When Ugandan Asian refugees arrived in Canada in 1972

By Sheyfali Saujani

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of people standing in a big room, with luggage and suitcases on the floor, and a Canadian flag and a sign reading “Bienvenue, Welcome.”

Ugandan Asian refugees arrive at a Canadian Forces Base in Longue-Pointe, Quebec (e011052358)

In September 1972, Canada welcomed the first of some 7,500 Ugandan Asian refugees. At the time, people who had migrated from the Indian subcontinent were called Asian, rather than South Asian. This was the first large-scale influx of non-European immigrants to Canada following a series of changes to the country’s immigration policy that started in 1962. These changes eliminated racial barriers to entry. My family was lucky enough to be among those immigrants.

Both of my parents were born in Africa. My mother, Shanta Saujani, was born in Durban, South Africa, and that is where she went, to be with her mother, when she was pregnant with me, her first child, in 1964. My father, Rai Saujani, was born in Uganda, where his father had arrived sometime around 1914 (we are not completely certain about the date). Asians from around the British Empire migrated to its African colonies in much the same way that Europeans circulated through the colonies (including Canada), and for many of the same reasons: economic opportunity, adventure and change.

But the colonial world did not treat all of its subjects equally, and divisions established under imperial rule persisted, or even deepened, after independence. In South Africa, Asians (people from the Indian subcontinent) were racially segregated, as were Black Africans under the country’s notorious apartheid policy. People designated “white” could go anywhere and everywhere. Those designated “black,” “brown” or “coloured” were restricted in their freedom of movement, residence, education and work. Even though my mother and I were both born there, I was not allowed to become a citizen because my father was a citizen of Uganda.

In Uganda, racial divisions were not legislated, but cultural mingling was discouraged by separate schools and social services. Under colonial rule, it was harder for Black Africans to obtain business licences and other benefits that might have allowed them to compete with entrepreneurial Asians who controlled many key sectors of the economy. Asians thus became a relatively privileged middle class that some Africans resented. Although many Asians, like my father, acquired Ugandan citizenship in order to serve their country, many others, fearful of losing British status, chose to remain British subjects.

In 1971, General Idi Amin ousted Uganda’s government in a military coup. The following year, he declared that there was no longer room for Asians in Uganda, even if they were citizens. In August 1972, he ordered the expulsion of all of the country’s roughly 80,000 Asians and gave us 90 days to leave.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of children sitting together on the floor eating.

A group of children who had recently arrived in Canada (e011052361)

That was a frightening time for us. Although my brothers and I were too young to fully understand the political tensions, we soon realized how bad things could get when some of our relatives were jailed. There had been an argument of some sort in one of the many long lines to acquire government documents, and three of my uncles were arrested by the army. At the time, my father was a deputy superintendent in the Ugandan police force, and he was able to use his connections to get my uncles released. I remember vividly the red welts left on their backs by the terrible beatings they had received while in prison. They were free, but now the army officers who had arrested them were looking for my father. We spent our last few weeks in Uganda in hiding, desperate to find a country that would give us sanctuary.

Because of the refugee crisis caused by Amin’s expulsion order, Canada offered to immediately accept 5,000 (though more eventually came) people needing a new home. Canada also sent a special team of immigration agents to Uganda to help expedite the selection and processing of those who would come here.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform looking at a piece of paper, a man in a dark shirt and a light coloured jacket holding documents, a boy, and a woman with her hair tied back in a ponytail.

A Canadian official and a Ugandan Asian family who had recently arrived in Canada (e011052346)

Those officials suggested that we might be able to enter Canada more quickly if we came as sponsored refugees. Family members reached out to an aunt living in Hamilton. She had moved from Tanzania to Canada with her husband and three daughters a few years earlier.

To qualify as a sponsor, you needed to prove that you had a certain level of income. My aunt’s family fell just short of that number. My aunt feared that they might not qualify as sponsors, but then a helpful immigration officer asked about the monthly mother’s allowance cheques that the government gave out back then. Those small cheques, which my aunt received to help support my three cousins, allowed them to clear the financial threshold needed to qualify as sponsors.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a uniform serving food to a woman holding a small child.

Food being given to recently arrived Ugandan refugees (e011052348)

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in an apron and a hat handing a paper cup to a smiling man in a suit, as a woman in a scarf holds a cookie and a paper cup.

Recently arrived Ugandan refugees receiving drinks (e011052353)

The day we arrived in Canada was a day of exhaustion, relief and elation for us, much like it probably was for the people in these photos. It was September 28, 1972, a cold and clear fall day in the army barracks near Montréal where officials received the refugee families. My brother and I recall the unexpected chill, for which we were unprepared after coming from equatorial Africa. Luckily, immigration officials had arranged for us to have access to winter clothes. My brother remembers that it was the first time he saw the famous four Hudson’s Bay colours (green, red, yellow and indigo) on some of the coats. We both remember the amazing colours of the autumn leaves. But the best memory of all is my mother’s. She remembers that there were 11 black-and-white television sets scattered around the hall where our paperwork was being processed. Suddenly all of the officials, soldiers and cafeteria staff started jumping up and down, yelling and screaming, hugging each other and shouting for joy. What we did not know but soon learned was that it was the day of the final game of the famous Canada-Soviet Summit Series, and Paul Henderson had just scored the winning goal. And my mother thought: what an auspicious day for us to arrive! We are very grateful for the refuge that Canada gave us, and the opportunity to become citizens of a peaceful country that strives toward inclusion.

For more images of the arrival of Ugandan Asian refugees in Canada in 1972, visit the Library and Archives Canada Flickr Album.

©  Sheyfali Saujani


Sheyfali Saujani worked as a radio producer with CBC Radio for 30 years. She is a writer and producer living in Toronto.

 

 

The Art of Dene Handgames / Stick Gambling / ᐅᐨᘛ / oodzi

By Angela Code

The Dene are a group of Indigenous People who are part of the Na-Dene language family. The Dene are also commonly referred to as Athabaskans or Athapaskans. We are one of the largest Indigenous groups in North America. Our land covers over 4,000,000 square kilometres, spanning from across northern North America to the American Southwest. There are three distinct Dene groups: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern/Apachean. There are approximately 50 distinct languages within the Na-Dene language family, and various dialects.

There is a game that the Northern Dene have been playing for many years called Dene Handgame, also called Stick Gambling, or simply referred to as handgames. Dënesųłiné yatiyé, also known as Chipewyan Dene, is one of the more widely spoken languages from within the Na-Dene language family. In the Sayisi Dënesųłiné dialect, Dene Handgame is called  ᐅᐨᘛ (oodzi).

There are different rules and various hand signals of the game across the north; however, the object of the game and how it is played is essentially the same. Basically, Dene Handgame is an elaborate guessing game. It is a fun pastime that requires a good sense of “reading people” and concealment. The players who compete with high energy, humour, good sportsmanship and performative gestures are often the most fun to play with and to observe.

How to play Dene Handgame

There must be an even number of players on each team. Tournaments will specify how many people per team will play—the number varies from region to region, and it often ranges from 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 per team. Two teams play against each other at a time. Each player must have a personal token—a small object that can be easily hidden in one hand (a stone, a coin, a button, a .22 shell, etc.).

When players are not personally competing in the game, they, as well as some onlookers, will hit individual caribou-skin hand drums with handmade wooden drumsticks in a fast-paced, rhythmic beat. The music of the drums, whoops, cheers, chants and songs fuel the high energy of the game. Drummers who are not personally playing in the game will often drum behind the team that they support. They drum when their “side” is hiding their tokens, to encourage them and protect them from being guessed out.

A black-and-white photograph of about 20 men and boys, some standing and some kneeling on the ground. One man near the centre of the photo is wearing a white buttoned-up shirt and dark pants with a wooden tobacco pipe in his mouth. He is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. There is a white canvas wall tent set up in the background, and fresh meat hanging to dry on a wooden rack.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame while a man drums, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories (a102486)

Each team has a captain. To begin the game, the two opposing team captains will play against each other. They will each hide their token in one of their hands, and then they will simultaneously indicate which hand they think their opponents’ token is in.

A colour photograph of eight men and one child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks. Two men are gesturing with Dene Handgame hand signals.

Men playing Dene Handgame, photographs from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples visit to Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, the community of the Sayisi Dene (Denesuline), 1992–1993. Back (left to right): Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Jimmy Clipping, Fred Duck, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck. Front (left to right): Unknown, Evan Yassie, Thomas Cutlip, Ray Ellis. (e011300424)

Once one of the captains correctly guesses where the opponent’s token is, then their respective teammates will join the game. The winning captain’s team becomes the first team to have the opportunity to win points.

Each member of a team will line up side by side, kneeling on the floor or on the ground, facing the opposing team. Because handgames can often go on for long periods of time, players will kneel on something soft like a mat or a bed of spruce bough.

It is not necessary, but often one or two designated, unbiased scorekeepers/referees will keep a keen eye on every player to ensure that scores are tallied correctly, no one cheats and any disputes are settled fairly. They sit close by on the sidelines between the two opposing teams so that they have the best vantage points to view the players and have access to move the winning handgame sticks.

The sticks are placed between the two teams and are used to keep score of the game. The number of sticks correlate with the number of players. For example, when 4 people are playing per team then 12 sticks are used, when 6 are playing per team then 14 sticks are used, when 8 are playing per team then 21 sticks are used, when 10 are playing per team then 24 or 25 sticks are used, and when 12 are playing per team then 28 or 29 sticks are used.

A colour photograph of the back of an elderly man wearing a “Sayisi Dene Traditional Handgame Club” jacket, watching a Dene Handgame match.

An Elder (Charlie Learjaw) observes a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300421)

The team whose turn it is to hide their tokens will place their hands under a cloth covering (like a blanket or spare coats). They will move their token from hand to hand until they decide which hand to hide it in. Then, when they have chosen their hiding hand, they will take their fists out from under the cloth covering and face their opponents. Commonly, players keep their arms straight in front of them or they cross them over their chests; however, players also develop their own elaborate and unique positioning of their hands. Players will use facial gestures, body movements and sounds to try and confuse or “psyche out” the opposing captain, who is the one who will guess and signal to where they think each token is hidden.

A colour photograph of six men and one small child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks and singing.

Men drumming and playing Dene Handgame, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993. Left to right: Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Fred Duck, Jimmy Clipping, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck and Ray Ellis. (e011300426)

Before the captain makes the hand signal indicating where they think the tokens are hidden, they make a loud sound—a big clap, or they hit the floor with their hand—to let everyone know that they are ready to call. There are many different signals that can be used; however, there are four main ones that the Arctic Winter Games follow.

Once the captain reveals their hand signal, all the opposing players must then open the hand that the captain has indicated so everyone can see if the token is there. If the token is not there, meaning that the captain was wrong in their guess, the opposition player(s) must then show the other hand containing the object. Each time the captain is wrong in their guess, a stick is awarded to the opposing team. For example, if the captain guesses and makes one correct guess and three wrong guesses, the opposition will receive three sticks. The player who was guessed correctly is eliminated from the round, and now there are only three players remaining. This will continue until the captain has correctly guessed all of the players remaining, or until the opposing team wins all of the sticks. If the captain guesses all of the opposition players correctly, it is their team’s turn to hide their tokens and for the other team captain to try and guess which hands the tokens are in. The team to win all of the sticks wins the game.

A black-and-white composite photograph of about 16 boys, some standing, some kneeling on the ground. They are playing Dene Handgame. One young man is standing and hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories, ca. 1930 (a102488)

Handgame tournaments

There are many small Dene Handgame tournaments happening all across the north all the time. My home community of Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, aims to play every Friday evening. There are also some very big Dene Handgame tournaments that happen a few times a year in various regions. Some of the prizes for winning teams are in the thousands of dollars!

Historically, there have been stories told about when people would play handgame—they would gamble goods such as firearms, bullets, axes, etc. I have even heard about men losing their wives to a game and having to win her back at another game!

Gender controversy in handgames

Children, both boys and girls, are taught how to play Dene Handgame at home and at handgame tournaments. In some regions, they are taught how to play at school as a part of physical education.

A colour photograph of a man, a teenage boy and a small child watching a Dene Handgame match. The man is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. The small child is mimicking the drumbeat with his own small hand drum.

A man (Peter Cheekie) hits a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick while a teenage boy (Christopher Yassie) and a small child (Brandon Cheekie) watch a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300429)

However, for adults, the sport is predominantly played by men. This is because some regions, particularly in the Northwest Territories, do not allow adult women to play. However, in the Yukon and in some northern Prairie provinces, women are not only allowed to play, they are encouraged and widely supported. This inclusion of women makes the games much larger and more fun to participate in and to observe. Tournaments will state whether they allow men’s teams only or mixed teams. There has only been one women’s handgame tournament (that I know of), which was held in Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2016. The inclusion of women to play handgames is a hot topic in the north. Some say that it is not “traditional” to allow women to play and that women “have too much power—so they would just win all the time.” Some communities do not even allow women to drum.

Others say that women played a long time ago, but that this changed with the imposition of Christianity. Some Christian missionaries actually banned the drum and playing Dene Handgames altogether. The drum in Dene culture is very important. It is spiritual and some Christian missionaries saw it as heathen and therefore unacceptable. They actually burned drums in some communities. Some people continued to play handgames in secret, but in other communities it only came back into practice in recent years. In one community in particular, I heard that handgames were not played for a long time, and it was the women who brought it back, encouraging the men and others to play again.

I think that in this day and age, it is not fair to exclude women from playing Dene Handgame, or to prevent them from drumming, for that matter. Gender dynamics change and shift within all cultures. I believe that more gender inclusion to compete in this fun pastime is a good, positive change for everyone.

I personally love to watch people play, but I much prefer to compete in the game myself, and I would love to see more women participate and have fun playing handgames as well.

Visit the Flickr Album for images of the Dene.


Angela Code is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

Catalogue shopping at Sears: Delivering the goods

By Jennifer Anderson

Have you done some online shopping recently? That remote connection you have to retail, complete with delivery to your doorstep, is so convenient. It makes it easier for everyone to gain access to high-quality goods, whether you are mobility-challenged, live far away from urban centres, or cannot visit a store for any other reason. It also saves time.

But shopping remotely was not invented yesterday.

Before the Internet, consumers could shop from a distance using catalogues that were delivered regularly to their homes. They could also pick up their orders at small catalogue stores sometimes located within other shops, like florists and gift stores.

A black-and-white photograph showing the exterior of a catalogue store, with “Simpson’s Order Office” written above the door, and advertisements in the windows.
Simpson’s catalogue order office, Sarnia, Ontario, 1952 (e011172139)

In an earlier blog article, I mentioned that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) acquired the archives of Sears Canada in 2017. There are over 40,000 photographs in this archival fonds, many of which show the day-to-day operations of Simpson’s (and later, Sears) staff working on delivering goods to customers through the company’s catalogue service. Although originally the photographs were likely for public relations, today they offer researchers a window into the everyday working lives of the department store personnel.

After Sears arrived in Canada in 1952, purchasing Simpson’s and rebranding itself as Simpsons-Sears, it was the catalogue that remained the mainstay for the company, eventually outperforming Eaton’s, Dupuis Frères, Hudson’s Bay Company and all other department stores in the mail-order retail business. In the late 1970s, the company dropped the Simpsons name, and its stores became known simply as Sears. The company launched its toll-free telephone number in 1992, and a decade later, it was the most-called phone number in Canada. Sears launched its website in 1996, receiving millions of visits each year. But throughout this period, the catalogue’s popularity continued to grow.

Early catalogue imagery was composed of hand-drawn silhouettes, rather than photographs, aimed at enticing customers to purchase attractive items and ensembles. In many cases, the artists were women, who faced barriers at commercial design firms.

A black-and-white photograph showing two smiling women standing on each side of fashion catalogues from the late 19th century and mid-20th century.
Catalogue shopping, always in style, 1953 (e011172110)

Similarly, the women who promoted fashion in catalogues and magazines had influential careers in journalism and played a role in social change. As Valerie Korinek showed in Roughing It in the Suburbs: Reading Chatelaine Magazine in the Fifties and Sixties (2000), Chatelaine was a powerful medium interacting with a community of Canadian women readers in a pre-Internet age. A photograph of Chatelaine’s fashion editor, Vivian Wilcox, suggests that she was involved in marketing the Sears catalogues.

A black-and-white photograph showing a camper trailer, and a woman unpacking a set of dishes at a table, with smaller images of details of the camper at the bottom of the advertisement.
Vivian Wilcox, fashion editor, Chatelaine, with an artist’s rendering of a silhouette, around 1955 (e011172116)

Marketing researchers and historians will have considerable scope for research projects based on the analysis of advertising in the catalogue, and the ways in which attempts to appeal to customers have changed over the years. For instance, consider this ad for a camper-trailer, from the 1950s, and the ease with which the solitary female camper appears to be preparing for a meal in the woods.

A black-and-white photograph showing a camper trailer, and a woman unpacking a set of dishes at a table, with smaller images of details of the camper at the bottom of the advertisement.
Advertisement for camper trailer, around 1950 (e011172156)

But the photographs in the Sears Canada fonds at LAC are about more than nostalgia or public relations. They reflect real change within the Canadian economy and society over time. The records speak to one company’s efforts to show resilience and adaptation as the economic environment changed. Today, the archival records related to the Sears catalogue are about more than marketing a particular product or a business; they are about how the Canadian retail sector, rooted in a transnational network, worked to remain relevant through the 20th century and into the 21st century.

For example, consider this series of photographs showing the staff of Simpson’s, then Simpsons-Sears, and finally Sears, taking catalogue orders over the telephone. Dated from 1921 to 1972, they show real changes in the communications equipment used, in the desks and the clothing, as well as in the hairstyles. We can also see the change from black-and-white photography to Kodachrome colour photographs. However, the work itself, and the all-female staff, does not appear to change during this time.

  • black-and-white photographs and two colour photographs showing women connected to telephone switchboards with headsets taking catalogue orders over the decades.
  • black-and-white photographs and two colour photographs showing women connected to telephone switchboards with headsets taking catalogue orders over the decades.
  • black-and-white photographs and two colour photographs showing women connected to telephone switchboards with headsets taking catalogue orders over the decades.
  • Four black-and-white photographs and two colour photographs showing women connected to telephone switchboards with headsets taking catalogue orders over the decades.
  • colour photographs showing women connected to telephone switchboards with headsets taking catalogue orders over the decades.
  • colour photographs showing women connected to telephone switchboards with headsets taking catalogue orders over the decades.

These behind-the-scenes photographs of customers’ orders being wrapped, sorted and labelled suggest a long-lost time, and yet they evoke actions that must be very familiar to anyone working for one of today’s major online retailers.

A black-and-white photograph showing two rows of women standing, wearing aprons and wrapping parcels at a long desk, with shelves containing parcels behind them, and a large roll of wrapping paper in the foreground.
Packing the order, around 1950 (e011213330)

  • Two black-and-white photographs, one showing a group of employees sorting parcels into bins, and the other showing women at desks checking addresses on parcels as the parcels slide down a ramp toward them.
  • Two black-and-white photographs, one showing a group of employees sorting parcels into bins, and the other showing women at desks checking addresses on parcels as the parcels slide down a ramp toward them.

Similarly, this series of photographs of delivery personnel with their trucks strikes a modern viewer as both antiquated and yet somewhat familiar. Today’s delivery staff is as likely to be female as male, and it is extremely unlikely that they would wear bow ties! However, the uniform itself as a symbol of trust and the pride taken in ensuring customer satisfaction are doubtless still parts of the service standards of any contemporary enterprise.

  • Three black-and-white photographs showing men dressed in uniforms beside Simpson’s delivery trucks, over the decades.
  • Three black-and-white photographs showing men dressed in uniforms beside Simpson’s delivery trucks, over the decades.
  • Three black-and-white photographs showing men dressed in uniforms beside Simpson’s delivery trucks, over the decades.

And certainly the economic importance of large distribution centres, both as places of employment and delivery hubs, is a familiar concept in today’s world of online shopping.

A black-and-white photograph showing two men checking paperwork in a large distribution centre, with merchandise visible on a series of rolling carts in the foreground and fluorescent lights overhead.
Kenmore distribution centre, Toronto, 1960 (e011172129)

One photograph, which may appear anachronistic today, but which was at one time central to the guarantees that large department stores offered their customers, shows the appliance repair and service department.

A black-and-white photograph showing three men repairing items in a workshop, and a fourth man moving a large appliance.
Kenmore service department, Toronto, 1960 (e011172130)
A black-and-white photograph showing two women ironing clothes and three women working at sewing machines.
Women in a sewing room, around 1955; left to right: Louise Karst, Elizabeth Moehring, Anne Dawson, Madeleine Huzina and Helen Marg (e011172115)

The pages of these catalogues continue to generate high interest among LAC’s users, whether they are interested in the history of design, advertising, marketing or pricing. We are therefore confident that the Sears Canada fonds will generate an enthusiastic response from the research community and Canadians who are interested in the fascinating history of Sears Canada or have fond memories of the department store.

If you are looking into starting research on Sears Canada or a related subject, or have already begun, our reference specialists would be pleased to assist you. Simply use our Ask Us a Question form to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!

Other LAC resources:


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Public Services Branch, and she previously worked in the Science, Environment and Economy section of the Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Dressing the Troops: Knitting During the Wars

By Cara Downey

Canadian knitters played a significant role in outfitting those who served in various wars, including the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War. Knitters made socks, sweaters and other items for soldiers, pilots, sailors, merchant seamen, the sick and wounded, as well as prisoners of war and refugees. This work was encouraged by various volunteer groups: the Canadian Red Cross Society, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire (IODE), branches of the armed services and their auxiliaries (for example, the Navy League), and others. Special patterns were printed, and the required knitting materials were distributed to volunteers. (See Shirley A. Scott, Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land, pages 32 to 39)

The patterns listed strict requirements for the garments, with knitters generally requested to stick to “plain knitting” (that is, stocking stitch), since unnecessary decoration decreased speed and increased use of yarn. (Shirley A. Scott, Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land, page 39) 

The book Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, issued by the Canadian Red Cross Society in 1940, provides further instructions:

  • Knit items in specific colours, for example:
    • Socks for the Navy were to be knit in navy blue or grey, Army socks in khaki, grey or “heathers,” Air Force socks in black or grey, bed socks for hospitals in white or grey;
    • Toques were to be knit in navy blue for the Navy and in khaki for the Army; toques were not required for the Air Force.
  • Join wool by splicing, not with knots;
  • Cast on all ribbing stitches loosely;
  • “Join two socks of pair together with light coloured wool pulled through two inside thicknesses of cuff. Do not knot, but tie in firm bow. Fasten one size label (on each pair of socks) on the outside on cuff, if size runs between sizes, label smaller size.” (Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, pages 3, 13, and 15).
    A black-and-white photograph of soldiers in uniform sitting outdoors while knitting.

    Resting but busy (e010963520)

    Knitting was generally performed by women on the home front (regardless of class), children (particularly girls), as well as the sick or injured. The photo Resting but busy (dated c. 1918–1925) shows convalescing soldiers knitting as a form of relaxation and therapy. 

    Knitting was encouraged through various means. One example is the printed posters exhorting people to “knit for the boys.” The American Red Cross produced the poster Our Boys Need Sox, Knit Your Bit during the First World War, and Canada’s National War Finance Committee published the poster Whoever You Are … Whatever Your Job … Here is What Canada Needs of YOU … Work – Save – Lend for Victory in 1942, which included a picture of a woman knitting.

    A poster that reads “Whoever You Are ... Whatever Your Job ... Here is What Canada Needs of YOU ... Work - Save - Lend for Victory” and features drawn portraits of two men and two women.

    Whoever You Are … Whatever Your Job … Here is What Canada Needs of YOU … Work – Save – Lend for Victory (e010695660)

    Knitting was so common during this time that it entered popular culture—in songs such as Knitting socks for Daddy’s men (published in 1915) and The pretty little mitt that Kitty knit (published in 1940)—and in books. Characters in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside (published in 1921) participated in knitting circles and knitted at home to contribute to the war effort. Katherine Hale dedicated the book Grey Knitting and Other Poems (published in Toronto in 1914) to “The Women Who Knit.” 

    The contribution of knitters should not be dismissed. While it is difficult to count the number of items given to the diverse groups that collected goods and to know the number of individuals involved, the Canadian Red Cross estimates that a total of 750,000 volunteers knit 50 million articles (for soldiers, the sick, refugees, and others) during the Second World War alone. (Halifax Women’s History Society, “The Monument Design: The Design for The Volunteers.”) For the Scotia Chapter of the IODE during this period, this meant a contribution that included 350 pairs of socks, 525 sweaters, 125 helmets, 50 pairs of mittens, 12 pairs of gloves, and 65 scarves. (Sharon M.H. MacDonald, Hidden Costs, Hidden Labours: Women in Nova Scotia During Two World Wars, page 141)

    Visit the Flickr album for more images of knitting!


    Cara Downey is a senior analyst in the Governance, Liaison and Partnerships Division. 

Canadian achievement in the air: the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow

By Kyle Huth

I first saw the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow when I was 10 years old. It was on the cover of a book in a bookstore in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, some 40-plus years after the last Arrow had flown. Something about this sleek-looking white jet in Canadian markings climbing skyward captivated me. I would spend the rest of that family vacation poring over my newly purchased book; I wanted to learn everything I could about the Arrow! From an early age, I, like so many other Canadians, had my imagination captured by the Arrow.

The first Arrow, serial number 25201, was rolled out of the Avro Canada aircraft manufacturing plant in Malton (present-day Mississauga), Ontario, and unveiled to the public on October 4, 1957. A product of the Cold War, this large twin-engined delta-winged jet interceptor was designed to guard Canadian cities against the threat of Soviet jet bomber aircraft attacking from over the North Pole.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people around a white aircraft.

The rollout of the first Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow in Malton, Ontario, October 4, 1957. The people in the crowd give a sense of the size of the aircraft. (e999912501)

Avro Canada began design work on the Arrow in 1953, and by the end of the year, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) had ordered two developmental prototypes. The RCAF wanted an aircraft that could operate at Mach 1.5, at an altitude of at least 50,000 feet, and be armed with the latest array of guided missiles. At the time, no aircraft company in the United States, the United Kingdom or France had an aircraft in production or on the drawing board that could meet these requirements.

As Cold War tensions increased, so did the need for the Arrow. Soviet long-range jet bomber development was proceeding faster than expected, threatening to make the RCAF’s current jet interceptors obsolete. In 1955, the RCAF increased its order to 5 pre-production flight test Arrow Mk. 1s and 32 production Arrow Mk. 2s. The urgent need for the Arrow meant that it would go straight into production, skipping the traditional development phase for an aircraft of its type.

The Arrow Mk. 2, the production variant destined for RCAF squadron service, was to be powered by two Canadian-built Orenda Engines PS-13 Iroquois turbojet engines and equipped with the Astra I weapons control system and Sparrow II missiles. All three would be developed alongside the airframe, adding extra costs to the Arrow program. To avoid delaying the program, the Arrow Mk. 1s that were used to evaluate the design’s flight and handling characteristics were powered by two American-built Pratt & Whitney J-75 turbojet engines.

A hand-drawn map of North America with a red circle drawn around Canada and yellow, green and purple lines.

A map showing the subsonic operational range and proposed bases in Canada, Alaska, and Greenland for the Arrow Mk. 2, as well as other RCAF airbases (red). The locations of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line (yellow), Mid-Canada Line (green) and Pine Tree Line (purple) radar sites are also shown. (e011202368)

After five months of ground testing, Arrow 25201 took to the air on March 25, 1958, with famous test pilot Janusz Zurakowski at the controls. Over the next 11 months, four additional Arrow Mk. 1s would join the flight test program, with the Arrow Mk. 2, equipped with the more powerful Iroquois engines, slated to fly in March 1959.

While the flight test program was proceeding mostly as planned, and test pilots commenting positively about the performance and handling of the Arrow Mk. 1, behind the scenes, all was not going well for the Arrow program.

As development costs rose, the program was coming under increased financial scrutiny from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s newly elected Progressive Conservative government. At the same time, Soviet rocket development had overtaken the West, (they launched Sputnik 1 the same day the Arrow was unveiled to the public) and it now appeared that Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, not bombers were the main threat facing Canada. This technological shift cast doubts over the need for the Arrow and, there were those, such as the Minister of National Defence, George Pearkes, who questioned the need for manned interceptor aircraft altogether, believing that anti-aircraft missiles could replace them for a fraction of the cost. In September 1958, the government announced that it would order the Boeing CIM-10B Super Bomarc long-range surface-to-air missile, and it cancelled the Arrow’s troubled Astra I weapons control system and the Sparrow II missile program. Furthermore, the government notified Avro Canada that the rest of the Arrow program was up for review in March 1959.

On February 20, 1959, Diefenbaker announced to the House of Commons that the Arrow program was cancelled. In response, Avro Canada immediately terminated the 14,500 employees who were working on the program, claiming the company had been caught off guard by the government’s announcement.

A black-and-white photograph of a man holding a model airplane kit.

“Better get one of these in memory of the plane that will never see the air,” quips recently laid off Avro Canada employee Pat Gallacher as he holds up the Arrow model kit he purchased at the Malton plant’s hobby store on February 20, 1959. (e999911901)

At the time of the cancellation, the five existing Arrows had flown 66 times and chalked up a total of 69:50 flying hours. The first Iroquois engine powered Arrow, 25206, was 98 percent complete on the day of the government’s announcement. Attempts to save one or more of the five completed Arrows for use as high-speed test aircraft failed. In the end, all completed aircraft, along with those on the assembly line, as well as the related drawings, were ordered destroyed on May 15, 1959. The Cabinet and Canada’s Defence Chiefs of Staff cited security concerns over the advanced nature of the aircraft and the classified material involved in the project as the reasoning behind the order. Arrow 25201 made the last flight of any Arrow on the afternoon of February 19, 1959, the day before the announcement of the Arrow’s cancellation.

A black-and-white photograph of eight airplanes and a building, seen from above.

Arrows 25202, 25205, 25201, 25204 and 25203 (from top to bottom) await their fate outside Avro Canada’s experimental building in Malton, Ontario, May 8, 1959. Three straight-winged Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck jet interceptors, the aircraft type that the Arrow was meant to replace, are parked alongside the Arrows. (e999911909)

The Arrow would not end up fulfilling its intended purpose of patrolling Canadian skies; instead, its impact on Canada would be a cultural one. Since its cancellation, the Arrow has been the subject of countless books, magazine articles and documentaries, as well as starring in its own CBC miniseries alongside Dan Aykroyd in 1997. The largest remaining pieces of the Arrow are the nose section of 25206 and the wing tips of 25203, held by the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. To this day, the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow continues to be a symbol of Canadian achievement, a source of much debate and speculation, and a point of pride and fascination for Canadians.

To learn more about the Avro Arrow, check out the following Library and Archives Canada resources:


Kyle Huth is an archival assistant in the Government Records Initiatives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Henry Ash and why internet connections are still underwater

By Vasanthi Pendakur

North and south map of the world showing telegraph lines across the Atlantic and overland.

Polar projections showing submarine cables and principal telegraph lines, 1883. Lines are shown in red. (e011211770)

Much of the world’s internet is still underwater. Despite satellite communications, despite wireless technology, the base connections for the internet are still undersea cables. Long cables crisscross the oceans and the continents to transmit the signals that bring internet to our devices. Telecommunication companies laid most of the existing cables, but recently tech giants have been building their own lines.

Undersea cables are expensive to build, and slow to plan, but they are still cheaper than satellites. Planning the laying of cables takes time. Routes are charted to avoid obstacles, tidal patterns, unstable formations and, for the actual laying, inclement weather. The cables are made on special machines that maintain tension. Building starts with a small wire, which is then wrapped in layers of copper, plastic, steel or tar for protection. The cables must be able to withstand damage from earthquakes, ships, and sea life. Sharks eating the internet is known to happen… and ships can accidentally cut cables.

Cables are then slowly loaded onto specially made ships; precautions are taken to ensure cables do not kink. Cables are then slowly laid down along the cable route. It can take weeks to lay a full length of cable properly, especially if there is bad weather.

The first experiments with submarine cables took place in the 1850s. Inventors, including Samuel Morse and Charles Wheatstone (pioneers in the invention of the electric telegraph), and Michael Faraday (a pioneer in the field of electromagnetism), were experimenting to find the best way of submerging wires (or cables) onto the seabed.

A formula of copper wires encased in layers of iron, india rubber, and gutta-percha (sap that served as thermoplastic insulation) was determined to be the best method. Confident in their experiments, Morse, Cyrus West Field, a financier, and Matthew Maury, an oceanographer, joined together to form the Atlantic Telegraph Company, with the goal of ordering and laying a cable across the Atlantic ocean. A test involving laying cables from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland in 1856 was successful.

The next attempt was the longer cable across the Atlantic, from Telegraph Field, Ireland, to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland. Problems with storms and breaking cables delayed the project, but the cable was finally connected in August 1858. An official message from Queen Victoria congratulating the company took 16 hours to arrive, but that still vastly reduced the delivery time in that period: ten days on a ship. The cable broke three weeks later, probably from improper handling and storage. A cable was successfully laid in 1866 by the SS Great Eastern.

Large ship seen from shore.

SS Great Eastern completing the laying of the second transatlantic telegraph cable, 1866. (c004484)

Cover of a souvenir book of the 1894 Mackay-Bennett Atlantic Cable.

Cover of a souvenir book depicting an 1894 cable expedition. (e004414208)

Many more cable expeditions followed, and the success of the 1866 expeditions led to the production of souvenir items depicting these events. LAC holds examples of this type of art in the Henry Ash Collection. Henry Ash was an amateur artist as well as a draftsman and designer from London, England, who also served as a general engineer assistant for the crew of the CS Faraday on occasion. He produced numerous pencil sketches of the voyages he took part in, some of which were turned into the souvenir book above. LAC holds Ash’s artwork from some of his expeditions.

Sketch of Bull Rock and Bull Rock Lighthouse, located off the southwest coast of Ireland, with boats fishing for mackerel.

View of the coast of Ireland at the start of the expedition. (e004414185)

Ash’s sketches are well shaded, detailed, and precisely labelled with the location and expedition. The landscape along the ocean coastline is shown in detailed greyscale. His drawings depict roads, coastlines, and the deep sea throughout the voyage, often showing the ship in the middle of the sea, surrounded by natural features. Ash turned his sketches from a later expedition into a souvenir book for the public. LAC’s collection shows the early history of the internet, as well as a process (cable laying) that, while lower-tech, is not much changed today.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of Henry Ash’s sketches.

Sketch of the entrance to St. John’s Harbour.

View of the entrance to St. John’s Harbour. (e004414154)

Other resources:

Submarine communications cable

How the Internet Travels Across Oceans

History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications


Vasanthi Pendakur is a project manager in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

Textiles made in Canada: the archives of the Dominion Textile Company

By Jennifer Anderson and Dalton Campbell

Archives can reveal the details of Canadians’ everyday work lives, suggest to contemporary researchers what earlier generations experienced in the workplace, and show how the Canadian economy has changed over time. A case in point: the extensive photographs in the collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) related to the production and marketing of Canadian-made textiles. Many of these photographs have been digitized and are available through the LAC collection search.

A colour photograph of five packages of Texmade sheets, in different colours and styles.

A promotional photograph for Texmade products, a Dominion Textile brand (e011201409)

For generations, the Dominion Textile Company was synonymous with Canadian-made cotton textiles. Established in 1905 through a merger of four independent textile firms, Dominion Textile originally operated 11 mills, producing primarily griege cotton and finished cotton cloth for Canadian markets. As the company consolidated its position, it began to expand its reach in the textile industry and across the country. The firm’s headquarters were in Montréal, Quebec.

When the first textile companies were founded, the majority of Canadians were making their own clothing. According to Serge Gaudreau, the textile industry, like the railroad, was a visible symbol of Canada’s modernity at the beginning of the 20th century, a complex industry that combined human labour with machinery. Facing competition from the United States and the United Kingdom, Canadian companies were given tax breaks under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s National Policy, allowing the Canadian textile mills to make headway in the competitive 1870s market.

In the textile industry, race/ethnicity, gender and class had relevance. As was commonplace in the Quebec manufacturing sector in those days, the workforce that carried the industry into the new era was largely Francophone and Irish, with English-speaking managers. The cotton itself would likely have been sourced in the United States, and the photographs do include some American mills.

Textile mills in Canada relied on a very high percentage of female workers, as Gail Cuthbert Brandt has shown in Through the Mill: Girls and Women in the Quebec Cotton Textile Industry, 1881–1951 and Joy Parr in The Gender of Breadwinners: Women, Men and Change in Two Industrial Towns, 1880–1950.

A black-and-white photograph showing men and women posed in a factory with large machines in the foreground.

Seven male and three female factory workers posed behind machinery, ca. 1895, Magog, Quebec (e011213545)

Dominion Textile maintained its own archives before transferring the documents to LAC. The archival fonds includes a rich collection of photographs, textual records and audiovisual recordings documenting the work life and community of employees, the architecture of mills in diverse locations, the process of textile fabrication, and the finished products. Like many company towns, the cotton mills organized sports teams, whose legacy lives on in the archives.

A black-and-white matted photograph of a soccer team, with the players in striped jerseys and the coaches in suits.

Montmorency Association Football Club soccer league champions, 1915, Montmorency, Quebec (e011213574)

The collection contains the administrative and operational records of the parent company as well as minute books and financial records of 62 other firms associated with Dominion Textile. These firms include the original four predecessor companies that merged in 1905, subsidiary companies and the independent textile companies acquired by Dominion Textile as it expanded to become Canada’s largest textile firm.

For some fabric companies, the Dominion Textile merger was a necessity. Montmorency Cotton Mills, established in 1898, produced a variety of products (grey cloth, hosiery yarns, towelling, sheeting and flannels) for domestic and international markets. The company was forced into the merger in part because of the effects on international trade caused by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Montmorency mills remained operational well into the 1980s. The archival photographs at LAC illustrate the mill’s longevity and the powerful waterfall that produced energy for its operations.

A black-and-white aerial photograph showing a factory beside a river, with a large waterfall in the background.

Dominion Textile Limited, 1925, Montmorency, Quebec (e011213592)

In 1929, as part of a larger acquisition, Dominion Textile also acquired what would be called the Sherbrooke Cotton Company. The acquisition included the stock of the Sherbrooke Housing Company, which sought to build a model city for the mill’s employees. The plant, retooled to manufacture synthetic fibres in 1935, continued to operate until the 1990s.

A page from a binder featuring a colour aerial photograph of a factory in a town, near a river, with statistics printed below the photograph.

Sherbrooke Fabrics, ca. 1980, Sherbrooke, Quebec (e011213596)

Penman Manufacturing Company, first incorporated in 1882, dates back to 1868, when its first knitted goods factory opened. Under John Penman, the company became the largest knitting firm in Canada when it assumed control of six smaller knitting mills in Port Dover, Paris and other towns in Ontario and Quebec.

In 1906, the company was acquired by Dominion Textile and reorganized under the name Penmans Limited. The company continued to expand, producing hosiery, underwear and other knitted goods.

A page from a binder featuring a colour aerial photograph of a factory with a chimney near the centre, surrounded by trees and a town, with statistics below the photograph.

Penmans plant, ca. 1980, Paris, Ontario (e011213581)

The Dominion Textile photographs depict mills in towns and cities across central and eastern Canada, representing the close proximity between factory buildings and the local community and workforce. They are complemented by archival material in other collections at LAC.

The material also shows changes to technology as well as health and safety protections in the workplace, and it reflects the industry’s evolution.

A black-and-white photograph of two women standing and operating devices in a laboratory, with machinery and a large window in the background, and pipes and fluorescent lighting overhead.

Testing laboratory, ca. 1945, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (e011213547)

A black-and-white photograph of a man wearing jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt monitoring a spooling machine.

A worker monitors a spooling machine at Long Sault Fabrics, 1984 (e011213534)

The archival collection also includes textual records related to the negotiation of the 1987 free trade agreement with the United States, and the expected impact on the textile industry.

The collection shows that the marketing of Canadian-made fashion was also about cultural diplomacy and international trade. Over the years, economic pressures, market competition and difficult work conditions often led to restructuring and downsizing, which met resistance from the workforce. The collection includes images related to strikes and labour unrest at the textile mills.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of people marching in the street, carrying a banner that reads “Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Textile, CSD [Centrale des syndicats démocratiques], Usine de Montmorency” [Textile workers, CSD (Congress of Democratic Trade Unions), Montmorency factory].

Protesters in labour dispute, ca. 1970 (e011213559)

The fonds also includes vibrant promotional imagery and moving images featuring the finished products, which made Dominion Textile quite literally a household name in Canada.

A colour photograph of two women wearing patterned cotton dresses, jackets and headscarves, walking on a runway.

Fashion show, 1986 (e011201412)

We look forward to seeing how researchers will incorporate the recently digitized photographs into new projects on the importance of the textile industry in Canada and further explore the breadth of the resources preserved at LAC. If Reference Services can be of assistance, please reach out to us.

To see more images related to the Dominion Textile Company and textile manufacturing, visit our Flickr album.

Here are some other sources at LAC:

Hamilton Cotton Company fonds

Lennard and Sons Ltd. fonds

Mercury-Chipman Knit Ltd. fonds

Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union: Textile Division fonds

Jacob Lawrence Cohen fonds

Madeleine Parent and Kent Rowley fonds

Margot Trevelyan fonds

Royal Commission on the Textile Industry

Department of Industry records


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Reference Services Division, and Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section, at Library and Archives Canada. The authors wish to thank Kerry O’Neill for her contributions to this blog.

The liberation of the Netherlands (1944–1945)

By Sarah Bellefleur Bondu

This year, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The cruel conflict lasted for six long years; it included battles, military offensives, restrictions and rationing for Europeans and North Americans alike, not to mention the heartbreak suffered by families who lost loved ones at the front. The war, from 1939 to 1945, also featured co-operation, goodwill and solidarity between the Allied forces and civilians who were enduring harsh conditions. The vital contribution of the Canadian Forces to the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944–1945 is a shining example of this spirit of caring.

On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked the Netherlands. A few days later, Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina and members of the Dutch government fled the country, which soon fell to the Nazi forces. The Netherlands remained under oppressive occupation for four years.

Flooded village with rooftops and a church steeple protruding from the waters.

The dikes blown up by the Germans flooded a large part of the northern Netherlands. This photograph, taken from an aircraft on May 31, 1945, shows a small flooded village where a church steeple and rooftops provide refuge for seagulls. (a175772)

Launch of operations in the Netherlands

In September 1944, several weeks after their invasion of Normandy, the Allies launched operations against the German forces still holding the line in northwestern Europe. Many key positions, including a number of bridges that crossed major Dutch waterways, were taken by the Allied forces during Operation Market Garden. However, German troops still held the banks of the Scheldt River, which crosses the Netherlands and connects the port city of Antwerp in Belgium to the North Sea. This canal was vital for the Allies to access key seaports and resupply their troops.

The Battle of the Scheldt

In October 1944, Allied forces seized first the northern and then the southern banks of the Scheldt. On November 8, they successfully stormed the German stronghold on Walcheren Island.

n the winter of 1944–1945, the Allies carefully planned their next campaign, which could potentially end the war in Europe. However, the Dutch had almost run out of resources under German occupation; this was the tragic Hunger Winter. With food reserves depleted in the Netherlands, thousands of civilians died.

Operation Veritable was launched on February 8, 1945. Its objective was to help Allied troops continue their advance, cross Germany’s borders, push the enemy back across the Rhine and breach the famous Siegfried Line.

The campaign in northwestern Europe: final phase

As they gradually advanced through the Netherlands, the Allied forces liberated occupied towns one after the other. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was responsible for ending the Nazi occupation of the northeastern Netherlands, including the cities of Almelo (April 5), Zutphen (April 8), Deventer (April 12), Arnhem (April 12–16) and Groningen (April 16), as well as the German coast. Elsewhere in the country, the 1st Canadian Army Corps pushed the remaining Germans out of the western Netherlands, north of the Meuse, and liberated the city of Apeldoorn (April 17).

During these operations, the Allies were concerned that the Germans would destroy the dikes and that the high waters of the spring would flood Dutch cities. They were also aware that civilians faced starvation because of supply problems. On April 28, they entered into negotiations with the Germans, who accepted their proposal two days later. As a result, thousands of tons of food and coal were transported by plane, ship and truck to the Dutch people.

Several people unload food crates from the back of a military truck. Many crates are stacked in the foreground.

Dutch civilians load a truck with Canadian-supplied food following an agreement between the Germans, the Dutch and the Allies on providing food to the Dutch people, May 3, 1945. (a134417)

On May 5, 1945, the German forces occupying the Netherlands surrendered; the whole country was officially liberated. After enduring years of hardship, the Dutch people gave the warmest welcome possible to the Canadians when they arrived. The Dutch celebrated across the country as the occupation ended. Two days after the liberation of the Netherlands, the Second World War in Europe was officially over.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation of Utrecht by the Canadian Army, May 7, 1945. (a134376)

Since then, many of the Canadian soldiers who helped to liberate the Netherlands returned to attend commemorative ceremonies and maintained close ties with the Dutch people they had met. Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of archival material documenting the events of 1945 and the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands to the present day.

Several children standing in front of headstones, holding bouquets of daffodils.

Young children preparing to place flowers on the headstones of graves of Canadian soldiers in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, 1957. (e011176651)

Other resources


Sarah Bellefleur Bondu is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

100 Years of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

By Michael Dufresne

From partisanship to professionalism

2020 is the 100th anniversary of Elections Canada and its founding legislation, the Dominion Elections Act (DEA). The DEA contained significant changes that brought lasting and positive impacts to the Canadian electoral system. Since 1867, according to the dean of electoral studies, political scientist John C. Courtney, our system has developed “from partisanship to professionalism.” It has experienced multiple changes over the years, but Courtney says, “without doubt the greatest single improvement in the administration of elections in Canada came with the establishment of the offices of our various chief electoral officers.”

As of July 1, 1920, the DEA centralized the administration of federal elections and created the new role of General Electoral Officer, now called the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). Not only did the Act drastically change the administration of federal elections, but Parliament also used the DEA as a springboard to enact more reforms. To militate against the partisan manipulation of elections, the CEO became an Officer of Parliament, with an independent role; the incumbent could not be removed from office by the government without just cause.

“That Canada be not disgraced”: the 1917 Military Voters Act and War-time Elections Act

The DEA followed two earlier Acts of Parliament that were part of a rather obvious two-pronged electoral strategy to ensure the re-election of Prime Minister Robert Borden and his Unionist government. Borden had become prime minister in 1911 and was not defeated until the end of the First World War.

Visiting the Western Front, Borden was reportedly “shaken” by the magnitude of the loss of life; he was convinced that conscription was the only way to contribute more soldiers. “Our first duty is to win at any cost,” Borden confided to his diary, “so that we may continue to do our part in winning the war and that Canada be not disgraced.”

Passed in September 1917, in time for its application in the December federal election, the Military Voters Act (MVA) enfranchised British subjects in the Canadian Armed Forces, regardless of active or retired status, age, ethnicity, or gender, as well as British subjects ordinarily resident in Canada on active duty in Europe in an allied army. The MVA also empowered the party of the military voter’s choice to apply that vote to any riding if the voter had not selected a riding. These votes, overwhelmingly in favour of the government, were assigned 31 days after the election to ridings where they helped government candidates win.

Black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform standing and reading a propaganda poster that reads, “A vote against the Government means: You are here for life. A vote for the Government means: Another man is coming to take your place.”

Propaganda for the Dominion elections of Canada, posted on a salvage company dumpster in France, 1917 (a008158)

The War-time Elections Act (WEA) was the MVA’s civilian counterpart. Also passed in the fall of 1917, the WEA enfranchised women who were spouses, widows, mothers, sisters or daughters of anyone, male or female, living or dead, in the Canadian military, as long as these female voters met certain requirements, including age, nationality and residency. The WEA also disenfranchised conscientious objectors and others. These included British subjects born in countries with whom Canada was at war who were naturalized after March 31, 1902, as well as those naturalized after that date whose first language was that of an enemy country.

Broadening the franchise

In the wake of the 1917 federal election, the opposition Liberals largely supported the 1920 legislation that saw the enfranchisement of most women. The bill was criticized, though, for not removing an old instrument of partisan politics: patronage appointments. The government did not forgo the power to appoint revision officers, now called returning officers. This kept the ability to hand out “possibly the greatest instrument of political patronage at the local level” in the hands of the government of the day, says Courtney. This oft-criticized feature of Canadian federal election law remained on the books until 2006, when the Federal Accountability Act ended the practice. Another significant issue, gerrymandering, was also left untouched by the DEA; this is where the boundaries of a riding are manipulated to favour one candidate over another. The means to end the practice, the use of non-partisan electoral boundary commissions, did not become a regular part of the political landscape until the 1960s.

The enfranchisement of women and the elimination of property restrictions effectively doubled the size of the electorate in one stroke. But problems remained. As Courtney maintains, “The most serious deficiencies” involved the “exclusion from the franchise of specific groups for racial, religious or economic reasons.”

The DEA did, however, grant women the right to become candidates in federal elections. The first woman to become a Member of Parliament was elected to the House of Commons in the December 1921 election: Agnes Macphail, a teacher who ran for the Progressives in the rural Ontario riding of Grey South East. Not everyone agreed with this broadening of the federal franchise. MP J.J. Denis, for example, held that a women’s place was “not amid the strife of the political arena, but in her home.” Henri Bourassa, an early advocate of a new nationality of Canadians embracing both French and English, voiced a position that probably echoed that of others in the province of Quebec. He predicted that granting the vote to women would “reduce the birth rate, undermine parental authority, and eventually destroy the family as an institution.”

If the fears of its opponents were never realized, the impact of the broadening of the franchise did not always meet the expectations of its proponents. Some expected the enfranchisement of women to have a significant impact on the composition of Parliament and the kinds of laws and programs that would result. There was little of this impact in evidence.

Also, the possibility that women would vote as a bloc overestimated the significance of their identity as women in the voting booth. “Instead of voting en bloc, as feminists had urged and as politicians had feared, women divided their votes among Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, and Labour candidates in almost the same proportions men did. Rather than voting according to sex, women voted as members of a class, region, or ethnic group,” Courtney writes.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman placing her vote in a box, while smiling at the camera and holding her dog’s leash. In the background are other women waiting to vote and checking the list of voters.

A woman votes during the 1953 federal election (e011200969)

An ongoing conversation

A significant benefit from the 1920 DEA is the provision obliging the CEO to prepare a post-election report for Parliament. As a result, the CEO takes a critical look at the most recent election, identifies its problems and challenges, and proposes remedies for the next one. This encourages an ongoing conversation about our electoral system. Following the 1921 federal election, the first CEO, Oliver Mowat Biggar, reported that those entitled to vote had trouble doing so because their names were left off the list of voters. Others, he said, were not able to vote because of the day on which the election was held. Biggar recommended that more revision officers be used when compiling the voters list to ensure its accuracy; to make it more convenient to vote, he also recommended that more advanced polls be established. Both of these solutions were accepted by Parliament.

Even today, from a worldwide perspective, “the creation of Elections Canada is heralded as a key contribution to the development of neutral electoral practices,” writes Courtney, one that “distanced the general supervision of the electoral process from the government of the day.” The 1920 DEA (renamed the Canada Elections Act in 1951) was less of a beginning and more of an important development in an ongoing conversation about the nature, character and limits of Canadian parliamentary democracy. To be sure, the advent of an independent office administering a mechanism so crucial to the legitimate exercise of power is a significant and noteworthy event in Canadian electoral history.

For images of elections from our collection, visit the Flickr album.

Additional sources

David J. Bercuson and J.L. Granatstein, Dictionary of Canadian Military History, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1992

John C. Courtney, Elections, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2004

Dominion Elections Act, from the Canadian Museum of History’s online Chronicle: a spotlight on 1920–1997

The Electoral System of Canada, 4th edition

A History of the Vote in Canada (2007)

Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (also referred to as the Lortie Commission)

John Herd Thompson and Allen Seager, Canada, 1922–1939: Decades of Discord, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1985


Michael Dufresne was the archivist responsible for Elections Canada and is now an access archivist in the ATIP division at Library and Archives Canada.

First Nations cradleboards: understanding their significance and versatility

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

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Cradleboards are still an integral part of the cultural practices of First Nations peoples. I experienced using a cradleboard for my family when we received one from my mother-in-law. It was not new, the paint was flaking off and its footrest was wobbly. An antique restorer stabilized the paint and repaired the footrest. I selected a floral printed fabric to make a pad and embroidered a long sash of denim with multiple colours. I bundled my infant daughter in a thin flannel blanket, placed her on the cradleboard and wrapped the sash snugly around her. She was content when on the cradleboard and would usually fall asleep within minutes. I used it to bring her to local community events. Unfortunately, she outgrew it in about a month.

The cradleboard now decorates my home and is a reminder of those first few months of her life—it brings back cherished memories. Only later did I become aware of its cultural and historical significance while reading a book on First Nations cultural materials. The features of our cradleboard matched one that was over a hundred years old. Early First Nations cradleboards are in museums or private collections, as anthropologists and antique collectors visited communities and approached families directly to purchase and collect them.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard.

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], ca. 1910 (e010859891)

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the design and materials for cradleboards correspond to the culture of each First Nation. Generally, cradleboards are used by the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois), Plains and West Coast First Nations. Cradleboards are different from other infant carrier–type baskets, bags, slings, carrying hoods and dugout-trough-style cradles.

A black-and-white photograph of three children. The youngest child is in a cradleboard that is embroidered with a pattern of flowers.

Two young girls standing on a wooden porch beside a boy in a cradleboard, Temagami First Nation, probably Lake Temagami, Ontario, unknown date (e011156793)

The construction of a cradleboard starts with a flat plank of wood to which functional components are added. The handle or canopy is at the top end and provides protection for the head. This part may be a bar of curved wood or a canopy of arched bark. A flat piece of wood or bark rail is attached close to the bottom of the board as a footrest and keeps the infant in place when the board is placed in an upright position. Materials that are used for the cradleboard may include wood, leather, bark, cord, plant fibres, woven fabrics or a combination of these. Cradleboards can be stylized by carving, shaping, painting or adding decoration to the different components. Since a newborn grows quickly, a second, larger board may be used to accommodate a growth spurt. Boards may be shared between families, with a new mother borrowing one when needed. Cradleboards can be commissioned ahead of the arrival of an infant and range from a simple utilitarian style to more artistic creations.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and two children in a canoe. One of the children is sleeping in a cradleboard.

Atikamekw woman, infant on a cradleboard and young girl in a canoe, Sanmaur, Quebec, ca. 1928 (a044224)

A cradleboard enables a mother to return to her daily activities more easily after birth, while keeping her newborn close by her. The infant can be carried safely, while being comforted by the stimulation of being swaddled. Swaddling is done by bundling the newborn and securing its arms in a thin blanket with light pressure. This is thought to be good for the infant’s posture, as the back is flat on the board and the spine can be kept straight. When the cradleboard is placed horizontally, a cross bar attached under the board on the top end raises the head slightly higher than the bottom end. Using gravity, the infant’s blood circulation is enhanced. Of course, not all of the infant’s early life is spent on the cradleboard, as it is used as occasions warrant.

A black-and-white photograph of eight people, including a baby in a cradleboard in a forest. There is a canoe in the foreground.

First Nations family, Ishkaugua portage, [Newton Island, Ontario], 1905 (a059502)

Once the infant is wrapped in the swaddling material, it is placed on the cradleboard on a thinly padded cushion and secured by wrapping the sash several times around the child and board. Another technique is to place the infant in a leather or cloth bunting bag (also known as a moss bag) that is easily placed on or removed from the cradleboard. The bag is then attached to the cradleboard, the infant is placed in it and then secured with leather or cord laces. Sashes and extra covers may be made by the mother, relatives or friends and could include unique embroidery, beadwork and ribbon work designs. Designs featured may represent clans, traditional symbols, or motifs of plants, animals and nature.

Smaller versions of cradleboards are made for the children. These provide the opportunity for young girls to practice their nurturing skills while at play and prepares them for motherhood or caregiving. A cloth or corn-husk doll or a bundle of sage or other dried plant material is usually placed on the board

A black-and-white photograph of 7 women, a teenager and children on the shore of a lake. Two babies are in cradleboards.

Cree women and children at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, 1925 (a019995)

Eastern area

Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois) and Algonquin-style cradleboards start with a flat plank of wood. On the backs of older Haudenosaunee boards, there are usually low-relief carved images of animals, flowers and leaves painted in basic colours of red, black, green, yellow and blue. There may be additional carving on the top end of the board, handle, footboard and wood bar. In rare examples, silver or metal inlays have been inserted on the wood bar.

A colour photograph of a man in a purple and white shirt sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. In front of him is a baby in a cradleboard with red and white fabric.

Kenneth Atsenienton (“the fire still burns”) Deer and grandson Shakowennenhawi (“he is carrying the words”) Deer at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Kahnawake, Quebec, May 1993 (e011207022)

Some of the wooden structural elements were attached with wood pegs. Handles were reinforced with leather strips, gut or cord. The curves on the wood handles were hardwood that had been steamed and bent. Haudenosaunee wood handles were straight across, while the Algonquin boards had a bowed wood handle. A cover can be draped over the handle to provide a quiet space or shield the infant from the elements. Objects might be hung from the handle for the child to look at, such as beaded strings, charms or possibly a baby rattle. Some Algonquin cradleboards had a one-piece rail attached to the board, which would go up each side, curving at the bottom and serving as a footrest.

A cradleboard could be carried on a person’s back by attaching straps or a tumpline to the cradleboard; these then went around the chest or forehead and left the hands free.

A watercolour painting of two women and a man. One of the women has a pipe in her hand and a baby in a cradleboard on her back. The man has a rifle in his hand.

This watercolour painting shows a woman carrying a baby in a cradleboard, ca. 1825–1826 (e008299398)

Western area

First Nations in the Plains region would cover the leather or fabric used for the cradleboard with their traditional beadwork styles. The infant was placed in an enveloping enclosure attached to the cradleboard.

Northwest Coast First Nations had more than one type of cradleboard, as well as a dugout-trough cradle. Cradleboards were made of woven plant fibres, cedar boards and hollowed-out logs.

The tradition of making new cradleboards is carried on today by First Nations carvers and craftspeople. In celebration of the birth of new generations, they may incorporate past knowledge in new designs including personalized elements and stylistic representations of present culture.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of cradleboards.

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


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.