Part IX: Symbols of an Evolving Identity

Audio tour: Part IX by curator, Pearce J. Carefoote


"They Serve France," Canadian First World War Poster, 1914-1918


"Put your Teeth into the Job," Canadian Second World War Poster, 1939-1945

First and Second World War Posters

In many ways, Canada came of age as a nation through its participation in, and the aftereffects of, the two great wars of the twentieth century. In spite of the fact that some sixty thousand soldiers died in the First War, a million more still volunteered for the Second, together with fifty thousand nurses, not to mention thousands of merchant seamen. War posters quickly became an easily identifiable part of the military effort. At the outbreak of the Great War, posters were only beginning to be used for general advertising in Canada, in contrast to Europe where they had been extensively employed for several decades. As a result, the images used to promote the war effort in Canada during the First War were often naïve, frequently copied from posters used by the nation’s allies, and not subject to regular control by the Government. By the outbreak of the Second War, however, posters had become a standard part of commercial life, and Parliament was directly involved in managing their propaganda effect. In neither war, however, was that message particularly subtle. War posters in French Canada posed a particular challenge, since they were intended to persuade a great many in Québec of the justice of a cause that seemed principally foreign in character, especially in those placards that prominently displayed the Union Jack, for example. It may have been for this reason that, during the Second World War, native symbols like the beaver and maple leaf, were more frequently adopted. The two wars, conscription, and loyalty to Britain, laid bare some of the fault lines between French and English that would manifest themselves fully during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, and would ultimately threaten to destroy national unity itself. From an artistic point of view, however, many of these posters are now recognized as important examples of chromolithographic art in this country.


Passport of Dr. Frederick Banting, [1934-1941]


The Canadian Passport

The Canadian passport is one of the most desirable of travel documents, known the world over for its ability to open international doors relatively easily. Until 1862, Canadians were able to cross the border into the United States without a passport because they were British subjects. During the American Civil War, the Governor General of Canada began issuing a signed ‘letter of request’ which effectively served as the Canadian passport for the next fifty years. Into the early twentieth century, Canadians who wished to travel to Europe were required to obtain a single-sheet passport, issued by the British Foreign Office in London. In 1915, the Canadian Government switched from using a single-sheet passport to a ten-section, single sheet folder, printed in English only. In 1921, the familiar booklet-style that is still in use was inaugurated, with a bilingual format introduced five years later. It was only in 1977 that the text of the passport was altered from ‘A Canadian citizen is a British subject’ to simply ‘the bearer of this passport is a Canadian citizen’.

F8411_no spots.jpg

The Maple Leaf Flag

Demands for a distinctive Canadian flag began to grow in earnest after the Second World War, though most English Canadians clung to the old Red Ensign, Canada’s unofficial pennant. The one that provides the backdrop to this case comes from the Sarnia Boat Club. On 15 June 1964, newly-elected Prime Minister Lester Pearson formally opened the debate with a speech entitled, A Distinctive Flag which will say to the World and to the Future: I stand for Canada! After more than three hundred speeches, and a certain amount of political subterfuge, the now-familiar flag was approved by Act of Parliament, with the Royal Proclamation signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 January 1965. The new flag, inspired by that of the Royal Military College, was flown for the first time on 15 February 1965. Stan Bevington of Coach House, long-time Friend of the Fisher and printer of many of its publications, was involved in the so-called ‘flag wars’ of 1964. In the summer of that year, he silk-screened thousands of the so-called ‘Pearson Pennant’ (two blue bars on either side of three conjoined red maple leaves), and sold them around Yorkville, making enough to enable him to purchase his first printing press.


O'Canada by Robert Stanley Weir, 1908


O'Canada by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, 1880.

The Anthem

The lyrics to ‘O Canada’ were originally written in French in 1880 by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier and set to music written by Calixa Lavallée. At this same time, God save the King and The Maple Leaf Forever vied for the honour of de facto national anthem in English Canada. Several English versions of ‘O Canada’, appeared at the turn of the twentieth century. By the Second World War, some sixteen different English versions of ‘O Canada’ were in circulation. In 1908, the Montréal judge, Robert Stanley Weir, penned another set of English lyrics that would become the official text by Act of Parliament on 27 June 1980. The first edition with Weir’s text, printed by the Delmar Music Company of Montreal, is displayed here.


Gordie Howe on the cover of Maclean's, 14 December 1963


Since the nineteenth century, hockey has been one of the great unifying forces in this otherwise disparate land. The legends who donned skates in Canada’s national pastime have become icons of the nation itself, and their names are still recalled with reverence. Print journalism initially spread the news by reporting sensational details of the fast-paced games, and concomitant violence, to the major centres of the East, with early reportage making hockey sound like roller derby on ice. The sports sections of every Canadian newspaper, together with Maclean’s and The Hockey News, continued the print tradition established by those early reporters, keeping enthusiasts informed. Perhaps a more influential vehicle for developing the loyalty of a new generation of fans, however, was the humble hockey card that first appeared in 1910, and has been constantly traded by fans ever since. Other print manifestations of the country’s hockey mania could be found in players’ portraits printed on cereal boxes, Coca-Cola bottle caps, and tokens issued by the Shirriff Pudding Company.

1967 – A Time to Celebrate – Centennial Year

1967 was a year-long celebration of everything Canadian. Numerous guides and pamphlets were published to help Canadians decide what to do, where to travel, and how much to see. While they were ephemeral in character, such publications inadvertently contributed to and accelerated a sense of nationhood, especially among English-speaking Canadians with disposable income. A number of annual festivals, such as Charlottetown and the Toronto Caribana Parade, saw their inauguration as part of the Centennial celebrations and continue to this day. The anniversary also saw renewed interest in typography, with the Canadian Government commissioning Carl Dair to create the new, distinctively Canadian ‘Cartier’ typeface. The most recognizable symbol of the celebrations, however, was the Centennial Logo, designed by Stuart Ash of the Montréal firm, Gottschalk + Ash, in 1966. All Canadians were permitted to use the stylized geometrical maple leaf for the Centennial activities, and it appeared widely on everything from currency to shopping catalogues.

Confederation Coins and Currency

In 1927, the first medal to commemorate an anniversary of Confederation was struck for the nation’s Diamond Jubilee. Made of copper, it featured King George V and Queen Mary in profile, with a wreath of maple leaves surrounding the national coat of arms on the obverse side. Then in 1967, the Royal Canadian Mint released a set of circulating coins designed by Alex Colville (1920-2013) in honour of the Centennial. Each coin featured the Queen’s head, with the obverse sides depicting the birds, fauna, and aquatic life of the country. The choices of the goose, wolf, bobcat, mackerel, and rabbit were made, not just to symbolize the nation’s natural heritage, but to reflect the Canadian values and virtues associated with each animal in literature and legend. 

A special one dollar bill was also introduced in 1967, specifically aimed at collectors, with the years 1867-1967 replacing the standard serial number. Some twelve million of these notes were issued and entered into general circulation, though many were also horded. Besides the uniform serial number, these bills also feature the distinctive centennial logo, and an image of the original Centre Block of Parliament, destroyed by fire in 1916, on the verso.

The Royal Canadian Mint also struck a special commemorative medallion that was given to every Canadian student in June of 1967. It is estimated that some four million of these brass tokens, which featured the arms of Canada on one side and the centennial logo on the other, were distributed freely.


Spread in Miss Chatelaine showing Fashion at Expo '67, Spring 1967

Expo 67

The Montreal Universal and International Exhibition was billed as ‘an exhibition of international cooperation and enterprise that can only further better communications among mankind’. Designed and executed before the feminist movement captured the popular imagination, the Fair was called ‘Man and His World’, and its iconic symbol represented an idealized and harmonious relationship between humanity and society ‘by depicting a chain of human brotherhood around the world’. Expo was held on six hundred acres encompassing the artificial Île Notre Dame, Île Sainte-Hélène, and the Cité du Havre on the St Lawrence River from 27 April to 29 October 1967.

The distinctive Expo passports were effectively multi-use tickets that allowed a certain amount of flexibility when touring the fairgrounds. A full-season passport, which included a photograph of the bearer, cost $35 for adults, $30 for youths from thirteen to twenty-one, and $17.50 for children, while day visitors were charged $2.50. By its final day, a grand total of 50,306,648 persons – far more than twice Canada’s population at the time – had visited the wildly successful Fair.


Cover illustration on violence in Quebec in Le Magazine Maclean, April 1967

The excitement of the Centennial and Expo hid some of the dark clouds on the horizon. While the English edition Macleans magazine was documenting the festivities, the French edition was capturing some of the simmering unrest in mid-1960s Québec. The cover of the April 1967 issue was dedicated, for example, not to the imminent opening of Expo, but to the potential for terrorism in Québec, with the feature article entitled Les terroristes: des jeunes Québécois ont choisi la violence. Pourquoi? That potential became a reality in 1970 with the kidnapping of the British Trade Commissioner, James Cross and the execution of Québec’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte.

Audio tour: Final thoughts on exhibition by curator, Pearce J. Carefoote

Part IX: Symbols of an Evolving Identity