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Effective March 17th, the Ryerson Archives and Special Collections will be closed until further notice. See our update for more information.

Author: Beth

The Wilhelm E. Nassau Camera Collection at Ryerson University

1920s studio camera from the Wilhelm E. Nassau Camera Collection

The Heritage Camera Collection more than doubled in size this past January thanks to the generous donation of approximately 500 cameras and pieces of camera equipment from Wilfrid Laurier University. The collection improves the holdings in European and Japanese manufacturers, and provides a greater selection for research in early camera designs. These cameras are on display inside Special Collections.

"Mouse trap" camera developed by William Henry Fox Talbot, ca. 1834 (replica made 2006) from the Wilhelm E. Nassau Camera Collection
Watch Camera from the Wilhelm E. Nassau Camera Collection
Polaroid 110A from the Wilhelm E. Nassau Camera Collection
Crystar camera next to Pony 135 for size comparison. The Crystar measures only _. From the Wilhelm E. Nassau Camera Collection.

Feature from the Collections: Ryerson Opera Workshop

This past weekend the Ryerson Theatre School celebrated its 40th anniversary, but the history of student theatre on campus goes back well beyond that of the school. In 1951 the Ryerson Opera Workshop was first offered, headed up by English professor Jack McAllister. Students across campus, in any program, were invited to participate. The inaugural production was an exciting double bill of The Devil and Daniel Webster and Down in the Valley; the first was a re-telling of the classic Faust tale using a poor farmer as the lead character who sells his soul to the devil, and the second, a folk-opera peppered with famous American songs, including the titular “Down in the Valley.” According to newspaper reviews at the time, the shows were a success for the new Workshop.

Newspaper photo of the cast of "The Devil and Daniel Webster" from The Alumni Reporter, Fall 1952 RG718-4

Although the name implies something different today, the Opera Workshops focused on popular musical theatre, and the repertoire included Broadway hits like Once Upon a Mattress, Bye Bye Birdie, Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, The Beggar’s Opera and Peter Pan.

In the 1970s, Ryerson established the Theatre School and became one of the first professional schools in North America to offer training in all aspects of the theatre arts, from technical production to arts administration. It wasn’t long after the first cohort of theatre students appeared on campus that the extracurricular productions of the Ryerson Opera Workshops finally ceased. The last performance by the Opera Workshop was a children’s show entitled Stick with Molasses (1976). Today, the popular student musicals are replaced by an ambitious program of student-driven work throughout the year.

Scene from "The Beggar's Opera" 1952 RG718-3
Playbill for the 1953 production of "Brigadoon" RG718-3
Scene from "Brigadoon" RG718-3
Program for "Once Upon a Mattress" 1963, the last production in Old Ryerson Hall Theatre RG718-2
Scene from "Once Upon a Mattress" RG718-3
Playbill for the 1964 production of "Brigadoon," the first production in the new Ryerson Theatre RG718-2
Scene from "Brigadoon" 1964 RG718-2
Playbill for "Bye Bye Birdie" 1966 RG718-3
Scene from "Bye Bye Birdie" RG718-3
Playbill for "Alice in Wonderland" 1970 RG718-2
Actors in character for "Alice in Wonderland" 1970 RG718-3
Newspaper clipping with a picture from the last Ryerson Opera Workshop production on Nov. 25, 1976, "Stick with Molasses" RG718-4

Change in opening hours for Special Collections

Beginning Monday, February 27, 2012, the Special Collections reading room will be available by appointment only. Appointments can be made by email or phone, at or 416-979-5000 ext. 6897.

We anticipate that the change in scheduling will not significantly reduce access to Special Collections resources as many researchers already choose to contact us in advance of their visits. Every effort will be made to respond to appointment requests quickly, and drop-in visitors will be welcomed if a staff member is available to assist them.  We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

Kodak in the News for the last time?

In a shocking but not completely unforeseen announcement last week, the Kodak corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States.

Happier were the good ol' days of film production / 1937 advertisement from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives & Heritage Collection

As little as a decade ago, the future for Kodak still seemed bright. Company literature produced in the 1990s confirmed Kodak Canada’s optimism that digital photographers would continue to look to Kodak for leadership and innovation in image-taking technologies. The move to digital would be slow and considered, with Kodak confident that the right product was better than any product.

Kodak Photo CDs were marketed to professionals as well as amateur photographers for digital image storage / 1993 photograph of Digital Imaging showroom from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives & Heritage Collection

Was this transition too slow? Is Kodak still the master camera-maker it once was? Ryerson Professor Robert Burley and Curatorial Specialist Beth Knazook speculate on the unfortunate circumstances that have left Kodak in its current position.

Matt Galloway speaks with Robert Burley on CBC’s Metro Morning radio show (Thursday, Jan 19 2012):

CBC reporter Havard Gould interviews Robert Burley and Beth Knazook for The National (Thursday, Jan 19 2012):

Work Study position opening in Special Collections

Special Collections will be hiring an Imaging Assistant to scan and edit slides related to photographic art and art history. Students interested in working in Special Collections in the Winter Term should send an email to to inquire no later than Monday, January 16th. The successful applicant should have a good working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, an interest in photography and must have applied for and received Work Study approval in the Fall Term.

A Model Practice : Photographs from the Canadian Architect magazine archive

Architectural models breath life into otherwise straightforward ideas on paper; they easily and quickly communicate complex design schemes, embellishments, finishes and details, and they facilitate an easier dialogue between architect and client. Well-crafted architectural models even win competitions. While these models are very rarely preserved once building is begun, the realized design in miniature form represents the very essence of the architectural practice.

From January 4th- February 13th, 2012, photographs of models taken for Canadian Architect magazine will be on display in Special Collections on the Library’s 4th floor. These images were originally captured for project announcements, and today they give us as much to discuss as the finished buildings themselves. See the process that the architect goes through when bringing his or her idea to the public, and consider some of the challenges the architect faces in communicating with that audience. Is it useful to see the detailed model superimposed onto a photograph of the existing landscape, as with the Toronto Eaton Centre image? Why do some architects choose to put contextual detail in the model itself, making tiny trees and cars on the adjacent streets? Every model has a purpose and an audience, which is perhaps even more apparent in the scenic model taken from the set design for a CBC television special [borrowed from the Robert Hackborn collection for comparison’s sake]. With this model, the purpose is to show the interior to the cameras – not the exterior to a client.

Whatever the goal with these miniature worlds, either to emulate a real three-dimensional building as closely as possible or three walls that merely suggest one, the model serves as a stepping stone to the final idea. Here the idea of architecture is on display – judge for yourselves whether the real lives up to the imagined.

Happy Holidays from Ryerson Archives & Special Collections

The Archives & Special Collections reading rooms will be closed from December 22nd to January 3rd, re-opening on January 4th. Enjoy your holiday break and come and visit us again in 2012!

Cabinet card from the Lorne Shields Historical Photograph Collection in Special Collections

Archives & Special Collections database now online

The Archives & Special Collections staff are pleased to announce the ASC collections database is now online and publicly searchable. Anyone can look up key information about collections before visiting the reading rooms, or browse digital images online. Try it out today!

From our homepage, the “search database” picture takes you to a basic keyword search page (pictured above). Here you can look for information about entire collections or individual items. Use the “*” as a wildcard to shorten words, or use boolean search terms like “and”, “not”, and “or” to limit the records searched. If you don’t return any results, please feel free to ask one of the ASC staff members for help. We are still working on putting all of our records online so there may be some records that are more easily retrieved in person.

If your search is successful, the search results will be sorted to help you choose between the different types of records in our collections, and there are examples on the search results page if you need a little clarification.

Advanced search options are useful if you’re looking for something specific like a digital image, or a person who may have donated records. Again the search options are sorted: you can choose to search within whole collections, look only for individual files and items, or find person records. All of these records are linked together so you can start anywhere and wind up in another kind of record entirely.

Is this search helpful and easy-to-use? Have a comment or a question you’d like to share? Feel free to post here or send an email to

Canadian Fashion from the 60s, 70s and 80s on display

Style changed forever in the 1960s (and we’re not just referring to the hemlines). Space-age design met space-age fabrics, many of which are still in use today: polyamide, polyester, acrylic, polyvinyl, and spandex to name a few. These are laboratory-brewed fibres, extruded through spinnerettes in liquid or molten petro-chemical streams. These were cheaper and more versatile than many of the natural fibres used in clothing up to this point.

The dresses currently on display in Special Collections each use an unexpected fabric to achieve their look, whether it is the plasticized cloth of this shiny-copper mini-dress, the silver lurex suit with multicolored threads from the disco-influenced 70s, or the 100% silk power suit from the 80s. Visit Special Collections today to see these fashionable fabrics produced by Canadian designers.


The dresses in this exhibit were taken from the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson University, a collection of costume items, accessories, flat textiles and paper patterns donated to the School of Fashion for use in teaching and research. The collection consists of about 4,500 items of mid-twentieth century men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and accessories and illustrates many of the social, cultural, technological and economic influcences on style made or worn in Canada. It contains designs by leading Canadian figures such as Beate Ziegert, Ira Berg and Pat McDonagh, as well as internationally famous names such as Sonia Rykiel, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Diane von Furstenberg, Perry Ellis, Laura Ashley, Thierry Mugler and Valentino.  There are also pattern and reference books, magazines and articles which are not duplicated in the Ryerson Library catalogue, making this a rich and valuable resource for fashion education.

Dress photography by Olena Vivcharyuk. Detail photographs (below) provided by Renée Munn.

Cameras beyond Kodak

The Kodak Canada Corporate Archives & Heritage Collection cameras are still on display in our summer exhibit on the 4th floor, but in today’s post we’re thinking outside the little black box. Although Kodak was easily the most popular camera manufacturer of the 20th century, and their products form the bulk of our camera collection, there were and are still other mass-market brands. One such company was Ernst Leitz, GmbH, located in Wetzler, Germany.

Leitz opened for business as an optical manufacturer called Ernst Leitz Optische Werke, an appropriate start for a brand that would become known for producing photographic lenses that rendered even small negatives sharp and clear. Their improved lenses allowed the Leica camera to use 35mm film, then the common gauge for motion picture film. Although 35mm stock was readily available to be chopped up as still film, the Leica was the first camera to make enlarging those small frames with clarity possible. Most consumer film cameras today use some variation of the Leica camera body design, spreading rolled film across the camera horizontally, from left to right and rewinding from right to left when each frame has been exposed. Add to these innovations a self-capping shutter that ensured an even exposure and it is easy to see why this portable, professional camera brand became the gear of choice for documentary photographers.

Leica IIf, ca. 1953-55, Heritage Camera Collection 2007.005.7.009
Leica R4, 1981, Heritage Camera Collection 2005.001.7.008


Leica illustrated guide / by James L. Lager. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Morgan & Morgan, [1976, c1975].

Jason Schneider on camera collecting : a fully illustrated handbook of articles originally published in Modern photography. Des Moines, Iowa : Wallace-Homestead Book Co., c1978-c1985.

Disney, Michael (2001). The Leica and the development of the modern 35mm camera. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from Eight Elm Photo & Video website: