Guest curator Meaghan Scanlon

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.


Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, Samuel de Champlain, 1613 and its map, the Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain, 1613]

Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, 1613 and its map Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain], engraved by David Pelletier in 1612. (MIKAN 3919638) (AMICUS 4700723)

Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, 1613 and its map Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain], engraved by David Pelletier in 1612. (MIKAN 3919638) (AMICUS 4700723)

Explorer Samuel de Champlain saw Canada as a land of potential. He published this book, with an eye-catching map, to advertise its possibilities to investors. The beautiful drawings of plants are probably his own. Continue reading

Drawn from history: Canadian political figures in comics

By Meaghan Scanlon

Most of us are familiar with newspaper editorial cartoons. These one-panel gag comics often feature exaggerated and satirical images of politicians. But did you know that Canadian politicians have also appeared in web comics, graphic novels, and even Super Hero comics?

Kate Beaton’s web comic Hark! A Vagrant frequently features historical figures. Her strip “A History Debate” sees a collection of well-known individuals from Canadian history, including Sir John A. Macdonald, engaged in a discussion about what they can do to make Canadian history less boring. (Obviously, we don’t think it’s boring at all!)

A few Canadian political figures’ lives have been recounted in biographical graphic novels. Two examples are Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown and Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Suffragette Nellie McClung by Willow Dawson. These biographies may take some liberties with their portrayals of events, but for the most part they are based in reality.

However, Canadian politicians have found themselves in some truly fantastical situations in the pages of Super Hero comics. You may have read recently that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will appear in the pages of a Marvel comic book written by Canadian Chip Zdarsky. This is not the first time the world of comic book heroes has borrowed a character from Canada’s political sphere. In the first issue of New Triumph featuring Northguard, the titular hero uncovers a plot to kill Quebec Premier René Lévesque. Fortunately, Northguard arrives in time to save Lévesque’s life.

In issue No. 120 of The X-Men, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meets with James MacDonald Hudson, codename: Vindicator, of the Canadian Super Hero team Alpha Flight. Trudeau instructs Vindicator to capture the X-Men’s Canadian member, Wolverine, and bring him home to Canada. Canadian artist John Byrne drew the comic.

A large screen shows the X-Men fighting a giant robot. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stands in front of the screen along with Alpha Flight team leader Vindicator. Trudeau asks Vindicator to explain who the X-Men are. The words “The Uncanny X-Men” appear in large text at the top of the page. The story title is “Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!” The location of the scene is given as “The War Room of the Canadian Ministry of Defense – Ottowa [sic], Ontario, Canada …”

Pierre Trudeau gets a lesson on the X-Men from Alpha Flight’s team leader Vindicator in The X-Men no. 120, published by Marvel Comics, April 1979. (Reprinted in X-Men: Alpha Flight (AMICUS 44300363) © MARVEL

Perhaps the most unusual depiction of Canadian politicians in comics occurs in Angloman: Making the World Safe for Apostrophes! Angloman, the heroic champion of bilingualism, encounters a series of super-powered characters who might seem strikingly familiar to students of Canadian politics. Power Chin, for example, is a parody of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, complete with the oversized chin that was Mulroney’s trademark feature for caricaturists. Pierre Trudeau appears as The Northern Magus, a mysterious caped figure with a rose in his lapel. The Northern Magus has incredible magical powers and only speaks in rhyme.

Sketches and textual descriptions of three characters – Poutinette, The Northern Magus, and Power Chin.

Character biographies for Poutinette, The Northern Magus and Power Chin from Angloman: Making the World Safe for Apostrophes! (AMICUS 14740760. © Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette. Reproduced with the permission of Signature Editions.) (AMICUS 14740760)

To learn more about comic book depictions of Canadian history as well as other Canadian comics, visit Library and Archives Canada’s exhibition Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity. The exhibition runs at 395 Wellington St. 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.

A greater sisterhood: the Women’s Rights struggle in Canada

“Women are going to form a chain, a greater sisterhood than the world has ever known.” Nellie McClung, 1916

The year 2016 marks an important commemorative milestone for women’s rights: the 100th Anniversary of Women first obtaining the right to vote in Canada. To highlight this egalitarian achievement and many other barriers overcome by Canadian women over the past century, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), working in partnership with Canadian Heritage, will launch an outdoor exhibition titled A Greater Sisterhood: The Women’s Rights Struggle in Canada.

Following on from LAC‘s Let Them Howl: 100 Years of Women’s Suffragea display of portraits  this past winter on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and at Fort Gibraltar in Winnipeg—this new exhibition features reproductions of portraits and documentary photographs of significant and influential persons and groups of women. The women featured in this exhibit broke through barriers to achieve full participation in the economic, political, and social life of Canada, helping to make it a more inclusive and democratic country.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of nursing sisters waiting in line to cast their votes at an outdoor polling station. Four male officers oversee the proceedings while one sister casts her vote behind a screen. In the background are encampment tents.

Canada’s Nursing Sisters at a Canadian hospital casting their votes in the Canadian federal election, December 1917 (MIKAN 3194224)

During the First World War, more than 2,000 nurses, supervised by matron-in-chief Margaret Macdonald, served overseas as members of the Canadian Army. The Military Voters Act, 1917, gave all military personnel, including nurses, the right to vote in federal elections, paving the way to the expansion of women’s voting rights in 1918.

Madeleine Parent, a Quebec labour union activist and a founding member of the Confederation of Canadian Unions, led efforts to achieve better working conditions for women in the textile industry. As a co-founder of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Parent also supported Aboriginal women’s rights.

A black-and-white photograph showing a woman walking down a street; behind, there is a man with a sign that says “L’union fait la force” [Unity makes strength]

Madeleine Parent walking in the May Day Parade in Valleyfield, Quebec, ca. 1949 (MIKAN 3257043)

Throughout her fifty-year career as a singer-songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie has focused on issues facing Indigenous peoples. She has won recognition and countless awards for her music and her work as an activist and educator. In 1997, she founded the Cradleboard Teaching Project, which helps create core teaching curricula based on Indigenous perspectives.

A black-and-white photo portrait of a woman with long dark hair looking directly at the photographer.

Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photograph taken by Robert Taillefer, 1975 ©Robert Taillefer (MIKAN 4167090)

Be sure to visit the outdoor exhibition, A Greater Sisterhood: The Women’s Rights Struggle in Canada, on display on Plaza Bridge, directly opposite the Hotel Château Laurier on Rideau Street in Ottawa, which runs until Thanksgiving weekend.

Learn more about Women First Obtaining the Right to Vote in Canada or read about our other blog articles on the topic.

A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with Parks Canada, is marking the 175th anniversary of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s birth (November 20, 1841) with the exhibition A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The celebrations started this morning at Fairmont Château Laurier, 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, to coincide with the 104th anniversary of the grand opening of the famous hotel. One of the features is a commemorative display of LAC historical items alongside a Sir Wilfrid Laurier bust from Parks Canada—a perfect opportunity for a selfie!

A colour photograph of a woman leaning over towards a book that is held by a cardboard cutout figure.June 1, 1912, the Lauriers are on their way to the opening ceremony of the Château Laurier Hotel. A modest man, Laurier is said to have initially turned down the offer of having this Grand Trunk Railway hotel named after him.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of peopleA black-and-white photograph showing a group of people sitting in a car. sitting in a car.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Lady Laurier and unidentified passengers arrive for the opening of the Château Laurier Hotel, June 1, 1912 (MIKAN 3191987)

Be sure to visit the Laurier House National Historical Site at 335 Laurier Avenue East, in Ottawa, to see the main display on this prominent politician.

The exhibition features photographs, souvenirs, personal and political correspondence, and original historical records from the collection of Library and Archives Canada—some of which are on display for the first time. This selection of items honours Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was known for his articulate vision of a common purpose, his sense of compromise and interest in national unity. A widely admired dignitary with a strong sense of inclusiveness and cultural acceptance, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was Canada’s longest-serving member of Parliament and the first French-Canadian, bilingual prime minister.

Centered text elaborately framed with gold whiplash lines in the form of rose vines, pink coloured roses and leaves on the bottom corners; below the frame is an illustration of the Ottawa Parliament Buildings.

Luncheon in honour of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1902 (MIKAN 186966)

A hand-drawn embellishment consisting of red roses and green leaves on brown stem at top left corner above text.

Menu, Canada Club Menu, 1897 (MIKAN 186966)

Souvenirs on display highlight part of the prime minister’s role in representing Canada at public international events. Often collected in albums, memorabilia such as invitations, tickets to theatre performances, and menus from formal state dinners and luncheons give a glimpse into the social side of the prime minister’s duties. Visit the exhibition at Laurier House to see what was on the dinner menu over 100 years ago!

A newly discovered treasure from the collection—one recently restored by conservators—this illuminated address on parchment paper recognizes the important efforts by Laurier’s government to populate the West.

An illuminated address showing an elaborate scroll to the left of the text and a Red River Cart in the upper right-hand corner.

Illuminated address from the Mayor and Council of Winnipeg (MIKAN 186966)

Join us in celebrating one of the most pragmatic and eloquent Canadian prime ministers and visit the exhibition, A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier, being held in Ottawa until November 20—Laurier’s birthday!

To learn more about Sir Wilfrid Laurier, view a Flickr set, and to discover Canada’s heritage, go to http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/.

Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity

By Meaghan Scanlon

The first Canadian comic book, Better Comics no. 1, was published 75 years ago by Vancouver’s Maple Leaf Publishing. Since that time, Canada has produced many talented comic book artists. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) presents a new exhibition of reproductions of these artists’ work. Entitled Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity, the exhibition runs from May 12 to September 14 in the lobby of LAC’s main building at 395 Wellington St. in Ottawa.

Alter Ego takes three different approaches to the subject of comics and Canadian identity. The works featured are organized into three thematic groupings: “Collective Identity,” “Secret Identity,” and “Personal Identity.”

“Collective Identity” looks at the ways Canadian artists have engaged with national identity in their work. The Canadian identity is built through shared symbols and a shared history. Many Canadian comics, particularly in the superhero genre, have used the country’s national symbols to build patriotic feeling. There are also several comics about important figures and events from Canadian history. Through their depictions of distinctly Canadian stories, these comics help us consider what it means to be Canadian.

“Secret Identity” spotlights some of the Canadian artists who have found success outside Canada. From the earliest days of American comic books when Canadian Joe Shuster co-created Superman, Canadian artists have made significant contributions to international comics. Often, these artists’ work has little to do with their home country. To fit in with the wider world, they keep their Canadian origins hidden below the surface—like a superhero’s secret identity.

“Personal Identity” delves into Canada’s impact on the genre of autobiographical and realist comics. A number of Canadian cartoonists have drawn comics about “normal” characters—people who are more like Clark Kent than Superman. Dealing with issues such as family relationships, trauma and recovery, and sexual identity, these comics are highly personal. At the same time, their portrayal of circumstances that countless readers can relate to makes them universal.

The archetypal superhero, with his dual identity, is an extreme illustration of the idea that each of us is many things simultaneously. We define ourselves by our various qualities, and choose which side of ourselves to emphasize depending on our circumstances. Alter Ego examines some of the many perspectives on identity revealed through the work of Canadian comic artists. All of these perspectives work together to show that there is no single “Canadian identity,” but rather as many versions of the concept as there are Canadians.

Visit Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity and see which parts of your unique version of Canadian identity are reflected in Canadian comics! See you at 395 Wellington St. starting May 12. Admission is free.

Additional resources


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

The Persons Case, 1929

The Persons Case is a historic part of women’s fight for political equality in Canada. The case is significant for establishing that interpretation of the Canadian Constitution is adaptable to the changing needs of society and for determining that “qualified persons” in the British North America Act, 1867 (BNA Act, now known as the Constitution Act, 1867) includes women. This decision paved the way in Canada by asserting women’s rights to be active in political life.

The events leading to the Persons Case began in 1916 when Emily F. Murphy was appointed as the first female police magistrate in the British Empire. Undermining her authority, lawyers challenged her position as illegal on the grounds that a woman was not considered to be a person under the BNA Act, and therefore she was unable to act as magistrate. Although the Provincial Court of Alberta would confirm Murphy’s appointment by declaring women as “persons,” this decision was not proclaimed federally.

Over the next 10 years, the federal government faced pressure from women’s groups to appoint a female senator. The government declared the appointment of a women impossible according to the BNA Act, which specified only “qualified persons” could hold a senate position. Turning to the law, Murphy found that under section 60 of the Supreme Court Act, five interested persons are allowed to petition the government for interpretation on a constitutional point.

Murphy enlisted the help of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Irene Marryat Parlby—now known as the “Famous Five”—who were engaged politically and championed equal rights for women.

A black-and-white photograph showing five women standing on either side of a man.


(Front row, L-R): Mrs. Muir Edwards, daughter-in-law of Henrietta Muir Edwards; Mrs. J.C. Kenwood, daughter of Judge Emily Murphy; Hon. Mackenzie King; Mrs. Nellie McClung. (Rear row, L-R): Senators Iva Campbell Fallis and Cairine Wilson. This photograph was taken at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the five Alberta women whose efforts resulted in the Persons Case, which established the rights of women to hold public office in Canada. Photograph taken by Eugene M. Finn, National Film Board of Canada, June 11, 1938, Ottawa, Ontario. (MIKAN 3193154)

Continue reading

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

Who Are the Métis?

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

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

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

Challenges in Researching Métis Content in the Art and Photographic Collections

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Temperance, social reform and the quest for women’s suffrage

At the beginning of the 19th century, many people considered that industrialization and urbanization were the source of society’s ills. This sparked the temperance movement, which advocated moderation or abstinence from alcohol because of its perceived detrimental influence on society.

Temperance societies, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), campaigned against alcoholism to protect the home and strengthen family life. In addition to temperance, they endorsed many social reforms including community welfare, education and women’s suffrage to combat inequities like poverty and child labour. WCTUs realized that in order to prompt social change women needed to be able to influence government policies, which meant gaining the right to vote.

The temperance movement got more women interested in participating in public life and actively engaging in political and social reform. Nellie McClung, who was instrumental in winning women the right to vote in Manitoba in 1916, began to get involved in politics with the WCTU.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated woman, right hand propping up her head, right elbow on a table, a book in her left hand. She is looking directly at the camera.

Nellie McLung by Jessop Cyril (MIKAN 3622978)

Continue reading

Mirrors with Memory: Daguerreotypes from Library and Archives Canada—an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

When the daguerreotype was invented in 1839, it was a revelation. The first photographic process to be made available to the public, daguerreotypes were shiny, reflective objects that delighted and astonished viewers by capturing the likenesses of friends and family with brilliant clarity. For the first time in history, portraits of loved ones could be recorded and shared or passed down to descendants. The impact of the daguerreotype and of photography on the lives of ordinary people was immense.

A hand-tinted daguerreotype portrait of a seated woman in a polka-dot dress.

Kate McDougall, ca. 1848 (MIKAN 3192966)

The science of capturing light on a photographic surface was co-developed in France by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) and Joseph-Nicephore Niépce (1765–1833). Niépce died before practical success was achieved, and Daguerre went on to perfect the process. Highly polished silver-plated sheets of copper that were sensitized with iodine vapours and developed in mercury fumes, daguerreotypes created compelling, one-of-a-kind images with infinite detail.

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada features examples of these special objects. While not rare, daguerreotypes are not often exhibited due to their susceptibility to light and environmental degradation. Drawn from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, the objects in this exhibition have undergone careful preservation and conservation treatment, and offer the viewer an extraordinary look at these unique photographs. Intimate, detailed and captivating, these objects—reflective by their very nature—are some of the earliest photographic glimpses of Canada in existence.

A daguerreotype photograph of a man (standing) and a woman sitting on the ground, among the destroyed remains of the brewery.

The Molson family brewery after the fire, Montréal, Quebec, 1858 (MIKAN 3192967)

The exhibition features street scenes as well portraits of both well-known and unknown personalities. Most likely taken in Europe in the late 1840s, the portrait of Maungwudaus, a member of the Anishnaabe Nation of the New Credit Mississauga, is one of the earliest photographic portraits of an Aboriginal person in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Maungwudaus grew up near what is now Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Educated by Methodist missionaries, he later worked in mission outreach and as a translator and writer before finding acclaim as a performer in a “Wild West” show that he along with friends and family members, organized and travelled through parts of the U.S. and Europe. The troupe was celebrated in England and in France where Maungwudaus was presented with several medals by King Louis Philippe I.

Daguerreotype portrait of Maungwudaus wearing ceremonial dress including a feathered headdress and two medals.

Maungwudaus, ca. 1846 (MIKAN 3198805)

As one-of-a-kind objects designed to be stored in a closed case and looked at by one viewer at a time, daguerreotypes are intimate by nature. Some show the wear and tear expected of objects over a century old. Often, the names of the sitters or any other accompanying information has long since disappeared, making the exceptions even more special. One such example is the portrait of a group of merchants from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, dated 1855. This daguerreotype had a small manuscript tucked inside at the back of the plate, which is signed by one of the sitters and lists all the members of the group, as well as the location of the sitting and the name of the daguerreotypist, Wellington Chase. In this portrait, among others, we can see Loran Ellis Baker, seated front row, centre. Twenty-four years old at the time of this portrait, Baker was one of Yarmouth’s most prominent businessmen and civic leaders, and a member of the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia from 1878 to 1900.

A velvet-lined case with a daguerreotype portrait of nine men: five seated in front, four standing.

Group of merchants from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 1855 (MIKAN 3622937)

Visit the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from September 4 to February 28, 2016.

When a landscape is more than a setting: Library and Archives Canada’s The Red River Expedition at Kakabeka Falls exhibited

Painting showing various activities of the men of Colonel Garnet Wolseley’s Red River Expedition (1870), as they portage canoes and supplies at Kakabeka Falls, on the Kaministiquia River, Ontario, including a sweeping view of the Kaministiquia gorge with white water and mountains in the background.

The Red River Expedition at Kakabeka Falls, by Frances Anne Hopkins, 1877 (MIKAN 2836614)

In 1870, British Colonel Garnet Wolseley (1833–1913) landed with his men at Kakabeka Falls (Ontario), a major canoe portage along the voyageur network of rivers and lakes to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg, Manitoba). Charged with putting down the Métis rebellion (Métis resistance) at the Red River Colony, over 1,000 men created corduroy roads to transport provisions, equipment, and even cannons over portages like Kakabeka. Wolseley’s able command, throughout one of the most daunting and difficult treks in military history, was recognized as an impressive feat of tactical leadership in early Canada.

A large-scale and richly detailed painting documenting the achievement, by an artist known for her astonishing technical realism, is one of the showpieces of Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection. Commissioned by Wolseley himself in 1877, the painting represents the only occasion on which British painter Frances Anne Hopkins (1838–1919) represented an actual historical event.

Yet the Wolseley Expedition portrait remains, in the words of Georgiana Uhlyarik, Associate Curator of Canadian Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), “insightfully reimagined.”

Uhlyarik is the Canadian co-curator of an ambitious new show which opens at the AGO today. The first exhibition to exclusively examine 19th- and early 20th-century Pan-American landscape painting, Picturing the Americas considers ways in which paintings featuring North American scenery, such as this one by Hopkins, may have worked as symbols for the development of national identities. The subject of Hopkins’s painting is, after all, a military action undertaken largely to counter potential American expansionism.

It’s long been recognized that Hopkins deliberately changed details of the Kakabeka landscape, in order to make her composition stronger. She probably never intended to include the entirety of the rather overwhelming waterfall, as this would have detracted from a focus on Wolseley’s men. The river rapids are a product of Hopkins’s imagination, together with background hills that are almost extended into mountains.

Detail of hills, in the Kaministiquia gorge, which the artist has portrayed as mountain-like Detail of rapids on the Kaministiquia River, invented by the artist for this painting

Would 19th-century viewers have read the mastery of one section of difficult territory as a stand in for the larger-scale mastery of the Canadian west? If so, Hopkins’s manipulation of the true landscape of the area may have served, in part, to reinforce this message.

Picturing the Americas remains at the AGO until September 7, 2015. It will then travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (USA), and the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (Brazil)—opening just in time for the start of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro.