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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.

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…” – Jack Layton Library

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 Archival Technician Cathy McMaster’s choice:

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, a religious allegory, first published in 1678. This edition was published ca. 1900 (F 404.2.733)

I chose this wonderful little book, the story of which is the oldest religious allegory in English literature still in print. This edition is over 100 years old, in good condition, and with a personal inscription to “Lily” from her teacher, “N.M. Robb” (no date). But, it is what I discovered between pages 144 and 145 that makes this book much more special – a pressed four-leaf clover. Who found this rare plant? Jack Layton perhaps? Or, if it was Lily (or even N.M. Robb) who placed it in the book, that little plant is old. Not only a wondrous find back in the day, but also amazing it is still in this book, possibly for 120 years.  Good luck or no, it was a special find for that person and for me.

An elusive four leaf clover
  • To see other book titles in the Jack Layton library – click here
  • To see what else is in the Jack Layton fonds – 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

“These are a few of our favourite things…” – Birth of a Campus

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 Archival Technician Rosalynn MacKenzie’s choice:

Excavation of the north end of the property, ca.1961

This is one of hundreds of photographs taken by late Ryerson Professor Charles Roy Horney. They are especially poignant as they document the “birth” of Ryerson’s campus with the construction of Kerr Hall and the demolition of the old Normal School buildings. Ryerson started out essentially as an experiment, but by the 1960’s it was really coming into its own and the construction of Kerr Hall represents this to me.

I picked this specific photograph because it shows how Kerr Hall was constructed. This shows the end of Unit I (which runs along Church Street from the corner of Gould to the corner of Gerrard) and the excavation for the Unit II.

  • To see a listing of the other photographs in this file – click here
  • To see what else is in the C. Roy Horney 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.”

Celebrating the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

Author’s note: The planning for this blog started in November 2019, to tie into exhibits and other events to celebrate the World Health Organization’s declaration that 2020 would be The International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. At that time COVID-19 was not a known entity and now 5 months later we are in the midst of an international health crisis. We would like to take this moment to recognize Nurses and Midwives for all of their hard work and dedication. The Nurses who care for us and our loved ones on a day to day basis, and those who are working on the front line of this pandemic – Thank you. The Midwives who support and care for their patients and are doing so now during these unprecedented times – Thank you.

The World Health Organization declares 2020 to be the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

The World Health Organization, in partnership with the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), International Council of Nurses (ICN), Nursing Now and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), declared 2020 the year of the Nurse and the Midwife – “A year-long effort to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives, highlight the challenging conditions they often face, and advocate for increased investments in the nursing and midwifery workforce” [WHO] . The year was chosen because 2020 also marks the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

To find out more about the campaign please consult the following web pages:

Celebrating the birthday of Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale letter and portrait (RG 946.02.01)

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) is considered to be the founder of modern Nursing. Florence Nightingale was born in the city of Florence, Italy on May 12, 1820. She began her nursing training in 1850 in Germany, and in 1853 she became superintendent at a women’s hospital on Harley Street in London, England. She is best known for her work during the Crimean War and her resulting work towards improving sanitary conditions in hospitals and beyond. For more information about Florence Nightingale:

International Nurses Day and National Nursing Week declared

In 1971 The International Council of Nurses declared May 12 (Nightingale’s birthday) as International Nurses Day. In 1985 the Canadian Nurses Association advocated that the second week of May every year be National Nursing Week. This year marks her 200th birthday. To find out more about National Nursing Week and International Nurses Day, please visit the following websites:

International Day of the Midwife

First celebrated in 1992, May 5th marks the International Day of the Midwife. The idea of the International Day of the Midwife was proposed at the 1987 International Congress of Midwives by the delegation from Australia. The initiative took some time to go through the UN System, but was formally launched in 1992. For more information on the International Day of the Midwife, please visit the following websites:

Midwifery at Ryerson

Ryerson’s program was founded in 1993 in collaboration with McMaster and Laurentian Universities. The program is offered as both full-time or part-time, as well as having an accelerated post-baccalaureate program for people with a previous degree in a health related field and labour and delivery experience. Ryerson’s first class of Midwives graduated in 1996.

Student Midwives Emily Stewart-Wilson (Class of 2018) and Teresa Cheng (Class of 2020) practice neonatal resuscitation with midwife preceptor Nicole Waithe (middle) [Photograph courtesy of the Midwifery Education Program, Faculty of Community Services]

To learn more about the program and to see what we have in Archives and Special Collections, please visit:

Nursing at Ryerson

Nursing students in the hospital, 1975 (RG 122.10.039)

The Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing was founded in 1964. The 3-year Diploma course was endorsed by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and was the first diploma Nursing Course in Canada to be offered outside of the Hospital nursing schools. It would add other diplomas and certificates during the next decade including post-graduate Nursing programs in Adult Intensive Care (certificate), Pediatric Nursing Program (certificate), and Psychiatric Nursing Program (certificate).

On September 1, 1973, the responsibility for the administration of all Diploma Nursing Programs within the Province of Ontario was transferred from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Diploma Nursing Programs formerly operated by hospitals and/or by separately constituted boards in the city of Toronto were transferred to George Brown College and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. Under this directive, Ryerson’s Diploma Nursing Program was joined by the Schools formerly operated by the Hospital for Sick Children, Women’s College Hospital and Wellesley Hospital.

In 1980, Ryerson first offered a post-diploma degree, followed in 1983 by a part-time degree option. In 2001 they began offering a collaborative nursing degree program with George Brown and Centennial Colleges. Now the school also offers graduate programs – a Masters of Nursing and a Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate. To learn more about the Nursing at Ryerson and to see what we have in Archives and Special Collections, please visit:

The Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing

The Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing opened in 1912, with its first class of 10 graduating in 1915.

Upon Graduation, each nurse was given their Wellesley pin. The same style pin was awarded to every Wellesley graduate between 1915 and 1974. What made each pin unique was the Nurses name and date of graduation engraved on the back.

The Wellesley’s first graduates did so in the time of World War I, and not surprisingly 8 out of the 10 graduates enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. They all served in Field Hospitals and medical units in Europe.

From the beginning, the Wellesley Hospital depended upon its student nurses – they provided the majority of nursing care for the patients in the early years of the hospital. Because of the small size on the Hospital (72 beds), the Nursing students did training at a variety of different hospitals to augment their training. One such relationship was with the Manhatten Maternity Hospital where they were sent for obstetrical training. This relationship lasted from 1915 to 1919 when Wellesley’s obstetrical unit was large enough for adequate training of its own nurses. In 1923 the Ontario government registered the Wellesley school, along with other larger schools in Toronto. This meant the Wellesley Nurses could apply for qualification of Registered Nurse.

The school’s curriculum changed over the years, with 3 major changes occuring. The first occurred in 1942, when nursing theory and nursing practice were correlated. The second change occurred in 1956 when the 2 year course changed to a 2 year academic program plus one year internship on the wards. The final change occurred in 1970 when the course was made 2 years with the third year interns were paid for their work and able to live outside of the Nursing residence.

Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing open house poster, 1972 (RG 946.03.13.02)

The Nursing school remained in operation until 1973 when it amalgameted with Ryerson Polytechnical Institute School of Nursing. The Wellesley satellite site remained open until 1975, when the last class of Wellesley nurses graduated.

To learn more about Nursing during World War I, and to see what else we have in the Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing sous-fonds visit:

The Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association and World War II

During World War II The Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association were active in supporting their Nursing sisters, as well as the Wellesley Hospital doctors, that were serving overseas.

They were also active in supporting other charities that supplied goods to those serving in the Canadian Forces.

In 2005, with the closure of the Wellesley Hospital, the Alumnae Association donated their Archival collection to Ryerson’s School of Nursing. It was transferred to the Ryerson University Archives in 2011, along with an endowment to support the collection. The alumnae association established an endowment fund in 2006 that supports an award for Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing graduate students. The Alumnae Association is still active today and can be reached by email at thewellesleyschoolnsgtoronto@gmail.com

To learn more about the Alumnae Association and to see what else we have in The Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association sous-fonds visit:

We hope you have enjoyed looking through our celebration of Nursing and Midwifery. Here are some additional websites that might be of interest: