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Blackface in the Kodak Archive, Ryerson’s Special Collections: Context for Reading ‘Racist’ Images

By Cheryl Thompson and Emilie Jabouin

Introduction

In 2019, I exhibited my SSHRC-Insight Development Grant-funded research, “Newspapers, Minstrelsy and Black Performance at the Theatre: Mapping the Spaces of Nation­Building in Toronto, 1870s to 1930s,” as part of RUBIX, a showcase celebration of the Scholarly Research and Creative (SRC) activity within the Faculty of Communication and Design. At this event, I met Alison Skyrme, Special Collections librarian at Ryerson who suggested that I drop by Special Collections to examine images of blackface in the Kodak Canada Archive. 

I was struck by her invitation because it happens so rarely. Despite the fact that blackface was a popular theatrical form of entertainment from the 1830s through 1960s, performed not only in the professional theatre and in Hollywood films, but also in communities at high schools, athletic clubs, hospitals, at retail, and even summer camps, most people want to hide their blackface artefacts, they do not invite Black researchers to interrogate them. And so, one afternoon in the fall of 2019, I and my graduate student, Emilie Jabouin, scoured through the Kodak Archive’s blackface repertoire. While the images were new to me, I had prior knowledge of the important role that Kodak played in the development of photography. 

The company, which stopped making digital cameras in 2012, was founded by George Eastman in 1888. At that time, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced on the mass market a box camera that allowed users to take their own photographs. For the first time, photography was quick, simple, and accessible. The Kodak box camera was the first commercially available product that allowed users to do little more than press a button to take their own pictures. Within a generation, millions of people were given the ability to produce their own images, they were no longer at the whim of a professional photographer’s stylistic choices in terms of dress, pose, and costume. 

With the proliferation of the photographic “snapshot,” images, and postcards, by the end of the nineteenth century, ideas about the power of photography created a new relationship between image and reality. For example, an advertisement appearing in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1897 declared, “Take a KODAK with You. Make the most of the lure of the first soft days of spring. Picture the parks and the fields and the woods. Let Kodak be your companion on every out-of-door day – twill [sic] give you a fuller joy in the day itself – and afterward the joy of possessing pictures of the places and people that you are interested in.” 

Image of a 1912 advertisement for Kodak Cameras, featuring a photograph of a women in a white dress, carrying a Kodak camera and case, and the slogan "Take a Kodak With You!".
Advertisement from the Ladies Home Journal, 1912. Image from the Duke Universities Library, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920 digital collection. Item number 429898.

The mass adoption of photography coincided with blackface’s popularization during vaudeville. Blackface minstrelsy began as a theatrical form of entertainment in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia in the 1830s and 1840s. From its outset blackface was performed by white, mostly male northern performers who crossed racial and gender boundaries by mimicking African Americans (e.g., they would wear bright red lipstick, darken their faces with coal-black make-up, exaggerate their facial expressions, and cross dress) in order to entertain audiences with the supposedly “authentic” music, humour, and dance ostensibly common on southern plantations. 

By the 1880s, the minstrel show had waned in popularity, but vaudeville theatre brought many of its conventions back through the reinvention of the stage into a variety show. When vaudeville appeared, it was unique because unlike the legitimate theatre, vaudeville acts came from all ethnic groups and genders, in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the “respectable” thespian to the circus “freak,” from burlesque to chorus performers. By the mid-1920s, there were no longer vaudeville theatres in Ontario, and a decade later, there was no vaudeville at all, but blackface performance continued.

This is the sociocultural context that frames the images located within the Kodak Archive. By the 1920s, as blackface declined at the theatre, it was performed on an amateur, local level. The images discussed here range from 1920 to 1923. They predate feature ‘talking pictures’ such as The Jazz Singer (1927), starring Al Jolson in blackface. They were also taken after the First World War, the Spanish Influenza pandemic, and the fight for women’s suffrage – all of which came to their completion in the years between 1918 and 1919. These images reflect both a sentiment of celebration but also nostalgia for ‘simpler times.’

With this context in mind, we explain how the Kodak Archive came to be, and also how to read images that, from today’s point of view are racist, but functioned at the time under a different guise; they functioned under the auspices of entertainment. How do you contend with such contradictions in the present? Why, and how, must we address the images’ latent racism today, resisting the desire to keep them hidden? 

By talking about these difficult images, we learn how to grapple with our contemporary moment when anti-Black racism still exists, and blackface is still adorned to mimic and defame Black bodies. Our intention is to encourage students, faculty, and researchers to engage with these images so that we can have much needed conversations about the production of racial difference and the anti-Black racism such acts engender.

Kodak Blackface Records

The Canadian Kodak Company (later Kodak Canada) arrived in Canada in 1899, and officially opened its offices on Colborne Street in Toronto in 1900. In 1921, the company moved its manufacturing facility to a location near Weston Road and Eglinton Avenue West, and from there, “Kodak Heights” manufactured cameras and other photography equipment, and employed 3,000 people at its peak. Like many companies of this era, Kodak had an athletics club. The Kodak Athletics Association (KAA) was an employee lead group within the company whose leadership was elected by employees. The association organized a variety of events, such as Christmas parties, ladies’ nights, drama club, and dances, in addition to bowling, hockey, volleyball, and softball leagues. The Kodak Heights KAA also organized blackface minstrel shows that can be found in the Kodak Archive.

There are several themes that can be seen in the Kodak Archive’s blackface images. First, the images reveal a rich history of performing minstrel shows, and of the cultural importance they had for many Canadian families. The song and dance numbers, operas, orchestras, and the ways that these shows functioned as team building opportunities for employees were not unique to Kodak; this was common practice across corporate Canada. The shows were commemorated with formal portraits, and extensive reviews published in the employee newsletter, containing the blackface images. Of all the records, there are a few that stood out to us as examples of amateur blackface performance.

In “First Annual Kodak Minstrel Show” (1920), a blackface cast with three white women, as well as two white men who are not in blackface captures what blackface ensembles in racial caricature looked like. What separated the characters in the minstrel show from each other were speech, dress, and geographic location. End-men played tambourine and bones (they were sometimes called Tambo and Brudder Bones) and were portrayed as being of lower class by costume and vernacular. These characters wore satin suits, oversized ties, and curly wigs, and they engaged in jokes and quips with the smartly attired white Interlocutor who commanded centre stage. The Interlocutor, sometimes called the middleman, did not wear blackface. He was a kind of mouthpiece for high culture: his dress and speech were upper class, and the plot usually centred on the End-men putting down the Interlocutor because it would have been funny to see “Black folks” on the plantation making fun of the “civilized” Northerner. 

Item is a group portrait of a minstel show cast, post on stage, most of whom are white performers in blackface.
“First Annual Kodak Minstrel Show” (1920). Item number 2005.001.06.03.734 from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at the Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections

Both the American flag and the Union Jack are visible in the image. The American flag likely signaled that the content of the show originated there, while the Union Jack was commonly flown at this time in Canada. The Citizenship Act of 1946 demarcates the moment when Canadians were no longer considered British subjects. In 1965, the Canadian flag replaced the Union Jack as our national flag, then as part of the Centennial Year celebrations two years later, “O Canada” became the official national anthem. Hence, at the time of the Kodak Minstrels, Canadian society was profoundly British, though it was also, paradoxically, becoming increasingly patriotic. For example, in “Second Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Burgess & Seymour” (1921) two white men stand beside drawings of white women. One man is in blackface as an End Men, and the other, as Interlocutor, is not. One drawing captures a woman with a hat brimmed with the word “Canadian” while the other woman’s hat reads “Kodak.” This not only places the American company in Canada, it also marks Canadianness as something distinct, though culturally, it was quite undefined at this moment in our history. 

“Second Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Burgess & Symour” (1921). Item number 2005.001.06.03.734 from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at the Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections

“Third Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Crystal Theatre” (1922) is a good example of the extent to which minstrel shows required detailed production, not just with actors in blackface but also musicians, stage set-up, make-up, dress, and costume design. This image is particularly striking because there is a child (between the sixth and seventh End Men, from left to right) who is also in blackface. The boy is dressed all in white, even his shoes. Because community blackface was so common, children were often used as part of the show and/or encouraged to attend. These were not censored events even as they are offensive to viewers today. Some questions that are important to think about in terms of this image are what kind of trauma was ingrained and normalized in this child? How did they process the mimetic racial play that was at work in the performance of blackface?  

“Third Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Crystal Theatre” (1922) Item Number 2005.001.06.03.743 from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection, at the Ryerson University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Finally, in “Mount Department Minstrels at ‘Girls Night’ Frolic” (1923) nine women appear in blackface, as part of what was dubbed “An Adamless Evening”.  At this event, women were encouraged to set aside convention and enjoy themselves without their husbands. Eight of them are in blackface dressed in overalls, straw field hats and handkerchiefs as End Men, and the one performing as the Interlocutor is not in blackface sitting on a chair. The performers are not only women in blackface, they are also in drag. Significantly, the minstrel show of the nineteenth century was for all intents and purposes the first drag variety show. Most minstrel troupes were men who wore blackface to sing, dance and tell jokes and while there were female characters, these were typically female impersonators, or as Marjorie Garber describes, “double crossover figures, men playing women, women playing blacks” (276). In this sense, blackface minstrelsy became a site where compulsory heterosexuality was challenged, even as women were also derided through impersonation and misogyny. Michael Rogin explains cross-dressing as challenging binary categories in two ways, “by locating pleasure in the in-between condition (woman dressed as man, white as black) and by parodying the supposedly natural identity” (31). In other words, cross-dressing in the blackface theatre signified not an either/or binary but an intersectional both/and which called into question the repressive gender categories of man and woman, white and black. As it relates to the KAA, however, such performances might have been just “play” or they might have similarly functioned as a form challenging gender roles that would have been derided in ‘real life’ in the 1920s.

A group portrait of an all female, white minstrel show cast, 8 of whom are in blackface, one who is dressed in top hat and tails.
“Mount Department Minstrels at ‘Girls Night’ Frolic” published in the April 1923 edition of “At Kodak Heights”, the employee magazine published at the Canadian Kodak company in Toronto. Item number 2005.001.07.05.03 in the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at Ryerson University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

How should we read these images?

The initial information about the Kodak Archive was that there was one image in the collection that was known by the Special Collections Library (the collection was processed by contract employees over a number of years), but the extent of the material was not known until a student exhibition, Kodak Canada: The Early Years 1899-1939, which took place at the Ryerson Image Centre. The coverage within the Kodak Heights newsletters was not identified until the dates for the minstrel shows were identified and those issues searched. In other words, the very reason why we have been able to make sense of these images in this collection is because Alison and others put in the work to connect the dots, so to speak, between the images and Canada’s history of blackface. 

These images are difficult. But 2020 has shown us that just because something is difficult does  not mean that it should be ignored, minimized, and kept secret for fear that people will think, in this instance, that Ryerson’s Library and/or the University is ‘racist’ for simply having them in their possession. On the contrary, we would argue that in every library across Canada (and the United States) and in the personal collections of those Canadians who are over the age of 70, in particular, there exists blackface image(s) and/or amateur playbill(s) of local shows they either attended and/or participated in as children. The time is now to take these images out of the shadows and bring them into the light so that we can contend with this history that speaks more to who we are as Canadians than the myths people tell themselves to prevent from seeing the reality of the past for what it was – complicated, but also virulently anti-Black. 

As such, reading these images first requires that you engage with secondary sources (see the list below) to understand the sociocultural context of their production. Second, before labelling the images as racist and therefore feeling a sense of shame for even looking at them in the first place, take a breath, step back, and start asking questions about the image. Who is in the image? These images were taken at a time when Canada’s Black population was quite small, and companies like Kodak were undoubtedly all-white spaces. What did these performers know about Black people? If they did not know Black people, where did they draw their caricatures from? What is captured in the image, such as instruments, dress, footwear, etc.? What intersections of race, gender and class are at work? Where was the image placed on the page? Is there a heading? Are the names of the sitters listed, and if so, who are they? 

By asking yourself these questions, you begin the process of unpacking rather than reacting to difficult imagery. And by unpacking, you allow yourself to understand the production of racial difference and the ways in which mimicry not only disempowered the mimetic Other, it also disempowered the actor as it prevented them from seeing Black people as whole people – with lives, families and desires. It also prevented white people from acknowledging their own whiteness and privilege. Ultimately, these images of blackface in the Kodak Archive give us an opportunity to unpack white privilege, rather than declare its existence without understanding how it too, like race, is a social construct that, once identified and acknowledged, can be dismantled. It is only when we are all seen for who we are that we can truly lay the past to rest and move on toward a future based on equity and mutual respect. By unmasking Canada’s history of blackface, we believe we are taking a giant step toward achieving this goal.

About the authors: 

Portrait of Dr. Cheryl Thompson

Cheryl Thompson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Creative Industries at Ryerson University. Her next book, Uncle: Race, Nostalgia and the Politics of Loyalty will be published by Coach House Books next February. Follow her on twitter at @DrCherylT.

Portrait of Emilie Jabouin

Emilie Jabouin is a PhD Candidate in Communication & Culture, working on her doctoral dissertation at Ryerson/York universities on Black women organizers and journalists in early 20th-century Canada. Emilie is also a story-teller and dance artist who explores the social and cultural histories and expressions of the African diasporas. Find her on Twitter at @emilie_jabouin.

Additional Reading: 

 Backhouse, Constance. 1999. Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada 1900-1950. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bean, Annemarie. 1996. “Transgressing the Gender Divide: The Female Impersonator in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy.” In Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy, eds. Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara, 245-256. Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press.

Bernstein, Robin. 2011. Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights. New York: New York University Press.

Bogle, Donald. 2000. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. New York: Continuum.

Boyko, John. 2013. Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged A Nation. Alfred A. Knoff: Toronto.

Calliste, Agnes. 1993/1994.“Race, Gender and Canadian Immigration Policy: Blacks from the Caribbean, 1900-1932.” Journal of Canadian Studies 28 (4): 131-50.

Careless, J.M.S. 1990. “The Cultural Setting: Ontario Society to 1914.” In Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1914, ed. Ann Saddlemyer, 18-51. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Carlin, Bob. 2007. The Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy. North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company.

Cox, Karen L. 2011. Dreaming of Dixie How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Davies, Robertson. 1990. “The Nineteenth-Century Repertoire.” In Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1914, ed. Ann Saddlemyer, 90-122. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ebanda de B’béri, Boulou, Reid-Maroney, Nina and Handel Kashope Wright. 2014. The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent’s Settlements and Beyond. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ehlers, Nadine. 2012. Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles Against Subjection. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press.

Francis, Daniel. 2011. National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Frick, John W. 2012. Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.

Frost, Karolyn Smardz. 2007. I’ve Got A Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Garber, Marjorie. 1992. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety. New York and London: Routledge.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Glenn, Susan. 2000. Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Hall, Stuart, ed. 1997. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage Publications.

Hardy, Dominic. 2007. “Historical Ironies of Henri Julien (1852- 1908): Researching Identity and Graphic Satire Across Languages in Québec.” Working Papers on Design 2: 1-25.

Harney, Robert F., ed. 1985. Gathering Place: Peoples and Neighbourhoods of Toronto, 1834-1945. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario.

Harrison-Kahan, Lori. 2011. The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. 1993. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hochman, Barbara. 2011. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Reading Revolution: Race, Literacy, Childhood, and Fiction, 1851-1911. University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst and Boston.

Howard, Philip S.S. 2017. “Timeline of Canadian Blackface Incidents.” Retrieved from: https://mcgill.ca/aapr/files/aapr/blackface-timeline.pdf

Johnson, Stephen. 1999. “Uncle Tom and the Minstrels: Seeing Black and White on Stage in Canada West prior to the American Civil War.” In (Post)Colonial Stages: Critical & Creative Views on Drama, Theatre & Performance, ed. Helen Gilbert, 55-63. Coventry: Dangaroo Press.

Johnson, Stephen. 2012. Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.

Kibler, Alison M. 1999. Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville. Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Lenton-Young, Gerald. 1990. “Variety Theatre.” In Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1914, ed.  Ann Saddlemyer, 166-213. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lhamon, W.T., Jr. 1998. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mahar, William J. 1999. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Mathieu, Sarah-Jane. 2010. North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Meer, Sarah. 2005. Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy & Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.

Morgan, Jo-Ann. 2007. Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Nicholas, Jane. “Gendering the Jubilee: Gender and Modernity in the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Celebrations, 1927.The Canadian Historical Review, 90.2 (2009): 247-274.

Nicks, Joan and Jeannette Sloniowski. 2010. “Entertaining Niagara Falls, Ontario: Minstrel Shows, Theatres, and Popular Pleasures.” In Covering Niagara: Studies in Local Popular Culture, ed. Joan Nicks and Barry Keith Grant, 285-310. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Nowatzki, Robert. 2010. Representing African Americans in Transatlantic Abolitionism and Blackface Minstrelsy. Louisiana: Louisiana State Press.

Pickering, Michael. 2008. Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing.

Roediger, David R. 2007. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. London and New York: Verso.

Rogin, Micheal. 1996. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sammond, Nicholas. 2015. Birth of an Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Saxton, Alexander. 1990. The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. London and New York: Verso.

Smith, Shawn Michelle. 1999. American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

______. 2004. Photography on the Color Line: W.E.B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Springhall, John. 2008. The Genesis of Mass Culture: Show Business Live in America, 1840 to 1940. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Staples, Shirley. 1984. Male-Female Comedy Teams in American Vaudeville 1865-1932. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press.

Starkey, Brando Simeo. 2015. In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. New York: Cambridge.

Strausbaugh, John. 2006. Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture. London: Penguin Books.

Taylor, Yuval and Jake Austen. 2012. Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Thompson, Cheryl. 2015. “Cultivating Narratives of Race, Faith, and Community: The Dawn of Tomorrow, 1923–1971.” Canadian Journal of History 50 (1), 30-67.

______. 2015. “I’s in Town, Honey’: Reading Aunt Jemima Advertising in Canadian Print Media, 1919 to 1962.Journal of Canadian Studies 49 (1), 205-37. https://doi.org/10.3138/jcs.49.1.205

______. 2018. “Locating ‘Dixie’ in Newspaper Discourse and Theatrical Performance in Toronto, 1880s to 1920s.” Canadian Review of American Studies, published online March 8, 2018. https://doi.org/10.3138/cras.2017.032.

______. 2018. “Remembering Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In The Ward Uncovered: The Archeology of Everyday Life, eds. Michael McClelland, Holly Martelle, Tatum Taylor and John Lorinc, 156-162. Toronto: Coach House Books/Alana Wilcox.

______. 2019. Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture. Toronto: Wilfrid Laurier Press.

Toll, Robert C. 1974. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toney, Jared G. 2010. “Locating Diaspora: Afro-Caribbean Narratives of Migration and Settlement in Toronto, 1914-1929.” Urban History Review 38 (2): 75-87.

Winks, Robin. 1997 [1971]. The Blacks in Canada: A History. 2nd ed. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

A Comic Book Collection… from the 1940s!

Did you know Ryerson Special Collections has a large selection of World War II comic books? We have a collection of over 180 Canadian Whites comics

These are referred to as the “Canadian Whites” since only the front and back cover were printed in colour, while the pages inside were kept in black and white.

Active Comics (February 1942) front cover from Library and Archives Canada

In 1940, the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) deemed American comic books non-essential luxury goods, which could not be imported during World War II. Canadian publishers responded to this demand for comics by creating their own national superheroes with local storylines.

Front cover of comic book featuring Nelvana of the Northern Lights
Triumph Comics cover page from Library and Archives Canada

They introduced iconic characters such as Johnny Canuck, a Canadian hero who fights Nazis without superpowers but with his own strength and patriotism, and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a superhero tasked to protect Northern Canada. Nelvana was one of the first female superheroes to be featured in comic books, and even predated the creation of Wonder Woman. Her character was possibly inspired by an Inuit elder that the Group of Seven painter Franz Johnston met during a trip to the Northwest Territories.

Inside cover and first page of a Triumph Comics
Triumph Comics – inside cover and first page from Library and Archives Canada

The Canadian Whites comics are incredible resources to read, research and analyze. There are several facets to explore, from the character’s stereotypical depictions and the Canadian propaganda storylines to the type of ink processes used to print the comic books.

If you’d like to view these comics from your home, Library and Archives Canada has several issues digitized and available online. Browse through their finding aid to locate the links and view the comic books.

Check out these resources for more information about Canadian Comic Books:

“These are a few of our favourite things…” – The Expo Watch Camera

The staff in Archives and Special Collections bring you some of our favourite things. Objects and photographs from the collections that hold a special place in our hearts. Each week will highlight a different item, along with an explanation of why it stands out.

With such an amazing collection of materials – sometimes it is hard to pick just one…

This week’s post is Curatorial Specialist Olivia Wong’s choice:

Expo Watch Camera (2005.006.06.02)

Some of my favourite objects in the collection are specialized film and photography equipment. The Expo Watch Camera is part of our selection of detective or disguise cameras. As the name suggests, this novelty camera is the shape and size of a pocket watch. It uses a miniature daylight film cartridge that can hold up to twenty-five 16 x 22 mm exposures. The camera has a detachable external viewfinder, and the exposures are captured through the watch’s winding stem (the knob serves as a lens cap!)

This nifty gadget was manufactured by the Expo Camera Company in New York City between the early 1900s until 1939. An advertisement for the camera in a 1917 Photoplay Magazine stated: “Photography made a pleasure instead of a burden. You can carry the EXPO about in your pocket, and take a picture without any one being the wiser.” To see the full ad, click here

To learn more about the Expo Watch Camera, click here

To see what else is in the Heritage Camera Collection, click here

“These are a few of our favourite things…” – Motion Slides

The staff in Archives and Special Collections brings you some of our favourite things. Objects and photographs from the collections that hold a special place in our hearts. Each post will highlight a different item, along with an explanation of why it stands out.

With such an amazing collection of materials – sometimes it is hard to pick just one…

This post is Special Collections Librarian Alison Skyrme’s choice:

In 2017, Special Collections received a generous donation of magic lantern slide projectors and slides from collector John Tysall. Magic Lantern Slides were projected in private homes, educational institutions, and public forums, and covered topics from amusing anecdotes, moral tales, world tours, and scientific or other educational topics. In addition to foretelling later 35mm slides and, eventually, digital presentation tools such as PowerPoint and Google Slides, the format of 19th century magic lantern slides were also a precursor to motion pictures. Motion was incorporated into magic lantern presentations in a variety of ways, including multiple lens projectors, movable hand-held projectors, and individual slides with moveable, hand painted scenes. A variety of techniques were used to create movement, including a glass overlay with selective blackout that was moved to conceal and reveal portions of the drawing to give the impression of movement (these were called slip slides). Other mechanical techniques included levers, pulleys, and rackwork. These motion slides are some of my favorite items in the collection because of their ingenuity and whimsy.

To learn more about the John Tysall collection – click here

“These are a few of our favourite things…” – Fraggle Rock

The staff in Archives and Special Collections brings you some of our favourite things. Objects and photographs from the collections that hold a special place in our hearts. Each post will highlight a different item, along with an explanation of why it stands out.

With such an amazing collection of materials – sometimes it is hard to pick just one…

This post is Archivist Curtis Sassur’s choice:

Photograph taken on set during the filming of the television series “Fraggle Rock” (2012.005.02.86)

I love this photo because I was a big fan of the show Fraggle Rock as a kid, but also because this image, like many others within the Hackborn Fonds, highlights Robert Hackborn’s casually keen photographic eye. At first glance, it seems like the shot could be a still from the show, but then the subtle production elements at the bottom of the image tease a little notion of the creative process entailed in producing a principally puppet-powered program such as this.

  • To see what other photographs are in this series – click here
  • To see what else is in the Robert Hackborn fonds – click here

2020 Alumni Weekend – Welcome to Archives & Special Collections Virtual Open House

This year we open our doors for a virtual visit.  We sincerely miss seeing all you alumni and your guests during this COVID-19 crisis.  We miss hearing your stories about your days at Ryerson and sharing with you, in person, what we have in our collections.  We sincerely hope you are keeping well.

Let’s begin with walking through the doors of the not-so-distant past, into the former Ryerson Archives Reading Room on the 3rd floor of Ryerson University Library…

The Archives Reading Room as it looked in 2011 on the 3rd floor, Library.
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2013 Alumni Weekend, as arranged by my colleague, 3rd floor Archives.
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Peter working at the 2013 Alumni Weekend dressed as a 1993 grad, greeting visitors.
And on the right, Peter, undressed.
For more insight into Peter‘s life, see the Feature blog,  Who is this man in the Archives?
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The Library stacks, 1970s, on display for 2013 Alumni Weekend.
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2013 Alumni Weekend.  Sports featured here (L-R)
Intramural sports, Judo, Soccer, Men’s Basketball, Golf, Downhill Skiing, Football, Women’s Basketball
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Perhaps some of you were taught Politics by Jack Layton in the 1970s.
This 2014 display honours him.
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In 2017, after having merged with Special Collections, the 4th floor became our new home…

Our presence is boldly announced. We’re located directly across from the elevators.
You can also see our three-section display case.
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Upon walking through the doors, you’ll enter our Reading Room.
Check out this short blog about The Oakham House Dogs, seen in the foreground.
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Looking to the left as you walk in.  The blond wood cabinet is the last
card catalogue shelving unit remaining in the Library.
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A comfy reading area where you can peruse the shelves,
enjoy the few yearbooks and every issue of The Ryersonian and The Eyeopener.
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2019 Alumni Weekend
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Eggy made an appearance at the 2019 Open House, at least as his former self (2004-2011) – except
for the 1990s sports jersey.  Celebrating Eggy blog post takes a look at Eggy’s past.
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1950s and ’60 apparel.
Woman’s blazer. And, a tam, a variety of beanies, a top hat, and a recent rams hat for those emulating Eggy.
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A sampling of our button collection.
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Model of the original Ryerson building, Ryerson Hall, showing the building as it was in 1852
when it was built as Canada’s first Normal School (teachers’ college).
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Look!  A miniature Ryerson student!
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It’s time now for a few artefacts from Special Collections…

A 19th C Magic Lantern, a kind of early slide show with glass images projected through a lens.
The source of light for projection was an oil lamp inside the lantern “belly”, thus, the
chimney at the top.  All said, a dangerous proposition. 
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These wonderful 19th C tintypes are examples of a photographic process creating a positive image directly on a small lacquered-covered piece of metal.  They were inexpensive and very popular.  Often mounted in small cases, as seen on the left, which opens to a velvet interior with a tiny, elaborate frame.  The image inside has been meticulously hand painted.
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3D imagery is sampled here : A late 19th C / early 20th C stereoscope (left)…to this 1970s Talking View-Master!
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And finally, WWII Canadian comic books featuring Canadian heroes…

Called Canadian Whites due to the white paper within the very colourful covers.
Here, under Triumph Comics, is Nelvana of the Northern Lights.
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And Crash Carson, under the WOW banner, shoots down a Nazi plane.
See more information in our online database.

We hope you enjoyed your first Archives & Special Collections Virtual Open House!  “Stay Safe.”

First Edition Photobook Award, 2019 Award Winners

The Photography Studies program at Ryerson University together with Ryerson University Library is pleased to announce the 2019 recipients of the First Edition Photobook Awards

Book Award Recipients

About the Award

The Ryerson Library First Edition Photobook Award was instituted in 2015 by Library Special Collections Curatorial Specialist Alison Skyrme and Image Arts Instructor Christopher Manson to honor 3rd-year photography students who have made exceptional achievements in photobook production. It provides an incentive for them to achieve early recognition that will have a lasting legacy in our collection. As part of MPS507 – The Photographic Book, a 3rd-year Image Arts course that teaches students design and composition principles, students conceive of and produce their own photobook based on their own photography.

Each year, the Library purchases the top books in the class. This  years judges were Image Arts Instructor Ryan Walker, Image Arts Associate Professor Alex Alter and Special Collections Librarian Alison Skyrme. They were judged at the annual exhibition of the books at the end of the fall semester, and the winners announced at the exhibition opening. For evaluation, particular attention was paid to design, sequencing, and integration of images and text. The award will be officially given at the next awards night, the following fall semester.

Previous Award Recipients

The following 2018 award winners were presented with a certificate during the Image Arts Awards Night in November 2019: Clea Christakos-Gee, Raelene Giffin, Rafaela Conde, Lisa McElroy, Heather Rattray, Kalen Huxhan, and Hayley Wilsdon

Click here to see a complete list of Book Award Winners in the Library’s catalogue.

For more information contact Special Collections Librarian Alison Skyrme.

 

Remembrance Day and Ryerson University

Remembrance Day from Archives and Special Collections

Veterans marching past Ryerson Hall during Remembrance Day ceremony in 1953.

In 1948, three years after the end of World War II, Ryerson was created as the Ryerson Institute of Technology. During this post war period, memories of the conflict were still vivid for many students and staff members, and Remembrance Day therefore held a marked significance for the community.  The observations included a march past of veterans and a service held in front of Ryerson Hall officiated by Principal Howard Kerr, as seen in the photograph above. Today, what remains of Ryerson Hall is the façade and entry to the RAC (the “facade”).

During the war years, in both the U.S. and Canada, Kodak often incorporated typical scenes from the soldier’s life and the “home front”, to advertise the innovative products Kodak made as part of the war effort. The photographic images below are from Special Collections’ Kodak Canada collection.

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“Home folks – home things – are always uppermost in his mind. Natural, isn’t it, that he should want snapshots…that bring [home] to him as true as life!” Canadian Kodak Co., Limited, Toronto, Ontario.
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Canadian Kodak Co., Limited, Toronto, Ontario. The Monetary Times, January,1944
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U.S. Navy Photographs using Kodacolor Aero Reversal Films. The Monetary Times, August, 1944

First Edition Photobook Award, 2018 Award Winners

The Photography Studies program at Ryerson University together with Ryerson University Library & Archives is pleased to announce the 2018 recipients of the First Edition Photobook Award:

Book Award Recipients

After Grapefruit, Clea Christakos-Gee
Untitled, Raelene Giffin
In Nocte, Rafaela Conde
In the Water, Lisa McElroy
9869518588, Heather Rattray
Home and Glory, Kalen Huxhan
It’s Good Once You Get There, Hayley Wilsdon

Honourable mentions:

Surface Study, Shaw Quan
Less than 5%, Taya Hampartzoomian
In and of Itself, Lauren Armstrong
Come over sometimes and Other Messages Received and Sent, Leyla Godfrey

After Grapefruit, by Clea Christakos-Gee.
Untitled, by Raelene Giffin.
In Nocte, by Rafaele Conde.
Into the Water, by Lisa McElroy
9869518588, by Heather Rattray 
Home and Glory, by Kalen Huxhan.
It’s Good Once You Get There, by Hayley Wilsdon.

About the Award

As part of MPS507, a 3rd year Ryerson University Image Arts class in The Photographic Book, students conceive of, and create their own photobook. This is, in part, related to work that has been completed in the co-requisite class, MPS506 – Photographic Production. These are both required courses for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Image Arts) Photography Studies Option. Each year, the Library purchases the top photobooks in the class from the creator, as judged by the Special Collections Librarian, Alison Skyrme, and a special invited guest panel (this year Professor Don Snyder, Instructor and Artist Robyn Cumming, and Assistant Professor Dr. Karla McManus). The books are judged at the First Edition Photobook Show – an exhibition of the photobooks at the end of the semester. For evaluation, particular attention is paid to design, sequencing, and integration of images and text. The library catalogues each book, and houses them in the Special Collections department, where they will be available for students and researchers. An exhibition will be held in November to highlight the 2018 winners.

History

The First Edition Photobook Award was established in 2015 by Image Arts instructor Christopher Manson and the Ryerson Library to honour 3rd-year photography students who have made exceptional achievements in photobook production. It provides an incentive for students to achieve the early recognition that will have a lasting legacy in the Library collection.

Previous Award Recipients

The following 2017 award winners were presented with a certificate during the Image Arts Awards Night, November 2017: Adrian Walton-Cordeiro, Ailene Devries, Fehn Foss, Julia Garnet, Feline Gerhardt, Warren Rynkun.

For more information contact: Alison Skyrme.

This year’s books, as well as winners from past years, will be on display in the Hallway exhibition cabinets in front of Archives and Special Collections between November 19, 2019 and January 15, 2019.

2018 Panel

This year we were fortunate to have a judges panel that included Professor Don Snyder, Instructor Robyn Cumming, and Dr. Karla McManus.

Robyn Cumming is a Toronto-based artist and educator. Prior to Ryerson she taught at OCADU and in the Art and Art History Program at U of T/Sheridan. Her current work focuses on representation and accumulation with a recent emphasis on historical images gleaned from Ebay. Robyn was long listed for the 2014 Aimia Photography Prize and is represented by Erin Stump Projects in Toronto. She has a BFA (Honours) from Ryerson University and an MFA from York University.
Karla McManus is an art historian who specializes in the study of photography and the environmental imaginary. Her writing and research focuses on how historic and contemporary concerns, from wildlife conservation, to environmental disasters, to anxiety about the future, are visualized photographically. She received her PhD from Concordia University in 2015 and was a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History and Art Conservation at Queen’s University from 2015-2017.
Don Snyder has an extensive background in photographic history and curation. Before joining the Ryerson faculty, he held an appointment as Curator of Photography at the Addison Gallery of American Art, where he originated the museum’s photography exhibition program. At Ryerson, he established the Image Arts (IMA) Gallery at 80 Spadina Avenue, and was instrumental in the founding of Function, the School’s annual publication of student work, essays and interviews. He has taught in the York-Ryerson Communication and Culture program, and in Ryerson’s graduate programs in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management as well as the Documentary Media MFA program. Particular interests are critical directions in photography and documentary practice during the past decade.

2017 Year in Review: Films in the Collection

Happy 2018!

As we begin a new year and semester at Ryerson, I would like to share highlights from the collections by looking at films I inspected in 2017. I started working at Archives & Special Collections in July 2017 as an Audiovisual Assistant with the goal to survey their moving image assets for preservation and digitization initiatives. It has been an incredible experience digging through the vault, and I would like to share some of my discoveries by using the reference images I took while inspecting the films.

What’s an Expert? (1976).

The Archives have several promotional films that examine the history of Ryerson and the programs offered since the university’s inception. What’s an Expert explores the Secretarial Science program, which was available at Ryerson between 1952 and 1985.

Ryerson Is (1970).

Ryerson Is, another promotional title, presents brief vignettes on Ryerson’s academic programs.

Nana Mouskouri in Belafonte at the O’Keefe (1965).
Opening title for the CBC special featuring Duke Ellington. The show was produced and directed by Sampson (1964).

I found several hidden gems as part of the Paddy Sampson Fonds in Special Collections. The films in this collection include raw and edited footage from musical television programs that Sampson produced for the CBC in the 1960s and 1970s. One of my favorites is Belafonte at the O’Keefe, a show featuring Harry Belafonte accompanied by the Greek singer Nana Mouskouri and the Folk-blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Shot from the Buffy Ste-Marie CBC Special (1980).

The collection also holds a Duke Ellington variety special with a beautiful animated introduction, as well as raw footage from a television program on Buffy Ste-Marie.

Kraft Miracle Whip advertisement from the Sampson films.

One of my favorite parts of the Sampson films is that we have kinescope copies (black and white film recordings of television broadcasts) since these reels include the advertisement breaks during the shows!

Ryerson Media Centre staff film (1972).

Recently, I have been looking into Ryerson’s past, and learning about the Ryerson Media Centre (now called the Digital Media Projects) through films they produced in the 1970s. An untitled reel featured media and radio staff members showing off their equipment and facilities.

Ryerson Media Centre staff film (1972).
Ryerson Media Centre staff film (1972).
The Film/Paper Story by the Eastman Kodak Company (1980).

The Kodak Canada Corporate Archive and Heritage Collection has several great instructional films, including one on the process of making photographic paper and film stocks.

Opening of a film by the Eastman Kodak Company (1980).
Ryerson Media Centre film on the construction of the new library resource centre (1971)

Our biggest milestone for 2017: A&SC moved into a new space on the 4th floor of the library!

Stop by to visit the reading room and learn more about films in the collection! We even have a 16 mm circulating film collection for faculty and instructor use.

See you in the new year!