The idea of the archivist as soldier is, understandably, not commonly held. While archivists strike fear in the hearts of few, their role in the collection and preservation of the memory of the nation is crucial to understanding our past, maintaining our present liberties, and preparing us for the future. In the First World War, it was the duty of Dominion Archivist Arthur Doughty and future Dominion Archivist Gustave Lanctôt to ascertain and collect wartime materials for the use of future generations of Canada. Both Doughty and Lanctôt were granted military commissions and by the end of the conflict had been promoted to the rank of Colonel and Major respectively.
Doughty was the consummate collector. The material he acquired during his tenure as Dominion Archivist such as the Northcliffe Collection, the Elgin Papers and transcriptions of various colonial documents were cornerstones of the early Library and Archives Canada. His scope of acquisition, being much broader than modern archivists, often included artifacts, such as the tunic worn by Sir Isaac Brock, or the chair of General Wolfe. Doughty and Lanctôt, as well as identifying important documents, collected various war trophies from the conflict.
This material was sent back for display in Canada to assist in promoting War relief efforts and bolster patriotism. At the end of the War, a program was set up to distribute the various War trophies to communities across Canada. Many parks and public spaces still display these trophies, some of which you might have played on, or around, when you were a child.
Library and Archives Canada, C-051858
Dr. Arthur Doughty, second from left, and Major Gustave Lanctôt, right, at Soissons, France, Sept. 6, 1916
Doughty and Lanctôt pose for this photograph as they survey the ruins of the French town of Soissons in the region of Picardie. From field expeditions, like this one, the Dominion Archivist and his assistant, Lanctôt, acquired hundreds of War trophies to be displayed and later distributed across Canada.
Library and Archives Canada. MG 30 D 26, vol. 10, file "Requisition of Great War Trophies, Documents n.d., 1916-1920"
Letter of Introduction, 29 May 1917
After the initial success of Doughty and Lanctôt’s archival reconnaissance in the fall of 1916, the Dominion Government officially sanctioned a "Canadian Special Mission" to further survey War records in Europe in the spring of 1917. This letter was intended to inform British and Canadian forces of the nature and importance of their presence in Europe.
Library and Archives Canada, C-010166
Montreal War Trophies Exhibition, April 18-30, 1917
Artifacts collected by Doughty and Lanctôt’s team were then sent back to Canada and put on display to bolster patriotism. After the War, a complex program, based on community contributions to the War, was initiated to distribute War trophies for showcase in Canadian municipalities.