O Canada! What Historic Archives Reveal About the Great White North

January 14, 2019 Claire O'Neill

Happy New Year! We’re excited for 2019, because with it comes a new cycle of library conferences!

We’re gearing up to attend lots of events in new places this year, and this month, we’re looking forward to visiting our friends in Toronto for the 2019 Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference!

To get in the Canadian spirit, we’ve taken a deep dive into the Wiley Digital Archives collections to see what fun facts we could uncover about the about the history of the Great White North. Let’s check them out, eh?

Mother Nature, indeed…

Did you know that segments of the Apache and Navajo Indians are originally from northwestern Canada?

Though popularly associated with the southwest region of the United States and the northwestern area of Mexico, the ancestral tribes of the Apache and Navajo apparently migrated from up north!

North American Indians, a manuscript which contained notes, drafts, and papers related to the “culture, classical studies, economics, family welfare and sexual matters in various societies,” offers an interesting insight into the historic roles of both men and women in these tribes.

While men assumed the role of protector, supporting women with the “product of the chase” and fighting on the warfront, women handled the domestic affairs; they were responsible for the “care of children, making mats, mattresses, pots of clay, utensils of bark,” and “storing edible roots, seeds, berries, and plants.”

Fun fact: the “sowing of seeds by women was supposed to render such seeds more fertile and the earth more productive than if planted by men. For they think that woman has and controls the faculty of reproduction and increase.”

A Canadian’s gift to the nation

In 1911, Mr. Joseph Bowles Learmont of Montreal, a collector of all things “in any way connected with Canadian history,” purchased the early home of General James Wolfe “with the object of founding a national museum and headquarters for all things relating to Wolfe and Canadian History in general."

General James Wolfe was a British Army officer known for his training reforms and remembered chiefly for his victory in 1759 over the French in Quebec during the Seven Year’s War. His victory led to him being posthumously dubbed "The Hero of Quebec", "The Conqueror of Quebec", and also "The Conqueror of Canada", since the capture of Quebec led directly to the capture of Montreal, ending French control of the country.

In other words, he was kind of a big deal.

Today, the house contains an exhibition on the battle and on Wolfe's life, showcasing memorabilia and paintings connected to him.

The first comprehensive study of an Aboriginal tribe in Canada

In 1940, Thomas Forsyth McIlwraith completed and returned the Census of British Anthropologists as a professor at the University of Toronto and associate of the Royal Ontario Museum. His area of study? The Bella Coola Indians in Canada, specifically from the coast of British Columbia.

At the University of Toronto, McIlwraith built a department in which archaeological, linguistic, physical and ethnological anthropology all found a place. He was primarily interested in the effect of change on Canadian native peoples; in 1922, he came to Canada as a field assistant of the National Museum of Canada in order to undertake the first comprehensive study of the Bella Coola Indians. According to the census, he used ethnological methods and archeological techniques to focus on the “social, religious and economic lives of primitive peoples.” His two-volume work on the Nuxalk Nation, titled The Bella Coola Indians, published in 1948.

McIlwraith also served as Chairman of the Social Science Research Council, president of the Royal Canadian Institute and the Royal Society of Canada, a fellow of the Royal Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and remained a research associate of the National Museum and Royal Ontario Museum.

A studier of “insanity in general”

Canadian doctor William Julius Mickle, M.D. received his Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Toronto in

1868 and was associated with the study and care of mental diseases.

The original manuscript of a Presidential address to the Royal College of Physicians in 1918 after Mickle’s death claims, “a great number of his articles are concerned with general paralysis of the insane, and with the relations of syphilis to that disease, and to insanity in general; indeed, he was one of the first to discuss fully the connection between syphilis and general paralysis.”

Mickle was made President of the Neurological Society and dealt with Syphilis of the Nervous System in his Presidential address. He was also a member of the British Medical Association, and when it held its annual meeting in Toronto in 1906, “Mickle was again President of the Section and the Honorary Degree of LL.D. of the Toronto University was conferred upon him.”

This season on Survivor: French Canada

Did you know that the survival of French Canada was once the subject of great debate?

The May 1959 edition of Man, a journal published by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, discusses this desire to understand and categorize the culture of French Canadians.

While some researchers at the time believed that French Canada was merely operating as a feudal state that was bound to “disappear completely in the growing conflict between rural and urban societies,” others, like Professor Philippe Garigue, argued that French Canada would prosper, and that it was “complex, in good part urban, with a maritime population of fisherfolk and a substantial element dedicated to the fur trade.” 

Interestingly, folklorists of the National Museum and the Archives de Folklore agreed that French Canada might “endure beyond one year” due to their extensive culture, claiming, “we know from experience that the social character of the French Canadians is under all these captions [songs, tales, dances, legends, sayings, and proverbs] most richly endowed and that they derive from these ancestral sources still alive among them the framework of their personality, sociability, and continuity.”

Vive la French Canada!

Where Do You Start When You’re Researching…a Whole Country?

In the midst of the Second World War, Tracy Phillips, a British intelligence officer, moved to Canada, where he was an adviser to the Canadian Government on immigrant European communities. In the 1944 document “The Continental-European Ethnic and Cultural Composition of Canada,” Phillips described his job as the advisor for the Canadian Government’s Department of National War Services on “Canadian Communities of Recent European Origin” as fostering “a wide knowledge and appreciation of the best traditions of Canadian life” amongst these distinct communities.

No small task, eh? Phillips acknowledged that the work required “some first-hand experience of the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the countries-of-origin of the now Canadians who, in time of national crisis, such as war, required and require to be inspired and woven into the fabric of a United Nation.”

Phillips eventually wrote his conclusions after “frequent travel” and “constant contact with all the ethnic groups and culture-communities in Canada.”

All Aboard!

In the 1880s, The Canadian Northern Railway System began as a response to the monopoly of the Canadian Pacific Railway—but its creators had a lot of work cut out for them in justifying the expense!

Despite the infamous construction folly in 1913, when blasting for a passage triggered an enormous landslide that partially blocked the Fraser River and caused so much damage to Pacific Salmon runs that it took the government decades to fix the system, one advocate contacted The British Empire Trust Company Limited to defend the system.

“We think that the enormous extent and importance of this great Railway undertaking is not generally understood,” the letter reads, “and we should not hear it suggested from time to time that the Railways comprised in the System have borrowed too largely.”

Despite the railway system’s loud supporters, financial issues for the CNoR came to a head during the height of conflict in the First World War, when the majority of wartime traffic was moving on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) instead. The company was also saddled with ongoing construction costs that they were unable to repay without additional revenue.

In the end, money talks, and the Canadian Northern Railway System was nationalized in 1918 to become part of the Canadian National Railway.

A hit-and-miss approach to science coverage

The people want more science!

Executive Committee Minutes, 1970-1976 from the Wiley Digital Archives: New York Academy of Sciences Collection illustrates a topic still relevant today: public understanding and appreciation of science and science news. Though a “hit-and-miss approach to science coverage in general” was acknowledged, the focus was around the issues with “the coverage of Canadian science in particular.”

Noting that “the system of science popularization is not working as well as it should,” the committee described a stronger demand for “more and better science popularization” in the media.

“Throughout our study of science communication,” the committee continued, “we find that 75% of all Canadians want to keep abreast of science news. Yet 54% of these people feel that not enough science is being made public (through all sources) and 43% feel that the media are not providing sufficient science coverage."

So, what do you think of these stories and fun facts from Canada’s history, all of which can be found within Wiley Digital Archives? Let us know at the 2019 OLA Super Conference – we’re excited to see you there!

About the Author

Claire O'Neill

Library Services, Wiley //

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