy is very impressive: a new flag, the Canada Pension Plan, universal medicare, a new immigration act, a fund for rural economic development, and the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism which led to the foundation of a bilingual civil service.”

Excerpt from First Among Equals

A black-and-white photograph of a formally dressed couple. The man is holding a box with a medallion.

Lester B. Pearson and his wife, Maryon at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony, Oslo, Norway, December 1957. Photograph by Duncan Cameron (MIKAN 3209893)

A black-and-white photograph of a man standing up and addressing a room of people.

Lester B. Pearson, at the United Nations Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, Calif., USA, 1945 (MIKAN 3193176)

Rising quickly through the ranks and moving from one portfolio to another, Pearson proved himself a worthy and talented diplomat. After a 20-year career in External Affairs, his success did not end there, but followed him throughout the next decade as leader of the Liberal Party (1958-1968). Without a doubt, some of his most exciting—if not his most significant achievements—came during his time as Prime Minister.

A flag for Canada

The quest for a Canadian flag—one that represented everything that Canada had become in the last century and all that Pearson hoped it could become—was fraught with bitter debate and controversy. Indeed, as many may recall, “The Great Flag Debate” raged for the better part of 1964 and saw the submission of approximately 3,000 designs by Canadians young and old.

“Under this flag may our youth find new inspiration for loyalty to Canada; for a patriotism based not on any mean or narrow nationalism, but on the deep and equal pride that all Canadians will feel for every part of this good land.”

Address on the inauguration of the National Flag of Canada, February 15, 1965

These words, spoken by Lester B. Pearson during the inaugural ceremony of the Red Maple Leaf flag on February 15, 1965 at Parliament Hill, highlight precisely what he aspired to achieve—a uniquely Canadian identity. Few prime ministers can attest to leaving a legacy so great as to have forged an entirely new cultural symbol for their country.

A black-and-white photograph of a man holding an illustration of the Canadian flag.

Lester B. Pearson’s press conference regarding the new flag, December 1964. Photograph by Duncan Cameron (MIKAN 3199509)

A year of celebration

Not only was Pearson responsible for championing a new Canadian flag, but he was also lucky enough to remain in office during Canada’s centennial year. In his Dominion Day speech on July 1, 1967, Pearson called on Canadians to celebrate their past and their achievements, but also encouraged them to think of the future and of the legacy that they could leave for the next generation of Canadians. Much like this year, when we celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation and were encouraged to think of our future as a nation, 1967 was also a year filled with celebrations.

The aim of the centennial celebrations were twofold: to create memorable events and activities for all Canadians and to create a tangible legacy that current and future generations could enjoy. In fact, both the provincial and federal governments encouraged Canadians to celebrate by creating their own centennial projects—films, parades and festivals, tattoos, recreation centres, stadiums, etc.—and agreed to match their spending. One of the most memorable celebrations was that of the 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, as it was nicknamed. Open from April 27 to October 29, Expo 67 is considered one of the most successful World’s Fairs and one of Canada’s landmark moments.

A colour photograph of a group of men standing in front of an enlarged map of New France.

Expo 67’s opening day with its General Commissioner Pierre Dupuy, Governor General of Canada Roland Michener, Prime Minister of Canada Lester Bowles Pearson, Premier of Québec Daniel Johnson and Mayor of Montréal Jean Drapeau (MIKAN 3198338)

For many Canadians, 1967 characterized the peak of nostalgia and indeed a year filled with optimism. With this optimism and increased governmental spending, Pearson’s popularity boomed and further solidified his accomplishments as prime minister and widespread support for the Liberal Party amongst Canadians.

Conclusion

Forty-five years ago, on December 27, 1972, after a long and successful political career, Lester B. Pearson passed away. His passing struck a chord with many Canadians as more than 1,200 people attended his funeral service to pay their last respects. Pearson’s legacy and indeed his name are still present today in the numerous awards and buildings named in his honour. Paving the way for what many Canadians and the international community alike have come to love about Canada, Pearson can be said to have shaped and indeed laid the foundation for the Canada we know today.

A black-and-white photo of man standing under an interesting architectural building.

Prime Minister of Canada Lester Bowles Pearson in front of the Katimavik at Expo 67 (MIKAN 3198467)

The Lester B. Pearson fonds preserved by Library and Archives Canada consists of 435.71 meters of textual records, over 3,500 photographs, 315 audio recordings on various formats, 3 films totalling 47 minutes, 54 items of documentary art, and 98 medals.

Related links


Mariam Lafrenie is an undergraduate student research fellow from Queen’s University who worked in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada during the summer of 2017.

Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “A Look inside the Preservation Centre

A colour photograph of a large modern building made out of glass with metal pillars.Ever wonder where Library and Archives Canada stores, protects and preserves Canada’s diverse and rich documentary heritage? Join us for this episode as we take you on a walking tour of LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec. This state-of-the-art facility is the crown jewel of documentary heritage preservation in Canada and we are celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017. In this episode, we will guide you through the Preservation Centre, discussing its award-winning architecture and offering insight into how we store and preserve our national treasures.

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

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

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

The beginning of Canada: Through the eyes of Lady Susan Macdonald

By Ayla Maud

“Behind every great man, is a great woman.” Or at least that is how the old saying goes. But how often do we get the opportunity to really know these great women? We see them standing next to their successful partners, but do we ever know what they contribute behind the scenes? This summer Library and Archives Canada created an opportunity to get into the mind of one great woman in particular—Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald (née Susan Agnes Bernard).

Susan Bernard married Sir John Alexander Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada (or the Dominion of Canada, as it was known at the time), in 1867. Five days after Sir Macdonald’s inauguration, his wife began documenting their new life. The very diary Susan Macdonald used was digitized this summer, in commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, and made available online for the public to transcribe. In addition to providing a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to take on an elite title, Lady Macdonald shares some of her insights into how the Dominion of Canada was formed. She gives a first-hand account of key historical moments that many of us have since learned about in school.

A journal entry written in cursive with ink.

A hand-written page showing the first entry in Lady Susan Macdonald’s diary, dated Friday, July 5, 1867 (MIKAN 122166)

One of the first things we notice as Lady Macdonald begins to share her thoughts and experiences is the love she had for her husband. Multiple entries gush about Sir John’s patience, love and ability to always put his best foot forward. Susan Macdonald was a strong supporter of her husband, in terms of both his career and character. Her love led her to join him on many confederate-related work missions, socials, voyages and more.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman who is looking slightly off to the left. Her hair is parted down the center, tied back away from her face, and she is wearing an off-the-shoulder evening dress.

Macdonald of Earnscliffe, Agnes Macdonald, Baroness. Photographed by William Topley, September 1873 (MIKAN 3194713)

Due to her strong interest in her husband’s political life, Susan Macdonald was able to witness multiple events that are taught as pivotal points in many history classes today. One example is a series of entries that follows the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Father of Confederation, and the subsequent trial. Lady Susan’s writing gives insight into the details of McGee’s death (for instance, that he was killed while unlocking his front door after coming home one night), the thinking among the populace at the time, and the process of collecting evidence against suspected killer Patrick Whelan.

Susan Agnes Macdonald’s diary gives readers the opportunity to time-travel back to the late 1860s and bear witness (although from one person’s perspective) to a segment of early Canadian society. It was not just by sharing public opinion regarding specific events that Lady Macdonald painted an image of her life for future generations to discover; it was also in the way she described Ottawa at each time of the year, enabling us to compare it to the city we know today. She shares details of meals eaten and customs followed, some of which may be very different from current practices. The theme of religious faith recurs often throughout Susan Macdonald’s pages. Whether she was writing about going to a church service or documenting prayers she hoped would be answered, every few entries highlight moments in her and her husband’s spiritual lives.

A watercolour painting depicts an orange sailboat in the water near a beach. There are slight waves along the shore. Behind the sailboat is a cliff that descends into a valley. The painting uses a palette of orange, brown, green and blue.

A watercolour painted by Lady Susan Macdonald, undated (MIKAN 161120)

It is possible to relate to some of Lady Macdonald’s diary entries describing the stresses of her new responsibilities as the Prime Minister’s wife. Just as you or I might experience the pressures of a new chapter in our lives, she describes being nervous or fearful that she does not know what she is doing. At one point, she describes herself as “a novice” in her new life.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman wearing a long, dark-coloured dress. Her hair is white and is pulled back into a bun.

Macdonald of Earnscliffe, Agnes Macdonald, Baroness, photograph taken by William Topley, undated (MIKAN 3192012)

The transcription of Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald’s diaries is now complete, but the digitized diary is still available online. It gives insight into not only the type of woman Mrs. Macdonald was, but also the type of world Canada was as it first began.


Ayla Maud is a student archival assistant with Regional Services and the ATIP Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

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

As of today, 532,447 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 9059 and last name Smith.

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.

Guest curator: Katie Cholette

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.


Red and black Norwegian text on a cream background awards the prize to Lester Bowles Pearson. Text is topped by a red lion holding an axe on a blue mountain bordered by blue waves with a circled star at the top.

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Lester B. Pearson for his role in establishing United Nations Peacekeeping, 1957. Designed by Gerhard Munthe for the Nobel Committee (MIKAN 4900031)

Former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s idea for a neutral military force, to help stabilize conflict zones, earned him the Nobel Prize. Most Canadians now regard peacekeeping as uniquely ours.


Tell us about yourself

I have always had an interest in graphic design. My first career was as a graphic artist and typesetter. I eventually found my way into art history, teaching and now archival work. Although I work primarily with textual documents these days, I am frequently delighted by the array of aesthetically pleasing items in LAC’s collection.

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

Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Prize for his role in negotiating a peaceful resolution to the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. The crisis erupted when Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser seized and nationalized the Suez Canal (then jointly owned by France and Great Britain), a move that threatened the supply of oil to Europe. In retaliation, France, Great Britain and Israel secretly collaborated to attack the Sinai Peninsula. The United States and the Soviet Union subsequently became embroiled in the conflict, with the Soviet Union threatening to use nuclear weapons against the assailants. Pearson, at the time Secretary of State for External Affairs and head of Canada’s delegation at the United Nations, stepped in and helped establish the United Nations Emergency Force, which was instrumental in de-escalating the conflict.

At the presentation ceremony on December 10, 1957, in Oslo, Norway, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Gunnar Jahn, stated that the prize was being awarded to Pearson because of “the powerful initiative, strength, and perseverance he has displayed in attempting to prevent or limit war operations and to restore peace in situations where quick, tactful, and wise action has been necessary to prevent unrest from spreading and developing into a worldwide conflagration.”

Although Pearson was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1957, the design of the certificate dates from the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to hand-drawn calligraphy, it features a lithograph designed by Gerhard Munthe in 1901, the year the Nobel Peace Prize was first awarded. A Norwegian painter, decorative artist and illustrator, Munthe took many of his artistic motifs from his native Norway. He worked in the National Romantic Style, the Scandinavian version of Art Nouveau in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This style, which was a reaction against industrialism, promoted ideas of northern nationalism based on the renewal of interest in Norse mythology and sagas. The illustration at the top of the certificate shows a lion holding an axe, a symbol of power and courage that appeared in Norwegian folk art as far back as the 13th century. The motif also appears on the coat of arms of Norway. Atop a decorative frieze of stylized fir trees, the lion stands proudly in a wild northern landscape. Northern lights swirl above his head, and the image is surmounted by the North Star. Although the overall design is delicately rendered and restrained, it is nevertheless a powerfully evocative image.

Detail of the certificate showing a red lion holding an axe on a blue mountain bordered by blue waves and a star in a circle.

Detail of Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize showing the lion on the certificate  (MIKAN 4900031)

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

Pearson wearing a suit with a bow tie and holding a pencil in his upraised hand.

Lester B. Pearson holding a pencil. Photo taken August 11, 1944. (MIKAN 3607934)

A smiling man speaking with another man against a curtained window with the drapes drawn back. Both men are wearing suits and ties.

Anthony Eden. Photo by the Alexandra Studio. (MIKAN 3215249)

I was particularly struck by a photograph that shows Lester B. Pearson with another of the key players in the Suez Crisis: British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden. Duncan Cameron, an Ottawa photographer from Capital Press Limited (and the only Canadian contract photographer for Time Life Inc.), snapped the photo of Pearson and Eden outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on February 6, 1956. Eden, who had known Pearson since the 1930s, was visiting Canada and had just given a speech to the House of Commons. A long-time politician known for his skill in public affairs, Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1955. In the photograph, the two men appear relaxed and happy; there is no premonition that a rift would develop between Canada and Great Britain a few months later, after Eden collaborated with France and Israel to invade Egypt. While Pearson went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, become Canada’s 14th prime minister, and gain a reputation for international diplomacy, Eden’s popularity took a nosedive, and as he was in ill health, he resigned in February 1957. Interesting side note: the photographer, Duncan Cameron, would eventually join the Public Archives of Canada, where he became Photo Custodian of the National Photographic Collection. LAC holds his fonds, which consists of 175,000 prints, negatives and slides.

Biography

Katie Cholette is an archivist in the Governance and Political Archives section. She is currently working in the private military and non-LAC Act institutions areas. Katie has a BA in Art History, an MA in Canadian Art History, and a PhD in Canadian Studies. She has previously worked as the Curator of Acquisitions and Research and the Curator of Exhibitions at the Portrait Gallery of Canada (2007–2008; 2011), held two Research Fellowships in Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada (2006; 2012–2013), and taught courses in Art History and Canadian Studies and at the College of the Humanities at Carleton University (2003 to present). She has delivered papers and published articles on various aspects of art, architecture, culture and identity, and has worked on a number of freelance curatorial and research projects. As a student at Carleton, she was a regular patron of Mike’s Place, the graduate student pub named in Lester B. Pearson’s honour.

Portraits on Metal: Tintypes from Library and Archives Canada – an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

By Jennifer Roger

The tintype process was introduced in 1855 and quickly became one of the most popular ways for people to access and experience photography.

Tintypes are direct positive images, meaning they have no negatives. Created on a thin sheet of iron that is coated in a dark lacquer or enamel and layered with a collodion emulsion, tintypes are one of the most durable photographic processes. Prevalent in both museum and personal collections, they are compelling records of 19th-century life.

Much more affordable than a daguerreotype, tintypes became the medium of choice for people seeking to have their portrait made. Portrait studios offered tintypes for mere pennies. Their ease of processing created more portability, allowing mobile studios to flourish and expand their services to outdoor fairs or tourist destinations. Tintypes were used to record many outdoor scenes and events. The new medium offered the public an accessible option for capturing likenesses, and it became a catalyst in the acceptance of photography into popular culture.

A hand-tinted, black-and-white portrait of a seated woman.

Portrait of a woman, possibly a member of the Boivin family, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3262334)

Because of their affordability and ease of production, tintypes were appealing to the middle and working classes. The move from the controlled environment of the studio to the outdoors led to a proliferation of never-before photographed scenes of 19th-century life, including people at work, street scenes, buildings and structures, and even battle scenes.

A black-and-white photograph of five men assembling wooden boxes inside a mill.

Interior of a mill, showing men assembling cheese boxes, Maberly, Ontario, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3316695)

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada features a selection of these intriguing objects. Drawn from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, these tintype portraits were created both inside and outside the studio and offer glimpses of life in 19th-century Canada.

The exhibition features several studio portraits, such as one of an unidentified woman posing in front of a Niagara Falls backdrop. Backdrops and studio props were widely used in 19th-century portrait studios, not only for aesthetic reasons but also as a method of self-expression.

Niagara Falls was one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the 19th century, so when used as a backdrop, it could have served as an expression of prestige or of personal interest in the attraction. If one could not personally travel to the site, a backdrop could be the next best thing. Backdrops can also provide clues as to the identity of the photographic studio.

A black-and-white studio portrait of an unidentified woman standing next to a fence with a scene of Niagara Falls in the background.

A studio portrait of an unidentified woman standing next to a fence with a scene of Niagara Falls as the backdrop, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3210905)

People often posed with personal items that were of sentimental value or professional significance, as a way to convey who they were or express what was important to them. Sitters chose items that they felt characterized them, such as tools of their trade, musical instruments and photography equipment. Known as “occupational” portraits, these images are revealing and intimate records of past identities.

A black-and-white portrait of two young men seated. One is holding a violin and the other is holding a cello.

Two young men seated, one is holding a violin and the other is holding a cello, mid 19th century (MIKAN 3262290)

For more examples of these intriguing tintype portraits, visit Portraits on Metal: Tintypes from Library and Archives Canada on display within the Canadian Indigenous Galleries at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from December 12, 2017 to July 6, 2018.


Jennifer Roger is a Curator in the Exhibition and Loans section at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Japanese-Canadians from the Second World War now on Flickr

Timeline:

December 7, 1941—Japan attacks Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, United States of America. Japanese forces also invade Hong Kong, Malaysia and surrounding areas, opening up the Pacific Front of the Second World War.

December 8, 1941—Canada invokes the War Measures Act and declares Japanese-Canadians and recent immigrants as enemy aliens to strip them of individual and property rights. Over 1,200 fishing boats owned by Japanese-Canadian fishermen are confiscated off the coast of British Columbia as a defensive measure against Japan’s war efforts on the Pacific Front.

A black-and-white photograph of six Japanese-Canadian fishing boats confiscated three days after Pearl Harbor and tied to a larger vessel.

Fishermen’s Reserve rounding up six Japanese-Canadian fishing vessels, British Columbia (MIKAN 3191747)

January 14, 1942—Canada orders the round up of Japanese-Canadian males aged 18–45 for relocation to the interior of British Columbia. Personal property, such as homes and cars are seized and sold to help pay for the camps. No one can have radios, buy gasoline, or fish during the war. People detained after the 14th are sent to internment camps in Alberta.

black-and-white photograph of three Japanese-Canadian men loading a rail car destined for an internment camp in the British Columbia interior.

Japanese-Canadian men load a train travelling to camps in the interior of British Columbia (MIKAN 3193863)

February 24, 1942—Whole-scale internment of people of Japanese descent starts. In total, 21,000 Japanese-Canadians and recent immigrants become internees at camps. Restrictions on rights and freedoms increase as the war drags on.

A black-and-white photograph of many Japanese-Canadian families at a staging area being loaded on the backs of trucks for relocation to an internment camp in the British Columbia interior.

Japanese-Canadians load into the back of trucks for relocation to camps in the interior of British Columbia (MIKAN 3193859)

September 2, 1945 to April 1, 1949—After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Japanese-Canadians are forced to remain at internment camps, or areas away from Canada’s coastal regions until 1949. There are some offers by the Canadian Government to repatriate individuals and families back to Japan, along with some exemptions on movement. Eventually all restrictions on movement are lifted. Japanese-Canadians can return to the coastal areas of British Columbia. No compensation is available for property seized or for forced internment.

A black-and-white photograph of Japanese-Canadian families buying supplies in an internment camp store in Slocan City, British Columbia, observed by a Caucasian man wearing an armband.

Japanese-Canadians buy supplies at the internment camp store, Slocan City, British Columbia (MIKAN 3193855)

September 22, 1988—Thirty-nine years of lobbying by Japanese-Canadians affected by the actions enforced under the War Measures Act during the Second World War result in an official apology and compensation package for families from the Canadian Government.

Visit the Flickr album now!

“Incited to Potlatch”

By Sevda Sparks

A potlatch is a ceremonial gift-giving feast practiced by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the United States. The Canadian government’s potlach ban began in 1885, and underwent many amendments to strengthen it until its removal in 1951. Library and Archives Canada’s holdings include a wealth of material on the potlatch, including many letters and petitions on the suppression of the custom as well as efforts to continue it. Of special interest is the correspondence of Kwakwakawakw Chief Billy Assu, Indian Agent William Halliday, and British Columbia Chief Justice Matthew Begbie.

A black-and-white photograph of a streetscape with potlatch participants and items to be given away.

Potlatch, Alert Bay, British Columbia, June 1907 (MIKAN 3368269)

In the midst of the potlatch ban, Chief Billy Assu wrote to the deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs, J. D. MacLean, in 1919, explaining the potlach or “our old custom of giving away.” In describing the roots of the celebration, and the desire to retain it, Assu stated:

“We all know that things are changing. In the old days, the only things that counted were such things as food, dried fish, roots, berries, and things of that nature. A chief in those days would get possession of all these things and would pass them on to those who had not got any… ”

The potlach was a way to hold onto important cultural customs despite the changing times. Assu also commented more broadly on the potlatch in indigenous society:

“…some were trained to make canoes, some to hunt, some to catch fish, some to dry fish, some to get material to make our clothes, then we divided this up amongst the others. This was the beginning of our feast of giving away.”

Section 149 of the Indian Act, which banned the potlach, was a challenge to enforce, both practically and legally. It was difficult to determine exactly what the potlatch was, under the law, and to prove when it was happening. In 1889, Chief Justice Begbie found the legislation on the potlatch to be lacking when it came to sentencing, stating:

 “…if the legislature had intended to prohibit any meeting announced by the name of “potlatch” they should have said so. But if it be desired to create a new offence previously unknown to the law there ought to be some definition of it in the statute.”

The law was amended in 1895, and agents were particularly determined to prosecute those who were “incited to potlatch”, despite the lack of legal evidence in some cases, as demonstrated by William Halliday, agent to assistant deputy and secretary J. D. McLean in Ottawa. The methods of curtailing the potlach extended to holding meetings between agents and First Nations leaders, so that the agents could “read to them the specific article…and give reasons why the potlach should be condemned and done away with.” Agents deemed the tradition wasteful, leaving nations “near penury.”

After such a meeting, agent Halliday states:

“Yesterday and today they have been to a certain extent violating that section as they have been holding mourning ceremonies, part of which consists in singing mourning songs and part in receiving gifts from the surviving relatives, but I have not interfered with them in any way.”

Such accounts from agents and other departmental officials illustrate an attempt to monitor, control and suppress basic aspects of First Nations culture, even beyond the potlatch itself. This continued despite efforts by indigenous leaders to explain indigenous lifestyle and customs to government officials.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of potlatch participants with items to be given away.

Potlatch, 1907 (MIKAN 3572940)

The great contrast among Chief Assu’s letter, Justice Begbie’s remarks and Agent Halliday’s account allows for a more complete understanding of the potlatch ban issue. Assu’s letter is straightforward in describing the potlatch and its importance. Begbie’s comments speak to the challenges in attempting to use legislation to control cultural practices. Halliday’s account provides insight into the mindset and practices of the Canadian government at the time. Having access to these multiple perspectives highlights the importance of archival records in researching complex historical issues.

Additional resources


Sveda Sparks worked at Library and Archives Canada’s Vancouver public service point in the summer of 2017 as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).

 

The Halifax Explosion: Records at Library and Archives Canada

By Valerie Casbourn

On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships, the Imo and the Mont-Blanc, collided in the Narrows of Halifax Harbour. The Mont-Blanc was a munitions ship on its way to join a convoy sailing to war-torn Europe. The cargo of the Mont-Blanc caught fire, and after burning for 20 minutes, the ship exploded. The blast ripped through the city killing almost 2,000 people, injuring thousands more and causing widespread devastation in Halifax, Dartmouth, and the Mi’kmaq community of Turtle Grove. The “Halifax Explosion” as it became known, brought the danger and destruction of the First World War home to Canada, and left an indelible mark on the city of Halifax.

A black-and-white photograph of several people walking down a street with destroyed buildings on both sides.

Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. The building on the left was the Hillis & Sons Foundry. (MIKAN 3193301)

Guides to Records about the Halifax Explosion

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds various records that tell part of the story of the Halifax Explosion, its aftermath, and the relief work and investigations following the disaster. The first place to look is LAC’s thematic guide, Halifax Explosion. Some of the records listed in the guide are available on digitized microfilm reels on the Héritage website. Other records are available for onsite consultation at LAC.

The guide primarily lists records about the disaster and its aftermath kept by the Canadian federal government. This includes records such as the formal investigation into the collision of the Imo and the Mont-Blanc conducted by the Dominion Wreck Commissioner (RG42, Vol. 596 and RG42, Vol. 597). There is also correspondence of the wartime Chief Press Censor, Ernest J. Chambers (RG6, Vol. 621, File 350, Microfilm reel T-102) that documents both the urgent need to report news of the disaster accurately, but not to reveal any information about the defences of Halifax Harbour.

Image of a telegram that reads: “3:45 p.m. Telegram sent to Geo. D. Perry? Gen. Mgr. G.N.W. Telegraph Co, Toronto, Ont. Telegram sent to J. McMillan, Mgr. C.P. Ry. Telegraphs, Montreal. Ottawa, Ont., December 6, 1917. In view of contradictory reports abroad regarding Halifax explosion I hope everything possible is being done to facilitate a transmission of all press reports. This most desirable from a national point of view. Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor.”

from Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor, to G.N.W. Telegraph Co. and C.P. Ry. Telegraphs (T-102, Image 119)

Image of a telegram that reads: “Ottawa, December 7, 1917. C.O. Knowles, Toronto. In connection with reports of Halifax disaster it is important that nothing be published revealing information as to defences, strength and disposition of garrison, etc. Neither should details be given as to naval and transport activities at the port during war. No photographs of Halifax or vicinity taken since commencement of war should be published. Desirable that special correspondents despatched to Halifax inform themselves as to local censorship requirements. Ernest J. Chambers.”

from Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor, to C.O. Knowles, Canadian Press Limited. (T-102, Image 136)

If you are looking for images, try LAC’s Flickr album of digitized photographs taken after the Halifax Explosion. LAC also has a more detailed description of the explosion at First World War: Tragedy on the Home Front.

A black-and-white photograph showing a line of people digging through the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. (MIKAN 3193299)

How to Search for More Records

You can find more records related to the Halifax Explosion by searching the Archives database for the keywords Halifax AND explosion OR disaster; or try searching for other keywords related to the disaster. You can then limit your search results by date, or by the type of material (i.e., photographs or textual material).

The records at LAC come from the Canadian federal government and from private individuals and organizations. Some records are available online, and others are available for onsite consultation by visiting in person, or by ordering reproductions.

Correspondence about the Halifax Explosion: Sir Robert Borden fonds

There are far too many different records about the Halifax Explosion to mention them all here, but correspondence in the Sir Robert Borden fonds (MG26-H) tells one small part of the story. Sir Robert Borden was the Prime Minister of Canada and the Member of Parliament for Halifax at the time of the explosion, and his papers include telegram messages giving news of the disaster, messages of sympathy for the people of Halifax, offers of assistance, and more.

To find records about the Halifax Explosion in the Sir Robert Borden fonds, search the Archives database for the keywords MG26-H AND Halifax AND explosion. You can also review the finding aids for the Borden fonds, available as PDF documents in the “Finding aid” section of the fonds description (scroll down).

Much of the correspondence related to the explosion is in the file “Halifax Disaster 1917–1918” (MG26-H, Vols. 89–90, Pages 46309–47016, microfilm reel C-4325, which is available on the Héritage website, starting at image 301).

A Great North Western Telegraph Company of Canada telegram, which reads: “Moncton, N.B. Dec. 6, 1917. J.D. Reid, Ottawa. It is reported that ship loaded with explosives at pier six as she was backing out of pier about half past eight this morning an inward bound ship ran into her and she caught fire, they tried to sink her before she exploded but failed. She blew up at nine o’clock. It is reported the city in bad state and much damage done but account wires being down unable to get any detail. Will give further information soon as obtained. Assistant General Manager Brown going to Halifax by Special. C.A. Hayes.”

This initial report of the disaster was sent to Ottawa from Moncton because the explosion damaged telegraph and telephone wires in Halifax and cut off communications to the city. (microfilm C-4325, image 321)

A Western Union telegram which reads: “RM Boston Mass. Dec 7 via Ottawa Ont. 8 1917. Robert Borden, Prime Minister, Halifax, NS. From your knowledge of conditions at Halifax what can we best do at once to help relieve the distress of the people at Halifax last night medical relief train left here at ten o’clock due at Halifax at eight pm tonight we have a ship here at our disposal that can leave here Sunday morning and would be due in Halifax Monday morning can she dock. H.B. Endicot Chairman Mass Halifax Relief Committee.”

An offer of help from Boston, sent to Sir Robert Borden by H.B. Endicott, Chairman of the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee (microfilm C-4325, image 345)

Related Resources:


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist with the Regional Services and ATIP Division at Library and Archives Canada.