John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes, a lineage of official portraitists!

By Geneviève Couture

The careers of painters John Colin Forbes (1846–1925) and his son Kenneth Keith Forbes (1892–1980) clearly illustrate how particular prime ministers were their muses and patrons. Between them, the two portraitists painted seven Canadian prime ministers, two governors general, five chief justices of the Supreme Court, 11 speakers of the House of Commons and 14 speakers of the Senate. These artists also painted a king and queen of England on behalf of the Canadian government. Over a period of more than 90 years, the Forbeses helped to build an artistic and visual heritage depicting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Canadian government.

John Colin Forbes

John Colin Forbes was born in Toronto in 1846. In the 1860s, he studied painting in Paris and London before returning to Canada. He was a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1872) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1880).

Forbes was quickly recognized as a portraitist and received numerous commissions. He painted Lord Dufferin and the Marquess of Lansdowne, both governors general of Canada. Between 1878 and 1893, he created portraits of Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Charles Tupper and Wilfrid Laurier. None of these were official portraits, but Tupper’s is in the Parliament of Canada, while Macdonald’s and one of Laurier’s are in the National Gallery of Canada. Forbes was also commissioned to produce four official portraits of speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of speakers of the Senate.

The artist had a special relationship with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who called Forbes a “friend.” He painted Laurier for the first time in 1885, based on a photo taken around 1882 by William Topley’s studio in Ottawa.

Black-and-white photo of a seated man in a suit.

Wilfrid Laurier, MP. Topley Studio, 1882. (a013133-v8)

The second painting of Laurier by Forbes was presented to the Prime Minister by his friends and Liberal Party supporters on May 15, 1902. In his speech to the House of Commons, Laurier stated, “It is with a very sincere heart indeed that both in my own name and in the name of my wife, I accept from the unknown friends […] this memento which is the work of a great Canadian artist.”

Lamenting that Forbes was at the time practicing his art in the United States, Laurier added:

Unfortunately Canada, which is still a young country, has not afforded to artists all the help it might have given in the past. I trust that in the future Canadian artists and talents will receive more encouragement from the Canadian people that they received hitherto. For my part, it is with some regret, I acknowledge that perhaps the Government might have done more than it has for the encouragement of native, artistic talent.

Finally, regretting not having children to whom he could bequeath the painting, Laurier made this wish: “Someday I hope it will be in a national museum, not with a view of remembering me to posterity, but for the glory of Mr. Forbes, the artist who painted it.” A few years later, in 1906, Laurier himself gave the painting to the National Gallery of Canada.

A royal commission

His special relationship with Prime Minister Laurier earned Forbes his most prestigious commission: a painting of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He was the first Canadian painter to have a sitting with a British monarch, and official portraits of Edward VII would adorn the House of Commons.

The correspondence between Forbes and Laurier on this matter, which is part of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds at Library and Archives Canada, indicates that Forbes had requested the commission from Laurier, with whom he had previously discussed it.

Black-and-white photo of a typed page.

Letter from John Colin Forbes to Wilfrid Laurier dated April 14, 1904, requesting the commission to paint the King and Queen on behalf of the Canadian government. (Wilfrid Laurier fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 312, page 84516, microfilm C-810)

Laurier agreed after he received a petition in support that was signed by 92 of the 214 members of Parliament.

A black-and-white image of a scanned page from microfilm.

The first of three pages of the petition, from members of the House of Commons to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, to commission painter John Colin Forbes to paint a portrait of the King for the House of Commons. (Wilfrid Laurier fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 312, page 84518, microfilm C-810)

Laurier forwarded the request to the Governor General, Lord Minto, who helped arrange access to the royals for Forbes.

A black-and-white image of a scanned page from microfilm.

Letter from Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier to Governor General Lord Minto, recommending that John Colin Forbes be commissioned to do the painting, and that steps be taken to that effect with the King. (Wilfrid Laurier Fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 326, page 87632, microfilm C-813)

The sitting was granted, and Forbes travelled to England to paint the portraits. Unfortunately, the paintings were destroyed in the Parliament fire in 1916, less than 12 years after their creation. Forbes’s four official portraits of the speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of the speakers of the Senate survived the fire.

Black-and-white photo of a burning building.

The eastern part of Centre Block in flames, Ottawa, 1916. (a052822-v8)

Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier: inspiring portraits

Two portraits of prime ministers painted by Forbes inspired their successors. In a Winnipeg Free Press article published on March 20, 1965, journalist Peter C. Newman reported that, depending on their political allegiance, new prime ministers had either Sir John A. Macdonald’s or Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s portrait installed in their East Block office in Ottawa. This practice changed under Lester B. Pearson, when the Prime Minister asked for both paintings in his office.

Photographs taken by Duncan Cameron (recently discussed in a blog post about news photographers and prime ministers) confirm that John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau had paintings by Forbes in their offices. Paul Martin’s office was decorated with the first painting of Laurier by Forbes from 1885.

Black-and-white photo of a man taking a photograph of a photographer who is photographing him.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau taking a photograph with news journalist Duncan Cameron’s camera, June 28, 1968. Photo: Duncan Cameron (a175919)

Kenneth Keith Forbes

The son of John Colin Forbes, Kenneth Keith Forbes, also became a famous portraitist. Born in Toronto in 1892, he began drawing at the age of four under his father’s tutelage. Between 1908 and 1913, he studied art in England and Scotland. When the First World War started in 1914, the younger Forbes joined the British army as an ordinary soldier. He fought in France, where he was injured and gassed. Forbes was promoted to captain, and in 1918 he was transferred to the Canadian Army (specifically, the Canadian War Records Office) as a war artist. He painted scenes of battles as well as portraits of Canadian officers, including Brigadier General D. Draper.

Library and Archives Canada holds the recently digitized military file of Kenneth Keith Forbes.

Oil painting by Kenneth Keith Forbes from 1918. The scene shows the defence of Sanctuary Wood by the Canadian military near Ypres, Belgium, in 1916.

The Defence of Sanctuary Wood (1916), by Kenneth Keith Forbes, 1918. (e010751163-v8)

Official portraitist

A few years later, Forbes returned to Toronto; continuing in the family tradition, he focused mainly on portraits.

Among other things, he painted the official portraits of seven speakers of the House of Commons, eight speakers of the Senate and five chief justices of the Supreme Court.

Forbes also painted the portraits of prime ministers Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker. The first portrait of R.B. Bennett painted in 1938 by Forbes was offered to the Prime Minister by members of Parliament, senators and Conservative Party members upon his retirement from politics. It is now in the New Brunswick Museum, where Bennett bequeathed it.

Forbes then painted the official portrait of Sir Robert Borden for the House of Commons. The painting was commissioned by the Speaker of the House, Gaspard Fauteux, whose portrait Forbes had painted the previous year. The aim was to complete the collection of official portraits representing Canada’s prime ministers in the House of Commons. This painting was unveiled in Parliament on June 11, 1947, 10 years after Borden’s death, along with a portrait of William Lyon Mackenzie King, with President Harry Truman of the United States in attendance.

In his diary, Mackenzie King explains why he suggested that his portrait and that of Borden, both prime ministers in the major wars, be unveiled at the same ceremony.

A black-and-white image of a typewritten page of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diary dated May 19, 1947.

Excerpt from the May 19, 1947, entry in William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diary, explaining how he came to suggest that his portrait and that of Borden, both prime ministers in the major wars, be unveiled at the same ceremony. (William Lyon Mackenzie King fonds, MG26 J 13, May 19, 1947)

A decade later, Forbes painted two portraits of John Diefenbaker. The first was given to Diefenbaker by members of his Cabinet and hung in the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive, and later in Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the opposition. The second portrait of Diefenbaker was commissioned by freemasons from Washington and is now in Arlington, Virginia.

In 1962, Forbes painted the official portrait of R.B. Bennett for the House of Commons. The commission came close to 25 years after his earlier painting, and 15 years after Bennett’s death. It was requested by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Roland Michener. Once again, the aim was to fill in gaps in the collection of official portraits of Canada’s prime ministers in the House of Commons.

Conclusion

The careers of portraitists John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes reveal the sometimes unsuspected links between the arts and politics. The father and son clearly benefited from their good relationships with parliamentarians, particularly prime ministers, receiving many highly prestigious commissions.

Prime ministers also benefited from the work of artists like the Forbeses, whose paintings helped to commemorate and glorify the men who held the country’s highest political positions and inspired their successors. As we have seen, political affiliation was not at issue in requests to the father-and-son artists to contribute to this commemorative undertaking by painting portraits of prime ministers in office and their predecessors. The Forbes portraitists helped to establish the role of prime ministers in the country’s political memory.

Moreover, the talent for painting portraits did not end with John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes. The latter married Jean Mary Edgell, who was also a painter, and their daughter, Laura June McCormack (1921–1961), painted some portraits now in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, notably one of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine.

For additional information about portraits of prime ministers, read Andrew Kear’s thesis, Governing Likenesses: The Production History of the Official Portraits of Canadian Prime Ministers, 1889–2002.


Geneviève Couture is an archivist with the Prime Minister Papers project in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The prime minister as reader

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses exhibition looks at Canada’s prime ministers through the lens of their relationships with the arts. One aspect of the exhibition is an exploration of the prime minister as collector and fan. Among the items featured that explore this theme are correspondence between Sir Wilfrid Laurier and painter Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, a painting from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s personal collection, and a fan letter from John Diefenbaker to artist Alma Duncan.

But the exhibition mainly focuses on the prime ministers’ libraries. If you read enough prime ministerial biographies, a pattern emerges: almost every one contains references to its subject’s prodigious reading habits. A biography of Alexander Mackenzie (OCLC 20920624), for example, notes that Mackenzie “was a greedy reader, and never tired of poring over his books.” According to the authors, Mackenzie’s family would spend their winter evenings

“sitting round the wide, old-fashioned fire-place, cheerful and ruddy with the blaze of the big logs, reading and discussing literary subjects and authors, especially Shakespeare and Byron, two prime favourites of theirs. It was a very interesting group, and its intellectual life was a fitting preparation for the future statesman. All who have heard Mr. Mackenzie speak, know that he could readily quote from the poets, and from current literature, and that his addresses were invariably pitched on the high plane of presupposing intelligent hearers.”

Sir John A. Macdonald, too, was known for quoting from literature in his speeches, according to biographers. In his book about Macdonald (OCLC 2886256), Joseph Pope claimed Macdonald was an “omnivorous” reader, meaning that he would read almost anything, but his favourite genre was political memoirs. Sir Robert Borden studied classical languages. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto now holds a number of very old Greek and Latin books that contain Borden’s bookplate; one of these, a 1725 edition of writings by Cicero, is currently on loan to LAC for the exhibition. Mackenzie King was an avid reader who regularly commented in his diary on the books he had been reading. Many of his books are now in LAC’s collection, but a portion of his extensive library remains on view in his study at Laurier House.

Each of the prime ministers likely had favourite books and authors—Macdonald was a devotee of novelist Anthony Trollope, and King was so enamoured with poet Matthew Arnold that he began collecting books from Arnold’s own library.

A book open to the inside front cover. Attached to the left-hand page is the bookplate of Matthew Arnold. The right-hand page is blank and held down by a weight.

Bookplate of Matthew Arnold affixed to the inside front cover of The Holy Bible (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828), from the Collection of Books from the Library of William Lyon Mackenzie King (OCLC 1007776528) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

But Arthur Meighen stands out among them all for his dedication to one particular literary figure: William Shakespeare. Meighen was known to be able to quote long passages of Shakespeare from memory. In 1934, during an ocean voyage to Australia, he composed and memorized a speech on Shakespeare, which he entitled “The Greatest Englishman of History.” Meighen delivered this speech a number of times; one address, at the Canadian Club in Toronto in February 1936, was recorded. This recording was eventually released on vinyl (OCLC 981934627), giving Meighen the unusual distinction of being the first Canadian prime minister ever to release an album.

A black 12-inch vinyl record with a yellow label.

Photograph of the vinyl record The Greatest Englishman of History by Arthur Meighen (OCLC 270719760) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

You can hear a clip of the audio recording of Arthur Meighen delivering his speech “The Greatest Englishman of History” in the Prime Ministers and the Arts episode of the LAC podcast.

The exhibition is open at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until December 3, 2019.


Meaghan Scanlon is Senior Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Prime Ministers and the Arts”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Prime Ministers and the Arts”.

Colour image of a puppet that resembles Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

Library and Archives Canada is the main repository for documents relating to Canada’s Prime Ministers. LAC not only has all the political documents relating to each Prime Minister, but also intriguing, less official and often unexpected items.

The exhibition entitled Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses curated by LAC employees Madeleine Trudeau and five time podcast guest Meaghan Scanlon, weaves artwork, artifacts, documents, objects, portraits and photographs together to reveal a less formal, but equally fascinating side to our former Prime Ministers.

The exhibition is on right now at 395 Wellington in Ottawa. It runs until December 3rd, 2019.

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.

Related Links:

Discover the Collection: Art

Discover the Collection: Biography and People

Discover the Collection: Politics and Government

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

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.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier—175th anniversary of his birth

By Michael MacDonald

One hundred and seventy-five years ago, the Right Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier was born in the parish of Saint-Lin, Lower Canada (modern day Saint-Lin–Laurentides, Quebec). Laurier is generally regarded as one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers and was Canada’s longest consecutively serving prime minister.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a wealth of records which reveal many stories of Laurier who is well-known for his desire to build an autonomous Canada that included both English and French cultures, his belief in the separation of church and state, his opposition to conscription, his support in Quebec, and his meticulous wardrobe and charismatic presence.

Five black-and-white photographs of the same man side by side at these approximate ages, left to right: 24, 33, 50, 65 and 70 years old.

A collage of five photographs of Laurier at different times in his life. (Sources of images from left to right, MIKAN 3218126, 3194714, 3623432, 3218138 and 3628621.)

One does not need to be an academic to find these fascinating records regarding Laurier; one just needs to search out some of these gems using LAC’s database for archival documents, Archives Search. A search for “Wilfrid Laurier” will result in over 60,870 records and more are continually being added.

Even more documents and information can be found on LAC’s web pages such as First Among Equals (or the children’s version), Prime Ministers’ Fonds, Laurier House, and our thematic guide to the South African War, to name just a few. (For a listing of general resources on politics, see Politics and Government.)

 

A screen capture of a web page showing the results from a search on “Wilfrid Laurier” using <abbr title=

While there are obviously far too many documents to highlight, below are four examples of lesser-known topics concerning Laurier, which can be researched through our website.

Laurier, the military man

Many people think of Laurier as being anti-military as he was against conscription and the forced recruiting of armed forces for imperial wars such as the Second Boer War and the First World War. However, many don’t realize that not only did Laurier serve in the militia, but so did his father and grandfather.

Two manuscripts side by side. The paper on the left was delivered to Carolus Laurier and issued by The Right Honourable James, Earl of Elgin and Earl of Kincardine. The paper on the right was delivered to Charles Laurier by George, Earl of Dalhousie.

Commission papers of Carolus Laurier on the left and Charles Laurier on the right (MIKAN 4929180 and 4929179)

Charles Laurier, Sir Wilfrid’s grandfather, was commissioned as a captain in the Terrebonne Militia Division in 1825; Carolus Laurier, Sir Wilfrid’s father, was a captain in the 3rd Battalion of Leinster in 1847; and Laurier received the Canada General Service Medal as a Lieutenant in the Arthabaskaville Infantry Company in 1870 during the Fenian Raids.

Two black-and-white photographs of both sides of a medal. On one side is a flag surrounded by maple leaves. On the other side is a woman wearing a crown.

The Canada General Service Medal (MIKAN 3638053)

Laurier, the nation builder

Laurier was the first francophone prime minister who brought the Liberals to power by establishing support in his home province of Quebec.

One of the first issues Laurier dealt with when he became Canada’s seventh prime minister was the Manitoba Schools Question. Laurier defeated the earlier proposal that public funds should not be used for Catholic schools and proposed the compromise that public funds could be used where there were enough Catholic students to warrant it. Laurier was especially pleased with the compromise he was able to strike, and referred to his efforts as “sunny ways” (voies ensoleillées)—a slogan which you may recognize, as it has been regularly used by the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau and his government today.

It was also Laurier’s government that in 1898 established the Yukon as a distinct territory from the Northwest Territories, and in 1905 created the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. As you can see from the maps below, Canada looked very different in the map created circa 1906 than the one circa 1897.

Two coloured maps of Canada side by side.

On the left, Canada’s territorial divisions, circa 1906 (MIKAN 4153332), and on the right, a political map of Canada, circa 1897 (MIKAN 4153334).

 Laurier, the man with a $1000 smile

While we are all familiar with Laurier’s image on the Canadian five-dollar bill, did you know that Laurier used to be on the thousand-dollar bill? Laurier’s image was used on the thousand-dollar bill for the first bank note series issued by the Bank of Canada in 1935 (see below for sample images), and again for the 1937 series. In 1954, the Bank of Canada’s third bank note series included Queen Elizabeth II’s image on every bank note and replaced Laurier’s image on the thousand-dollar bill. Laurier’s image was placed on the five-dollar bill in 1986 and has remained there since. While it may seem like a “demotion,” the thousand-dollar bill ceased to be printed and was withdrawn from circulation in 2000, whereas the five-dollar bill is seen by more Canadians than any other. It is also interesting to note that other than Queen Elizabeth II, only Laurier has enjoyed the prestigious honour of having his image on the Canadian thousand-dollar bill.

Two images of thousand-dollar bills side by side; the draft bill on the left is gray and yellow and the final bill on the right is white and grey.

A draft version of the thousand-dollar bill on the left, and the final version on the right (Bank of Canada).

While the above images are taken from the Bank of Canada’s website, LAC holds other sketches that were proposed for the thousand-dollar bill, as well as miscellaneous correspondence on this subject in our Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds, and other collections.

Laurier, the elusive

While it is understandable that there are fewer films of Laurier than many other prime ministers simply because he was prime minister from 1896 to 1911, it is quite surprising how very little footage appears to have survived. It was a long-time researcher of LAC’s holdings who told me that when he used to come for his regular visits in the 1980s, he was shown the footage below by a former archivist who claimed that it was the only footage of Laurier that LAC held. While a more exhaustive and time-consuming search would be needed to confirm the number of films, a preliminary search certainly confirms that there are indeed very few films.

The next time you watch a documentary concerning Laurier, pay close attention to how little actual film footage is included, and how producers have used photos. For now, enjoy this very short clip which has only 6 seconds of Laurier, followed by his state funeral. The Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) production of “Did You Know? – The History of Wilfrid Laurier” contains the same footage starting at 3 minutes and 14 seconds into the recording.

In addition to LAC’s YouTube channel, which has a small sampling of LAC’s videos, you can conduct searches for other audiovisual material using our Film, Video and Sound Database

Related resources

A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Exhibition)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier – Canada’s 7th Prime Minister

Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds 


Michael MacDonald is an archivist in the Political Archives area of the Science, Governance and Politics Division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Accessing our history: a project about prime ministers

By Mariam Lafrenie and Rachel Klassen

In collaboration with Queen’s University, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has launched a project to highlight the speeches of Canada’s prime ministers. To begin the project, LAC’s Governance and Political Archives Section was pleased to work with Mariam Lafrenie, a Queen’s undergraduate student research fellow. Mariam became the project’s prime minister researcher over the summer of 2016. Her findings allowed our section to plan how to meet the project’s central objectives of facilitating greater access to the fonds of Canada’s prime ministers preserved by LAC, and to bring Canadians closer to their political history. To conclude this first phase, we asked Mariam to share her thoughts about both the project and some of the notable speeches she encountered.

Mariam Lafrenie’s reflections

Having worked in the fonds of several prime ministers, including Sir Charles Tupper, I have gained a unique perspective on Canadian history and heritage. I have seen the determination of Canada’s future and the goals agreed upon by our Fathers of Confederation, but I have also watched the evolution of these goals. Each prime minister attempted to redefine Canadian identity and the meaning of a unified nation.

Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent understood his Canada as a place where diversity and freedom flourished, but also as a place where discrimination and terrorism were inherently intolerable. He was known as “Uncle Louis” to Canadians, and during his prime ministership, he oversaw the establishment of the United Nations and Newfoundland’s entry into Confederation.

An older man is standing on a stage and reaching out to a crowd of children.

Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent with group of children, 1949 (MIKAN 3220798)

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker fought for the indomitable right of all Canadians to be free. In his Canada, being Canadian meant possessing the ability to express your beliefs and opinions, but also having the responsibility to uphold this standard for all of humanity.

I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind. John Diefenbaker, House of Commons, July 1, 1960

An older man is standing and speaking to people seated at desks.

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker speaks in the House of Commons, October 14, 1957 (MIKAN 3214921)

Prime Minister Lester Pearson left a legacy of perseverance and diplomacy. His Canada was about social advancement, and it witnessed the creation of universal medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Most notably, however, he is remembered for his dedication to the pursuit of a national flag worthy of an independent and unified Canada.

Cover page of a published speech, includes text and a portrait of a white man.

“I Stand for Canada!” speech delivered by Lester Pearson (MIKAN 4924761)

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dedicated 15 years of service to Canadians and brought Canada through the October Crisis and the Quebec Referendum of 1980. He also spiritedly fought to unify Canadians, from coast to coast, and to entrench their rights and freedoms, as his Canada became a fully autonomous nation with its own constitution.

There still remains much to be discovered about Canada’s prime ministers. As LAC and Queen’s continue with this project, greater access to the prime ministers’ fonds will support this discovery!

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Mariam Lafrenie is an undergraduate student research fellow from Queen’s University who worked in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada during the summer of 2016.

Rachel Klassen is a political portfolio archivist working in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Unraveling a life: the power of private records

The area of private records is a fascinating field of study: what do individuals choose to keep, what do they discard as their lives unfold, and what is left behind for posterity? Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a vast number of materials and mere fragments too; a photo here, a letter there. The Oscar Douglas Skelton fonds offers a glimpse into the private world of a significant public servant. The bulk of this collection was donated to LAC by Skelton’s daughter in 1992 and 1993. Since then, the papers have been described, processed, and the finding aid digitized for easier access.

A black-and-white photograph of three people sitting on the front steps of a cottage looking towards the photographer.

Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King with his sister Jennie (Mrs. H.M. Lay) and Dr. O.D. Skelton, July 29, 1923 in Kingsmere, Québec (MIKAN 3217554)

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