Japanese Canadian internment: Over 40,000 pages and 180 photographs digitized by the DigiLab

By Gabrielle Nishiguchi

The DigiLab has hosted many projects since its launch in 2017, two of which were carried out by Landscapes of Injustice. Landscapes of Injustice is a major, seven-year humanities and social justice project led by the University of Victoria, joined to date by fifteen cultural, academic and federal partners, including Library and Archives Canada. The purpose of this project is to research and make known the history of the dispossession—the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property made legal by Order in Council 1943-0469 (19 January 1943) during the Second World War.

In total, over 40,000 pages of textual material and over 180 photographs were digitized by the two researchers with Landscapes of Injustice. Some of the documents are now available online for all to consult, including photographs relating to the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Photographs relating to Japanese Canadian internment

These photographs are from three albums of photographs taken during inspection tours of Japanese Canadian internment camps in 1943 and 1945. The first two albums contain images of camps in the interior of British Columbia taken by Jack Long of the National Film Board of Canada Still Photography Division.

The third album contains twenty-seven images taken by Ernest L. Maag, International Committee of the Red Cross Delegate in Canada, in 1943. Among the Maag images are photographs illustrating the winter hardship of Japanese Canadian internment life. One photograph shows the International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour.

Another image shows snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of the internment shacks. There is tar paper on the outer walls for protection against the elements.

Three men and a car in a snowstorm: (from left to right) one man standing at the rear of the car, a second man bent over the back right tire, and a third man going towards the car to assist.

Picture No. 26 [The International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour] Credit: Ernest L. Maag (e999900382-u)

From right to left: Children in front of shiplap shacks with snow shovelled against walls. Internee in distance walking down makeshift “street.” Tar paper, to protect the shacks from the elements, is visible on the shack walls.

Picture No. 5 [Snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of internment shacks. Notice the tar paper on the outer walls of the shacks for protection against the elements. Credit: Ernest L. Maag] (e999900386-u)

All photographs digitized during the project are available in Collection Search under the key words “Photographs relating to Japanese-Canadian internment.”

A defective and prejudicial logic

It should be noted that the Long photographs were commissioned by the Canadian government during the Second World War to create the false impression that some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, whom it had forcibly interned in 1942, were being especially well treated and were, in fact, enjoying their lives in internment camps.

Bureaucrats employed the defective and prejudicial logic that there was an equivalence between Canadians of Japanese ethnic origin—75% of whom were Canadian citizens by birth or naturalization—and ethnic Japanese in Imperial Japan. The rationale behind this discriminatory belief was that, if these photographs were seen by the Government of Japan, they might secure favourable treatment for Canadian soldiers held captive by the Axis Japanese.

Original captions

The original captions reflect the purpose of the photographs and were a product of 1940s thinking. Internees are not referred to as Canadians. They are all “Japanese” or, in one offensive case, “Japs.” Non-Japanese are “whites,” “Occidentals” or “other racial groups.” The names added to the captions are for non-Japanese persons.

Euphemisms are employed, such as “space-saving” and “snug” for cramped, “evacuees” for internees, “repatriation” for deportation, “cottages” for internment shacks, and “settlements” and “housing centres” for the actual camps. There are “orderly rows of houses” and “tidy valleys.” The point is often made that the internees are being treated the same as other Canadians: “In camp hospitals, babies are born as in any other hospital. This happy mother chats with Dr. Burnett, director of the hospital” and “At the end of the school term Japanese evacuee students have a graduation banquet just as any other students in Canada would. Settlements are unguarded, and evacuees may visit between them, or go out for sports.”

There are descriptions such as “cheerful,” “modern,” “a fine place,” “well-equipped,” “well-stocked,” “clean,” and “as perfect as possible.” In one image of the women’s ward of the hospital at the New Denver, B.C., camp hospital, the caption writer senses “there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles.” In this case, the ribboned ornament that the internee patient has pinned in her hair is perhaps evidence that the photograph was staged.

From left to right: Hospitalized woman (internee) in bed. Nurse standing on the right.

In the women’s ward of the hospital at New Denver, there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles. [The photographer appears to have posed the internee patient. Notice the ribboned ornament she has clipped on the back of her head.] (e999900300-u)

Yet even though the Long photographs have been artfully and professionally staged, there is still no mistaking the posed, self-conscious smiles of people who are detained in internment camps.

When one bureaucrat in Canada’s Department of External Affairs saw Long’s images, he wrote on the file pocket: “These are excellent photographs.” However, the written comments of another bureaucrat, Arthur Redpath Menzies, dated April 26, 1943, appearing just below his colleague’s leave us with a stark reminder of the reality of the situation not revealed by the photographs themselves: “Understand from some who have been there that this spot is actually pretty grim — very cold — no work except sawing wood . . . in fact not a very pleasant spot — for Canadian citizens where only offence is their colour.” Menzies went on to become Canada’s Head of Mission in Japan in 1950 and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.

View of a small town surrounded by mountains. In the foreground are multiple buildings, and in the background on the left are rows of smaller houses.

Evacuee homes in Lemon Creek, B.C., are built with enough space in between for comfort and a garden. Each cottage accommodates one family. [Internee shacks in the Lemon Creek, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900291-u)

A man is standing in front of a large, tilted shelving unit filled with Japanese characters used in a printing press.

Some of the thousands of Japanese typeface characters used for The New Canadian, a newspaper that was published every week in Kaslo, B.C. The offices are now in Winnipeg, Manitoba. [The New Canadian began publishing in 1939, in Vancouver. It was an English-language newspaper founded to be the voice of the Canadian-born Nisei (second-generation Japanese Canadians). After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the internment of some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, it resumed publishing in the Kaslo, B.C., internment camp. A Japanese-language section was added to better serve the Issei, or first-generation Japanese Canadians. In 1945, the paper moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and subsequently, in 1949, to Toronto, Ontario, where it continued publishing until 2001.] Credit: Jack Long (e999900358-u)

Three women, one of whom is a nurse, are standing around a kitchen island on which there are trays, dishes and bottles of milk. Utensils are hanging from the rack that runs down the middle of the unit.

The very modern kitchen of the Greenwood camp hospital. [Hospital kitchen at the Greenwood, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900255-u)

The original captions for these photographs expose vestiges of Canada’s colonial past. Library and Archives Canada continues to provide relevant context as a way of presenting a fuller and more equitable picture of our nation’s history. This is work of value. For, as written on the Landscapes of Injustice website: “A society’s willingness to discuss the shameful episodes of its history provides a powerful gauge of democracy.”

If you have an idea for a project like this one, please email the DigiLab with an overview of your project.

Related LAC sources

Textual documents

Case files

Related links


Gabrielle Nishiguchi is a government records archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section, Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

From Assimilation to Negotiation: The 1970s Indian Claims Commission, digitized

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Marko Davidovic

The Indian Claims Commission of the 1970s came into existence with a bang, as a footnote to Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government’s proposed 1969 White Paper (formally known as the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy). The White Paper was truly explosive, an assimilative document laying out the government’s intention to abolish Indian status, the Indian Act, and the reserve system. It set off a storm of resistance and activist mobilization from coast to coast to coast. Suddenly, First Nations communities across the country faced an open threat that did not discern or discriminate, but that simply said: we will assimilate everyone at once into the Canadian body politic, there will be no more special treatment, no more Indian department, and no more “Indian problem.”

The swell of pan-Indigenous organization in response became a tidal wave that swept the White Paper aside—it was abashedly retracted in 1970—and kept on moving, as Inuit and the Métis Nation joined their voices with those of First Nations. We are still feeling the effects today: these were the years that saw the Calder case’s landmark recognition of ongoing Indigenous title and the founding of provincial and national Indigenous organizations, including the precursors to today’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and Métis National Council (MNC). These years were marked by resistance and, sometimes, open antagonism, the crescendo of simmering pushback against government policy and conduct.

A typewritten memo, dated March 12, 1973, from President Andrew Rickard of Grand Council Treaty #9, on behalf of his people, about his intentions and expectations of working with all levels of government.

A memo from Andrew Rickard, President of Grand Council Treaty #9 (today’s Nishnawbe Aski Nation), March 12, 1973. Library and Archives Canada, page 3. (e011267219)

Yet the Indian Claims Commission, essentially a procedural footnote intended to tie up loose ends and bring to an end the era of Indigenous claims, might be called the most enduring legacy of the original 1969 Statement. The newly digitized primary materials of the Commission tell the story of the tumultuous 1970s, but also that of the Commission’s surprising success. Adapting to a shifting political context, it took on the role of mediator between the Crown and Indigenous communities and ultimately did much to lay the groundwork for contemporary claims processes in Canada.

The Collection

The Commission was, for the most part, a one-man office.

A page of typewritten text with a picture centred at the top of Dr. Lloyd I. Barber, a middle-aged man with a brush cut, dressed in a suit and a tie, and talking on the telephone

Biography and picture of Dr. Lloyd I. Barber, from a keynote presentation at a conference. Library and Archives Canada, page 77 (e011267331)

By the time the Regina-born, Saskatoon-based academic Dr. Lloyd I. Barber began his duties as Indian Claims Commissioner, his terms of reference had changed. Rather than adjudicating and closing off claims, he was researching histories, assessing grievances, and building contacts and relationships. He corresponded constantly with Ottawa, as well as with a veritable who’s who of Indigenous leaders. In many of these letters, it is clear that he saw damage control as a large part of his job. His relative independence from Ottawa allowed him leeway to echo Indigenous communities’ calls for justice and equity, a role he played without hesitation.

A typed letter, dated November 22, 1974, from Indian Claims Commissioner Lloyd I. Barber to Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Judd Buchanan, calling for the federal government’s affirmation and support of Indigenous treaty rights in view of provincial violations.

Letter from Commissioner Lloyd I. Barber to Judd Buchanan, Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, concerning hunting, fishing, and trapping rights of prairie First Nations. Library and Archives Canada, page 35 (e011267232)

A veteran professor of commerce, Barber established a consistent tone across his letters—patient, calm, reassuring, and often quite apologetic. He embodies a sensitive and sympathetic figure, defining his plain language carefully against that of bureaucrats and civil servants. This persona is stamped on the materials of the fonds and cannot be easily separated from the successes of the Commission as a whole.

A newspaper clipping from Native Press, November 18, 1974, on Commissioner Lloyd Barber’s speech in Yellowknife, which characterizes the government’s assimilative approach to Indigenous status as insufficient and dangerous to pursue.

Newspaper clipping from Native Press, November 18, 1974, pertaining to a speech given by Lloyd Barber in Yellowknife. Library and Archives Canada, page 59 (e011267332)

The true litmus test for the Commission’s successes consisted in the dialogues Barber established, and here the research and reference materials assembled by the Commission are revealing. The Commission collected a wide swath of material, organized by province, band, and claim—from historical records from the early nineteenth century onward, to transcripts of parliamentary debates, to endless clippings from newspapers, many of them from local First Nations papers. These clippings offer snapshots and summaries of issues on the ground between Indigenous and non-Indigenous society in the heated 1970s. They also reflect the Commission’s function in assessing not just the policy and logistics of land claims, but the public perception of these issues, particularly in First Nations communities. These media sources provide a rich backdrop in understanding both the Commission’s general recommendations and its concrete interventions in specific grievance processes.

A newspaper clipping, providing an example of Commissioner Barber’s process of collecting information from local media sources.

Newspaper clipping pertaining to the 1975 Dene Declaration. Library and Archives Canada, page 21 (e011267159)

In 1977, the Indian Claims Commission turned in a compelling report summarizing its findings and recommendations. It was superseded by the Canadian Indian Rights Commission, which continued the work and built on the relationships Barber had initiated. Born in struggle and contradiction, Barber’s Commission had managed to not only walk the wobbly tightrope between government and Indigenous communities, but had actually succeeded in rerouting much of the swell of activism of the 1970s back into channels of dialogue and negotiation. It remains a decisive factor in a decisive period in Crown-Indigenous relations.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Marko Davidovic is an archival assistant on We are Here: Sharing Stories, the Indigenous digitization initiative, in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Recent documents digitized through the DigiLab

By Karine Gélinas

Did you know that in Canada, books for visually impaired readers can be sent through the mail for free? This has been the case for more than 100 years. That is one of the many fascinating things I have learned while helping a researcher in the DigiLab.

One of the projects hosted in the DigiLab last year was with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). They are celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2018, and to mark it they created the online exhibition, That All May Read. Below you’ll find information about some of the textual material they digitized that can now be viewed through LAC’s Archives Search.

For example, these pages were extracted from a pamphlet presenting the Readophone, an invention by Edward R. Harris, a Hollywood sound engineer.

An open pamphlet with the left page showing two images and the right page having typewritten text. The image at the top shows an opened square box containing a turntable, with knobs on the front of the box for operating it. The image at the bottom shows the turntable with its cover on, which looks like a large book.

Pages from a pamphlet about the Readophone, January 1935 (e999901526-u)

Technology facilitates the way people with impaired vision access books. Optelec readers were recently installed in our consultation rooms at 395 Wellington Street. These tools can convert printed text into speech, magnify text, and change the background colour to facilitate reading on the screen.

Colour photo of an assistive device having a moving tray with control buttons and an opened book laying on it. The monitor enlarges and displays the book text using a large black font on a yellow background.

Caption: Optelec reader located at 395 Wellington Street.

Textual material from the CNIB fonds

Related links

Interested in the DigiLab?

If you have an idea for a project, please email the DigiLab with an overview of your project, the complete reference of the material you would like to digitize, and any extra information you know about the collection. Material must be free from restrictions and copyright.

After we verify the condition of the material to ensure it can be digitized safely, we’ll plan time for you in the DigiLab. We’ll provide training on handling the material and using the equipment, and you’ll digitize and capture simple metadata.

We hope to hear from you soon!


Karine Gélinas is a project manager in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Recent documents digitized through the DigiLab

By Karine Gélinas

The DigiLab is a new hands-on facility for clients to digitize and contextualize documents from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collections. Since its launch in 2017, the DigiLab has hosted more than 30 projects that have resulted in the digitization of over 30,000 pages of textual material and 9,000 photographs.

A colour photograph of a room containing a large-format scanner on a table in the foreground, a series of shelving on the left side, and two people sitting at workstations in the background.

The DigiLab space at 395 Wellington. Photo by Tom Thompson.

One of the projects hosted in the DigiLab was with the National Capital Commission (NCC), which digitized stunning historical images of the National Capital Region. You will find below some of the material the NCC digitized that is now available on LAC’s website.

Albums from the National Capital Commission fonds

  • Aerial views of Ottawa, 1952–1962 (8 images) – MIKAN 5025694
  • Federal District Improvement Commission, 1927–1929 (56 images) – MIKAN 5016537
  • Federal District Commission, 1927–1932 (291 images) – MIKAN 5023881
  • Photos by R.A. Ramsay showing installation of a steel railway structure (4 images) – MIKAN 5025167
  • Russell House block, Russell Hotel photographs (63 images) – MIKAN 3788413
  • Ottawa Region, Federal District Commission, 1902 (20 images) – MIKAN 5050722
A black-and-white photograph of a quiet park and streets surrounded by two major buildings flying the Union Jack flag from their highest rooftop. Old cars are parked on the main street in the foreground.

Looking south from East Block on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, MIKAN 5026166

Aerial black-and-white photograph of an industrial landscape with logs floating in the water and a power station and rail lines in the foreground. The Parliamentary Precinct is in the background.

LeBreton Flats, Ottawa West Station & Turning House, ca. 1962. [Present-day City Centre Bayswater Station area] @Government of Canada (e999909317-u)

Ted Grant fonds

A black-and-white photograph of a street at night with cars parked on both sides and neon store signs adding light.

Sparks Street [Ottawa] at night, taken November 14, 1960. Credit: Ted Grant. (e999906140-u)

Federal District Commission fonds

Photographs, editorials catalogue and newspaper supplement proofs for the plan and model of the National Capital Planning Committee’s Master Plan, and its Canadian Tour – MIKAN 3788892

Interested in the DigiLab?

If you have an idea for a project, please send us an email at bac.numeri-lab-digilab.lac@canada.ca. Give us an overview of your project, the complete reference of the material you would like to digitize and any extra information you know about the collection.

After we verify the condition of the material to ensure it can be digitized safely, we’ll plan time for you in the DigiLab. We’ll provide training on handling the material and using the equipment and you’ll digitize and capture simple metadata. Material has to be free from restrictions and copyright.

We hope to hear from you soon!

Links of interest


Karine Gélinas is a project manager in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Superheroes of the Digital Universe: Digitizing the Bell Features Collection

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is excited to announce a new digital resource for fans of Canadian comic books. The Bell Features Collection of Second World War-era comics has been completely digitized and is now available to researchers online.

The Bell Features Collection consists of 382 comic books, most in multiple copies, published in the 1940s by the Canadian comic book publisher Bell Features. These comics showcase an astounding selection of Canadian heroes such as Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, and Dixon of the Mounted.

Between November 2015 and March 2016, LAC’s digitization staff painstakingly photographed one copy of each issue held in the collection—a total of 193 comic books. At between 50 and 60 pages per comic, that’s around 10,000 pages!

Creating electronic copies of these delicate documents from LAC’s collection involved hours of careful labour from technicians in our digitization labs, who follow rigorous standards to get the best possible images while preserving the condition of the items.

The process begins with a technician placing a comic on a flat copy stand under an overhead camera, making sure to line the comic up with the camera so that the image taken will be straight. A sheet of Plexiglas is laid over the item to keep it flat. The Plexiglas is on small risers to ensure as little contact as possible with the surface of the comic. This helps prevent damaging the item by placing too much pressure on its spine. Every superhero has an archenemy, and so, too, does the digitization specialist: dust. A single particle on the Plexiglas can create a spot that ruins an image. The technician keeps an anti-static blower on hand to defeat this threat.

A comic book is placed on a flat black surface underneath a sheet of Plexiglas. A woman leans over the surface, using an anti-static blower to remove dust from the Plexiglas. The lens of a camera is visible above the table.

A digitization technician uses an anti-static blower to remove dust from the sheet of Plexiglas covering the comic book she is about to photograph. The camera lens can be seen suspended above the copy stand.

Once the comic book is in place, the technician uses an overhead camera to take a photograph. For the Bell Features Collection, a Phase One 645DF+ camera body with an IQ260 digital back and an 80-mm lens was used, with an F11 focus and a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. The image taken with the camera is automatically uploaded to the technician’s computer, where she checks for imperfections. If she is satisfied with the image quality, she crops it in Photoshop and moves on to the next page.

A woman faces a computer monitor showing an image of a page from a comic book.

A digitization technician checks for imperfections in the digitized image of a page from Slam-Bang Comics no. 7 (AMICUS 42623987), with art by Adrian Dingle.

This entire process is repeated for each page of each comic book. Once all the pages of an issue have been photographed and the images corrected, a PDF version is created. Finally, this PDF is uploaded to LAC’s servers and a link is added to the relevant record in LAC’s online library catalogue.

If you’re interested in checking out a few of these newly digitized old Canadian comics, you can find a small sample on our website. Hungry for more? The finding aid attached to the catalogue record for the Bell Features Collection (AMICUS 43122013) includes links to all of the digitized comics. You can also access them via the catalogue records for each of the individual titles in the Bell Features Collection; see for example the record for Active Comics (AMICUS 16526991).

In the Ottawa area? Encounter some of Bell Features’ characters on a bigger scale when you visit LAC’s exhibition Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity. It runs at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until September 14th. Admission is free.

Additional resources


Meaghan Scanlon is the Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of February 2016

As of today, 254,296 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 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 4224 and Hebert.

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.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of November 2015

As of today, 217,062 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 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 #3121 and surname Fitzpatrick.

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.