Five pieces from the rich collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are currently part of the new exhibition space at The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These objects including a commemorative medal, stamps, a map, and a land treaty will help illustrate the complex experience of immigration that continues to shape Canada’s past and present.
Attestation papers—informative documents from Canada’s history
One of the items from the Library and Archives collection included in the exhibition at Pier 21 is a document known as an attestation paper. An attestation paper was a form that recruits filled in and signed to show their willingness to serve overseas in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in the First World War. Library and Archives Canada currently holds 620,000 attestation papers, all of which are digitized and available online.
The details these papers provide allow us to learn a lot about individual soldiers. For example, each form provides details about their physical appearance such as height, eye colour, and chest measurements. Recruits also had to state their “trade or calling” (job), place of birth, next of kin and present address, among other information. When trying to learn about individuals from the past who did not leave a lot (or any!) documentation behind, attestation papers can be incredibly helpful in piecing together histories.
Joseph Wilder—Medical Sergeant and pharmacist
The attestation paper included in the exhibition at Pier 21 belonged to a man named Joseph Wilder. From this document, we learn that he lived at 140 Alfred Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was born in Romania, and made his living as a druggist (pharmacist). The information about Joseph Wilder that can be found on his attestation paper is valuable to a number of interest groups such as his later descendants, members of Winnipeg’s local community, and Canada’s national history. It also complements the information available about Wilder in his two books Read All About It: Reminiscences of an Immigrant Newsboy and Lotions, Potions and Liniments Pure: A Look at the Drug Trade in Winnipeg in the 1900’s.
You can find out more information about the Soldiers of the First World War database and the large-scale digitization initiative to make these documents available online.