Signatures, Spring/Summer 2016


What Canadian institution is best placed to devote an entire publication to the theme of secrecy and hidden meanings? It has to be Library and Archives Canada (LAC) of course! After all, we derive great inspiration from The Secret Bench of Knowledge, the sculpture by Ontario artist Lea Vivot that graces the main entrance to our Ottawa offices at 395 Wellington Street. Indeed, there are probably lots of secrets hidden inside the 22 million books and 50 kilometres of archival records that form part of LAC’s collection. But some of these secrets may never come to light, even though most of the material in our collection can now be consulted in person and online. And even if all these secrets were to come out one day, there would still be 30 million photographs, 3 million maps, 550,000 hours of audiovisual recordings and 425,000 works of art for future generations to peruse and analyze!

So, it is a great delight to share our discoveries of some lesser known facts from Canada’s official history in this second issue of Signatures. My colleagues at LAC have been investigating some fascinating files, whether combing through Wilfrid Laurier’s private correspondence, delving into Mackenzie King’s preoccupation with spiritualism, examining artworks of pre-Confederation New Brunswick by British military artists, or deciphering coded messages from Edgar Dewdney, Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, to Sir John A. Macdonald. There are even two books of secret codes that the War Office in London used during the Great War—salvaged from the scrap heap. And there is the 16th-century religious text that was defaced by a censor’s iron gall ink but restored to reveal passages of text thought to be lost forever. I must also mention the saga of the prolific beavers of Patagonia and the eyewitness accounts of their shenanigans that our colleague Alexandra Clemence uncovered. And, lastly, a favourite of mine, one of 12 volumes in our Rare Book Collection artfully decorated with fore-edge paintings.

Taken together, the hidden secrets and meanings gleaned from these collection materials represent unique riches to be shared widely with our clients. But have we become too discreet an institution or complacent in our knowledge of these secrets? Every day of the week Canadian newspapers publish photographs from our collection to illustrate their articles. Yet the readers of these pages don’t seem to notice that it is our name in the credit lines. And while works from our collection are on permanent display in the most prestigious museums, some visitors don’t even realize where they come from because our name is merely a mention on exhibit labels accompanying these paintings and engravings.

Consider for a moment the words of Winston Churchill about his rival and successor, Labour Party Prime Minister, Clement Attlee: “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. Indeed, he has a lot to be modest about.” While there may be merit in being modest, I do hold the opinion that LAC would benefit greatly from raising its public profile by showcasing more of its collections and services. In support of this vision, I have only to look at what’s happening in LAC Perspectives: the exhibition Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity, curated by Meaghan Scanlon, is on display in Ottawa at 395 Wellington until September 14; and LAC’s recent decision to move its Atlantic client services, currently housed in an industrial park in Dartmouth, closer to the centre of Halifax, to the popular, more frequented Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Ars est celare artem? Not really: ours is the business of revealing art.

Happy reading, and be sure to pass our secrets and hidden meanings on!

Guy Berthiaume, Bibliothécaire et archiviste du Canada

Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

Outsmarting the Enemy before Enigma

— By Marcelle Cinq-Mars, Archivist

Two small faded books, worn with extensive use, have occupied a place for years in the Sir J.W. Flavelle fonds of Library and Archives Canada. At first glance, there is nothing special about them to catch your eye. But once you open them, everything changes. You discover that these seemingly nondescript books conceal a secret chapter in the history of the First World War. They reveal a world where spies and saboteurs, hiding around every corner, stopped at nothing in their pursuit to destroy the enemy.

There is little known about the history of espionage, or “war in the shadows.” Many of us have heard of the famous Enigma machine that the Germans used during the Second World War to encrypt their messages, and the heroes of Bletchley Park who succeeded in cracking its code. But few of us realize that it was the lessons in the use of codes learned 30 years earlier that made any of this possible.

Communication media in the early part of the 20th century involved technologies of the telegraph and wireless telegraphy. The latter incorporated cutting-edge radio wave technology. Both technologies were highly susceptible to sabotage or interception: it was simply a matter of cutting a few wires on telegraph poles, severing undersea cables, or installing antennas in the right locations.

In August 1914, Europe was on the brink of war. Anticipating its own imminent entry into the conflict, Britain deployed a special vessel off the German coast. The mission: to locate Germany’s undersea telegraph cable. Just hours after Britain declared war on Germany, the ship’s crew dredged and severed the cable.

A few weeks later, the Russians recovered a secret German code book from a sunken vessel and shared it with the British. The Allies now had the keys to decode enemy transmissions. Without the undersea cable, the German army was reduced to using landline telegraphs, which left their communications vulnerable to interception by counter-espionage units.

It was imperative to code all outgoing and incoming transmissions. To that end, communications specialists developed codes so secret that no one could decipher them.

The British began by compiling a list of numbers associated with each word in the dictionary. Using that list, the War Office in London produced two small books, one for encrypting outgoing messages and the other for decrypting those received. But this posed a serious risk: if one of the books fell into enemy hands, all communications could easily be decrypted. To avoid such a risk, codes were changed regularly, and all obsolete books had to be burned or returned to the War Office.

Authorities in the United Kingdom set up two units to intercept and decode enemy communications: the famous MI1 of the War Office and “Room 40” of the Royal Navy. The latter decrypted a crucial telegram from German ambassador Arthur Zimmermann, proposing that Mexico invade the United States to divert it from the conflict in Europe. Upon learning of the plot, the President of the United States had no hesitation but to lead his country into war against Germany.

With war declared, the Canadian government’s first counter-espionage measure was to ban the possession of wireless telegraphy systems. Many of the systems were seized for the duration of the conflict. Anyone in possession of such equipment was not only subject to a heavy fine but also to a prison sentence!

Canada used a secret diplomatic code to communicate with Britain. Messages from the Imperial Munitions Board of Canada were particularly important, as the Board oversaw the manufacture of arms and ammunition for the Allies, crucial supplies in the war effort. Communications had to be conducted with the utmost secrecy, especially for shipping goods via sea convoys, which were constantly preyed upon by German U-boats. Accordingly, the Board’s Chairman, Joseph Wesley Flavelle, was issued two “Top Secret” code books.

Clearly printed on the first page of each code book was an order from the War Office stipulating that the book be kept under lock and key at all times, and returned immediately when deemed obsolete. It is perhaps fortunate that someone disobeyed that order because these two code books, which men risked their lives to obtain or protect, are now part of Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

When the Second World War broke out, the Germans moved quickly to implement the ultimate encryption machine: the incredible Enigma. The British were prepared as well, and set up a special counter-espionage team at Bletchley Park. Thus, little secret code books became a thing of the past, and the world of espionage turned the page on a thrilling chapter of its history.

Life at Library and Archives Canada: Learning a Little about a Lot by Alexandra Clemence

— By Alexandra Clemence, Reference Librarian

If variety is the spice of life, then reference work is a lot like life. Beyond the thrill of finding that precise piece of information that resolves a difficult question, one of the perks of my job is the amazing range of topics that I get to explore. From the cultural history of sugar shacks to Dutch orchestral competitions, I end up learning a little about a lot as a Reference Librarian at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). In my first year in Reference Services, working alongside other librarians, archivists and technicians, I have learned a great deal about Canada and its people. From among the many highlights, a few stand out as particularly memorable.

One request came from a client attempting to shed some light on the identity of a man in a photo. Having seen the photo “North West Mounted Police in the Yukon 1898–1899” on our website, the client wondered if one of the Mounties pictured might be a Corporal Skirving. As the story goes, Skirving led a mission to rescue some missing prospectors in 1899, became separated from his party chasing a dog thief to Circle City, and was feared lost until four months later when he returned to Dawson City. The client wanted to know which Skirving brother led the rescue effort, Herbert or George, as both were in the North West Mounted Police at the time. LAC happened to hold the personnel records of both Skirving brothers and I was able to find a copy of George’s official report of the rescue mission, as well as a detailed physical description of the man himself, down to the cast in his eye.

Even well-documented events can reveal unexpected human dimensions that help bring their significance home. The sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland in 1914, and the resulting loss of 1,012 lives, is notorious in Canadian maritime history. One client had been searching for some time for the names and professions of the crew members who made the serendipitous decision to desert the Empress just days before the disaster. Most sources mention that there were seven lucky deserters, but provide no additional details about their identity. After much fruitless searching, I began to suspect that the story of these crewmen was apocryphal, until I chanced on a list of their names and occupations—as well as those of their unfortunate replacements—in a published work based in part on our own Department of Marine archival fonds. What those fortunate men must have felt upon hearing the news, I cannot imagine.

Finally, there are those requests that lead well into uncharted research waters, such as when a client alerted me to the saga of the beavers of Patagonia. It turns out that, in 1946, Canada sent 50 live beavers to Tierra del Fuego at the request of the Argentinian government, which was intent on fostering a fur industry in the area at the time. That plan fell through, however, and with no natural predators, the beaver population grew unfettered from the original 50 to a staggering 200,000! Although the ecological disaster their importation caused the region is sobering, there are some very amusing tidbits about the beavers’ first foray south by plane, train and boat, including an incident when they chewed through their enclosures in Pan Am’s Miami office and ran amok, sending the typists clambering onto their desks for safety.

From the completely unknown to the mundane at first glance—and all the family mysteries in between—it has proven a fascinating first year for me at LAC. And I am very pleased to say that I have no idea what my next request will bring.

"My Beloved Zoé" by Théo Martin

— By Théo Martin, Archivist

There are real treasures to unearth in the archives of Canadian political figures within the collection of Library and Archives Canada. Among the briefing notes, ministerial records, and voters’ correspondence, you can sometimes find the personal papers of a politician from the past that reveal a very private, human side.

The fonds of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister, contains a bundle of personal letters written to Zoé Lafontaine between 1863 and 1890. This intimate correspondence reveals Laurier’s romantic and caring feelings toward the woman he would one day marry.

Wilfrid, a talented, 20-year-old law student from Saint-Lin, Quebec, had been living in Montreal at the home of Dr. Séraphin Gauthier since 1861. It was there that he met Zoé Lafontaine, a beautiful young woman and fellow tenant. What began as a friendship quickly blossomed into a romance. Between 1861 and 1864, while Wilfrid was completing his studies, the two developed a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

In the years that followed, Wilfrid worked for the newspaper L’Union nationale and spoke out against the proposed Confederation project. In 1866, he left Montreal for the Arthabaska region to head up the newspaper Le Défricheur. He first settled in Victoriaville, and then in nearby Arthabaskaville.

Wilfrid’s letters from that time express his total devotion to his sweetheart. His words, both poetic and tender, were chosen with great care:

The days seem immeasurably long to me, and I feel prey to that terrible malady called melancholy. I had thought it was impossible to love you more than I did before. But now I begin to believe the contrary. I believe I love you now more than ever. That is the only way to explain the indescribable desire I have to see you again.
— Arthabaskaville, December 26, 1867

Wilfrid’s outpourings of affection were often followed by other news, notably of his growing interest in regional political life. His words are those of a conscientious man, devoted to his region and deeply invested in liberal values:

I am still not sure which turn my candidacy will take. There was a large meeting in Arthabaskaville on Sunday, attended by at least a thousand people, three quarters of whom were my supporters. However, there is another Liberal candidate in the running—Mr. Thibodeau from Stanfold—and I dare not throw my hat in the ring whilst he is in the race, for fear of dividing the party.
— Victoriaville, August 1, 1867

However much Wilfrid professed his love for Zoé, he hesitated to ask her to marry him. He suffered from chronic bronchitis but believed he had tuberculosis. He did not want to become a burden to her. In this excerpt, as in many of his letters, Wilfrid is reassuring as he shares his concern:

I was right as rain the whole day long, except for a little weakness, but my chest was completely clear. I hasten to write to you, my beloved, for I know you will be disappointed if you receive no letter today. I beg you not to distress yourself. My illness is not at all serious this time. I am able to walk, go out for fresh air, and my colour remains unchanged!
— Victoriaville, July 6, 1867

Yet Zoé perceived this reluctance to propose as a rejection. In May 1868, she offered her hand in marriage to another suitor. But Dr. Gauthier convinced Wilfrid to plight his troth, and the couple wed on May 13, 1868.

In his letter to Zoé, Wilfrid expresses his happiness to be married at last and to feel loved:

I take my role as a married man very seriously and continue to receive numerous congratulations….Ah! My dear angel, it is so sweet to feel your love. It is so sweet to tell myself: I am the one to have captured her heart, I am the one she has chosen among all others.
— Arthabaskaville, May 15, 1868

He also recounts the little joys of each day, as in this excerpt about one of the couple’s pets:

Miss Topsey is adamant to take the place of her absent mistress. Whilst I am getting ready for bed, she hides under the bed, and I call in vain for her to come take her usual place. But she does not budge. It is when I get into bed that she comes out of hiding and thumps her tail on the floor until I decide to take her in with me.
— Arthabaskaville, April 2, 1871

After the wedding, the couple settled in Arthabaskaville, where they would have a permanent home built in 1876. Before then, however, Wilfrid became increasingly involved in politics. In 1871, he was elected as the member of the provincial Legislative Assembly for Drummond-Arthabaska. This marked a new chapter in his political career, which would inevitably have repercussions on their marriage.

Although Wilfrid and Zoé continued to write to each other, their letters became infrequent and less passionate over the years. During their marriage, Wilfrid maintained a relationship with Émilie Barthe (Lavergne), exchanging letters with her for many years. Despite this, Wilfrid would choose to spend the rest of his life with Zoé.

The Otherworldly Side of Mackenzie King

— By Anna Lehn, Writer-Editor

Many of us know William Lyon Mackenzie King as an author and a past prime minister of Canada. What we might not know is that he was also a spiritualist, a fact that became apparent only after his death in 1950.

Library and Archives Canada holds King’s personal book collection, which reflects his varied interests in poetry, biography, history and philosophy. It also reveals his fascination with the occult, mysticism, automatic writing, and psychic phenomena.

We can gain some insight into King’s thoughts by examining his pencil markings along the margins in his books, usually a vertical line beside a given passage. Often he marked multiple parallel lines—presumably the more lines there were, the greater the importance of the passage to him.

A devout Presbyterian, King turned to spiritualism for comfort following the close deaths of his sister, parents and brother between 1915 and 1922. In The True Light, King marked these passages: “Death is the putting off of the physical body and a rebirth in the super-physical realms” and “…life in the super-physical worlds—is the normal state of existence.”

Delving into the spirit world, King sought advice from mediums and fortune tellers. He met Mrs. Etta Wriedt of Detroit in 1932 and attended several of her séances. King noted this description of a séance in Man’s Survival After Death: “Frequently two or more voices are heard speaking loudly…at the same time that Mrs. Wriedt is conversing or explaining matters.” He also marked the passage in which the author endorses her: “I can bear the strongest possible testimony to the psychic power, perfect honesty and good faith of Mrs. Wriedt.”

In The True Light, King marked another passage, perhaps as a reminder to him of the true motivation for contacting the dead: “Spirit manifestation of any kind should be sought only for a spiritual purpose, and then with the reverence and devotional feeling which are the proper accompaniment of spiritual things.”

King continued to explore the spirit world into later life, writing about it in his diary and collecting works on the subject. King’s diary and books are great reads to gain a better understanding of his interest in spiritualism and his desire to connect with the hereafter.

Out from Under

— By Sandra Nicholls, Senior Writer and Speechwriter with contributions from Manise Marston, Book Conservator, Leah Cohen, Librarian and Curator, and Michael Kent, Curator

Most of us have seen a redacted or censored document, usually on television, covered with so much black ink, you can’t read the juicy bits! But what if you could remove all that black and reveal some of the text underneath? And what if the document was a rare 16th-century religious text? Such was the case for Akedat Yitshak [The Binding of Isaac], a book from the famous Jacob M. Lowy Collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

This collection took a lifetime to assemble. For over 40 years, Jacob M. Lowy collected old and rare books printed between the 15th and 20th centuries. They are in Hebrew, in Latin, in Yiddish, and more. In 1977, he donated all 3,000 of them to LAC as well as a small library of reference works. The collection includes first and early editions of the Talmud, 34 Hebrew, Latin and Italian incunables, and over 120 editions of Bibles in many languages, including Inuktitut.

And of course, the collection includes an edition of Akedat Yitshak, by Isaac Ben Moses Arama, printed in Venice between 1546 and 1547. Arama was a Rabbi and a philosopher in Spain who lived from 1420 to 1494 and died shortly before the expulsion. At that time, the Jews in Spain were the subjects of numerous sermons designed to convert them to Christianity. To offset this, Arama delivered his own sermons on the values of Judaism. These sermons formed the basis of Akedat Yitshak, his best known work.

So, who was so intent on hiding sections in Arama’s book, and why? The Catholic Church in Italy deemed it necessary to expurgate phrases from texts it perceived as heretical or offensive to Christianity, everything from references to non‑Jews, or nokhrim, to passages thought to be critical of The New Testament. The Church hired censors to cross out or revise such sections. Some of the censors were Jews who had already converted to Christianity. Censors often signed their work, and the signature of one of the busiest censors, Dominico Irosolimitano, is found in the Lowy edition of Akedat Yitshak.

After seeing evidence of the censor’s work in Akedat Yitshak, curator Leah Cohen sent the book to the LAC Preservation Centre laboratory for restoration. Undaunted by the amount of work ahead of her, book conservator Manise Marston began the arduous task of restoring an original 16th-century text, with the watermark still visible in the bottom left-hand corner. This involved stabilizing large areas of text that had been blocked by the iron gall ink the censor had used. Iron gall ink was popular in the 16th century because it was easy and inexpensive to make at home.

Several specific areas of the printed text were in very poor condition due to the degradation of the corroding inks. These areas of iron gall ink were heavy and covered the entire printed area, some in large paragraphs, others just words or sentences. Most of the inks, however, were in stable, or fair condition. In total, there were 38 pages containing iron gall ink that needed to be stabilized, an estimated treatment time of almost 200 hours.

The various components in iron gall ink together can oxidize over time. Most of the inks lead to an excess of iron (II) sulphate, which continues to break down or corrode. Measures can be taken to slow the process and prevent further degradation. These are essential because, in the worst case scenario, the corroded ink can actually eat right through the paper causing total loss and holes.

Marston applied the latest, state-of-the-art treatment, using Berlin tissue and gelatin-based adhesive. This specialized tissue can be challenging to make and even trickier to apply. Berlin tissue is very thin, and the gelatin has to be just the right thickness. Added to this, the ethanol used to activate the adhesive has to be the right amount, not too much or not enough, or the tissue will not stick.

As if that was not a major challenge in itself, Marston also had to deal with the added level of complexity that a book, or bound item, presents. She used a suction plate, which was often smaller than the area to be treated. And each time she treated an area, she had to readjust the book bookusing weights to support the text block in the right position while she adhered the tissue and applied additional weights until it dried. Each treatment took approximately five to seven minutes to apply on each side of the page.

But Marston’s perseverance and patience paid off. She suc cessfully treated all areas with the Berlin tissue, stabilizing the corroded areas and holding back the degradation process. Arama’s work has been restored, and certain passages, hidden for so long, have been revealed. The work of the censor’s pen proved to be no match for LAC’s book conservator, or the magic of 21st-century book restoration.

Keeping Secrets Secret

— By William Benoit, Exhibitions and Online Content Division

Encryption is not new. In the age of the telegram, the Canadian government, military and police used encryption or encoding to facilitate private communication of a sensitive, strategic, or secret nature. The exchange of coded telegrams and letters was a common practice between high-ranking officials.

Library and Archives Canada holds documentation relating to events in the North-West Resistance of 1885 that represent a critical moment in the history of the Métis Nation. This documentation shows that communication existed between individuals in the Office of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, as well as with the Superintendent‑General of Indian Affairs, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Militia and Defence, and the North West Mounted Police.

An illustration of this is seen in Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney’s note to Sir John A. Macdonald enclosing a telegram from Quebec lawyer François-Xavier Lemieux to Louis Riel that the government had intercepted. Dewdney acknowledges his own use of code words and a cipher book:

[I] enclose the telegram sent to Riel from Lemieux—you will see one word change in my telegram, farewell instead of parting, no such word as parting being in the Cypher [sic] book.
Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney to Sir John A. Macdonald, November 16, 1885. Edgar Dewdney fonds, MG 27-IC, vol. 1, p. 43312.

Using a cipher book, officials wrote messages in code (or cipher) to conceal facts and to prevent unauthorized access to confidential information. Often there was no subject indicated, only the names of the correspondents, the locations and dates of transmission. In some instances, the words of the original plain text were replaced with code words, creating a jumbled or nonsensical text. In other examples, the first and second letters of the code words were keys to the real words, which began with the same lettering. This is the case in the partially decoded telegram from Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor Lawrence Clarke to Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney, which relates to the number of Métis and their activities at Batoche.

Messages in cipher had to be decoded first and then interpreted before the contents could be known. Two sequential telegrams in the correspondence file of Sir John A. Macdonald, sent from Regina on the same date and signed by Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney, might suggest that each communicates the same message. Although the first coded telegram could not be decoded, the second one is very explicit about Louis Riel having been executed as directed. The message in cipher states: “Hindrance Carabine avenger dissipating anodyne rebutted provided Silas bristling Shy brown figurative.” The latter reads: “Hanged, buried as directed. All quiet prisoner wished body sent St. Boniface.”

Historically, a large number of messages written in cipher have never been decoded, and few offer hints as to their meaning. Without the cipher book that was used at the time, unravelling any clues to these codes may never be possible. Will these secrets remain secret forever?

Picturing Early New Brunswick

— By Rob Fisher, Senior Archivist

British military artists made an important but little-known contribution to documenting Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries. They created magnificent original drawings and watercolours that provide an invaluable historical record and a rare glimpse of Canada before Confederation. Some of the most interesting but less familiar works picture scenes of early New Brunswick.

The British military was a large and enduring presence in Canadian life between the Seven Years’ War in the 1750s and the removal of their garrisons after Confederation in 1867. The British army incorporated artistic instruction into its formal training, valuing the ability to sketch topography or landscape as a useful skill; to study and know the ground was an important aspect of military planning. Officers were trained to draw in pencil and watercolour on paper, a medium favoured over oil painting for its practicality in the field. They used sketchbooks, which were easy to carry from one location to the next.1

Though much of their artwork focuses on military subject matter, it also reflects the wider colonial world they saw around them. Many of the works portray historic buildings and landscapes, ships and other forms of transportation, customs, pastimes, social events, and interactions between Europeans and Indigenous peoples.

Beyond its aesthetic merit, art provides the best visual heritage before photography. The sheer weight of this artistic output, however, means that the visual record of early New Brunswick is seen largely through British military eyes. Thankfully, the wives and daughters of British officers were often accomplished artists themselves, and their works add another perspective on provincial society.

There are more than 20 British military artists who produced views of early New Brunswick that survive for this period. Captain John Campbell (1807–1855) came to New Brunswick as aide-de-camp to his father, Sir Archibald Campbell, Lieutenant-Governor from 1831 to 1837. His sister, Helen Maria Campbell (1811–1899) was also a talented artist. They both left a rich legacy of watercolours and prints, depicting scenes of Fredericton life, views in and around Government House, and portraits of the Maliseet people.

Overlapping with the Campbells’ time in Fredericton, Lieutenant Robert Petley (1809–1869) served with the Rifle Brigade in Fredericton and Halifax from 1831 to 1836. On his return to England, he published Sketches in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (1837), a series of prints that includes a view of Fredericton from the Oromocto Road.2 Perhaps not readily apparent in this view is the fine detail of the homes and other buildings along the hillside leading into town.

While Campbell and Petley are better known, Ensign Edward Denne Nares (1831–1878) is more of a mystery. He served briefly in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the 97th Regiment of Foot, between 1850 and 1852, but resigned his commission in 1854 to study at Oxford.3 Canadian art dealer G. Blair Laing purchased an album of Nares’ sketches in England, in 1958, for a modest amount. The sketches lay forgotten in his storeroom for 20 years, until he rediscovered them when writing his memoirs. In an unusual gesture, he added an original work of art to each of the numbered limited edition volumes of Memoirs of an Art Dealer, including many works by Nares.

Library and Archives Canada holds numbered editions of Laing’s two-volume memoirs in the Rare Book Collection. An original watercolour by Nares depicting the St. John River, entitled Below Keswick Ridge accompanies edition No. 91 of the second volume.4 Though Laing may have sold some of Nares’ works individually, most were likely distributed with his memoirs. A handful of these sketches are now held in cultural institutions, yet the whereabouts of most of them is unknown.

The examples of Campbell, Petley and Nares serve to illustrate the legacy and historical value of the works by many military artists active between 1755 and 1867. With the withdrawal of the British garrisons after Confederation, this rich output of military art waned. By then, the province was increasingly represented in works by domestic artists and photographers.

LAC Perspectives

Halifax / Enhanced Access to Services

— By Benjamin Ellis, Project Officer

LAC is redefining its presence in Halifax by offering clients in Atlantic Canada improved access to services in a central location already buzzing with cultural activity. Having signed an agreement to share space with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, LAC is planning to provide services directly to the public from within the newly renovated national museum. The focus of operations will shift from acquisition and storage to client service, community engagement, outreach and public programming. This innovative, collaborative arrangement will see many benefits for both organizations and will maximize LAC’s ability to carry out its national mandate. The new services will launch in January 2017.

Halifax / Recordkeeping Day

— By Leah Rae, Archivist

The Halifax Regional Services team held Atlantic Canada’s first Recordkeeping Day on March 22 at Dalhousie University. The day featured guest speakers from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the Canada School of Public Service, Dalhousie University and LAC. Federal government employees working in records management were among the attendees as well as faculty and students from Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management and library staff. Presentations included updates on information management strategies in the federal government, GCDOCS (the management system for government records), regional services, Open Government initiatives, and LAC’s disposition and recordkeeping activities.

Ottawa / Alter Ego

— By Steven Artelle, Analyst

This summer, LAC will shed its mild-mannered disguise to transform into the super-powered site of Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity. The exhibition presented at 395 Wellington Street showcases great Canadian comic book artists, classic Canadian superheroes, and a range of Canada’s outstanding contributions to the genre of biographical and realist comics. Alter Ego runs from May 12 to September 14, 2016. Meanwhile, LAC staff were also among the superheroes, space aliens, and film stars at Ottawa Comiccon in May. Visitors to that event had the opportunity to discuss comic books of the past and present with LAC experts, and to learn about the amazing super powers of librarians and archivists!

Gatineau / Fore-Edge Paintings

— By Meaghan Scanlon, Special Collections Librarian

A delightful surprise hides behind the gilt edges of some of the books in LAC’s Rare Book Collection. When the pages of these books are fanned open, miniature works of art are revealed. Called “fore-edge paintings” because they appear on a book’s front or “fore” edge, these images are painted on a tiny area at the outermost margin of the surface of each page rather than directly on the fore-edge. As a result of this artful technique, the image disappears when the book is closed. LAC staff have so far located 12 volumes with fore-edge paintings in the Rare Book Collection, including one of a New Brunswick logging scene. Who knows if there are others yet to be discovered? For more images of fore-edge paintings from the collection, see LAC’s Flickr album.

Winnipeg / PFRA Records

— By David Cuthbert, Archivist

LAC’s Winnipeg office recently received about 15,000 photographic prints and negatives from the files of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA). These are in addition to the already substantial volume of PFRA records the office holds. The federal government founded the PFRA in 1935 in response to the drought and soil degradation afflicting the Canadian prairies. For over 75 years, the PFRA worked in Western Canada to develop rural water resources and to promote sustainable farming practices. Their records document activities ranging from major engineering projects to the cultivation of community pastures and shelterbelts. In balancing the demands of sustainable development and conservation, the PFRA and its history may hold important lessons for the future.

Vancouver / Canada Place Turns 30

— By Caitlin Webster, Archivist

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Vancouver’s Expo 86, a world exposition celebrating the themes of transportation and communication. The Government of Canada’s contribution to this fair included the design, construction and management of Canada Place, a spectacular facility that houses a cruise ship terminal, a host pavilion (now a convention centre), and a hotel. Incorporated in 1982, the Canada Harbour Place Corporation began the work to fulfill this federal mandate. LAC holds the records of Canada Harbour Place Corporation, which provide fascinating details about the creative development and celebrations of Canada Place. These comprise architectural drawings, artists’ renderings, specifications for an IMAX Theatre and other audiovisual resources, planning notes and minutes of committees and working groups, as well as photographs documenting the construction of this Vancouver landmark, its special events and numerous visitors.

Spilling Secrets

Who better to describe the treasures hidden in the archives donated to Library and Archives Canada than the donors themselves?

That is what we offer to audiences in our new Signatures Series of feature interviews with well-known guests who speak candidly, even spill secrets, about the archives they’ve donated.

Host and Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume has interviewed three donors since our series launched last winter:

  • The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, Canada’s prime minister from 1993 to 2003
  • Sarah Jennings, journalist and author of a book on the history of the National Arts Centre
  • Jacques Godbout, writer, publisher and filmmaker

The series is open to the public and takes place at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa. Each interview explores documents from the donor’s collection, and a video of the discussion is posted on our website.

Fascinating discussions are in store for audiences this fall! Editorial cartoonist from the newspaper Le Droit, Guy Badeaux, better known as Bado, will join us on September 20 at 12:15 p.m. We will also have the opportunity to talk with former prime minister, the Right Honourable Joe Clark later in the season.

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