Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “William Topley: Exposure on Ottawa”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “William Topley: Exposure on Ottawa”.

The William James Topley photographic collection is one of the most important visual records of Canada. The photographs produced by the Topley Studio provide a vivid documentation of the political, social, cultural, economic, technological and architectural changes during the first fifty years of Canada after Confederation. The collection documents life in the Ottawa area—as well as people and events in other regions of the country—between 1868 and 1923.

In this episode, we speak with Library and Archives Canada Archivist, Emma Hamilton-Hobbs, about the Topley collection, which is one of the most widely consulted sources of late 19th– and early 20th-century photographs held at LAC.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Inuit women and seals: a relationship like no other

By Julie Dobbin

Seals are a central part of life and an essential source of locally-harvested food for Inuit peoples. Many traditions, customs, beliefs and oral histories revolve around the seal. Inuit peoples were and still are in an important and direct relationship with this animal. Inuit hunters have great respect for the spirit of the seal, an animal that is so heavily relied upon. Every single part of the seal is used, as the harvesting must be sustainable, humane and respectful. Most importantly, cold and harsh arctic climates demand that people have the right shelter and clothing to keep warm and dry, and seals help meet this need through their skins, fur and oil.

Black-and-white photograph of an Inuit woman inside an igloo wearing a floral print parka and tending a seal oil lamp, with a young Inuit child wearing a fur parka.

Woman tending a seal-oil lamp inside an igloo, Western Arctic, probably Nunavut, 1949 (MIKAN 3202745)

Inuit women developed highly skilled techniques in order to treat and use seal in various ways throughout the seasons. They scraped the skins clean of blubber with an ulu (a traditional, women’s knife with a crescent-shaped blade) then stretched and dried them, as seen in this photograph of Taktu.

A colour photograph of an Inuit woman wearing a red cloth jacket, crouching on a rocky coastline and scraping fat from a seal skin with an ulu (a woman’s knife).

Taktu cleaning fat from a seal skin, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, summer 1960 (MIKAN 4324316)

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Voices of the Past

By Harriett Mathews

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has roughly 30 million photographs from various collections in its possession, a large number of which have Aboriginal content. During my time here as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) working on Project Naming, I have been able to explore the database and discover breath-taking photographs from different Aboriginal communities all over Canada.

Correcting the Historical Record

Although the photographs themselves are quite wonderful to behold, the records often leave something to be desired. For many Aboriginal images, the titles contain antiquated and offensive language, or are simply vague. It is imperative that these records be updated with modern terminology and information gathered from members of the communities where these photographic records originated. The involvement of Aboriginal people in this process is crucial because these records depict their history, their culture, and their families; their voices are the ones that have been omitted and lost. As I myself belong to the First Nations, I have greatly enjoyed being able to share my culture and help restore the lost voices of photographs by helping to update the records.

One example is an image titled “Dirty Daisy and her baby.” The photograph depicts an Inuit woman and her child suffering from malnutrition. “Daisy” was not the name of this woman; it is more likely the name that was assigned to her by a government official. By calling this woman “Dirty Daisy”, the individual who wrote the caption effectively stripped her of both her dignity and her name. Hopefully, through Project Naming, the real name of this woman and her child will be uncovered. In the meantime, the record has been updated so that the title now reads “An Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut.”

Black and white photograph of a gaunt looking Inuit woman and child sitting in a small tent with cooking supplies in the background. The woman is feeding the baby with a rectangular bottle.

Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut (MIKAN 3855414)

Improving Access – Photo by Photo

Since Project Naming began in 2002, more than 2,000 photographs have been identified. Additionally, thousands of records have had inaccurate and insensitive terminology removed from their titles and moved into a general notes field in order to provide historical context and perspective. Identifying names, places, events, and cultural objects facilitates the sharing of Aboriginal culture and stories with all who are interested in searching the archives. These include stories about Aboriginal politicians, for example Inuit Senator Charlie Watt who represents Quebec. I had the pleasure of working on DIAND Album 38, which contains several photographs of young Charlie Watt and his parents, Daisy and Johnny Watt. The photographs take place at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, and even though the photographs are black and white, the vibrancy of that Inuit community shines through.

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 154, 156, and 157) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of an Inuit woman in a plain dress and plaid shawl standing on a porch with a little girl in a parka drinking glass of milk. The photograph in the top right corner is of two Inuit women in plaid shawls and flower headbands sitting in front of wooden crates, one holding an accordion, with a baby sitting in the foreground to the left and a little boy in dress clothes standing beside the woman with the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of a woman in a blazer and ribbon headband dancing with a man in a suit; the woman on the left is holding a man’s hand – the rest of the man is out of the shot – and there are three women and an oil lamp in the background.

Album page fifty-three with photographs of an Inuit woman and girl (Daisy Watt, possibly with Harriat Ruston), a group of Inuit women and children—Daisy Watt is playing the accordion, Christina Gordon is on the right, and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) is standing on the left—and S.J. Bailey and H. Lamberton dancing with two Inuit women—Daisy Watt is on the right with S.J. Bailey, the woman behind her is Susie, and Hannah (Susie’s sister) is on the left holding H. Lamberton’s hand—in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec (MIKAN 4326945)

Black and white photograph of five women, four of them seated and one on the far right standing with a baby wrapped in a plaid shawl. The woman in the centre of the photograph is playing an accordion, and the woman to her left has a young boy in her lap. Behind them are several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.”

A group of women and children at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, the woman playing the accordion is Lizzie Suppa and to her immediate left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) (MIKAN 3855585)

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 158, 159, and 160) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of women and children sitting in front of several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.” The photograph in the top right corner is of two couples dancing while a woman plays the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of an Arctic ground squirrel in a grassy field with a rock in the foreground.

Album page fifty-four with photographs of a group of women and children [Lizzie Suppa is playing the accordion, seated to her left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt], two Inuit couples dancing [Johnny and Daisy Watt are on the left, on the far right is Lizzie (with her accordion again)], and a Siksik (an Arctic ground squirrel) (MIKAN 4326946)

Restoring Aboriginal Voices

All of these photographs are essential to the telling of Canadian history. They demonstrate the narrative of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the Canadian government, and most significantly, they tell the stories of the individuals in the photographs and share their culture. For decades, First Nations, the Metis Nation, and Inuit voices have been lost in these records. Project Naming is vital because it provides Aboriginal people a forum through which they can reclaim their stories and identities. I am glad that I have been able to contribute my voice, as a First Nations woman, to these records. There are so many stories to be told, and I am sure that as LAC continues to move forward in partnership with Aboriginal peoples, we will be able to hear them.


Harriett Mathews was an FSWEP student who worked in the Exhibition and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada during the summer of 2016.

Images of Swimming and Pools now on Flickr

Swimming is an important survival skill. However, it wasn’t considered a sport or leisure activity until organized competitions were held in countries like Japan in the 1600s, and eventually in Europe in the 1800s. Men’s swimming was included in the 1896 Olympic Games, and women competed in the 1912 competitions, cementing its place as a sport. Various associations around the world were created to support and promote swimming as a leisure activity and sport. Canada was no different, in this regard.

Over time, a variety of pool facilities appeared across Canada, near natural bodies of water and purpose-built ones in more populated urban centres. Examples include in Vancouver near English Bay, Toronto’s Lakeshore Drive, and Montreal’s Bain Maisonneuve and Bain Généreux. Swimming and its facilities eventually evolved into places of fitness, hygiene, leisure and community gathering.

Images of Dentists and Dentistry now on Flickr

Few dentists were available during Canada’s early colonial period. Individuals made claims of dental expertise, however, it was “buyer-beware” if someone needed care. Professional dentistry in Canada was far behind professional and medical developments in Europe at the time.

During the 1800s, Canada benefited from the arrival of dental practitioners from the United States. These professionals started a movement for better education, training and practices in the country, which sparked the first Canadian publication on dentistry, The Summum Bonum, in 1815 by L.S. Parmly based in Montréal. Eventually, medical expertise took root in Canada and various associations were formed such as the Ontario Dental Association (1867), and the Royal College of Dental Surgeons (1868).

As standards of practice and education evolved, the inclusion of dental schools into university programmes cemented dentistry’s standing in the medical professions. Dental practices and services continued to spread and became available in cities and towns across the county. Care was also provided to our soldiers outside of the country during times of conflict such as during the First and Second World Wars.

Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada Collection – Part II

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

Glass Deterioration

Depending on conditions, the rates of deterioration of the materials that make up a daguerreotype package (e.g., copper, silver, paper, brass, leather, velvet, silk and glass) can vary substantially. One of the most common problems found by conservators is glass deterioration.

Glass deterioration often makes the daguerreotype appear dull and hazy. This does not necessarily mean that the plate itself has deteriorated. A number of the daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection that were prepared and treated for exhibition showed distinct signs of glass deterioration

Glass deterioration can occur as a result of fluctuations in either temperature or humidity. There are a couple of ways in which this type of degradation can manifest itself. One is cracking, which is when tiny hairline cracks appear on the surface of the glass. The other is chemical decomposition, which affects older glass with a higher concentration of sodium oxide, causing the glass to appear hazy or cloudy.

Keeping the original glass of a daguerreotype is always encouraged, and in cases where the glass is in an early stage of deterioration, e.g., it appears hazy or foggy, it can possibly be cleaned and reused. Treating this type of deterioration is relatively straightforward: the glass is removed, cleaned with distilled water and a neutral soap, rinsed with ethanol, then left to air dry. When placed back onto the daguerreotype, the plate will immediately appear brighter and clearer. Continue reading

Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes in the Library and Archives Canada Collection—Part I

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

The Daguerreotype, a one-of-a-kind photograph, was largely produced between 1839 and 1864. It was the first publicly-available photographic process and was renowned for its image detail and clarity.

The photographs are highly susceptible to image loss, corrosion build-up and other forms of deterioration caused by poor handling and environmental exposure.

To protect the image, the photographic plate was delicately placed under glass, from which it was separated by a protective mat.  This assembly was then hermetically sealed using paper tape and covered with a brass foil called a “preserver”. The entire package was housed in a small, often decorative, case made of leather, wood, papier mâché or moulded plastic, with an interior lining of silk or velvet.

Daguerreotype hallmarks or plate marks

Makers’ marks, known as hallmarks or plate marks are stamped markings found on many, but not all, daguerreotypes. When they are present, they are often found on the edge of the plate and are, thus, invisible when the daguerreotype is sealed. Marks typically consist of initials, symbols and numbers. The number most commonly found is “40”, which refers to the physical makeup of the plate, 1 part silver to 39 parts copper. Plate marks can offer clues about where the copper plate was manufactured and where the photographer sourced materials. They can sometimes also help to date an image.

When daguerreotypes were being prepared for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, several of them were found to contain plate marks.A hand-tinted daguerreotype of three young women. The woman in the middle is standing between two women, who are seated. Continue reading

John Boyd

As Canadians we appreciate discovering stories about our country through the works of our painters and photographers, past and present. Canadian archives hold many collections, and sometimes the collection of a particular artist or photographer may contain literally thousands of images for us to explore. This is the case with photographer John Boyd whose collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) boasts 28,959 black-and-white photographs.

John Boyd (1865–1941) was born in Emyvale, Ireland. His family immigrated to Toronto in the late 1860s. He was a railway official as well as a photographer. His work with the railroad gave him ample opportunities to take photographs as he travelled across Ontario.

These photographs represent Boyd’s amateur work from 1898 to 1926. A large collection in itself, it is nonetheless dwarfed by the collections held at the City of Toronto Archives. One collection in particular is that of The Globe and Mail, which contains 140,000 of Boyd’s photographic negatives taken from 1922 to before his death in 1941.

The collections at LAC and the City of Toronto Archives complement each other in their dates of creation and subject matter.

The John Boyd fonds consists of photographs portraying all manner of Canadian life, all worth exploring. There are images of towns and cities, royal visits, military life, modes of transportation, industry and agriculture, social conditions, pastimes, and nature.

During the First World War, Boyd focused mainly on the home front, photographing recruiting campaigns, training exercises, and the manufacture of munitions, airplanes and ships. He also photographed everyday Canadians who contributed to the war effort at home as soldiers fought overseas. The following selection of images provides a glimpse of the activities during that time.

A black-and-white photograph of well-dressed men, women and children looking at and exploring an outdoor exhibit of a reconstructed Canadian military trench.

Visitors to a reconstructed 35th Battalion trench, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ontario, 1915 (MIKAN 3395547)

A black-and-white photograph of women, soldiers and children gathered outside a train. Other soldiers on the train are leaning out of the windows, presumably saying goodbye to their families.

Personnel of the Cycle Corps leaving Exhibition Camp for overseas service, Toronto, Ontario, May 15, 1915 (MIKAN 3194471)

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers descending the steps of a train car. They are both looking down at the photographer and one is holding a kitten.

Volunteers for war and cat mascot with the 28th Regiment, Toronto, Ontario, August 22, 1914 (MIKAN 3403478)

A black-and-white photograph of soldiers re-enacting how they move out from their trenches for a crowd of spectators at an exhibition.

Soldiers moving out from their trenches, Exhibition Grounds, Toronto, Ontario, September 11, 1915 (MIKAN 3403554)

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers stopped on a dirt road. One is taking a compass reading as the other takes notes.

Soldiers taking a compass traverse on the intelligence course at Camp Borden, Ontario, September 26, 1916 (MIKAN 3403628)

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier standing in a field holding a large wrench.

Private Vasili Salivarsky, D Company, 123rd Battalion, Toronto, Ontario, March 30, 1916 (MIKAN 3220871)

You can view a selection of Boyd’s images in this Flickr album. To explore the entire collection, start your exploration in the John Boyd fonds, and select “Lower-level descriptions.”

Happy searching!

Captain James Peters: War correspondent and photographer

Photography is now an integral part of our lives; our daily events are recorded whether they be monumental or mundane. From its beginnings in the 1830s, photography was used to chronicle the events of war. Early photographers struggled to capture the rapid action of combat as photographic equipment was unable to record movement. Consequently, early images of war were often staged recreations of the actual campaign. Generally, they depicted the less active aspects of war, such as portraits of soldiers, camp life, fortifications, artillery placements, and the battle sites before and after the action.

Captain James Peters recorded the dramatic events of the North-West Resistance as a photographer and a correspondent for the Quebec Morning Chronicle. The North-West Resistance was a five-month insurgency against the Canadian government, fought mainly by citizens of the Métis Nation and their First Nations allies. Peters was a pioneer in capturing the events on the battlefield.

Captain Peters and the “A” Battery of the Canadian Artillery left Quebec City on March 28, 1885 for the northwest. The “A” Battery was to provide artillery support for Major-General Frederick D. Middleton and the Canadian Militia. Peters would serve with Middleton at Fish Creek, Batoche and during the militia’s search for Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear). Continue reading

Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Collection of Library and Archives Canada

Who Are the Métis?

The Métis Nation emerged as a distinct people during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are the second largest of the three Aboriginal peoples of Canada and are the descendants of First Nations peoples and Europeans involved in the fur trade.

Métis communities are found widely in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, with a smaller number in British Columbia, Ontario, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a great variety of archival documents pertaining to the Métis Nation (including textual records, photographs, artwork, maps, stamps and sound recordings); however, finding these records can be a challenge.

Challenges in Researching Métis Content in the Art and Photographic Collections

While there are easily identifiable portraits of well-known leaders and politicians, including these portraits of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, images depicting less famous Métis are difficult to find. Original titles betray historical weaknesses when it comes to describing Métis content.

In many cases, the Métis have gone unrecognized or were mistaken for European or First Nations groups—such as the people in this photograph entitled “Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at Dufferin.”

Black and white photograph of a man, on the left, wearing European clothing and standing in front of a Red River cart, and a group of First Nations men, women and children wearing First Nations-style clothing and standing in front of another Red River cart, on the right.

Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at [Fort] Dufferin” Manitoba, 1873 (MIKAN 3368366)

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