Guest curator: Taryn Dewar

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

Tourism Poster from Canada Vacations Unlimited, ca. 1947

Colourful poster depicting a moose, deer, bears, a rabbit, a squirrel, a beaver, a fisherman, a piper, a woman spinning wool, a Mountie, an Indigenous woman and child, a boy driving a dog cart, and a totem pole. The words “Canada” and “Vacations Unlimited” are printed across the top and bottom of the poster.

Tourism poster from Canada Vacations Unlimited, ca. 1947 (MIKAN 3007692)

More American tourists preferred seeing sights to going camping, according to early market research. This ad campaign, featuring Canadian cultural symbols, was the—often questionable—response. Is any Canadian stereotype missing?

Tell us a bit about yourself

In 2015, I moved to Fort McMurray, Alberta to work at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre as an interpreter. I grew up in Hamilton Township, Ontario, near Lake Ontario. Our family spent a lot of time camping and visiting museums on vacations. My move from Ontario to Fort McMurray let me travel across the country and gave me a much better perspective on just how big Canada really is.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Three detailed images from the poster. One has a uniformed Mountie, and a First Nations woman wearing a blue-and-red striped dress carrying a baby on her back with deer and a rabbit in the foreground. The second has a fisherman in yellow rain gear holding a large fish and a man in a blue dress coat playing the bag pipes with a white haired woman seated between them. The third has a colourful totem pole shaped like an eagle with its wings spread on top surrounded by wildlife.

Detail of individual images from the poster: a Mountie and First Nations woman and child, a fisherman and a piper, and a totem pole. (MIKAN 3007692)

This Canada Vacations Unlimited poster captures a number of different Canadian stereotypes from the east to the west—the fisherman, the Mountie, the First Nations woman and child, and the totem pole. The poster also references some of the settlers who came to Canada such as the piper. Since the 1930s to 1950s when this poster was created, Canada has become even more diverse. While these are some of the prominent images of Canadians during that time period, it is important to recognize that not every “Canadian-ism” could ever be captured in a single image.

Details of a small brown squirrel; a crouching brown bear with his front paws spread out; a small brown beaver with his front paws spread out; a flying duck; and two brown deer, a stag and a doe.

Details of smaller animals from the poster. (MIKAN 3007692)

This poster features many wild animals as well as a forest in the background. While Canada has a lot of natural beauty, not everyone has a view of the Rocky Mountains or the Canadian Shield outcroppings. According to Statistics Canada, 66% of Canada’s population now lives within 100 kilometres of our southern border with the United States. This represents only four percent of Canada’s land area, which means there are many people living in metropolitan areas now. Some of our biggest cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal have attractions that are also well known as tourist destinations.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

One thing that struck me when I was looking at the Canada Vacations Unlimited poster was that there were no signs of winter. While there are a number of other artifacts in Canada: Who Do We Think We Are that do focus on winter, it struck me that in this particular poster that focused on Canadian stereotypes there was no snow. For most of us in Canada, winter takes up a fair bit of the year. Yes, shovelling snow and driving through snowstorms are not activities that we tend to enjoy, but it is still better to make the most of what we have instead of just waiting for spring to arrive. To help provide a better look at what happens in Canada year-round, I think that this painting from the mid-1800s would be a good pairing for the Canada Vacations Unlimited poster.

A series of vignettes against a blue background depicting a male figure walking through soft snow, falling in various positions, or getting hit by snow. A running line of text describes each image: "If there is one time of the year when Canada is more delightful that another / it is when a thaw comes after / a heavy fall of snow / because / It makes the snow so nice & soft. / particularly for falling / and because it (sic) so pretty to see the snow falling from the Roofs. / and because you are sure after / falling on your face / to fall on your back in / trying to get up."

One time of year when Canada is more delightful than another. (MIKAN 2837052)

The painting focuses on a series of images of a man trying to walk through heavy snow. Its witty title is “One time of year when Canada is more delightful than another.” I think this is an interesting way to poke fun at something many of us grumble about during the winter—slogging through the snow, trying not to fall into it. The inscription that accompanies each figure works to turn an unpleasant experience into a tale of adventure.

Putting these two posters together shows Canadians in different walks of life surrounded by nature and finding ways to deal with the winter. This helps to express some of what Canada has to be proud of. Canada is more than just its natural beauty or its weather. Canadians are the ones who make the most of what this country has to offer and help to make it a better place to visit and live in.


A colour photo of a woman with glasses smiling at the photographer.

Taryn Dewar has a Master of Arts in Public History from the University of Western Ontario. She works as an Interpreter at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray, Alberta.