Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

126 posts categorized "Canada"

30 October 2023

Tales from the Philatelic Crypt: The ‘Haunted Canada’ Postage Stamp Series

Halloween’s origins remain obscure, yet it is the calendar event where humanity’s fascination with the supernatural is openly celebrated. Millions of individuals commemorate Halloween every year by attending fancy-dress parties, going trick or treating, watching horror movies, visiting ‘haunted’ sites or narrating ghost stories. Whether a believer or sceptic, the supernatural is in reality an economically significant cultural phenomenon generating millions of pounds each year for the tourist, publishing, merchandising and entertainment sectors. As central component of humanity’s visual, material and print cultures, postage stamps are unsurprisingly replete with depictions of ghosts, creatures, myths and legends. Canada Post leads the way having issued several visually striking, innovative stamp sets as mini-sheets chronicling the nation’s rich heritage of hauntings and ghostly sightings (Figure 1). Not released for Halloween, the content of these ‘Haunted Canada’ stamps is nevertheless a perfect accompaniment to a Halloween blog.

A Canada Post mini-sheet showing 5 stamps on Haunted Canada
Figure 1: Canada Post's mini-sheets of Canadian hauntings

The first series released on Friday 13th’ June 2014, comprises five separate designs developed by Lionel Gadoury and Terry Popik from the illustrations of Sam Weber and C. H. J. Snider. Manufactured by the Canadian firm, Lowe-Martin using a lithographic printing process two stories centre upon particular sites rather than specific individuals. One, labelled ‘Ghost Bride’ depicts a veiled woman and candles in the background. It refers to reported sightings of a ghostly figure wearing a long flowing dress descending the staircase of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Figure 2). Many believe she is the apparition of a bride who tripped and fell to her death from the staircase on her wedding day. The second, ‘Ghost Train’ illustrates a steam-train with a ghostly spectre in the background and takes inspiration from sightings of a ghostly glowing light known as the ‘St Louis Light’ in the Saskatchewan River Valley (Figure 3). This unexplained phenomenon is locally associated with the tale of a long dead Canadian National Railway Conductor decapitated by a passing train whilst examining the track-line with a lantern during the 1920s.

Two illustrated stamps. Figure 2 is on the left showing a ghostly female figure. Figure 3 on the right shows a steam train with ghostly spectre in the background
Figure 2 and Figure 3

A second series was issued on 14 September 2014, all printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company using a lithographic printing process. The set includes five stamps designed by Lionel Gadoury and Kammy Ahuja using illustrations from Sam Weber as well as Photography from Peter Bregg. Two stamps chronicle hauntings centred on particular individuals from local history. One depicting a woman standing above a gibbet with two phantom trees refers to the spirit of Marie-Josephte Corriveau (Figure 4). Executed for murder in 1763, her remains went on public display in Levis, Quebec as a warning to others. Local residents have encountered her sprit walking the road at night, frightening unwary travellers. Moving on, the ‘Caribou Hotel’ stamp reveals a clothed skeleton representing the ghost of Bessie Gideon, one-time owner of the historic gold-rush era hotel situated in Carcross, Yukon (Figure 5).

Two illustrated Canada Post stamps. Figure 4 is on the left and shows a woman (Marie-Josephte Corriveau) between two haunted trees. Figure 5 is on the right and shows a clothed female skeleton and is labelled as Bessie Gideon
Figure 4 and Figure 5

On 8 September 2016, the third ‘Haunted Canada’ series lithographed by Colour Innovations in Toronto went on sale. Lionel Gadoury developed each stamp, from Sam Weber’s illustrations and Peter Bregg’s photographs. The ‘Lady in White’ Stamp presents the evocative image of a woman standing in a lake with a skeletal reflection (Figure 6) in reference to the tale of Mathilde-Robin, whose spirit haunts Montmorency Falls, Quebec. Following the death of her fiancé during the Battle of Montmorency in 1759, she committed suicide. Finally, 'Dungarvon Whooper’ narrates the legend of a cook brutally robbed and murdered at a logging camp near the Dungarvon River in Renous, New Brunswick (Figure 7). Upon discovering the body, some lumberjacks buried the remains within a shallow grave. That night they were horrified by hideous screams and whooping sounds emanating from the new grave during a snowstorm.

Two illustrated Canada Post stamps. Figure 6 shows a woman in a lake with a skeleton reflected and is anntoaed as being Mathilde-Robin. Figure 7, on the right, shows a man with an axe above a cooking pot over a fire, with a hand rising out of the pot. It is annotated as being Dungarvon Whooper.
Figure 6 and Figure 7

Contemporary to the release of these stamps was the publication of a series of books titled ‘Haunted Canada,’ recounting some of these tales. Beyond their entertainment value, each stamp is also inherently didactic, showcasing Canada’s topography, histories, myths and legends. In doing so, they buttress national identity within Canada whilst becoming ambassadors for the nation’s wider cultural diplomacy. The British Library’s Philatelic Collections would like to wish everybody a fun, spooky and scary Halloween!

By Richard Scott Morel

Curator, British Library’s Philatelic Collections

26 September 2023

Verse and Reverse: Uncovering the work of the Toronto Women’s Press Club

Occasionally, you come across an item in the British Library that can open up a new pathway through our wider collection. One such item is Verse and Reverse, the title of two collections of poetry, printed in 1921 and 1922, written and published by the members of the Toronto Women’s Press Club.

In April 1921, the Toronto Women’s Press Club, a regional branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club, held a poetry night. Members anonymously submitted poems, which they read aloud to each other. Pleased with the experiment, the membership decided to gather the poems together and publish a booklet, repeating the endeavour the following year. The British Library holds both collections, bound together, at shelfmark 1168.c.57.

Verse and Reverse
The cover of ‘Verse and Reverse’ (1168.c.57).

Since I first read about the Canadian Women’s Press Club, its members and history have intrigued me. Founded in 1904, the Club emerged out of the relationships forged when sixteen women working in the Canadian press achieved sponsorship to report on the World’s Fair in St. Louis, USA. It was during their ten-day railway journey they formed the idea of a professional network to support, promote and advocate for its members. With writers working in both French and English, it was the first nationally recognised club of its kind, founded long before women achieved suffrage in Canada.

At the start of the twentieth century, the nature of the literary marketplace for women drew almost all writers into the orbit of newspapers and periodicals. As such, the Canadian Women’s Press Club was a broad church. As one might expect, members included pioneering journalists, like founder Kit Coleman, the first Canadian woman accredited as a war correspondent, and suffragists Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy. Yet, novelist Lucy M. Montgomery, author of the bestselling Anne of Green Gables (1908), also served as a regional vice president of the club. Another active member was E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), the daughter of a Mohawk chief and English mother, who performed poems and stories about Indigenous experience. Historians have documented the compelling story of the club’s founding, most recently Linda Kay. Yet, there is much more to uncover about its regional branches and evolutions across the twentieth century. I was keen to see what the Toronto Branch’s Verse and Reverse might illuminate.

In the 1922 ‘Prefatory Note’ to Verse and Reverse, Isabel Eccleston MacKay observes there ‘are few things more delightful than to turn to the fresh-cut pages of a new miscellany’. I certainly agree. There are familiar figures among the contributors to Verse and Reverse, (Montgomery has poems in each booklet), but it is the less familiar names that intrigue. While the poetry collected is interesting, what I find exciting about something like Verse and Reverse is that it gathers the names of many forgotten writers working in Toronto in the 1920s together. This makes it a great starting point for further research, which the British Library’s wider collection is able to support.

Our Canadian holdings are remarkably rich. Much of this owes to the process of colonial copyright deposit to the British Museum Library. This undiscriminating process meant, for a time, the accrual of items published in Canada was not as subject to the ideologies of taste and the financial constraints that can shape acquisition. As such, I found it was easy to order up a sample of other titles from the lesser-known Verse and Reverse contributors. Gathering together works of ephemeral popularity, what starts to emerge is a snapshot of women’s cultural production at the start of the twentieth century in Toronto; not the luminaries preserved across time, but the disparate and largely forgotten output of everyday, professionally organised women who earnt their living through their pens.

Pictures of book covers. All are text except 'After the Honeymoon' which shows a well dressed man and woman flyiung above the earth in a hot air balloon.
The covers of books ‘Etiquette in Canada’ (YA.1987.b.1605), ‘A Canadian History for Boys and Girls’ (09555.aa.3), and ‘After the Honeymoon’ (08416.bb.82)

Although all their contributions to Verse and Reverse were poems, the Toronto members of the Canadian Women’s Press Club worked across literary genres. Some of the books I ordered cohered to my expectations: non-fiction writing on conduct, etiquette and instruction. For example, member Emily P. Weaver’s A Canadian History for Boys and Girls (1900) is a chronological survey of Canada complete with black and white illustrations by her sister. Gertrude Pringle’s Etiquette in Canada, first published in 1932, was new to me, offering advice for a gamut of social situations from picnics to the opening of Parliament. Another lovely discovery was the beautiful cover of Louise Mason’s After the Honeymoon: One Hundred Hints on Husbandry, which offers a selection of comedic snippets of marriage advice.

Picture of book spines. The cover for 'Grey Knitting' depicts a woman knitting with the yarn reaching and connecting to a solider.
Covers for the books ‘Grey Knitting and Other Poems’ (11686.ee.46), ‘The House of Windows’ (012621.cc.34) and ‘Savour of Salt’ (NN.13499)

However, other titles I ordered were more unusual and unexpected. I am intrigued now, for instance, to delve more into The House of Windows (1912), MacKay’s own novel about the fates of an overworked department store shop girl. Member Katherine Hale’s Grey Knitting, and Other Poems (1914) is a collection about women’s experiences on the Home Front during World War I. It reminded me of a more recent Canadian acquisition, the textile work I Sit and Sew (2019) by artist Lise Melhorn-Boe. The Library holds member Florence Randal Livesay’s novel Savour of Salt (1927), which chronicles the experiences of Irish immigrants to Ontario. Mother of the award-winning poet Dorothy Livesay, Florence was clearly interested in the Canadian immigrant experience, collecting and translating a number of Ukrainian folk takes in her lifetime. The British Library holds her posthumously published collection, Down Singing Centuries: Folk Literature of Ukraine (1981), with striking illustrations by Stefan Czernecki. In summary, Verse and Reverse provided me with an avenue to open up a whole range of intriguing work I did not know we held and would otherwise have been hard to discover.

Double page spread with one full page colour illustration showing two men b y the edge of a pond with frogs and waterlillies, and a nude male and female figures bathing in the pond
Example of an illustration by Stefan Czernecki from ‘Down Singing Centuries’ (L.45/3357). The image accompanies Livesay’s translation of ‘Song of the Forest’ by Leisa Ukrainka (Olga Kossatch)

There are no grand conclusions to reach with a short project like this. However, it is indicative of the work one can achieve with ease thanks to the strength of the British Library’s Canadian collection. Much more work could be done with our microfilm, newspaper, and e-resources, where, armed with their names, one could pull together more of the work of Press Club members. Indeed, within our e-resources collection we hold digital copies of publications from branches of the Canadian Women’s Press Club in Alberta and Calgary. Each provides their own starting point to enrich our understanding of localised literary marketplaces, the ways in which women constructed their careers, and female authorship in Canada. The founders created the Canadian Women’s Press Club to foster professional solidarity and promote its members’ work. It is fitting, then, that Verse and Reverse, long past the point of the Club’s existence and the Toronto Branch’s poetry night, can continue to serve as a means through which we can draw their cultural production together and begin to bring the members their due attention.

Further Reading

  • Hale, Grey Knitting, and other poems (1914) held at 11686.ee.46.
  • Kay, The Sweet Sixteen: the journey that inspired the Canadian Women’s Press Club (2012) held at YD.2013.a.83.
  • Livesay, Savour of Salt (1927) held at NN.13499.
  • Livesay, Down Singing Centuries: folk literature of Ukraine (1981) held at L.45/3357.
  • MacKay, The House of Windows (1912) held at 012621.cc.34.
  • Mason, After the Honeymoon: One hundred hints on husbandry (1922) held 08416.bb.82.
  • Melhorn-Boe, I Sit and Sew: with poem by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (2019) held at RF.2022.a.75.
  • Pringle, Etiquette in Canada: The Blue Book of Canadian social usage (1949) held at YA.1987.b.1605.
  • Toronto Women’s Press Club, Verse and Reverse (1921, 1922) held at 1168.c.57.
  • Weaver, A Canadian History for Boys and Girls (1900) held at 09555.aa.3.

By Hannah Graves 
Curator, North American Published Collections (post-1850)

08 August 2023

Cold War Whiteness: Literature and Race between Canada and Czechoslovakia

Františka Schormová is a post-doc researcher at the Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences and an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Hradec Králové and was a 2023 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

To be a scholar outside of US/Canadian studies outside of North America means a transcultural perspective is a part of what we do and who we are. It allows us to think about the culture and region afresh and to reflect on our positions as mediators as scholars, educators, and public intellectuals. To be a scholar of US/Canadian studies from Central Eastern Europe and other regions outside of the usual trajectories of prestige might also mean that sources for our research are more difficult to obtain. This is why I went to the British Library to research Czech immigration to Canada.

In my previous research project, Translation and the Global Fifties: When the African American Left Went to Prague, I looked at the transnational journeys, exchanges, and allegiances between the African American Leftist intellectuals and early Cold War Czechoslovakia. One of the translators and mediators of African American literature in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Czechoslovak writer Josef Škvorecký, later became one of the almost twelve thousand people who fled to Canada after the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion to Czechoslovakia in 1968. Following Škvorecký and his wife, Zdena Škvorecká-Salivarová to Canada opened up a new set of questions for me some of which I tried to answer during my time in the British Library.

Škvorecký was awarded the Governor General's Award for English Language Fiction for The Engineer of Human Souls, a novel translated by Paul Wilson. This cultural moment became my entry point in the Canadian cultural field in the 1970s and 1980s. I explored magazines and journals I found out about in the United States and Canadian Newspaper Holdings in the British Library Newspaper Library (for example, Nový Domov: The New Homeland)1, conference proceedings from the time, fictional and autobiographical accounts of the Škvorecký’s and other Czechoslovak authors, diverse secondary sources on culture and politics of the era, multilingual sources published in various places. What I was looking for were interconnections between Canadian literature, quickly developing at this time as its own discipline tightly linked to the nation state, the official politics of multiculturalism, and the position of the so-called ethnic writers within this cultural field.

These interconnections support my broader project in the framework of which I look at how the notion of whiteness has operated within the Canadian cultural field in the late Cold War in connection to various immigrant groups coming to the country. It builds on critical whiteness studies but also asks whether these concepts can be applied and/or translated to Central Eastern European contexts. The ambiguous status of the Slavic and other groups in and from this region has been noticed by scholars such as Ivan Kalmar or Zoltán Ginelli; the historians of immigration have also noted the various ways racial discourses have transformed throughout the 20th century. The Cold War has introduced new challenges, trajectories, and allegiances, race refigurings, and vocabularies of whiteness that has shaped how both the immigrants and the domestic populations in Central Eastern Europe were perceived.

I found some of the answers I was looking for: yet I left with further questions. The British Library is its own little universe. In the weeks of the fellowship, one wanders in awe through the various reading rooms and the packed hallways. As a visiting researcher, one is not left to navigate this world on one’s own: the fellowship also gives one the opportunity to talk to the Eccles staff, people who work and research in the British Library and know many of its secrets. And while they are incredibly helpful, it is better to come prepared (the sheer quantity of the material at your fingertips can get intimidating!) but also keep one’s eyes open for surprising turns the research route might take.

The cover of a piece of sheet music, with a Black man in profile and writing that includes a couple of title words decorated with stars and stripes.
Image 1: Dvořáček, Jiří. I, too, am America : 7 songs on the poems of Langston Hughes, for a woman's voice, a man's voice, the trumpet and the piano (1966). Panton 1978. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply MUSIC H01/3169.

Searching through my keywords one day, I found sheet music based on the poetry of Langston Hughes, the African American poet, novelist, playwright, translator, and social activist . It was a 1966 composition by the Czech composer Jiří Dvořáček with lyrics in Czech, English, and German, published in 1978 (Image 1, above). Despite having dealt with Hughes’s Czechoslovak connections extensively, I have never known this sheet music existed and I could not help but hum the melody (albeit very quietly). Hughes was one of the writers Josef Škvorecký also translated before emigrating to Canada. This multilingual, translational, transmedial cultural artifact reminded me that it is important that our scholarship can cross the linguistic, cultural, and national borders in a similar way.

Notes:

Nový Domov: The New Homeland. Toronto. Vol. 9, no. 19 etc. (10 May 1958 - 21 March 1970). Imperfect. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection Microform MFM.MC271.D

02 August 2023

Antislavery Print Culture in Nineteenth Century Canada West

Nina Reid-Maroney is Professor of History at Huron University College and was a 2021 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

In the summer of 1861, the physician, editor, and Black abolitionist, Dr. Martin Delany returned from a scientific expedition in west Africa to his home Chatham, Canada West. Immersed in the news of the American war, preparing for a lecture tour, and at work on the second section of his serialized antislavery novel, Blake, or The Huts of America, Delany found time to oversee a corrected edition of his Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party, first published in 1860. His preface reviewed the work’s publication history, noting that the previous edition, left in the hands of a friend in England who had subsequently taken ill, found its way into print without important endorsements, editorials, and the table of contents. Delany’s attention to the details of the text and his concern that “many things of much importance, which should have been included, were omitted” speaks to his engagement in abolitionist print culture not only as an author, but as an editor and publisher who understood the activist power of print across a transatlantic network that he had helped to build.1

The 1861 Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party is part of a significant body of British Library material - including scientific writing, ethnography, literature, freedom narratives, sermons and memoir - created by Black abolitionists and their antislavery allies based in nineteenth century Canada West. Starting from the recognition that each book is an archive, my Eccles Centre fellowship focused on the material history of abolitionist texts linked to Canadian abolitionist communities. The project examined copy-specific features, variations among editions, endorsements, advertisements, illustrations, and typography. Using the insights of history of the book and a comparative approach to copies of texts on both sides of the Atlantic, the project helps to reframe Canada’s antislavery history by tracing Black activist networks constituted in print.

From this perspective, familiar texts and authors appear in a new light. The 1851 London edition of Josiah Henson’s narrative is one of three versions and multiple editions of Josiah Henson’s autobiography published between 1849 and 1883. The British Library’s copy of the London edition, part of the third thousandth print run, varies significantly from the Boston edition of the text on which the 1851 edition was based. The London edition includes an account of the Black abolitionist community and school that Henson helped to found, placing Henson’s emancipation narrative in the context of the activist network of underground railroad and the practical resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Introductory material from its editor, the Congregationalist minister and antislavery reformer, Thomas Binney, focuses on Henson’s visit to Britain as an exhibitor at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. The paratextual materials of Preface and Appendix and advertisements help to situate Henson in British antislavery networks a year before the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the subsequent long and tortuous association of Josiah Henson with that work’s title character.

Title page of a book; black print on white paper.
The Life of Josiah Henson, formerly a Slave, as narrated by himself with a Preface by T. Binney. London: Charles Gilpin, 1851. British Library shelfmark: 10880.a.7.

Ephemeral texts from the Library’s collections add depth and detail to the study of antislavery print culture, revealing connections between the aural culture of Black abolitionist work in Britain and the antislavery networks of the Great Lakes borderlands.2 In 1861, the Reverend Thomas Kinnaird, Black abolitionist and minister in the British Methodist Episcopal Church in Hamilton (Canada West) produced a four-page pamphlet distributed in support of his lecture tour in Britain, raising funds for a new church building and school. The pamphlet, one of only two extant copies, gathered recommendations from a long list of antislavery supporters in Canada West, London, and Glasgow. Its content maps an antislavery network grounded in small Canadian communities and extended across the Atlantic world, while its physical form, creased as though folded and tucked into a pocket and carried home, speaks to its material history and circulation as an antislavery text.

Title page of a book; black print on white paper.
Thomas Kinnaird, Fugitive Slaves in Canada. [An appeal on behalf of Mr. Kinnaird's mission.] 1861. British Library shelfmark: 8175.l.17.

Other works draw attention to the period beyond the 1850s and 1860s, and to the continued conversation across the Black Atlantic in which a new generation of Black authors amplified and gave fresh resonance to voices of the antislavery movement. In 1889, Black activist S. J. Celestine Edwards met the Canadian Bishop of the British Methodist Episcopal Church, Walter Hawkins of Chatham. Hawkins’ time in the UK working on behalf of the BME Church brought him into the activist circles of Edwards, who used his activist platform as a writer, lecturer, and editor to address contemporary issues of race, civil rights, and identity. Edwards’ biography of Walter Hawkins (From Slavery to a Bishopric: The Life of Bishop Walter Hawkins, 1891) is often discussed in relation to the traditional genre of “slave narrative”; when placed alongside Edwards’ other writings in the British Library’s collections, the Hawkins biography can be read in new ways. A fragile copy of Edwards’ lecture titled “Political Atheism”, delivered, as the title page announces, to an audience of 1200 people and published in 1890, helps to situate From Slavery to a Bishopric in the context of Edwards wider political work, and points to an emerging historiography in the post-Emancipation Black Atlantic, in which Walter Hawkins narrative spoke with a voice of resistance that reached beyond the geographic, temporal, and ideological scope usually afforded early narratives histories of the underground railroad.

Title page of a book; black print on white paper with a decorative surround.
S.J. Celestine Edwards, Political Atheism, A Lecture. London: J. Kensit, 1890. British Library shelfmark: 4018.c.18.(2.).

The project has implications for teaching antislavery history in my home institution of Huron University College, which has links to evangelical Anglican antislavery work, and is situated close to historical abolitionist communities in places such as London, Buxton, Chatham, Dresden, Amherstburg, Lucan (Wilberforce) and Windsor. In February 2023, I was able to share research with Huron students and colleagues, as part of a transatlantic undergraduate research project on colonialism, slavery, and resistance in history and memory. Following in the footsteps of Martin Delany, Samuel Ringgold Ward, Josiah Henson, and William Howard Day, whose activism brought them from London (Canada) to London in the years leading up to the American Civil War, students used methodologies of place-based history and history of the book to trace the complex transatlantic world of Black activists. In a workshop facilitated by the Eccles Centre and Huron colleague Scott Schofield (English and Cultural Studies, Huron University) students were able to compare editions and copies of antislavery texts at the British Library with works they had consulted in the Archives and Research Collections Centre at the University of Western Ontario. Steven Cook, Curator of the Josiah Henson Museum of African Canadian History in Dresden, Ontario, accompanied Huron students and faculty on the research trip, and spoke of the importance of the workshop in reconnecting community memory to the complex textual history of Josiah Henson.

Students and teachers around a table looking at books.
Huron University College students and faculty at a workshop on antislavery print materials in the British Library, February 2023. Image, author's own.

The Eccles Fellowship has also laid the foundation for a new research partnership with the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, Scott Schofield (Huron) and Deirdre McCorkindale (University of Guelph). Using research from the British Library as well as ongoing work with the Archives and Research Collections Centre at Western University, we are building a comparative database of rare antislavery books linked to nineteenth-century Chatham. The Fellowship demonstrated the significance of reconnecting books - material artefacts of the nineteenth-century's greatest struggle for human freedom - with the historical communities and context in which they were written, published, read, reprinted, and circulated.

Notes

1. Martin Delany, Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party. New York, Thomas Hamilton; London, Webb, Millington & co; Leeds, J.B. Barry, 1861.
2. R.J.M. Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall : Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983; Hannah-Rose Murray, Advocates of Freedom : African American Transatlantic Abolitionism in the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
3. Douglas A. Lorimer, “Legacies of Slavery for Race, Religion, and Empire: S.J. Celestine Edwards and the Hard Truth (1894).” Slavery & Abolition 39 (2008): 731–55. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144039X.2018.1439670.

05 December 2022

“The Flying Researcher”: South Asians and Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest

Rishma Johal is a PhD candidate in History at McGill University and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

As an academic in training, I believe that most PhD Candidates—particularly *cough cough* myself—are young, wide-eyed, naive students who hope to use their magical wings to fly from source to source in a matter of seconds. If any of this were remotely true, my thesis would be complete in a few days. However, no matter how aware I am of my naivete, there is always the glimmer of hope that the next research trip will be 'the one' in which I read every source at the archives. Needless to say, this hope is shattered as soon as an archivist hands me a file weighing a few good pounds in the morning of my very first day. Perhaps, the British Library experience has been my most dramatic encounter in terms of the amount of information available versus the amount of information that I can read in a short period of time. This autumn, as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, I enjoyed five weeks at the British Library, yet even that felt too little to complete my research. Thus, if I had to select one challenge over any other, it would be my fight against time. Nevertheless, the availability and versatility of sources at the Library ensured that my visit was both fruitful and rewarding.

My research entails analysing files on South Asian migrants and Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest—both marginalised communities about whom information at archives is generally limited. Specifically, my thesis examines intersections and dissension among early South Asian migrants and Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest from 1857–1947. This means that I am examining files on diverse groups of people. It is quite time-consuming to search for these sources, although the British Library holds a wealth of data. For this reason, the limit on the number of sources that I could request in one day quickly became another challenge, though I managed to power through most of the sources on my research list.

Conducting research at the British Library was imperative as it enabled me to access many archival records about early South Asian migrants in both Canada and the United States. Most of these files were held in the India Office Records and I also found correspondence among various levels of government on South Asian migration, from reading views of inspectors, politicians, and ministers in Vancouver and British Columbia to Ottawa, Britain, and India. I found numerous instances of concern over increasing numbers of South Asians in the Pacific Northwest that incorporated correspondence with American officials. The British Library has a priceless amount of information on the Ghadar movement (early Indian independence struggle that began in North America) and clandestine activities run by South Asians from California extending to Argentina, Panama, South Africa, Afghanistan, and Australia. However, the British Empire’s vast network of information gathering and sharing is only visible when files are accessed that discuss the Ghadar movement, “Hindu immigration,” and event specific files such as IOR/L/PJ/1325, File 3601 Canadian Immigration; the Komagata Maru Incident. These sources discussed the status of South Asians in Canada and noted the companies that they owned as well as the land purchases that they made, which was vital information concerning South Asians’ role in settler colonialism and Indigenous dispossession.

Advert for a lecture; at the top is a photo of a bearded man wearing a turban; the text includes details of the event.
Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind: Activities in USA. British Library shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/12/289, India Office Records.

In one or two instances, I also found comparisons that officials made between the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and South Asians. My favourite sources were rare finds that may not have been as useful as the above files for my thesis but were integral in terms of South Asian diasporic activity. For instance, I was thrilled to view a flag made by the Ghadar Party of San Francisco with a map that envisioned the borders of a free India as early as 1920 (Mss Eur C228: 1920). I was also able to view several maps made by South Asian surveyors and assistants within the British Indian army. These included maps of boundaries in Tibet, China, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. The maps portray the role that some South Asians played as intermediaries within the colonisation of the Indian Ocean Arena before many migrated to North America.

A finely detailed map showing rivers and their tributaries.
Part of Southern Abyssinia and British East Africa Lake Region and Daua River by Captain R.E. Maud and Indian Suveyors Sher Jang and Shahzad Mir. War Office Ledger. British Library shelfmark: Map Collections. WOMAT/AFR/ABY/14 : 1903.

I was also interested in sources on Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest, though finding archival materials associated with specific tribes was difficult. For this aspect of my research, I utilised the vast collection of books that covered substantial components of the history of Indigenous peoples from California, Washington and Oregon. However, I was able to locate a few important firsthand documents such as the Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians of California (British Library shelfmark: A.S.217/19, 1873) made by special agents Helen Jackson and Abbott Kinney and The Report of the Special Agent for California Indians to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs by C.E. Kelsey (British Library shelfmark: Mic.K.2130, 1906). The former report provided a significant account of how white colonists dispossessed Indigenous peoples in Southern California, despite US government orders that recognized Mission Indians’ lands as reservation lands. The 1906 report outlined the conditions of Indigenous peoples living within California and described the areas that remained populated by them. Reading these reports in comparison to one another was particularly useful for my research. The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3437.bad) was another important source that discussed Native American issues, although individuals interested in Native Americans, rather than those of Indigenous ancestry, published most of the articles. More importantly, I was able to read a wide variety of books written about Indigenous peoples and to corroborate movements of certain Indigenous communities with the migration and land purchases of South Asians.

Overall, my magical wings were quite elated to fly from one source to the next at the British Library whether that was in a matter of hours, days, or weeks as I continue to read files that I photographed in October. I had an amazing experience as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, and I would highly recommend this fellowship opportunity to other researchers in American Studies. Although I did not have a chance to attend many events, connecting with other Fellows and the Eccles Centre team at one of their Researchers' Packed Lunches was wonderful. Nevertheless, time is always of the essence. Alas, this researcher flies away to the next archive!

14 November 2022

On my desk – On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories from Church Street Press

My thanks go to Alan Stein for granting permission to use images of his artwork in this blog

The Americas team is fortunate to work with some fascinating items that cross our desks for a variety of reasons from exhibition loans to Reader queries. Through the On my desk blog series, we ask the team three questions which will give you an insight into the work of curators and cataloguers at the Library and a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items in the collections. Today’s post features Rachael, one of the curators for the Library’s North American Published Collections Post-1850.

What is the item?

On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35) – a fine press book from 2018 printed by The Church Street Press, based in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.

Why is it on your desk?

While standard Canadian monographs are processed by our teams in Boston Spa, the more delicate fine press items are invoiced, stamped, catalogued and stored at our London site in St Pancras.

On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories is on my desk because it's a new acquisition which needed to be stamped before passing onto the Americas Cataloguer who makes the item available and, very importantly, findable in the British Library catalogue.

I always love visiting the stamping room; seeing the team delicately place a handstamp on an item means it’s one step closer to being made available to Readers. The stamping team make sure all new acquisitions display a British Library stamp in a way that clearly shows a mark of ownership but which is discreet enough to not invade or obscure the content on the item’s pages. A steady hand is needed, particularly where artists’ books, fine press and other visually appealing items are concerned, materials you might see displayed in exhibitions for example.

As you’ll notice, this book displays a small British Library (BL) stamp and crown (unlike the larger round stamps used on standard monographs) in red ink, indicating this has been a purchase – rather than a donation (green) or arrived via Legal Deposit (blue).

Photographs of British Library stamps
Photographs of British Library stamps

Why is it interesting?

For me this item is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, having lived in Canada for a short time in my youth, I always find it a bit of a treat to look through books which focus on the unique landscapes found there.

Front cover of On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35), on my desk
Front cover of On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35), on my desk

Painter and a printmaker Alan Stein established Church Street Press in 1998; through his private press, he hand prints limited edition books which feature his own illustrations in wood engravings, like the ones here, or stone lithography[1]. Alan states that much of his work ‘has been influenced by summers spent on Georgian Bay’[2], and this book, as the title implies, epitomises that. Alan’s archives are held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Georgian Bay – a large bay of Lake Huron – is located entirely within the borders of Ontario. As Tom Smart (art historian and curator) explains in his introduction, the book comprises a number of authors whose ‘prose poems, fictional narratives, autobiographical episodes and…invented passages from historical records’[3] examine the influence the Bay has had on their lives and works. I find it fascinating how the same natural spectacle has had such deep connections with so many authors and artists, many more beyond the pages of this book I’m sure, and how that influence manifests itself so differently from person to person; inspiring them to write on topics from climate change to culinary encounters.

One contribution that stood out for me when reading this item is Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice. An eight-year-old Anishinaabeg boy fishes on the side of his lake, his grandmother beside him, the boy asking the elder about the Anishinaabeg presence that has been at the lake before his lifetime, and before hers. Through their exchange, the lake becomes a kind of metaphor for the Anishinaabeg experience: ‘It gives us all life. It’s sacred. And it’s your home, my boy’ his grandmother tells him. But looking at the town of recreational homes across the bay, reminders of displacement are ever-present: the young boy observes that ‘[u]nder the wind-swept evergreens of its shoreline, Georgian Bay’s flowing contradictions whirled.’ The title of this story, Manido-gaming, refers to the name by which the innumerable Anishinaabeg generations who have lived on or near the Bay’s shores, know the body of water: “Manidoo gaming,” or “spirit lake”[4].

Wood engraving by Alan Stein illustrating Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice; a boy’s fishing line creates ripples in the water
Wood engraving by Alan Stein illustrating Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice; a boy’s fishing line creates ripples in the water

As well as being of potential research interest to those studying Canadian and Indigenous authors and Canadian landscapes in literature, I should also mention the beauty of this book physically. The mottled watery effect cover invites the reader to dive into the pages.

Blue hues on the book’s cover
Blue hues on the book’s cover

Stein’s prints not only interpret the words as image, but also ‘trace a personal iconography testifying to his own deep connection to the land and water and to the histories of the place’[5]. These comprise 14 wood engravings including one stunning hand-coloured in blue, green, yellow and red showing a more tempestuous scene printed on Gampi Torinoko[6]. Alan kindly gave me some insight into the inspiration for this frontispiece image: this being a tale Alan was told by his friend, Canadian poet and diplomat, Douglas Valentine LePan, about the dream of a local native Ojibway guide by the name Peter Pemajuan. The rough, rocky-coloured pages add a real tangible element to reading the book will no doubt appeal to researchers interested in paper- and book-making techniques, engraving, printing and binding. 

Hand-coloured wood engraving on the book’s frontispiece
Hand-coloured wood engraving on the book’s frontispiece

Remember you just need a free Reader Pass to gain access to this and hundreds more fine press items in the Library’s collections. Find out more about the titles available using our collections guide and the bibliographic guide from the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

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[1] Lithography being a ‘flat-surface printmaking process in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone, or prepared metal plate, usually zinc or aluminium, and affixed by means of a chemical reaction’. Definition provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for more details see https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/collection-areas/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking/lithograph

[2] https://www.alanstein.art/

[3] From the book’s introduction by Tom Smart

[4] ‘Ancestral Waters’ by Waubgeshig Rice, an excerpt from Locations Of Grief: An Emotional Geography: http://hamiltonreviewofbooks.com/blog/2020/5/15/ancestral-waters

[5] From the book’s introduction by Tom Smart

[6] ‘Gampi Torinoko is a strong, crisp sheet that is translucent, with almost no visible fibres. Gampi is a bush found in the mountainous, warm areas of Japan’. Definition provided by Legion Paper, for more details see https://legionpaper.com/gampi-torinoko

09 November 2022

E-resources: Performing Arts in the Americas

This blog explores the British Library’s wonderful collection of e-resources covering all aspects of the performing arts in the Americas, from the colonial era to the present day.

The British Library's extensive - and ever-growing - range of e-resources means there is plenty of choice when it comes to exploring the performing arts in the Americas - from scripts to videos, audio recordings to articles, interviews to documentaries, magazines to letters, there is literally something for everyone!

A particularly unique source is Film Scripts Online which makes accessible more than 1,100 accurate and authorised versions of copyrighted screenplays, many of which have never previously been published and are available nowhere else. Not only does this enable film scholars to compare the writer’s vision with the producer’s and director’s interpretations from page to screen, but it also makes it possible for students of film studies, writing, drama, theatre and literature to study the structure of scripts, character development, plot points and scenes. The collection is easily searchable by title, people, genre and awards, with further filters available in each case. Film scripts currently within the collection include: The Wizard of Oz, From Here to Eternity, Bringing Up Baby, The Big Chill, Rebel Without a Cause, My Own Private Idaho and The Deer Hunter.1 

The home page for Film Scripts Online; the top image shows a man and woman looking into the distance; the woman is holding a rope and pointing; lower images show the title page of a film script, and images from different aspects of the film industry..
Fig. 1: Film Scripts Online; part of the British Library's collection of e-resources.

Drama Online is an award-winning, fast-growing digital library featuring more than 4,400 playtexts from over 1,400 playwrights, as well as over 400 audio plays, 420 hours of video, and 450 scholarly books from leading theatre publishers and companies. Amongst its holdings is the Playwrights Canada Press collection which offers over 230 plays from notable and award-winning Canadian authors including Daniel MacIvor and Hannah Moscovitch; plays in this collection have won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, the Windham-Campbell Prize and the Siminovitch Prize.2 

Dance Online: Dance in Video, Volumes I and II provides over 900 hours of video content covering the full scope of 20th and 21st century dance. The collection includes performances, documentaries, interviews, and instructional videos from the most influential performers and companies, with the selections covering ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, experimental, and improvisational dance, as well as forerunners of the forms and the pioneers of modern concert dance. 

For earlier time periods, Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783, fills a major gap in access to eighteenth-century American sources. This vital e-resource is effectively a database of all references to music, poetry (lyrics), dance, and theatre in 162 American newspapers, from the earliest extant copy in 1690, through to the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, including titles in French and German. Entry points into the source material are many and varied. The database currently includes: transcriptions of all relevant texts; a general index of all names, genres, subjects, titles, and first lines; graphic images of 45 unique woodcuts; an index of the first lines of 12,061 poems and songs; and an issue-by-issue bibliography of the 50,719 issues and 4,523 supplements of the 162 titles.

Ethnomusicology is published by Adam Mathew in collaboration with the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive. It includes thousands of audio field recordings and interviews, educational recordings, film footage, field notebooks, slides, correspondence and ephemera from over 60 field collections dating from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first century. For North America, coverage includes Alaska, Arizona, Atlanta, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation, Tennessee, Texas and more. There are also rich holdings for Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Jamaica and Honduras, as well as Suriname and Chile, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Ethnomusicology
Fig. 2: Ethnomusicology; part of the British Library's collection of e-resources.

For secondary sources, the Performing Arts Periodicals Database indexes nearly 400 international periodicals covering dance, theatre, stagecraft, musical theatre, circus performance, pantomime, puppetry, magic, performance art, film, television and more.4 Full text coverage is now available for more than 160 of these journals and in some cases the retrospective coverage goes back to 1864. This treasure trove of materials includes biographical profiles, conference papers, obituaries, interviews, discographies, reviews and coverage of events.  

Finally, Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, 1880-2015 is another wonderfully rich and valuable e-resource; it was reviewed in this recent blog.

References:

  1. British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device.
  2. British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device.
  3. British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device; readers interested in dance may like to read the Dancing in the Archives blog post by 2019 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow Robert Hylton. 
  4. British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device.

02 November 2022

French Quebec Imprints, 1764-1990

This blog celebrates the 30th anniversary of Desmond J. McTernan’s French Quebec: Imprints in French from Quebec, 1764–1990, in the British Library.

This wonderful catalogue was officially commissioned by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the spring of 1990 as Britain’s gift to Montreal for the 350th anniversary of the foundation of that city, due to be celebrated in 1992.1

As McTernan explains, the British Museum Library had begun collecting French language materials from Quebec in the 1830s and this has been continuously sustained since the late 1860s. Besides this continuity of acquisition, the British Library’s collection has also benefited both from the law of colonial copyright deposit which between 1895–1923 brought in many publications which would not otherwise have been obtained (described in a recent blog post), and from the very extensive programme of donations of new Quebec monographs by the Délégation générale du Québec in Paris from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. McTernan’s catalogue therefore charts the evolution of French Quebec’s literary, artistic, social and political culture through material collected for nearly 160 years by the national library of a country that has shared a privileged relationship with both Quebec and Canada throughout that period.

In his rich and detailed Introduction, McTernan notes that Quebec City’s first printing business – Brown and Gilmore – opened in 1764. Twelve years later, the Frenchman Fleury Mesplet (Fig. 1, below) introduced the printing press to Montreal. Yet for the next five or six decades, their output was essentially restricted to government proclamations and notices, catechisms, teaching primers and almanacs, and it would not be until the late nineteenth century that Quebec's home-grown publications truly began to challenge the dominance of foreign imports.

An 18th century oval portrait of a man with white hair and a high forehead wearing a black long-sleeved dresscoat and a white collar with two wide vertical strips of material. His right hand rests on a book and behind him are shelves of books and papers.
Fig. 1: Fleury Mesplet, Montreal’s first printer. Image: courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This transition from mere printing to publishing, began, albeit tentatively, in the 1830s – a period of great political and cultural confrontation in Quebec, during which it became increasingly clear to the Francophone population that books printed in France could not articulate their specific cultural identity, nor the threat under which they felt it to be. It was at this time that Quebec itself – its history, society and literature – became the subject matter for local printers, thus beginning the tradition of Canadian scholarly writing and printing in defense of French Canada and its history.

As for how works from Quebec reached the British Museum Library, McTernan notes that the first major supplier of Canadian imprints was the well-known, mainly antiquarian bookdealer, T. Rodd of 12 Great Newport Street. An early invoice from Rodd, dated 8 December 1840, lists 42 titles from Lower Canada, 12 of which were in French. The majority of these were either printed or commissioned by government or corporate bodies, and focused in one way or another on aspects of local or North American government, law, politics and society. But the list also includes two of the earliest French-Canadian scholarly monographs: Amury Girod’s Notes diverse sur le Bas-Canada (1835) and G.B. Faribault’s Catalogue d’ouvrages sur l’histoire de l’Amérique et en particulier sur celle du Canada... (1837).

Black and white frontispiece.
Fig. 2: Amury Girod, Notes diverse sur le Bas-Canada. Village Debartzch: J. P. Boucher-Belleville,1835. British Library shelfmark: 798.g.13.

Yet no regular commercial network for the export of Canadian books existed before the 1870s; partly because there were simply too few publications to make this worthwhile. As McTernan explains, the large-scale existence and widespread availability of books in any society depends on several factors, not least of which are a reasonably literate population and a good communication and transportation network. In 1840, neither of these existed in French Canada. However, the 1840s saw a series of Education Acts, the full impact of which was felt by the 1870s. And after Confederation in 1867, the construction of the railroad network – which had begun in the 1840s–50s – not only vastly expanded, but also geared itself towards the transport of passengers.

After exploring the impact of various copyright Acts – both ‘Imperial’ and colonial – upon the Library’s receipt of works published in Canada, McTernan ends by exploring the acquisition of material post-1930. Between 1930-1960, there was not only a diminution in the funds available for the purchase of materials from French Quebec, but also the need to repurchase works that had been destroyed by bomb damage in World War II rather than buy new works. Happily, however, 1960-1990 was a period of expansion and development. Indeed, the 1960s–70s was ‘a time of plenty’ for the Library as a whole, but the previously mentioned donation from the Délégation du Québec from 1964–1981 also added to the Library’s stock at least one third of the imprints that it holds for those years, and the money freed up by these donations enabled a wide-ranging purchase of older material.

By 1990, the Library’s collection of imprints in French from Quebec comprised around 11,000 titles, making it one of the largest such collections outside of Quebec itself. This magnificent collection continues to grow to this day.

References:

Desmond J. McTernan, French Quebec: Imprints in French from Quebec, 1764-1990, in the British Library. London: The British Library; Montreal: Bibliothèque national du Québec, 1992-93.  British Library shelfmark: Open Access Humanities 1 Reading Room: HLR 011.241; General Reference Collection 2719.k.1330. 

Amury Girod, Notes diverse sur le Bas-Canada. Village Debartzch: J. P. Boucher-Belleville,1835. British Library shelfmark: 798.g.13; G.B. Faribault, Catalogue d’ouvrages sur l’histoire de l’Amérique et en particulier sur celle du Canada...  Québec, 1837. British Library shelfmark: Cup.403.t.10.

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