— By Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
The first task of librarians and archivists is acquisition. For without it, preservation is unnecessary, and access impossible. Twenty-three centuries ago, Ptolemy II dreamed of having 500,000 scrolls in the Great Library of Alexandria. Today, the Library of Congress boasts some 32 million books and 61 million manuscripts. The drive to acquire is strong. There is even a word in Japanese for the behavioural disorder of acquiring books without ever reading them: tsundoku. And without admitting having a disorder, raise your hand if you have really read every single book that you ever bought!
The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection is vast. Depending on the lists, its size puts it among the top three or four in the world: 22 million works, 250 kilometres of textual documents, 30 million photographs and 3 million maps, not to mention stamps, medals and works of art.
It is therefore highly appropriate for the theme of this issue of Signatures to be acquisitions of all types, including those that bolster LAC’s claim to be “Canada’s memory”: archives, government records and publications.
Regarding archives, the bounty is both amazing and abundant; the article by Émilie Létourneau, Renaud Séguin and Candace Loewen addresses this eloquently. LAC holds the surveying records, decoded by Roderick McFall, that reveal the secrets of the Klondike Gold Rush; the rich Stelco documents that Lucie Paquet uses to help us understand our social history; and the Parks Canada archives referenced by David Cuthbert in relating the history of Banff, Jasper and other treasures of the Rockies.
As for the acquisition of government records, while we readily understand today that this is one of LAC’s fundamental missions, the contribution by our colleague Alain Roy reveals that this was not always the case. He takes us back to the 1870s and the debates over the creation of a Canadian archival service worthy of the name.
And as Alison Bullock, Karin MacLeod and Julie Anne Richardson remind us, what about the books and periodicals that we have acquired since the National Library of Canada was established in 1953? Our librarians provide ample evidence of just how exhaustive this part of our collection is: they highlight the first works of Gabrielle Roy, published in a newspaper for farmers, the Bulletin des agriculteurs, between 1940 and 1945 (article by Annie Wolfe); they report on our Margaret Atwood collection, which is so comprehensive that it includes an article from a school newspaper published in 1949, when the author of The Handmaid’s Tale was just 10 years old (article by Liane Belway); and they highlight our Lowy Collection of rare, ancient Hebrew and Jewish works, recently enriched by six works acquired through the generosity of the Friends of LAC (article by Michael Kent).
And let us not overlook the audiovisual sector. Christine Barrass uncovers fascinating sound recordings of telephone conversations conducted by a Canadian heroine, Genya Intrator, who was a link between our country and refuseniks in the Soviet Union from 1972 to 1991. Our colleague Joseph Trivers introduces us to treasures in our music collection, which dates to 1969, when legal deposit was expanded to include musical recordings. His article quite rightly focuses on the considerable challenge of adapting our acquisition practices to constantly changing formats: CDs, DVDs, software and—back to the future—33-rpm vinyl LPs! In the same vein, Arlene Whetter’s interesting article discusses our digital collection of published documents, which has been growing exponentially since it was established in 1994, and particularly since 2007, when legal deposit was expanded to cover digital publications. Naturally, our overview would be incomplete without mentioning the acquisition and archiving of websites, as related by Emily Monks‑Leeson.
In addition to the richness of our collection, what strikes me most on reading this issue is the passion of our colleagues. Their articles practically overflow with love for the records in their care. This is eloquent testimony to the power of memory and the extraordinary good luck we have to work with it every day. I wish all of you the good fortune of sharing these feelings while you read this issue of Signatures.
Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Happy 65th Birthday, Legal Deposit in Canada!
— By Alison Bullock, Director, Acquisition, Karin MacLeod, Manager, Published Canadiana, and Julie Anne Richardson, Team Lead, Legal Deposit, Published Heritage Branch
Legal deposit has been a special means of collecting and preserving countries’ published heritage for over 450 years. Canada’s Legal Deposit Program is much younger than that and has been in place since the National Library of Canada was created in 1953. Legal deposit was initially applied to books, and later expanded to include serial publications (1965), sound recordings (1969), multimedia kits (1978), microforms (1988), video recordings (1993), CD-ROMs (1995), maps (1997) and online or digital publications (2007).
2018 marks the 65th year of legal deposit in Canada. Remarkably, some of the very first titles received were on similar topics to those received today. Politics, parenting and pressure were the themes explored in the first three legal deposit titles received in 1953: The Political System by D. Easton, Questions Parents Ask by S.R. Laycock, and Second Annual Report on Stress by H. Selye. Interestingly, some of the first titles received in 2018 tackle the same subjects: The National Question and Electoral Politics in Quebec and Scotland by Eric Bélanger et al., Les parentillages : carnet insolent sur l'art d'être parent by Louis-Simon Ferland, and Touch in the Helping Professions: Research, Practice and Ethics edited by Martin Rovers et al. The more things change, the more they stay the same!
What has changed, though, is the way that we record what we receive. In 1953, librarians meticulously typed in a “Legal Deposit Register” (see image), whereas in 2018, we benefit from electronic systems, where records, descriptions and many of the publications themselves are in digital form.
Legal deposit is enshrined in the Library and Archives of Canada Act and further explained in the Legal Deposit of Publications Regulations, which indicates the publications that Canadian publishers are required to deposit with Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The regulations also indicate which categories of material (e.g., print newspapers) are not required unless expressly requested by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Legal deposit applies to all publishers in Canada, and to all publications in all media and formats. Materials produced by Canadian publishers become part of LAC’s collection, and they are preserved and available for public consultation.
LAC’s published collection includes books, serials, electronic publications, sheet music, maps and audiovisual formats. While legal deposit legislation empowers LAC with a powerful “stick,” in reality it is the voluntary participation of Canadian publishers and music producers that contributes most significantly to successfully building the foremost collection of Canadiana in the world. Recognizing that collaboration with publishers is essential, LAC has developed a publisher outreach strategy to guide ongoing engagement and relationship management efforts. LAC aims to increase awareness of and participation in the Legal Deposit Program by providing a client-focused set of services to publishers, by developing business intelligence and products, by systematically monitoring the publishing industry, and by improving performance reporting. Our ongoing commitment to enhancing staff capacity and skills will further contribute to successful outcomes.
These outreach goals introduce new approaches to delivery of services to the publishing community. The proactive monitoring of industry trends and assigning portfolios to our acquisition librarians is deepening our understanding of the industry we serve. It is now possible to consider service improvements based on client feedback, and robust new systems at LAC are providing opportunity to introduce new services such as the long-awaited transition to email receipts. Armed with a new strategy on outreach to publishers, a new vocabulary, and new ways of working, we are engaging with publishing clients as never before!
And our publishing clients are responding with honest, candid feedback.
LAC’s publishing clients are quick to share their insights. These include their perceptions of LAC, suggestions to improve the Legal Deposit Program, and observations about the Canadian publishing and music landscape. In-person visits during the first year of the publishers outreach strategy produced a gold mine of information related to legal deposit services and irritants, which seem to surface more readily in person than they do through online feedback.
All clients expressed support of LAC, its mandate and goals. All were impressed that LAC was engaging by seeking input on services and collection development. They repeatedly mentioned that partnerships with companies or organizations (such as FACTOR, a private non-profit organization dedicated to providing assistance and supporting the growth and development of the Canadian music industry) would be beneficial for LAC. Visits to publisher associations found key allies who are willing to cross-promote legal deposit and partner with us to support Canadian writing and music.
LAC is striving to be as comprehensive as possible as it develops its national collection of published heritage. Happily, most publishers submit their publications promptly, and LAC is pleased to see that awareness of legal deposit—and participation rates in the program—are on the rise.
They said … “You are off the radar until that letter arrives.”
We heard … “Some publishers use claim letters as a kind of order form.”
The national library collection assembled through legal deposit becomes the record of the nation's published heritage, a collection that is important for scholars today and in the future. A big thank you to all the publishers and music producers for their contributions. Together, we are documenting Canada’s publishing history and building an invaluable collection of Canadiana for everyone.
Margaret Atwood’s Tale in Our CanLit Collection
— By Liane Belway, Acquisitions Librarian, Published Heritage Branch
As we reflect on the 65th anniversary of legal deposit at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), we also celebrate not only the vastness and variety of the Canadian literature in our national collection but also the excellence of those literary works. A retrospective of 65 years of publishing in Canada could fill an entire issue of Signatures and still highlight just a small portion of the best CanLit publications. In fact, some contributors have enriched our collections for even longer than that. For example, our earliest record for Canadian author Margaret Atwood is a school newspaper called “Home and School News,” from 1949, four years before the Legal Deposit Program began!
Since Atwood is currently still very active, she gives us an excellent example of the scope and strength of publishing in Canada. Let us consider two highlights, from her long writing career, that we have in our collections at LAC. Her first major collection of poetry, The Circle Game, won the 1966 Governor General’s Award for Poetry. Considered a classic of contemporary poetry, it provides an example of a developing Canadian poetic voice in the key era of the 1960s. Nick Mount credits another work, her groundbreaking Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, with ensuring the survival of foundational Canadian publisher House of Anansi and with promoting the growth of CanLit itself. In Arrival: The Story of CanLit, Mount writes: “In 1972, House of Anansi published a book about Canadian literature … they called it Survival—because the book was a last-ditch attempt to keep Anansi alive, because survival was the main theme it found in Canadian writing, and because surviving was what Canadian literature did … Survival sold 50,000 copies in three years. It saved Anansi and demonstrated a literature its title doubted. Canadian literature hadn’t just survived; it had arrived.”Footnote1
As our national collection continues to grow, so does Atwood’s contribution to it. Her works offer a stellar example of just how CanLit has evolved over the decades. She is currently highly popular because of the successful television series of her iconic novel The Handmaid’s Tale (published in 1985, well before literary science fiction became trendy). Her over 40 books, and hundreds of different editions and translations, at LAC provide an impressive glimpse into how accomplished Canadian authors are, and how vital it is to preserve their work for future generations.
Collecting and preserving the work of one of Canada’s most prolific and award-winning authors, who has had a long and remarkable career, who has helped to create that heritage and continues to do so, is one of the many achievements of the Legal Deposit Program at LAC. Legal deposit may have just turned 65, but we have no intention of retiring or even slowing down in our mission.
Search for the works of your favourite Canadian authors in LAC’s collections.
Gabrielle Roy, Journalist
— By Annie Wolfe, Acquisitions Librarian, Published Heritage Branch
She is the pride of Franco-Manitobans and Quebecers consider her one of their own. An accomplished novelist and an important figure in Francophone communities across Canada, Gabrielle Roy shaped French-language literature in Canada.
In 1945, she published her first urban Quebec novel, Bonheur d’occasion, for which she received France’s prestigious Prix Femina in 1947. It was the first time that this award was won by a foreign writer. It was also the first of many honours that recognized the major impact of Roy’s work, nationally and internationally.
Before becoming a novelist, Roy was a teacher and a journalist, which enabled her to travel across Canada and hone her writing. For five years, from 1940 to 1945, she wrote about various regions for the Bulletin des agriculteurs, a newspaper for farmers. From Saguenay to the Eastern Townships, from the Gaspé to Abitibi, from the Saskatchewan prairies to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, she skilfully described Canada’s landscapes and seasons. While nature had a significant place in her articles, her descriptions of her encounters with people were profound.
During her travels, the journalist engaged with villagers, farmers and merchants, with characteristic gentleness and empathy. People confided in Roy; they invited her to become part of the life of the community. She recounted the day-to-day events with realism and elegance and without artifice. From sea to sea, she described people who had spirit, courage and determination. Despite the huge challenges they faced—such as the colonization of Nepawa Island in Abitibi by people from the Magdalen Islands—they displayed a love of life and their positive outlook was focused on better days.
Roy’s time at the Bulletin des agriculteurs was formative and it led to a prolific career. The newspaper, which celebrated its centennial on February 2, 2018, was and remains today a key information tool for Canada’s Francophone farmers. The writer perfected her style and critical thinking while working there. Literature does not exist without a connection to reality: it is only by watching the world that good fiction can be written and Roy truly grasped this connection.
In 2007, the Éditions du Boréal published a compilation of Roy’s articles, entitled Heureux les nomades et autres reportages, 1940-1945. This slice of history with literary repercussions was produced by the Groupe de recherche sur Gabrielle Roy, a research team at McGill University.
Library and Archives Canada is privileged to have in its collection Gabrielle Roy’s published works and her archival fonds.
Our Music Collection: Canada’s Songbook and Playlist
— By Joseph Trivers, Acquisitions Librarian, Published Heritage Branch
Music has played an important role in the cultural and economic life of Canadians by shaping and reflecting different regional, cultural and linguistic perspectives and identities. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) makes concerted efforts to acquire and preserve Canada’s musical heritage. This national collection has items that range from the earliest commercial publications of sheet music in Canada in 1800 to very recent recordings. Examples include John Neilson’s publication of Le Graduel romain à l’usage du diocese de Québec, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s first album It’s My Way, Drake’s Views, and a copy of Canada’s Mosaic: Sesquies – 40 Orchestral miniatures celebrating Canada’s 150th published by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Library music collections provide users with an organized set of scores, recordings and literature about music. Some music libraries can be specialized—orchestra, conservatory, radio, academic or public—and reflect the purpose of the institution housing that library. However, the music collection at LAC is unique because it is intended as a comprehensive record of all musical activity throughout Canada in various formats: wax cylinders, 78-rpm discs, vinyl, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, scores and books. LAC even has a graphic novel based on the life of Glenn Gould, and comic books by the musician Lights.
Developing the music collection has been important at LAC since the founding of the National Library in 1953. Legal deposit, in effect since 1953, was extended to include sound recordings in 1969. This is the chief means of developing our music collection. Our goal is to document as fully as possible the development and history of recorded music in Canada. That goal relies on the co-operation and support of the country’s musicians, composers, producers, associations, publishers, and recording or video companies.
Many technological advances since 1969 have changed the music industry. LAC has therefore had to adjust its collection practices. New reproduction technologies and music notation software have adversely affected the sales and operations of publishers of sheet music and increased the costs of publishing. On the other hand, such technology and software make it easier for composers to create and distribute their scores themselves and allow smaller publishing companies to operate. Many artists and composers find it easier and more affordable to record, self-publish, distribute and promote their music thanks to personal computers, software and social media.
Regarding sound recording, self-released albums and smaller labels serving niche markets have proliferated: URBNET, Arachnidiscs, Distribution Plages, Archaic North Entertainment, Transistor 66, and Constellation Records. Artists use new ways outside traditional distribution channels to sell and distribute music; they use sites and platforms like CD Baby and Bandcamp or streaming services such as Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, SoundCloud and Google Play. They may not even release their music in physical formats. Many of the independent labels may not be in business for long, so we may have a short period of time to acquire their publications. Some smaller record labels frequently release small runs of cassettes or vinyl of only 25 to 50 copies.
What LAC can try to build is a collection that is as representative as possible, not conclusive. New formats create special challenges. With each shift in recording or publishing technologies, there are different opportunities for collection, preservation and migration. Until recently, LAC acquired music in physical formats. We must now consider how to safely acquire, preserve and migrate new material in digital formats. LAC is currently upgrading its acquisitions system to facilitate the collection of digitally distributed music so it will be available for future generations.
Stories in the Canada Lands Survey Records
— By Roderick W. McFall, Senior Archivist, Government Archives Division
Historians are taking an increased interest in the study of memory: how do societies tell their stories, and what do they retain in their collective memories? As an example, consider the Canada Lands Survey Records (CLSR) collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). One of the CLSR’s more significant stories involves the mapping of the claims discovered in the Klondike Gold Rush and the role of Indigenous people in this endeavour.
But first, some background. In 2015, the Surveyor General Branch at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) approached LAC about the potential transfer of approximately 80,000 records from the CLSR collection, for a total of 1.5 kilometres of archival holdings. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between LAC and NRCan in early 2017 governing the transfer, preservation and circulation of this major acquisition.
The collection consists of the official textual surveys and their associated documentation of Canada Lands (First Nations reserves, national parks lands, Crown lands and territorial lands) dating from the 1850s. It consists of maps, survey files, survey plans and survey field books. NRCan, the caretaker and owner of the official records of the Surveyor General of Canada Lands, had digitized and made the collection available online. This made possible the physical transfer of the collection to LAC to ensure its long-term storage and preservation. This acquisition complements LAC’s collection of 1,034 official survey plans of reserves and residential school lands, transferred from the Legal Services Division at NRCan in 1959.
These underused archival records assist in documenting several aspects of Canada’s Indigenous history and culture, including the distribution of language groups, treaty rights, the location of residential schools and reserves, and land use and occupation. Through these, we can see the history and evolution of Indian reserves, national parks, military bases, railway development, the fur trade, the Arctic, and defining events like the Klondike Gold Rush. As Bob Weber points out: “Reconciliation is rewriting Canada’s memory banks as archivists across the country work to make their collections more open to and sensitive towards Indigenous people.”note2
The CLSR tells us the story of the Gold Rush. Before he became the second Commissioner of the Yukon Territory, William Ogilvie was a noted Dominion land surveyor working in western and northern Canada. In 1895, he was commissioned to make all of the required surveys for town sites, mining claims and mineral deposits in Yukon. He surveyed the Alaska-Yukon boundary at the Yukon River in 1887–1888, and in 1896, the Klondike goldfields of Bonanza Creek and Eldorado Creek. Ogilvie’s surveying work determined the approximate location of the 141st meridian, the current boundary between Alaska and Canada.
The “Plan of Placer Mining Claims on part of Eldorado Creek in the Klondike Mining Division of the Yukon Territory,” plotted by Ogilvie’s field book, documents the discovery claims made by Kèsh (also known as “Skookum” Jim Mason, meaning strong, and identified as “Tagish Jim” on the map), who was a member of the Tagish Khwáan First Nation, his American brother-in-law George Carmack, and his sister Shaaw Tláa, also known as Kate Carmack. These three are credited with discovering the first piece of gold in Bonanza Creek, an event that triggered the Klondike Gold Rush. This specific survey map and the accompanying field book reflect the important roles of Ogilvie, Mason, and George and Kate Carmack in what Ogilvie called a “world-startling discovery.”note3 It was unusual for discovery claims made by First Nations prospectors to be recognized by mining authorities, which makes these records even more remarkable.
It is now acknowledged that First Nations people were relegated to the back pages of the history of the Gold Rush. However, through these records, Ogilvie put Indigenous prospectors like Mason on the front pages. Ogilvie used the sobriquet “Tagish Jim” in his field books and on his survey maps, and Mason also figures prominently in Ogilvie’s memoir Early Days on the Yukon; the chapter “Discovery of the Klondike” includes a section dedicated solely to Mason. Ogilvie described him as his “old friend” and spoke of how he “employed Jim in various capacities, and always found him reliable, truthful, and competent to do any work I gave him. Afterwards, while working on his claim on Bonanza, I had more experience with him, and it only corroborated the opinion I have expressed of his character.”note4
In describing Mason, Ogilvie wrote that “he possesses a practical knowledge of prospecting that is far beyond what one would expect to find in an uneducated savage. Further, he is qualified as a prospector in a way that few white men are, for he carries nothing on his outings, which last weeks at a time, but a rifle, hatchet, and gold pan.”note5 As jarring as it is in 2018 to read this account referring to an “uneducated savage,” Ogilvie nevertheless assigned the discovery mining claims at both Bonanza Creek and Eldorado Creek to Mason and his cousin “Tagish Charlie.”
The CSLR acquisition, and the survey plans acquired earlier from NRCan, offer more untold stories. Hitherto unknown voices are bound to emerge.
Our Digital Collection of Published Documents
— By Arlene Whetter, Acquisitions Librarian, Published Heritage Branch
From a modest beginning of 6 carefully selected serial titles in 1994, Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection of digital publications has now grown to include approximately 85,000 monographs and 15,000 serial titles from Canadian publishers. The collection has its roots in the National Library of Canada’s Electronic Publications Pilot Project, which ran for several months in 1994 and 1995. The project was to provide guidelines on how to deal with the explosion in digital publishing. This project studied issues such as file formats, transfer methods and copyright. Staff also developed a system to manage the acquired files and provide online access to the public. A selection of early e-zines and some of the first born-digital government publications are still accessible today because of this project.
During the first decade of the collection, LAC staff sought out publishers willing to allow us to download and archive their publications. With the amendment of legal deposit legislation in 2007 to include digital publications, all Canadian publishers (including trade publishers, university presses, federal government bodies, associations and self-publishers) are now required to send copies of their digital publications to LAC. LAC retains these publications on its servers so the material is available to Canadians for generations to come.
To protect publishers’ commercial interests, publications intended for sale are restricted to on-site consultation at LAC’s locations. If publishers agree to open access, then the publications are freely accessible over the Internet through LAC’s library catalogue. Digital publications collected include e-books of all types (novels, non-fiction, children’s books), magazines, scholarly journals, association newsletters, annual reports and Canadian government publications. A unique aspect of the collection is the self-published material. As the only institution that widely collects publications from Canadian independent authors to make them available for posterity, LAC may be an important source for researchers studying the development of self-publishing.
The volume of digital material received is an ongoing challenge for LAC. Many countries (United States, United Kingdom, Australia and others) have passed selective digital deposit legislation to manage the volume. The comprehensive nature of Canadian legal deposit legislation is a great responsibility. To successfully deal with such a large quantity of files, we plan to automate our process as much as possible by using publisher-supplied metadata to create bibliographic records, instead of manual entry.
The original system built in 1994, upgraded over the years, is still in use today. Affectionately known as LAC’s longest-running pilot project—24 years!—the Electronic Publications Pilot System will be retired over the next year or two, as we acquire new tools in support of LAC’s Digital Strategy. With improved processing capacity, we will seek out publishers who were previously unaware of their obligation to submit digital formats, and improve the breadth of this important collection.
Curating Web Collections
— By Emily Monks-Leeson, Archivist, Digital Integration
Web archiving is practiced by memory institutions around the world. It draws on the best practices of information sciences, digital curation and preservation and digital humanities to acquire, preserve, and provide access to web resources of heritage value and research interest.
The Web Archiving Program at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has been collecting federal and non-federal web resources since 2005. As a core activity, we acquire federal government websites and web publications through regular, comprehensive harvesting of the Government of Canada domain (gc.ca) and related federal and Crown corporation websites. These crawls simultaneously collect all Government of Canada official publications in digital format on departmental websites or on the official site for accessing federal government publications. Since 2014, approximately 14 terabytes of federal web resources have been acquired.
While originally focused on archiving federal web content, the Web Archiving Program’s collections have rapidly expanded to incorporate nationally significant events and themes. In the past four years, we have acquired nearly 10 terabytes for thematic collections such as the Truth and Reconciliation Web Archive, the First World War Centenary Collection, Canada 150, the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, the Federal Politics Collection, the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games, and the ongoing inquiries into the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster and the Humboldt Broncos bus accident.
Digital Integration also acquires relevant social media for thematic collections. Although social media platforms present a significant challenge to web archiving platforms, we use a suite of software tools to capture Twitter data and YouTube channels that are relevant to our larger thematic research collections.
Digital Integration recently curated a collection documenting the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. The Canada 150 collection represents an array of political opinions and perspectives. Web resources range from social media, blogs, and personal sites to news media that document regional and national commemorative events, websites, and social media from the federal government perspective (including the 38 officially recognized “Signature” Events/Projects). Other resources reflect the official Canada 150 themes of Diversity and Inclusion, Engaging and Inspiring Youth, Indigenous Reconciliation, and the Environment. In selecting material, we applied our program acquisition framework, which aligns with LAC’s institutional acquisition policies and priorities. As with most collections, however, resources were found by less formal means, including social media, radio news and events, and simple word of mouth. These acquisition methods reflect the ways that everyday Canadians also learned about Canada 150 special events. This led to some quirky discoveries, including a website by the Kings County Museum in Nova Scotia tracking the adventures of the Canada 150 chair (an antique chair billed as “a front row seat to Canadian history”). Over 1200 resources were collected in the course of LAC’s Canada 150 project and are now being reviewed for quality control and given appropriate metadata.
Web archiving frequently appears in LAC’s Departmental Plan (formerly the Report on Plans and Priorities) and is recognized in the Evaluation and Acquisition Policy Framework and other policy instruments as a unique stream of acquisition. Curating web collections is an important development for LAC in digitally preserving and ensuring ongoing access to Canadian documentary heritage.
Building the Government’s Permanent Memory
— By Émilie Létourneau and Renaud Séguin, Senior Archivists, Government Archives Division, and Candace Loewen, Director, Government Records Initiatives Division
Every day, federal government institutions create and acquire enormous amounts of information. From welcoming refugees to inspecting nuclear plants, the Government of Canada’s activities generate millions of records each year. Only a tiny proportion of all documents prepared and collected by federal employees and members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police can be preserved, classified, described and made accessible. Records that will be kept in the archives for future generations must therefore be identified upstream.
Under the Library and Archives of Canada Act, no record of the federal government may be destroyed without the written permission of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada or, as is currently the case, his delegated official. The archivists in the Government Archives Division are responsible for identifying this heritage and recommending its acquisition to the Chief Operating Officer of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Once the selection is approved, the creating institution is informed of how it can dispose of records that it no longer requires, either by transferring them to LAC if they have archival value or by disposing of them.
For almost 25 years, macro‑appraisal has guided the research into analysis underlying these recommendations. Prior to adopting this approach, government archivists assessed records based on their potential use in future research. By the late 1980s, the limitations of this approach became obvious. In addition to the monumental efforts required to analyze government records to identify information that might be of interest, archivists faced the impossible task of trying to predict what might be useful for research purposes in 10, 50 or 100 years.
With macro‑appraisal, the value of records is determined by the context of their creation. For LAC, this means identifying the activities of the Government of Canada that significantly affect society as well as the records that document those activities most effectively and succinctly. The main objective is to document how the federal administration carries out the responsibilities assigned to it by Parliament. This approach makes it possible to identify historical and archival records even before they are created, since the emphasis is on the activities that generate them rather than on their content.
LAC also works with federal departments and agencies to improve their information management. This in-advance work, aimed at protecting archival records before they are transferred to LAC for long‑term preservation for the benefit of all Canadians, is also set out in the Act.
The ephemeral and fragile nature of digital records present the greatest archival challenges. Technology is changing so quickly that systems and media may become obsolete before records are transferred to LAC. Furthermore, the effort required to ensure the long‑term preservation of records depends largely on the conditions of their creation. To address these challenges, LAC actively collaborates with central agencies to influence decisions that affect government information management and technology activities so that archival requirements are taken into consideration as early as possible.
Given the size and complexity of the federal government, LAC professionals cannot simply wait for government records of historical value to be offered to them; they need to be proactive. These efforts are essential for ensuring that Canadians have access to the archives of their government, now and in the future.
A Collective Effort by “Friends”
— By Émilie Chirip, Analyst, Stakeholder Relations and International Affairs, and Marianne Scott, President, Friends of Library and Archives Canada
In the early 1990s, a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting expansion of the collections of the National Library of Canada (NLC), established in 1953, created the Friends of the National Library (FNL).
These kinds of associations (“friends of libraries”) were quite common at the time; however, it was an innovation for one to support a Government of Canada institution. The FNL developed its key fundraising initiative—the annual book sale—based on the public’s interest in second-hand books. It began collecting used books from Ottawa residents and held its first “Giant Book Sale” in 1995 at a local mall. As books came in, volunteers would sort Canadian publications from non-Canadian ones. The volunteers would then meticulously research each Canadian publication to see whether the books could fill missing gaps in the NLC’s collection.
The non-Canadian publications were sorted by language and literary categories, and sold at book sales with the Canadian publications that would not be retained by the NLC. The revenue generated by book sales helped to purchase special items for the NLC, with the first acquisition in 1992 of a rare book entitled Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1722–1824).
These activities continue today through the Friends of Library and Archives Canada (FLAC), which was formed in May 2003 by combining the FNL with the Friends of the National Archives of Canada. This union came about in anticipation of the creation of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in May 2004. FLAC’s long-standing support has helped LAC (and predecessors) to acquire rare material for the collections for over 25 years. These acquisitions are as varied and diverse as the LAC collections themselves, and include manuscripts, books, sound recordings, maps, portraits and film posters.
Since 2002, 9,609 Canadiana titles were donated to LAC; of these, 2,472 had not been held previously by LAC. Although each FLAC-assisted acquisition is unique, some real gems have been added to LAC’s collections over the years.
For instance, Cent peintres rendent hommage à Maria Chapdelaine, compiled by Clément Fortin, 1985, is notable for its binding. Nicole Billard of Montréal, Quebec, was located on Montréal’s South Shore in the 1980s and created the unique binding out of goat leather. This piece has French-technique binding with colourful fine-leather inlays and onlays, and a gilded head. Billard’s one-of-a-kind binding features a landscape enriched by flower-petal inclusions on the end papers. The volume itself contains reproductions of the work of 100 artists inspired by the novel Maria Chapdelaine, written by French author Louis Hémon while residing in Quebec.
Another exceptional acquisition made possible by FLAC is a sketchbook by Canadian artist and author Emily Carr. Carr is not only one of Canada’s best-known visual artists but also a talented writer. This acquisition shows both of these talents as well as her humour and wit. The work also provides a first-hand account of Queen Victoria’s funeral on February 2, 1901. Carr’s journal recounts her efforts and those of her close friend, Hannah Kendall, to catch a glimpse of the procession. The sketchbook, or “funny book,” as she called it, is entitled The Queen’s Funeral. London and contains seven drawings mounted on taupe paper. The sketchbook was a gift from Carr to Mr. and Mrs. William H. Clarke, her publisher in Toronto, who published her book Klee Wyck (from the Aht languages, meaning “one who tends to laugh”) in 1941.
In some instances, FLAC provides financial support toward the acquisition of a larger or more expensive item or collection; such was the case in 2008 and 2015, when FLAC supported the acquisition of the Peter Winkworth collection. This valuable collection of prints, watercolours and oil paintings covers over four centuries of Canadian history!
The collection features works from artists such as Peter Rindisbacher (1806–1834), who specialized in watercolours of the Anishinaabe, Cree and Sioux peoples. James D. Duncan’s (1806–1881) watercolours depict Canadian landscapes and street scenes, and Maria Morris Miller (1810–1875) of Nova Scotia specialized in botanical illustrations.
We should also recognize the generous gift that FLAC volunteers offer: the gift of their time. In 2017, LAC officially named a conference room after Marianne Scott, National Librarian of Canada (1984–1999) and FLAC’s President since 2009, in recognition of her commitment to LAC. FLAC remains an essential collaborator as it continues its mission of supporting LAC with acquisitions, public programming, special projects and providing access to special collections. Its current bibliographical project is to enrich access to the Soldiers of the First World War database; volunteers are inputting search terms to help identify specific soldiers. These are just some of the helpful activities undertaken by FLAC, which is always seeking new members and volunteers to participate in a variety of interesting events throughout the year. Donations are also welcome through three FLAC programs: the Marianne Scott Endowment Fund, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, and the general fund for acquisitions of exceptional archival and library resources. More information is available on FLAC’s website.
“We should all cherish our cultural heritage and the institutions that make that heritage accessible through the collection and preservation of all that is precious in Canada’s history. As we know, knowledge of the past clarifies the present and helps us understand the future. I am proud of the work the Friends of Library and Archives Canada do to support the activities of one of Canada’s cultural treasures.”
Cent peintres rendent hommage à Maria Chapdelaine / [compiled by] Clément Fortin, Alma, Quebec: Éditions C. F., 1985; ISBN 2980048704.
Source: Amicus No. 6119778
Credit (cover): Nicole Billard
On our tippest, tippest, tiptoes... by Emily Carr, 1901.
A First Nations family travelling in a canoe in the summertime, by Peter Rindisbacher, no date.
Choosing While Channelling: A Lowy Curator’s Story
— By Michael Kent, Curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, Published Heritage Branch
I love books. I am a book nerd. That probably will not surprise you, since I am a librarian. In my first job as a professional librarian, I could quite honestly tell people I had the best job in the world as “I got paid to buy books with someone else’s money.” You can imagine my excitement when later I joined Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to work with the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, an extensive set of rare Judaica dating back to the 1400s. I am now privileged not only to acquire books, but ones with significant history. The opportunity to handle a book that is hundreds of years old is a humbling experience. Being able to bring that book into a public institution is a true honour.
I quickly discovered a special aspect of working with the Lowy Collection. Named for the donor, it is overwhelmingly a personal collection. Mr. Lowy, fluent in many languages and with a strong Jewish education, had the ability to engage with the vast majority of the books. The pictures of the collection in his residence before it came to LAC show the books, but also a room containing family photos, a menorah, an ashtray and many other items that speak to this as a personal collection. The more time I spend with his books, the more I feel I get to know Mr. Lowy, who passed away in 1990. I get to see patterns in the collection, areas that interested him, the colours he must have liked based on the books he had rebound, the books he no doubt found interesting since he acquired different editions, and his broad definition of Judaica based on the inclusion of Christian Hebraism.
As an acquisitions librarian for special collections, I consider many factors before selecting a book. How will it complement the collection? Do we have potential users? Does it fill a gap in our holdings? What is the condition of the book? With the Lowy Collection, I often find myself asking the additional question, “What would Mr. Lowy think of this book?” A question very different from those that library school trained me to ask, but very important. In many ways, I am gifted with the opportunity to continue Mr. Lowy’s legacy of collecting, a legacy he gifted to all Canadians through his 1977 donation.
I was recently able to put this Lowy mindset into practice in a special way. 2017 was the 40th anniversary of Mr. Lowy’s gift of his collection to all Canadians, so the Friends of Library and Archives Canada (FLAC) approached me to work with them on selecting books for a donation in honour of this anniversary. It quickly became obvious to us that “What would Mr. Lowy think of this book?” needed to be the first question as we sought to honour the man. I was choosing while channelling; selecting while imagining that Mr. Lowy himself was deciding.
After some searching, we selected six books. The first was the Bibliotheca Rabbinica (1613), the first academic bibliography of Hebrew books, an item that Mr. Lowy, as a passionate collector, would have appreciated. Next was Moses and Aaron: Civil and Ecclesiastical Rites used by the Jews (1667), selected because of Mr. Lowy’s interest in Christian Hebraism. Further, as an English text, it is accessible to a wider group of our users, access being a key concern of Mr. Lowy’s. Third, we selected a Haggadah (1737), the ritual text for the Passover meal, as Mr. Lowy was interested in these texts. Further, there were no copies of this edition in OCLC (an international bibliographic database), so we had a unique opportunity to bring this item into a public collection, another of Mr. Lowy’s key concerns. Fourth, we selected a Yiddish translation of Yosefun (1743), a faked Jewish version of Flavius Josephus. Mr. Lowy collected a large number of rare and unique versions of Josephus, and we imagined that he would appreciate the story behind this one.
We also selected a Jewish prayer book (1721). As a Yiddish translation, this item was likely produced for a female user. We felt that this was a fitting piece to honour a remarkable woman, Claira Lowy, Mr. Lowy’s second wife. A holocaust survivor and woman of great piety, Mrs. Lowy was an active supporter of the collection and remained involved after Mr. Lowy’s death. We felt that she should be celebrated as part of this commemorative donation by FLAC.
The final item is by far my favourite. It is the Even Habochen (1901), a work of Rabbinic responsa literature, printed in Warsaw. This is the first title ever owned by Mr. Lowy, and the same edition. That first book remains with his family, but I am thrilled that the collection now has its own copy. A simple volume, it speaks to the origins of Mr. Lowy’s acquisitions and is the genesis of his remarkable legacy now located at LAC. Whenever I am able to leaf through the book, I feel that I am once again getting to learn more about a truly exceptional Canadian.
This acquisition of six books, made possible by FLAC, will no doubt stay in my memory throughout my career. I feel immensely privileged to have pursued an acquisition project that had as its priority to honour Mr. Lowy’s passion for collecting books. This was truly a special experience.
The Stelco Archives
— By Lucie Paquet, Senior Archivist, Archives Branch
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) retains the documents of one of Canada’s major companies, The Steel Company of Canada, better known as Stelco. Because of the national importance of the steel industry, in 2016 LAC acquired this outstanding fonds to ensure its preservation.
Stelco’s archives prove invaluable in understanding an industry—including railroad, automotive parts, heavy machinery and everyday consumer goods—fundamental to Canada’s economic development and population growth. Covering 110 years of production (from 1865 to 1975), these archives exist in various formats; they consist of 148 linear metres of textual documents, about 19,770 photographs, some 745 maps and plans, 119 microfilm reels, 106 films and soundtracks, 42 objects, and a few graphic items.
The first series in the fonds features documents from the five companies that founded Stelco (1910) and whose roots lie in the late 18th century: The Montreal Rolling Mills Co., The Hamilton Steel and Iron Co., The Canada Screw Co., The Dominion Wire Manufacturing Co., and The Canada Bolt and Nut Co.
This series includes incorporation papers, ledgers, property titles, insurance appraisals, correspondence and a few product catalogues. These records provide insight into the companies’ efforts to raise capital for expansion at a time when Canada was undergoing unprecedented technological growth.
The accounts and finance series offers some ledgers and statistics, showing Stelco’s profits, losses and investments, and the growth of its mills. The personnel records series reveals changes in wages, benefits, labour relations, and social and union tensions. Stelco saw its workforce grow from 5,000 workers in 1930 to 23,000 in 1974; young workers, hired in large numbers, demanded more competitive wages and better working conditions.
The metallurgy and engineering series shows how Stelco innovated, expanded production and responded to strong growth in residential and commercial construction. The files explain why, in the 1950s, the company automated its production and reoriented its strategy toward the automobile industry and structural steel needs.
The publications series contains articles and presentations written by Stelco’s metallurgical experts, along with promotional materials on the company’s products. In addition, the monthly Stelco Flashes internal newsletters are invaluable for researching activities at the steel mill.
The textual documents are well complemented by the graphic documents, such as plans, maps and drawings. Together, they provide considerable documentary potential. The latter are important for studying a company focused on manufacturing products through processing raw materials. The maps and industrial drawings produced by Stelco’s engineers give a clear picture of the company’s evolution, including its strategic planning to acquire land for its mills, and the steps in the construction of facilities and the manufacture of equipment and products.
The corporate records series also has 119 microfilm reels produced by Stelco’s micrographic department. The reels feature correspondence on a variety of subjects, and executive minutes. Preservation of these reels is crucial, since most of the paper records were destroyed.
The Stelco fonds also includes over 19,700 photographs from the end of the 19th century to the mid‑1970s. They depict managers and workers, mills and machinery, products, and social and sporting activities and events organized by the steel mill. The oldest, very rare photos show the first mills built in Quebec and Ontario. After new machinery was installed in a mill, workers paused for a moment and posed proudly for a picture, so the photographer could immortalize the occasion.
For special events, Stelco would hire professional photographers to promote its business. The panoramic and aerial photos are remarkable, often showing the scope of the industrial complexes with the city, neighbourhood or port facilities in the background.
During the 1950s, media, photographers and artists were fascinated by the extent of industrial progress. Stelco allowed visits to its facilities for short films and employee interviews. Some of these employees had special talents in the visual arts. One of these, John J. Carey (known as Jack), who was Chief Service Metallurgist, received permission from Stelco to take photos and make films. In 1958, Carey made the film Steel for Canadians in collaboration with Associated Screen Studies.
The Stelco fonds also has 106 audiovisual documents. In 1960, for its 50th anniversary, the steel mill hired producer Thomas Farley of Crawley Films Inc. to make the film Bright Century. In 1968, Stelco established an audiovisual centre and engaged specialists to create films such as A Time of Challenge, Les perspectives de l’acier, Steel Bridge Design in Canada and Stelco in the Future. In 1971, the centre’s activities were expanded to include distance training; seminars were recorded on VHS tapes and shown to employees.
The Stelco archives are held under reference code R15513. They contain much more than information about equipment, machinery and product manufacturing. Researchers who consult them will absorb the history of the thousands of steel industry workers who witnessed the economic, technical and social transformation of our country.
A Fundamental Acquisition
— By Alain Roy, Policy Advisor and Historian, Strategic Research and Policy
The acquisition of records relating to public administration is at the core of the mandate of any institution that, like Library and Archives Canada, serves as the memory of the government and the country. This seems obvious to us today, but it was not always so. An integrated approach to historical archives and governmental records dates back only to the early 20th century. Its history may surprise you…
It is important to realize that the modern administration of government as we know it today began in the 1840s, when an organized public structure was created, based on government departments. During that decade, the size of the administration of the Province of Canada grew rapidly. The capital was first located in Kingston (1841–1843), then in Montréal (1844–1849), cities where departments were accommodated in various houses. Construction of an office building in 1847 brought the departments together under one roof. The new building included a first: two vaults to protect departmental documents from fire.
Although the capital of the Province of Canada alternated between the cities of Toronto and Québec after fire destroyed the parliament building in Montréal in 1849, the records remained in Montréal, in an annex to Government House (now the Château Ramezay). They were more or less forgotten about, since the Province of Canada did not have a true archival service. Only after Confederation was there any interest in these records. And before they became the original nucleus of departmental archives, these records were at the centre of a real saga because of tension between two opposing services.
At Confederation, it was unclear who would be responsible for the country’s archives. Initially, under legislation adopted in 1868, Parliament mandated the Department of the Secretary of State to oversee all government records and papers not specifically transferred to other departments. This provision, based on the British model of 1838 and intended to create a Public Records Office, was never implemented.
A few years later, in 1871, several intellectuals who were concerned about how these historical records were being handled signed a petition tabled in Parliament that asked for the archives to be consolidated in Ottawa, so the holdings could be inventoried and protected.
In June 1872, in response to this petition, an archives service was established within the Department of Agriculture. Douglas Brymner was responsible for drawing up the inventory. In October 1872, he realized the disastrous state of the documents stored in Montréal and asked for them to be moved to Ottawa. The request for transfer was made to the Government of Quebec, but nothing happened. The following year, a parliamentary committee recognized Brymner’s collection work, but he was instructed to continue his inventory of historic records in London, England.
Henry J. Morgan inherited the responsibility of consolidating the archives; under an order dated October 1873, the Cabinet mandated him to oversee the relocation and classification of the records stored in Montréal. As Clerk to the Secretary of State, Morgan was a prolific author, specializing in directories, biographies and parliamentary guides. He was recognized as a person of historical significance in 2016.
In 1874, the order of October 1873, made shortly before elections, was called into question. However, a petition was presented by MPs and senators expressing support for Morgan, and the order was confirmed in August. A few days later, Morgan was in Montréal to arrange the transfer of the records, an operation that required 39 days for his team to complete.
From then on, Morgan was recognized as the keeper of the records until his replacement by Alphonse Audet in 1883. The transfer of records from Montréal to the Secretary of State was strongly criticized by Brymner, who in an 1878 brief proposed a redefinition of the roles of the two services.
During the decades that followed, both the Secretary of State and the Department of Agriculture retained archival services with overlapping mandates when it came to government documents. As years passed, this administrative confusion (derived from the British model, which managed historical and governmental records separately) was increasingly criticized for its inefficiency.
In another brief, written in 1895, Brymner analyzed the situation in various countries. He proposed a new Canadian model that would have historical and governmental records preserved in a single building, and the merger of the two services. His proposal was supported by Under-Secretary of State Joseph Pope, whose suggestion to establish a commission of inquiry into the state of public records was approved in 1896. The commission’s report was scathing. It resulted in the establishment in 1903–1904 of the National Archives as we knew it: an institution holding both private archives and government records, in a building constructed for this purpose from 1904 to 1906.
Despite the tensions highlighted by the saga of the Montréal records, the outcome was the birth of a centralized model of Canadian archival management.
Vancouver: Indigenous Genealogy Workshop
— By Caitlin Webster, Archivist, Public Services Branch
The LAC Vancouver office is now fully established in our new service point at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. Since the opening in November 2017, staff have been busy helping clients navigate LAC’s website and online forms, sharing research advice, and providing access to genealogy tools such as Ancestry.ca, Findmypast and BMS2000.
Earlier this year, LAC genealogy experts and LAC Vancouver presented a public workshop on Indigenous genealogy. Workshop participants learned about LAC, our services and our online genealogy tools. The session also explored LAC’s collections supporting Indigenous family history, including census records, First Nations membership and status documents, hunting and fishing rights records, Métis scrip documents, Inuit disc number and surname registers, military records, published sources, and much more.
The workshop was very popular! LAC hopes to build on this success by further developing our expertise in this area. In the future, we would like to offer additional genealogy sessions in Vancouver and across Canada, including in the National Capital Region.
Halifax: “Guess Where?”
— By Valerie Casbourn, Archivist, Public Services Branch
Since moving into our space at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 last year, the LAC Halifax office has participated in several events at the museum. For March Break 2018, we drew on LAC’s collection of archival photographs to create a brand-new activity called “Guess Where?”
“Guess Where?” features unlabelled photos taken in each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories. The challenge is to match each photo with the right province or territory on a map of Canada. We set up this activity at Pier 21 during March Break, and visitors came by to see the photos and guess where they were taken.
The photos show beautiful Canadian landscapes, from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic. All of these photos can be viewed online using LAC’s Image Search tool. Through this activity, we hope to inspire visitors to take a look at, and discover even more of, LAC’s collection. We plan to offer the “Guess Where?” activity at many more events!
Winnipeg: Parks Canada Records
— By David Cuthbert, Archivist, Public Services Branch
In 1885, the Canadian government passed an Order-in-Council to prevent the private sale or settlement of the land around the Cave and Basin mineral springs in Banff, Alberta. In historical accounts, the Order-in-Council is often said to mark the origin of Canada’s national park system. Since that date, national parks have been created to protect the natural environment of designated areas across the country. The LAC Winnipeg office holds over 1,600 containers of records relating to national parks, from Parks Canada and its departmental predecessors. The records held in Winnipeg document the history of many prominent parks in Western Canada, including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Prince Albert and Riding Mountain. While national parks aim to preserve Canada’s natural heritage, the Parks Canada records retained by LAC offer a revealing perspective on the nation’s social history. These records register the activities and development of the parks since 1885, but they also document the effects of wide-ranging historical events. Files are devoted to subjects such as the relocation of First Nations communities, the operation of wartime internment camps, and the challenges posed by the spread of large groups of transient young people in the 1960s.
LAC: 2019–2022 Three-Year Plan
— By Zeïneb Gharbi, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Corporate Secretary
In April 2018, LAC began the last year of its 2016–2019 Three-Year Plan. The 2019–2022 Three-Year Plan, which will be released in late March 2019, is therefore being prepared.
To ensure success in this strategic planning exercise, LAC held numerous consultations from March to September 2018, to gather input and feedback from external groups, including documentary community and academic partners. LAC staff, from senior management to library and archival experts, also participated in consultations. As well, joint consultations involving LAC and partners were held in our Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax locations.
For consistency and continuity in its operations, and to build on the momentum developed over the past few years regarding partner relationships, LAC will be guided over the next three years by the same key priorities that were the basis for the 2016–2019 Three-Year Plan.
Ottawa: A Happy, Unprecedented Marriage!
— By Sylvain Salvas, Senior Communications Advisor, Communications Branch
They were neighbours, knew each other slightly, chatted sometimes. Then one wrote a letter to the other, expressing deep feelings—and proposing marriage! The beautiful love story between Library and Archives Canada and the Ottawa Public Library started in 2016. It slowly took shape and will lead, in six years’ time, to a bundle of joy: an iconic building in the heart of the nation’s capital. The Government of Canada gave its blessing to the project in its 2018 budget.
The two major memory institutions will retain their independence and their own personalities, but will still share a passion for knowledge, history, discovery, culture and creativity.
We will witness the fascinating birth of a community and cultural hub that will bring together collections both national and universal. The facility will provide free and open access to millions of documents and the rich Canadian documentary heritage at these two major bilingual institutions.
Genya Intrator, an Angel to Refuseniks
— By Christine Barrass, Senior Archivist, Archives Branch
To be Jewish in the former Soviet Union generally meant a life of difficulty and struggle. By the late 1960s, Jewish cultural and religious life had become almost impossible because of systemic anti-Semitism, and many Jews sought to leave the U.S.S.R. for good. Fearing mass emigration to Israel and other countries, the Soviet Union refused the large majority of Jewish applications for exit visas. Those whose applications were rejected became known as “refuseniks.”
Genya Intrator was a pioneering activist in the Canadian movement that worked on behalf of these refuseniks. She began volunteering in this movement as a mature student at the University of Toronto when, as a fluent Russian speaker, she was asked by a student group to translate during a telephone call to a Soviet Jew in 1970. She ended up joining the group and assuming a leadership role in Canada’s efforts to support the movement.
From 1972 to 1991, Intrator made weekly phone calls to various refuseniks and the families of those who had been imprisoned for reasons related to their applications to emigrate. Having been raised speaking both Russian and Yiddish, she was uniquely placed to transmit information back and forth between the activists in Canada and those in the U.S.S.R. She had the presence of mind to record her phone conversations. With just over 520 hours of recorded conversations, Intrator’s collection at Library and Archives Canada is unlike any other. She discusses the daily living conditions of refuseniks and prisoners of conscience, their health issues, legal issues, as well as visits to the Soviet Union by Westerners who brought goods and information to those in need. Cognizant of the fact that the Soviet security agency, the KGB, was monitoring conversations, she had to be careful not to reveal details that could endanger refuseniks or their families. Incredibly, there is even a recording of a fellow activist in the United States recounting how, in the years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this activist and her husband ended up having dinner in Chicago with a former KGB officer who had been tasked with listening in on Intrator’s phone calls during the 1970s.
These phone calls were a primary source of information on the situation in the Soviet Union. Thanks to activities by Intrator and others in the international movement, facts about refuseniks were communicated to politicians, the media and the general public. Publishing the names and circumstances of refuseniks was vital; when a name was publicly known, this was considered insurance that the person would not disappear into prison. Through her constant communication, Intrator developed close relationships with some of the refuseniks, including Ida Nudel and Ida Milgrom, the mother of well-known refusenik Natan Sharansky, who would later become a prominent politician in Israel.
Intrator was unquestionably a key player in the movement to assist Soviet Jewry. Sharansky described her best in the 2008 online memorial book dedicated to Intrator after her death: in the “1970s and 80s, the years of the most intense struggle of Soviet Jewry, the name Genya Intrator was both a symbol of the direct link and strong bond of world Jewry to our daily lives.”
On Loan from LAC