Madge Macbeth: Writer of everything and anything

By Vasanthi Pendakur

Portrait-style photograph of a woman wearing a lace blouse, jade beads and a diamond pin facing the camera.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth (e010935318)

Madge Macbeth was a prolific American-Canadian writer of short stories, novels, plays, travel books, newspaper articles, and interviews throughout the first half of the 20th century. She was deeply involved with authors’ associations and in theatre, being a founding member of the Ottawa Little Theatre and the first female president of the Canadian Authors Association, a position she held for three terms.

Macbeth was born Madge Hamilton Lyons in Philadelphia, to Bessie Maffitt and Hymen Hart Lyons, on November 6, 1878. As a child, she produced plays and edited her own newspapers. She may have been influenced by her grandmother, Louisa Hart Maffitt, who was one of the first professional American press women and a suffragist.

After the family settled in Baltimore, Madge Lyons was sent to Hellmuth College in London, Ontario, for her education. In her memoir Boulevard Career, she recalled that Hellmuth in the 1890s did not teach Canadian literature and that its curriculum centred on the classics. After completing her schooling, she performed as a mandolinist and vaudeville actress for a few years before marrying Charles Macbeth in 1901.

The couple first moved to Detroit, and then settled in Ottawa. Macbeth instantly loved Ottawa. In her writings, she stated that Ottawa provided a means of satisfying my in-born and unquenchable love of people.” This is certainly true. She became friends with many of the leading lights of Ottawa, including the photographer Yousuf Karsh and Mayor Charlotte Whitton.

Side profile of Madge Macbeth in a black dress and white lace jacket wearing a feathered hat.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth as a young woman in Ottawa (e008406101)

Disaster struck around 1908. Macbeth’s husband caught tuberculosis and later died, her young son became ill, and her mother lost all her money. Writing was one of the few professional careers open to women at the time. As she recounted in an interview with Maclean’s: I began to write…with the deluded idea that it was something I could do at home. Long since I have learned that it is just the place where one can’t write in peace.” At the time, the Canadian market for writing was small. Editors were looking for American or British writers, and in many instances Canadians were confined to advertisements or second runs.

Macbeth began with short pieces in magazines, and had a few early successes with her novels The Changeling (1909), and The Winning Game (1910). This was followed by a dry spell. A helpful mentor at this time was Marjorie MacMurchy, one of the earliest press women in Canada. MacMurchy suggested Macbeth try getting interviews with members of Parliament, because magazines were more interested in public officials than in fiction.

Her luck returned. A Canadian editor accepted a piece she had written, and soon other work followed. Macbeth wrote anything she could get her hands on: advertisements, brochures for the Canadian Pacific Railway, serials, novels, travel books, plays, radio dramas, propaganda (during World War II), newspaper articles, and columns. She wrote under her own name and various pseudonyms, both male and female. Her writing style and subject matter changed from book to book, but most of her pieces were suffused with a strain of humour or satire, and her main characters were usually women. She wrote about marriage, sex, travel, adventure, religion, and political intrigue. Later in her career, she travelled extensively, usually alone, for lecture series or for material to turn into more books.

Madge Macbeth holding a document and looking off to the side.

Madge Macbeth holding a document (e010935329)

Many of her novels focussed on the middle and upper classes. In fact, popular political satire novels, like The Kinder Bees (1935) and The Land of Afternoon (1924), were based on her knowledge of upper-class society in Ottawa. Both were written under the closely guarded pseudonym of “Gilbert Knox.” One of her most popular novels was Shackles (1926), which highlighted first-wave feminist thinking of the time. The novel is the story of Naomi Lennox, a middle-class woman fighting for respect as a writer and for freedom within her church and marriage. The book was highly praised by some and condemned by others for its portrayal of sex in marriage.

Macbeth’s articles discussed similar themes as well as showcased women in the arts, business, education, and suffrage. One article entitled “How much sex should be put into novels?” was published in 1947. In it, Macbeth argued that authors were reporters describing the world around them. She was critical of authors using too much sex in their books, but argued that ignoring it completely was also a disservice to reality and literature. One exchange with a reformer went like this: Why don’t you authors write about nice things?” He complained. … “Do you enjoy uplift books?” I shot at him, “Or do you want them published for the other fellow?

Throughout her career, Macbeth was deeply involved with authors’ associations and in theatre. Not only was she the first female president of the Canadian Authors Association, but she held the position for three terms, a record at the time. She used the position to promote Canadian literature and continually supported younger writers. As well, her interest in theatre led to the founding of the Ottawa Drama League, later the Ottawa Little Theatre. Her stated goal with this project was to wean children from cheap movies, to give them a knowledge and love of good dramatic literature.” Macbeth pestered MPs for support until the project came to fruition. It is now one of the oldest theatre companies in Canada.

Large group of men and women standing in front of the entrance to a building.

Group portrait of the Canadian Authors Association (e008406116)

Macbeth’s work was very progressive, but elements of her writing show her Victorian upbringing. While her subject matter was enlightened, her books tended to fit into the conventions of the time. She supported fledging writers and was proud of supporting herself and creating space for other women to do the same. At the same time, she wrote articles arguing that women had forgotten their domestic responsibilities, and called spinsterhooda half baked life. She wrote as a member of her class, and some of her language would not be used today. These contradictions are symbolic of her long career and the changes that took place in society from her Victorian upbringing to her death in the 1960s.  Boulevard Career ends with a discussion of how much society, and Ottawa in particular, had changed over her career, especially for women. Her writing and her life were part of this change, half in the future and half in the past.

Macbeth donated her papers to the National Archives in 1958. The fonds includes manuscripts of many of her novels, copyright information, and correspondence on a number of topics, including Macbeth’s lecture series, her involvement with the Ottawa Drama League, and her work with the Canadian Authors Association. The fonds also comprises diaries, scrapbooks, and a large collection of photos of Macbeth over her life. These photos show her dramatic side and her love of the theatre. The fonds gives us insight into her long career and ensures that her work will be remembered.

Side portrait of Madge Macbeth wearing a pale patterned cape.

Portrait of Madge Macbeth wearing a cape (e010935313)

Additional resources


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

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities

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 Annabelle Schattmann

George Mully (1926–1999) was an American playwright and documentary film director. He began as a playwright, working on off-Broadway shows, travelling productions, and operas in the United States and Europe. Mully had various roles, including stagehand, stage manager, lighting designer, and director; he even worked as a puppeteer. After marrying and settling down in England with his wife Ann, Mully pivoted his career from the stage to audiovisual production. He started his own educational production studio, writing, directing, and producing stories on subjects and issues he was passionate about. By 1979, the family had immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

The George Mully collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, consists of personal and professional documentary photographs taken in the later part of Mully’s career. The images demonstrate his varied interests, including international development, the environment, history and socio-cultural topics, music, and art. In Canada, Mully worked closely with the National Film Board and museums in the capital region, directing many documentary films. Acid from Heaven (1981), a documentary film about acid rain, is a notable work included in his collection.

Colour photograph of a young girl staring into the camera.

An Inuk girl with yellow sunglasses, a red jacket, and multicolour mittens. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218259)

Of particular interest to the We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative is a series of 363 photographs taken between 1978 and 1988. They depict First Nations people and Inuit from across Canada, as well as Diné (Navajo) and Inde (Apache) from the United States. Mully’s images document how Indigenous people lived and worked in the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the photographs show people going about their daily lives, often while performing an activity. Sometimes it is a traditional activity, such as hunting, gathering, creating art, and making crafts, or a contemporary activity such as working in a modern industry. Occasionally, Mully captures crossover between traditional and contemporary life.

Colour photograph of four men sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by microphones and facing each other, singing and drumming.

Four unidentified First Nations drummers performing under a tent. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218157)

Mully’s interest in human rights is evident in a series of photographs taken in July 1979, when the Indian women’s rights march arrived in Ottawa. The march, led by Maliseet women Sandra Lovelace and Caroline Ennis, protested inequality and discrimination faced by First Nations women who lost their Indian status upon marrying non-status men. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in June 1985 by removing the relevant provisions and reinstating status for those affected, among other changes. The revisions to the Act have been critiqued for not adequately addressing the issue.

Colour photograph of a person sitting on green grass behind a sign that reads “Save our sisters.”

Unknown individual sitting on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a protest sign. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

It is not initially clear why Mully captured particular images or what purpose they might have served. Some photographs might have been taken in preparation for a possible documentary or as part of research on a future project. The names of the people depicted, the locations, and the dates of the photographs are unknown; none of the images has a detailed caption, and few textual records accompany the collection. As such, a selection of over 300 photographs will be part of an upcoming Co-Lab challenge and Flickr album. If you recognize someone or a location, or know when an event took place, please go to the George Mully Co-Lab challenge and tag the photographs! Tagging the images with names, locations, and dates will allow others to find images of family members and their communities, and ensure that the people and places are remembered. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and for your assistance in this endeavour.

Colour photograph of a man in dark blue clothing wearing sunglasses and sitting on a wooden bench carving a vase.

Unidentified Inuk artist at an arts event, working on a ceramic vase with an abstract design. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

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.


Annabelle Schattmann is an archival assistant for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Images of Icebergs now on Flickr 

National Film Board photographers setting up by an iceberg (e011175885)

Icebergs are large pieces of ice that break off glaciers and float into the surrounding ocean. They can be pure white or streaked with blue and brown. Blue streaks come from melt water freezing in the cracks of the original glaciers. Brown streaks come from dust landing on the ice or erosion from the original glacier scraping the ground.

Iceberg in Hudson Strait (a045191)

The shape and size of icebergs depends on their breakage and melt patterns, as well as waves, temperature, and the ice pack around them. Common shapes include tabular, blocky, wedge, pinnacle, domed, and drydock.

An album page with five black-and-white close up shots of different types of icebergs and a shot of the ocean at sunset. The captions read, left to right, “Sunset, Baffin Bay” and “Taken at sea – Off Scott Inlet, Baffin Island.”

Views of icebergs taken at sea, off Scott Inlet, Baffin Island (e010863534)

Tabular, or flat pieces of shelf ice that break off to form ice islands, are stable enough to use as mobile research platforms, while the more irregular shapes can break apart without warning. According to the Iceberg Finder, the largest iceberg ever recorded in the Arctic was recorded in 1882 near Baffin Island

Six small sketches of different types of icebergs in pale colours with the caption: “Vanille, fraise, framboise – boum, servez froid!” [Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry—boom, serve cold!]

Vanille, fraise, framboise – boum, servez froid! [Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry—boom, serve cold!] (e008444012)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Images of Indigenous Pipes now on Flickr

Close up portrait of a man smoking a pipe, and wearing a flat cap and round glasses.

Portrait of an Inuit man, Angmarlik, a respected leader at Qikiqtat (Kekerten) (PA-166470)

Pipe smoking was practiced by both Indigenous men and women.

Woman smoking a pipe and wearing a dress, shawl, and headwrap. She is holding the reins of a horse pulling a Red River cart.

Camp scene of a Red River cart and an Indigenous woman (e011156555)

Pipe bowls were made from ceramics or carved from hard materials such as pipestone, soapstone, wood, or corncobs. The stem was usually made of a hollowed out tube of wood. Pipes were used recreationally to smoke tobacco, or blends of aromatic plants or barks. Pipes were also used on political and ceremonial occasions. Unique metal-forged axe pipes were gifted to Indigenous chiefs and leaders.

A birch bark basket embroidered in the centre with a First Nations figure smoking a pipe, and white, red, and blue flowers on each side.

Birch bark basket with embroidered First Nations figure and pipe (e010948522)

Pipe smoking has dwindled, but the practice and symbolism still carries on as some of these pictures show.

Portrait of a woman wearing a plaid shawl and smoking a pipe.

Inuit woman wearing plaid shawl and smoking a pipe (e010692540)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Judith-Pauline White, Nunatsiavut photographer

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 Heather Campbell

A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk girl facing the camera. The young girl is wearing a white amauti (a girl’s or woman’s coat with a large hood) and stands in front of a building as a woman peeks out from a window behind her.

An Inuk girl stands as a woman peeks out from a building behind her, circa 1900–1950 (e011307844)

Judith-Pauline White (née Hunter) was an Inuk woman born in 1905 in Hebron, Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador), about 200 kilometres north of Nain in Labrador. She married a well-known trading post owner, Richard White, in 1922 and became stepmother to his daughter; the couple would have five children together. The Richard (Dick) White Trading Post (now a heritage building) is located in Kauk, approximately 4 kilometres south of Nain and 34 kilometres north of Voisey’s Bay. Ms. White, an amateur photographer, took photos in the area starting in the 1920s. In the 1950s, she met anthropologist Alika Podolinsky Webber, who travelled to Labrador to conduct research for her thesis about the art of the Mushuau Innu (of the Innu Nation). Podolinsky Webber went to Kauk because she was aware that the trading post was a hub for Innu and Inuit along the north coast of Labrador. Ms. White sent a shipment of material to Podolinsky Webber after Mr. White died in 1960. The material included photographs and negatives for over 200 images of daily life in and around the trading post. White’s photographs (see lower levels) feature both Innu and Inuit, and are a visual documentary of life in Labrador from the 1920s to the 1950s. This wealth of knowledge, which was tucked away for decades before being donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2007, is now accessible to everyone.

A black-and-white photograph of an Innu man staring at the camera, wearing traditional clothing and sitting on a pile of supplies. In the background, many other people are standing in front of a dark-coloured house with two small windows.

Innu on the move, circa 1925–1940 (e011305800)

As an Inuk woman from Nunatsiavut, an artist and a former curator, I am interested in the life and work of this early photographer. I cannot help but think of the well-known Inuk photographer Peter Pitseolak from Cape Dorset. His snapshots of Inuit life in the 1940s and 1950s are some of the earliest examples of Inuit individuals turning the camera on their own communities, rather than being the topic of ethnographic study by others. Unbeknownst to Pitseolak and those who followed his work, an Inuk woman in Nunatsiavut was also taking photos of everyday life. Why have we not heard of her? As Inuk scholar Dr. Heather Igloliorte writes in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly, the Indian Act excluded Inuit in Nunatsiavut when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949:

Labrador Inuit artists were unfortunately omitted from virtually all of the developments that emerged from the concerted efforts of [James Houston (who “discovered” modern Inuit art)], the government, the Canadian Guild of Crafts, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others, because the federal government did not officially recognize that there were Inuit in Labrador until decades later. We did not establish studios, form co-operatives, build relationships with the southern Canadian art world, and develop national or international markets for our work. We were not even permitted to use the ubiquitous “Igloo Tag” for authentification until 1991.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman standing in a window of a wooden building, wearing a dress with a white collar and a necklace with a large cross. In the left-hand corner of the window frame, a child is peeking out, looking toward the camera.

Woman standing in a window, circa 1900–1950 (e011307849)

When Newfoundland joined Confederation, White was still taking photographs, but galleries and exhibitions at the time did not feature Nunatsiavut Inuit artists. Instead, these artists sold their works door to door, at local craft shops or to the occasional visitor. We can only imagine how the Inuit art world would have reacted to White’s work had the contemporary provincial or federal governments given support and recognition to Nunatsiavut Inuit artists. We are thankful to the Alika Podolinsky Webber estate for its valuable gift. It is a visual reminder of Judith-Pauline White’s passion for photography and her recording of Labrador Innu and Inuit culture, which is now available online for all to enjoy.

A black-and-white photograph of an Innu man and three members of his family. The men and young boy are dressed in fur jackets and mittens. A tent and trees are in the background.

Innu man Pasna and his family, circa 1920–1940 (e008299593)

Visit Flickr to see more of Judith-Pauline White’s photographs.

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.


Heather Campbell is an archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Bakeries now on Flickr

Who doesn’t love bakeries? The smell of butter and sugar, the sight of all the loaves of bread, and sweet treats lined up behind glass counters are incredibly tempting.

Four glass cases packed with baked goods form a long counter. Tall wooden shelves with a mirror in the middle are lined with boxes. The floor has a checkerboard pattern.

Hunts’ bakery shop, Toronto, Ontario (PA-068155)

Bakeries can be found everywhere throughout history. Armies had field bakeries, and forts had bakeries drawn into their plans. Outdoor or communal ovens provided options to families. New immigrants started bakeries and brought with them recipes from their home countries.

Three children watch while their mother pull bread from an outdoor brick oven. A house and a field can be seen in the background.

Bread baking in an outdoor oven (e011175772)

On a residential street, a horse is pulling a wagon labeled with “Quality,” “Wonder Bakeries Limited,” and a picture of a Wonder Bread loaf.

Delivery wagon, Wonder Bakeries Limited (PA-060334)

Baking has changed immensely in the last century with factories and mechanization making large quantities of bread. But small neighbourhood bakeries still exist and are part of city landscapes. A favourite baker or a large factory can be a landmark. These photos show a story of immigration, home bakeries, small businesses, and large factories.

A wooden building with “Café Royal and Bakery” painted on it. Three waiters and four customers stand on the boardwalk in front of the building.

Café Royal & Bakery (PA-013518)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Canadian prime ministers through news photographers’ lenses

By Maude-Emmanuelle Lambert

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Prime Ministers and the Arts exhibition explores the sometimes unusual links between artistic forms of expression and the prime ministers of Canada. In particular, the exhibition includes architectural photographs by Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1958), Jean Chrétien’s playful selfie (Andrew Danson, Unofficial Portraits, 1985) and the large yellow-and-orange canvas by artist Carl Beam (2000), inspired by Lester B. Pearson.

These works reveal what may be an unsuspected artistic side to our prime ministers. They also show how the role and the personality of some prime ministers have—leaving politics aside—inspired a number of artists. Yousuf Karsh, for instance, whose photographs are preserved by LAC, made portraits of prime ministers of many generations and political stripes during his career, including William Lyon Mackenzie King, Robert Borden, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Joe Clark.

Black-and-white photograph of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King at his desk. One of the Parliament buildings is visible in the background through a window.

William Lyon Mackenzie King at his desk, March 15, 1947. King sat for Yousuf Karsh starting in 1936. Photograph by Yousuf Karsh (e010752289)

However, some of the most famous and most iconic photos of our prime ministers are not by portrait photographers. Many were taken by news photographers whose names are unfamiliar to the public. Unlike portrait photographers, who have time to plan their background settings and research their subjects, news photographers must be both patient and react quickly. News photographers must often wait for hours before taking the “snapshot” that tells the story of an event, expresses a feeling, or even captures a prime minister’s personality trait on the fly.

You may have seen the famous photograph of Pierre Elliott Trudeau sliding down a bannister like a child! Taken during the Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in 1968, this photo is one of the most remarkable shots in the career of news photographer Ted Grant. In a book by Thelma Fayle about Grant’s life work, the photographer explains that if he had not heard the laughter of people nearby, he would probably have missed the moment entirely: “The laughter triggered me to turn around and catch three shots before Trudeau was almost on top of me” (Thelma Fayle, Ted Grant: Sixty Years of Legendary Photojournalism, Victoria, Heritage House Publishing, 2013, p. 67-68).

Born in Toronto in 1929, Ted Grant became a photographer in the mid-1950s. Seen by many as a true pioneer in Canadian news photography (some even call him the “father of Canadian photojournalism”), he worked on contract for various newspapers (including the Ottawa Citizen), the National Film Board and the Canadian Government Travel Bureau. During his career, Grant photographed many leadership campaigns, elections (federal and provincial) and first ministers’ conferences. While following the campaign of Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield, Grant befriended a young Joe Clark, the future prime minister, and made connections with his political entourage and family. Many black-and-white photos in the Joe Clark fonds and Ted Grant fonds show Clark during public appearances such as his swearing-in ceremony as well as in more private settings such as working meetings with his principal advisors.

Black-and-white photograph of Joe Clark standing and being sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada. Seated at his side is Governor General Edward Schreyer.

The swearing-in of Joe Clark as the 16th Prime Minister of Canada, June 4, 1979. Photograph by Ted Grant (e010764766)

The special relationship between Ted Grant and the Clarks gave him access to the Prime Minister’s private and family life. The photographer took the very first photos of Catherine, the couple’s only child, and he was invited to informal family gatherings and garden parties. Though Grant was in the room, the Clarks seemed able to ignore his camera. According to Clark’s wife, Maureen McTeer, the photographer knew how to be patient and keep a low profile: “Ted will wait for the photograph. If you are aware of his presence, he will wait until you are not. That is a very unusual quality for a photographer” (Fayle, p. 75). But while Grant captured happy moments, such as the Prime Minister sitting on the floor at 24 Sussex Drive relaxing with his wife and daughter, he also caught times of obvious disappointment, including election night 1980.

Black-and-white photograph depicting Prime Minister Joe Clark with his wife and daughter, sitting on the floor in the living room, in front of a fireplace.

Prime Minister Joe Clark and his family (spouse Maureen McTeer and daughter Catherine) at 24 Sussex Drive (e002712822). This photograph is an excellent example of the exceptional, trusting relationship between the Clark family and photographer Ted Grant. Over several decades, Grant documented many important events in Clark’s career, as well as intimate family moments.

Because news photographers capture an instant, it is not surprising that their photo collections include snapshots of prime ministers in the heat of political action. Consider, for instance, the Louis Jaques photo of a young John Diefenbaker speaking in the House as an MP aspiring to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Or the Robert Cooper photo of John Turner speaking to a crowd during his campaign for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Black-and-white photograph showing MP John Diefenbaker standing and speaking to the House of Commons. Around him, MPs are sitting at their desks.

John Diefenbaker, MP, speaking in the House of Commons, 1948. Photograph by Louis Jaques (C-080883)

Black-and-white photograph of John Turner speaking into a microphone in front of a crowd. A Canadian flag is visible.

John Turner speaking to a crowd in Ottawa, at the Liberal Leadership Convention in 1984. Photograph by Robert Cooper (a152415)

Interestingly, nearly half of the photographs preserved by LAC are in photojournalism collections. Ted Grant’s collection alone includes almost 216,000 black-and-white and colour photographs, photo negatives and contact sheets, while there are 175,000 in the Duncan Cameron collection. Much like Grant, Duncan Cameron began his career as a news journalist in the 1950s. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Cameron immigrated to Canada in 1954 and covered Parliament Hill for many years, photographing and forming relationships with various political figures. Cameron was also a contract photographer for Time Life Inc. from 1963 to 1976, and he completed his career at the Public Archives of Canada, to which he donated his collection.

Black-and-white photograph showing four former Canadian prime ministers: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Lester B. Pearson.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson after a Cabinet shuffle, April 4, 1967. Photograph by Duncan Cameron (a117107)

In short, the collections created by news photographers not only document Canada’s political history in exceptional ways but also highlight more private times in the lives of Canadian prime ministers. Whether capturing the heat of a moment or a moment of quiet, or the rise or fall of a prime minister, these artists have managed to capture different sides of prime ministers’ personalities.

Black-and-white photograph of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau taking a photograph

Pierre Elliott Trudeau taking a photograph with one of Duncan Cameron’s cameras, June 28, 1968. Photograph by Duncan Cameron (a175919)


Maude-Emmanuelle Lambert is an archivist in the Private Archives Division, Science and Governance, at Library and Archives Canada.

Dressing Up at Ottawa’s Fancy Dress Balls and Skating Carnivals (1876–1896)

By: Emma Hamilton-Hobbs

Don’t you just love to dress up, spending hours upon hours devoted to selecting, conducting research on, and finally creating an impressive outfit for an exclusive costumed event? Well, many Canadians in the late nineteenth century certainly did!

A fancy dress ball was a private costumed party that grew in popularity over the course of the nineteenth century, hosted and attended primarily by the most privileged members of society. The men and women who received invitations to the events spent weeks upon weeks carefully selecting their costumes, poring over published magazines and books devoted to fancy dress, and even perusing historical books or paintings for inspiration. Popular ideas included historical dress, literary, mythological and allegorical characters, and finally, characters from “exotic” lands.

Newspapers in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal reported extensively on the major Canadian fancy dress balls, providing detailed descriptions of the various costumes that the elite guests had worn. Many who attended the balls eagerly flocked to photography studios in the days and months following these special occasions to have their portraits taken in costume. Sometimes these portraits were used to create impressive composite photographs, including the one fabricated by Ottawa photographer William James Topley (1845–1930) of the Grand Fancy Ball hosted by Governor General Lord Dufferin and his wife Lady Dufferin in the Rideau Hall ballroom on February 23, 1876.

A group photograph of hundreds of costumed guests at a fancy dress ball. The background is a painting of the Rideau Hall ballroom.

Composite image of the Dufferin Grand Fancy Ball at Rideau Hall on February 23, 1876. The final composite was completed in either May or June. (e008295343).

This composite was created by pasting hundreds of individual portraits taken in Topley’s studio onto a painted scene of the Rideau Hall ballroom, which was then re-photographed to create the final product. Topley learned how to create composite images from his former mentor and employer, William Notman (1826–1891), who owned a successful photography studio in Montreal. Topley, like Notman, was an astute businessman who took full advantage of these vice-regal events to turn a profit, as guests were eager to have their costumed characters preserved in the form of photographic portraits that they could share with family and friends, or paste into personal albums as memorable keepsakes.

Many individuals played up their character in the photography studio, assuming different poses and using a variety of props in their staged portraits. Mr. Campbell posed theatrically as a “Court Jester” when he visited Topley’s studio shortly after the Grand Fancy Ball hosted by the Dufferins had ended. William Campbell was the private secretary to Lord Dufferin and a well-liked staff member.

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed as a jester and posing in a photography studio. He grasps a puppet on a stand in his right hand.

William Campbell, private secretary to Lord Dufferin, as a “Court Jester” by William Topley, March 1876. (e011091709)

Miss Maggie Jones and Miss Zaidee Cockburn both dressed up as “Bonnie Fishwives of New Haven” at the Dufferins’ Grand Fancy Ball. They attracted some attention throughout the evening, which may have been linked to the lengths of their skirts, which were much shorter than acceptable Victorian dress.

A black-and-white photograph of a young woman dressed up as a “fishwife” and posing in a photography studio. She is shown standing with her left hand resting on her hip, her other hand holding a papier mâché fish and her right foot raised and leaning on a wooden barrel.

Miss Maggie Jones dressed as a “Bonnie Fishwife of New Haven” by William Topley, March 1876 (e011091718).

Fancy dress skating carnivals were also very popular during this time, and, unlike the fancy dress balls, were far more accessible to the average Canadian citizen. In his studio, Topley recreated outdoor skating scenes for his sitters with a painted, snowy backdrop complete with artificial snow and a reflective surface to imitate ice. Women loved to wear peasant or pastoral dress to skating carnivals, as shorter skirts also allowed them to move around freely on skates.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman dressed up in costume as a shepherdess on skates in a photography studio. The backdrop is a painted, snowy scene.

Miss Fraser as a “Shepherdess” by William Topley, February 1889 (a138398)

Allegorical characters were also well represented at the fancy dress balls and skating carnivals. Women dressed as “Night,” “A Hornet,” “The Alphabet,” or even as the “Dominion of Canada,” as represented by Mrs. Juschereau de St. Denis LeMoine at the Dufferins’ ball.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman dressed up as the “Dominion of Canada” in a photography studio. On the front of her dress is the coat of arms of the Dominion surrounded by embroidered maple leaves, with miniature snowshoes on the train of her dress.

Mrs. Juschereau de St. Denis LeMoine as the “Dominion of Canada” by William Topley, March 1876. (e011091705)

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed up as explorer “Jacques Cartier” in a photography studio.

Mr. Juschereau de St. Denis LeMoine dressed as explorer “Jacques Cartier,” March 1876. (e011091707)

The Historical Fancy Dress Ball hosted by the Governor General, the Earl of Aberdeen, and his wife, Lady Aberdeen, in the Senate Chamber of the original Parliament buildings on February 17, 1896, was another widely reported event. This educational ball featured nine periods in Canadian history, from the Vikings to the Loyalists, enacted by two hundred and fifty individuals in a series of dances at the ball.

A photographic portrait of a group representing the voyages of the Norsemen at the Aberdeens’ ball illustrates how the medium of photography had evolved since the Dufferins’ ball twenty years earlier. Topley, who once again photographed the groups in his studio after the ball had ended, could now take an entire group together as a result of faster exposure times. The scene is also illuminated by natural light streaming in from the skylight seen at the top left of the image.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of seventeen men, women and girls wearing Viking costumes in a photography studio.

A historic group representing the voyages of the Norsemen to Northeastern North America photographed in Topley’s studio. They were the first historic group who performed a lively “polska” at the Historical Fancy Dress Ball hosted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen in February 1896. The young girl seated in the middle is Lady Marjorie Gordon, daughter of the vice-regal hosts, wearing a white and gold dress with her mother’s Celtic jewellery. (a137981).

A souvenir album was created and sold to guests afterward as well, illustrated with photographs of the historic groups taken by Topley (with the exception of one group) and text by historian and civil servant Dr. John George Bourinot, who provided advice and guidance to Lady Aberdeen in the months leading up to the event. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a copy of this souvenir album in its collection.

All of the above digitized images were reproduced from original glass plate negatives found in the Topley Studio fonds at LAC. These images, along with many others taken by Topley of guests who attended the Ottawa fancy dress balls and skating carnivals, are available online through LAC’s website.

Reproductions of these original glass plate negatives are on display at the National Gallery of Canada in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries.


Emma Hamilton-Hobbs is a photo archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Cartes-de-Visite now on Flickr

A carte-de-visite is a type of calling card popular during the mid- to late 19th century.

A black-and-white photograph of Napoléon Bourassa’s left profile.

Napoléon Bourassa [e008302188]

The card consisted of a photographic print glued onto a cardboard backing. These cards were inexpensive and easy to produce, and varied slightly in size. Cards were commonly given out to friends and family during holidays or for special events. Collectors, at the time, put their cards into albums. Images were not limited to family and friends—famous individuals from the past were also featured on cartes-de-visite.

A black-and-white photolithograph of two dogs, one large and one small, looking out from the entrance to a doghouse.

Two dogs [e011196678]

A black-and-white photographic portrait of 27 young girls wearing medals and seated around a nun.

Group of girls wearing medals seated around a nun [e010969237]

A black-and-white photographic portrait of a dog resting on a chair next to a boy and a man holding a rifle.

Hunter with a boy and dog [e011196672]

Visit the Flickr album now!

The Artist’s Mirror: Celebrating a new exhibition of artist self-portraits at Glenbow

On June 15, 2018, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Glenbow Museum come together in Calgary, Alberta, to officially celebrate the beginning of a very successful collaboration. March 10th marked the opening of the first in a series of five co-curated exhibitions. All of the exhibitions feature portraits from LAC’s collection. In some cases, they also include portraits from Glenbow’s collection.

This exciting collaboration provides the opportunity for more Canadians to see many of Canada’s most important national treasures: all of the exhibitions will be presented at Glenbow, in Calgary. Each of the exhibitions in the series has a different theme related to portraits and portraiture.

A colour photograph of the entrance to the exhibition space at the Glenbow Museum.

Installation photograph of The Artist’s Mirror at Glenbow, courtesy of Glenbow Museum

A special kind of portrait

The first exhibition in the series focuses on one of the most fascinating types of portrait: images that artists create of themselves. The proliferation of mirrors during the 15th century is said to have contributed to the popularization of artist self-portraits. When artists hold the mirror to themselves, it is very difficult not to be drawn in.

A painting of a mirror and a still-life arrangement on a dressing table with several books, a brush, a radio, and two oranges on a plate on top of a newspaper. The mirror’s reflection shows the artist and another painting.

Self-portrait in Mirror, William Lewy Leroy Stevenson, ca. 1928, e011200954

Artist self-portraits are particularly intriguing because they appear to give privileged insight into the creative process. They are also exciting for their variety. The choice of medium is just one way in which artists have experimented with self-portraits, over the years, as statements of creative identity.

The exhibition includes 17 historical and modern self-portraits of Canadian artists, drawn from LAC’s collection. There are examples of video and sculpture self-portraiture as well as paintings, drawings and prints.

Many faces, many stories

A stand-out self-portrait in the exhibition is this sculpture by Inuit artist Floyd Kuptana.

A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man with his tongue sticking out.

Self-portrait by Floyd Kuptana, 2007, MIKAN 3922914

It is important to view this self-portrait from a variety of angles. The playful stone sculpture smiles, when viewed from one angle, and sticks out his tongue when viewed from another:

A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man with his head tilted to the side. A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man sticking his tongue out.The humour in this self-portrait masks a much more serious exploration of self, on a variety of levels. Kuptana created this self-portrait with traditional ideas as well as modern ones. The multiple faces and angles reflect shamanic beliefs about transformation. Yet, the idea of multiple personalities, within one self, is also associated with modern psychology.

A colour photograph of the side of a stylized sculpture of a man.Self-portrait… or portrait?

The exhibition provides a chance to see a portrait that remains at the centre of one of Canadian art history’s most interesting unresolved mysteries. Certain scholars feel strongly that this portrait, created by important British Columbia artist Emily Carr, is a rare, early self-portrait. However, others have argued that this drawing is merely an image Carr may have made of somebody else.

A charcoal drawing on paper of a young woman with bare shoulders seen from the back with her face in profile. Her hair is styled in a loose bun with short curls framing her face. Her gaze is off to the right.

Self-portrait thought to be of Emily Carr, ca. 1899, e006078795

Most agree that Carr created the drawing when she was an art student in London, United Kingdom. The drawing is done in a traditional academic style, not typical of Carr’s later work, but very much typical of a student demonstrating her mastery.

Those who believe this to be an image of Carr herself point to the strong resemblance between the drawing and contemporary photographs of her. They acknowledge that Carr was notoriously prudish and thus unlikely to pose with bare shoulders. However, they point out that it would be quite common, in women’s drawing classes of the day, to practise drawing the human form from suitably draped ancient classical sculptures. An artist could place their own head on a body copied from one of these unexceptionable nudes.

A vignette of the Emily Carr portrait showing the drawing’s classical lines of the shoulders and chin.With this image, Carr may have been striving to project herself within a particular style, fashionable when she was a young woman.

The exhibition invites you to judge for yourself.

A western connection

The exhibition provides a chance for LAC to present self-portraits that have a particular connection to Calgary.

One example is this amusing self-portrait by Calgary-based artist Gary Olson.

A pencil drawing of a man’s face squished up against a piece of glass. Most of the left side of his face is indistinguishable, but his right eye is keenly focused.

I Am Up Against the Picture Plane Again, by Gary Olson, 1977, e011195950. @ Gary Olson

The image is part of a series created by Olson while he was a college art instructor. He came up with these lighthearted images to convey the difficult theoretical art concept of the picture plane to his students. He portrays the plane literally, in these images, by flattening and distorting his own features against it. At the same time, Olson takes the opportunity to poke fun at the theory of art, capturing something of his own irreverent desire to push the envelope

Come see the exhibition

A colour photograph of a dimly lit room with various art pieces hung on the walls.

Installation photograph of The Artist’s Mirror at Glenbow, courtesy of Glenbow Museum

Be sure to visit The Artist’s Mirror, if you happen to be in Calgary. The exhibition runs from March 10, 2018 to January 6, 2019 and is open every day. For more information, please contact Glenbow Museum.