Making Library and Archives Canada Work: A Superficial Start, 2015


Library and Archives Canada is, at its heart, the record keeper of Canadian history. Good or bad, if it happened here, it is likely that there are some records which speak to these happenings. But our National Archives which stores our collective past and our National Library which stores our collective voice is in deep trouble. Its budget is shrinking and its ability to serve the people whose past it products is at risk through mismanagement, underfunding and under-appreciation.

There have been a number of studies conducted which have gone to the heart of the problems at Library and Archives Canada, and solutions that could help it. I won’t touch any of these here. Rather I am going to approach the institution’s presence in Ottawa on Wellington. I will merely touch the surface, but then the surface is the first thing you notice.

A lot of rhetoric goes around political circles about how important the business model is, and how it should be applied to the business of government. So let us take some of these business principles and apply them to Library and Archives Canada, and treat it like a retail service point.

Location, Location

Library and Archives Canada sits on prime real estate. It sits at the west end of Wellington Street, about four blocks from Parliament Hill, and less than two from the Supreme Court of Canada. The area is so prime that the Conservative government chose the site in between the Archives and the Supreme Court for its carbuncle of a Memorial to the Victims of Communism.

This is the main drag, where visitors to the Capital will walk (in good weather) down Wellington to the Canadian War Museum, or back again to Parliament. What an excellent vantage to attract interest in their collections. Wasted.

Curb Appeal

Go past the building on Wellington and you would be hard pressed to identify it as the National Library and Archives. Only a rather small government bog-standard sign is present on the east corner in front of the building. There is nothing on the building to proclaim its purpose. It stands merely as a mid-century office building. Proceed to the front door and there is an interesting sculpture of a park bench in front. and the two frames for banners, currently holding the images for the current exhibition inside – “Double Take/ Volte Face”. There is nothing to indicate that the exhibit is being held in the National Library and Archives. It just is an exhibit. The frames have the Government of Canada logo on the bottom.

Initial Welcome

Walking in the door you still would not know that it was an archive or a library. You are first confronted with a large desk, which you assume is for information, but there is no clear marking. You might also notice a lot of people heading to the left and talking to a security guard, but the check in process is not clear. There is no signage. Of course, the desk in front is for new registration or renewals but unless you go up to the smiling staff member and ask; how would you know? And behind the desk there is a sunken space, now filled with a temporary exhibit. From the door the exhibit is mostly hidden. Then to your right and left there are large corridors and doors, and it all remains a mystery, unless you ask a guard or staff member.

For the most part this main floor is wasted space. There are many rooms around here, but unless the PWGSC have rented one of the rooms out for a conference for another government department, they sit empty. There is also on this floor the ‘lunch room.’ A small space set aside for researchers to eat, and purchase cardboard food from the few vending machines.

The institution once had an extensive cafeteria on the 5th floor, with a vendor who made food, and sold it to both staff and researchers. Granted the food was overpriced, underwhelming, and the hours of operation unsuited to the hours of the building’s operation, but it was there. It closed over a year ago, and researchers were given the option to go to this small room on the first floor, or to take the adventure outside and walk at least 5 blocks to find the sparse selection of food services in the immediate area.

Most businesses and services understand that the longer you keep the people in the building, the more money they will spend. And since we are talking about business models here, why isn’t LAC taking advantage of what is essentially captive audience and giving them a place to spend their money, and have that money ploughed back into the business?

Selling your product

Library and Archives Canada should be compared to other institutions that offer the same service. Their market is the same as the National Archives in Washington, DC, and the British National Archives in Kew (outside of London). Both these institutions have gift shops. They sell supplies for researchers – paper, pens, batteries for cameras, USB sticks, pens and pencils. They also sell books, and copies of items that are in their collections. For a collection rich in visual images, owned by the Archives, the ability of the person visiting the site to obtain copies of them is problematic. If you want an image from LAC you have to go online, find the image, order it, and then wait quite a while for the paper copy to arrive at your door. Go to the National Gallery on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, and you can, with far more ease, buy printed versions of their most popular works, in their gift shop, and take it home with you that day.

A gift shop should not only be seen as a means to make money, although that is surely an important consideration for an institution which is in financial stress. Gift shops valorize your product. Selling interesting items which use the institution’s name and logo advertises the place over a larger area. Selling items such as books which tell parts of Canada’s story (researched in that very building) provide and audience for your product, and a market. Selling images or reproductions of books or manuscripts in the collection likewise valorise your products, and your mandate.

The message

As stated above, walking into the building you would never realise what the building held. All the marvellous collections, rare and amazing pieces of Canada’s history, are hidden from view. Some of the unused meeting rooms could be transformed into a permanent exhibition space, one which features some of the gold that the National Library and Archives contain. The temporary exhibits are interesting, but there should be a permanent space dedicated to explaining to the visitor what the institution does. Shows to Canadians the value of the collections, the mandate of preservation, perhaps even examples of how the Archives and Library undertake the preservation, conservation and repair of Canadian heritage.

A good business tries to impose its message on the public, justifies its existence, its prices, its services, and tries to attract more people into using them. If no one knows you are there, how can you expect them to support the business of heritage? With such a prime central presence in the Nation’s Capital there is a great opportunity to harness its physical situation to further its mandate, and also to capitalize on the visitor to the building – both those attracted there for the researching opportunities, and the more casual public who visit out of curiosity.

Posted in Canada, Canadian Identity, Social commentary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

St George’s Day, Montreal, 1871

Montreal Gazette, 24 April 1871, page 2

St George’s Society – This society, together with the English Workingmen’s Society attended divine service in St George’s Church yesterday afternoon. His Lordship the Metropolitan preached, taking for his text the xii chapter of St Paul’s epistle to the Romans, part of the 5th verse “And every member one members of another.” After some remarks on the text, his Lordship referred to the Society. He said that the history of the patron saint of the English people was altogether allegorical, and was perhaps an embellishment of the triumph of religion over heathenism. He referred to the state of St George’s Society in this city, saying that last year they had an English emigrant home for emigrants who had no place to go. During the year they had provided 1 100 of these, who had remained according to their behaviour and means for them one night to six weeks. The out door relief committee had sent emigrants to different parts of the country; and they had also paid the fares of 250 emigrants. The Bishop appealed to the congregation to come forward and help the Society, and he hoped that those who were not already members would soon add their names to the list of annual subscribers. After the sermon a collection was taken up on behalf of the society.


Posted in 19C, Associations, Canada, Commemoration, England | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Consider the Saleswoman, Montreal, 1919

Montreal Daily Star, 8 November 1919, page 22

Consider the Saleswoman.

She has been in business for over thirty years, and she has known whereof she speaks, this saleswoman in one of the fashionable St Catherine street shops. Her experience comprises years in England, the United States had in Canada and she says the thing Montreal needs more than anything in the world is some system of organized hostels for business women.

“Take the average saleswoman,” she says, “who receives an average salary and has to pay for her room and board out of that. If she has no friends or relatives who will give her accommodation at a same that barely covers her expense to them, she has to live in a cheap room in a cheap district.”

“I know what that means, for when I first come here, I tramped the streets of Montreal looking for a place to live and I can tell you, I saw some rare places. There were houses where the bath-tub looked as if it were used to store the kitchen coal. There were places where there were no bath tub not even hot water to wash properly. There were places in which an experienced girl could see at a glance, it was not safe for her to live, but the experienced girl would never see that because those are the places which usually look cleanest, brightest and most attractive.”

“I have a tiny apartment now where I have my own few sticks of furniture and get my own simple meals, but that means I have to get up an hour earlier in the morning to cook my breakfast, make my bed and put my rooms in order and when I get home at night, dead tired after being on my feet all day. I get my supper, and by the time I’ve washed my dishes and put them away, what time is there left for recreation and amusement? And what time have I to mend my clothes or make new ones, to read good books, to hear good music?

“And I am well off as saleswomen go. I make fairly good money or I couldn’t afford even my tiny apartment. But I have long hours and no time. Do you wonder that the younger girls in business go in for a good time and take Sundays to mend and sew? The poor children must have amusement and so their blessed day of rest of which they ought to spend part in church and part in bed, goes for clothes and pleasure.

First, shops should either close at five o’clock all the year round or they should give one half-holiday a week all the year around. If they don’t want to close entirely, they should give the staff a half-holiday in relays, letting part of the staff go on one day, part on another.

If they can find no philanthropic organization to take it up, the shop management should management should itself provide a home for saleswomen in which they should provide room and plain meals at reasonable prices. These homes should be supervised by an elderly, sensible woman who has brains enough not to run the place like an institution, but should have one or two reasonable rules and should enforce them. There should be a laundry-room and a serving room and there should be two or three small reception rooms where a girl might receive her men friends so she wouldn’t have to meet them on the street.

“And the religious side of life should not be neglected. There should be a half-hour service of prayers and hymns every evening an on Sundays there should be an hour service. let the girls look after it themselves, choose their own texts, give their own talks and select their own homes.

“Quite apart from the good the girls would get out of homes like those, I think the employees too, would reap the benefit in better service and greater loyalty.
It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

From the Canadian Encyclopedia (Eatons)

Margaret Currie

Posted in 20C, Canada, Social commentary | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Children’s Amusements, Montreal, 1919

Montreal Daily Star 19 November 1919, page 24

Children’s Amusements

“My two girls are eleven and fourteen years old respectively. Should I allow them to accompany me to the theatre or the better class vaudeville houses?”

These words come to me at the end of a mother’s frank letter that contains all the elements of a real tragedy. The anxiety throughout its four closely written sheets is so tense that I can almost catch the half-stifled gasp, just as I can translate an upstroke here and there as the intense longing that so often gives place to fear.

It is hard to advise. The world has changed so much during the last decade or so that our old standards are twisted and out of date. Children of the present day are so exacting about their pleasures. The old call of “come and let’s make believe” falls on deaf ears unless childish minds have been stimulated with grotesque stories and fantastic illustrations. A whole world lies between the age when the circus came to town once a year and the five-reel movie drama of this blasé age.

We keep the children away from the movies, I know would be impossible, and I am not at all sure would be, as a rule, desirable. All the same, I could counsel mothers to be as careful as possible in choosing the houses which their young ones are allowed to attend, and to note the effect of such visits on the child’s mentality. It is unwise to stimulate little brains over much or to frighten little nerves with hairbreadth escapes. Remember that to the child figures on the screen are pulsing, breathing men and women, they know nothing of mechanical effects and they cannot separate the figures of this vague shadowland from the everyday nights in the streets.

501374787 - Getty Images

But the vaudeville houses are different. The playlists so often seen on the boards are problems of domestic difficulties which are wholly unintelligible to the normal child. Much of the dialogue is incomprehensible and let us say, the jokes as a rule written for grown up persons. The dancing is very often graceful and dainty, but it is not of such a kind as to appeal to young minds.

Yet the dramatic instinct is a valuable possession in a child. A gifted child will seize instinctively on essentials and will not be self-conscious. Moreover in many stage plays the child has an opportunity to learn its history and geography in an interesting way. Yet while I have no fault to find with the vaudeville programs I think that children would better not attend them until they have come to that moveable feast in their lives “the age of discretion.”

Childhood only comes once in every life and, as it is the plastic age mind and character, the responsibility for wise guidance and “big sister” supervision in tremendous. Perhaps the best working rule for any mother do go by in all these matters is “will hearing or seeing this or that help to mould the character of my little one along the lines of healthy, sane, maidenhood?” It is a severs test and it has nothing to do with the false standards of goodness or prudery. But it is better to err on the safe side. The trouble with far too many children is that their minds are ever, rather than under, stimulated.

Margaret Currie

Posted in 20C, Canada, Social commentary | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Foolish Fellow, 1880

Montreal Daily Star, 8 July 1880, page 2

A Foolish Fellow

An American physician named Tanner, who for some time past has been trying to convince the medical world that by following out certain rules it is possible for a man to do without food of any kind for weeks, and not only keep alive, but cause no injury to his physical or mental health. Finding words of no avail, he intends now to convince his confreres by a practical illustration of his plan. For ten days past, at Clarendon Hall, New York, this man has been watched continuously, not only by members of the medical fraternity, but by hundreds of curious spectators, and as yet nothing has passed his lips but a little drop of ice water. The Doctor is confident that he will succeed in his undertaking, and spends his time conversing gaily with his numerous visitors. Starving matches will, in the event of Dr Tanner’s success, become as frequent as pedestrian matches now are. They will be far less brutal and much more interesting. The spectacle of a dozen men sitting in rocking chairs and engaged in the effort to outstarve one another in a “starve as you please” match will be much more inspiring than that of a number of men limping and staggering around the track in the hope of sharing some of the gate money. With the arrangements that have been made it is morally impossible that Dr Tanner can obtain any food or in fact anything but air and water, and it is proposed to keep him thus without food until his inability to carry out his philanthropic undertaking or until he dies. If this eccentric individual succeeds in establishing without doubt, that men can live forty days without food, the cost of living will materially decrease, and the benefit derived by the human family from the adoption of his system will be very great. Famines will then be at a discount, and the business of the tramp will be, in vulgar parlance, “played out”. The debt of gratitude owing by all good citizens to Dr Tanner will be something enormous, and words will be inadequate to resound the praises of the man who invented the only true and correct method of ridding the country of the tramp nuisance. The result of the voluntary fast will be watched with no little interest by the people of all classes. As for ourselves, we prophesy that inside of a week the foolish doctor will have come to his food or be lying under six feet of mother earth.

Posted in Social commentary, 19C, United States | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ball for the Prince of Wales, Montreal, 1919

Montreal Standard, 1 November 1919, page 25

Programme from the McCord Museum of Canadian History

Programme from the McCord Museum of Canadian History

Gaiety Reigned at the Citizen’s Ball in the honor of the Prince

An unqualified success and a most enjoyable event was the unanimous verdict on the Citizen’s Ball, in honor of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, held in the Windsor Hotel, on Thursday, and attended by a representative and distinguished company. Crowded with social engagements of various kinds as the previous days of the Prince’s visit were, Thursday’s function suffered not at all by reason of them, for the ball was carried through from start to finish with great enthusiasm and éclat. The general arrangements were excellent, the music all that could be desired, and the informality of the supper, but added another note of gaiety to the evening.

The decorations had been considerably changed since the Military Ball, but the flags and bunting remained in the Windsor Hall, while the civic motto, “Concordia Salus” found a prominent place.over the platform in front of which an informal dais had been arranged, were the words “God Bless Them” surmounting the Prince’s feathers and motto in electric light.

The Ladies’ Ordinary was most attractive, long panels of yellow silk forming a background for trailing foliage and flowers, while masses of immense yellow chrysanthemums added to the beauty of the lounge between the two main dancing halls.

It was almost 11 o’clock when His Royal Highness arrived after having opened the ball of the Grand Army at the 63th [sic] Armory, and preceded by two pipers and attended by His Worship the Mayor, with the members of the reception committee, following came slowly up to the centre of the long ballroom through an aisle formed with white ribbons to the dais. Here, after the orchestra had played the National Anthem, and the Prince had greeted the ladies connected with the members of the various committees, the formalities of the evening ended.

His Royal Highness chose his own partners and honored a number of Montreal girls in this manner lady Meredith, whom the Prince escorted to supper, danced the last supper extra with His Royal Highness.

Miss Gabrielle Grothe, a neice of Mayor Martin, had the honor of being the Prince’s first dancing partner, his second being Miss Madelaine Taschereau, of Quebec, whom His Royal Highness had previously met and danced with on the occasion of his visit to the Ancient Capital. Mrs John Ahern, daughter of the Hon Charles Marell; Mrs Clifford Darling, Miss Cecile Grothe, a debutantem, the Misses Reichling and Miss Simone Portelance were also among the Prince’s partners during the evening. But it was Miss Taschereau to whom fell the honor of dancing most frequently with the royal visitor, an honor duty appreciated by the young lady and naturally much envied by many others.

His Royal Highness escorted Lady Meredith to supper, and the party of honor was composed of Admiral Halsey and Mrs Huntly Drummond, Mr E Hebert and Mrs RW Reford, Judge Robidoux and Mrs Hebert, Sir Vincent Meredith and Lady Joan Mulhooland, Sir Frederick Williams Taylor and Lady Gordon, Sir Montagu Allan and the Hon Marguerite Shaughnessy, the Mayor of Montreal and Lady Williams-Taylor, Judge Greenshields and Lady Davis. Mr EW Beatty and Miss Martha Allan, Mr CE Neill and Mrs Cllifford Darling, Senator Casgrain and Mrs Robidoux, Mr HW Beauclerk and Mrs RAE Greenshields, Judge Marechal and Mrs A Boyer, Mr Huntly Drummond and Mrs JPB Casgrain, Sir Charles Gordon and Mrs Alfred Shaughnessy, Mr ER Decary and Mrs CE Neill, Major-General Sir Henry Burstall and the Hon Mrs Beauclerk, Sir Mortimer Davis and Mrs Forbes Angus. A buffet supper was served in the Rose Room, the Green Room and Peacock Alley.

Posted in 20C, British History, Canada, Entertainment | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Etiquette, Montreal, 1880

Montreal Daily Star, 23 September 1880, page 2

Etiquette Department

(All enquiries should be addressed “Editor Etiquette Department, The Star, Montreal” Our respondents are requested to keep their questions brief and to the point.)

Fred enquires: “If I meet a lady and gentleman on the street and turn to walk with them, should I walk next to the lady or next the gentleman?”

Should you have good reason to join the lady and gentleman under the circumstances suggested, of which you must be the judge, the correct way would be to walk next the lady, so that she may be placed between the gentlemen, otherwise it might be awkward for her to address her remarks to one of them across the other, obliging her to raise her voice unusually loud. Having said what you decided to say, then withdraw in the customary way. To continue your walk might be an intrusion.

Pedestrian enquires: “If a gentleman is walking with two ladies, one an intimate friend, the other a mere acquaintance, which should he walk beside?”

To walk unhidden with two ladies under any circumstances might be an inconvenience, and ought to be generally avoided. Should the necessity arise, the rule to observe is to walk next to the lady to whom your observations are addressed. This may occasion a change of position, but the change would obviate the awkwardness that arises from talking across one person to another.

A Constant Reader enquires:- “Which side ought a gentleman walk on when walking with a lady, the right side or the left?”

A gentleman should always take the outside and allow the lady to have the inside of the street or pathway, and this rule must determine the answer to his question. The wall is supposed to be her screen on the side, and his escort her protection on the other.

Posted in 19C, Canada, Social commentary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment