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COVID-19 Community Archive Contest Winners

Thank you all for participating in our COVID-19 Community Archive submission contest!

The COVID-19 Community Archive seeks to preserve and make accessible content that was captured and created by students, faculty, staff and alumni about their lived experiences during the pandemic. Our goal in developing this digital portal is to serve as a repository for those of us who may be documenting this historic moment.

We received incredible submissions throughout the summer contest. Here are the three randomly selected winning submissions:

Although the contest is closed, you can still submit your work to the University’s COVID-19 Digital Community Archive Project by using our online submission form. We accept all types of works: photographs, audiovisual recordings, artworks and written content reflecting your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Join us in this collaborative project to document these unprecedent times!

Spring on Campus

Spring came in on March 20 this year and on campus this means the budding of the trees and the blooming of the wonderful smelling trees in the Kerr Hall Quad.

Many of us won’t get the chance to take in the campus green spaces in person this Spring, so at Archives and Special Collections, we thought it would be nice to look back at Spring on campus from years past.

Archives A to Z: Part 4

We’re joining the Archives of Ontario in their #ArchivesAtoZ month-long campaign. The aim is to increase the public’s awareness of archives and their collections. We’ll be sharing four blog posts throughout the month showcasing items and collections from our holdings or archival concepts related to each letter of the alphabet.

  • March 1: A to F
  • March 8: G to M
  • March 15: N to S
  • March 22: T to Z

Truth and Reconciliation

In its final report in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called on museums, archives and educational institutions, among other groups, to respond to 94 Calls to Action. These calls provide a path for Canadians and institutions to begin to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Although our holdings do not have extensive material that can supports these Calls to Action, the team at Archives & Special Collections has compiled a list of internal and external resources related to Egerton Ryerson, Residential Schools and Indigenous Peoples. Ryerson University’s Aboriginal Educational Council has also created a document focused on Egerton Ryerson, the Residential School System and Truth and Reconciliation with detailed sources on the topic.

University Status

Opened in 1948 as the Ryerson Institute of Technology, Ryerson has been granting degrees for 49 years – the first of which were handed out on May 26, 1972 to graduates in Interior Design, Business Management, and Geodetic Sciences. Nineteen years later, almost to the day, on May 27, 1991 the Ryerson Board of Governors and Academic Council (Senate) gave their support to the proposal the the school seek full university status. Two years later on June 1, 1993 the dream was realized when Ryerson Polytechnic University was recognized by Royal Assent. The oversized letter and the T-shirt in this picture are housed in Archives and Special Collections (RG 122.12)

Photograph of Terry Grier stands beside the oversized letter announcing Ryerson’s full University Status (RG 76.14.723). Click on the photo above to read the announcements published in the University’s Forum Newsletter.

View-Masters

The Bass Stereoscopic Photography Collection has 162 pieces of stereo viewing equipment, including 44 View-Masters. These stereoscopic viewers first appeared at the 1939 New York World Fair. View-Masters, a name trademarked by Sawyer’s Inc, use circular “reels” with seven stereoscopic images made from 16mm Kodachrome transparencies. Unlike the original wooden stereoscope viewers, View-Masters are usually made of plastic or metal.

Our collection has a variety of different types of viewers, such as the GAF Talking View-Master, which incorporated an audio record that synchronized sound with the stereoscopic slides. The Big Bird camera-shaped 3D viewer, a staff favourite, has a built-in reel of 7 diametrical, 16 mm colour transparencies of Sesame Street characters teaching the alphabet.

World War II

Did you know Ryerson University had a connection to World War II? The original building on campus Ryerson Hall, whose façade is the entrance to the Ryerson Athletic Centre in the Kerr Hall Quad, housed both the Royal Canadian Air Force Initial Training School No. 6 and the Dominion-Provincial War Emergency Training Program between 1941-1945. To learn more about the Royal Canadian Air Force’s training facilities visit their web page At the end of World War II, the building would house the Training and Re-establishment Institute (TRIT), a place for veterans to learn a trade. TRIT ran between 1945-1948, and Ryerson Institute of Technology, which opened in September 1948,  evolved out of that organization – offering the same courses in the first couple of years of our existence. Take a look at RG 58 Vocational Training Schools and Training and Re-establisment Institutes, F 183 James A. Moore fonds and F 858 Michael Zabinsky fonds to see more records we have related to the Training and Re-establishment Institute.

Interior view of the Electronics Department of the Training and Re-establishment Institute (RG 58.18)

XV Winter Olympic Ceremony

The Paddy Sampson Fonds consists of textual records and audiovisual material related to television shows and specials intended for broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC). Sampson joined the CBC as a stage hand in 1952, and later became a producer and director for the broadcaster. Some of the notable programs he worked on include “Program X” and the renowned hour long 1966 music special, “The Blues”. The Fonds also contains research material related to Sampson’s independent productions, such as the 1988 opening and closing ceremonies for the XV Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Young Readers

Special Collections’ book holdings include the Children’s Literature Archive. The collection was established through the Centre for Digital Humanities in 2009 and was transferred to Special Collections in 2017. It contains over 2200 books published between 1701 and 1940 and continues to grow. Its particular strengths are adventure stories, fairy tales, and Canadiana, but also includes strong holdings in poetry, picture books, and pedagogical works such as science texts and primers, along with biographies of notable authors and other scholarly studies. Explore the collection through the Centre for Digital Humanities’ exhibition website or through the Library catalogue.

3 book covers from the Children's Literature Archive
3 book covers from the Children’s Literature Archive

Zeiss Ikon

Our Heritage Camera Collection has over 677 pieces of photographic equipment, including several cameras by the company Zeiss Ikon. Zeiss was initially an optical workshop in Germany during the mid-1800s, and started building camera lenses in the 1890s. Zeiss Ikon was created in 1926 by the merger of four camera manufacturers: Contessa-Nettel, Ernemann, Goerz and Ica. The newly founded partnership combined thousands of cameras patents held by the individual companies. Explore the Zeiss website for more information on the history of the camera company.

We hope you have enjoyed our Archives A to Z blog post series. Explore the hashtag #ArchivesAtoZ to see what other repositories have shared online!

Archives A to Z: Part 3

We’re joining the Archives of Ontario in their #ArchivesAtoZ month-long campaign. The aim is to increase the public’s awareness of archives and their collections. We’ll be sharing four blog posts throughout the month showcasing items and collections from our holdings or archival concepts related to each letter of the alphabet.

  • March 1: A to F
  • March 8: G to M
  • March 15: N to S
  • March 22: T to Z

News on campus

For the past 73 years, Ryerson University Media and Ryerson Student Media outlets have been telling the University’s stories, and stories about the larger community to which the school belongs. Before the age of social media and online streaming – Ryerson got its stories out there in printed newspapers, newsletters, and magazines. Archives and Special Collections houses the archives for many of the campus media publications including Ryerson’s student newspapers – The Ryersonian and The Eyeopener, and University publications like the Forum Newsletter and Ryerson Magazine. We also have a robust collection of publications created by different student groups, faculties, and programs. You can read more about Ryerson’s news publications in the blog “All the news that’s fit to print

First edition of the Forum Newsletter (RG 4.10). It was published in hard copy between 1975 – 2005 and in an online format between 2006-2009 when it was replaced by Ryerson Today

Octagonal Houses of Maine

Archive and Special Collections houses a wide selection Artists books in its stacks. The smallest of these is “The Octagonal Houses of Maine” by Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh and illustrated by Patrick H. Higgins. It measures just 2 cm by 2.5 cm, but the text and images are fully legible.

Peter Di Gangi Papers

The Peter Di Gangi Papers contain records on historical, legal and cultural research related to Indigenous governance in Canada. Di Gangi has been working with Indigenous communities across Canada for ever 35 years and has worked extensively with Anishnaabe communities on the North Shore of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island, and with the Algonquin communities of the Ottawa Valley. The collection includes published and unpublished materials, created by Di Gangi and his research firm Sicani Research & Advisory Services, such as policy papers on Indigenous laws, government reports and statistics and research documents prepared for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and Assembly of First Nations.

Image of a paper report by Peter Di Gangi titled "AFN - Aboriginal Strategic Initiative: Comprehensive Research Proposal Jurisdiction"
2018.008.006.008 – Assembly of First Nations Aboriginal Strategic Initiative Research Report

Quadrangle

Hidden from view in the Centre of Ryerson’s campus is the Kerr Hall Quadrangle or Quad. Surrounded on four sides by Howard Kerr Hall, the quadrangle is a welcome green space on campus, and a favourite lunch and relaxation spot for the Ryerson students and staff. When originally constructed, the quad was home to campus parking around the perimeter with a fountain in the centre. Spring graduates would convocate through the door of the Toronto Normal School building facade. Now the quad features the Ryerson Athletic Centre below its grass covered centre and is bordered by gardens and mature trees. The photograph of convocation is just one of thousands of photographs that we house in Archives and Special Collections that show the evolution of the Quad and Ryerson’s campus as a whole.

Convocation, circa 1979, in the Kerr Hall Quadrangle (RG 76.06.01)

Ram

Ram or the Rams is the name of Ryerson University’s Varsity Athletic teams. Our textile collection contains numerous hockey, volleyball, soccer, and basketball uniforms that were donated to us as the materials and cuts of the uniforms changed over the years. We also have a programs, photographs, team rosters, and a wide variety of other memorabilia tied to Ryerson’s 73 year history of Athletics and Recreation. Want to know more? Read our blog “Ryerson 7025 – Athletics and Intramurals“.

Variety of Rams Athletics memorabilia on display during Alumni Weekend, 2013

Stereographs

Stereographs, also known as stereocards or stereoscopic photographs, are an early form of 3D photographs. The two almost identical images mounted on a rectangular card or piece of glass create the illusion of a three-dimensional photograph when used with a stereoscope viewer (see our next post under V for more information on the viewing devices). Our Bass Stereoscopic Photography Collection contains approximatively 8000 stereoscopic photographs depicting various geographic locations, activities and people. Stereographs were created in the early 1850s, and gained popularity when a stereoscopic viewer was displayed at the London International Exhibition (Crystal Palace) in 1851. A decade later, stereocards were mass-produced and widely distributed by publishers and amateur photographers. They were often sold as boxsets on a certain topic, for entertainment or educational purposes, or as a souvenir while visiting a tourist destination.

Image of a stereograph (two similar images side by side on a rectangular card stock) with Yosemite Valley
2018.09.04.07.35 – Underwood & Underwood (Yosemite Valley, 1902)

Next week, in our final March post, we’ll highlight items and archival concepts for the letters T to Z!

Archives A to Z: Part 2

We’re joining the Archives of Ontario in their #ArchivesAtoZ month-long campaign. The aim is to increase the public’s awareness of archives and their collections. We’ll be sharing four blog posts throughout the month showcasing items from our collections and demystifying archival concepts related to each letter of the alphabet.

  • March 1: A to F
  • March 8: G to M
  • March 15: N to S
  • March 22: T to Z

Green Roof

Ryerson’s first unofficial green roof was created over the Ryerson Athletic Centre (RAC), which opened in 1987. The RAC was constructed underneath the Kerr Hall Quadrangle, it’s roof covered by just 15 cm of top soil, sodded over and trees planted around the perimeter. Ryerson’s first official green roof was constructed a top the George Vari Engineering and Computer Centre in 2004. To learn more about Ryerson’s Green Roof initiatives read more here – How the Ryerson Community is shaping Urban Culture.

Forum newsletter (RG 122.04) Click on the photograph to read the whole story.

How-to

Archives and Special Collections staff embarked on a project this past year to create a series of “how-to” videos. The project was initiated in response to our move to online research help and working from home. The videos are a digital version of what we would normally relate in person to our researchers. You can view the videos, including “Searching the Ryerson Archives and Special Collections Database“, “Archives 101: How Archival Records are Organized and Why“, and “Archives 101: Archival Records Descriptions and what to look for when you research“, on the Ryerson Library Youtube channel. Staff is currently working on more videos to add to this collection.

Opening shot from Introduction to Archives and Special Collections video – click on the image to watch the whole video, Olivia Wong, 2020

Instruments

The Ryerson University Archives was founded in 1971 with the idea that it could also reflect the polytechnic roots of the school and the “hands-on” emphasis of the school’s curriculum at the time – a kind of hybrid Archives and Museum of Technology. A large percentage of our early donations were objects as opposed to the traditional textual and photographic nature of Archival materials. As a result we have a wide selection instruments and equipment in the collection that were used by Ryerson students in early Science and Technology (Engineering) courses.

Microscope with case and instruction manual (RG 0.04.11)

Jorgenson Hall

Jorgenson Hall, named for Ryerson’s first President Fred Jorgenson (1966-1969), was completed in 1971. The 14 story tower anchors the north end of a building complex, which includes the Podium Building and the Library building, on the west side of Nelson Mandela Walk. The brutalist building was designed by WZMH Architects and constructed by EllisDon Corporation. The photograph is one of thousands that are housed in Archives and Special Collections that document the evolution of the campus. We also have the architectural model of the building complex in our collections.

Construction of Jorgenson Hall (RG 122.10.98)

Kodak

The Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection was the first collection acquired by Special Collections in 2005 and continues to be our most researched material. It includes extensive documentation of Kodak Heights, the 25 acres of farmland near Weston Road and Eglinton Avenue where the company established a photographic film manufacturing and camera assembly plant. Kodak purchased the land in 1912, and by 1925 there were over 900 employees working in seven buildings at Kodak Heights. To learn more about the Kodak collection see our various blogs on the history of Kodak in Toronto, insights into the corporate culture, women in Kodak advertising, Blackface in the Kodak archive and the early days of Kodak.

Black and white photograph of two women sitting at desks processing 8mm film (ca. 1955)
2005.001.06.03.304 –  Women processing 8mm film (ca. 1955)

Lenin

Special Collections’ holdings include the Leniniana Collection, which consists of more than 800 items featuring the image of Vladimir Ilych Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. The collection includes pins, sculptures, books, posters, postcards, 35mm film, as well as two sets of nesting or Matryoshkas dolls. The collection was assembled by Dr. Ron Vastokas between 1989 and 2003 in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Vilnius and Kaliningrad.

Painted wooden nesting or Matrioshkas dolls of Russian Communist leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev is the first and largest doll, inside which in succession are the leaders: Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Five dolls in total.
2008.005.11.005 – Set of Matryoshkas painted with Soviet political figures

Magic Lanterns

Developed in the 17th century following the creation of the camera obscura, magic lanterns are the earliest form of slide projects. These optical devices used candles, oil and later limestone as a light source to project glass slides onto screens. This large biunial (or double lens) mahogany and brass magic lantern has two optical systems which allows for transition effects between slides. There are a wide range of magic lanterns models, from small toy lanterns for children, to large projectors for theatrical presentations or educational lectures. Explore our database to see the wide variety of magic lantern projectors and slides in our holdings.

A wooden Biunial Magic Lantern projector in front of a white background
2017.017.01.004 Biunial Magic Lantern

Next week we’ll highlight items and archival concepts for the letters N to S!

Archives A to Z: Part 1

We’re joining the Archives of Ontario in their #ArchivesAtoZ month-long campaign. The aim is to increase the public’s awareness of archives and their collections. We’ll be sharing four blog posts throughout the month showcasing items from our holdings and demystifying archival concepts related to each letter of the alphabet.

  • March 1: A to F
  • March 8: G to M
  • March 15: N to S
  • March 22: T to Z

Archives & Special Collections

The Ryerson Archives was founded in 1971 on a recommendation by the Smyth Commission on Ryerson Polytechnical Institute’s governance and organization. Its mandate is to preserve and makes accessible the records essential to the understanding of the University’s purposes and operation or having other historical or archival value. Special Collections was founded in 2005 with the donation of the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection. Its purpose is to support the learning and teaching needs and facilitate the scholarly, research and creative activities of the Ryerson community by acquiring and preserving photography, film and cultural history objects. The two came together in 2012 and moved to a shared space in 2017. Open to the public, we provide research help for the Ryerson Community and beyond. We also offer a variety of different educational experiences for staff and students at Ryerson. Learn more about us here.

5 students working in the Archives & Special Collections reading room
Ryerson Archives & Special Collections Reading Room located in Room 404 of the Ryerson Library

Button Collection

Ryerson’s button collection houses hundreds of buttons from all different departments, events, and campus groups. The buttons are stored together, but belong to different record groups in the repository. Here is a small sampling:

An overhead image of about 20 colourful buttons with Ryerson logos and slogans
Ryerson University Archive’s Button Collection houses buttons of all shapes and sizes. You can see our smallest and largest ones in this image.

Comic Books

The Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection consists of 181 comic books, produced in Canada, mainly during World War II, after the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), on December 2, 1940 classified American comics as “luxury goods” and limited their importation. These comics are generally referred to as the “Canadian Whites” due to the fact that the illustrations were black and white, except for the covers.

Triumph Comics comic book cover
An online version of the comic book is available: Triumph Comics No. 12

Dogs of Oakham House

The Oakham House dogs, Archives and Special Collections official mascots, were donated to the Archives in 2010. They originally graced the front entrance to Oakham House, a former private home built by Architect William Thomas. Upon their arrival to Archives and Special Collections, a university wide name the dogs contest was held. The pups were named “Daisy” for Ryerson’s first computer and “RISIS” for the Ryerson created “Ryerson Integrated Student Records System”. They currently stand watch over our reading room and greet visitors from their spot in front of our reference help desk.

Two cast iron dog sculptures
The Oakham House dog sculptures are made from cast iron and weigh about 100 lbs each.

Eaton’s Centre

Our holdings include several images of the Eaton’s Centre as part of the Canadian Architect Magazine Fonds. This collection contains thousands of negatives and photographs taken for the publication. The magazine reviewed and documented both public and private structures, including churches, homes, businesses, airports, government offices and public spaces. The subjects of the photographs are generally modern Canadian structures, but images of some International sites and early 20th century Canadian buildings can be found in the collection as well.

Fraggle Rock

The Robert Hackborn Fonds contains extensive documentation of the creative processes for Jim Henson’s television show Fraggle Rock, including on-set images, sketches of set designs and correspondence. Robert Hackborn was a Canadian set designer and art director. He started working at the CBC in 1955 as a scenic paint artist and later progressed to the Set Design Department where he would produce versatile special visual effects incorporated in years of Canadian film and television programming.

Next week we’ll highlight items and archival concepts for the letters G to M!

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.

Remembrance Day: Student Voices from 2000

Twenty years ago, Jennifer Kwan published “Voices from the Trenches” in The Eyeopener, one of Ryerson’s student newspapers.

Kwan interviewed students about their relationship to Remembrance Day and their traditions to commemorate the event. The article provides insight from students who had recently immigrated to Canada and their connections to war and conflict.

One of the perspectives featured in the article is a first-year information technology management student who is a Kosovar Albanian refugee. The student and her family fled to Macedonia just days before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing. The student discusses her relationship to war since leaving Kosovo and immigrating to Canada in the fall of 2000. Kwan wrote,”… young people approach her with questions about Kosovo, and while she thinks they should be aware of what’s happening in the world when it comes to war, she says people shouldn’t let it consume them.” 1

A business student from the United Arab Emirates interviewed in the article believes we should be spending more than one day reflecting on our history of war. The student shares his family’s experience during the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the emotional impact of living near a conflict zone. “It has happened before and it can happen again. It shouldn’t be a distant memory.” 2

Another student describes how every year her grandfather recounts stories of the Second World War and discusses his past as a commander for the Polish underground resistance. Kwan wrote, “Even though she’s heard these stories before, she sits beside him and listens, knowing that he wants her to remember them and learn the lessons.” 3

To read the full article, click on the image above and select “view full-size.”

The newspaper article included in this blog post was taken from the Ryerson University Archives Remembrance Day Clipping File. The Archives preserves students’ experiences and serves as the institutional memory of the Ryerson community. For more student perspectives on Remembrance Day, click on the images below.

1Kwan, Jennifer. “Voices from the Trenches.” The Eyeopener, November 8, 2000.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

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