Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes: a Co-Lab challenge

By Brianna Fitzgerald

As COVID-19 restrictions have suspended in-person children’s programming, the rush of energy, noise and creativity often found on early weekend mornings at art galleries across the country now seems like a distant memory. Since art classes and workshops have moved online to adapt to these times, we are in a period of great innovation in the sphere of children’s art education, meeting new challenges in engaging children’s creativity in a virtual space. This is not the first time that there has been a major shift in the way that children’s art education is delivered. In the 1930s, Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer (1885–1969) attempted to radically shift how Canada thought about art education and to transform the art gallery from a formal space into a vibrant community space.

When I came across images of Lismer’s children’s art classes in the Ronny Jaques fonds in the Library and Archives Canada collection, I felt a rush of memories of my own childhood spent in art classes and the frenzied excitement of little hands and young minds at work making things. Before finding these images, I was unaware of the large role that being an art educator played in Lismer’s life, and his tireless efforts to popularize and emphasize the importance of art education. I was also unaware of how closely his model of education in the 1930s matched what I grew up with decades later. Children’s art classes in Canada grew in popularity across the country in the 1930s, and much of the growth was due to Lismer’s hard work and innovation.

A black-and-white photograph of a girl with dark braids and a light apron kneeling on the floor and holding a paintbrush in her right hand. The bottom of a framed painting can be seen behind her.

Girl with paintbrush at Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes in Toronto (e010958789)

In 1929, when Lismer was appointed supervisor of education at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), he began implementing many programs in line with his desire to democratize art, make it accessible to the average person and turn the gallery into a community space. Lismer’s first successful program was gallery tours for schools, which became part of the curriculum for some grades in the Toronto Board of Education. Lismer then launched Saturday morning children’s art classes. Teachers and principals from local schools would nominate their best art students to be invited to take part in the classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto. There was no tuition for these classes, only a small fee for material costs, and students had the chance to earn a scholarship for a junior course at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University).

With roughly 300 students attending the classes each week, the gallery was a lively place on Saturday mornings. Children were allowed to work freely and encouraged to explore their ideas and creative impulses. Children took part not only in painting and drawing, but also in clay sculpting, creating costumes, and acting in pageants. The classes were held within the galleries themselves, with children spreading out across the floor to work in various media, always in the presence of great works of art hung on the gallery’s walls. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, exhibitions of work from children in the Saturday morning classes were a regular feature on the gallery’s calendar.

A black-and-white photograph of children kneeling in the middle of the floor in a gallery, surrounded by paper and art supplies. A teacher stands near the middle of the room, assisting a student. The walls are hung with framed paintings, and an adjacent gallery is visible behind four dark columns. The scene is full of energy as the children build paper houses.

Children participating in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980053)

The Saturday classes would eventually result in the opening of the Art Centre at the Art Gallery of Toronto, which would facilitate education activities for the gallery. The Art Centre allowed for smaller classes and more direct interaction with each child, and it expanded the possibilities of Lismer’s vision. After several successful years of running the program at the Art Centre, Lismer was invited to undertake a lecture tour across the country to talk about Canadian art and the children’s art classes. Lismer had already been giving talks for teachers in Toronto to teach them about art and his own methods, hoping it would find its way into their lessons. With the lecture tour, Lismer had the chance to change how art was taught across the country.

The Art Gallery of Toronto was not Lismer’s first or last venture into children’s art education. Lismer ran Saturday morning classes at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in Halifax in 1917, where he was the principal at the time. Following his tenure in Toronto and his cross-Canada lecture tour, Lismer became the educational supervisor at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1940. He once again established an Art Centre and education programming, as he had done in Toronto. Lismer continued to be involved with the Art Centre in Montréal, even after his retirement in 1967, until his death in 1969 at age 83.

A black-and-white photograph of six boys sitting on chairs in a gallery. Each boy has a second chair in front of him being used as a drawing easel. Two framed paintings can be seen on the wall in the background, and there are newspapers scattered on the floor.

Boys painting in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980075)

There are over a hundred images available to view online from these children’s art classes, which depict the wide variety of activities that Lismer developed for his education programming. These photographs give us a delightful peek at the classes some 80 years later. They welcome us to familiar scenes of children sprawled out on gallery floors, gathering art materials, painting at makeshift easels or sculpting in clay over tables well wrapped with newspaper. Although art classes for kids look and sound different during the pandemic, we can all look forward to having noise, mess and excitement take over gallery spaces on weekend mornings once again.

If you recognize someone, a location in the museum or a piece of art in the Arthur Lismer children’s art classes Co-Lab challenge, please tag the photograph!


Brianna Fitzgerald is a Digital Imaging Technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

The Port of Montreal

From the establishment of Montreal as a city in 1642, until the arrival of steam-powered ships in the early part of the 19th century, the Port of Montreal was mostly used by trappers throughout the fur trade and then by French and English sailing vessels bringing supplies to their colony. However, with the appearance of steam-powered ships and the resulting opening of many new and international trading routes, the Port of Montreal would leave behind its humble beginnings and enter into a new period of growth and expansion.

An oil painting of a harbour and waterfront, with a green island visible on the right.

Montreal Harbour, painted by Andrew Morris in 1847, e008300982

Throughout the mid to late 1800s, the Port of Montreal saw countless changes and improvements, starting in 1830 with the establishment of the first Harbour Commission. By 1832, almost three-quarters of a mile of docks had been constructed, and by 1854, the navigation channel between Montreal and Quebec City had been successfully dredged to a depth of 16 feet. Other improvements during this time frame include the movement of goods from the port by train, the installation of electric lights, a further dredging of the channel to 25 feet, as well as the introduction of regular steamship service between the Port of Montreal and Liverpool.

The Port was further enhanced during the early part of the 20th century. The construction of grain elevators began in 1902 and transit sheds in 1908. And by 1910, the deepening of the channel between Montreal and Quebec City to 35 feet was well under way.

A black-and-white photograph of a wharf lined with various types of cargo with a large neo-classical building and a church along the shoreline.

View of the Bonsecours market, wharves and church, photograph by Alexander Henderson, ca. 1875 (c007943)

Because of the harsh Canadian winter, the Port of Montreal was open only seven months of the year up until the early 1960s. However, in 1962, the National Harbours Board (which had become responsible for the Port of Montreal after the demise of the Harbour Commission) introduced icebreakers to the waterway between Montreal and Quebec City. By 1964, the Port of Montreal was open all year long.

A watercolour of a huge ice buildup along the port shoreline of a city.

“Breaking up of the ice in the St. Lawrence at Montreal,” painted by George Henry Andrews in 1864 (e000996176)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many items that chronicle the evolution of the Port of Montreal. The earliest item is a photograph taken in 1870 by Alexander Henderson depicting the steamship S.S. Quebec docked at Montreal harbour with horse-drawn carts on the shore in the foreground. There are also photographs of the Port by William Topley, Henry Joseph Woodside and Hayward Studios. LAC also has a beautiful oil painting completed in 1847 by Andrew Morris depicting the harbour and waterfront of Montreal from the unusual vantage point of Montreal’s shore across from St. Helen’s Island.

A black-and-white photograph of a busy harbour front, showing a street of buildings and boat-lined piers.

View of Montreal Harbour, photograph by William Topley, September 1902 (a201779)

A black-and-white photograph of railway lines running along a ship-lined harbour front.

Wharf and harbour, undated photograph by William Topley (a008893)

Ernst Neumann

By Judith Enright-Smith
Artist and printmaker Ernst Neumann was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1907. His family immigrated to Canada five years later, taking up residence in Montreal, Quebec.

Conté and pencil drawing of a young man seated at a drawing board looking at the viewer. It is signed EN31.

Self-portrait by Ernst Neumann, dated 1931 (MIKAN 3028626)

Following high school, Neumann began his artistic studies at both the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and the Art Association of Montreal. At the latter, Neumann met and studied with Canadian painter and engraver Edwin Holgate (MIKAN 3929083), renowned in the Montreal art scene at that time. Holgate was responsible for cultivating Neumann’s interest in and enthusiasm for wood engraving and printmaking.

An etching of a female nude seated, holding her face and resting her elbows on bent knees.

“Seated Nude,” dated 1935 (MIKAN 3025069)

Neumann made a consistent and meaningful living working as an artist. He created and sold commercial prints of Montreal’s streets and other urban scenes as well as portraits of the city’s social elite. However, Neumann found his true passion in depicting the marginalized of society during the Great Depression. These engravings of the poor and unemployed would often appear in the less mainstream Montreal newspapers and periodicals, particularly those with a left-leaning perspective.
In 1936, together with fellow École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal graduate Goodridge Roberts, Neumann opened the Roberts-Neumann School of Art. The school provided classes in painting and drawing as well as art appreciation. It remained open for only three years.

An etching of a person walking downhill along a snowy path toward a city, with its buildings visible through the trees.

“Descent from Mt. Royal,” signed and dated 1951 (MIKAN 3025050)

Neumann was also a member of an unofficial collective of Montreal artists later termed by art historian Esther Trépanier as the “Jewish Painters of Montreal.” According to Trépanier in Jewish Painters of Montreal: Witnesses of Their Time, 1930–1948, this group of artists, whose members also included Harry Mayerovitch and Ghitta Caisserman-Roth to name a few, were responsible for “… [depicting] the social realism of Montreal during the 1930s and 1940s.”

A lithograph of a harbour landscape with the slightest suggestion of boat masts, buildings and construction.

Montreal Harbour, dated 1935 (MIKAN 3024945)

The Ernst Neumann fonds at Library and Archives Canada was acquired from a private donor in 2005 and 2010. It consists of 156 etchings and lithographs, 49 drawings, 5 watercolours and 36 printing plates. The textual material includes a small amount of Neumann’s personal correspondence along with some catalogues.

Funded by a fellowship grant, Ernst Neumann travelled to Europe in 1956. In March of that year, while visiting a fellow artist in France, Neumann suffered a heart attack, and died at the early age of 49. His remains were brought back and interred in Montreal thanks to the generosity of his peers.


Judith Enright is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Jackie Robinson and the baseball colour barrier

By Dalton Campbell

In April 1946, Jackie Robinson took the field with the Montreal Royals baseball team, which played in the International League. He was the first Black man signed to a Major League Baseball team in the twentieth century. After signing a contract in October 1945 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was assigned by Dodgers’ management to the Royals, the Dodgers’ top minor league affiliate, in order to gain experience. They thought that Montreal would be a less hostile city for him to learn to deal with media scrutiny and fan attention and to endure on-field discrimination and physical intimidation.

Black-and-white photograph of a baseball player running the bases. His foot is on third base and he is turning and heading to home plate. In the background are other players, and in the distance the outfield fence and trees.

Jackie Robinson, in a Montreal Royals’ uniform, circles third base and heads for home during spring training. April 20, 1946 (a201547)

In the first game of the season, he more than held his own. He had four hits, three runs, and a home run. A famous photograph captures Royals’ teammate George “Shotgun” Shuba shaking Robinson’s hand as he crossed home plate after his home run. This is believed to be the first photograph of a white man congratulating a Black man on a baseball diamond. Continue reading

“The Pointe”

Pointe St. Charles or “The Pointe” as it is more commonly known, is a Montréal, Quebec neighbourhood located southwest of downtown that has a rich and varied history. The area known as Pointe St. Charles was first acquired by Charles le Moyne in 1654, and is named in his honour. Throughout its early history, it was occupied by various religious communities and is also where Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, welcomed and housed les Filles du Roi, the young French women who immigrated to New France to increase its population. Thereafter, Pointe St. Charles remained primarily a farming community until the mid-nineteenth century.

Black-and-white stereoscopic photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

Stereoscopic photograph of the Victoria Bridge construction in progress from Pointe St. Charles (MIKAN 3357662)

The landscape and population of Pointe St. Charles changed dramatically upon completion of the Lachine Canal in 1848, and further still with the new railway infrastructure and construction of the Victoria Bridge to Montréal’s south shore. Several companies were drawn to the area; new jobs were created, and land previously given to agriculture was bought for residential housing. According to Héritage Montréal, by the beginning of the 20th century, Pointe St. Charles had become the largest industrial sector not only in Montréal but in all of Canada. It was at this time that The Pointe also became the quintessential example of an ethnic melting pot. Populated primarily by English (75%) and French (25%) Canadians, The Pointe increasingly became home to many different ethnic groups.

Black-and-white photograph showing a locomotive under construction.

“Trevithick” railway engine under construction at Pointe St. Charles, from the Alexander Mackenzie Ross collection by William Notman, 1859 (MIKAN 3192802)

Several factors would contribute to The Pointe’s dramatic turn from Canada’s largest industrial sector to one of its most notorious slums. The Great Depression was the first event that contributed to the decline of the area’s primary economic activities. This was followed by the exodus of various factories and businesses to other industrial areas around Montréal, then culminating with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the closing of the Lachine Canal. Adding further to the area’s decline was the building of expressways that now run along The Pointe’s north and southwest borders. The Richard Arless photographic collection held by Library and Archives Canada substantiates the existence of these slum conditions. Montréal-born Richard Graham Arless (1906-1995) began his career as a Second World War military photographer. After the war, he worked for various newspapers and magazines, eventually opening his own commercial studio in Montréal. His photographs of the slum conditions of Pointe St. Charles, all taken on the same April day in 1946, capture the bleakness and poverty of this once vital, now broken-down and battered neighbourhood.

Black-and-white photograph showing a courtyard with laundry hanging from various clotheslines. Three children are playing on the ground.

Children playing in a courtyard in the Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380642)

Black-and-white photograph showing a long, narrow lane strewn with garbage. A young child stands at the far end looking at the viewer.

View of a child in a narrow, garbage-strewn lane in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380643)

The people of Pointe St. Charles have always been a gregarious and hardy bunch. As their population dwindled and their neighbourhood and living conditions deteriorated, the residents banded together to confront and improve their lot. Community groups were started to improve housing, build parks and promote recreation and health care.

Black-and-white photograph showing the dilapidated back lane behind the row houses. Children look towards the viewer.

View of a dilapidated back alley in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380652)

Most recently, The Pointe has experienced a revitalization. Land around the Lachine Canal was transformed for recreational use with bike paths, while many of the abandoned factories have been converted into condos that have attracted many new residents.