Guest curator: Carole Gerson

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.


“Ode to Brant” by Pauline Johnson, 1886

Two pages of a handwritten poem signed and dated by the author, Pauline Johnson.

Handwritten poem by Pauline Johnson, 1886. (MIKAN 4936704)

This poet’s mixed Mohawk-British heritage helped shape her vision for Canada’s future. She writes that Indigenous and British-Canadians should form a “brotherhood.” And all should be loyal servants—together—of the British Empire.


Tell us about yourself

As a child, I was an obsessive reader—my friends called me a “reader-bug” because I always had my nose in a book. Perhaps that’s why I became an English professor—so that I could read as much as I wanted, and encourage others to do the same. I think that it is especially important to read works by Canadian writers, who help us to understand our history and who we are today.

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

A black-and-white photograph of a bronze statue atop a large stone pedestal decorated with bronze reliefs and statues around the sides. A park with bare trees can be seen in the background.

View of the Brant Memorial in Brantford, Ontario by photographer Hannah Maynard, Park & Co. (MIKAN 3559483)

“Brant” was one of Pauline Johnson’s first published poems. She composed it for the unveiling of a statue of the Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, in the town of Brantford on October 8, 1886, and it was included in a souvenir brochure prepared for the occasion. During Johnson’s lifetime, fans of literature often collected autographs from their favourite writers. Regarded as one of Canada’s most important poets, Johnson not only signed many copies of her books for her admirers, but also frequently wrote out her poems in longhand for them to keep.

A black-and-white newspaper column describing Pauline Johnson’s family, her work and her role in the unveiling of the Brant memorial.

An interview with Pauline Johnson by Canadian journalist Garth Grafton (Sarah Jeannette Duncan) about Johnson’s work, her family, and the unveiling of the Brant Memorial, in Woman’s World, October 14, 1886. (AMICUS 8086919)

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

LAC holds a large collection of letters that L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) wrote to her friend, George Boyd Macmillan, a pen pal who lived in Scotland. This correspondence lasted for many years, from 1903 to 1941. Montgomery’s letters are very long and newsy, discussing everything from the books that she read and the places she visited, to the doings of her family and her beloved cats. Over the years, the tone changes from youthful optimism to sad disappointment as she lives through the First World War and the Great Depression, giving us an inner view of the Canadian experience during a tumultuous time. Montgomery’s distinctive handwriting is less stylish than Johnson’s elegant script, perhaps reflecting her early years as teacher, when she needed to show children how to form their letters.

A black-and-white page of a letter from Lucy Maude Montgomery to George Boyd Macmillan. Discusses her love of historical books and recalls her love of fairies as a child.

A page from a letter (page 757) from Lucy Maud Montgomery to George Boyd Macmillan, a Scottish writer, dated April 7, 1904 discussing her love of historical books and fairies as a child (MIKAN 120237)

A black-and-white page of a letter from Lucy Maude Montgomery to George Boyd Macmillan. Discusses the popularity of “In Flanders Fields” and its use in election campaigns.

A page of a letter (25) from Lucy Maud Montgomery to George Boyd Macmillan, April 7, 1917 which discusses the popularity of “In Flanders Fields” and its use in election campaigns. (MIKAN 120237)

Biography

A colour photograph of a woman with short hair looking over to the side.Carole Gerson is a professor in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. Co-editor of Volume 3 (1918–1980) of History of the Book in Canada / Histoire du livre et de l’imprimé au Canada, she has published extensively on Canada’s literary and cultural history with a focus on women writers, including L.M. Montgomery and Pauline Johnson. Her book, Canadian Women in Print, 1750–1918 (2010), won the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Canadian criticism. In 2013 she received the Marie Tremaine Medal from the Bibliographical Society of Canada.

Related resources

Guest Curator: Andrea Kunard

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.


Entrance to Blacklead Island, Cumberland Gulf, Baffin Island, Northwest Territories (present-day Nunavut) by Albert Peter Low, 1903–1904.

Black-and-white panorama of a large iceberg close to a rocky island shot from a boat.

Entrance to Blacklead Island, Cumberland Gulf, Baffin Island, Northwest Territories (present-day Nunavut) by Albert Peter Low, 1903–1904. (MIKAN 3203732)

Canada claimed sovereignty of its Arctic territory in 1904: the law moved north and surveyors catalogued the land. This act reinforced old ideas on identity. It defined Canada, all over again, as a northern nation.


Tell us about yourself

When I first started doing historical research in photography during my master’s program at Carleton University, I practically lived at Library and Archives Canada. The collection is fantastic, and it was the most amazing experience for me to be looking at photographs taken over a 150 years ago. Since then I have continued to research historical photographs, as well as acting as curator for contemporary photography at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and now the National Gallery of Canada. I have always been interested in exploration photography, or government uses of the medium. The Humphrey Lloyd Hime photographs are particularly interesting in that they are the first known paper photographs made of the North American interior. The camera was a tool for various interests, but it also was a way to encapsulate many preoccupations of the period, especially the shifts that occurred in religion because of scientific discoveries. Many so-called objective photographs made at this time also reflect spiritual beliefs and morality. As well, Western aesthetic values play a part in communicating ideals and the best photographers of the period, such as Alexander Henderson, are highly adept at manipulating tone, line, shape and texture to merge the sublimity of the landscape with the period’s fervent faith in scientific and technological progress.

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

Although this photograph presents a barren and seemingly empty landscape, the area was anything but inactive. Albert Peter Low (1861–1942), a senior Geological Survey of Canada officer, took this photograph of the entrance to Blacklead Island during a Canadian government funded expedition in 1903–04. He published an account of his journey in his famous book, The Cruise of the Neptune. Historically, Blacklead Island was an important whaling station, but at the time of Low’s expedition, whale stocks had nearly all but vanished in the area. As well, whaling stations had radically changed Inuit lifestyle, hunting cycles, and economies. The purpose of Low’s expedition was to establish Canadian sovereignty in the north through proclamations and rule of law. Low’s photograph, however, reveals nothing of this political agenda. Rather he presents a peaceful view, taking advantage of the panorama’s extended format and classic elements of the sublime. The iceberg appears gargantuan and overwhelming, alluring in its whiteness. The island, in contrast, is dark and more detailed. The two subjects, ice and rock, appear held in opposition, suspended between a cloudless sky and a rippling, frigid sea.

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Sepia-toned image of prairie grass stretching to meet the sky with a skull and a bone in the foreground.

The Prairie Looking West by Humphrey Lloyd Hime, 1858 (MIKAN 3243322)

Humphrey Lloyd Hime’s The Prairie Facing West (1858) is one of most enigmatic images in the history of Canadian photography. It depicts an austere landscape in which a human skull and (human?) bone appear. The photograph was taken near the Red River settlement, now the city of Winnipeg. Hime was working for the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition sent by the government to assess the agricultural potential of the area, and its suitability for settlement. He depicts the land as empty, ostensibly awaiting human occupation. However, the presence of the skull is provocative. Most likely, Hime staged the photograph using the skull of an Aboriginal woman he had found earlier in an area of southern Manitoba. As he wrote in his diary on June 28, 1858, “…found a skull close to grave on prairie—it was all pulled about by wolves—kept the skull.…” This encounter informs the image in numerous ways. The photograph may represent Hime’s recreation of his experience, or be a way to incite drama into an otherwise nondescript landscape. The appearance of the skull is also tied to the fascination of 19th-century society with Indigenous methods of burial. However, as the caption does not state that the skull belonged to a native person, viewers might anxiously interpret the land as containing the possibility of their own death and hardship. At this point, the interior of the country was largely unknown, with many thinking it contained a wasteland of Biblical proportions.

Biography

A colour photograph of a woman wearing glasses looking directly at the viewerAndrea Kunard is an Associate Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada. She has presented several group and monographic exhibitions on contemporary photography including Shifting Sites (2000), Susan McEachern: Structures of Meaning (2004), Steeling the Gaze (2008), Scott McFarland: A Cultivated View (2009), Fred Herzog (2011), Clash: Conflict and Its Consequences (2012), and Michel Campeau: Icons of Obsolescence (2013). She is presently co-curating a major retrospective on Newfoundland-based artist Marlene Creates as well as a survey exhibition Photography in Canada: 1960–2000 for 2017. She has taught the history of photography, Canadian art and cultural theory at Carleton and Queen’s University. In addition, she co-edited The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. She has lectured on photography throughout Canada, and written articles on contemporary and historical photography in a variety of publications including The Journal of Canadian Art History, the International Journal of Canadian Studies, Early Popular Visual Culture, Muse, BlackFlash, and ETC Montréal. She is currently working on a major web-based project on documentary photography that centres on the National Film Board Still Photography Division collection at the National Gallery and Library and Archives Canada.

Guest curator: Sarah Hurford

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.


View of the Library and Archives Canada booth at the Truth and Reconciliation national event in Edmonton, Alberta, by Sarah Hurford, 2014

Photograph of a booth covered in photos with a computer on the side. A brown-haired woman staffing the booth is finding a photo for a couple visiting the booth. Another booth is in the background.

View of the Library and Archives Canada booth at the Truth and Reconciliation national event in Edmonton, Alberta by Sarah Hurford, 2014. © Sarah Hurford, 2014.

When the first residential school opened in the 1870s, the idea had mainstream support. Today, Canadians find the policy abhorrent. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had a major role in educating the public.


Tell us about yourself

I have been interested in records relating to Indigenous heritage since my first summer at LAC as a summer student in 1998. This is when I saw firsthand how much of a difference finding historical documents made to people.

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

This photograph was taken in the middle of a huge arena with thousands of people in it, and many booths: government departments, church sharing circles, vendors, and many, many visitors. It really was shared space, and for that reason alone, the arena itself was a site of reconciliation. It was a very unique experience, and the air was charged with emotion and the smell of burning sage. People stopped at the LAC booth to share their stories with us, ask us questions, and look at the photographs we had on display. To me, the event was particularly special since it was the last national event planned, so it was the last time I thought I would be in such an environment.

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

The other related item I would like to add to the exhibition is this photograph, which shows a group of boys who lived too far away from the residential school at Aklavik to return home during the summers. At the national event in Edmonton, I met the grandson of one of these boys, who immediately found his grandfather in the photograph. Every time I see the photo, I remember meeting his grandson, and that experience really underscored for me that it was important that we were there at the national events to hear these stories, and that we understand that historical documents in our collections have an effect on the present day.

Group of Inuit children dressed in overalls or coveralls standing on sandy, grassy ground with the school in the background.

Inuit children who lived too far away and had to stay at the Anglican Mission School during the summer by photographer M. Meikle (MIKAN 3193915).

Biography

A colour photograph of a smiling woman with hair parted on the side.Sarah Hurford has been an archivist at LAC since 2009, and specializes in records and search tools relating to Indigenous heritage. She has held positions in Reference Services and in Private Archives, and has provided reference support for two document disclosure research projects conducted for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She is currently in the Government Archives Branch in the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada portfolio.

Guest curator J. Andrew Ross

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.


A page for Joliette, Quebec, from the first Census of Canada, 1871

Can you find the entry for Adolphe Perrault? Times change: Perrault made his living as a voyageur! As time passed, census data would feed social policy. Many programs by which Canadians define themselves are the result.


Tell us about yourself

Before I came to LAC, I was a post-doctoral fellow on the People in Motion research project at the University of Guelph. Our goal was to develop an algorithm linking the 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 Canadian censuses together, to create a database of thousands of records that researchers could use to explore important questions about post-Confederation Canadian society, including health transitions, occupational changes and migration mobility. In the course of my own research, I became interested in changes that show how Canadians have viewed themselves over time.

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

Ever since Intendant Jean Talon ordered the first census of the European population of New France in 1665–1666, the precursors to modern-day Canada were keen on learning about the demographic, social and economic aspects of their populations. LAC is the repository for many of the surviving documents of these censuses, including a near-complete collection on microfilm of the handwritten forms filled out by the individual enumerators (census takers) who went door to door in 1871 collecting information for the first census after Confederation.

Enumerators were required to complete up to nine schedules (forms), which covered population characteristics, deaths, economic activities and the like. What made the Canadian census unique was a question on Schedule No. 1 (Nominal Return on the Living) that asked for information on a person’s “origins,” an important issue in a country with four different provinces, a wide variety of cultures, and political tension between two major linguistic groups.

What was meant by “origin”? The manual containing the instructions to enumerators did not provide much detail, except by example: “Origin is to be scrupulously entered, as given by the person questioned . . . by the words English, Irish, Scotch, African, Indian, German, French, and so forth.” With a few exceptions (“Indian,” “Half-Breed,” “Hindoo” and “Jewish”), the answers corresponded with countries of origin rather than culture per se.

Ironically, for the first national census the answer “Canadian” was not an option because the designers wanted clear lines drawn between English and French, and other groups. Allowing “Canadian” might reduce the size of one group or another, with worrisome consequences for both political representation and cultural pride.

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

This clever cartoon from the Canadian Illustrated News issue of May 6, 1871, which LAC holds in its collection, shows how the question about origins might produce a rather humorous conversation:

Enumerator. – “What origin, Ma’am?”

Lady. – “Canadian, of course!”

Enumerator. – “But you know we don’t take down Canadian origin.”

Lady. – “Well, then! follow Darwin’s theory, and enter us as descended from apes!”

A black-and-white cartoon of a census enumerator speaking to a woman sitting at a desk.

Cartoon from the Canadian Illustrated News (AMICUS 133120) depicting a potential conversation about the first census (image from page 288, Canadian Illustrated News of May 6, 1871, e011180501)

Not only a fine joke, but also an astute observation. What was a person’s origin anyway? How far back should one go? If birthplace was not considered (it was recorded separately), then was it the father’s cultural heritage, or the mother’s? And why couldn’t people whose families might have been resident for centuries be considered “census Canadians”?

According to the guidelines, while the enumerator in the cartoon could have been justified in entering “primate,” in practice the enumerator entries were all checked before counting and changed if they were determined to be inappropriate. In this way, thousands of self-described “Canadians” (and also “Americans”) were reassigned to another origin, usually based on their surname, and when the origin totals were published in the fall of 1871, “Canadian” was not a category.

Over the 20th century, a sense developed that origin should be less about the national ancestry of a person and more about the person’s cultural background: what eventually came to be called “ethnicity.” With this understanding, the origin questions in 20th-century censuses came to rely on the ethnicity of the person’s first paternal ancestor who came to Canada.

This did not suit some people, such as the 13th Prime Minister of Canada, John George Diefenbaker, who was proud of his “mixed” ethnic heritage and even more proud of not admitting it to an enumerator. In his memoirs, he wrote (please feel free to wiggle your jowls as you read this):

“I have never registered as requested in any census. I am a Canadian, and I register as a Canadian. When I was Prime Minister, I made certain that the 1961 Canadian census contained the question ‘Are you a Canadian?’ Although the change was disapproved by the Liberal and bureaucratic establishments, and in consequence discontinued after I left office, hundreds of thousands of Canadians answered this question, ‘Yes,’ and with ringing pride.”

Diefenbaker’s “Are you a Canadian?” did not replace the origins question, which continued to be asked, but it may have led to the 1971 official change in policy—100 years after the first census—that finally allowed people to answer “Canadian” (and allowed the enumerator to record that answer and not have it changed). Only 71,000 chose to do so in that year, but the attitude trend accelerated over the next 40 years; by 2011, over 10 million were answering “Canadian,” sometimes in combination with other origins, but for almost 6 million, exclusively. In 2016, the question was, “What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person’s ancestors?” We will soon see how many people now want to be counted as “census Canadians.”

Biography

A colour photograph of a man standing in front of a white board with his arms crossed and smiling at the photographer.

J. Andrew Ross is an archivist in the Government Records Branch of LAC.

Guest Curator: Arlene Gehmacher

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.


Bunch of Wildflowers by Susanna Moodie, ca. 1870

Yellow dandelion in front of blue and pink wildflowers mingled with leaves, painted on sepia card.

Bunch of Wildflowers by Susanna Moodie, ca. 1870. (MIKAN 2837436)

Susanna Moodie called Canada’s woods “the prison house.” Flower painting may have been her form of therapy. It allowed her to impose order and refinement on one small piece of nature.


Tell us about yourself

Studying the visual culture of Canada has been a pursuit of mine since first being hired to research primary archival and printed sources for an exhibition on historical art produced in Canada. I was hooked—the material satisfied both my love of fine art as well as cultural context. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make it my career.

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

Watercolours, such as Bunch of Wildflowers, were for Moodie not just a pastime to create gifts for family and friends, but also a commodity that could be used for cash income or trade. With a price tag of $3 to $5, she could pay her servant. William Notman, the famed Canadian photographer, is known to have accepted—at his own suggestion—an autographed watercolour as payment for his photographs. (Moodie obliged with A Group of Crimson, White, Yellow, and Pink Roses.)

The bunch of wildflowers—including periwinkle, dandelion, and clematis—may well have been picked by Moodie herself, but her arranging them into a watercolour was part of her domestic economy.

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

Two colour plates of colourful flowers with green leaves. Left: Wild Orange Red Lily, Harebell, and Showy Lady’s Slipper. Right: Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Anemone, and Spring Beauty.

Image on the left: Wild Orange Red Lily, Harebell, and Showy Lady’s Slipper (MIKAN 2905466) Image on the right: Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Anemone, and Spring Beauty (MIKAN 2905471) Plates from Canadian Wild Flowers by Agnes FitzGibbon, published by John Lovell, Montréal, 1868 (AMICUS 49189)

Agnes FitzGibbon, daughter of Susanna Moodie, collaborated with her aunt Catharine Parr Traill (Susanna’s sister) on Canadian Wild Flowers, published in 1868 and praised for its scientific accuracy. Susanna Moodie’s Bunch of Wildflowers bespeaks her joy and passion in picking and aesthetically arranging flowers, and immortalizes her artistry in watercolour. In contrast, FitzGibbon’s fine illustrations are informative, her delineation precise to ensure legibility of specimen.

FitzGibbon’s project was from the start a business venture, each of the 500 copies containing 10 lithographed plates, each hand coloured (with help!), and accompanied by Parr Traill’s descriptions both poetic and naturalist. Executed over 1867 and 1868, Canadian Wild Flowers in subject and timing surely assumed a mantle of national relevance.

Biography

Colour photograph of a woman standing against a turquoise tiled wall.Arlene Gehmacher, PhD, is Curator of Canadian Paintings, Prints & Drawings at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Ontario, where she develops collections-based research and exhibits. She also teaches; her course “Collecting Canada” deals with the acquisition, interpretation and display of the ROM’s picture collection and is offered through the Art History Department of the University of Toronto. Her publications cover the 19th to 21st centuries, and include articles on Ozias Leduc (1996), Cornelius Krieghoff (2003), Naoko Matsubara (2003, 2016), Paul Kane (2010, 2014), Arthur Heming (2013), and William Blair Bruce (1999, 2014).

Related resources

Guest curator: Vasanthi Pendakur

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.


“Wild” woman of Canada, 1784

A colourful print of a pale woman with blond hair dressed in a yellow dress with green edging, white apron and pink tights. She is also wearing a blue necklace and blue boots.

“Wild” woman of Canada from Mœurs et coutumes des sauvages du Canada, 1784 (MIKAN 3025442)

The images of Canada published by serious travel encyclopaedias are often surprising. This woman seems more European than Indigenous… just look at her blonde hair! Continue reading

Guest curator: James Bone

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?

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.


A square sepia stamp. Each corner has the number three indicating the cost. A ring around the center reads, “Canada Postage Three Pence” with a crown between the top words. In the center of the circle is a beaver beside running water with a mountain and trees in the background.

The Three-Pence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, 1851 (MIKAN 2184475) ©Canada Post.

The beaver was seen as a good stand-in for the average Canadian: industrious, tenacious… and with great building skills. This is one reason why it appears on the nation’s first postage stamp.


The Three-Pence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, 1851

Tell us about yourself

I acquire and process philatelic archives from private, or non-governmental, sources. Although LAC holds the extremely important Post Office Department fonds containing the records of Canada Post, the study of philately is one that happens entirely in the private sphere. So to complement the official records, LAC also collects the records of stamp designers, engravers and artists along with those of printing companies, Canada’s philatelic study societies and prominent philatelic researchers and exhibitors.

I recently represented LAC at the 2016 British North America Philatelic Society Exhibition in Fredericton, New Brunswick where I sought to foster knowledge of LAC’s holdings and how to use them, while also making a pitch that members of the society could have archival records of interest to LAC’s growing collection.

I did not entirely expect to find myself at LAC. After completing my undergraduate studies in 2006, I received a full scholarship for a year to continue my studies in Chinese language at Beijing Normal University in preparation for a planned MA program in Chinese history. However, illness and a change of direction brought me into the workforce. I worked in technical support in London, Ontario and later supervised a technical support team in Montréal for several years before returning to graduate school. Continue reading

Word recognition: Governor General’s Literary Awards winners in LAC’s collection

By Sara Viinalass-Smith

The Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of Canada’s most prestigious suites of literary prizes, and the awards’ long history can shed light on the evolution of publishing, writing and reader tastes within Canada over the past eight decades. Created by the Canadian Authors Association and supported by prolific author and Governor General John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, the awards originated in 1937.  This year marks their 80th anniversary. At first honouring works of fiction and non-fiction, over the decades the awards have expanded to include, also, poetry, translation, drama and children’s literature in both French and English.

Since 1969 Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has been building a literary archives collection that includes the papers of many of the English- and French-language Governor General’s literary award winners, such as Robertson Davies, Marie-Claire Blais, Dionne Brand, Gabrielle Roy and Carol Shields. In examining their papers you can, for instance, track the life of an award-winning novel from the author’s original kernel of an idea, developed in notes and drafts, through heavily edited galley proofs and proposed cover art to review clippings and even the author’s invitation to the Governor General’s awards ceremony.

A yellowed black-and-white photograph of an officer in uniform.

Thomas Findley, the source of inspiration for Timothy Findley’s The Wars. (MIKAN 4933177)

The long path a work can take from idea to publication to recognition is well illustrated by Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Findley won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in 1977 for his novel, which tells the story of a young Canadian soldier who enlists in the First World War. The protagonist of the novel was inspired in part by Findley’s uncle, Thomas Irving Findley. Contained within Findley’s archives is a family album of letters from the front written by Thomas Irving Findley to his relatives in Canada. The album also includes one of the few known photographs of Findley’s uncle, dressed in uniform. Findley used these records as source material for the development of the characters in The Wars. From the letters, you can trace how Findley used the thoughts, feelings and actions of his uncle to create the character of Robert Ross and his fictional, wartime experience. Findley’s research, notes, outlines and drafts show the evolution of the text, and a mock-up of the final cover art shows how the book was physically presented to its original audience. Reviews from the year of publication reveal the book’s initial reception by critics. Finally, scripts Findley wrote for radio and film adaptations of The Wars speak to the overwhelming success of the novel and show how he carried his beautifully crafted prose through to different genres.

To honour this milestone anniversary of the awards, the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the awards, is hosting an exhibition in Ottawa entitled People – Places – Things: Reading GG Books. The exhibition celebrates the more than 700 winning titles from the awards’ history, the people who write them and the places where we read them. Archival records from LAC’s literary archives collection make up part of the exhibition. These include the photograph of Thomas Irving Findley, the first page of Gabrielle Roy’s handwritten manuscript of Ces enfants de ma vie (1977), and notes and a manuscript for the children’s book Pien (1996) by Michel Noël. The exhibition is on until February 24th.

Related resources


Sara Viinalass-Smith is a literary archivist (English language) in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Do I have the right to vote? Letters from women to the Canadian government, 1918-1919

Canadian women received the federal right to vote in three waves of legislation. It began with Prime Minister Robert Borden initiating the Military Voters Act of 1917, which enabled Canadian women on active service to vote. Borden also implemented the Wartime Elections Act that same year, which extended the vote to Canadian women who were related to men in the military forces. Lastly, on May 24, 1918, royal assent was given to a bill extending the vote to Canadian women who met the same qualifications as voting men. These quick and successive formative events caused confusion for the public.

The collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds various letters written by Canadian women that demonstrate the impact of the vote and include questions about their own personal eligibility to cast a ballot. Seeking information directly from the source, women wrote to Prime Minister Robert Borden and other government officials.

In a letter dated December 1919, Mrs. King of Colonsay, Saskatchewan inquired if she was eligible to vote as a Canadian citizen married to an American citizen. Her inquiry was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which replied that she should be eligible to vote based on her information and enclosed a copy of the Act. They also noted that her inquiry was not typically an affair for the Department.

The confusion between the Dominion Elections Act and the temporary wartime voting measures is evident in a letter dated February 17, 1919 from Mrs. Lillian Dill of Oshawa, Ontario. Mrs. Dill requested a copy of the Act in order to understand its impact and her eligibility to vote. Continue reading

Let Them Howl: 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage—An exhibition in Ottawa and Winnipeg

The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of women first winning the right to vote in Canada. On January 28—the date that Manitoba became the first province to pass women’s voting rights into law—Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, will officially launch an outdoor exhibition titled Let Them Howl: 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage.

The exhibition will feature reproduction portraits of some of the women who fought for equality and the vote. Be sure to check out the exhibitions January 28 to February 15, 2016 on the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa (presented in partnership with Winterlude) and February 12–21, 2016 at the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg.

The exhibition features reproduction portraits from LAC’s collection of historic figures like Nellie McClung and Agnes Mcphail to modern women who have broken gender barriers, such as Adrienne Clarkson and Beverley McLachlin.

A black-and-white photograph of Agnes Macphail in profile, reading the paper.

Agnes Macphail by Yousuf Karsh, 1934 (MIKAN 3256551)

Continue reading