Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Collection of Library and Archives Canada

Who Are the Métis?

The Métis Nation emerged as a distinct people during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are the second largest of the three Aboriginal peoples of Canada and are the descendants of First Nations peoples and Europeans involved in the fur trade.

Métis communities are found widely in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, with a smaller number in British Columbia, Ontario, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a great variety of archival documents pertaining to the Métis Nation (including textual records, photographs, artwork, maps, stamps and sound recordings); however, finding these records can be a challenge.

Challenges in Researching Métis Content in the Art and Photographic Collections

While there are easily identifiable portraits of well-known leaders and politicians, including these portraits of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, images depicting less famous Métis are difficult to find. Original titles betray historical weaknesses when it comes to describing Métis content.

In many cases, the Métis have gone unrecognized or were mistaken for European or First Nations groups—such as the people in this photograph entitled “Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at Dufferin.”

Black and white photograph of a man, on the left, wearing European clothing and standing in front of a Red River cart, and a group of First Nations men, women and children wearing First Nations-style clothing and standing in front of another Red River cart, on the right.

Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at [Fort] Dufferin” Manitoba, 1873 (MIKAN 3368366)

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For Better or For Worse: Library and Archives Canada’s collection of Lynn Johnston’s iconic comic strips

Lynn Johnston is best known for the creation and illustration of her popular syndicated comic strip, For Better or for Worse, which has run in over 2,000 newspapers in 160 countries. Inspired by Johnston’s experience with her own family life, the comic offers humorous, touching, and thoughtful renderings of the fictional Patterson family—John and Elly, their children Michael, Elizabeth and April, and beloved family dog Farley—as they move through the challenges and enjoyments of life.

This summer, the Art Gallery of Sudbury is curating a travelling retrospective exhibition of Johnston’s work entitled, For Better or for Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. It will celebrate the 30-year run of the comic strip by exploring the artist’s life, creative process, and the responses she received from readers over the years. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will be lending close to 50 of Johnston’s original panel drawings from its collection to be included in the exhibition.

Ranging from Johnston’s early strips in 1979 to later works created in 1995, the selection of drawings from LAC covers a variety of relatable and humorous subjects, a number of which focus on Elly Patterson’s experiences as a housewife.

The Lynn Johnston collection at LAC contains other objects that speak to the popularity of Johnston’s comic strip. Included among these is a collection of dolls that were made in the likeness of April Patterson, the youngest of the Patterson children. LAC also houses memorabilia from the Farley Foundation, an organization dedicated to assisting those in need with the finances associated with taking care of beloved pets. The organization is named after Farley Patterson, the family’s cherished Old English Sheepdog who passes away in the strip.

Finally, the collection holds a large amount of fan mail that was written by Johnston’s readers. Most notable are two sub-series of the collection that concentrate on major events that took place in the comic strip. For example, Johnston’s decision to incorporate an openly gay character in her strip generated a huge number of responses from readers across North America. Similarly, the death of Elly Patterson’s mother resulted in many fans reaching out to Johnston as they mourned for the fictional Pattersons alongside their own personal losses.

Be sure to check out the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Sudbury between July 11 and November 1, 2015 for more details about Johnston’s work and creative process!

The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: page mapping

In the last article on William Redver Stark, we discovered that the 14 sketchbooks show signs of structural and physical damage. We also noted that all of the sketchbooks had some pages missing and five sketchbooks had numerous pages missing. It is impossible to determine if Stark removed the pages himself or whether they were removed by someone else at a later date. Nonetheless, removing pages resulted in a series of negative outcomes for the sketchbooks:

  • The remaining halves of the folio pages became loose in the text block
  • The loose pages were moved so that the original order and orientation were changed
  • The loose pages became damaged as their edges projected beyond the protective covers of the sketchbooks
  • The spines and sewing structures of the sketchbooks became unstable and deteriorated
Colour photograph of two pages; the left hand page shows where there’s a thin line of the watercolour on the far right edge that is the continuation of the image.

The sequence of two single pages was discovered by a thin line of watercolour pigments on the edge of the left page which matches the right page.

To begin to remedy these issues, the conservation team examined each sketchbook page by page to determine the original orientation and order of pages. This was accomplished by looking at all the little details—the media, watercolour, ink or graphite, the bindings and every instance of damage to the pages—and mapping them out very carefully. The team used various light sources, angling the light to view physical details of the paper, a microscope for magnifying every minute detail and the precise measurement of each page.

Colour photograph of an open sketchbook showing a watercolour on the left and the transferred media on the right

Media transfer—this page was turned when the watercolour was still wet, transferring green and brown watercolour onto the facing page. The loose page is returned to sequence.

The most conclusive evidence for the original order of the pages was:

  • Media transfer and media overlap
  • Paper damage such as repetitive stains, tears and losses
  • Impressions left in the paper from the artist’s drawing instruments and the binding materials
  • Dimensions and undulations in the paper and the location of the binding’s sewing holes
  • Artist’s notations with dates and locations
Colour photograph of an open sketchbook. On the left page is a sketch of a lion which has transferred to the right page.

The graphite lion on the left is mirrored in a media transfer onto the right page confirming the sequence of these two loose pages.

Evidence that matched up two or more pages in a certain sequence was documented and the long process of revising the page order began. Each detail was catalogued in a template which really helped to develop an understanding of the sequence for each sketchbook.

Black-and-white image showing a chart that is used to catalogue the existing and the original order of the sketchbook pages.

The page mapping template describes the contemporary sequence and the most likely original collation of the sketchbook. The documentation includes details of the number of pages per signature (grouping of sheets folded and stitched together); the number and location of missing, repositioned and blank pages; pagination; and paper type. Artist’s inscriptions are recorded as well.

The first page mapping chart shows examples of media transfer and overlap. Media overlap would have occurred when Stark was actually sketching or painting as the media was applied beyond the intended area or page. Media transfer happened after sketching or painting when the sketchbook was closed and pages were in direct contact with either wet or friable (crumbly) pigments. In both cases, media was visible on the preceding or subsequent pages and provided evidence of the original order.

In the next part, we continue to explore page mapping by looking at damaged pages.

The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: the details

Over the next few months, the blog will feature a series of articles to uncover behind-the-scenes conservation work. This work ensures that the Library and Archives Canada collection is maintained, preserved and available for future generations to enjoy. We will be following along as the conservation team conserves the William Redver Stark sketchbooks. We had a preliminary overview of the restoration of the sketchbooks this year as well as a podcast about William Redver Stark. Now over the next months, the team will be conserving the sketchbooks and documenting the conservation process on the blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Examining the sketchbooks: the groundwork

The paper in the 14 sketchbooks is either wove watercolour or wove drawing paper. Wove paper is paper made on a closely woven wire roller or mold and having a faint mesh pattern. Unsurprisingly, the eight sketchbooks with drawing paper do not have watermarks. Watermarks are a design or symbol, such as the maker’s name, that is impressed on a piece of paper and can be seen when the paper is held up to the light. Three of the six watercolour paper sketchbooks have watermarks from different English papermakers.

Colour photograph showing a watercolour sketch of a horse. Along the bottom edge is the faint imprint of a watermark reading “1915 England”

Watermark reading “1915 England” on one of the sketchbooks.

The dimensions of the sketchbooks range from 84 x 126 mm to 145 x 240 mm which makes them roughly the size of a smart phone or a deck of cards. There is no pagination in any of the sketchbooks but a close examination reveals the sequence in which the artist used the sketchbooks—some were used from front to back, some back to front or in a completely random order.

Colour photograph of three stained sketchbooks on a white table with a smartphone beside them to show the relative sizes of the items.

Three sketchbooks laid out beside a smart phone for size comparison.

Further examination reveals other important nuggets of information. Some of the books have bookseller tickets, artists’ colourmen labels or ink stamps. These can provide further information on the composition of the paper, the format and provenance of the book. Some labels indicate the number of pages which is very useful in determining if pages are missing. The examination concluded that many pages were missing from these sketchbooks. The provenance information also reveals that the books came from a variety of book makers and booksellers in London and France and that some were marketed to English, French and German consumers.

Colour photograph of a yellow label with information on the maker of the sketchbook.

An example of an artists’ colourmen label showing the maker, the provenance of the sketchbook, the number of pages and quality of the paper.

The text blocks (the main book body) are composed of signatures of between four to eight folios. A signature is a group of folios. A folio is a single page, folded once. All but two of the sketchbooks were traditionally bound, one with two metal spine rings and another with a stapled binding. These two simple binding structures were hand produced and do not use the commercial industrial manufacturing commonly used in book production at the time. All the sketchbooks have hard board covers. The bindings are plain and utilitarian with no decoration on the covers or spines except for manuscript notations in ink or graphite possibly written by the artist. Two sketchbooks have leather spines with cloth on the boards. The others have beige canvas bindings with an elastic-wrap closure. Most of the sketchbooks have pencil holders.

The sketchbooks have not been previously repaired or conserved and all exhibit multiple minor or major stability issues as follows:

  • pages breaking off at the spine
  • paper tears and pieces of paper broken off
  • missing pages
  • pages out of their original order
  • broken sewing threads
  • weak or broken attachment of text blocks to covers
  • adhesive tape on covers
  • fragile areas on cloth covering and boards

The next article in the series, “The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: page mapping,” will look at how the conservation team determined the order of the pages in the sketchbooks.

Visit Flickr to view more images of the conservation examination.

Library and Archives Canada releases sixteenth podcast episode, William Hind: Illustrating Canada from Sea to Sea

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, William Hind: Illustrating Canada from Sea to Sea.

Retired Collections Manager of Artworks Gilbert Gignac and Art Archivist Mary Margaret Johnston-Miller, both from LAC, join us to discuss William Hind, an artist who played a key role in the development of art in Canadian society. We explore who William Hind was, his unique contributions to art in Canada, and what is included in LAC’s William Hind Collection.

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

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

Images from William Hind’s Sketchbooks Now on Flickr 

In 1862, artist William Hind joined the Overlanders, a group of gold seekers who crossed the Prairies in search of gold in the Fraser and Cariboo regions. During the trip, Hind produced a sketchbook documenting the group’s travels and some of the difficulties they faced along the undeveloped trails of the West.

Library and Archives Canada releases thirteenth podcast episode, William Redver Stark: The Soldier and the Artist

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, William Redver Stark: The Soldier and the Artist.

Art Archivist Geneviève Morin and Conservator Lynn Curry from LAC discuss the William Redver Stark fonds. They explore William Redver Stark’s background, his time as a soldier during the First World War, and the artwork he produced, specifically the 14 sketchbooks included in his fonds.

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

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

William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks

Different approaches have been tried over the years for conserving sketchbooks or bound volumes. For a long time, the works were simply detached in order to remove the binding. Nowadays, the historical and archival value of the binding is widely recognized. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is no exception in this regard, and conservation treatments are now designed to preserve the work in its entirety, including the binding.

In a previous article, we introduced you to the work of soldier William Redver Stark. The sketchbooks that are part of the William Redver Stark fonds were never repaired or preserved, and were beginning to show signs of wear:

  • Tears and holes
  • Pages detached, missing or in the wrong order
  • Broken binding threads
  • Covers weakly bound to pages or completely detached

The sketchbooks therefore are undergoing various conservation treatments, undertaken by a team of LAC’s highly specialized conservators in the field of book conservation and restoration. These conservators worked with the collection managers and archivists to respect the integrity of Stark’s work, and to give him his full moment of glory.

The drawings and watercolours in this collection are in very good condition. Some even look like they might have been completed only a few days ago. It should be noted that the sketchbooks remained closed for nearly a hundred years, and that the pages were rarely exposed to air or light. Thus, to study a Stark work is to travel through time, to see the work of an artist exactly as it was created a hundred years ago, during one of the most deadly and crucial wars of our time.

In sum, the restoration work done by LAC‘s conservation and restoration team will make it possible to stabilize the condition of the sketchbooks in order to ensure that they will withstand the ravages of time, and will allow future generations to have access to an important part of our history.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.
© Library and Archives Canada

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.
© Library and Archives Canada

See Also:

Summary of comments received in French between July 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014

  • A reader from Wimereux (France) thanks LAC for its work on the restauration of William Stark’s sketchbooks. It turns out that William Stark was stationed in Wimereux and made a lot of sketches of the surroundings. The reader was able to identify some of the sketches and he is offering his work to LAC.

William Redver Stark, the Soldier and the Artist

Canada’s experience of the First World War was captured by officially commissioned artists such as A.Y. Jackson and David Milne from 1916 onwards through the Canadian War Memorials Fund. However, many other artists—amateur and professional—captured their experiences of the war while they were busy fighting, building roads, transporting goods or providing care to others, but still creating vivid imagery of the world around them.

The William Redver Stark fonds at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a rare illustrated record of one of these undeclared artists’ lives in the military. Through 14 sketchbooks of remarkably well-preserved drawings and watercolours, we discover the life of a soldier through his eyes, which were closer to the action than those of his official counterparts, and which provide a more spontaneous, intimate perception of how day-to-day activities may have looked.

In these sketchbooks, we find images of soldiers at work and at rest, captured German prisoners and artillery, landscapes through which battalions moved, and sights at the London Zoo where Stark went while on leave. The illustrations serve as a rich and indispensable complement to the artist’s military file, to his battalion’s history, and to our visual understanding of a serviceman’s experience during the First World War.

William Redver Stark with cat. Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The William Redver Stark fonds was donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2005 by his nephew, Douglas Mackenzie Davies and his family: his wife, Sheila Margaret Whittemore Davies, and their two sons, Kenneth Gordon Davies and Ian Whittemore Davies.

How to search the sketchbooks

All 14 sketchbooks of the William Redver Stark fonds have been individually described and digitized, making it easier to search for themes or types of scenes. For example, you can search the fonds for all images that contain bridges or construction.

To search the sketchbooks, go to the advanced archives search and in the drop-down menu under “Any Keyword,” enter either the archival reference number (R11307) or the MIKAN number (616998). If you want to narrow down your search even more, enter a keyword such as “bridges” in the second box.

Other related materials:

Be sure to read William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks to learn more about the work done by LAC’s conservators to restore the sketchbooks.

Mary Riter Hamilton, Canada’s First Unofficial War Artist

It has been 90 years since Mary Riter Hamilton donated 180 of her oil paintings and dozens of her chalk, pastel and pencil drawings depicting the devastation in Europe after the First World War to the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada). These works by Riter Hamilton are not light-hearted. The subject matter deals almost exclusively with the destruction of war. They depict muddy trenches and blighted landscapes, graves and cemeteries, churches and towns ripped apart from shelling.

Memorial for the Second Canadian Division in a Mine Crater near Neuville St. Vaast.

Memorial for the Second Canadian Division in a Mine Crater near Neuville St. Vaast (MIKAN 2836007)

Mary Riter Hamilton was born in 1873 in Teeswater, Ontario and grew up in Clearwater, Manitoba where her family moved to farm. She married Charles W. Hamilton at the age of 18 and by the age of 23 was widowed. It was soon before the death of her husband that Mary began attending art classes in Toronto. Recognizing her talent, most of her European-trained teachers urged her to further her studies in Paris. Mary studied first in Germany then moved to Paris where she lived and studied for the next eight years. Mary returned to Manitoba for a year in 1906 then again for eight years in 1911. During these years, Mary’s work was exhibited in galleries in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.

The Sadness of the Somme

The Sadness of the Somme (MIKAN 2835991)

Always wanting to return to Europe, it was in 1919 while Mary was living and working on Canada’s west coast, that she was offered a commission by the Amputation Club of British Columbia to provide art work for The Gold Stripe, a veteran’s magazine. Mary left immediately, “ … to paint the scenes where so many of our gallant Canadians have fought and died.” For three years, Riter Hamilton worked tirelessly in post-war France and Belgium, painting battlefields including Vimy Ridge and the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. Conditions were harsh. She lived in make-shift shelters while enduring foul weather and meagre rations. She returned to Canada physically and emotionally spent. Refusing to sell her paintings, Riter Hamilton donated her work to the Public Archives of Canada. She died, poor and visually impaired, in 1954.

As the centenary of the First World War approaches, these works take on a renewed poignancy. Mary Riter Hamilton was never an official ‘war artist’ yet through her courage and talent and indomitable dedication, the sombre beauty and mournful tone of her collection serve as an enduring account of the ravages of war.

Trenches on the Somme

Trenches on the Somme (MIKAN 2894917)

To learn more about Mary Riter Hamilton, to view more of her work, or to see what materials are contained in the LAC collection, visit: