Website Review

Images Canada: Picturing Canadian Culture

The "Images Canada" site showcases thousands of photographs (interspersed with occasional cartoons) found in the collections of 15 Canadian cultural establishments, including the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the University of Toronto Library, and the Glenbow Library and Archives, an institution focusing on the history of the Canadian West. The site includes thousands of images featuring children in Canadian history that instructors might potentially utilize for class discussions and course assignments. However, instructors and students should note that they will likely need to do additional research and reading in order to make effective use of the resources found on this site.

The images in the collection include both formal portraits and candid shots and focus particularly on the period from the 1880s to the 1950s. Children are featured in photographs dealing with an eclectic range of topics, but are prominent in the themes of native history, immigration, schools, church, and family life. Photos dealing with these topics might be fruitfully adapted to classroom use. Focusing on family portraits, for example, instructors might ask students to study what the changing conventions of portraiture across time reveal about changing dynamics of family life and children's position in it. Or they might compare portrait conventions among different immigrant communities or examine what the staging of boys' and girls' portraits reveals about attitudes toward gender.

The database is searchable by key word. A search of "children" upturns over 6,000 hits, so researchers will likely want to narrow their searches down by doing boolean searches; "children Inuit" hits a more manageable 217 images and "children school" 833. However, the search function is a little too rigid and teachers should therefore instruct their students to spend some time browsing though the site rather than dismissing unfruitful key word searches. For example, while "children illness" yields no results, "children polio" does turn up 6 images.

Furthermore, some of the interesting descriptors of images on the site are not indexed, and so would unfortunately not be retrieved in a search. For instance, a search of "childcare" turns up no hits. However, the photograph "First Crop, Teepee Ranch" reveals one: "A.M. Bezanson and his son on a horse-drawn mower, cutting the first crop on Teepee Ranch in 1909." The infant is perched on his father's lap while the latter performs this no doubt taxing physical task. This snapshot and others like it, including "Mrs. Roy Benson (Verna) and children with chicks, Benson homestead, Munson, Alberta" document how early 20th-century Canadians adapted children—and the responsibility of their care—into their everyday working lives.

The site's "Educational Resources" section has some promising lesson plan ideas, but most of them are aimed at younger students. Other elements of this site include "Image trails" and "Photo Essays" – groups of images organized around 29 themes dealing mainly with geography, modes of transportation, and select historical topics. Most of these will not be especially useful to those interested in children's history, although the Calgary in the 1950s photo essay does feature a number of images of children in its "family" link. Instructors might use this group of photos as well as information from the "family values" introductory essay by asking students to consider what idealizations of family life—and its possible disruptions—the images document.

However, in this collection, as in other portions of the website collections, teachers may be frustrated by the insufficient background information available about each image. For instance, the last photo in this section pictures an adolescent female wearing jeans and reading on a couch. The caption reads: "Blue jeans: acceptable at home but not school in 1955." But no further information about the image—or its caption—is provided. So instructors will have to prepare students (or require that they prepare themselves) with both relevant contextual information and an appreciation of how to approach the interpretation of such photographs as sources. On the latter issue, instructors might find useful an essay available at: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/education/008-3080-e.html (another website focusing on Canadian photographic history).

How to Cite This Source

Nora E. Jaffary, "Images Canada: Picturing Canadian Culture," in Children and Youth in History, Item #206, https://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/items/show/206 (accessed January 24, 2022).

The site includes thousands of images featuring children in Canadian history that instructors might potentially utilize for class discussions and course assignments.