By Andrew Elliott
The Marc Choko collection of travel posters represents a fantastic cross-section of Canadian travel poster art during the period from 1900 to the 1950s. “One’s destination,” wrote Henry Miller, as he travelled through Greece in the 1930s, “is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In fact, the entire Modernist movement of the era was about seeing old things in new ways. For railway companies, and later airlines, the posters helped market companies to as wide an audience as possible. While promoting their fast and efficient services, they also projected to travellers a stylish, romantic vision of travel to and within Canada.
Between 1900 and 1930, and particularly in the 1920s, there was a shift in the way people travelled. During this period, middle-class tourists rivalled immigrant travellers for space on trains. Tourism became a kind of mass culture theatrical experience, and as a result, leisure time was commodified. The publicity departments of both Canadian National Railways (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) developed close ties with Canadian (and American) artists to create poster art (and art for other types of marketing and publicity, including magazines and timetable booklets). In 1927, for example, CN commissioned members of the Group of Seven to create a 33-page scenic guide advertising the wild, natural and romantic beauty of Jasper National Park. (This guide, with a couple of digitized pages, can be found in the Museum Train Collection series of the Canadian National Railway Company fonds.) Neither the railway companies nor the artists operated in a vacuum; they were influenced by the travel and artistic movements that were spreading across the world in the early 20th century. There was a remarkable convergence: cars, trains, airplanes, zeppelins and ocean liners were all competing for customers. To sell their services, the various companies turned to posters that suggested, among other things, speed and experience.
The Marc Choko collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) features a collection of travel posters by various artists who were commissioned by transportation companies. The collection was donated to LAC in the early 1990s by Marc Choko, a professor emeritus with the School of Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Choko taught courses on design from 1977 to 2018 and has also published numerous books on design (website in French only), including Destination Québec; Une histoire illustrée du tourisme (2013), Canadian Pacific Posters 1883–1963 (2004) and Canadian Pacific; Creating a Brand, Building a Nation (2016).
Two of the best-known artists who created the posters were Peter Ewart and Roger Couillard. Ewart (1918–2001) was born in Kisbey, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Montréal. Upon completing his formal education, he studied art in Montréal, and later in New York. His paintings were exhibited by the Royal Academy (London, England), the Royal Canadian Academy, the Canadian National Exhibition and the Mid-Century Exposition of Canadian Painting. To learn more about Peter Ewart and his life and work, visit the comprehensive website petermaxwellewart.com.
In the late 1940s, Ewart helped to establish and then solidify a memorable advertising campaign for CPR as the “World’s Greatest Travel System.” His corporate commissions included a wide array of organizations and some events, such as Canadian Pacific Airlines, Bank of Montreal, Imperial Oil Company, B.C. Telephone Company, Calgary Winter Olympic Games, Ocean Cement and many more.
Some striking examples of Ewart’s work in the Choko collection include the following posters for CPR.
The artist Roger Couillard (1910–1999) is also well represented in the Marc Choko collection. Couillard was born in Montréal and studied at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal (School of Fine Arts in Montréal; EBAM). In 1935, the Institute of Foreign Travel organized a poster competition on the theme of “See Europe Next.” One of his posters was chosen and exhibited in Ogilvy’s department store in Montréal. Couillard opened a studio in the Drummond Building on the city’s St. Catherine Street in 1937. He later worked for the Quebec Ministry of Tourism from 1966 to 1975. (There is very little biographical information about Couillard available online. The information listed here was gleaned from a Canadian Design History/Theory course web page at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. For further details about Couillard’s art, see Artnet.)
The following striking examples of Couillard’s work show his versatility. He was able to work for a variety of organizations, such as CPR, CN, Trans-Canada Air Lines and Canada Steamship Lines. The posters capture the essence of what travel represented for voyagers at the time.
These less well-known artists are also represented in the Choko collection:
- Lorne H. Bouchard, 1913–1978
- James Bisset Crockart, 1885–1974
- Leonard Richmond, 1889–1965
- Percy Trompf, 1902–1964
- Odin Rosenvinge, 1880–1959
The collection contains some striking work by unknown artists as well. For example, one notable poster for CN has been reprinted for numerous postcards, yet the artist has not been identified. Can you help to identify this artist?
This is where the Co-Lab challenge comes in! The challenge in Co-Lab is not only to tag and describe the posters, but also to identify some of the artists. Check out the Travel Poster Co-Lab Challenge to see more posters in the Marc Choko collection.
Andrew Elliott is an archivist in the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.