Canadian Travel Ads (1940s-1960s)

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

It is hard to pinpoint when tourism began in Canada. Some consider European explorers of the 16th century to be the first Canadian tourists. Others argue it was the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 19th century that really got things rolling because with modernization came with the development of cars and airplanes.

The postwar era was a peak time for Canadian tourism. From 1945-1960, most tourists preferred to travel to a handful of developed countries; the top 15 destinations received 97% of international tourists. In 1950, after the United States, Canada was the second most popular place to visit. Contrast that today with those same 15 destinations receiving only 55% of tourists and as of 2014 Canada has dropped to 18th on the list.

Travel ads during this time had the general look of postwar era advertising. Poster and magazine design had become an art form and drew heavily from the modernism and art deco movements. Artists utilized rich colours and bold geometric shapes to catch the attention of prospective tourists. As a result, many vintage Canadian travel ads all have a similar look: bright, eye-catching paintings, big, happy faces, occasionally a lot of descriptive text. There are some other similarities as well. See if you can spot them by clicking on the images below. Continue reading

Norval Morrisseau

Shaman and Disciples by Norval Morrisseau (1979).

When discussing Indigenous art in Canada, it will not take very long before the name Norval Morrisseau comes up. By the time he passed away in 2007 at the age of 76, Morrisseau had obtained titles like “Picasso of the North,” international acclaim, he inspired countless of artists over the years, and today his artwork hangs in major galleries across the country. His art was truly original, though often paradoxical at times; as was the man himself. Continue reading

Painters Eleven

Primordial Fire, Jock Macdonald, (1957).

Apparently Canadian artists are really big on using numbers in their names. Painters Eleven (also known as P11) were an influential group of artists active from 1953 to 1960. Eleven abstract painters from Ontario: Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Hortense Gordon, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Jock Macdonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town, and Walter Yarwood came together and went on to hold their first exhibition at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto in 1954. Their exhibition was actually the first major commercial exhibition of abstract expressionist art in Toronto. Continue reading

Is Cornelius Krieghoff a “Canadian” Painter?

Habitants on a Trip to Town by Cornelius Krieghoff (c. 1861)

If you have ever been to any major art gallery in Canada, you have probably seen at least one of Cornelius Krieghoff’s paintings. A Dutch-Canadian painter, he captured mid-19th century life and the rural Canadian landscape in a way that still resonates today. His work was heavily inspired by habitants (French-Canadian peasants/farmers), the great outdoors, as well as Indigenous communities and their way of life. Krieghoff’s work went on to influence future artists and yet some critics question whether he can be considered a real Canadian painter. Before we get to that though, let’s take a look at his life and Lower Canada/Quebec in the mid-1800s. Continue reading

What the Heck Happened to Tom Thomson?

What would you say about a mystery that involves a man whose cause of death is not only unknown, but there is also confusion over where his body is actually buried? Most would call that one hell of a botched investigation. Others might call it the tragedy that surrounds Tom Thomson.

Over the course of his short thirty-nine years, Thomson became one of Canada’s most influential painters. His work not only inspired the Group of Seven but changed how the Canadian landscape was viewed. Nevertheless, 98 years after Thomson’s untimely death many questions still remain. Was it murder? Was it suicide? Or was it merely an accident? Continue reading

Canadian WWI Propaganda

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

There are a number of types of propaganda, but for this post I will be only looking at examples from Canada during World War I. The purpose of propaganda is to influence or manipulate the actions, thoughts, and/or beliefs of a population towards a particular cause. Intended to further the agenda of a person or group, the information presented is selective (sometimes even skewed) in order to produce an emotional reaction.

Propaganda generally carries a negative connotation as it is commonly associated with Hitler and the Third Reich. However, the term and its usage has been around long before both world wars. According to ancient world historians, the oldest example of propaganda comes from the Persian Empire in 515 BC!

Please click on the pictures below to learn more about the tactics, themes, motifs, and history behind Canadian WW1 propaganda.


“Canadian Wartime Propaganda,” Canadian War Museum (Online Exhibition). Accessed from:

“Canadian War Poster Collection,” McGill University. Accessed from:

Captain Canuck: Coming Soon to a TV Screen Near You?

Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them and I offer my opinion on the subject.

In between the 23 films that will be coming out over the next four years and TV shows such as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham, Arrow, and The Flash, the superhero overkill bandwagon doesn’t look like it is going to be stopping anytime soon. Given Canada’s history of superheroes, will a Canadian hero or heroine soon be getting a ride on that wagon?

Continue reading

The Group of Seven and Canadian Nationalism

Back in June, I had the pleasure of exploring the beautiful Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts). To my delight, their collection of Quebec and Canadian art had a large number of Group of Seven pieces, (alongside exquisite Tom Thomson and Emily Carr paintings—two people who were often associated with the Group, but were never actually a part of it). The original Group consisted of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank (Franz) Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. Macdonald and Frederick Varley. Group of Seven are synonymous with Canadian art. On the one hand, it is easy to see why. Just look at their work:

However, the academic side of me wants a more fleshed out answer—one that is not based on personal taste. The Group of Seven were certainly not the first Canadian painters, nor were they the first vocal nationalists. With this in mind, why are the Group of Seven so iconic in Canadian art? Continue reading