Guest curator: Jeff Thomas

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.


This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

Canada Day 2005, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, by Jeff Thomas, 2005

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

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

For Iroquois artist Jeff Thomas, Canada has always excluded his people. He made this series in order to symbolically place them back in the national picture. Each photograph takes back a major symbol of Canadian nationhood.


Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and I am an enrolled member of the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario. I am a self-taught photographer and curator. My career in photography began from a near-fatal car accident in 1979 that left me with a permanent disability from a spinal cord injury. I turned to my interest in photography to begin the process of rebuilding life. My career began with two objectives: to address the absences of contemporary and of historical Indigenous photographers in archival collections. My primary objective was to address the absence and invisibility of urban-based Iroquois like me.

In 1990, I was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when I discovered, during a research project at the Manitoba Museum, that LAC had a complete copy of Edward Curtis’s 20-volume series The North American Indian. Curtis played the role of antagonist in my early career, primarily because of his staged images of an Indigenous tribal life, which had vanished decades before. Very little was known about Curtis—wanting to know more, I moved to Ottawa in 1993 and began the next stage of my career.

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

In 1999, my son Bear was moving to the West Coast, so I was losing my muse. Bear had started posing for me in 1984. Around the same time that Bear was leaving, I received a box in the mail from documentary filmmaker Ali Kazimi. Ali had made a documentary film about my work titled Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeff Thomas. Ali introduces the film by holding up a plastic Indian and cowboy. And when I opened the box, I saw the plastic Indians and the cowboy, with a note from Ali saying, “You will find something interesting to do with them.”

Indians on Tour began in the summer of 2000 during a walk around the Parliament Hill area in Ottawa. I had a plastic toy Indian figure in my camera bag, and when I stopped to photograph a statue of an Indian hunter, I placed the toy Indian in front of the bronze hunter and photographed the two. What transpired when I saw the photograph was a new level of possibilities for me in addressing absences of Indigenous representation in the everyday world. From that point, I started taking the plastic figures with me wherever I travelled. I eventually added new Indian figures that I discovered in tourist shops, and to make posing them less reliant on a flat surface, I started making portable dioramas for the figures, mounted on a portable light stand.

Small light-brown First Nations figure set in front of Indian hunter statue. Tall office buildings and trees can be seen in the background.

War Dancer and Indian Hunter Statue by Jeff Thomas in Ottawa, 2000 © Jeff Thomas

In 2005, I was in Brandon, Manitoba, for an opening of my work, and since the next day was Canada Day, I drove around the city looking for an interesting site to pose the delegate. When I saw the grain car with “Canada” and some graffiti on its side, I knew I had found the site for my Canada Day image.

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A black-and-white photo of a Dakota First Nation woman wearing a striped dress under a long beaded breastplate. It is matched with a necklace, long earrings and braids.

Studio portrait of Dakota First Nation (Sioux) woman (MIKAN 3258922)

In 1994, LAC hired me to write new captions for photographs showing Indigenous people, with culturally insensitive words in the old captions. One image stands out from my project. I wrote a new caption for a photograph showing a full-length image of an Indigenous woman. She was probably a mother, wife, grandmother and elder for her community. The caption was “Sioux Squaw”; squaw is considered a very derogatory word. The caption I wrote was simply “Dakota Woman.”

An important point is that the original caption was not deleted, so researchers will see both captions in the database. The new caption inspired a researcher to try and identify the woman, and the new information he found was subsequently added to the database caption. It was amazing to see the impact that changing two words had on one photograph. I suspect that once more Indigenous people use the database, someone from her community will add her name to the caption.

Biography

A colour photograph of a lightly bearded man smiling at the camera.

Jeff Thomas credit Justin Wonnacott

Jeff Thomas is an urban-based Iroquois, self-taught photo-based artist, writer, public speaker and curator, living in Ottawa, Ontario. He has works in major collections in Canada, the United States and Europe. Jeff’s most recent solo shows were Mapping Iroquoia: Cold City Frieze, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario; Resistance Is NOT Futile, Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Ontario; and The Dancing Grounds, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Thomas has also been in many group shows, including l:ke – Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971–1989, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario; Land/Slide: Possible Futures, Markham, Ontario; SAKAHÀN, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; and UNMASKING: Arthur Renwick, Adrian Stimson, Jeff Thomas, Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France. In 1998, he was awarded the Canada Council for the Arts’ prestigious Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography. He was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 2003. In 2008, he received the Karsh Award in photography.

Related resources

Guest Curator: Caroline Forcier-Holloway

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.


Film still from the R.C.M.P series, “Storm O’Brien,” by Crawley Films Ltd., 1959

Black-and-white still of an actor in an RCMP uniform leaning against a Bombardier truck.

Film still from “Storm O’Brien,” an episode of the television show R.C.M.P, by Crawley Films Ltd., 1959 (MIKAN 3563899) ©Michal Anne Crawley

This series set out to create a more realistic picture of Canada’s Mounties. It hints at complex and difficult relationships—with Indigenous peoples, for example. Still, the overall look and feel is surprisingly romantic.


Tell us about yourself

My research interests focus on Canada’s northern peoples and exploration in the Canadian Arctic documented in government-sponsored films, lesser-known independent and unpublished amateur films, as well as home movies. When the opportunity arises, I turn my efforts towards often-forgotten orphaned films that require much needed attention, with the hopes of making them accessible.

My interest in LAC’s oral history collection began as a reference archivist, and later it became one of my major acquisition portfolios. This fueled a need to conduct donor interviews, as part of the long-established National Archives oral history program. Since 2015, I have been co-lead of LAC’s newly established Oral History Initiative—an oral history interview program that gives voice to and celebrates donors and LAC employees alike.

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The following is a sampling of early RCMP content from LAC’s vast collection of audiovisual records. The information is arranged in three categories: early fictional television dramas; early fictional feature films; and early documentaries and amateur films.

The RCMP portrayed in early fictional television dramas

The R.C.M.P. series was produced in 1959–1960 by Crawley Films Ltd., in partnership with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Based on actual cases from the RCMP files, these 39 half-hour shows were filmed in 35 mm black-and-white, and were broadcast in Canada, England, and Australia.

LAC acquired the Crawley Films fonds in 1983. The holdings consist of 38,837 film reels, 12,800 photographs, 42 metres of textual records, and other media. Crawley Films was officially founded in 1939 by Frank Radford “Budge” Crawley and Judith Crawley in Ottawa. Amongst the various categories of film that Crawley Films produced—industrial, feature, documentary, animation, and commercials—the R.C.M.P. television drama series really set Crawley Films apart from other production companies.

Canadians welcomed television into their homes in 1952, and by 1955 there were 23 television stations operating in Canada, where demand was growing for more content to be aired. In 1958, “Budge”, struck a partnership with the CBC and the BBC to produce a series that was to be the “day to day story of Canada’s federal police force.”

Munroe Scott, one of the script writers for the series, explained why Crawley Films chose the theme: “The RCMP fascinated us because they’d been into virtually every aspect of Canadian life. The story lines for each episode were meant to reflect mostly real life, although they were dramatized for television purposes.”

To produce the episodes, Crawley Films purchased 40 acres of land near Chelsea, Quebec, where an 8,500-square foot studio was built. The towns of Aylmer, Quebec and Outlook, Saskatchewan, stood in for the fictional western town of Shamattawa. Gilles Pelletier, a French-speaking actor, played the lead role of Corporal Jacques Gagnier, who was the head of the detachment. John Perkins played Constable Frank Scott, and Don Francks as the rookie sidekick Constable Bill Mitchell. Recurring roles of Special Constable Ben Aputagen was played by Angus Baptiste and Mayor Bill Cartwright, by Bernard McManus.

LAC has a complete set of the 39 episodes, as well as a version of episode 18, The Hunt, in German. Viewers tuned in to watch the series on CBC, Wednesdays at 8:00 pm. A list of all the episodes was compiled by The Classic TV Archive.

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Prior to the R.C.M.P. series, and already popular amongst viewers and listeners was the American fictional drama adventure series of 78 episodes, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, broadcast on CBS television between 1955 and 1958. The series was based on Sergeant William Preston, a Canadian Mountie with the North West Mounted Police, patrolling the wilds of the Yukon with his horse Rex and his faithful dog Yukon King. Together they fought evildoers in northern parts during the Gold Rush of the 1890s.

The television series was based on the popular radio drama, Challenge of the Yukon, a 15-minute radio serial about Sergeant Preston that first aired in Detroit between 1938 and 1947, and then on different radio stations up until 1955. The series was written by Tom Dougall, who was influenced by the poems of Robert W. Service. For those eager to travel down memory lane, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group website has all 609 radio episodes. LAC has some episodes of Challenge of the Yukon and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.

The RCMP portrayed in early fictional feature films

An iconic Canadian symbol, the RCMP was portrayed in several hundred Hollywood fictional works which saturated the film industry. Classics such as Rose-Marie (1936), a musical by MGM, and Renfrew of the Royal Mounted,(1937), a series of eight features by Criterion Pictures Corporation were distributed throughout North America and elsewhere.

The earliest fictional feature about Mounties was The Cattle Thieves (1909), made by the American-based Kalem Company, which was the first film studio to travel to Canada to film dramas on location. In doing so, they introduced the Northwest Mounted Police to the American public. American production companies also produced films with Canadian plots that were filmed on location in the U.S., a pattern followed well into the 1950s, when the emphasis was on the romance of Canada’s vast wilderness. A recurring cast of characters often included a French-Canadian trapper or lumberjack as the villain, a few Aboriginal people, miners, prospectors, whisky runners, and of course, a “noble Mountie.”

On the King’s Highway (1915) was an early Mountie drama story, directed by A.J. Edwards, of the Conness Till Film Company of Toronto, and the James Oliver Curwood story, Wapi the Walrus that became Back to God’s Country (1919), Canada’s earliest surviving feature film. Film historian Peter Morris described the story as a “melodramatic triangle of heroine, hero, and villain, with a setting in the wilds of North Canada, a dog as co-hero, plus bears, living amid their natural surroundings in the snow fastness of the North, and the omnipresent North West Mounted Police.”

A colourized image showing a man and woman on horseback in a clearing before tall green trees and snow-capped mountains. The man is wearing a yellow shirt unbuttoned to expose his chest. He is reaching over to the woman who is wearing a white cap and red cloak. At the bottom left is a second image, a black-and-white cut-out of a uniformed officer leading his horse to a campfire with a tall tree in the background. The movie title is on the right side of the poster.

Promotional poster for the film Cameron of the Royal Mounted, 1921, by Winnipeg Productions Ltd. (MIKAN 199330)

Cameron of the Royal Mounted (1921) is a silent fictional adventure feature with English intertitles, made by Winnipeg Productions Ltd., and based on the book, Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police, by Ralph Connor. It tells the story of a young man who comes to Canada escaping arrest for forging a cheque. He falls in love but is shot by a jealous rival. The occasion presents itself to join the RNWMP. He rescues his kidnapped girlfriend, and clears his name of the initial offense. What really sets this feature apart from others is the bold decision to cast real Mounties from the RNWMP Fort McLeod post in Alberta as extras. LAC has an incomplete version of the film, with only two reels of a six-part feature.

Other films include Policing the Plains (1927) by A.D. Kean of Canadian Historic Features Ltd. in Vancouver, and His Destiny (1928) also known as North of 49 by British Canadian Pictures Ltd. in Calgary. The latter was shot on location in Alberta, and includes scenes of the 1928 Calgary Stampede. LAC has two incomplete versions.

The RCMP portrayed in early documentaries and amateur films

There are plenty of films made about the Mounties but not as many made by them. LAC has over 1,230 moving image and sound records for both governmental and private collections documenting activities of the RCMP. Documentaries provide a narrative of activities and events, such as Through the Northwest Passage, a film documenting a unique voyage in the history of navigation. The documentary shot by Corporal F.S. Farrar tells the story of the voyage of the wooden schooner St. Roch, Captain Henry Larsen, and her eight member crew as they sail from Vancouver, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia via the Northwest Passage from 1940 to 1942.

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed in winter clothing aboard a boat with icy water in the background.

Captain Henry Larsen aboard the RCMP patrol vessel St. Roch, in the Northwest Territories, ca. 1944. (MIKAN 3191981)

Amateur films play a significant role in documenting history, culture, and lives and activities of individuals. Many archives aim to promote their broader value or significance, as they are considered primary source material in the context of the historical record, especially given the increasing demand from researchers for their invaluable use in productions, sociological studies, websites, exhibitions, and more.

Real life stories about Mounties are also told through amateur footage. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Henry Larsen shot seven reels of amateur film documenting varied activities, people and places encountered during his northern voyages.

In 1932, Doug Betts became an RCMP Constable and trained at the Fairmont Barracks in Vancouver. Shortly afterwards, he was posted to Dawson, Yukon Territory and Whitehorse, and was promoted to the rank of Corporal in the late 1940s.

The Norman Betts fonds consists of 23 reels of silent black-and-white 8 mm home movies. Corporal Doug Betts was an avid cameraman who took his camera on various work assignments, as well as during recreational leave, documenting placer mining operations, patrols by dog sled, investigation of a plane crash site, assisted hunting parties, and more. In addition, LAC conducted a donor interview with Doug Betts’ son Norman, to gain contextual information about the silent films.

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed in winter clothing sitting on a sled with six sled dogs on leads.

Doug Betts sitting with Kluane, his lead sled dog from Doug Betts No. 8: home movie, ca. 1935–1939. (MIKAN 188444)

A colour photograph of a yellow film package with writing identifying the film.

Kodak film box that contained a 16 mm 100 ft. reel of film shot by Constable Doug Betts. (Information such as annotations, stamp cancellation, and film due date, provide important clues to identifying the content and dates of a film).

Biography

A colour photograph of a woman with a very broad smile.Caroline Forcier-Holloway is an Audiovisual Archivist at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). During her career at LAC, she has worked in various capacities beginning in 1989 as a Specialized Audiovisual Reference Archivist, General Reference Archivist, Film Researcher, and finally, an Audiovisual Archivist. Since 2000, she has acquired audiovisual fonds and collections of oral history, and Aboriginal and northern content, as well as French and English, private and government, professional and amateur filmmakers and broadcasters.

Related Resources

  • Search – Film, Video and Sound (LAC database)
  • Wade Rose, Barbara. Budge: What Happened to Canada’s King of Film, Toronto: ECW Press, 1998. AMICUS 18144389
  • Morris, Peter. Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema 1895–1939, Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, c1978. AMICUS 877273

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.

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

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

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 Indigenous 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.