A look inside former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s archives

By Thora Gustafsson and Rebecca Sykes

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson is best known as a former Governor General of Canada (1999 to 2005), but she has been in the spotlight for many more reasons throughout her life. As a refugee, a household name at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Ontario’s first Agent-General in France, she touched the lives of Canadians long before she became a resident of Rideau Hall.

Adrienne Clarkson, née Poy, was born in Hong Kong in 1939. Following the surrender of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, the Poy family lived under harsh conditions with little food during the Japanese occupation. Adrienne’s father, William Poy (Ng Ying Choi), had been a message courrier in the Volunteer Militia working for the British. He used his connections to write to Canadian trade commissioners in search of an escape for his family. Eventually, William, his wife Ethel Lam (Lam May Ngo), Adrienne and her older brother Neville were placed on a list alongside Canadian citizens to be exchanged by the Red Cross. With only 10 hours’ notice and one suitcase each, the Poy family left by ship for North America. A publicity photograph in Clarkson’s fonds shows her, only a few years old, eating an ice cream cone on her first stop on Canadian soil in Montréal. In her 2009 memoir, Heart Matters, Clarkson writes that the night her family was informed that they were to be exchanged was a formative moment in her and her family’s story.

A girl reading a book while sitting on a sofa.

Adrienne Poy reading (R12308, vol. 189, file 1)

From a young age, Clarkson was a prodigious reader. In interviews, she has frequently remarked that her idea of hell is being trapped with nothing to read, and that she could read seven or more books in a week: “I read the way other people bite their nails, compulsively and voraciously” (R12308, vol. 159, file 13). At age nine, she was gifted a copy of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and like for so many immigrants to Canada, the book became a favourite and a touchstone for understanding Canada and its people. Clarkson went on to earn a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Toronto and to lecture in the English department there. This led to her career in television.

Hired by CBC’s “Take 30” television series as a book reviewer in 1965, she was quickly promoted to co-host. There, she and Paul Soles discussed a broad range of topics including books, motherhood, cooking and issues of the day, such as abortion and illegal drug use. While on the show, she also discussed issues that are still very close to her heart, such as the first French-immersion schools and the experiences of immigrants in Canada.

In looking at the documents, it is clear how connected she felt to her viewers. In an article she wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1966, she said she often thought of the so-called average viewer “as a third person in the conversation, someone you might meet at any party—pleasant and interested.” That sense of connection clearly went both ways, judging by her collection of letters from viewers. One viewer, who wrote on behalf of herself and her husband, compared watching “Take 30” to “having a friend come into our home.” The show also aired several episodes dealing with pregnancy and motherhood, which Clarkson co-hosted while she was an expectant mother. Many of the show’s fans were mothers themselves, and both new and experienced mothers wrote her letters with advice and book recommendations.

In 1982, Clarkson left her 17-year career in broadcasting at the CBC to become Ontario’s Agent-General in France. Clarkson is a lifelong Francophile. Photographs in her fonds show her family’s friendship with their French-Canadian neighbours and her travels through France as a young woman. Clarkson also studied the French language, achieving fluency during postgraduate work at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1962. In her position as Agent-General, Clarkson was responsible for promoting Ontario’s economic and cultural interests in France and other European countries. One of her proudest moments was when up-and-coming Uruguay-born, Toronto-based Canadian architect Carlos Ott was selected as the winner in an international design competition for the new Paris Opera in 1983. Through her work as Agent-General, Clarkson secured the budget to bring the competition judges to Toronto to counter their perception of Anglo-Saxon Canada and show them what a prosperous and diverse city it was.

Several people looking at a model of a building.

Clarkson (centre) and others beside a model of the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris (R12308, vol. 190, folder 5)

In 1999, Clarkson became Canada’s 26th Governor General since Confederation. The second woman to take up the post, and the first immigrant and person of colour to do so, she is credited with modernizing the role. She continued her efforts to connect with Canadians by travelling across the country to speak to individuals in person, which she was able to do fluently in both English and French.

Going through the Adrienne L. Clarkson fonds, from her youth through her time in broadcasting and her Agent-General days, shows how consistent Clarkson has been on issues that have interested her throughout her life. As an immigrant, broadcaster, Ontario’s Agent-General, Governor General, and co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship—her legacy project as Governor General—Clarkson has thought long and hard about being Canadian and what it means to belong here. Her early research on topics for “Take 30” was clearly informative for her later work and causes. Her lifelong love of the French language served her in her public service career and as Governor General in connecting with Canadians. Her records at Library and Archives Canada are rich sources of information that document Clarkson’s passionate and adventurous life.

Thora Gustafsson and Rebecca Sykes are archivists in the Governance, Military and Political section of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Guest curator: Anne Maheux

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.

Mary Miles Minter in Anne of Green Gables … from the four famous “Anne” books, Realart Pictures, 1919

Colourful print of Anne wearing dress-up clothes against a green backdrop. She is holding a red and yellow parasol, and wearing black boots, a red skirt under a high white overskirt, and a brown shawl. The Realart Pictures logo is in the top left corner, with the actress’s name and the title of the movie along the bottom.

A colour lithograph poster of actor Mary Miles Minter in Anne of Green Gables from Realart Pictures, 1919 (AMICUS 27641454). “Anne of Green Gables” is a trademark and a Canadian official mark of the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc.

You may not have recognized Lucy Maud Montgomery’s red-haired heroine from this American movie poster. It presents one of the earliest mass-produced images of “Anne.” She has since become a regulated symbol of Canada.

Tell us about yourself

My curiosity about artists’ materials and techniques has taken my research in many directions, from the pastels of Edgar Degas and other 19th-century artists to the complex printmaking techniques of Canadian artist Betty Goodwin. I have been practicing paper conservation for over 30 years, treating everything from Old Master prints to huge contemporary drawings. As well, I have a special love for weaving, playing the cello, and oversized paper artefacts that present great challenges in treatment and mounting.

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

Our poster of Anne of Green Gables is rare. Like newspapers, movie posters are ephemeral objects that are not intended to have a long lifespan. These types of objects are usually printed on poor quality papers that were never meant to withstand the ravages of time, which makes the survival of our Anne of Green Gables poster so special.

Three separate sections of the above poster. The first section shows the top half of Anne’s body; the second, the bottom half of her body; and the third, the actress’s name and the title of the movie.

Figure 1. Three separate sections of the Anne of Green Gables poster (AMICUS 27641454). “Anne of Green Gables” is a trademark and a Canadian official mark of the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc.

This 1919 poster was made with a process called lithography, a common printing method used at the turn of the century to mass-produce commercial products like posters, maps, advertisements and packaging. Lithography was invented in 1799 by Alois Senefelder and named for the limestone printing surface, from the Greek lithos, meaning “stone.” It became a popular and inexpensive way to create colourful, luminous images by the late 19th century. Unlike other printmaking processes, lithography is based on a chemical principle: oil and water do not mix. To make a lithographic image, the artist draws directly on the specially treated stone surface. A chemical process makes the greasy drawing receptive to the greasy printing ink, while the non-image areas are kept wet to repel the ink.

Because of its size, our poster was drawn on three separate stones and printed on three pieces of paper (Figure 1). Looking at the sides of the image, we can see the irregular edges of the lithographic stones (Figure 2). The thin white lines throughout the image are printing creases. The thinness and size of the paper make it difficult to place the sheets smoothly on the stone, hence the fine wrinkles that open after the ink is dry, leaving these characteristic white marks (Figure 3). In this detail, we can see that the artist used a greasy crayon to draw the image on the lithographic stone, and also applied the greasy ink in a fine spray. Colours are added by using additional stones that are printed in overlapping transparent inks (Figure 4). Special registration marks help guide the printer as each consecutive stone is printed (Figure 5).

Only four overlapping colours (red, yellow, blue and black) were used to produce this colourful image of Anne of Green Gables!

Colour closeup of a detail of the poster where you can see that the different doesn't overlap perfectly.

Figure 2. Detail of uneven edge of the lithographic stone

Colour closeup of the poster showing white line crossecting the image.

Figure 3. Detail of printer’s creases

Colour closeup of the poster showing the translucent quality of the image.

Figure 4. Detail of overlapping, transparent colours.

A colour close-up of the poster showing the registration markers in the lower right-hand corner.

Figure 5. Detail of registration marks

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

The Dionne Quintuplets come to mind as another example of celebrated Canadian icons (Figures 6, 7). In 1934, the “Quints” became international celebrities as the first documented surviving multiple-birth infants. In their early years, they were the subject of three feature films and drew tourist crowds to their small town in northern Ontario. The Quints provided lucrative endorsements for many products, like Quaker Oats, featured in this poster.

Like the Anne of Green Gables poster, this image of the Quints (“Quins” on the poster) was mass-produced using the lithographic printing method. The poster was intended to be used as a three-dimensional standing display and has suffered wear and tear from physical handling. It was recently conserved for an exhibition, and the treatment was kept to a minimum to preserve the evidence of its use. The poster was stabilized by repairing tears and replacing the deteriorating cardboard backing with a sturdier archival material. Damages from abrasion and use were reduced through careful toning with watercolour to make the image more readable (Figures 8, 9).

Creased and torn advertisement depicting black-and-white die-cut prints of the little girls wearing overalls and white shirts on a red background. The logo sits across the top of each girl’s legs, with the company name along the bottom of the poster.

Figure 6. Today our healthy Dionne Quins had Quaker Oats. Full image, before treatment (MIKAN 3825441)

The same poster after treatment, without most of the tears and creases.

Figure 7. Today our healthy Dionne Quins had Quaker Oats. Full image, after treatment (MIKAN 3825441)

A colour close-up of the poster showing the extent of the damage before and after treatment.

Figure 8. Detail of Émilie, before treatment
Figure 9. Detail of Émilie, after treatment


A black and white photograph of a woman on a dark background.Anne F. Maheux has a BA in Fine Art from the University of Guelph and received a Master’s in Art Conservation (MAC) from Queen’s University and a certificate in the conservation of works of art on paper at the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard University Art Museums. She is a recipient of the American Academy in Rome Prize in Historic Preservation and Conservation, and is an accredited member of the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators. She was Conservator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Canada for over 25 years, and is now Head, Conservation of Works on Paper, Maps and Manuscripts at LAC. Her scholarly interests include 19th-century pastel painting, particularly the work of Edgar Degas and Giuseppe De Nittis. She has published extensively on pastels, and on innovative conservation techniques and treatments.


Anne of Green Gables podcast images now on Flickr

Few Canadian authors have achieved the universal appeal of Lucy Maud Montgomery, whose iconic series “Anne of Green Gables” continues to resonate with book lovers of all ages.

Lucy Maud Montgomery: From Potboilers to Poetry

Lucy Maud Montgomery, was born in Prince Edward Island on November 30, 1874 and lived there until her marriage in 1911 to Reverend Ewan Macdonald.

Picture from a page in Everywoman’s World magazine that shows a black-and-white photograph of a house with fruit trees in the foreground and a grove of trees to the left with the following caption, “My old home at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, taken from the front. In the grove to the left was our playhouse with the wonderful door that we made ourselves.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s home at Cavendish, P.E.I. (MIKAN 3641481)

Montgomery began her career writing for Canadian and American children’s magazines. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908 brought her immense international fame. Anne of Green Gables was published by L. C. Page and Company of Boston, Mass., which published another seven of her books before she left them over legal matters and lawsuits in 1917. She turned to Canadian publisher McClelland Stewart and American publisher Frederick Stokes in 1919. During this time period, L. C. Page published a collection of short stories in their possession, Further Chronicles of Avonlea, spurring another lawsuit.

Stamp showing an illustration of a young girl with red hair sitting on a box with a leather satchel beside her. She appears to be thinking or waiting for somebody.

Stamp in honour of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables (MIKAN 2218216)

By the time she died in April 1942, Montgomery had published 22 novels and books of short stories, articles, and a book of poetry, The Watchman, and Other Poems. She also had a portfolio of unfinished poetry. Despite her international fame and success, Montgomery was disappointed that her poetry was not as well received as her popular novels that she sometimes referred to as “potboilers.”

Library and Archives Canada has resources available in:

Related site:

  • L. M. Montgomery Institute—the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island is dedicated to helping students and scholars study Montgomery’s life, works, and influence