Signatures, Spring/Summer 2020

Signatures spring-summer 2020 cover page showing a polychrome illustration of a multicolored  tulip field at sundown

Signatures, Spring/Summer 2020
Print version PDF 1.77 MB


— By Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

Leslie Weir
Photo: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

These enlightening words from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard speak volumes about Library and Archives Canada (LAC) as we set forth into a new decade. While we remain committed to preserving the documentary heritage of Canada and being a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, we are also hard at work engaging with the Canadian public, developing partnerships and embarking on pursuits that will enable LAC to move ahead in socially inclusive, and economically and environmentally sustainable, ways.

As a guardian of the past in a new era, LAC is committed to fostering practices, initiatives and collaborations that preserve and highlight our rich collection through innovative and ecologically thoughtful methods. With that in mind, this issue of Signatures includes an overview by our colleague Patrick Latulippe of the many ways that LAC is contributing toward the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is a shared blueprint for partnership, peace and prosperity for all people and the planet.

One of our most relevant endeavours to date when it comes to sustainable development is our future state-of-the-art preservation facility in Gatineau, Quebec, scheduled to open in 2022. In their article, Jennifer Côté, Nathalie Ethier and Lisa Hennessey discuss this world-class project in detail, including the records it is set to break; it will become not only the first federal building to exceed the requirements for “net-zero carbon ready” construction, but also the largest archival storage facility in the world equipped with an automated storage and retrieval system—the perfect alliance between sustainability, innovation and efficiency!

It is only natural in this day and age that LAC should collaborate and partner with the public and other memory institutions and community organizations to maximize access to Canada’s documentary heritage. From collaborating with museums and municipal archives on special activities, programs and exhibitions (see Nicole Halloran’s “Preserving a Diversity of Voices and Experiences,” Madeleine Trudeau’s “Portraits at Glenbow: The Art of Change” and, in the LAC Perspectives section, Leah Rae’s “Nocturne”) to facilitating digitization projects for individuals, community groups and Indigenous organizations (see Caitlin Webster’s “DigiLab Launch” in LAC Perspectives), LAC continuously strives to make Canada’s history more widely known.

In the same vein, learn about the remarkable level of partnership and public consultation that was involved in inspiring the architectural design and user experience for the new joint facility that will host LAC and Ottawa Public Library, as described in “Come Together” by Sylvain Salvas. I also encourage you to discover how LAC promotes its collection, services and events, and fosters public engagement and feedback in real time, in Cécile Lemaire’s overview of our innovative social media presence.

Another way that LAC strives to honour and share its collection is through Signatures magazine. I invite you to explore Geneviève Couture’s article on the careers of painters John Colin Forbes and his son Kenneth Keith Forbes, as well as Christine Waltham’s piece on author and artist Thomas King, who is well known for his humorous takes on the contemporary Indigenous experience in North America.

From ensuring the continued discoverability of the collection, to exploring innovative ways to engage with the public and enhance user experience, to contributing to quality education, gender equality and the preservation of cultures and languages in Canada, all of us at LAC are working tirelessly to positively shape a sustainable and inclusive tomorrow.

Signature of Leslie Weir 

Leslie Weir
Librarian and Archivist of Canada


Working Toward the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

— By Patrick Latulippe, Analyst, Stakeholder Relations and International Affairs Division

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a shared blueprint for partnership, peace and prosperity for all people and the planet. It was unanimously adopted by the member states of the United Nations (UN) in September 2015. The 2030 Agenda sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to address today’s social, economic and environmental challenges. The SDGs are linked to specific targets and indicators, to ensure that they are described in detail and efficiently measurable.

Organizations, countries, cities and communities worldwide are launching programs and initiatives to promote and engage with these goals. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is leading Canada’s efforts toward the SDGs; the strategy is outlined in the 2030 Agenda National Strategy.footnote1 As well as measuring and reporting on Canada’s progress and actions to achieve the SDGs at home and abroad, the ESDC is also offering grants and contributions to Canadians under the Sustainable Development Goals Funding Program.footnote2

Statistics Canada (StatCan) is a key partner for the ESDC since it reports on Canada’s data for the global SDG indicators and works as a coordinating body for the National Statistical System. StatCan is responsible for the collection, collation, analysis, presentation and dissemination of data for the regular monitoring of Canadian progress on the global indicators.

Series of 17 squares of various colours and pictograms, arranged on three rows and representing the objectives of the UN

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals poster.
Source: United Nations Department of Global Communications


How does LAC contribute toward the 2030 Agenda?

Core aspects of Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) mandate include preserving Canada’s documentary heritage and providing specialized description of its collection and published heritage, while ensuring their discoverability and access. As a result, one could argue that LAC is ultimately supporting the achievement of all 17 SDGs. However, to report efficiently on its contributions, LAC will need to measure the impacts of existing activities and/or monitor new policies and programs that contribute toward specific SDGs.

For example, Goal No. 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure includes fostering innovation. With projects such as DigiLab and Co-Lab, LAC is finding new and innovative ways to engage with the public, by making users actively participate in making LAC’s collection more accessible and discoverable. Along with the upcoming design and construction of the new joint facility with Ottawa Public Library, there will be further examples of how LAC is committed to exploring new and innovative ways to enhance user experience, accessibility and discoverability with Canada’s national treasures.

LAC’s participation in the Canadian Archive of Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is another great initiative contributing to both SDG No. 10: Reduced Inequality and SDG No. 5: Gender Equality. According to StatCan, less than a quarter (23 percent) of Canada’s science and technology workers are women, and the numbers are similar in the fields of engineering and mathematics.footnote3 To help address this inequality, LAC is collaborating with the University of Ottawa Library and the Education and Research Institute of the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists to promote its collection of Canadian women working in STEM. With the creation of the Canadian Archive of Women in STEM, LAC is increasing traction and visibility of its close to 30 archival fonds related to women in STEM, for the benefit of current and future researchers, to document the history of women who have contributed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Canada.

Could providing greater access to Canada’s documentary heritage be viewed as a way of contributing to SDG No. 4: Quality Education? With Voilà, Canada’s new National Union Catalogue, and Aurora, a brand-new interface to access LAC’s own published holdings, LAC offers the Canadian library community world-class services to display the richness of Canada’s documentary heritage. The new integrated library management system includes tools for both inventory and description of published heritage so that it becomes searchable and accessible to all. This project could represent an invaluable example of how LAC is contributing toward SDG No. 4, by preserving and making Canada’s documentary heritage accessible to all.

LAC’s tangible steps to protect and preserve cultures and languages in Canada can be seen as supporting SDG No. 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. For example, the Listen, Hear Our Voices initiative aims to help digitize and preserve First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation culture and language recordings by offering both funding and digitization services. This initiative resulted from active engagement and collaboration with Indigenous communities across Canada. Hired by LAC, seven archivists, based in traditional territories, are delivering tailored services and help local organizations with funding applications. Through this initiative and many others, LAC is actively engaged with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities, to ensure and promote cultural inclusion as well as preservation of cultural heritage for future generations.

These examples are just a few of the ways that LAC contributes toward the UN Agenda 2030. LAC will work with colleagues, partners and stakeholders to explore and report on how existing and/or new policies, activities and programs align with the SDGs. LAC is well positioned to do its part in positively shaping a sustainable and inclusive tomorrow.



Preserving a Diversity of Voices and Experiences

— By Nicole Halloran, Senior Analyst, Governance, Liaison and Partnerships

Black and white photo showing batter, catcher and baseball referee with spectators, trees, and mountainside in the background

Jim Fukui batting for the Asahi baseball team, circa 1942.
Source: Nikkei National Museum,
2010., Molly and Jim Fukui Collection


Canada’s ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is a treasure for our nearly 38 million people. They can count on a vital resource to get to know each other better, individually and collectively: Library and Archives Canada (LAC). As a guardian of the past as well as of recent history, LAC acquires, processes, preserves and disseminates the country’s documentary heritage, and it is the permanent memory of the federal government and its institutions.

Black and white photo showing 11 medallions arranged on 3 rows, of asian baseball players

Asahi baseball team, Vancouver International League champions, 1919.
Source: Nikkei National Museum, 2010., Ed and Muriel Kitagawa Collection

In this digital age, LAC must work with experts and memory institutions to maximize access by all Canadians to their history. For this reason, the organization established the Documentary Heritage Communities Program in 2015. Each year, the program provides $1.5 million to organizations across the country to help them promote and preserve their collections and make them more accessible.

Since 2015, LAC has distributed $7.5 million to 145 recipient organizations, supporting 217 projects that reflect the richness of our history.

Here is an overview of three projects funded in the 2019–2020 cycle of the program.

The ArQuives (Toronto, Ontario)

Since 1973, The ArQuives (formerly the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives) has been acquiring and preserving materials that record the history of the LGBTQ2+ community.

One of its projects is to process two collections with more than 10 linear metres of textual documents.

The first collection consists of the Community One Foundation (formerly the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal) fonds. This non-profit organization supports individuals and groups that enhance the development of LGBTTIQQ2S communities in the Greater Toronto Area.

The second collection consists of the AIDS Action Now! fonds. This activist group was established in the 1980s in response to government and medical inaction during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Portion of a handwritten letter in Polish dated July 26th, 1969

Correspondence received by Wladyslaw (Walter) Wazny from his family in Ruda Rozaniecka, Poland.
Source: Ogniwo Polish Museum Archives, A-2018-02, Wladyslaw Wazny fonds

Print consisting of black-on-white texts assemblage with colored flower in the centre, showing title, location, date and favorable reviews

Box office poster for the Toronto Free Theatre’s 1986 production of As Is, proceeds donated to the AIDS Committee of Toronto for work in community education and AIDSupport services.
Source: AIDS Committee of Toronto fonds, F0062, The ArQuives, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ogniwo Polish Museum Society Inc. (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

The mission of the Ogniwo Polish Museum is to raise awareness of the Polish experience in Canada. While also exploring current themes, the museum presents the history of Polish immigrants in an interactive way, to bridge the gap between generations. “Ogniwo” (pronounced oh-GNEE-voh) means “links” in Polish.

The museum’s project involves processing approximately 8 metres of textual and photographic records and 20 GB of electronic records documenting the Polish experience in Canada.

Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre (Burnaby, British Columbia)

The museum was created to honour, preserve and share Japanese-Canadian history and heritage for a better Canada.

The Home Run at Powell Street project will process, describe, digitize and make accessible nearly 2,330 photographs, 1.5 linear metres of textual documents and 12 oral histories about the legendary Asahi baseball team and the historic Powell Street neighbourhood in Vancouver. One of the oldest Japanese-Canadian communities settled there in the 1800s; it was forced out during the Second World War.

Front of stamped and stained envelope showing 4 Polish stamps, recipient’s name and address, and an ‘par avion’ (in French) label

Envelope that held correspondence received by Wladyslaw (Walter) Wazny from his family in Ruda Rozaniecka, Poland.
Source: Ogniwo Polish Museum Archives, A-2018-02, Wladyslaw Wazny fonds

The need to document these treasures reflecting the diversity of our country led LAC to decide to extend the Documentary Heritage Communities Program without an end date. This will allow LAC to continue to work with Canadian memory institutions to promote and provide access to our heritage.

Visit LAC’s website to see the projects funded since 2015.


Social Media: A Great Tool to Master

— By Cécile Lemaire, Director, Digital and Corporate Communications

Color photo showing 2 wrapped spoons, a fir branch, 2 Christmas balls and a slice of dried lemon on the right on a rustic board

Our promotional campaign for 12 Days of Vintage Cooking, a video series recreating recipes from cookbooks in LAC’s collection.
Source: Library and Archives Canada


Social media is one way for Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to showcase its rich collection. This fast, efficient and versatile tool can reach multiple audiences, at all hours, in all places, which is not always possible with so-called traditional means of communication. Direct communication without an intermediary allows feedback from the public, and response to that feedback. Many organizations use social media to adjust and update messaging in real time. More than ever, social media fosters dialogue and engagement.

Old modified black and white photo showing a bearded man holding an ancient phone at the bottom and the message ‘New phone, who dis?’ on top

A twist on a popular meme about avoiding people’s calls, featuring an image from LAC’s collection calling attention to the contribution of Alexander Graham Bell to our country’s heritage
Source: Library and Archives Canada

A strong government presence on social media depends on several factors: quality of content, timeliness, writing, credibility, speed, creativity, innovation, understanding the target audiences, relationships with internal clients, and support from senior management.

Emerging key trends include the personalities of the various channels and the clientele they reach. Some content works well on one channel and less well on others. For this reason, each of LAC’s accounts has its own personality and purpose: Twitter is for sending corporate and social messages, Facebook for telling stories, Instagram for explaining what happens behind the scenes at LAC, and YouTube for showing LAC’s audiovisual collection and corporate or informative videos.

These are the cornerstones of LAC’s social media strategy.

Over the past few years, the social media team, with the invaluable and essential support of content experts, has been able to increase Canadians’ interest in the LAC collection. To accomplish this, the team is promoting content of immediate interest to our various audiences:

  • Tools or initiatives, such as Co-Lab or Project Naming
  • Signature events, like the live streaming of Margaret Atwood’s book launch for The Testaments
  • Major acquisitions, for example, a book that once belonged to Adolf Hitler

To maintain our relationships with current subscribers and to attract new ones, we need to add content on our channels several times a day. This is where innovation and creativity are paramount. How can we focus attention on items in the collection that might go unnoticed and get users to discover the amazing collection on their own? And how can we promote, across Canada, LAC’s services and infrastructure projects, like the new preservation facility in Gatineau or the new joint facility with Ottawa Public Library?


Humour, variety in our posts, and being able to keep up with trends are all good ways to achieve these goals. Here are a few examples:

Montage consisting of a photo cut-out, with a title on the left, a signature, an invitation, a Youtube icon, and a date on the right as well as footer at the bottom

The graphic for Margaret Atwood’s book launch event, which was live streamed on LAC’s YouTube channel.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Colour photo entitled ‘Quick jellied salad (1959)’ showing a heart-shaped gelatin wafer dotted with ingredients, resting on a rustic board

One of the recipes featured in 12 Days of Vintage Cooking.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

  • Before Christmas, the social media team rolled up its sleeves and made festive dishes using recipes in vintage cookbooks from the collection. This was filmed in a video style popular on social networks. There was a lot of subscriber feedback and video sharing, and an increase in the online viewing of the featured cookbooks.
  • The team used the popular Smudge the Cat meme to skilfully inform people about the handling of rare books. The meme generated expert discussion and exposed a myth about the best practices in librarianship. In addition, traffic to LAC’s linked blog jumped by 1000 percent in just one day.
  • In 2018, a short video showing Santa bringing the list of naughty and nice children to LAC for safekeeping was used to promote the institution’s preservation facilities for valuable historical documents. We took the opportunity to describe LAC’s various services, including the genealogy reference service and the different storage rooms, and also to highlight the Preservation Centre’s exceptional architecture.
  • A photo posted on Star Wars Day, taken during a thankfully fictitious visit by Darth Vader, went viral. This villainous character was supposedly signing an agreement with LAC to make the new preservation facility (Gatineau 2 project) the permanent storage site for future Death Star plans. The photo helped to inform our subscribers (and Star Wars fans) that the new building would be modern and at the cutting edge of technology.
  • We captioned an image of Alexander Graham Bell with a hip phrase that people use to excuse their avoidance of a conversation. The clever juxtaposition of olden and modern times amused many Internet users.
Photographic montage showing a hand holding a book, a woman accompanied by another pointing her finger with a furious air, and a white cat in front of a dish of vegetables

A custom-made meme to pointedly address a pervasive criticism that LAC receives in its comments section.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Photo of 2 hands holding an open book showing Nazi symbols and the name 'Adolf Hitler' on the left and the publisher, the title, the author and the year (1944) on the right

A book acquired by LAC in 2019 that once belonged to Adolf Hitler.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Although admittedly satisfying, messages going viral are not always the best measure of success. Subscriber engagement is becoming increasingly important. There is still much to discover in the new science of social media and by working together.


Portraits at Glenbow: The Art of Change

— By Madeleine Trudeau, Acting Manager, Curatorial Services, Public Services Branch

Color photo showing an old analog dial scale with dial, weighing a clear labeled bag filled with white powder

James #2, Spring Hurlbut, 2005.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e008300450

Colour photo showing a wood sculpture consisting of an eagle at the top, a half face and white mane on the right and an embryo on the left on a stone pedestal

Our Future, Leo Arcand, undated.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e010675582

Mortality, renewal, commemoration: these are some of the themes explored in Metamorphosis: Contemporary Canadian Portraits, the latest exhibition collaboration between Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Calgary’s Glenbow museum.

The show includes 24 contemporary portraits drawn from LAC’s collection, as well as several from Glenbow’s holdings. Many move beyond traditional ideas of likeness, such as Toronto artist Spring Hurlbut’s unexpected and powerful James #2, a portrait created from the ashes of Hurlbut’s dead father. In the work, a scale is introduced as an overt, analytical reminder of James Hurlbut’s material transformation. The portrait is part of a series that documents the transition between life and death, initiating a creative process that Hurlbut describes as both sorrowful and therapeutic.

Time is also a central premise in Alberta Woodland Cree sculptor Leo Arcand’s complicated piece, Our Future. The sculpture encapsulates the entirety of a life’s span through its transformative anthropomorphic imagery. Human beings are merged with birds and animals, and even the soapstone and horsehair that Arcand chose form part of the work’s important message. These materials illustrate the sculptor’s deep sense of spirituality and his respect for the natural world: “I do not produce art, nor do I create it. I discover the spirit of each stone and together we decide its message.”

Vancouver artist Toni Latour’s Drag King Project represents a more playful commemoration of transformative renewal. The artist worked with Vancouver drag king troupes DK United and $3 Bill to produce the series, motivated by a “… desire for contributed queer representation from within queer communities—giving voice to one’s world can be both a declaration and a celebration.” Each double portrait captures the alter ego of one of the troupe members, contrasting a traditional, posed portrait with a vibrant, living “action shot”—dancing, interacting, performing. The exhibition includes 14 of the original 26 portraits that Latour created for the series.

By contrast, Winnipeg-born Métis artist Rosalie Favell creates an evocative, almost archival effect in her beautiful self-portrait Navigating by Our Grandmothers. As in many other of her works, Favell incorporates family photographs as a means of reflecting on her own ongoing experience as a contemporary Indigenous woman. Her self-portrait draws inspiration from the lives of both of her grandmothers, but most especially her Indigenous grandmother, a woman who maintained pride in her roots as well as enthusiasm for modern life. For Favell, this ancestor serves as a compass, helping her to navigate both of her worlds. Through this self-portrait, she pays a form of tribute to that guidance.

Medium shot color photo showing a young man with glasses and a goatee scratching his head wearing a sports jacket with t-shirt and a tie on top of a shirt

Edward Malaprop, Toni Latour, 2005.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e008300324

Color photo of a young man with glasses and goatee seen from the back, wearing a sports jacket , wide pants with cuffs, and sneakers

Edward Malaprop, Toni Latour, 2005.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e008300312

Photo montage consisting of a stratus at the top, a horse mounted with 2 girls in the middle, a lady holding a swaddled child and a lady in costume at the bottom, on a starry sky background

Navigating by Our Grandmothers, Rosalie Favell, 2000.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e008299800


Metamorphosis: Contemporary Canadian Portraits offers western Canadians the chance to experience a small but important selection of LAC’s contemporary portrait treasures. The exhibition runs from March 7, 2020, until January 3, 2021, at Glenbow, 130 9th Avenue SE, Calgary, Alberta.


The Thomas King Fonds: Revealing a Multi-faceted Artist

— By Christine Waltham, Archivist, Archives Branch

Typed text with handwritten annotations scattered throughout the page

First page of Thomas King’s April 28, 1992, draft of Green Grass, Running Water, with his annotations.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e011309011

In 2017, Library and Archives Canada acquired the fonds of author Thomas King. He is well known for his brilliantly humorous takes on the contemporary North American Indigenous experience in books such as Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; and The Inconvenient Indian. Many Canadians will also remember King for his writing and acting in the CBC radio series Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour. The fonds includes records from most facets of King’s work, predominantly from the 1990s to the mid-2010s, with some going back to 1968.

The majority of the records in the fonds are from King’s numerous writing projects, including novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry, edited collections, and film, television and radio work. There are handwritten notes and ideas for these works, as well as numerous typescripts, often heavily annotated. He also donated his original computer files with the drafts of his novels from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. These manuscripts reveal various aspects of King’s work processes, such as his editing cycle. In addition to numerous self-revisions of his manuscripts, his partner Helen Hoy often made corrections. The professional editing of King’s manuscripts by editors such as Iris Tupholme or Lynn Henry is also well documented in the fonds.

Beyond showing the development of his written work, King’s fonds reveals his less well-known forays into the visual arts, as a photographer and a cartoonist.

Although the fonds does not currently include any of King’s photographs, it does contain documentation relating to his photographic projects—correspondence, notebooks, audio-diaries, planning documents and copies of publications featuring his photographs.

King entered the photography world in the 1960s, when he moved to New Zealand and found work as a photographer in a commercial studio. After a subsequent move to Australia, he worked as a photojournalist for the pop-culture magazine Everybody’s. King continued with his photography upon his return to the United States in 1967. In the 1990s, he embarked on two large-scale photography projects.

Monochrome typographical composition showing from top to bottom, the name of the institution, the title of the exhibition, the date, the list of workshops, the cost and the terms of registration

Poster for Northwest Arts Road Show workshops by Thomas King and Greg Staats at the University of Northern British Columbia, 1996.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e011309013

The first project was the Medicine River Photographic Expedition, which King started in 1994. He travelled around North America for several years photographing contemporary Indigenous artists, as a modern reimagining of Edward Curtis’s early-20th-century photographs of Indigenous people and nations in the United States.footnote4 King’s photographs play with many of the same themes that are present in his writing: what it means to be an Indigenous person in modern-day North America, and the representation of these lives. Series such as King’s Lone Ranger portraits, where he photographed artists wearing a Lone Ranger mask, also display his signature humour. His photographs from this project have been published in magazines and journals and were featured in exhibitions around the world.

One of the trips for this project, which is documented in the fonds, is the Northwest Arts Road Show that King undertook with Mohawk photographer and collaborator Greg Staats. For this trip, the two taught writing and photography workshops in high schools and colleges around the northwest of British Columbia, and in his spare time King photographed local Indigenous artists.

Around the same period, King began photographing musicians at the Guelph Jazz Festival. Over the years, he was a constant presence at the festival—photographing backstage practices, sound checks and green room conversations.footnote5 These photographs were displayed in the 2013 exhibit Sound Check at the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, in honour of the festival’s 20th anniversary.

The fonds also reveals King to be a talented cartoonist. While working at Humboldt State University in California in the 1970s, he contributed cartoons to several student services publications, including newsletters and calendars. He developed these same characters into a cartoon strip called “Walden Pond” (a reference to Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 non-fiction book Walden), which was picked up by The Daily Utah Chronicle newspaper at the University of Utah. The strip features turtles and other animals of Walden Pond interacting with current events and Indigenous political issues, among other topics. The same characters can be seen throughout King’s archive in sketches in his notebooks and manuscripts.

These two artistic pursuits weave back into King’s writing. The cartoons have a strong storytelling component (as well as a comedic punch), as does his conception of his photographic work. In his own words: “I was a photographer before I was a writer and as a photographer, I saw the stories of the world through pictures.”footnote6


The Forbeses: A Lineage of Official Portraitists

— By Geneviève Couture, Archivist, Archives Branch

Color painting showing a battlefield with explosions, smoke, headed trees, corpses, ammunition, and soldiers in trenches shooting at the enemy on the horizon

The Defence of Sanctuary Wood (1916), by Kenneth Keith Forbes, 1918.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e010751163-v8

The careers of two Canadian painters, John Colin Forbes (1846–1925) and his son Kenneth Keith Forbes (1892–1980), illustrate well how particular prime ministers were their muses and patrons. Between them, the two portraitists painted seven Canadian prime ministers, two governors general, five chief justices of the Supreme Court, 11 speakers of the House of Commons and 14 speakers of the Senate. These artists also painted a king and queen of England on behalf of the Canadian government. Over a period of more than 90 years, the Forbeses helped to build an artistic and visual heritage depicting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Canadian government.

John Colin Forbes was born in Toronto in 1846. In the 1860s, he studied painting in Paris and London before returning to Canada. He was a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1872) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1880).

Forbes was quickly recognized as a portraitist and received numerous commissions. He painted Lord Dufferin and the Marquess of Lansdowne, both governors general of Canada. Between 1878 and 1893, he created portraits of Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Charles Tupper and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The artist had a special relationship with Laurier, who referred to Forbes as a friend.

Forbes painted Laurier for the first time in 1885, based on a photo taken around 1882 by William Topley’s studio in Ottawa. He painted a second portrait of Laurier, which was presented to the Prime Minister by his friends and Liberal Party supporters on May 15, 1902. In his speech to the House of Commons, Laurier stated, “It is with a very sincere heart indeed that both in my own name and in the name of my wife, I accept from the unknown friends […] this memento which is the work of a great Canadian artist.”footnote7

Black and white photo portrait of a mature man wearing a double-breasted collar mounted frock coat

Wilfrid Laurier, MP. Topley Studio, 1882.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/a013133-v8

Lamenting that Forbes was at the time practicing his art in the United States, Laurier added:

“Unfortunately Canada, which is still a young country, has not afforded to artists all the help it might have given in the past. I trust that in the future Canadian artists and talents will receive more encouragement from the Canadian people that they received hitherto. For my part, it is with some regret, I acknowledge that perhaps the Government might have done more than it has for the encouragement of native, artistic talent.”footnote8

Finally, regretting not having children to whom he could bequeath the painting, Laurier made this wish: “Someday I hope it will be in a national museum, not with a view of remembering me to posterity, but for the glory of Mr. Forbes, the artist who painted it.”footnote9 A few years later, in 1906, Laurier himself gave the painting to the National Gallery of Canada.

His special relationship with Prime Minister Laurier earned Forbes his most prestigious commission: a painting of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He was the first Canadian painter to have a sitting with a British monarch, and official portraits of Edward VII would adorn the House of Commons.

The correspondence between Forbes and Laurier on this matter is part of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds at Library and Archives Canada.footnote10 It shows that Forbes had requested the commission from Laurier, with whom he had previously discussed it. Laurier agreed after he received a petition in support that was signed by 92 of the 214 members of Parliament. Laurier forwarded the request to the Governor General, Lord Minto, who helped arrange access to the royals for Forbes.

The sitting was granted, and Forbes travelled to England to paint the portraits. Unfortunately, the paintings were destroyed in the Parliament fire in 1916, less than 12 years after their creation. Forbes’s four official portraits of the speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of the speakers of the Senate survived the fire.

Black and white photo of a man in a suit standing in the center taking a photo, with a painting, fireplace, console table, curtain and mouldings on the ceiling in background

Pierre Elliott Trudeau taking a photograph with news journalist Duncan Cameron’s camera, June 28, 1968. Photo: Duncan Cameron.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/a175919

Subsequently, two portraits of prime ministers painted by Forbes inspired their successors. Journalist Peter C. Newman reported that, depending on their political allegiance, new prime ministers had either Sir John A. Macdonald’s or Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s portrait installed in their East Block office in Ottawa. This practice changed under Lester B. Pearson, when the Prime Minister asked for both paintings in his office.

Photographs taken by Duncan Cameron confirm that John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau had paintings by Forbes in their offices. Paul Martin’s office was decorated with the first painting of Laurier by Forbes from 1885.

The son of John Colin Forbes, Kenneth Keith Forbes, also became a famous portraitist. Born in Toronto in 1892, he began drawing at the age of four under his father’s tutelage. Between 1908 and 1913, he studied art in England and Scotland. When the First World War started in 1914, the younger Forbes joined the British army as an ordinary soldier. He fought in France, where he was injured and gassed. Forbes was promoted to captain, and in 1918 he was transferred to the Canadian Army (specifically, the Canadian War Records Office) as a war artist. He painted scenes of battles as well as portraits of Canadian officers. Library and Archives Canada holds the recently digitized military file of Kenneth Keith Forbes.

A few years after the war, Forbes returned to Toronto; continuing in the family tradition, he focused mainly on portraits. Among other things, he painted the official portraits of seven speakers of the House of Commons, eight speakers of the Senate, and five chief justices of the Supreme Court, and portraits of prime ministers Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker.

In 1962, Forbes painted the official portrait of Bennett for the House of Commons. The commission came close to 25 years after his earlier painting, and 15 years after Bennett’s death. It was requested by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Roland Michener.

In conclusion, the careers of portraitists John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes reveal the sometimes unsuspected links between the arts and politics. The father and son clearly benefited from their good relationships with parliamentarians, particularly prime ministers, receiving many highly prestigious commissions.

Prime ministers also benefited from the work of artists like the Forbeses; such paintings helped to commemorate and glorify the men who held the country’s highest political positions and inspired their successors.

Winter black and white photo of a wide burned and smoky Victorian-style building, showing a frosted façade on the right, and firefighters watering the centre

The eastern part of Centre Block in flames, Ottawa, 1916.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/a052822-v8

Political affiliation was not at issue as the father-and-son artists contributed to this commemorative undertaking by painting portraits of prime ministers in office and their predecessors. The Forbes portraitists helped to establish the role of prime ministers in the country’s political memory.


Come Together

— By Sylvain Salvas, Senior Communications Advisor, Communications Branch

3-D color modeling of the front façade of a 3-storey building showing pedestrians, street, trees and vegetation in the foreground and cirrus in a blue sky in the background

The east entrance of the building, view from Albert Street.
© 2020 City of Ottawa/Ottawa Public Library/Library and Archives Canada. All rights reserved.

Remember this famous Beatles song? In many ways, the title captures the spirit of the joint facility that will house Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Ottawa Public Library (OPL) in 2024. The theme of “come together” is appropriate on several levels, including not only the partnership between municipal and federal institutions and the balance between nature and built environment, but also the incredible collaboration over the past year between the public and architects.

In launching an engagement campaign in early 2019 for Canadians to become involved in the design of the building, the two partner institutions hoped for a great wave of enthusiasm and many ideas from people passionate about this exciting project. That is exactly what happened! Over 10 months, more than 4,000 people participated in the Inspire555 consultations, named for the address of the future facility.

People did indeed come together during the engagement campaign. In early 2020, the architects unveiled an architectural design inspired by suggestions from the public.

Principle put into practice

Once their partnership became official in 2016, LAC and OPL clearly stated their intentions: to provide better services and an enhanced client experience for all visitors.

Such a project would be possible if, and only if, a unique relationship was established with users. Engagement was the watchword: engagement with current and future users, employees, Indigenous communities, stakeholders and Canadians across the country. Everyone would be able to help define a building destined to become one of the top attractions in the National Capital. Some 20 consultation activities were organized last year with various groups.

Centred on public engagement, this approach went far beyond fine words or project plan checklists. Active listening was a prerequisite for providing better services and an enhanced client experience. The reward: a rich set of contributions!

3-D color modeling of a large glass room with cathedral ceiling showing tables, seated citizens, stairs in the foreground and shelves of books, urban panorama and blue sky in the background

The LAC Main Reading Room.
© 2020 City of Ottawa/Ottawa Public Library/Library and Archives Canada. All rights reserved.

An unprecedented exercise

Architectural firms work in close collaboration with the organizations that hire them for design contracts. They analyze all of the options with project teams and consider their clients’ needs and budgets.

Architects also typically consult the future clientele. For this building, the product of a unique partnership between municipal and federal entities, the designers took the public consultations to a whole new level.

“Over the last year, we have undertaken what we believe to be the most comprehensive local and national engagement program for a public institution in this country, with thousands of people coming together, in person and online, to contribute directly to the facility’s design. It’s been a remarkable experience resulting in something unique in Ottawa, in Canada—a truly co-designed public building,” said project lead architect Don Schmitt of Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Collective inspiration

To assist the creative process, in addition to the public consultations in 2019, the architects benefited from valuable ideas gathered through extensive consultations held well before the firms were selected. The municipality and OPL first surveyed the public when the idea for the project started taking shape in 2012. After LAC joined as a partner, Canadians and the staff of the institutions involved were asked for their opinions about the programming, services and spaces that they wanted to see included.

3-D color modeling of a 3-story atrium with glass vault, showing staircases, armchairs, and citizens circulating on different levels with blue sky in the background

The Town Hall, view toward the east.
© 2020 City of Ottawa/Ottawa Public Library/Library and Archives Canada. All rights reserved.

In addition to these important consultation activities, the project team and the architects held many meetings with the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation, given that the new facility is located on its ancestral lands. This vital step offered an opportunity to work together to identify special locations, inside and outside the building, where design elements specific to Indigenous culture could be incorporated. Traditional Indigenous knowledge has enriched the project’s identity and vision. And that is not all; the project partners intend to form permanent ties that will continue both while the facility is taking shape and after it opens.

Following the many comments, suggestions and ideas put forward for their consideration, the architects have proudly confirmed that the entire design was inspired by a positive conversation with the public: the shape of the building, the entrances, the sustainable and inclusive character, the layout and the connections between the rooms and spaces, the indoor atmosphere and the decor, the landscaping, the public artwork, and the exterior materials.

Now that the architectural design has been unveiled, the partners firmly intend to continue working with the public and other parties. The joint facility will open in four years, and much remains to be done. But the objective is still a new joint facility for LAC and OPL where everyone can come together.


In Tune with the Greening Government Strategy

— By Jennifer Côté, Senior Manager, Real Property Services, Nathalie Éthier, Project Director, Gatineau 2, and Lisa Hennessey, Project Analyst, Real Property Branch

New preservation facility

Since September 2019, construction cranes have towered along Montée Paiement in Gatineau, Quebec, the site of Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) future preservation facility. The new building will be a marvel, perfectly in tune with the Government of Canada’s priorities of investing in sustainable federal infrastructure and Canadian culture.

This innovative public-private partnership supports LAC’s long-term vision for preserving Canada’s documentary heritage, as well as our commitment to invest in green infrastructure and harness the current and future benefits.

Resilience and sustainable development are key elements in the design, construction and operation of the new facility; these are essential considerations for balancing operational costs and savings.

bird’s eye view olor photo of a construction site showing two cranes, a foundation structure in the foreground, and the Gatineau 1 building and semi-urban panorama in the background

Bird’s-eye view of the construction site for LAC’s new preservation facility.
Photo: PCL Construction

The design and construction strategies were developed to meet the requirements of two sustainable development certifications: LEED® and BOMA Best. LEED® accreditation certifies that the facility has been designed and built to achieve a high level of environmental performance. BOMA Best is a certification for eco-friendly building management, recognizing excellence in energy performance and environmental management in the real estate sector.

Other aspects of the Greening Government Strategy are key features in the project:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions: the new facility will be the first federal building to exceed the requirements of the strategy for “net-zero carbon ready” construction, since it will be neutral from the outset
  • Energy: the facility will meet prescribed energy targets through efficiency gains in the building envelope (roof, floors, walls, etc.), lighting and mechanical systems
  • Water management: to reduce water consumption and reliance on municipal systems, the facility will be equipped with low-flow appliances and potable water meters; the surrounding landscape will have drought-resistant native plants and an efficient rainwater management system
  • Waste: a process is in place to reduce and control construction waste
  • Materials: preference is given to locally manufactured materials with recycled content

LAC takes great pride in this building project. We have created a detailed section on our website so you can keep up to date as work progresses.

Robots in the new facility

When LAC’s new preservation facility opens in 2022, it will be full of robots. In fact, the new facility will be equipped with LAC’s first automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS). ASRS technology is used around the world when a high volume of material is moved in and out of storage and accuracy is critically important. Developed for the manufacturing and distribution industries, ASRS technology has been adopted by both libraries and archives as a way of increasing storage density while maintaining timely public access.

Six robots, called Storage and Retrieval Machines (SRMs), will help to move collection containers between the new storage vaults and the circulation room. SRMs are forklift-like machines that can move in three dimensions to retrieve, transport and deliver entire shelving units of collection containers (think of large metal bookcases full of boxes). SRMs will work in cold temperatures, do not require light, and can be constructed to safely access material stored many feet high. LAC’s SRMs will store collections up to 90 feet (27.4 metres) above floor level. They will take collection containers from the second-floor vaults and deliver them to staff on the first floor using an automated lift to retrieval stations in the circulation room, like a high-tech dumb waiter.

When complete, LAC’s new facility will be the largest archival preservation storage facility in the world equipped with an ASRS. This system will provide many benefits to LAC’s collection, our staff, the Canadian public and the environment, including:

  • Smaller building footprint: the amount of land required by the building is reduced and the available green space maximized because the system takes advantage of vertical height
  • Increased capacity: by storing shelving units two deep on either side of a central aisle, the system allows more containers to be stored in the same vault
  • Longer preservation life for collections: since the system reduces the need for people to physically enter the vaults, temperatures can be reduced and the lights kept off, both of which will promote a longer life for collection materials
  • Reduced manual labour: because it delivers containers to staff, the system will reduce the amount of time and physical effort spent manually circulating collection containers
  • Improved ergonomics: since they will access collection materials through a retrieval window, the staff can individually adjust the shelf height, reducing the amount of bending and lifting required
  • Improved collection tracking: using computer-controlled automation, the system should reduce instances of misplaced containers
  • Improved efficiency: by reducing the time it takes to retrieve containers from the vaults, the system should give LAC Circulation staff more opportunity to focus on other important aspects of their jobs

The new preservation facility and its robots represent an exciting step forward for LAC and the way we store and circulate our collection. An ASRS may not be a flying car, but for LAC’s collection it might be the next best thing.

Ecological initiatives

LAC is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of its buildings and the management of any emergencies. The organization is therefore well positioned to take concrete actions to meet the objectives of Canada’s Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

From a strategic point of view, LAC is looking at opportunities to meet environmental requirements in the following buildings:

  • Preservation Centre in Gatineau
  • Nitrate Film Preservation Facility in Ottawa
  • Archives Centre in Renfrew
  • Regional Service Centre in Winnipeg
  • New preservation facility in Gatineau (also called “Gatineau 2 Project”)

LAC ensures sustainable building management by always integrating environmental considerations into procurement management policies, processes and tools:

  • Nitrate Film Preservation Facility: this building has a green roof, well-insulated walls, mechanical systems that effectively recover energy, and technology to reduce water consumption
  • Winnipeg office: a study on becoming carbon-neutral is under way, and results will be available by the end of the fiscal year
  • Workplace: a pilot project aims to show the benefits of a modern open workplace that better supports the needs of employees; better use of space will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and costs to taxpayers
  • Materials and equipment: sustainability and required maintenance are taken into consideration during selection
  • Lighting: several buildings have LED lights, and motion-sensor lighting reduces energy consumption for lighting and cooling
  • Sustainable development programs: programs ensure sound waste management, including the collection of batteries, compact fluorescent lights and toner cartridges

Preserving Canada’s documentary heritage engages both heart and head, as the initiatives discussed in this article show. The long-term challenge will be to act with sensitivity in fulfilling LAC’s mission while dealing with current environmental issues. LAC looks forward to managing this challenge successfully!


LAC Perspectives

Vancouver and Winnipeg / DigiLab Launch

— By Caitlin Webster, Senior Archivist, Public Services Branch

Color photo showing a woman, mouse in hand, sitting in front of a flat screen on the left and a table on which rests a document and a vertical device on the right

Digitizing a trap line file at the Vancouver DigiLab using the ScanSnap scanner.
Photo: Jana Buhlmann, LAC

With the successful rollout of LAC’s DigiLab in 2017 at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, the reaction of many regional clients was “Great idea! Is it available here?” In response to this enthusiasm, LAC is pleased that the DigiLab is now available at our Vancouver and Winnipeg service points.

The DigiLab provides high-performance scanners, computers and tools on site, so clients can digitize and contextualize LAC collections of value to their studies, work and communities. Our goal is to facilitate digitization projects for individuals, local community and academic groups, and Indigenous organizations. Currently, clients in Vancouver and Winnipeg conduct extensive research into LAC holdings, and they often take digital images with their cameras or mobile devices. However, the quality of these images may be uneven, and the images are not accessible to other researchers with similar interests.

With the DigiLab, clients have a free, efficient means of producing high-quality digital images. In turn, they digitize complete files and create basic descriptions for the records they are scanning. LAC then creates web copies of the material to make it available to future clients, most often directly on our website. This exchange allows both LAC staff and clients to benefit from this “deep dive” into our holdings.

LAC’s holdings in Vancouver and Winnipeg are invaluable for regional researchers, and they hold great potential for DigiLab projects. For example, clients in Vancouver can access the records of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) for British Columbia and Yukon, which cover a wide variety of subjects, including:

Color photo showing a hand-drawn trail system on a grid page with handwritten information indicating date, locations, scale, and longitude &  latitude

Map showing trap lines in the Stikine Region of British Columbia, north of Level Mountain.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e999926025-u (page 4)

  • Natural resources such as timber, fisheries, mineral extraction and trap lines
  • Farming and ranching
  • Indigenous lands, including surveys, leasing and rights of way
  • Economic and social development projects
  • Education, including schools and grants
  • Engineering projects on reserves

LAC’s Winnipeg office also holds CIRNAC and ISC records for Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. Other notable collections include:

  • Land development records of the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railways
  • Records of the Joint Arctic Weather Stations and High Arctic Weather Stations programs
  • Resources relating to parks and natural habitats in western Canada
  • Historical records of the Stony Mountain Penitentiary
  • Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration and Canadian Grain Commission records

To start your own DigiLab project, contact us at, or Our staff can help you to identify the collections you would like to digitize, and determine whether there are any conservation or access concerns about the material. We will provide training on how to safely handle the material and instructions on how to use the DigiLab tools, and we will support you throughout your entire project.


Halifax / Nocturne

— By Leah Rae, Archivist, Reference Services Division

Color photo showing 2 wooden drawers filled with documents interspersed with tabs, sorted by places for the first and by emotions for the second

Participants were invited to write down their memories of Halifax and file them in “An Archive of Place.”
Photo: Leah Rae, LAC

LAC Halifax recently partnered with the Halifax Municipal Archives and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 to create an activity called “An Archive of Place” for Nocturne, a large-scale site-specific interactive art event that takes place in a variety of Halifax locations every autumn. Each year, a different curator chooses a theme, and local artists collaborate with different venues to create works that exist for one evening only, from 6 p.m. until midnight.

The theme for 2019 was “scaffold,” chosen as a nod to the rapidly changing landscape of downtown Halifax and Dartmouth. Staff from both archives chose historic images of Halifax and Dartmouth from their collections. The images were reproduced on “catalogue cards” and arranged in an antique card-catalogue box according to location type such as “lakes” or “public gardens.” Participants were invited to select a card and write down, on the card, a memory associated with sites such as the Citadel, Point Pleasant Park, City Hall and many other locations. They were then asked to file the card in the “archive” according to a novel classification system organized around emotion.

The activity was an innovative encounter between art, archives, memory and emotion, and it has since been recreated by the Halifax Municipal Archives as an activity in their public reading room.


On Loan from LAC

Black pencil drawing of 4 toga dressed individuals with P.E. Trudeau stabbed 3 times on left and 3 males holding a dripping dagger on the right

McCord Museum, Montréal
Chapleau, Profession: Cartoonist
April 16 to November 1, 2020

Toi aussi, mon fils! [Et tu, Brute?]
Serge Chapleau, 1973
Graphite pencil, watercolour wash and opaque white on wove paper

Library and Archives Canada, © Serge Chapleau, e011309045

color painting showing a gathering of persons around tents besides a cathedral on the left and ruins in the background

In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres, Belgium
Feniks: Reconstructing Flanders Fields
March 7 to November 15, 2020

Cloth Hall, Ypres—Market Day
Mary Riter Hamilton, 1920
Oil on wove paper

Library and Archives Canada, Mary Riter Hamilton collection, c104371

Monochrome cover page entitled 'Descriptive atlas of Western Canada'

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax
Canadian Immigration Hall
October 1, 2019, to October 1, 2020

Descriptive atlas of Western Canada: showing maps of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and British Columbia; the districts of Assiniboia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Athabasca; the World; and the Dominion of Canada, 1900

Library and Archives Canada, Published Cartographic Material collection, e011308928

Black ink handwriting on parchment with seal and ribbon on the left

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg
Canada’s Legal System
August 12, 2019, to February 12, 2021

Western Treaty No. 4
Signed by commissioners the Honourable Alexander Morris, Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, the Honourable David Laird, Minister of the Interior, and the Honourable William Joseph Christie on behalf of Queen Victoria, and representatives of the Cree, Saulteaux and other First Nations, September 1874
Ink on paper with affixed seal and ribbon

Library and Archives Canada, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds, e011202632

Date modified: