Last year Mark Kingwell's unique history of Canada in the 20th century was published with a run of 50,000 copies. When co-author, historian Christopher Moore joined us to tell the story of this book, he dropped by the publisher, Doubleday Canada, to pick up some copies in case some of his audience wanted a copy. There were only four copies left -- the rest were in the retail stores and in the hands of Canadians. (A sale of 1,500 copies in Canada marks a book as a best seller!) 

The authors decided to celebrate photography in Canada in the 20th Century by publishing a book of selected images from the wealth of seldom seen photos held by our national and provincial archives. With researcher Sara Borins, they culled 500 images from the thousands upon thousands in our archives. The selection criteria was this: A chosen image must catch the eye. An arresting image of an ordinary person or event would be given priority over a less exciting image of a well known personality or event. 

The images tell the history of Canada and it's people along the time-line of the 20th century, divided into decades. While each image has a descriptive caption paragraph written by Sara Borins, which often includes a brief comment to set the time and place, it is left for the reader to read the photo. The visual history of each decade is augmented by text bites  -- a section of text excerpts and quotes representative of the feelings and opinions of the decade.

The book was limited to 500 images, several for every year in the century. The authors wanted a hand hold able coffee table book (no table required...). To meet this aim, many images are cropped and all images are allowed to run to the page edge. I would have preferred a glossier paper and higher image resolution, but hey, they didn't ask me, and anyways, I image the added cost would have put the book out of reach for many of us.

The book is a lively and delightful history book -- far superior to the dry as dust histories I recall from my student days. Whether this is a faulty memory, or the fact I have lived over 60 of the years covered, I will leave to you to decide, but one thing I do know. We never had pictures of nudes in our high school history books!

Contact your favourite bookseller to track down this wonderful memento of the last century in pictures of Canada and Canadians. Pictures that tell a story about us, not the usual tourist promotions or celebrations of political happenings. 

Ask for:

Canada Our Century 100 Voices 500 Visions
Doubleday Canada
ISBN 0-385-25893-3

Hardcover with clear plastic dust cover, 512 pages, $50.

The side bar on this page is a sample of the images Chris showed us in his talk about the book. I can find all but one of them in the book. Please track down a copy to see the actual images used and the commentary that goes with them. 


The images from top to bottom:

1909 February. We have all heard about the Wright brothers and their successes at Kitty Hawk, NC. The first heavier than air flights in the British Commonwealth were in Nova Scotia with machines like Bell's Silver Dart.

1941 May. World War II demanded efforts from all Canadians including older workers who may have been on the front line in the Great War.

1928 August. Quick, Who won a gold in the first Oympics to include women? Why it was Ethel Catherwood, the Saskatoon Lily!

1905 August. In a more austere time, kids didn't hang around the malls with "nothing to do". They had to work along with the grown-ups -- until child labour of all shades was outlawed.

1930 August. Huge dirigibles like Britain's R-100, shown landing outside Montreal, at one time were considered to be the future of travel until disaster struck once too often.

1923 March. There wasn't a kid in Canada who didn't hear at least one hockey game broadcast by Foster Hewitt. I can still remember listening to the radio with my Dad in the 40s and 50s as Foster gave the blow by blow saga of the Leafs exploits on a cold winter's night.

1912 Summer. Tom Longboat was famous both for his successes and his troubles as a native athlete. The book has another picture of this fine athlete. 

1997 May. One of my favourite radio programs was CBC's Morningside hosted by Peter Gzowski. I very likely was listening when this shot was taken. Peter reintroduced me to the CBC in 1990 after years of absence on my part. Today, it is virtually the only station I listen to -- I always preferred great content over commercials, and Peter did a fine job of covering the issues of the day.

1972 September. Boy, I remember when this picture of a young Trudeau supported hit the newspapers! Can you imagine this kind of enthusiastic support for Cretien, Clark, Manning, or Doucette? I can't either....

1914 August. Canada did a remarkable job supporting the commonwealth in the Great War due to the many recruits who felt a strong need to give their all for our country.

1903 October. The creation of Canada is tightly tied to the construction of a National railway from sea to sea. The view and challenges were breath-taking in the rugged terrain of the Rockies.

1911 September. Did you know Canada had a big political debate in 1911 over the issue of forming a Navy vs. building boats for the Royal Navy? This picture was taken inside a wooden boat hull under construction at a Quebec shipyard. In the early 50's, when I was in high school, we were still building boats on the Great Lakes at ship yards in places like Collingwood where I once went on a school trip to observe the christening of a huge laker.

1920 May. In the first half of this century Canada made many of the goods needed by its citizens such as stockings shown in this Toronto factory. Today almost everything is made offshore in low wage countries. My wife's cousin operates a monument company which used to bring in stone from Quebec to be engraved here in Toronto. In recent times, he has had to import less costly engraved monuments from China to keep competitive!  Amazing.

1900 June. The very first image in the book features half of this shot of Welsh immigrants arriving on our east coast. Christopher pointed out to us, that these folk had previously immigrated to another country and returned home before taking a second try at choosing a new country. 

1973 June. Do you remember the giant power project at James Bay with its incredible impact on the native villages and its impressive size? Built by Rene Levesque, before he decided to change Liberal red for PQ blue, the project made Hydro Quebec a powerful institution.

Well that's it for the free-bee... If you only buy one Canadian history book, make it this one!

As usual I took the images on this page with my Nikon Coolpix 900s digital camera directly from the screen during the slide show. As a result, while the images are acceptable on the web, they are not suitable for printing. I did considerable adjustment to the images to compensate for a combination of the slow speed of the camera and the quality of the projected image. The darkroom I use is Corel Photo-Paint, a very able competitor to Adobe Photoshop. Its a pleasure to be able to adjust the image parameters and see the effect instantly on screen. 

Click on any of the thumbnails at the right, to bring up a larger version of the photo. Use your browser's back arrow to return to this page.

NB. My trusty Coolpix 900s is about to become an antique. three months after I bought it, Nikon released the Coolpix 950 which captured 2 megapixel images (vs. my 1.5meg) and did so faster and with more flexibility for the photographer. In another month, Nikon will release its Coolpix 990, a 3 megapixel camera with even more improvements in its handling and imaging features. As a high end "pro-sumer" digital camera, the 990 and its competition now offer the level of resolution once considered to be a match for 35mm Kodachrome slides! 

by Robert Carter











1909 February - Aviation Experimenters

1941 May - War Effort

1928 August - The Saskatoon Lily

1905 August - Washing the Steps

1930 August - R-100 Arrives

1923 March - He Shoots. He Scores!

1912 Summer - Tom Longboat

1997 May - Peter Gzowski

1972 September - Trudeaumania

1914 August - Recruits

1903 October - Payne Bluff BC.

1911 September - Ship building, Quebec

1920 May - Stocking Factory, Toronto

1900 June - Welsh Immigrants

1973 June - James Bay Power

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