Mountains of Blackflies

By Martha Sellens

One of my favourite parts of being an archivist is solving archival mysteries, especially when they result in something unexpected. One of my recent mysteries took me from a piece of artwork to blackflies—and I’m not talking about an unexpected (and unwanted!) visitor in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) archival vault.

It all started with a couple of prints from the Geological Survey of Canada. I was working on improving their description in our database so that people could find them. (These are the improved descriptions for item 5067117 and item 5067118.) The prints were from 1883 and had been acquired by the archives so long ago—before 1925!—that there wasn’t much information about them in our records.

So I started digging. The prints were panoramas, nearly an arm-span wide and as tall as a trade paperback book. Both were prints of the same drawing showing the view of the Notre-Dame or Shickshock (now known as Chic-Chocs) Mountains in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. To make things easier, they also had a title, artist and printing house included in the print image, so I was immediately able to link it back to A.P. Low’s report on his 1883 expedition for the Geological Survey.

Black and white print of a drawing depicting a series of rounded mountains. There are trees and grass in the foreground. The print is titled and has some small labels along the top edge indicating cardinal directions.

Panoramic photolithographic print of the Notre-Dame or Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains in Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. Drawn by L. Lambe from a sketch by A.P. Low, to accompany A.P. Low’s 1883 report to the Geological Survey of Canada. The prints in LAC’s collection (R214-2887-9) are not yet digitized. Image courtesy of NRCan (GEOSCAN).

A.P. Low led a small team of surveyors into the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula in the summer of 1883 to examine the geology of the area, as well as to create and improve maps of the region. The Geological Survey of Canada was often one of the first groups of surveyors in an area and they quickly realized that they couldn’t document geological features without creating maps as well. Low’s report describes some of their day-to-day tasks as well as their scientific findings. It was published as part of an 800-page volume with all of the Geological Survey field reports from 1882–84. You can download a digitized version from the Natural Resources Canada website or consult the physical book in LAC’s library holdings.

LAC also holds many of the field books from these surveys. These are the notebooks the surveyors used in the field to keep track of their daily findings. With my curiosity piqued, I ordered in A.P. Low’s notebooks to take a look. I’m not a geologist so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to understand his notes, but that’s half the fun! Most of the notebooks were filled with numbers and quick sketches, but in the back of one, I hit the jackpot.

Most people expect government records to be bureaucratic and boring—and many of our records live down to these expectations—but it’s so exciting when you find something that proves that even the work lives of nineteenth-century public servants could be funny and interesting.

In the back of one of A.P. Low’s field books, I found the pencil sketch he drew of the Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains. The very one that they used to create the final drawing that accompanied his report and in the prints that started my current investigation. It’s a fairly simple pencil drawing, spread over two lined pages in the back of the book, but the shading and the line work starts to trail off somewhere in the middle.

Why did he stop? Fortunately for us, he wrote down the reason: “Unable to finish on account of the Black Flies!” His comment is accompanied by a suspicious smudge and three little blackflies doodled near the description of his sketch.

Photograph of a red leather notebook, open on page 98. The pages are lined and there is a pencil drawing of some mountains and three small flies. A note at the bottom reads, “Sketch of some of the Mountains seen from Mount Albert looking North.” To the right another note reads, “Unable to finish on account of the Black Flies.”

Sketch of the Chic-Chocs (Shickshock) Mountains on page 98 of A.P. Low’s field book #2276, Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. Geological Survey of Canada (RG45 Vol 142). Photo by Martha Sellens.

I can just picture the surveyors baking in the June sun on the top of a Quebec mountain and cursing one of Canada’s most annoying predators. It can be easy to forget that behind every record—even the bureaucratic and boring ones—are the people that worked together to create it. This notebook, and the more formal prints that led me there, is a great reminder of the people—and blackflies—behind the records.

Other LAC related resources:


Martha Sellens is an archivist for the natural resources portfolio in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Forgotten Flags

By Forrest Pass

In 2015, Canadians observed the 50th anniversary of the National Flag of Canada with its iconic red maple leaf. Library and Archives Canada’s collection features materials related to the tumultuous debate that led to the flag’s adoption in 1965. However, our collection also sheds light on the earlier adoption of some lesser-known Canadian flags, also featuring maple leaves. If these flags proposed in 1870 were still in use, we would be marking their 150th anniversary this year.

Paintings of six early flag designs survive in the records of the Privy Council, attached to an 1870 Order-in-Council. Five of these, based on the Union Jack, served as personal flags for the Governor General and the lieutenant governors of the four original provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The sixth, a British Blue Ensign with a Canadian shield, identified federal government ships such as fisheries vessels.

A painting of a blue flag with a Union Jack design in the upper-left-hand corner and a crest in the bottom-right-hand corner. There is handwriting to the right and at the bottom of the flag.

Proposed Blue Ensign, 1870 (e011309109)

The Governor General’s flag features a wreath of maple leaves This was the first use of the maple leaf on an official Canadian flag. Within the wreath is a shield bearing the coats of arms of the first four provinces. This was Canada’s first national coat of arms, designed by the heralds of the College of Arms in London and proclaimed by Queen Victoria in 1868.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Governor General, 1870 (e011309110)

The provincial lieutenant governors’ flags feature the newly designed arms of their respective provinces, each within a wreath of maple leaves. The designs for the Ontario and New Brunswick shields survive unchanged to this day, but time itself has altered the Ontario painting slightly. The anonymous artist may have coloured the top portion, or “chief,” of the Ontario shield with real silver paint. This has tarnished over the years, giving it a dark grey hue. Today, most heraldic artists use white paint to represent the heraldic metal “argent” to avoid this change.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, 1870 (e011309113)

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, 1870 (e011309111)

The fleurs-de-lis, lion and maple leaves of the Quebec arms represent three periods in the province’s history: the French regime, British colonial rule and the Confederation era. The provincial government still uses these arms today, but it added one more fleur-de-lis and altered the colours slightly in 1939. These changes make a stronger visual allusion to the former royal arms of France.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, 1870 (e011309114)

The arms on the 1870 flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia are different from the provincial coat of arms today and recall a misunderstanding. Today’s Nova Scotia coat of arms dates from Sir William Alexander’s failed attempt to found a Scottish colony in North America in the 1620s. In 1868, the English heralds may not have known about the earlier Scottish design, and they designed an entirely new emblem for the province. The Lieutenant Governor’s flag displayed this new coat of arms, featuring three Scottish thistles and a salmon to honour the province’s fisheries. At the request of the provincial and federal governments, the College of Arms reinstated the original Nova Scotia arms in 1929.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, 1870 (e011309112)

As the choice of emblems suggests, the impetus for these flags came not from within Canada but from Great Britain. In 1869, Queen Victoria authorized the governor of each British colony to use a Union Jack bearing his colony’s emblem as a distinctive personal flag. In Canada, an unknown artist at the Department of Marine and Fisheries painted these illustrations at the request of the federal Cabinet.

Canadians would not have seen these flags very often; initially, they flew on ships at sea only. As late as 1911, the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan decided that he did not need an official flag because his province was landlocked. Over the years, the federal and provincial governments have adopted new, less “colonial” flags for the Governor General and the lieutenant governors. These fly daily on official residences and on other buildings when the Governor General or a lieutenant governor is present. Preserved in the archives, these paintings recall the British origins of some of our national and provincial emblems.


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

A.P. Low and the Many Words of Love in Inuit Culture

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

Albert Peter Low was a geologist and explorer, whose expeditions to Quebec and Labrador from 1893 to 1895 assisted in the creation of their borders. Low mapped the interior of Labrador and discovered large iron deposits, which later lead to the development of the iron mine at what is now Labrador City. His mapping of Labrador influenced expeditions after him including that of Mina Hubbard in 1905.

Black-and-white portrait of a man standing in a photo studio.

Portrait of Albert Peter Low by William Topley, 1897. (a214276)

In 1903 and 1904, Low commanded two expeditions on the steamer Neptune up the west coast of Hudson Bay where he formally claimed possession of Southampton, Ellesmere, and adjacent islands for Canada. Low detailed his travels in Cruise of the Neptune (Report on the Dominion Government Expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands on Board the D.G.S. Neptune 1903-1904). Much of his research was invaluable in the recording of Inuit culture in Quebec, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Albert Peter Low fonds includes photographs, proclamations, and journals, two from a prospecting trip along the east coast of Hudson Bay, now known as the Inuit region of Nunavik, Quebec and one notebook written between 1901 and 1907. The notebook records 40 pages of the many tenses and corresponding suffixes of the verb “to love” in Inuktitut. In the photo below, we see a notebook page starting with the basic form “him, her or it loves.” He moves on to record, in lesser detail, the variations of the verb “to teach.” At the end he lists other transitive verbs, passive verbs, and adverbs, many related to Christianity.

A handwritten page of a notebook, recording Inuktitut vocabulary for the word “love.”

A page from the notebook kept by Low during his expeditions along the coast of Hudson Bay. (e011304604)

In 1886, Low married Isabella Cunningham and they had three children. Sadly, their first son died as an infant in 1898, and their second son died at age 19 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Only their daughter Estelle, born in 1901, survived to adulthood and looked after her ailing father until his death in 1942. In 1943, she donated his collection to the Public Archives of Canada, which included Inuit art, mainly hunting scenes rendered in ivory. The collection was transferred to the Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of History) in 1962. Most of the works are miniature ivories created by Harry Teseuke, leader of the Aivilingmiut and Captain Comer’s mate. Comer’s ship, Era, wintered in Fullerton Harbour (near Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut) in 1903–1904. Low likely consulted with Teseuke who may have enlisted others to assist with Low’s research.

Although this journal is an extensive study of the sentence structure and grammar of Inuktitut, it also sheds light on Inuit culture. You’ll notice that verbs have no masculine or feminine forms or gender pronouns. This relates to the practice of naming children, as traditional Inuit names are unisex. And this is tied to the somewhat intricate practice of creating sauniq (namesake) relationships. For example, if a boy was named after a deceased woman with children, those children would address the boy as “my mother” or “my little mother” to acknowledge that special relationship. Bonds are often formed between people who are not related. It’s a lovely way of creating a strong sense of belonging and strengthening interconnectedness within a community. Inuit believe some of the unique characteristics of someone who has passed can live on in their namesake. Of course, love is the tie that binds these concepts.

Black-and-white photo of a ship surrounded by snow and ice, with people next to it building a snow shelter.

The expedition ship Neptune in its winter quarters at Cape Fullerton, Hudson Bay, Northwest Territories. (a053569)

I can’t help but wonder what Low’s fascination was with this particular word. With varied interests including geology, botany, photography, and hockey, he leaves the impression of an educated man with a curious mind. Was it curiosity alone that fed his hunger to know the nature of Inuit love? Despite the study of Inuktitut words related to Christianity, he was familiar with the Inuit traditional practice of polygamy. In Cruise of the Neptune, Low defends the custom, calling it a mistake for missionaries to attempt to abolish the practice. All of this paints a picture of a liberal-minded man and an early ally of Inuit. No personal writing or correspondence by Low has survived. Therefore, we will never truly know what inspired his fascination with Inuit culture and its many expressions of love.

Black-and-white photo of a woman sewing skin boots, while a child plays with her braids.

Rosie Iggi, also called Niakrok (left), and Kablu (right). Kablu is sewing kamiks (boots), and Niakrok is playing with Kablu’s braids. Photograph by Richard Harrington, 1950. (a147246)

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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is a researcher for the We Are Here: Sharing Stories project at Library and Archives Canada.

Pre-Confederation St. Lawrence maritime pilot certificates at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

The details of when and where our ancestors were born, lived and died are the building blocks of genealogical research. Knowing how they spent their time or were employed can help connect the dots.

By any chance, might one of your ancestors have been a certified maritime pilot on the St. Lawrence River?

This blog post will focus on records specific to Quebec, beginning with the Trinity House fonds (MG8-A-18), which includes a list of certified maritime pilots for the period 1805–1846. Found in MG8-A-18, Volume 5, this list includes the date of certification and any suspensions of that certification along with reasons for the suspensions. The documentation is in French and arranged in chronological order.

A note in the fonds description gives us a clue about where to look next for related records: “Trinity House […] continued in existence until 1875 when its functions were taken over by the Department of Marine and Fisheries.”

This leads us to the Department of Marine fonds (RG42), specifically the “St. Lawrence river pilot’s certificates” series (1762–1840). The certificates are described at the item level in Finding Aid 42-1 and the documents themselves can be found in RG42 volumes 1 through 6, which are open for consultation and reproduction.

You’ll notice, though, that this series covers up until only 1840, which means that if you’ve identified a certified pilot from the Trinity House fonds list you might not be able to identify their certificate in RG42. The series description tells us that “[related] records that serve as a second source of authorization for pilotage are […] found in the Registrar General sous-fonds (RG68, Vols. 210-211, MIKAN 311, R1008-10-1-E). These registers have a different format than the Marine Branch certificates but the information contained is the same.”

To find these related records, first consult the General Index on digitized microfilm reel C-2884 on the Héritage website and look for the name of the individual of interest in the alphabetical key at the beginning of the reel.

A blurry black-and-white table with names, numbers and folio references.

RG68 key to the general index (C-2884), image 30

When you identify the individual you are looking for, there may be several pairs of numbers next to his name. For example, if I am looking for Fabien Caron, I will look under ‘C’ to find his name, and will then see that the pair of numbers next to his name is 5, 309. The second number indicates the page of the index where we will find the relevant entry, and the first number indicates the line number on that page.

We can scroll ahead on the same microfilm reel to find the general index for the same time period. The fifth line of page 309 does indeed refer to Fabien Caron, and provides us with further information that will allow us to identify the actual certificate: liber 2, folio 117, 5th September 1845.

A black-and-white table with numbers, liber number, folio, dates and names.

RG68 general index (C-2884), image 650

We can now perform a search of the archival database for RG68 and file number 2. By filtering our search results for those from the 1840s we can quickly identify RG68 volume 211, file 2, “Commissions – Branch Pilots” (1838 – 1867) as the relevant source. This volume is available on digitized microfilm reel C-3950. Folio (page) 117 is where we will find the entry for Fabien Caron’s certification.

A black-and-white reproduction of the commission that entitled Fabien Caron to be a maritime pilot.

RG68 volume 211, file 2, “Commissions – Branch Pilots” (C-3950), image 475

If you think Library and Archives Canada might hold this type of record for one of your ancestors, give this method a try! You never know what you might find.


Rebecca Murray is an archivist in Reference Services at Library and Archives Canada.

 

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)

Continue reading

The 200th Birthday of Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a Prominent Father of Confederation

Today marks the 200th birthday of one of Canada’s most important historical figures, Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a leading Father of Confederation. Cartier was born on September 6, 1814 in Sainte-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Lower Canada. He studied law and started practising in 1835; however, politics soon became his passion. His entrance into the world of politics was anything but uneventful, as he played a role in the Lower Canadian Rebellion of 1837 and fought in the Battle of Saint-Denis. Cartier subsequently spent a year in exile in Vermont but pled for leniency and returned to Montreal in 1839.

The Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Baronet

The Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Baronet (MIKAN 3476630)

In 1848 Cartier was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada and shortly after was appointed to Cabinet. From 1857 to 1862 he served as co-premier of the Province of Canada with Sir John A. Macdonald following his coalition with the Upper Canadian Conservatives. It was in this period that Macdonald and Cartier started working together and began to garner support for Confederation in an attempt to put an end to political instability.

Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier (MIKAN 3213760)

Cartier played a pivotal role in gaining French-Canadian support for Confederation. He argued that francophone interests would be best preserved in a federation of provinces. When Confederation finally came about on July 1, 1867, John A. Macdonald became the first Prime Minister and Cartier the first Minister of Militia and Defence.

Shown among their peers are the Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, the Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Lieutenant-Colonel John G. Irvine

Shown among their peers are the Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, the Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Lieutenant-Colonel John G. Irvine (MIKAN 3192010)

Cartier passed away on May 20, 1873. His death deeply affected his close friend, John A. Macdonald, who proposed that a statue be erected in Cartier’s honour. It was sculpted by Louis-Philippe Hébert and unveiled in 1885. This was the first statue to be placed on Parliament Hill and it can still be seen today. Cartier left his mark on generations of Canadians. The centenary of his birthday in 1914 was marked by large celebrations and another monument was erected, this time in Montreal. Cartier’s Montreal home was designated a National Historic Site.

Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier (MIKAN 2837680)

While the majority of Cartier’s papers were destroyed, Library and Archives Canada does have several important records, including a family photo album, postcards, and some correspondence that took place during his period as Minister of Militia and Defence. We also have several letters written by Cartier to Macdonald, found in the Sir John A. Macdonald collection (archived).

To find out more about George-Étienne Cartier and his role in Confederation:

Notarial Records

Would you like to know more about the daily lives of your New France and Quebec ancestors? Then you might be interested in looking at notarial records, where you can find a wealth of information about your ancestors’ goods and properties, and any transactions they may have entered into with others. The oldest known notarial record dates back to 1635.

A notarial record is a private agreement written by a notary in the form of a contract. Some of the most common ones are marriage contracts, wills, estate inventories, leases, and sales contracts.

Notarial records are held by the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), but Library and Archives Canada holds copies of some records in the collection, Fonds des greffes de notaires du Québec. You can also use the advanced search to look up the name of an individual or a notary.

Sale made by Nicolas Réaume and Charles-Noël Réaume to their brother Alexis. Notary F. Le Guay, May 9, 1781. Library and Archives Canada, MG18, H-44, vol. 8, 4 pages.

Sale made by Nicolas Réaume and Charles-Noël Réaume to their brother Alexis. Notary F. Le Guay, May 9, 1781. Library and Archives Canada, MG18, H-44, vol. 8, 4 pages. (e000102246)

How to search for notarial records

You can use a variety of tools to search for notarial records. For the oldest records from 1635 to 1784, consult the Parchemin database, developed by the Archiv-Histo historical research society (French only), which provides an abstract of each notarial record (date of the record, name of the notary, names of the parties, etc.). Parchemin is available at BAnQ, and in some public libraries, and archives.

You can also consult several name indexes (French only) for various regions in Quebec. Through a large-scale digitization project, you also have access to online directories and indexes of notaries from all regions of Quebec up to 1933 through BAnQ’s Archives des notaires du Québec (French only).

Once you have found a reference, you can consult the original record on paper or on microfilm. You may even be able to consult it online as BAnQ, in collaboration with FamilySearch, will eventually have all the records available online.

An Arpent, a Toise, a Perche, a League… Understanding Old French Measurements

When looking through old French records, you will frequently come across old measurements that are rather mysterious nowadays. These measurements are found in records originating in France, Quebec and Louisiana. Below is a table showing the equivalencies, but many online sites offer conversion calculators, even for these old standards.

Conversion Table for Old French Units of Measurement

Old French Units of Measurement Conversion to Other Units of Measurement
1 pied 0.324 837 81 metres

1.065 740 34 feet (English measure)

1 toise 6.0 pieds

1.949 026 87 metres

6.394 442 03 feet (English measure)

1 perche 3.0 toises

18.0 pieds

5.847 080 62 metres

19.183 326 1 feet (English measure)

1 arpent 10.0 perches

30.0 toises

180.0 pieds

58.470 505 4 metres

191.833 261 feet (English measure)

63.944 420 3 yards (English measure)

1 lieue 84.0 arpents

840.0 perches

2 520.0 toises

15 120.0 pieds

4 911.547 72 metres

4.911 547 72 kilometres

16 114.0 feet (English measure)

5 371.333 33 yards (English measure)

3.051 893 94 miles (English measure)

1 arpent carré 32 400.0 pieds carrés

3 418.80 square metres

0.341 88 ares

36 800.0 square feet (English measure)

0.844 803 06 acres (English measure)

New Podcast Episode: The Shamrock and the Fleur-de-Lys

We are pleased to announce the release of our latest podcast episode: The Shamrock and the Fleur-de-Lys.

In this episode, we consult a panel of experts about the massive immigration of Irish settlers to Quebec in the 1800s. We examine the journey they made in order to establish their new lives on foreign soil, as well as the cultural bond that formed between the Irish and the Québécois.

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

For more information on recent announcements at LAC, visit “News.