Born to Serve: Georges P. Vanier

Born in Montréal on April 23, 1888, Georges Vanier would feel the influence of his bilingual parents throughout his life. After graduating from high school, he attended Loyola College and then the Université Laval where he received a law degree in 1911. He started practicing law thereafter, although priesthood was also on his mind. It was the outbreak of the First World War however, that eventually grabbed his attention and he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was a strong recruiter and played an important role in the creation of the French-Canadian 22nd Battalion. It was also during the war that he was injured and had to have his right leg amputated.

A black-and-white photograph showing a man smiling broadly in an officer’s uniform with cap.

Major Georges P. Vanier of the 22nd Battalion, June 1918 (MIKAN 3192070)

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The digitization of the Lord Grey banner

We have explained the origins of a large banner donated to Canada by Lord Grey in a previous blog.This current blog post reveals the work involved in digitizing this unique piece of Canadian history.

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) digitization staff are accustomed to handling a range of objects, such as documents, photographs, negatives, microfilm, paintings, maps and books. Occasionally, non-conventional objects present unusual challenges, such as the digitization of the Lord Grey banner, a tall embroidered banner in fragile condition.

Due to limitations in the existing digitization equipment and the size and condition of the banner, the technicians needed to come up with some creative solutions. To minimize the amount of movement, the banner was delivered from storage to the photo conservation lab in LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec. As it could not be hung vertically, it was placed on the floor in an evenly lit open space.

The camera is positioned above the banner, which is laid on the floor.

The camera is positioned above the banner, which is laid on the floor.

Images of the banner were taken using a Phase One 645 DF+ medium format digital camera mounted on the largest camera stand available. With the camera suspended seven feet away, the banner was captured in eight separate sections and the images reassembled using Photoshop for a complete view. Switching to a 150 mm macro lens, the camera was then lowered to get a selection of detail shots showing the many parts of the banner, such as the signature on the back, the shield with St. George and the dragon, and the types of stitching used. When the front was fully documented, the banner was turned over so that the back could also be captured.

Part of the fabric depicting St. George, patron saint of England and the dragon.

Part of the fabric depicting St. George, patron saint of England and the dragon.

The digitization work was undertaken to create a visual representation of the banner, providing the details of its design and the beautiful workmanship. LAC has now created a permanent digital record, making the banner accessible online, reducing the need to handle the physical item and thereby ensuring its long-term preservation.

Visit our Facebook album to see what went on behind-the-scenes to digitize this banner.

Unravelling the mystery of the Lord Grey banner

A large banner depicting two female figures in a rural setting is among the most interesting and unique items in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection. Measuring 2.4 x 1.8 metres, this needlework is made from linen, cotton and wool, in addition to being beautifully embroidered with silk and other threads. On the back of the banner, more embroidery indicates that is was “worked by Agnes Sephton 1907.” According to former archivists, Governor General Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey, gave the banner to the Dominion Archives sometime between 1907 and 1911. The banner hung in the office of the Assistant Dominion Archivist until 1953 when it was put into storage. In 1967, it was moved to the National Archives at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, and has been housed at LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec since 2000.

The banner donated by Lord Grey.

The banner donated by Lord Grey. Source

During preparations for the latter move, staff learned more about the circumstances surrounding the banner’s creation. It is thought to be one of a series commissioned by Lord Grey in hopes of making a lasting impression upon the minds and hearts of young Canadians. He planned for banners to be hung in schools across the country to reinforce the ties between Great Britain and Canada. According to legend, St. George, the patron saint of England, demonstrated immense courage in slaying a dragon. Lord Grey wanted young men and women to emulate these heroic qualities. St. George can be found on the shield held by Britannia, the female figure dressed in red. She extends a protective arm around young Canada, who is wearing a white dress adorned with doves and pine trees.

Recently, while preparing the banner to be photographed, LAC staff tracked down the identity of the woman who created it. When Canadian sources failed to reveal a possible candidate, archivists found one in British census and marriage records. Agnes Bingley was born in 1868 in London, England, the daughter of James Bingley, a landscape artist. In 1901 she married George Sephton, who was a painter. The couple lived in London and were associated with a group of artists and designers linked to the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is hoped that further research will reveal more clues about Agnes Sephton’s banner and how it came to LAC .