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.

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.

Guest curator: Jill Delaney

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.


Temples of Today by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934

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

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

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


Tell us about yourself

It is amazing to think that I have been working at LAC for almost two decades now. The work in the photography section is incredibly diverse as are the collections themselves, and my time here has gone by incredibly quickly.

I come from an art history background, but I have always been as interested in the context of the work, as in its aesthetic qualities. By exploring the social, cultural and historical context of a photograph, we can begin to understand why it exists in the first place. Why was it created, who asked for it to be created, where and how it was circulated—all of these questions fascinate me. I suppose this is how I ended up as an archivist, because context and provenance are the pillars of any archival collection. I enjoy both the detective aspect of working on the historical photographs in the collection, and working with current photographers, digging into the rationale behind the taking of a photograph. I’ve published and presented on a wide variety of LAC photographs and collections over the years, including photos by John Vanderpant and Yousuf Karsh that were taken on cross-Canada trips in 1930 and the early 1950s respectively. These cross-country trips really intrigue me. They seem like a Canadian rite of passage even today, but they also speak volumes to the ever-shifting notion of Canadian identity.

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

The John Vanderpant fonds has become one of LAC’s most important photographic fonds, as his work has grown in stature through the research of a number of Canadian art historians over the last 30 or 40 years. The photograph was taken around 1934 in the Vancouver ports area. Vanderpant was one of Canada’s leading pictorialist and straight photographers, and his series of images of the grain silos in Vancouver is now considered iconic.

When Vanderpant arrived in Canada from Holland in 1911, he saw the nation as most other Europeans did—a vast and empty wilderness. By the time he took the photograph “Temples of Today” in 1934, he dreamed of a country with the immense potential and unexploited resources to become an industrial powerhouse of the future. Of course he was not alone in this sentiment, and the interwar years were a period of great urban and industrial development in Canada. This photograph in particular illustrates his turn away from the more painterly, “fuzzy” qualities of pictorialism toward straight photography. This style embraced a stripped down modernist aesthetic and, just as importantly, a subject matter that represented a strong belief in a future dominated by an urban and industrial life. “Temples of Today” purposely eschews beauty, focussing instead on the massiveness of the silos coming out of the shadows into full light, with the foregrounding of the hydro poles reinforcing the industrial message. The photograph perfectly illustrates the development of a popular philosophy about the natural progression of mankind through industrialization. Vanderpant strongly subscribed to this view and wrote articles and gave many public lectures on the topic. But along with this forward focus, Vanderpant, with so many other Canadians of the time, completely dismissed the Indigenous peoples of the country, seeing Canada as a kind of terra nullius or unoccupied land ready to be exploited and developed however the settler culture wanted. Vanderpant’s photographs are rightly lauded today as an exceptional representation of an aspect of Canadian life that was largely viewed as unpalatable up to that point, but they also concealed, by omission, the importance of the founding communities of the nation.

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

It is interesting to compare Vanderpant’s ideas about Canada, as represented in “Temples of Today,” with those of the German photographer Felix Man who visited Canada at almost the same time this photograph was taken. Man, considered to be a pioneer of photojournalism and of the photo essay format, travelled across Canada for six months in 1933, commissioned by the German picture magazine Berliner Illustrirte to “visit Canada and photograph all the most important things.” LAC acquired about 200 of his images in 1985 in order to document how Canada was perceived by a European during the interwar period. Like Vanderpant, Man was overwhelmed and inspired by the vastness of the country he visited. He visited almost every region, but was particularly taken with the prairies and the northern regions—going as far as Churchill, Manitoba, and Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories.

But in most other ways, Man’s view of Canada could not have been more different than Vanderpant’s. Both held what could be described as romantic views of Canada. Vanderpant romanticized a future, industrialized and urban Canada, while Man held a more typically European view of a Canada frozen in a romanticized past. He was heavily influenced by the stories of Indigenous heroes written by fellow German Karl May (who famously only visited North America after his books were published). His idealized fantasies of the “noble savage” remain popular in central and Eastern Europe to this day. Man’s photographs vividly depict this romantic image of Canada. While Vanderpant’s images focus on the development of Canada, Man, as photographic historian Joan Schwartz has noted, largely excluded urban Canada in his photographs. Instead, his camera captured such views as the unrelenting snow and ice around Churchill in winter, and the “Banff Indian Days,” a popular tourist attraction in which Indigenous peoples donned stereotypical costumes, erected wigwams, and put on displays of hunting and horsemanship for pay.

Woman on horseback holding a little girl to her side. The woman is wearing a plain dress with a patterned belt and a feathered headdress over her braided hair.

“Indian Woman with Child” by Felix Man, taken during “Banff Indian Days” in Banff, Alberta, 1933. (MIKAN 3333566)

His photograph of the Indigenous woman and child on horseback is an excellent example, with its grainy aesthetic, and the woman in an elaborate headdress (which in reality were only worn by women in exceptional circumstances) reaching back to embrace the small child. The “Madonna and child” symbolism presents all the qualities necessary to build a stereotypical and generalized narrative of 20th-century Indigenous peoples as still living their so-called traditional lives, and the images of the Banff “Indian Days” were very popular with the European press.

The exclusion of Indigenous peoples in John Vanderpant’s representations of an industrial and urban Canada, and the fixing of them into a mythical past by Felix Man, also tie into the works of urban Iroquoian photographer Jeff Thomas in this exhibition. Using toy figurines posed with the Parliament buildings in the first instance, and in front of a rail car emblazoned with the word “Canada” in the second, Thomas seeks to reinsert Indigenous peoples into both Canada’s history and present. Thomas’ photographs introduce critical concerns about the roles Indigenous people played in the building of the nation-state of Canada and in the building of the railroad. Using the figurines, he plays on the stereotypes which were perpetuated and disseminated by photographers like Man, but also with the omission of Indigenous peoples from the narrative of the past, present and future of Canada. Considering these two seemingly unconnected photographs from the 1930s together allows us to bring these two stereotypical views of Canada together, and to see how the knowledge of the immediate and broader contexts in which they were created can deepen our understanding of not only the photographs themselves, but of Canada’s past and present as well.

First Nations figure set in front of a train marked “Canada” with grain graffiti on its side.

Canada Day 2005, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada from The Delegate on Tour Series by Jeff Thomas, 2005 (MIKAN 3932014) ©Jeff Thomas

Indigenous figurine set across the river from Parliament Hill.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada, 2007 from The Delegates on Tour Series by Jeff Thomas. (MIKAN 3932081) ©Jeff Thomas

Biography

Jill Delaney is an archivist in the acquisition of photography of the Visual, Sound and Landscape section, Private Archives Branch. She holds a Master of Canadian Studies from Carleton University (1991) and a doctorate in Art and Architectural History and Theory from SUNY-Binghamton (1997). Jill joined LAC in 1998 as a photography archivist and has been working with the collections ever since, with the exception of an assignment in the architectural records section.

Guest curator: Shane McCord

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.


Major John Norton, Teyoninhokarawen, by Mary Ann Knight, 1805

Oval portrait miniature of Major John Norton, Teyoninhokarawen wearing a white and red headdress with an ostrich feather and long earrings with circled stars. He is also wearing a patterned shirt with a red mantle.

Portrait miniature of Major John Norton, Teyoninhokarawen, the Mohawk Chief by Mary Ann Knight, 1805 (MIKAN 2836984)

The British public held Romantic ideas about Canada, especially its First Nations peoples. Teyoninhokarawen probably played up to these when he sat for this portrait. Here, he wears his own adapted version of Indigenous dress.


Tell us about yourself

I hail from the Ganaraska Forest. Technically, the address of my family home was in a small village called Campbellcroft, in rural Ontario however the nearest neighbor was over a kilometer away and there was little sense of a village. While there, my parents fostered a strong interest in art and culture. Sadly, while the nearly 12,000-acre Ganaraska forest is a place of much wonder and variety, one thing that one does not find there is a major art gallery with an internationally renowned collection. Consequently, as a teen I toured the world’s galleries through reproductions like those I found in the now rare Carnegie Art Reference Set for Colleges. The media fascinated me as much as the message and I developed an interest in reproductions of art works and their spread and dissemination in Canada. I circuitously followed this interest through my studies and ended up writing about bookworks, or artist’s books as they are variously known in my field. From the study of books and reproductions it was a short leap to library and archival school.

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

Teyoninhokarawen (ca. 1760–1823) was born John Norton in Salen, Scotland, of Scottish and Cherokee parentage. Military records show he went to Canada, and after discharge from the army in 1788 went to live with the Grand River Mohawk Indians, later becoming the adopted nephew of Joseph Brant. His portrait was painted by Mary Ann Knight, an English miniaturist. It was painted during Norton’s visit to England when he acted as an emissary for the Grand River Mohawks, and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1805.

This portrait is a fantastic gateway into late 18th, early 19th century Canadian history. I chose to write about this item, first because it is so visually appealing. The portrait was painted in Europe where Romanticism is very much part of the spirit of the age and this shines through in the presentation of Norton. It was becoming unfashionable for portraits to depict people wearing contemporary European dress. My knee-jerk point of comparison is Thomas Phillips’ portrait of Byron wearing an Albanian scarf wrapped as a turban—though many of Jean-Etienne “The Turk” Liotard’s brilliant portraits might also serve as interesting comparative foils for this miniature.

Norton’s headwear is this portrait is fascinating in the way it perpetuates then prevailing orientalizing mythologies—naturally at this time drawing connections to Rousseau’s by then famous concept of the noble savage—but also truthfully representing Norton’s transatlantic identity. The feather in the headdress is that of an ostrich. Not a common bird on the shores of the Great Lakes where Norton had been adopted as a Mohawk, nor in his father’s Cherokee territory in Tennessee. Ostrich feathers however were popular as part of headwear in the UK, including in Scotland where, as in John Michael Wright’s portrait of Lord Mungo Murray, they gave the wearer an adventurous look. The feather at once connects Norton to the established visual trope of depicting Indigenous peoples of North America wearing ceremonial feather headdresses, while at the same time, the European inclusion of the imported ostrich feather illuminates Norton’s Scottish side.

Detailed view of Norton’s headdress which is white and red with an ostrich feather joined to the front.

Detailed view of Norton’s headdress. (MIKAN 2836984)

All that in just the feather! The rest of Norton’s wardrobe is equally interesting in different ways. This portrait is so rich that there are books full of things Canadians should know! Actually, I would quite literally start by recommending further reading (this is Library and Archives Canada after all). The first book is The Journal of Major John Norton. Norton completed the journal in 1815–16 while in England and it covers a wide range of subjects including his travel from Upper Canada to Tennessee and other southern U.S. states, as well as the frontier wars in the 1780s and 90s. Throughout The Journal, Norton provides an interesting and unique discussion of North America’s Indigenous people. Of particular note is his discussion of Joseph Brandt. Two editions of The Journal have been published, both by The Champlain Society. The more recent edition includes an introduction and additional notes by Carl Benn, who is a preeminent expert on Norton and whose works are a great source for more information.

Another book I would recommend to those intrigued by Norton is The Valley of the Six Nations, also published by The Champlain Society. This book, prepared by Charles M. Johnston, presents a collection of significant documents relating to the Six Nations in the region where Norton spent much of his adult life. It includes many documents discussing the land disputes that the Mohawk people of the Six Nations had with the British and colonial government. Some of documents presented in this volume are by Norton himself, and the originals of many of the documents are in LAC’s archival holdings.

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

Oval miniature portrait of Colonel William Claus dressed in a dark jacket and white cravat, against a blue background.

Colonel William Claus by Andrew Plimer, c.1792. (MIKAN 2895040)

I’ve chosen this portrait of Claus, because his role in Canadian history has been squarely in the opposite corner from Norton. Eight years after this portrait was painted, Claus was appointed as the Indian Department’s Deputy Superintendent General for Upper Canada. In this role, he was very much Norton’s adversary. In Robert Allen’s entry on Claus for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he described the relationship between the two as an “acrimonious feud.”

This feud centred around Six Nations claims to land around the Grand River. While correspondence shows that the two came into conflict with each other several times, Claus struck a devastating blow to Norton when he discredited Norton to colonial authorities, thus causing Norton’s trip to England as a representative of the Six Nations to fail. Claus’ criticisms of Norton were not entirely without foundation as Norton did not truly represent the perspectives of all of the chiefs of the Six Nations.

There is a great deal more that could be said, and in fact has been said, in the sources mentioned above and elsewhere about the relationship between Norton and Claus and the Six Nations dispute with the Indian Department. These two portraits are a fascinating entry point into this chapter of history which still has reverberations today.

Biography

Colour photograph of a young boy peering up at an elaborate model shipShane McCord has worked as an art archivist at Library and Archives Canada since 2010, where the focus of his work has ranged from 17th-century plaques to contemporary art. He has a Master in Art History from Concordia University and a joint Master of Archival Studies and Master of Library and Information Science from the University of British Columbia.