Signatures, Spring/Summer 2021

Signatures spring-summer 2021 cover page showing a watercolor painting depicting a perspective view of a mountain in the background and rows of blooming trees with beekeeper hives under some of them, in front.

Signatures, Spring/Summer 2021
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— By Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

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

There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured and generous-hearted people.

These timeless words by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill capture the feelings of hope and promise that spring and summer often inspire. As we enjoy the regenerative and vibrant energy that the warmer months bring, I am proud to share the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Signatures magazine with you.

As we continue to navigate the restrictions of COVID-19 and gradually reopen Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) service points, we remain committed to providing priority service to Canadians, as well as a safe environment for visitors and employees based on federal and provincial government directives and public health advice. Like other organizations, we have adapted to this evolving situation and are offering many services virtually and conducting business remotely. Being physically apart from one another, however, has not affected our desire, responsibility and capacity to collaborate and connect with Canadians.

This issue presents an in-depth look at two virtual discussions that I had the pleasure of hosting in LAC’s ongoing Signatures Interviews series: one with the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, the other with acclaimed author Arlette Cousture. Available on LAC’s YouTube channel, these interviews offer unique encounters with Canadian personalities who have donated their archives to LAC.

In the spirit of connecting virtually, Caitlin Webster’s article in LAC Perspectives highlights LAC’s Regional Services team and how it is exploring innovative approaches to deliver public programming, such as workshops, tours and presentations online. In Sophie Tellier’s “Demystifying Research with Experiential Learning Workshops,” discover how LAC’s Reference Services worked with university professors who wanted to enable students to access archival resources and publications—a collaborative effort that inspired experiential learning activities and virtual tours of LAC’s services and holdings.

Furthermore, in Delia Chartrand’s “Housing Our Histories and Creating Capacity,” learn how LAC, through our Listen, Hear Our Voices initiative, coordinated a workshop series with the Association for Manitoba Archives to deliver practical archival training to regional Indigenous organizations and remote Indigenous communities in northern Manitoba.

In addition to these collaborative endeavours, this issue of Signatures focuses on the complex and meaningful world of reappraisal work with Andrew Elliott’s “Highlights of the Canadian National Railways Reappraisal” as well as “Reappraisal and Renewal in Renfrew” by Kyle Huth and Tina Lloyd. Readers will gain a better understanding of the multifaceted realm of intellectual property in William Wilson’s “Through the Looking-Glass: The Refracted World of Copyright,” and Lucie Paquet’s “The Dominion Bridge Company Archives” instructs us about the evolution of a company whose vast projects helped to make Canada a modern, industrial nation.

With the environmental awareness and digital revolutions firmly afoot, find out more about the two major sustainable infrastructure projects currently under way at LAC. Finally, read about our ambitious Vision 2030 project, which will guide our work with regard to digital optimization and service transformation to reach new audiences and improve the user experience; at LAC, serving Canadians is at the core of our identity. Vision 2030 will foster reflection, analysis and planning to chart our course over the next 10 years, and beyond!

Signatures magazine seeks to provide a look at LAC’s treasures and the expertise involved in acquiring, preserving and supporting access to our shared history for the benefit of present and future generations. LAC’s commitment to serving as Canada’s continuing memory is made possible in great part due to its invaluable employees, whose written words in this issue of Signatures reflect their dedication, passion and knowledge, and I thank them most sincerely for their contributions.

Happy discovering!

Signature of Leslie Weir 

Leslie Weir
Librarian and Archivist of Canada


Demystifying Research with Experiential Learning Workshops

— By Sophie Tellier, Acting Senior Reference Archivist, Public Services Branch

Color photo showing a mixed group of 11 people standing in 2 rows with an historical banner on top of mural shelves containing binders and storage boxes in the background

Jennifer Anderson (far left) posing with Professor Anne Trépanier and Carleton University’s Capstone Seminar in Advanced Research in Indigenous and Canadian Studies group during their visit to LAC in January 2020.
Photo: Sophie Tellier, LAC


The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Reference Services Charter states that staff offer orientation services to assist clients in accessing LAC’s facilities and collections. For several years, Reference Services has been giving tours of 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa and providing research information sessions. I myself have had the privilege of welcoming groups of all sorts: tourists, leaders in information sciences, government employees and, of course, students at all levels and their teachers.

Over the years, our most frequent visitors have been university professors who brought their students, from a wide variety of programs, for introductory sessions about LAC’s services and holdings. These tours proved successful, but we realized that professors desired more: they wanted to enable their students to access and use archival resources and publications, and they hoped for increased hands-on interactive activities. Students also wanted opportunities to develop their research skills and to interact with documents preserved in our prestigious institution.

The turning point

A great collaboration developed over the years with professors from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University; they brought new ideas and wanted to try new technologies using archival material. In early 2019, students from the Digital Humanities Program at the University of Ottawa worked on a project about Glenn Gould’s CD318 piano with their professor, Jada Watson. They invited Reference Services to their exhibition, which displayed the results of their experience working with archival material and its influence on their development as researchers.

Color photo showing a yougn women from behind facing a table on which rests digitizing equipment on the left and a computer screen and keyboard on the right

A Carleton University student using the DigiLab to scan LAC material.
Photo: Anne Trépanier

Encounters such as this one, coupled with an increasing interest in the DigiLab, inspired us. Reference Services staff has since been on a mission to innovate. In our tours and workshops, we added real documents to illustrate the variety of formats available and explain some of the challenges that LAC faces. These formats include microfilm reels, floppy disks (5¼-inch) and my favourite, phonograph cylinders, which always leave students dumbfounded.

In the spring of 2019, my colleague Jennifer Anderson and I were tasked with contacting professors and offering them the opportunity to design tailor-made workshops based on their needs, and with developing experiential learning activities as pilot projects for the fall semester.

We came up with class assignments that allowed students to manipulate documents, learn about archival theories and practices, and hone their research skills by using our tools and databases to answer “authentic” reference requests. In a way, these experiential workshops served a higher purpose. Not only did they help to reduce “archival anxiety” by developing archival and historical literacy, but they were also real opportunities to carry out the work of historians, archivists and other researchers.

During the 2019–2020 academic year, we were pleased to host experiential workshops of varying extents. Carleton University’s Capstone Seminar in Advanced Research in Indigenous and Canadian Studies was particularly interesting, as Professor Anne Trépanier worked enthusiastically with us to develop a learning exercise lasting all semester.

The concept for that seminar was to take students through the whole range of a researcher’s activities, from developing a research proposal to publishing a peer-reviewed paper. Concrete steps included obtaining a user card, meeting with reference archivists or librarians to refine the project, retrieving and consulting material, digitizing it and recording metadata using our DigiLab, paying attention to copyright and access restrictions, and learning how to cite the material used. Finally, students could present their papers orally and reflect on their experience in a poster session, through a Zoom meeting with the LAC staff involved.

The feedback we received in this session was very useful in understanding students’ needs and challenges. One of the main issues was the complexity of the archival world, such as the professional jargon, understanding the rules and managing access restrictions. Favourite activities included going through boxes of actual archival material, working in the DigiLab and testing real-world research questions. Professor Trépanier felt that this experience helped to develop the students’ academic, professional and personal aspirations and skills.

Down but not out: going digital

Color photo showing an upright cylindrical container on the left and a horizontal blue shiny cylinder on the right

An Edison phonograph cylinder.
Photo: Sophie Tellier, LAC

When COVID-19 arrived, tours and workshops were put on hold. Professors and students still wanted to come on site, but we had to pivot so our collections would be available for online courses. We therefore developed virtual tours of our services and holdings as well as online tutorials and a number of virtual hands-on activities, such as remote-access treasure hunts, discussion activities and exercises in practical research methodologies. We knew that our on-site offering would have to also become virtual, but the pandemic made us accelerate the process.

We are looking to the future with the move to a new joint facility with Ottawa Public Library and in 2024 are committed to being accessible, on site and virtually. This will drive us to develop new and innovative ways to help our current and future clients, from novices to experts, to develop their confidence and ability to explore and use our collections.

I am convinced that there is no better way to discover history than to search for it! Students can discover and connect with LAC’s treasures in these workshops; they are also empowered to write their own narratives. It is our role to support them in that journey because, after all, historical research is not as easy as it might appear.


The Dominion Bridge Company Archives

— By Lucie Paquet, Senior Archivist, Archives Branch

In 2017, a Library and Archives Canada team travelled to Montréal to assess an addition to the Dominion Bridge Company fonds, acquired in 1988. The addition was intended to fill gaps in an under-represented area of the collection: the evolution of civil engineering and the construction industry. The Dominion Bridge Company—one of the largest Canadian businesses to be established in every province—is a major player in this field and has existed for a century.

Black & white photo showing a landscaped area in the foreground and a one-story building with a transparent glassed facade crowned with multiple pediments in the background

Exterior view of a Dominion Bridge Company factory, 1905. Acquisition No. 1987-161, box 1, folder 8, e007152373-v6.
Credit: Dominion Bridge Company Ltd.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Black & white photo showing a large daylight lit room with steel framed ceiling, a wooden floor, filled with industrial equipment and some workers

Interior view of a Dominion Bridge Company factory, before 1903. Acquisition No. 1974-234, box C, item N S 3 568, a102720-v8.
Credit: Dominion Bridge Company Ltd.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

When it arrived on site, the team saw huge buildings formerly used as assembly plants. For over a century, thousands of workers forged, cut and welded heavy steel structures on that very spot. The team went into the building that was used by engineers back in the day. Converted into storage space for the company’s archives, the expansive rooms contained valuable documents attesting to changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution, major military mobilizations, and scientific and technical advances from the 1950s to the 1980s.

On one table, the team came across architectural drawings on sheets of linen paper. This noble, ancient medium offered an indication of the important information that was on it. The sheets illustrated plans for majestic Canadian hotels, including the Château Frontenac (constructed in the city of Québec by architect Bruce Price in 1892) and its central tower, built in 1920. The team also found plans for major bridges built in each province. Other extensively documented drawings emerged as well, including design drawings for the Lachine Canal in Quebec, the Trent Canal in Ontario, and many buildings and industrial complexes that transformed urban architecture in Canada’s large cities.

These archives are as relevant today as ever, given that they relate to heritage monuments visited annually by countless tourists. Conserving them is necessary for the public and for historical reasons, as testimony to the company’s tremendous impact on Canada.

Representatives of the Dominion Bridge Company gathered in 1883 near the Lachine Canal. They chose the site for its access to navigable waterways that enabled the shipment of goods to Western Canada.

These were the early days of the Industrial Revolution, and infrastructure construction across the country required heavy materials and metal. By 1890, the company had become the country’s leading manufacturer of metal beams and railway material. With the arrival of electricity, it started to manufacture mechanical products.

Black & white photo of a large room with checkered windows, showing a big horizontal steel cylinder with holes and vents on the front, resting on a steel framed floor

Furnace made for a battleship. Vol. 514, folder 7.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Black & white photo showing 2 snow capped mountains fading in the background, a mountain side, suspended power lines and a wooden structure in the foreground

Suspension of a transmission line for the Alcan Company, Bowl Glacier, Vancouver, April 1, 1955. Vol. 507, folder 2.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

The company’s technical achievements included the construction of the world’s highest hydraulic locks on the Trent Canal and of swing bridges along the shores of the St. Lawrence River. These engineering works expanded access by the public to land and led to land development.

The Dominion Bridge Company also developed an invention essential to urban development: the hoisting equipment needed to construct high-rise buildings, such as Sun Life’s head office in Montréal, government buildings, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, the Toronto-Dominion Centre, and vast industrial complexes, such as the International Nickel Company of Canada (built in 1915 in Copper Cliff, Ontario) and the Shawinigan Water & Power Company locks in Quebec.

To meet demand, the company opened factories in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa. By 1912, it employed 9,000 people. Under its leaders, including Phelps Johnson and G.H. Duggan, it achieved global renown for its “K”-shaped beam design. These beams were used to construct span bridges and cantilever bridges, notably for the reconstruction of the Québec bridge between 1910 and 1917. With its 66,000 tonnes of suspended steel, this bridge was the longest of its kind at the time. Taking account of the harsh climate and the specific conditions of the area, the company’s engineers also built other types of suspension bridges, including cable-stayed and arched.

Black & white photo showing a high ceiling room with a sunlit window strip on top background, a pulley mechanism, 3 large steel beams and a worker, and rail tracks at the bottom foreground

Beams for the reconstruction of the Victoria Bridge, Montréal, circa 1915. R5607, vol. 510, folder 20.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

During the First World War, the Dominion Bridge Company channelled its energies into producing wartime equipment, including furnaces for military ships. Later, it developed specializations in the pulp and paper and the energy sectors. In the 1920s, strong industrial growth created a demand for sheet steel. The company then turned its innovation talents toward electric arc welding. This assembly method paved the way for major projects, including the construction of bridges for use by motor vehicles.

The Dominion Bridge Company also opened factories to serve the mining industry in Northern Ontario. But the company rose to its most spectacular challenge during the Second World War, with the construction of 45 10,000-ton battleships at the United Shipyards assembly plant in Montréal; it owned this company jointly with Fraser-Brace Ltd.

The postwar years saw unprecedented growth. The Dominion Bridge Company manufactured hydroelectric, oil and mining equipment, and it was actively involved in developing the St. Lawrence Seaway. The 1960s were a time of research and development. Buckled down at their drawing boards, engineers designed new structures for the telecommunications industry.

The limited size of the Canadian market, however, led to the company’s acquisition by AMCA International in 1981. Its head office moved to the United States, and in 1990 it became United Dominion Industries, a multinational conglomerate that expanded its operations around the globe until 1998.

The Dominion Bridge Company archives instruct us about the evolution of a company whose expertise and vast projects helped to make Canada a modern, industrial nation.

For more information, visit the Dominion Bridge Company fonds held by Library and Archives Canada.

Color photo of a large lit warehouse showing 2 rows of shelves filled with storage boxes, seperated by a wide aisle in the middle.

Interior view (1) of the former engineering building containing textual archives from the Dominion Bridge Company.
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Color photo of a small and dim warehouse showing 2 rows of compartmented shelves filled with paper rolls in transparent bags, seperated by a narrow aisle in the middle.

Interior view (2) of the former engineering building containing textual archives from the Dominion Bridge Company.
Source: Library and Archives Canada


Knowledge Mitigates Risk: Successful Proactive Block Review Project

— By Paulette Dozois, Senior Lead Access Archivist, Block Review Team, Public Services Branch

Black and white photo showing a field in the background, a mound, and 3 soldiers (one crouching holding a map, one sitted, and another kneeling holding a  submachine gun) in the foreground

Infantrymen of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada purchasing Victory Bonds in South Beveland, Netherlands, September 30, 1944.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/a168686

In 2020, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced that over 50 million pages of previously “closed” archival government records are now open to the researching public. These records were opened under a 10-year-old initiative called Block Review. Because of its successful implementation and its ability to exceed the goal of opening one million pages per year, the initiative will be continued by LAC in subsequent years. Recent statistical analysis has also demonstrated that the records have garnered a great deal of interest from LAC clients. The material opened under Block Review resulted in approximately 2,500 individual requests by nearly 950 different researchers. Over 3,800 containers were circulated to these individuals, without requiring a page-by-page review by access to information and privacy (ATIP) analysts.

How did LAC reach these impressive numbers?

Canadians are entitled to request LAC’s restricted government record holdings under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. Since the passage of these two Acts of Parliament in 1983, LAC has worked diligently to give Canadians access to these archival records—usually in a reactive manner—by responding to individual ATIP requests. The traditional review of records under ATIP legislation is an important process, and LAC staff handle thousands of formal and informal requests each year. Often there are long queues, and resulting wait times both frustrate researchers and create challenges for the ATIP staff who want to support researchers’ requests with prompt service. LAC‘s government records holdings are a large and rich historical resource that many Canadians are anxious to investigate.

In 2010, LAC decided to revitalize its approach by seeking ways to open records in a new, innovative and proactive manner by putting Block Review in place. Prior to 2010, LAC had made efforts to proactively open records in its collection, but without dedicated staff, it was challenging to maintain the momentum for this initiative. The goal of the new initiative was to proactively identify records that could be made available to the public without the requirement of an ATIP request, and to provide more offerings for LAC clients interested in Canada’s documentary heritage in archival records.

Black and white photo showing canons and sandbags in the foreground, and, in the background, a hillside with 2 hideout openings with a line of soldiers coming out from the left one

Second Brigade troops receiving hot tea at a soup and tea kitchen within a quarter mile of the front line, the night before attacking Hill 70 in France, August 1917.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/a001621-v8

In the same year, a senior government records archivist was invited to work collaboratively with senior ATIP analysts on Block Review. This unique methodology and practice, conceived and implemented only at LAC, and based on earlier ATIP Division best practices, opens records through a risk-based sampling process. The backbone of this methodology is that risk—though present—is mitigated by LAC’s archival and ATIP-legislated professional knowledge. The result of this new process was the opening of over 50 million pages of previously restricted archival records.

How does it work?

Block Review is a methodological process that operates in a risk assessment manner by sampling parts of a records universe, whether at the series, sub-series or file block level. In following an approved 2006 Block Review Procedure Paper, it rigorously follows three types of sampling strategies, and it applies the sampling decision to an entire group of records. Specifically, the process works as follows:

  1. Suggestions are received from a variety of sources, including researchers, LAC reference and government records archival staff, and ATIP analysts.
  2. Suggestions are then analyzed, and an archival assessment is completed by the Block Review access archivists. If the suggestions are accepted, the Block Review is then formalized, and it moves to the next stage.
  3. A senior ATIP analyst then reviews these suggestions under the auspices of Canada’s ATIP legislation.
  4. A joint recommendation to senior ATIP management is then made to open, or not open, these suggested records.
  5. If the recommendation is accepted, the records are opened, and the records can be circulated to researchers who request them.

This process allows a unique opportunity for LAC professional staff to research, analyze and assess LAC’s deep historical holdings, with an eye to opening them to the researchers who cross both our physical and digital doorsteps on a daily basis.

Highlights of treasures opened

Records are now open from a wide variety of federal government departments covering all operations of Canada’s national government. Of particular interest to LAC’s researchers are records that cover two main areas of research: Indigenous and military subjects.

Indigenous topics include the building and operations of residential schools, treaties, and some records from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The military records cover an eclectic group of subjects, from Canadian military bands and parades to post–Second World War operations by all three branches of Canada’s military.

What does the future hold?

This project has not only resulted in the opening of 50 million pages, but its success has also led to a new proactive approach to access principles at LAC. Uniting both the professional archivists with ATIP analysts, and all of their respective knowledge and experience, is leading to other proactive access projects, not just those based on Block Review’s strict sampling methodology. Other team projects are looking at new proactive approaches and processes in order to open more of the rich historical heritage found in the LAC collection.

Stay tuned for other “access” good news coming from LAC in the near future!


Highlights of the Canadian National Railways Reappraisal

— By Andrew Elliott, Archivist, Science and Governance, Private Archives Division

If a distinguishing feature separates government archives from private archives, it is the practice of archival reappraisal. What is reappraisal? Government archivists occasionally go through their collections to determine whether the large quantities of material are of value, or whether some items are just taking up space and can be disposed of. In the world of private archives, the reappraisal of archival collections is almost unheard of. Private archivists usually, but not always, appraise material before it enters the archives.

Here are some broad questions one asks during the reappraisal of an archival collection: Would we acquire the material if it were offered today? Would scholarship suffer if these records no longer existed? Should the amount of use be a basis for reappraisal? Why is a second decision more accurate than the first? How will donors react?

Set of 3 black and white photos, the first 2 showing a riverside cliff with scaffolding on top and early foundation holes and structure at the bottom, and the 3rd showing a section of a bridge surface in construction

Construction photographs of Abitibi River Canyon bridge.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 5148188, R231-3711-4-E


As a private archivist, I have always been skeptical about the practice of reappraisal; on the surface, it appears to be a way of jettisoning crucial archival material for the sake of making space. However, I recently spent almost a year reappraising RG30, the Canadian National Railways (CNR) fonds. This was because the Private Archives Division, specifically the science and economics section, is responsible for the RG30 collection, most of which is held in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) storage facility in Renfrew, Ontario. In 2017, a decision was made by LAC to close the Renfrew facility. Given that the CNR fonds consists of a massive amount of material, some of which had never been properly assessed—or so I thought—since it first arrived at LAC in the 1960s, it seemed like the right time for a reappraisal. It is worth noting that LAC recently decided not to close the Renfrew facility after all.

Reappraisal work took place (with help from Rian Manson, an archival assistant) between April 2019 and March 2020.

Facts about the CNR permanent collection at Renfrew

  • 12,200 permanent volumes, a blend of private and public records
  • 30,000+ maps and plans
  • Roughly 70 percent is archival material from 670 predecessor private companies, dating from before 1920
  • Roughly 30 percent is archival material created by the public company Canadian National (CN), dating from after 1920 to 1996

The reappraisal hypothesis

All records (5,100–5,200 containers) from the 19th century (consisting mostly of ledgers) and early 20th century to 1919 were to be kept and considered of archival value.

Color coded hand drafted map entitled with the name Colborne, indicating roadways, railways, and buildings (shed, pen, wharehouse, administrative)

Port Colborne yard, 1892.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 2150387, RG30M 945013

Most records created or accumulated by CN between 1919 and 1945 were to be kept and considered of archival value. This decision was made because much of the material was already pre-selected by a CN archivist in the 1960s. Also, it has been the practice of LAC’s government records section to keep all records prior to 1945 due to their relative rarity. The only possible exceptions were for financial or general administrative records, in which case a selection of records or record books would be kept from each year.

With post-1945 records, it was determined that Private Archives Division guidelines for selecting company records would be followed. Even as a Crown corporation, CN operated more like a private company.

Some 70–80 percent of records at Renfrew are pre-1945, so of the total of 12,200 containers, up to 9,600 containers had material from before 1945. Roughly 6,000 containers appeared to have material dating from 1919–1945, of which 10 percent would be selected for detailed review.

In order to properly review and select cartographic material and architectural drawings, additional guidelines were created.


The reappraisal work

Color photo showing 3 stacks of monochrome or colored booklets mainly from the Union Pacific Railway company

Miscellaneous American railway timetables.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 5373894, R231-4035-6-E

The process of ordering and reviewing boxes of records took almost a year. When the reappraisal was finally completed, 110 boxes of records were identified, due to their non-historical, administrative nature, for disposition. The archival term “disposition” describes a comprehensive process that can include disposal of temporary records no longer needed to conduct business, usually by destruction or occasionally by donation to another institution. The actual disposition process was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One hundred and ten boxes may not sound like a lot of material, but I am confident that it is sufficient. The real discovery from the reappraisal is that, despite the vast quantity of material that was sent to LAC back in the 1960s, the original CN archivist did a good job of selecting the best archival material.

Archival re-discoveries

Our reappraisal turned into more of a re-discovery mission than a disposition mission. By reviewing material that had not been looked at for decades but was hidden in plain sight, items that would be of great interest to researchers were found, for example:

  • Records documenting CN’s efforts to find settlers, their placement on the land and their progress in pictorial form. Most of the material concerning immigration ranged from the 1920s to the 1950s and relates specifically to Canada’s Prairie provinces. This will be an excellent resource tool for genealogists (see Colonization and Agriculture Department and Canadian National Land Settlement Association series, MIKAN/Item ID no. 180433).
  • Records compiled by CN Chief Engineer C.S. Gzowski in the 1920s and 1930s, at a key period when CN constructed new rail lines. Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski (1876–1940) was a grandson of railway construction pioneer Sir Casimir Gzowski (1813-1898). Interfiled with textual records are numerous maps, architectural drawings and photographs that relate to various construction projects (see Records of the Chief Engineer, Construction Department Gzowski papers sub-series, MIKAN/Item ID no. 180385).
  • Miscellaneous records compiled by CN in the 1950s as part of a commemorative museum train that toured Canada and parts of the United States. The train had a very large display of historical records, illustrations, objects and memorabilia relating to CN and its predecessors. The collection, dating from 1832 to 1953, includes timetables, tourist brochures, tickets, passes, photographs and more (see Museum Train records, historical railway material and memorabilia, MIKAN/Item ID no. 191196).
Color photo showing 11 polychrome time tables, routes and  excursions booklets from the Canadian Northern Railway company mainly for Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan destinations

Canadian Northern Railway timetables.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 5373888, R231-4033-2-E

Color illustration entitled 'Muskoka', showing summer dressed (in early 20th century style) women and men on top of a hill overhanging a bay in the background with people canoeing and bathing

Muskoka tourist brochure, Canadian National Railways tourist publications and timetables.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 5373893, R231-4034-4-E


In all cases, the series were re-described for more clarity, and the finding aids (which were outdated, incomplete or confusing) were updated extensively and linked electronically to MIKAN to enable researchers to find material more easily.

Material was also re-discovered that has been identified for future digitization, including:

  • 45 photos (some panoramic) showing Abitibi River Canyon bridge construction in Ontario, mid-1920s
  • Many photos of the construction of Pacific Central Station, Vancouver, 1917
  • A photo album of the construction of Halifax Ocean Terminals, 1915–1920
  • Numerous hand-drawn colour maps of Grand Trunk Railway station yards in Central Canada, 1875–1895, signed by chief engineer Joseph Hobson
  • Numerous architectural and technical drawings of various structures, including stations and roundhouses
  • A complete set of colour timetable booklets for the Canadian Northern Railway, 1902–1915
  • Two photo albums showing surveying and construction work along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Western Canada, 1906–1914
  • Colour tourist booklets created by CN in the 1920s
  • Records of the Royal Tour Trains (in 1939 and in the 1950s), including drawings of train car interiors and temporary platforms, lists of employees, sample menus, and miscellaneous artwork

To sum up, it should be acknowledged that reappraisal work is a complex slog, particularly for a giant fonds such as CNR. A lot of the work required reading through old finding aids, to make decisions on which containers to order to see what material was there. Most of the time, when I opened a box, I made new discoveries that led me down various rabbit holes: mouldy documents, oversized documents, files stuffed in boxes that were falling apart, treasures that were not originally described. Each of these discoveries required questions to be posed to other teams at LAC. But in the end, I would say that the project was worthwhile because it helped us to learn much more about the RG30 collection. We were also able to make it much more accessible to researchers, which is also a worthy outcome.


Housing Our Histories and Creating Capacity

— By Delia Chartrand, Archivist for Listen, Hear Our Voices, Archives Branch

Color photographic montage of aboriginal poeple showing a chief on a horse on the left, a women facing a child in the middle, and a man with a fur cap holding a stick on the right

Promotional image for the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives.
Source: Library and Archives Canada


Situating the work

In the fall of 2018, I became part of the Listen, Hear Our Voices (LHOV) initiative at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This project, one of LAC’s Indigenous initiatives, was developed in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. I became one of seven Indigenous archivists located remotely across Canada. As a member of the Métis Nation in northern Manitoba, part of my role with LHOV was to work with regional entities such as Indigenous organizations and communities, providing them with support in developing and submitting grant applications for funding offered by the initiative.

Prior to my tenure with LHOV, I had been involved in various participatory research projects in the community. For the past few years, I had been leading a research project that examined the potential for the development of an Oral History Archives for Northern Manitoba. This endeavour was based on community consultation with regional Elders and service providers and was funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance.

When I began working with LHOV, I was appropriately partnered with the University College of the North (UCN). As part of LHOV, archivists were matched with local institutions where we could pursue their archive-related projects and were provided with office space in return. This allowed me to gain local experience and contacts while promoting LAC’s services in my region. UCN had assumed the role of the Oral History Archives project’s administration, and the initial study became one of my deliverables for the partnership. The goal of this project was to develop recommendations on the best approach to establish archives in northern Manitoba, while focusing specifically on how to collect regional oral histories. In these two roles, I was able to work on both the study and LAC’s funding call.

The benefit of this arrangement was that I could more accurately assess the local and regional capacity for carrying out archival work. By conducting group interviews regarding archiving oral histories and working on grant applications with local Indigenous communities and organizations, I began to appreciate the challenges of my region’s current efforts to collect and preserve our histories.

Understanding the region’s archival challenges

There was an intense desire within the region to begin documenting and preserving cultural heritage within an archival framework by and for communities. A significant number of potential applicants to LHOV that I worked with, however, often struggled with a lack of archival training and archival infrastructure during the first call for funding applications. Many of these organizations explained that they were not familiar enough with the field of archives to conceptualize a project. Additionally, opportunities to access services such as training and digitization were not offered in the northern sector of the province, often compounding our regional lack of capacity with geographic barriers. These gaps in services and knowledge made it difficult for several potential applicants to complete grant applications for funding.

Through the process of conducting research and assisting groups with the funding call, I developed a number of recommendations as to how we might proceed with the endeavour of documenting our local heritage. The most significant of these was that in order for the region to proceed with developing archives, capacity-building training provided within a regional hub for remote northern entities would be beneficial. The goal was to conduct a workshop series, which would deliver practical archival training to regional Indigenous organizations and remote Indigenous communities, that would take place in northern Manitoba. The training series was coordinated with the assistance of the Association for Manitoba Archives and their respective sub-committee members, who usually deliver workshops and training in southern Manitoba but were eager to contribute to archival work in the north. Through a series of collaborative meetings, we worked out a four-day schedule of training that best fit the needs and current archival capacity of the northern Manitoba region.

Addressing the needs of communities

The training was developed to be accessible to groups just beginning their community- and organization-based projects. It also needed to provide tools that participants could take back to their respective communities, while keeping in mind the barriers that many face over stable technological infrastructure. The training would give Indigenous entities the autonomy to participate without feeling obligated to share their heritage collections or resources with a larger network. This aspect was crucial, as regional resources are chronically insufficient. Since there are no provincially accredited archival institutions in northern Manitoba, the preservation of cultural heritage often means that collections important to northern communities are housed in southern institutions. Furthermore, a historic legacy of settler researchers and institutions collecting regional knowledge without benefit to the community of origin has compounded a relationship of mistrust. This dynamic has understandably made communities hesitant to engage with outside institutions.

An important aspect of the training, therefore, was the overwhelming need to make it both tailored to the resources and capacity of participants, but also culturally appropriate and in keeping with our region’s teachings. Training each day opened with a prayer delivered by invited Aboriginal Elders,footnote1 who were presented with tobacco pouches and white cloth prints on the first day, as is customary with Cree traditions of expressing gratitude to acknowledge that an exchange is taking place. Facilitators for sessions were chosen from both the archival profession and the Indigenous non-profit sector. Honorariums were given to each facilitator, including smudge bowls with local medicines and tobacco pouches. Participants were also offered tobacco pouches as an expression of gratitude for joining us in an exchange of knowledge but were told that they were not obligated to accept them if they were not in line with their own teachings.

Sharing knowledge and building skills

The event took place on January 9 to 12, 2020, on Treaty 5 land in the traditional territory of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. Sessions were provided on archival training, hands-on activities, free archival templates, available grants and the LHOV project specifically. Training sessions included an introduction to community archival theory, archiving in the Indigenous context, leveraging the infrastructure of settler institutions, and available training and funding for remote and northern regions. Thanks to a research grant provided by the Manitoba Research Alliance, the workshop series was offered free of charge, and meals were provided during the full-day sessions to mitigate costs for participants who had to travel from remote communities. Participants had the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm ideas for connecting our regional resources in an archival network and what that might potentially look like for northern Manitoba. The hope was that, in providing the necessary capacity-building training, participants would then be able to return to their respective communities and/or organizations equipped with the tools to begin their archival endeavours and subsequently apply for funding.

It is important to recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation people across Canada are committed to conducting their archival endeavours in ways that benefit their communities. As representatives of a national institution, we must be cognizant of preserving the autonomy of these communities and their efforts while offering the assistance of our resources if those are sought. Establishing relationships with community archives is a tenuous process that involves building trust and takes patience. As LAC employees, we must remind ourselves that our job is to offer tools without expectation and without imposition in order to forge positive connections with Indigenous communities.


Reappraisal and Renewal in Renfrew

— By Kyle Huth, Archival Assistant, and Tina Lloyd, Project Manager, Archives Branch

When you pass through the gate of Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) storage facility in Renfrew, Ontario, you are greeted by a low-rise building with a mostly tinted-glass exterior and a pyramid skylight. In the winter, the facility is surrounded by an endless field of snow broken by some trees and light poles; the rest of the year, grass, a disused parking lot and groundhogs replace the snow. Acquired by LAC in the 1980s as a temporary storage building, LAC’s storage facility in Renfrew is now home to hundreds of thousands of boxes of textual records, millions of cartographic, architectural and technical (CAT) drawings, and thousands of photographs, books, models and other items collected by LAC throughout the years.

Color photo of an illuminated very deep warehouse showing a perspective view of 2 rows of high shelves filled with storage boxes, seperated by a narrow aisle in the middle.

One of the seemingly endless rows of boxes of textual records that the members of the Renfrew Reappraisal Project would become very familiar with over its three-year duration.
Photo: Kyle Huth, LAC

When it became clear that LAC would build a new storage facility in Gatineau, Quebec, the decision was taken to close LAC’s storage facility in Renfrew and move the records to the new building. As part of the preparation for this move, senior management asked for a proposal in the spring of 2017 for a review of the material stored in Renfrew. But since the records have been accessioned into the collection (and made permanent in some cases), would they not be truly archival and worth preserving? Surely LAC would not have spent the past 50-plus years storing material that was not archival!

A large portion of the government records currently stored in Renfrew were created during the post‑Second World War government expansion period, which resulted in an explosion of records as the government became more involved in social programs and economic development. They were acquired en masse in the 1980s, with the advent of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) legislation and the National Archives of Canada Act. Further, many records were brought in under “selective retention,” which took all of the records from the creating programs, with the understanding that LAC would select for archival material later. However, with no increase in resources to accompany the increased records, a significant percentage of non-archival material slipped in with the archival material. In fact, many of the boxes or containers reviewed had never even been opened!

Enter the Renfrew Reappraisal Project, a three-year initiative to review the 225,000 boxes of government textual records and 1.4 million CAT drawings held at LAC’s storage facility in Renfrew. The project goals included preparing for the move and creating a better, more succinct collection that would be more accessible and more discoverable for clients. While removals were to be part of the project, the focus was on improving the health of the collection, which would allow LAC’s resources to be better utilized.

Of course, reviewing each file or item would be next to impossible in the three-year time frame, so a systematic macroappraisal approach was taken: one that managed risk and was consistent with LAC’s current acquisition framework, and where all work was documented thoroughly to ensure maximum transparency and accountability. The review process involved triaging the records, researching their history and that of the creating program, developing hypotheses based on descriptive systems and finding aids, and reappraising them using disposition authorities and other guidance documents. The team would do as much of that work as possible in Gatineau, and then head to Renfrew to confirm the hypotheses and undertake any processing projects. The portfolio archivists were consulted at various stages, and they approved all removal decisions. Good working relationships were a key factor in the project.

Color photo of a very deep illuminated room showing a left perspective view of a row of shelves filled with horizontally stacked spine facing old books

Ledgers from the Department of Finance, among the 14,000 ledgers reviewed as part of the Renfrew Reappraisal Project.
Photo: Tina Lloyd, LAC

Color photo showing a section of metal shelves containing several stacked longitudinal numbered paper bags, some closed at the extremity and some opened and exposing rolled blueprints

Bags, mostly unopened, containing rolls of architectural and technical drawings await review.
Photo: Matthew Moore, LAC

While the above approach worked well for textual records, it soon became clear that the reappraisal of CAT material presented its own challenges. The history of the creation of the records and their transfer to LAC custody was often complex. This, coupled with inadequate finding aids and inconsistencies in past selection criteria, meant that the reappraisal of CAT material proved more labour intensive. That said, this work yielded a large proportion of selection and processing projects, resulting in the creation of new finding aids that better describe the remaining material and improve overall access to these records in the collection.

In March 2020, the last of the review work was completed. Over three years, the Renfrew Reappraisal Project reviewed 224,210 containers of textual records, 928,022 cartographic items and 466,069 architectural drawings. Though removal was not the primary goal of the project, it was a key metric tracked throughout. From the material reviewed, LAC removed 33,294 containers of textual records, 385,640 cartographic items and 233,180 architectural drawings. Some material was also earmarked for future projects, as they required more resources than were available. Estimating that most of the textual containers removed were 30-centimetre boxes, that would add up to 9.98 kilometres of non-archival textual records removed!

Much of the non-archival material removed consisted of case files, administrative records, duplicates, grey literature, records that fall outside LAC’s mandate, and reference copies; this material was taking up resources that could be better spent elsewhere. As well as reviewing the records, the project was able to improve the discoverability of the archival material by updating descriptive records, providing updated electronic finding aids and, in some cases, improving the arrangement structure of different fonds. This aspect of the project remains ongoing, as some descriptive work must wait until the removal process is completed. This work includes notifying the creating department and confirming that the material is not subject to any active litigation holds or open ATIP requests.

Color photo showing a stack of rolled blueprints (variable degradation) on a table in front, with 2 juxtaposed horizontal plans filing cabinets and a door on the left in the background

Rolls of architectural and technical drawings after removal from their bag.
Photo: Matthew Moore, LAC

In addition to achieving the project goal of creating a healthier collection, the Renfrew Reappraisal Project resulted in a number of unexpected benefits. These included improved description and accessibility to the records in the collection, along with the creation of a new file classification guide library. The project also acted as a test site for existing protocols and procedures, and it built a knowledge base among staff for removal work and defunct government departments. Further, in several instances, the knowledge gained in reappraisal informed the development of stronger disposition authorities by portfolio archivists; such collaboration between teams created strong working relationships. The project also served as a training ground for a number of archival professionals who moved to other positions within and beyond LAC. Finally, it showed the importance of staying flexible and adaptable, to meet whatever challenges the collection presented that day.

While it was decided this past year that LAC’s storage facility in Renfrew would not be closed after all, the Renfrew Reappraisal Project achieved meaningful and successful results, including numerous side benefits, as it completed the macroappraisal review on time and on budget, and created a better, more succinct collection.


Through the Looking-Glass: The Refracted World of Copyright

— By William Wilson, Policy Analyst, Strategic Research and Policy

A certain aversion to copyright is natural.

Copyright can carry the appearance of an overly technical and troublesome discipline, replete with Byzantine rules and bygone expressions. Though aware of copyright’s general existence, people tend to dismiss it as an inconvenient but ultimately harmless intrusion upon their everyday lives.

“Why does it matter if something has been published?” “What is a moral right, anyway?” “How does death factor into all of this?” “When does it start, and where does it end?”

These are some of the questions that a passing knowledge of and interest in copyright might elicit, but in the end, there is usually only one question that truly interests us, “Can I use it?”

If I did not work in copyright, I would probably think of it as a tiresome annoyance as well. “If no one knows, why does it matter? Let’s just use it.”

What this common (mis)understanding of copyright fails to see, however, is a highly dynamic and ever-evolving world of social exchange—a world that not only affects our everyday lives but also reflects and speaks to many of the larger questions that dominate our shared existence.

At its core, copyright is about fairness and reciprocity—between owner and creator, creator/owner and user, individual and society, commerce and culture, accessible and inaccessible, government and citizen, past and present, colonizer and colonized. The relationships it encompasses can take myriad forms, with myriad outcomes.

Wide black and white photo showing 8 sloped rows of young poeple and adults (estimated at about 200 altogether) costumed as cast members of Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland costumed group, 1903. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), offered original audiences a refracted view of society. We can think of copyright in a similar way today.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/a135808


You may not be aware of it, but something as seemingly insignificant as photocopying a book or downloading a movie brings you into the world of copyright. It immediately puts you into a relationship with the creator and owner, and it immediately raises questions about fairness and reciprocity. Did you pay for that book or movie? How do you intend to use it? Were certain uses already permitted? What are the alternatives?

There is no single answer to these questions, nor is there necessarily a right or a wrong answer. In copyright, the answer often depends on the context, and herein lies the inherent excitement and uncertainty of the discipline. Each exchange can be seen as unique, opening up new possibilities, but also occurring alongside similar exchanges that run the risk of affirming a common and single outcome.

It only takes one person to challenge the rules, but they remain “the rules” until this happens. The dynamism of copyright is always waiting to be activated and released.

In the case of fair dealing, despite its availability in Canadian copyright law since 1921, it was not until the CCH decision in 2004 that the boundaries of research and private study were successfully extended.footnote2 Calling for a “large and liberal interpretation” of fair dealing, this decision from the Supreme Court of Canada ushered in a new era of “user rights,” which themselves quickly became contested.footnote3 The years since the CCH decision have seen a gradual expansion of fair dealing by both Parliament and the Supreme Court, but also the expansion of owner and creator rights in other areas.footnote4

This is just part of the everlasting dance that is copyright. It is not static but fluid, not given but disputed.

We actually find ourselves in a particularly malleable moment in the history of copyright, with calls for significant change coming from multiple directions. Some of these calls will succeed, some of them will fail, but the dance will always continue.

The saga of fair dealing continues in the current lawsuit between York University and Access Copyright, where there is a very real possibility that the last 15 years of expansion will see a sudden reversal.

The currents of change can also be seen in legislative work involving the Copyright Act. These discussions, which involve questions about the general term of protection, “web giants,” and Crown copyright, will definitely affect how we use certain works in our everyday lives. But they also raise important questions about the relationship between private enterprise and public knowledge, technology and user rights, and government and citizen—and all of the power dynamics at play in these different relationships.

How far are we willing to push these relationships? What is an acceptable balance? Who is to decide this? Am I only interested in my personal use of a government record, or am I interested in the larger relationship between me, as a private citizen, and the government elected by, and accountable to, all citizens?

Color poster showing a montage of a vintage monochrome illustration of a young girl (Alice) on the right, small cascading color images on the left, a title on top, and information at the bottom

What prism will Alice visit today? All in the golden afternoon: the inventions of Lewis Carroll, 1999.
Credit: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e010758276

Perhaps in no other area is this overlap between the everyday dimensions of copyright and the larger social questions it reflects more apparent than in the case of Indigenous Peoples. Entire ways of knowing and experiencing the world, spanning time and multiple generations, have been stolen, sold, and squandered by a foreign legal system. Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires us to rethink and re-empower Indigenous cultural heritage, but it is not obvious that this is any easier to achieve in the case of copyright than it is in society more broadly.

If, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, you look carefully into the mirror, you will see that copyright reflects how we understand and navigate one another. It forces us to acknowledge larger questions: Will we put economic interests before reconciliation? Will we put access and use before authorship and compensation? Will digital technologies fundamentally transform the ways in which we create, disseminate, and consume new works, or have they simply expanded the context in which we pursue fairness and reciprocity?

In most cases, there is no clear hero or villain when it comes to copyright. Instead, its characters take shape in the minutia of detail, each entitled to present his or her own understanding of the facts before what we hope is an impartial arbitrator. The power dynamics behind this system, however, are seldom equal, which again underscores how copyright reflects both the smaller aspects of our individual lives and the larger aspects of our shared existence.

I began by noting that a certain aversion to copyright is natural. This may be best understood as a conscious aversion. If we do not understand copyright, or if we do not want to be bothered by everything it entails, then why bother to think about it? We can opt to ignore its existence and hope that it never encroaches upon our daily lives beyond an obligatory appearance at the beginning of a book or the ending of a movie.

But like the unconscious, it is always present.

We may not see it, but it is there, constantly pushing and pulling our lives in ways both small and big. It asks us to consider what is fair and reciprocal, both for ourselves and for the larger world around us. We may not hear it—we may not want to hear it—but we always answer it: in our actions, if not our words.

The world of copyright is all around us.


Signatures Interviews

The Signatures Interviews, conducted by Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, offer unique encounters with Canadian personalities who have donated their archives to Library and Archives Canada. These interviews are an excellent way to discover hidden treasures in the collection.

Émilie, Ovila and Blanche in the Archives: An Interview with Arlette Cousture

— By Stéphane Lang, Senior Archivist, French-language Literary Archives, Archives Branch

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) recently acquired the archives of Arlette Cousture, author of the acclaimed Les Filles de Caleb novels. In a Signatures Interview conducted in October 2020 and available on LAC’s YouTube channel, the writer joins the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Leslie Weir, for a discussion. Their conversation is an opportunity to explore Cousture’s life and work, using her personal archives as a starting point.

Color photo showing several paper documents with hand written text, storyboards, and a map laying over a fabric-like printed background with arabesques on opposite sides

Documents about the structure of Le Cri de l’oie blanche (Libre Expression, 1986), the second volume in Arlette Cousture’s Les Filles de Caleb trilogy.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Arlette Cousture fonds (R16227)

Cousture, who was born in 1948 in Saint-Lambert, Quebec, talked about both sides of her family: her Quebec roots through her mother, Blanche Pronovost, originally from the Mauricie region, and her Franco-Manitoban roots through her father, Clovis-Émile Couture. Cousture actually attended a boarding school in Manitoba in the 1960s, during her high school years. She still has many friends from that time and retains fond memories of Red River, her bilingual classes and her Métis classmates. She showed a great interest in the craft of writing early on: “I was 16 years old when I told my father, ‘Anyway, I’m going to be a writer.’ ” Yet a sense of estrangement emerges in her abundant correspondence with her parents. “The times were good, but I was often bored as a young girl,” she said.

She explained how the idea for the Filles de Caleb trilogy came to her. One day in 1981, while her mother Blanche was hanging up laundry in the basement, Arlette, feeling a strong desire to write about something, started to ask questions. Sitting in her childhood chair, listening to her mother’s anecdotes, she asked her to clarify a date. Blanche began to answer, then, “with her hand holding up a clothespin, she said, ‘Hold on, was that before or after the separation?’ ” Surprised, Arlette exclaimed, “What did you just say? What separation?” To which Blanche replied, “Whose separation? My parents’, of course!”

This was the inception of Les Filles de Caleb—Cousture’s vague desire to write about her mother’s life became a series of novels featuring the separation of her grandparents, Ovila Pronovost and Émilie Bordeleau. Until the 1960s, separation was a taboo topic in Quebec. “Nobody had any recollection of the separation. So I decided that it happened in 1918,” she explained.

The Arlette Cousture fonds includes a large number of research documents, including documents collected by her mother, “a born archivist.” The fonds includes family and genealogical archives relating to Pronovost and Bordeleau, as well as documents about Blanche’s career as a nurse in Abitibi during the 1930s. The documents were invaluable in writing the second volume of Les Filles de Caleb, Le Cri de l’oie blanche. The preliminary research documents also include location scouting documents, maps and photographs taken in Saint-Tite, a small town in the province of Quebec, and neighbouring villages.

Interestingly, Les Filles de Caleb was written with very modern tools. Cousture composed most of the novel on her computer in the early 1980s; at the time, people were generally using typewriters. She also created her own discussion group, comprised of both strangers and personal acquaintances (including her good friend Marie Eykel, famous for her role as Passe-Partout on children’s television!), with whom she shared her manuscript. The feedback led her to rewrite all of the dialogue before she brought her novel to a publisher in January 1986.

Color photo showing a room with shelves full of books, and a young women with bun hair sitting behind a desk on which rests an old Mac computer, a small filing box, and a document holder

Arlette Cousture writing Les Filles de Caleb on a computer in 1985. The novel may have been the first digital manuscript to be submitted to a Quebec publisher.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Arlette Cousture fonds (R16227)

The rest is history. The TV adaptation of Les Filles de Caleb, broadcast in the winter of 1990–1991, shattered rating records. Cousture found the experience a little surreal. She believes that the series was successful because of the high quality of the production. Although she was herself a fan of the show, she did not fully realize the extent of the phenomenon until one particular evening, when she was taking a walk in Montréal’s Plateau Mont-Royal. “All the windows were shining with the blue flicker of televisions,” she recalls. “Suddenly, I was able to somewhat grasp what the series was, what effect it had when it was on.”

The Arlette Cousture fonds also contains manuscripts and research documents about the writer’s other works, including J’aurais voulu vous dire, William (1992 and 1994), Chère Arlette (2016) and Ces enfants d’ailleurs (1998). Ces enfants d’ailleurs was set partly in Poland, but because of health issues, Cousture was unable to travel there to conduct research for the novel. So she relied on her spouse to document everything. During a stay in Krakow and Warsaw, he took extensive notes and collected photographs and city maps. It was only much later, when the series based on this novel was being filmed, that she was finally able to see her characters in their rightful location. And the experience was intense; during rehearsals, she found herself in the middle of a scene with armed soldiers!

Cousture states that she is delighted to have made her archives available. Having spent much time herself with archivists, historians and other writers, she knows better than most people how valuable the personal fonds of creators can be to better understand and study their works. “I hope that what I wrote gets tormented a little,” she says, “and that it will make future generations eager to know more about history and archives.”

Literature, Learning and Life at the CBC: An Interview with Adrienne Clarkson

— By Thora Gustafsson, Archivist, and Rebecca Sykes, Archivist, Governance, Military and Political section, Archives Branch

In December 2020, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Leslie Weir, sat down with the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson for the third Signatures Interview since Ms. Weir took the helm at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Madame Clarkson has an especially rich archival fonds to explore! Her parents were excellent record keepers, and the fonds includes a lot of material from the former Governor General of Canada’s childhood. This is especially meaningful to her, since her family came to Canada as refugees with only one suitcase apiece.

Knowing that Madame Clarkson is a voracious reader and lover of literature, Ms. Weir asked for the story behind a photograph of her as a young girl immersed in reading. This image took Madame Clarkson back to the “best part of [her] childhood,” which is evident from how vivid her memories are. She could still recall the smell of the children’s library (part of the Ottawa Carnegie Library), where she would stop on her way to school and check out her fortnightly maximum of six books. She would read these books on her parents’ comfy couch, which Madame Clarkson kept for many years until it was unfortunately lost during a move.

Black and white photo with a very bright background showing a young asiatic girl sitting sideways on a couch and leaning on the armrest reading a book

Adrienne Poy reading.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/R12308, vol. 189, file 1

Color photo of an sunny outdoor scene showing an ionic building and crowd at the back, and a young women in graduation attire, a women with a mink scarf, and a man wearing a dark suit in front

Adrienne Poy (left), her mother and father on graduation day.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/R12308, vol. 181, file 15

One of the first books that made the young Adrienne Poy truly love reading was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Neighbours, who saw how much she liked to read, gave her the copy that she still has to this day. Madame Clarkson asserts that reading Anne of Green Gables “made me Canadian. It gave me a Canadian past: being part of that extraordinary family of people, and that really tight, interesting society, filled with intimate feelings, and best friends and sacrifice.” Altogether, the Anne books are, to Madame Clarkson, the history of Canada, and Rilla of Ingleside is the history of Canada in the First World War. These books helped her to understand Canada in a way that her history classes never did, and to feel the sacrifices that Canadians had made in the First World War. Perhaps in this book we can find the roots of her close bond with the Canadian Armed Forces as our 26th Governor General.

Despite her love of reading, Adrienne Clarkson focused most on mathematics in school. It was not until Grade 10, when her English teacher pointed out that she found language more fulfilling, that she considered a future in literature. He convinced her to do a Bachelor of Arts in English at Trinity College at the University of Toronto.

Madame Clarkson remembers Trinity fondly, as she recalled while looking at a photograph of herself on her graduation day. There, she met lifelong friends and people who inspired her. Her love of learning led her to complete a master’s degree and to begin a doctoral degree. When her program and teaching proved unfulfilling, however, she found herself at a loss. By sheer happenstance, an acquaintance from her undergraduate years was working as a script assistant for “Take 30,” an afternoon television program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). When she suggested that Adrienne Clarkson might be the perfect fit as a book reviewer for the show, it seemed like an exciting opportunity.

Color photo of a color page with typed text showing a title, a header, some storyboard content, a footer, and some handwritten annotations at the top

“Take 30” script with notes to Adrienne Clarkson.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/R12308, vol. 31, file 16

“Take 30” was “my favorite show of everything I ever did,” she recalls. It brought her into the CBC, an institution she believes in and called home for decades. It allowed her to explore the world in new and interesting ways and to meet fascinating people. Through it, she was able to answer questions that she had, work with colleagues with interesting ideas and ways of thinking, and work with freelancers with fresh perspectives.

The conversation briefly turned to fashion when Ms. Weir brought up a question about some Polaroid photographs of Adrienne Clarkson in her dressing room at the CBC. These were probably taken to test outfits before they were used on screen, the former television host explained. Finding outfits that worked on screen could sometimes be a struggle. The stools that the CBC uses and lavalier (lapel) microphones, for example, are particularly frustrating with some women’s outfits, she added.

All of her hard work, though, could be incredibly rewarding. LAC acquired many letters from fans of the show as part of Madame Clarkson’s archives. Many of them were from mothers and women who had come to see her as a friend through “Take 30”; they wanted to share advice during Adrienne Clarkson’s own pregnancy and express their appreciation for her work. To this day, she is still approached by people whose mothers found the program a lifeline. Those moments and the letters, “that was what it was about, that was what I really wanted people to think, that I was having the privilege of learning these things, that I could pass them on to other people and bring them into the circle,” she recalls, which was what had brought her into television.

Madame Clarkson has much more worth exploring in her fonds. Her archives contain documents relating to her time as Ontario’s Agent-General in France and as Governor General from 1999 to 2005, and various projects that she has worked on since. She and Ms. Weir concluded the Signatures Interview with the possibility of a second instalment in the future.


LAC Perspectives

Regional Services / Online Public Programming

— By Caitlin Webster, Senior Archivist, Reference Services Division, Public Services Branch

Black and white graphic montage showing a title and subtitle on the left, followed by a large white tear-like gap, and an old photo of 4 WW1 officers in uniform seated on a hillock

Screenshot of the first In the Trenches webinar on military service files, presented on LAC’s Facebook page.

As part of LAC’s public programming initiatives, the Regional Services team often provides presentations, workshops, tours and other programs to clients across Canada. However, given COVID-19 restrictions across the country, LAC is exploring innovative approaches to deliver these programs online. These new virtual offerings allow staff and participants to interact safely, and they have the added benefit of improving access to these programs.

Workshops and seminars are a great opportunity for LAC staff to work closely with user groups as they explore LAC’s holdings. For instance, participants at LAC’s In the Trenches workshops learn about digitized resources available for conducting research about the First World War and the individuals who served. To convert this hands-on program into an online event, we presented subsets of the workshop content on Facebook Live, while fielding questions from participants in the platform’s chat function. Similarly, LAC’s workshop with the Vancouver Public Library, Connection to Kith and Kin, allows us to work closely with clients as they research their Indigenous genealogy. To offer the individualized support required for this program, staff and participants now meet on the Zoom platform and utilize breakout rooms for one-on-one discussions as needed. In addition, LAC’s Indigenous Genealogy seminar, presented in partnership with the Royal British Columbia Museum, also moved online to become a YouTube webinar.

Giving presentations to conferences, community groups and classrooms are another way that LAC staff share information about our holdings and services. During the pandemic, these presentations have also moved online. They have included joint presentations, with colleagues from LAC’s Reference Services based in the National Capital Region, to the Ontario Genealogical Society and the University of King’s College in Nova Scotia. We have also connected remotely as guest speakers at the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie University. Additional online presentations are in the works for 2021.

We have also discovered that even site tours can take place virtually. Employing face masks, physical distancing, tablets and considerable ingenuity, staff provided a virtual tour of LAC’s Vancouver office to Langara College’s Library and Information Technology Program. Staff at LAC’s Winnipeg office had similar success in hosting a Webex tour and discussion with the Archival Studies Program of the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg.

While the safety of clients and staff was the impetus for this shift to online public programming, we are happy to discover that, with some creative solutions, this new approach can provide the immediacy of in-person service to a broader community of clients.


Winnipeg / Railway Land Development Records

— By David Cuthbert, Archivist, Public Services Branch

Color photo of a partially yellowed paper document containing printed and handwritten content showing a title, a 12 questions form and a remark section at the end

The Appraiser’s Report on a prospective purchaser of Alberta farmland in 1928.
Source: Library and Archives Canada/e011172002

In the late 1980s, federal government archivists salvaged a large collection of files and ledgers from a vault in Winnipeg’s Union Station and the railway storage sheds in the area of downtown Winnipeg now known as The Forks. The recovered records were created by the various subsidiary property companies established by the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors, the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific railways. These property companies would help the railways raise funds by selling and leasing land granted to the railways by the Canadian government as an incentive to expand their rail networks across Western Canada.

Now in our collections at LAC’s Winnipeg office, these land development files provide a rich source for historical and genealogical research on immigration to Western Canada in the early 20th century. The files documenting the sale and lease of farmland offer an especially rewarding record of Western Canadian settlers and their experiences. Such files typically contain a standard application form, outlining the personal background of the applicant, as well as an appraisal of the application by a company representative, who assessed whether or not the applicant was “likely to make good.” Together with the correspondence found in the files, these applications and assessments offer vivid portraits of some of the farmers who came to populate the Prairie provinces and British Columbia.


National Capital Region / LAC Is Turning Green!

— By Sylvain Salvas, Senior Communications Advisor, Communications Branch

Two sustainable infrastructure projects are currently under way at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Color architectural rendering showing a bird's eye view of a building with a rock strata-like external wall curving towards the middle, and a half vegetation covered roof crowned with a sawlike structure on top

Green roof with solar panels. © 2021 City of Ottawa/Ottawa Public Library/Library and Archives Canada.
All rights reserved.

Color architectural rendering showing a multi-level atrium with light wood covered balconies, and with a large center glass column covered on one side, up to the top, with vegetation

Interior green wall. © 2021 City of Ottawa/Ottawa Public Library/Library and Archives Canada.
All rights reserved.

One is the joint facility to be shared with Ottawa Public Library ( A few months ago, the Government of Canada announced its support for improvements to make the facility a net-zero carbon building (in other words, energy consumption is reduced to a minimum).

The approximately $34 million invested will provide for upgrades to the facility’s exterior and insulation, triple-glazed windows, solar panels on the roof and facade, more sustainable building materials, and construction of an interior green wall.

Another major project also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. LAC’s new preservation facility, now under construction, will be the first federal building to meet the requirements of Canada’s Greening Government Strategy.

Construction of the Ottawa Public Library and Library and Archives Canada joint facility, located on the western edge of downtown Ottawa, will begin in 2021. It will be completed by the end of 2024, with a planned grand opening in 2025.

Ottawa / Dr. Guy Berthiaume Honoured

— By Michelle Pellerin, Communications Advisor, Communications Branch

Color photo showing a close-up view of a smiling adult male caucasian with glasses, dressed with dark suit and tie

Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada from 2014 to 2019.
Photo: Michel Gagné

On December 30, 2020, Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada Emeritus, was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for his leadership in preserving our collective heritage and making it more accessible to all Canadians. Dr. Berthiaume served as Librarian and Archivist of Canada from 2014 to 2019, after leading the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) from 2009 to 2014. While in these prominent positions, he made extraordinary contributions to preserving heritage in Quebec, Canada and internationally. His entrepreneurship, innovation and collaborative approach have inspired others and greatly strengthened the documentary heritage sector. Dr. Berthiaume’s determined pursuit of partnerships and more democratic access has allowed Canadians to experience their heritage in more ways than ever before.

Created in 1967, the Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, which recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation.


LAC Looks Forward to the Next Decade

— By Sylvain Bélanger, Director General of the Transition Team, Vision 2030 Project

Far from relegating memory institutions to oblivion, the digital revolution is increasing their popularity more than ever. Canadians want reliable sources of information and better access to our collections, both online and in person.

This pressure, combined with rapidly changing technology and limited financial resources, is forcing Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to adapt so it can continue to fulfill its mandate and improve its services. With this goal in mind, LAC launched Vision 2030 last year. This project is intended to foster reflection, analysis and planning to chart our course over the next 10 years, and beyond!

Looking further

Rest assured that LAC’s mandate is unchanged. We will continue to acquire, process, preserve and disseminate Canada’s documentary heritage. With Vision 2030, LAC will define where it wants to go, what it wants to achieve, and how it will do so. In practical terms, this vision will inform our decision making and shape our future projects.

Of course, there is no need to fix what is not broken. It is safe to say that we will not be trying to reinvent ourselves! LAC is a world leader, particularly regarding the unification of our national library and our national archives. Our expertise, our successes, and our present and future facilities are the envy of the memory institution community; these will remain essential assets. That said, with Vision 2030, we want to remain a leader and to help more Canadians discover our collections.

Knowns and unknowns

Vision 2030 has already begun. The Transition Team will be working on it until the spring of 2022, at which point the vision statement and the road map will be unveiled.

From the outset, LAC has relied on the participation and commitment of all parties. Over the past 12 months, LAC has consulted its employees, as well as a wide range of stakeholders, users and Canadians. Thousands of inputs, ideas, comments and suggestions have been received. This shows that LAC really matters to you!

So now, it is as though LAC has a bucket of LEGO® blocks at its disposal and must decide what to build with them. As we know, that toy offers endless possibilities. The road map will play a key role, guiding us in how to put our blocks together in the best way possible.

What has taken shape so far? Since April 1, 2021, LAC has established a solid foundation by reorganizing its organizational chart, which now includes four sectors: User Experience and Engagement, Collections, Digital Services and Corporate Services. This new structure will promote better synergies, make work more efficient and bring teams together “under one roof” to optimize natural strengths. This reorganization was not just an afterthought; it illustrated that LAC is in sync with the times and adapting to change.

Vision 2030 will also promote two major priorities, which will guide LAC’s work over the next few years: digital optimization and service transformation. No surprises here; at LAC, serving Canadians is at the core of our identity!

Canadians increasingly want access to digital content, and their expectations are leading LAC to innovate. We want to provide the right technological tools to our experts and users. We also want to optimize our operations by improving our tools and processes. This optimization covers all aspects of our digital activities, from acquisitions to preservation, and from discovery to online access.

In addition, LAC is preparing to welcome record crowds: starting in 2025, it will be able to accommodate 1.7 million visitors each year in the new joint facility to be shared with Ottawa Public Library. This is a great opportunity to review our services, reach new audiences and improve the user experience!

In the quest to study all aspects of what LAC offers, the Transition Team has also put other pieces of the puzzle together, including the following:

  • a plan for our real property holdings, which will help us to manage the growing number of government archives, among other things
  • a financial plan, which considers the high cost of new technologies
  • interest in a “green LAC,” to continue reducing our environmental footprint
  • the creation and strengthening of partnerships, showing solidarity by LAC
  • the improvement of access to our online resources
  • opening up to new clients

Vision 2030 is an ambitious and exciting project, but it matches our ambitions! As LAC employees, we are well aware of the mandate we have received: to make the collection known and accessible to more people and to even more diverse audiences. It is a challenge that is worthy of us; as the Bob Dylan song relates, “The times, they are a-changing.”

Do you have a question? Would you like to share an idea, a comment or a suggestion? Write to us at


On Loan from LAC

Please note that with many institutions remaining closed to the public due to COVID-19, the majority of loans of LAC material have either been extended, shortened or delayed. Here is a small selection of items that are currently on loan.

Black and white photo of a daytime scene showing a close-up seen from below of 4 bear cubs (1 on top, 2 in the middle and 1 at the bottom) climbing a sparse deciduous tree

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Felix Man exhibition
December 2019 to November 2021 (extended due to COVID-19)

Four bear cubs up a tree, Northwest Territories
Felix H. Man, 1933
Silver gelatin print

Library and Archives Canada, Felix H. Man collection, e011297600

Black and white photo of a daytime scene showing, from bottom to top, a french garden type landscaping with 2 fountains, a calm river, and a slightly urbanized city panorama

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Felix Man exhibition
December 2019 to November 2021 (extended due to COVID-19)

View of the city, Regina, Saskatchewan
Felix H. Man, 1933
Silver gelatin print

Library and Archives Canada, Felix H. Man collection, e011297594

Black and white photo of a daytime scene showing, from bottom to top, an observatory with pool and bathers, a coniferous valley with a meandering river running through it, and a panorama of snow-capped mountains

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Felix Man exhibition
December 2019 to November 2021 (extended due to COVID-19)

Hot Springs, Rocky Mountains, Banff, Alberta
Felix H. Man, 1933
Silver gelatin print

Library and Archives Canada, Felix H. Man collection, e011297589

Black and white photo of a daytime scene showing, from front to back, a man leaning on a round numbered platform using a rotating telescopic device, a man holding binoculars, and a forest panorama

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Felix Man exhibition
December 2019 to November 2021 (extended due to COVID-19)

Forest fire observers, Manitoba
Felix H. Man, 1933
Silver gelatin print

Library and Archives Canada, Felix H. Man collection, e011297598

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