In 1807, the noted German scholar Alexander von Humboldt wrote: “I feel every day that you work only as well as the people around you.” This sentence, which I have often quoted, describes exactly how I have felt since taking the reins at Library and Archives Canada (LAC),in June 2014.
In many areas, the expertise of our colleagues is recognized nationally and internationally and I personally feel that it is essential to share their valuable knowledge with our community. In my view, a failure to do so would be contrary to the spirit of our Act, since it stipulates that LAC must “contribute to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada as a free and democratic society.”
Therefore, I am very proud to present to our friends and partners the first issue of Signatures: The Magazine of Library and Archives Canada. All the articles in this inaugural issue are written by our LAC colleagues, and their texts demonstrate both their passion and personality. Behind every passenger list, every census file, every first edition of a work, you can find not only the history and background of the record itself, but also the experiences of those who acquired it, preserved it and made it available.
Signatures will be published twice a year in a limited print edition and be available through download on LAC’s website (www.bac-lac.gc.ca). This first issue begins with an overview of the relationship between storytelling and archives, and continues with a discussion of how podcasts are created at LAC. There are features on the key role
LAC played in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, applied expertise in conservation, our exhibitions at 395 Wellington and across Canada, the Wallot-Sylvestre public lecture series, regional roundups, and a fascinating glimpse into the Bell Features comic book collection, where Canucks with super powers get to tell their stories.
Canucks with super powers telling their stories, isn’t that exactly what Signatures is all about? I sincerely hope you enjoy dipping into the lake of stories that is LAC, and that you will go on to discover more of our fascinating collection through our website, our blogs, our YouTube channel and our Flickr site.
Welcome to Signatures.
Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Stories in the Archives
- By Leah Sander
There is a strong connection between archival repositories, such as Library and Archives Canada, and storytelling, the tradition of sharing experiences, legends, folklore, or historical events through oral stories. In a literal sense, archives contain recorded stories in the form of memoirs, photograph albums and oral histories. In a further sense, each document is a part of a story that can be reconstructed by someone into something more fulsome, by linking it to other resources or to its historical context. These traces of the past may also inspire society’s official storytellers—novelists, filmmakers and playwrights—to bring stories found in archives to a wider audience.
Prior to recorded communication, storytelling was the archive, the way of maintaining collective memory and transmitting vital information across time. In fact,
storytelling is still used in this way in many cultures. Stories and archives ultimately share similar functions that are at the core of humanity: they are a means of communicating across time and space; explaining the human experience of the world; preserving culture and knowledge; and providing context for the passage of time.
However, oral histories, as a means of understanding the past, are sometimes perceived as less factual or reliable than recorded evidence of past events, the likes of which are found in archival institutions. The details and meaning of past events, as communicated through stories, are subject to the perspective of the storyteller as well as to their memory, which can easily shift over time. Archival records (such as correspondence, reports, diaries, and photographs, among many other forms) are commonly understood as concrete evidence of transactions and events. But are oral stories really less “true” than archival records? The answer to that may be that the truth of a story is no different than the truth of an archival record—that is, a subjective truth.
The tension between archival record and story is illustrated in the life of a woman we know as Thanadelthur. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography indicates that Thanadelthur was a Chipewyan woman, likely born in the late 17th century somewhere in the vast expanse known as Rupert’s Land1. We know little about her short life, but versions of her story have survived in Dene and Chipewyan oral traditions. Some of these oral histories were collected by Western missionaries or ethnographers a century or more ago. One such story collector was Father Émile Petitot, an Oblate priest who lived with the Dene in the Athabasca District for many years in the second half of the 19th century. In the course of his time with the Dene, Petitot learned of the story of a woman named “Than‑narelther,” a Chipewyan woman from the Peace River area who sought out the Hudson’s Bay Company at Churchill to establish a trade relationship with her people2.
From an archival perspective, the woman known as Thanadelthur is referred to in the business records of the Hudson’s Bay Company as the “slave woman” who appeared at York Factory one day in November 1714, having escaped her Cree captors. The York Factory post journals record how the woman went on to assist Hudson’s Bay Company officials in brokering a peace between the Cree and the Dene, so that the company could trade with both groups. The slave woman is mentioned in the post journals by James Knight, Governor of Rupert’s Land, as a woman of remarkable character, and he mourns her death in 17173.
As Patricia McCormack, Native Studies professor at the University of Alberta, has shown, Thanadelthur’s story has many versions—archival, literary and oral—and while there is commonality among them, they are not identical interpretations of an established group of facts4. Indeed, depending on the perspective of the person discussing Thanadelthur, various parts of her story have been highlighted or diminished, twisted or added to, to promote a certain understanding. Her story has been used for community identity and memory as well as in colonial oppressor history, feminist native history, children’s comics, and Hudson’s Bay Company marketing, to name just a few examples.
The story of Thanadelthur has been told and retold in many ways over time, with varying representations of what happened. Is the Hudson’s Bay Company record of the events surrounding her short life more true than the versions that have survived in Dene and Chipewyan communities, simply because it is part of an archival record? It can be argued that any account of an event or situation, whether it is available in a recorded format or orally, is a subjective one, even if the account is recorded at the time of the event. Further to this, any so-called truth gleaned from an account of the past is, in turn, a subjective interpretation. As such, an archival record needs to be interpreted and the context of its creation studied just as much as the oral narrative to fully understand its message in present times. South African archivist Verne Harris expresses it this way: the archival record “is a crucible of human experience, a battleground for meaning and significance, a babel of stories, a place and a space of complex and ever-shifting power-plays.”5
In this light, the archival record is neither more nor less true than the story. Both present an account of human experience that is shaped by the social, historical and individual contexts of the person creating the account; both are interpreted by others who are also influenced by their understanding of the world. Canada’s stories, whether told in Grandma’s kitchen or kept in formal archival repositories like Library and Archives Canada, need to be voiced, recounted, discussed and debated. This is our true heritage.
Life at Library and Archives Canada: Creating a Podcast
- By Tom Thompson
I get to see a lot of incredible things in my job. I like to share these things with my colleagues and friends, with Canadians… the world! This was the impetus behind the creation of LAC’s podcast, Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.
Each month we release a podcast episode that shines a light on one of the many astounding aspects of the collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and the work we do here. I’m part of the team that produces the podcast. As an employee of LAC for 13 years, it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly deep and varied the collection is—there really is something for everyone. Recent podcast topics include the story behind the unveiling of the Canadian Flag, ballerina Celia Franca and dance in Canada, John McRae’s classic poem “In Flanders Fields,” genealogical research at LAC, and the surprisingly large comic book collection.
The format of the podcast varies depending on the subject matter, but generally speaking our host will interview one to three guests per episode—subject-matter experts who bring the collection to life. You will be amazed by some of the interesting ways LAC’s collection is being used! Since launching the first episode in February 2012, the podcast has logged over 500,000 listens and continues to dominate the top 10 in the Government & Organizations category on iTunes. We have released 24 episodes to date in both official languages, and have subscribers from all over the world.
The podcast is a project that encapsulates everything I look for in a job: it’s highly creative, I get to engage with people who are truly passionate about their work, and the learning opportunities are endless. Every aspect of the podcast is carried out in-house, which provides a great deal of autonomy and satisfaction for the staff. To tune in, visit our home page and look for the podcast logo!
- By Lucie L. Séguin
Wallot-Sylvestre Seminars are a series of lectures hosted by Library and Archives Canada at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. The lectures focus on strategic thinking in the domains of information science, librarianship, archival science, history, and more. Speakers are invited from a range of documentary heritage fields and include leading practitioners from academic, public and private sectors.
The series is inspired by Jean-Pierre Wallot, Canada’s sixth National Archivist, and Joseph Jean Guy Sylvestre, Canada’s second National Librarian. Both men left an indelible imprint on the work of Library and Archives Canada and the wider documentary heritage community. Appointed in 1985, Mr. Wallot is best known for his work in developing the National Archives of Canada Act, and in building the Preservation Centre, the state-of-the-art facility in which Canada’s documentary heritage is housed and preserved. Mr. Sylvestre, appointed in 1968, worked toward creating a decentralized network of Canadian libraries supported by the National Library. By the end of his tenure, the National Library was a major cultural institution with rich and diverse collections of Canada’s published heritage.
Launching the series in 2013, Éric Méchoulan, a professor of French literature at the University of Montreal, spoke on “Time in Archiving—from Written Culture to the Digital Environment.” The following year, Anabel Quan-Haase, an associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University, presented “Online Audiencing: Authenticity, Privacy and Data Curation” and David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, presented “Out in Front: Taking a Leadership Role in Open Government.”
The first lecture of 2015 featured David Fricker, Director‑General of the National Archives of Australia, who spoke candidly about e-government in Australia, the vital role of the National Archives, and the far-reaching implications of an accelerating digital world. The most recent speaker was Robert Darnton, former Librarian of Harvard University and co-founder of the Digital Public Library of America, and our next speaker in the series, in April 2016, is Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian at the British Library.
For more information, visit Wallot-Sylvestre Seminars.
The Conservation Work Behind Mirrors with Memory: Daguerreotypes from LAC
- By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger
The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 was momentous. The first publicly accessible form of photography, daguerreotypes offered the world an opportunity to capture glimpses of 19th-century life. These jewel-like reflective objects, capable of recording likenesses with incredible clarity, delighted and astonished viewers. For the first time in history, portraits of loved ones could be photographically captured, shared and passed down to descendants. The impact that the daguerreotype and photography had on the lives of ordinary people at the time was tremendous.
The daguerreotype was co-developed by Louis‑Jacques‑Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) and Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833). Following Niépce’s death, Daguerre went on to perfect the process, ultimately naming the invention after himself.
Mirrors with Memory: Daguerreotypes from Library and Archives Canada is a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, on display from September 4, 2015 to February 28, 2016. Organized by Library and Archives Canada (LAC), the exhibition features examples of these special objects. While not rare, daguerreotypes are rarely exhibited due to their susceptibility to light and environmental degradation. LAC has carefully treated and preserved these objects so that they will be safe for their viewing period, and is proud to offer visitors a chance to see these portraits and scenes of 19th-century Canada that aren’t widely availableor reproduced.
In use between 1839 and 1864, the daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process and is known for its infinite detail. One-of-a-kind images, daguerreotypes are finely-polished silver-coated copper plates that are exposed to iodide vapours before being placed in a camera. After exposure, they are developed in a vapour chamber of mercury, and then fixed and gold toned.
Because the image rests on top of the silver plate, it is highly susceptible to loss of image and to the formation of disfiguring corrosion and other deterioration, which is caused by poor handling and exposure to inadequate environments. To protect the image, the delicate photographic plate was placed under glass and separated by a protective mat spacer, often made of brass. It was then sealed around the edges with paper tape and often covered with a brass foil called a “preserver.” This entire package was commonly placed in a small, often decorative case made of leather and wood, papier-mâché or moulded plastic, with interior linings made of silk or velvet.
The materials making up a daguerreotype package, including copper, silver, paper, brass, leather, velvet and glass, deteriorate at different times under various conditions. Glass deterioration is one of the most common problems found by preservation and conservation experts.
When treating the items included in the National Gallery exhibition, several daguerreotypes exhibiting signs of glass deterioration were found. Daguerreotypes will often appear dull and hazy due to glass deterioration, and not deterioration on the plate itself. Glass deterioration can occur as a result of fluctuation in temperature or humidity. This type of degradation can manifest itself as cracking, which appears as tiny hairline cracks in the surface of the glass. There can also be a chemical decomposition due to older glass having a higher concentration of sodium oxide, which is alkaline in nature. This can cause the glass to appear hazy or cloudy.
For conservation, keeping a daguerreotype’s original glass is encouraged. If the glass is in an early stage of deterioration (damage appearing as a white haze or fogginess), it can possibly be cleaned and reused. The treatment for this type of deterioration is relatively straightforward. The glass is simply removed and cleaned with distilled water and a neutral soap, and then rinsed with ethanol. The object is then allowed time to air dry. When placed back onto the daguerreotype, the plate will appear brighter and clearer.
When the glass is at a more advanced stage of decomposition, alkaline droplets form on the surface that faces the bare daguerreotype plate. This type of glass deterioration is called “weeping glass,” as the glass or the images can appear to be crying. These droplets may fall from the glass and land on the surface of the bare plate, which can affect the plate’s stability. It is advised to remove the deteriorated glass and replace it with borosilicate glass, a very stable and more modern glass.
If the glass cannot be replaced immediately, a simple solution would be to store the daguerreotype inverted, or image side down. This means that the alkaline would drip onto itself and not onto the bare plate within the package.
To find out more about daguerreotype conservation, visit Library and Archives Canada’s blog, listen to LAC’s podcast “Mirrors with Memory,” or check out our conservation photos on Facebook and Flickr.
LAC Participation at Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Events
- By Sarah Hurford, Jenna Murdock Smith and Susanne Sulzberger
Between 2010 and 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) held a series of National Events across Canada, in Winnipeg, Halifax, Inuvik, Saskatoon, Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton. The purpose of the events was to educate the public about the Indian Residential School system, as well as to provide an opportunity for former students (also known as survivors) to tell their stories about what happened to them in the schools, and the impact of those experiences on their lives.
Tens of thousands of people attended the National Events, where both public and private statements were gathered from residential school survivors. Other programming at the events included screenings of films about the residential school experience, exhibitions, and education‑focused events for school-aged children.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) was present at six of the National Events held by the TRC, in addition to the Closing Event in Ottawa. LAC had a table in an area known as the Learning Place, where Church archives and the National Research and Analysis Directorate of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada were also represented. The purpose of this space was for each organization to provide information on their respective collections to those in attendance.
When LAC attended the first event in Winnipeg in 2010, careful consideration was put into what material to bring, and printed copies of LAC’s aboriginal genealogy guide, Conducting Research on Residential Schools, and various other tools and resources were chosen. Over the course of our participation in the events, we learned more about what resources would be most relevant to make available at these venues.
Staff developed an album of approximately 200 photographs from LAC’s collection to bring to the events. This generated much interest among the attendees, as many people recognized students in the photographs of school buildings and grounds. Staff added more photographs to the album over the years, as images were identified, so that the final product contained more than 350 photographs. The TRC provided scanner-printers so that copies of photographs could be made easily for people on site. Additional photographs were digitized, described individually online, and posted in virtual galleries on the LAC website, with selected photos from each gallery being posted on LAC’s Facebook page and Flickr channel.
For the Montreal National Event in April 2013, staff developed handouts that focused on researching Aboriginal history and locating residential school records. These info-pages included samples of both government and non-government records about the schools, and provided a simple search strategy to identify records in LAC’s database.
LAC employees who attended the National Events spoke with survivors, family members of survivors, and members of the public. The opportunity to speak with survivors and hear their stories was an important one, and it was clear that the photographs also meant a lot to the survivors’ family members and to members of the general public in attendance. Since most of LAC’s collection consists of government records that document the administration of the residential school system, many of the photographs are institutional in nature. To a casual observer, they might appear as non-descript buildings, but to many of the survivors who attended the events, these images provoked vivid memories of their time at the schools. At each event, more than one person saw family members in the photographs presented. The photograph of Miss Rose Terry, one of the few in which the student was named, allowed people to remember her.
The National Events demonstrated one way in which LAC’s collection has been used in the reconciliation process. The archival records are essential as evidence of what occurred in residential schools, and the events made it clear that the photographs also serve as powerful triggers for remembering the past. For those of us fortunate enough to attend the events, being there in person was an emotional experience. LAC staff understood they were there not only to share information about the collection, but also, more importantly, to listen to survivors and their family members tell their stories and see first-hand how the archival records held meaning for people.
Collection Spotlight: Bell Features
- By Meaghan Scanlon
One of the most frequently-consulted special collections at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the Bell Features Collection. Preserved as part of the Rare Book Collection, this resource consists of 382 comic books issued by Toronto-based publisher Bell Features between 1942 and 1946. Within these comics’ black and white pages is perhaps the greatest assembly of Canadian superheroes ever produced. In keeping with the patriotic spirit of the Second World War, many of Bell Features’ characters were involved with the war effort, whether they were defending Canada and the British Empire in battle as members of the Armed Forces or fighting on the home front as civilians – sometimes super powered civilians – taking on Axis spies and saboteurs. Here is a small selection of some of Bell Features’ especially Canadian content.
The Sign of Freedom
Commando Comics no 1, p. 16.
After Otto Von Bergner, code name “The Sign of Freedom,” is killed, Canadian pilot Jimmie Clarkson carries on as his successor, taking on both his alias and his role as leader of an underground German resistance movement. Creator Adrian Dingle dedicated each Sign of Freedom strip “to the many thousands of brave souls who have pledged their lives to fight for the freedom cause under the noses of the Gestapo.”
Dime Comics no 1, p. 38; Dime Comics no 2, p. 23.
Billed as “Canada’s answer to Nazi oppression,” Johnny Canuck is a Canadian super soldier so effective that Hitler himself demands his capture. Johnny’s creator, Leo Bachle, was just 14 years old when he began drawing for Bell Features.
Triumph Comics no 14, p. 51.
Bell Features comics sometimes had a propaganda-like feel. In this story featuring costumed superhero Capt. Wonder (drawn by Ross K. Saakel), Nazi agents in Canada use fear tactics to try to prevent Canadians from buying Victory Bonds. Capt. Wonder, however, knows that Canadians cannot be intimidated.
Dixon of the Mounted
Active Comics no 6, p. 1 and 4.
Bell Features used one of the most iconic Canadian images – that of the red-coated Mountie – in a feature called “Dixon of the Mounted.” This story, drawn by cartoonist T.A. (Tedd) Steele, sees Corporal Wayne Dixon using his expertise with another Canadian icon, the canoe, to hunt down three Nazi saboteurs in northern Manitoba.
Active Comics no 1, p. 53 and 51.
Costumed crime fighter Gordon Bell, a.k.a. The Brain, uses his powers of clairvoyance to defeat potential threats by Nazi spies in Toronto. Creator Leo Bachle called up memories of Canada’s military past in developing The Brain’s character: Gordon Bell is the son of a Victoria Cross medal winning Canadian soldier of the First World War whose last wish is that his fighting spirit will live on in his son.
The Bell Features Collection has been fully catalogued in LAC’s online database, AMICUS. A collection-level record, which includes a list of titles, is available (AMICUS 43122013). Each title in the collection has also been catalogued individually and specific issues can be requested by using the form provided in AMICUS.
— Kelly Homenick, Archivist
A potlatch is a gift-giving feast and ceremonial practice of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the United States. The archival holdings of Library and Archives Canada in Burnaby, British Columbia, include historically significant documentation of attempts to extinguish this cultural practice throughout the first half of the 20th century, following its ban in 1884 by the federal government. Of special note are the records documenting the formal response of First Nations communities to the ban. The records eloquently argue for the historical, social, and economic role of the potlatch. The ban was eventually lifted with changes to the Indian Act in 1951. Today, First Nations communities throughout the Pacific Northwest continue to celebrate the potlatch.
— Dorota Laska, Cataloguing Librarian and Nathalie Mainville, Cataloguing Librarian
ISSN Canada is delighted to share in the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the ISSN Network in 2015. The ISSN Network is currently comprised of 88 national centres coordinated by the ISSN International Centre in Paris. As a founding member, ISSN Canada has been assigning ISSN (International Standard Serial Numbers) and registering Canadian serial publications for four decades. An ISSN is a standardized code for the unique identification of serial publications. It allows publishers, vendors, and libraries to identify serials quickly and efficiently along the supply chain. Today, more than 1.8 million serial titles are registered in the central database of the ISSN Network. Canada is one of the top three contributors in the world, after France and the United States.
— David Cuthbert, Archivist
Over the past year, the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada has hosted documentary film crews from the Netherlands, Austria, and Manitoba. In all three cases, the filmmakers were drawn to the 1,800 boxes of records documenting Mincome, a social policy experiment, conducted by the federal and Manitoba governments from 1974 to 1979, on the effects of providing citizens with a guaranteed annual income. Researchers have begun to examine these records in recent years, and this work has attracted international attention.
— Steven Artelle, Analyst
Happy Birthday Dante! In May 1970, the Dante Alighieri Society presented the former National Library of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada) with a bronze statue of the revered Italian poet. Displayed at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, the statue was created by sculptor Angelo Biancini (1911–1988). As well as marking the 45th anniversary of this proud gift, 2015 marks the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth.
— Laurena Fredette, Acting Manager, Regional Archival Program
LAC’s Cape Breton Development Corporation (CBDC) holdings, located in Halifax and Gatineau, are a fascinating resource documenting Cape Breton mining and industrial development. Spanning a 200-year period, the fonds consists of the CBDC’s operational records and records of former Cape Breton coal mining companies. Highlights from the fonds include a series of employment cards from the Dominion Coal Company that document the mine’s workforce. The cards record the names of employees as well as some standardized personal information, such as date of birth, height, weight, nationality and number of children under 14 years of age. The fonds also contains material related to the operation and maintenance of mines and material created and/or maintained by the corporation’s senior management.
At 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) hosts exhibitions that are free and open to the public. On view until the end of January 2016, Hockey Marching as to War explores Canadian hockey in the context of the First World War. The next exhibition, which will run from February to April 2016, will showcase depictions of the Métis from LAC’s collection of art and photographs. LAC also contributes items from its collection for display in exhibitions at institutions across the country, such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, among other Canadian galleries and museums.
- G.E. Thorman, “THANADELTHUR,” in Dictionary of CanadianBiography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed
July 2, 2015.
- Émile Petitot, “On the Athabasca District of the Canadian North-West
Territory,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society II, 1883, pp. 650.
- York Factory post journals, 1714–1717. Hudson’s Bay Company
- Patricia A. McCormack, “The Many Faces of Thanadelthur:
Documents, Stories and Images,” in Jennifer S.H. Brown and Elizabeth
Vibert, eds., Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History, Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003, pp. 329–364.
- Verne Harris, “The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory, and Archives in
South Africa.” Archival Science 2: 2002, p. 85.