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Subways, Subways, Subways

October 3, 2014 | Bill V. | Comments (8) Facebook Twitter More...

All the talk about subways has gotten me thinking about books, books, books. There is a vibrant publishing and artistic culture around international subways including:


New York:

 The city beneath us building the New York subway    New York's forgotten substations the power behind the subway   

      Subway by Bruce Davidson

Helvetica and the New York City subway system  the true (maybe) story


Subway Art  25th anniversary edition by Martha Cooper Art and the Subway New York Underground Meet Miss Subways  New York's beauty queens 1941-1976

Subway style 100 years of architecture & design in the New York City subway

Many are called by Walker Evans (vintage photographs of New York City subway passengers from the 1940s)  Life below  the New York City subway



Paris underground the maps, stations, and design of the Métro

Metronome A History of Paris from the Underground Up  Discover Paris by Métro  Metrostop Paris History From The City's Heart

Passengers photography book by Chris Marker




    London Transport Posters A Century of Art and Design see also Frank Pick's London : art, design and the modern city.  The moving metropolis  a history of London's transport since 1800

The tube station to station on the London underground

Underground  keeping London moving, 1863-2013   The subterranean railway  how the London Underground was built and how it changed the city forever

London underground  architecture, design and history




Underground Travels on the Global Metro

The Great Society subway  a history of the Washington Metro  Metro  the story of the underground railway

Transit maps of the world


For a different approach you may want to read the Book Buzz blog post Subways, Subways, Subways which talks about Toronto's subways in fiction.













Canadian Artists ... we have files!

September 19, 2014 | Bill V. | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

Did you know there are 10,000 historical files on Canadian artists (emphasis on Toronto artists) at the Arts Department of the Toronto Reference Library

Canadian artist filing cabinet open showing files.

Our definition of “artist” is very inclusive: painters, sculptors, architects, architectural firms, illustrators, photographers, fashion designers, industrial designers, interior designers, type designers, video artists, performance artists and and high end crafts. 

    Canadian artist files showing one drawer open with contents.

Included in the files are: publicity material like press releases, artist statements, gallery announcements and exhibition reviews and selected newspaper articles. For a better known artist there can be a lot of information but there are many artists who only have a single gallery announcement or artist statement.

Suzy Lake Canadian artist file opened showing contents.

There are also up to 300,000 file cards that index hard to access information from books, magazines and newspapers and group exhibition catalogues.  This information was gathered from 1940s up to around 2009.  Some of the information in the files, card indexes and microfiche goes back as far as the 1800s. 

Canadian artist files showing whole drawer pulled out.

Some files have been microfiched and we also have biographical microfiche from the National Gallery of Canada.  There are also over 1000 historical files on Canadian art galleries and associations (with an emphasis on Toronto galleries).

Canadian artist files - card index pulled out showing one specific card.

Below is an alphabetical list arranged by family name with an attached PDF that you can open to search for specific artists.  We may have files, index cards or microfiche on any individual.  Ask at the Arts Information Desk on the 5th floor of the Toronto Reference Library.  It takes between 15-30 minutes to retrieve files (you can photocopy but remember to add money to your library or copy card on the main floor). 

Our currents holdings are listed below: 

A Download Letter A of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

Download Letter B of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

C Download Letter C of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

D Download Letter D of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

E Download Letter E of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

F Download Letter F of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

G Download Letter G of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

H Download Letter H of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

I Download Letter I of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

J Download Letter J of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

Download Letter K of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

L Download Letter L of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

Download Letter M of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

N Download Letter N of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

O Download Letter O of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

P Download Letter P of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

Q Download Letter Q of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

R Download Letter R of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

S Download Letter S of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

T Download Letter T of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

U Download Letter U of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

V Download Letter V of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

W Download Letter W of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

X Download Letter X of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

Y Download Letter Y of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF

Z Download Letter Z of the Canadian Artists Files, Revised 2014 PDF


Alex Colville: Beneath the Surface

September 11, 2014 | Muriel | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

"More than any other artist in Canada, Colville has a galvanizing,
sea-to-shining-sea appeal."
                                                                               Toronto Star

I am really looking forward to going to see the Art Gallery of Ontario's
retrospective exhibition in honour of Alex Colville, who died last
.  His work is indeed appealing, yet mysterious, and somehow
strikes a chord with many people.  Spanning Alex Colville's entire
career, this is the biggest show of his work ever assembled.      

Colville Burnett        Alex Colville Return

As reported in the Toronto Star, "More than any other artist in Canada,
Colville's images permeate both our psyche and our everyday life..."  This
has certainly been true for me.  I remember when I was a child, and
Canada was celebrating its Centennial in 1967, how fascinated I was by
the beautiful new Canadian coins with the rock dove on the penny, the
hopping rabbit on the nickel, the mackerel on the dime, and the bobcat
on the quarter.  Little did I know that they were designed by Alex Colville. 
I don't remember ever having a fifty cent piece with its howling wolf,
or a dollar coin with its Canada goose, but perhaps the
Royal Canadian Mint will some day reissue these lovely coins.

Later, when I lived in Montreal, I remember going to the Montreal
Museum of Fine Arts
and being intrigued and somewhat puzzled by
Alex Colville's 1964 painting, "Church and Horse."  Along with several
other of Alex Colville's images, it has appeared on a Canadian postage

Colville       Alex Colville The Observer Observed

Alex Colville's images were there again when I went on a trip to Ottawa,
to visit the Canadian War Museum.  His sombre paintings reflected how
profoundly this 24 year-old artist was affected by what he saw in Europe, particularly after the 1945 liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration
camp.  Alex Colville had become an official war artist in 1944, having
joined the army after graduating from Mount Allison University in
New Brunswick.  Alex Colville had moved to Nova Scotia as a child in
1929, and was born in Toronto in 1920.

After World War II, Alex Colville turned to painting images with which
we are more familiar: his family, animals and landscape.  As familiar
as these images are to us from reproductions, book and record covers,
I was still somewhat startled to learn that four of his works appear
in Stanley Kubrick's horror film, "The Shining."  Alex Colville also
thought Joel and Ethan Coen were "great filmmakers," according to
his daughter, Ann Kitz.
  Ann Kitz is the keeper of her father's artistic
legacy, and has been involved in the Art Gallery of Ontario's current
exhibition.  Here is her touching recollection of her father, and his
relationship with her mother, Rhoda Colville:


Not only familiar to many Canadians, Alex Colville's paintings reached
a wider audience with the touring exhibition of his 1983 Art Gallery
of Ontario retrospective.  The exhibition toured in Germany and the
Far East, and, for the first time for a living Canadian artist, to Japan. 
Gu Xiong, a Vancouver-based artist, has said that "Horse and Train"
had a profound influence on him
 when it was shown in China in the

You can visit the Art Gallery of Ontario for free with a Sun Life Financial
Museum + Arts Pass
, and look forward to discovering what the
exhibition's curator, Andrew Hunter, says about Alex Colville's work,
"There's what you see on the surface, but you can so easily go
deeper.  He wasn't controlling about that.  He
wanted you to come
to the work and take it where you want to go."

Green Roofs at Toronto Public Library

September 2, 2014 | Bill V. | Comments (9) Facebook Twitter More...

Did you know there are three Toronto Public Library branches with green roofs?  According to library blogger Zoe, in 2009 Toronto was the first city in North America to require all new buildings to incorporate a green roof.

The photos below show two green roofs at the Toronto Reference Library (TRL) which make up approximately 20% of the total roof surface area. They are part of the multi-year revitalization that is finishing up this Fall 2014.  The first photo was taken from the 5th floor Arts Department looking down to Yonge and Asquith.


Green Roof Toronto Reference Library looking down to Yonge and Asquith from Flickr by B. Cehan
Toronto Reference Library source B. Cehan / Flickr

Green roofs are beneficial as they help manage storm water runoff and as well they contribute to reducing the urban heat island effect (the temperature is cities is significantly hotter due to human activities).  The photo below shows the green roof parallel to Yonge Street. 

The growing medium is a special light weight mix about 150 mm deep.  The vegetation is a meadow mix as follows: 15% Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides); 5% Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca Rubra); 20% Chewings Fescue (Festuca rubra commutata); 25% Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea); 5% Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta); 5% New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae);  5% Dwarf Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis Tinctoria);  5% White Yarrow (Achilea millifolium);  5% Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya);  5% Evening Scented Primrose (Oenothera lamarackiana); and 5% Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus).

Green Roof Toronto Reference Library


TRL was designed by Raymond Moriyama with an awe inspiring five-storey atrium open space and many hanging plants from the various floors giving it a "Garden of Babylon" feel as you can see from the vintage 1977 photo and the more current one below it. 

Metropolitan Toronto Library interior 1977
Metropolitan Toronto Library 1977 source TPL Digital Archive


Metro Toronto Reference Library by wmacphail on Flickr(cc)
Metro Toronto Reference Library by Wayne MacPhail on Flickr (cc)

The recently renovated and award winning Bloor Gladstone Library Branch (which celebrated 100 years in 2013) has a wonderful green roof and an outdoor reading garden  (see the two photos below).  We have a pinterest board that shows the history of the branch in photos.

Bloor Gladstone Branch Toronto Public Library green roof.  Bloor Gladstone Branch - Toronto Public Library - Green Roof

Bloor Gladstone Branch - Reading Garden
Bloor Gladstone Branch Toronto Public Library Reading Garden


Newly opened Fort York Branch is Toronto's 99th public library and worth a visit (see photos below). It has a green roof as well as a Digital Innovation Hub.

The Scarborough Civic Centre Branch Library, under construction and expected to be open in Fall 2014, will also have a green roof.  Lastly the Albion Branch, which will start its renovation in the Fall of 2014, will feature a green roof.

Fort York Branch Toroto Public Library Green Roof November 2013
Fort York Branch Toronto Public Library Green Roof November 2013

 Fort York Branch Toronto Public Library Green Roof November 2013

Fort York Branch Toronto Public Library Green Roof November 2013


I was inspired to blog about green roofs and gardens when I saw the cover of a new book New York Rooftop Gardens

Rooftop Gardens of New York

This was not the only book we had on this subject - who knew there was a mini publishing bonanza on the rooftops of NYC?

Up on the Roof New York's Hidden Skyline Spaces   Top of the City New York's Hidden Rooftop World



Toronto in Film with a bow to TIFF

September 1, 2014 | Bill V. | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

Did you know that the Toronto Reference Library was one of the locations in a recent Hollywood blockbuster film starring Bruce Willis?

World Film Locations Toronto is full of interesting facts that encourage you to look at our city in a different way.


World Film Locations, Toronto


There are 28 books in the series covering cities all over the world. 


         World film locations. Mumbai World film locations. Istanbul

World film locations. Paris       World film locations. New York      World film locations. Beijing

By the way, the Bruce Willis movie was Red and shows off the atrium, elevator and public stacks at the Toronto Reference Library.  There were many other Toronto locations in that film; see this external blog post for details. You might also be interested in this blogTO article on the 10 worst movies made in Toronto.


As we move into the fall the talk locally always turns to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). If you're interested in movies you'll really enjoy the research potential of Film Indexes Online.  You can access it from anywhere and it's free of charge if you have a Toronto library card.

Film Indexes Online


These free online magazine databases can give you all sorts of useful, interesting information on filmmakers, actors, specific movies and critical analysis of film from many perspectives and sources.

All you need is a Toronto Public Library card to log in from home 24/7, your smart phone, tablet or from any of our libraries.
Information about film and television (some full-text), including FIAF Plus, the American Film Institute Catalog and Film Index International.
This blog post is dedicated to our colleague Pien who unexpectedly died recently.  Pien loved books and film and especially the TIFF festival. She would take two weeks off to attend as many as 50 films (a photo of Pien's TIFF programs are below).  At her memorial a close friend share a favored Pien saying "vast theoretical knowledge" and I think she would have appreciated the Film Indexes Online for this reason.
Pien was a consummate librarian and if you were lucky enough to have had her help at Lillian Smith Branch you will remember her smile, her knowlege and her exceptional customer service. One of Pien's many professional interests was the field of Reader's Advisory and I can see her at the Pearly Gates saying to St Peter in her distinctive voice "you may have been busy lately so I've created a booklist for you".
Pien's 24 years of TIFF programs with postit notes still on
Pien's 24 years of TIFF programs with postit notes. copyright Fengski Flickr
Pien was an avid traveller, gifted cook and photographer.  As she lay dying she even documented her hospital food which you can see here at her Flickr page.


Shakin' All Over: Canadian Rock History at TPL

August 27, 2014 | Beau | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

These days, Canadian acts like Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, and Drake have achieved worldwide fame, but their success rests on a foundation of bands who built up Canada's music industry one cross-country tour at a time, often while toiling away in undeserved obscurity. These books are a good place to start if you'd like to learn more about Canada's musical pioneers.

On A Cold Road                       Writing Gordon Lightfoot

On A Cold Road: tales of adventure in Canadian rock, by Dave Bidini

Writing Gordon Lightfoot: the man, the music and the world in 1972, by Dave Bidini

Who better to tell the story of Canadian rock than Dave Bidini, singer, songwriter and guitarist for the late, lamented Rheostatics? On A Cold Road doubles as a diary of the Rheostatics' 1996 cross-Canada tour opening for The Tragically Hip and a collection of wild anecdotes about Canadian rock pioneers like The Guess Who and April Wine (who once almost froze to death when their tour van broke down in rural Quebec). In Writing Gordon Lightfoot he details the Canadian folk icon's performance at the 1972 Mariposa Folk Festival, where fellow legends Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell also made appearances.

Whispering pines the northern roots of American music from Hank Snow to the Band

Whispering Pines: the northern roots of American Music...from Hank Snow to The Band, by Jason Schneider

Musical influence between Canada and the United States is often assumed to be a one-way street, but Whispering Pines shows how Canadian country, folk and rock acts blazed their own trails and impacted the musical scene south of the border.

The Top 100 Canadian Singles                         The Top 100 Canadian Albums

The top 100 Canadian singles, by Bob Mersereau

The top 100 Canadian albums, by Bob Mersereau

Listing the top 100 Canadian singles and albums is truly an impossible task, but these two volumes do a pretty good job of it. As you leaf through these two beautifully-illustrated volumes you'll learn more about the songs and albums you love and marvel at the diversity of Canada's musical stars over the decades.

Canuck Rock A History Of Canadian Popular Music                             Making The Scene Yorkville And Hip Toronto In The 1960s

Canuck Rock: a history of Canadian popular music, by Ryan Edwardson

Making The Scene: Yorkville and hip Toronto in the 1960s, by Stuart Henderson

These two books offer a more detailed look at different aspects of the story. Canuck Rock is an ambitious overview of Canadian musical history from the 1950s to the 21st century, with an emphasis on how the infamous Canadian content laws helped shape popular tastes and changed the industry forever. Making The Scene shines a spotlight on Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood, which during the 1960s and early '70s was a hotbed of musical creativity, political activism and cultural change.


Treat me like dirt an oral history of punk in Toronto and beyond 1977-1981                Trouble in the camera club                 Perfect youth the birth of Canadian punk

Treat Me Like Dirt: an oral history of punk in Toronto and beyond, 1977-1981, by Liz Worth

Trouble In The Camera Club: a photographic narrative of Toronto's punk history, 1976-1980, by Don Pyle

Perfect Youth: the birth of Canadian punk, by Sam Sutherland

When people think of punk music it's usually England or the U.S. that come to mind, but Canada had an equally vibrant scene during the late '70s and early '80s. Treat Me Like Dirt and Trouble In The Camera Club (a photographic memoir) are safety-pins-and-all looks at the Toronto punk community, while Perfect Youth widens the focus to the rest of the country, from Moncton's The Robins to Vancouver legends D.O.A..

Have not been the same the CanRock renaissance 1985-1995

Have Not Been The Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995, by Michael Barclay

By the mid-'80s, the Canadian music industry had fallen into a bit of a rut. This raucous volume tells the story of how hundreds of bands, from superstars who packed arenas and stadiums to local heroes who rocked garages and basement parties, laid the groundwork for a fresh new chapter in Canadian musical history.

2014 These 2 Groups Show You How to Live Operatically

August 26, 2014 | Brent | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

New Music Template

The Toy Piano Composers and the Bicycle Opera Project are at the forefront of a playful (and entrepreneurial) wave of new contemporary music in Toronto. The two groups kick off the fall New Music 101 series on 7 pm  Monday, September 8 at the new Hinton Learning Theatre on the third floor of Toronto Reference Library.

Both groups have pushed composition and performance into new territories with the stories they tell, and the way the music is presented. Together, they are among the most vivid representations of the expansive energy of Toronto’s music scene.

Here's a clip from founding composer Elisha Denburg's "The Hipster Grifter":


In six seasons of concerts, the Toy Piano Composers have built a cult following: They have a passionate audience that grows each year (Anytime folks show up at your concerts wearing your merch you know you are doing something right!)

Led by Artistic Directors Monica Pearce, Chris Thornborrow, and Elisha Denburg, the collective brings together distinct voices. Their upcoming season begins with Pandora’s Box, an evening of inventions, oddities, and hidden treasures in collaboration with visiting American composer Anthony T. Marasco.

They follow up with a new edition of their successful To Be Announced project which pairs five emerging composers with the Toy Piano ensemble. Here are some clips from last year's show:


In addition, the collective is writing music for two exciting Toronto groups: TorQ Percussion Quartet, and Cellophone (a cello and  saxophone duo).

Bicycle Opera Project on Stage
Members of the Bicycle Opera Project on stage.

The Bicycle Opera Project has just wrapped up its third Ontario tour. As the group's name suggests, the trip was made with all performers biking between cities. (There is also an excellent CBC profile.) Soprano, and Artistic Director Larissa Koniuk has taken great strides in bringing Canadian opera to new audiences, and doing it in a way that challenges the performer, invites new listeners, and plays with the medium of opera itself.

The Bicycle Opera Project (or "BOP" ) has also set the standard for environmentally conscious touring: they had audience members use a stationary bike to generate power for the projector used during performances!


The Bicycle Opera Project has collaborated with memebers of the Toy Piano Composers before, with scenes that capture the operatic quality of everyday life. Imagine what these two groups will accomplish together!

Please join us for this FREE program at the Hinton Learning Theatre on the third floor of the Toronto Reference Library on Monday, September 8, 2014.



This is just the first of three exciting events this season. Visit the New Music 101 Facebook page for more news and upcoming concerts:

Laughter in the face of death: the trench newspaper, The Wipers Times

July 28, 2014 | Alyson | Comments (8) Facebook Twitter More...

So much has been written on World War I, more so now that the 100th anniversary of the war is upon us at the end of July. But, it's not often that humour and the Great War are discussed together.

The Wipers Times is the best-known of the trench newspapers that were written by soldiers during the First World War.  The story goes that Captain Fred Roberts from the 12th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters found a printing press among some ruins in Ypres, and out of that discovery, a trench rag was born. 'Wipers' was army slang for the town of Ypres.  The paper was published intermittently between 1916 and 1918 and often changed its name as the unit moved along the line.  It was also known as The New Church (from Neuve Chapelle) Times, The Kemmel Times, The B.E.F. Times, The Somme Times and after the Armistice, The Better Times.

Platton commander Wipers TimesThe tone of the paper is humourous overall, although sometimes it is dark and subversive. It's full of in-jokes, of course, because it was written for other soldiers, not the civilian population. It says a lot about the open-mindedness of Captain Roberts that some of the humour was written at the expense of officers. In one often-repeated cartoon, a chinless platoon commander asks himself, "Am I as offensive as I might be?" 

However, Ian Hislop who wrote the foreword to the volume of compiled issues of The Wipers Times says that the paper often alluded to “the shadow of the censor."  So, some army brass must not have found it very funny. It does make you wonder what was marked too dangerous or offensive for publication.     


Here is a cynical ad for a remedy for optimism written in July 1916 just after the Battle of the Somme had begun.


         Optimism wipers times         

How about these advertisements for a new toy and a terrific real estate deal?


Flammenwerfer wipers timesSalient estate - Wipers Times


Or this promotional piece for a play at the Ypres Cloth Hall?


                                    Wipers Times Cloth Hall play 

The Flammenwerfer, or flamethrower, was a new and devastating weapon developed by the Germans.  The Ypres salient, location of at least five of the ugliest, muddiest and deadliest battles of the war, was commonly considered the most hated piece of ground in Europe at the time.  The Cloth Hall in Ypres, bombed almost to oblivion by 1917,  is often mentioned as the venue for various fake musical reviews and plays, and is noted in The Wipers Times for its "lifting  roof and perfect ventilation."  The play, Pilkem's Progress, refers to the Battle of Pilckem Ridge in July and August of 1917, a battle for which General Haig took a lot of criticism.

To me, what is most striking about the humour is how much of it still resonates today.  It reminds me of Private Eye, the British satirical magazine, or the The Onion.  Unlike other soldiers' writing about their war experiences, trench newspapers were spontaneous. Reading them all these years later you get a feeling for what was on their minds at the time.  

 Ian Hislop also wrote a screenplay for a film dramatizing the story of Roberts and the newspaper. He had this to say about the post-war fate of its editors:

"Both Roberts and his sub-editor Pearson fought right through to the end of the war, survived some of the fiercest fighting and doggedly kept going until they could optimistically retitle their newspaper The Better Times. But they found that peacetime Britain was “no place for heroes” and, sadly, no place for them. Roberts tried to get into journalism but was disappointed and turned to prospecting, ending up in Canada. Pearson went to Argentina and worked on the railways before marrying a local woman and inheriting a hotel. Pleasingly they both made it to a ripe old age and died in the 1960s, though neither received an obituary or any recognition of their achievement."

Amidst death and ruination, The Wipers Times was life-enhancing. We're fortunate that copies survived the war to be read today.  There are other trench journals and newspapers, including some Canadian ones.  You can view original copies of The Listening Post and Another Garland from the Front as part of the Toronto Reference Library's Special Collections or at North York Central Library's Canadiana Department.   You can read digitized versions of several Canadian trench journals at Early Canadiana Online.


More World War I humour

Good soldier svejkThe good solder Svejk and his fortunes during the World War

Jaroslav Hasek's bumbling dogcatcher wages his own war on the nationalism and idealistic piety of his superiors simply by trying to follow their orders.






 Oh what a lovely war DVDOh! What a lovely war DVD

The satire is too sharp and bitter to make you laugh out loud in this lampoon of a music hall review, but oh, does it bite!





Blackadder goes forth dvdBackadder goes forth DVD

Blackadder and his sidekick, Baldrick, good-naturedly suffer the incompetencies of those in power and make the best of life in trenches. Hilarious until the very end which will knock you off your feet, it's so terribly sad.


Toronto Time Warp and Weft: Textile History

July 23, 2014 | Muriel | Comments (6) Facebook Twitter More...

"The history of the world can be traced in textiles - the rise and fall of civilizations, their
world views and systems of belief are woven into each warp and weft."
~ from "The Eternity Code" exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada

I really felt as though I was travelling back to the time of the Incas and Coptic Egypt
when I went to see the exhibition, "The Eternity Code: Archaeology, Textiles and Preservation," on now at the Textile Museum of Canada until September 21st.

Made for kings and highranking nobility, a Peruvian rainforest feather tunic, still

stunningly vibrant with its yellow, orange and blue feathers from tropical birds, is
one of the most extraordinary garments I have ever seen.  Also on display at the
exhibition are many examples
of Peruvian weaving, and I was amazed to learn
that every known weaving
technique was used in pre-Hispanic Peru.

Peruvian Featherworks      Peruvian Four-Selvaged Cloth      Coptic Egypt

Heartbreaking, though, were the children's linen and wool tunics from Coptic Egypt. 
These tunics have survived because they were also used as burial shrouds, and
since the soil they were buried in was so dry, it preserved the textile.  I read an article in
the Toronto Star recently about a "perfectly preserved" 2,000-year-old shroud that
has been returned to Peru from Sweden.  It is so intricate and colourful that, "experts
still do not fully understand how the shroud's creators achieved the combination of
sewing techniques and pigments."

Textiles really are, as the exhibition says, "among the most vulnerable sources of
archaeological knowledge." When they do survive, and there is evidence of woven
textiles dating at least as far back as 27,000 BCE, they are remarkably revealing.
New technology enables researchers to even discover what the diet of a llama
or alpaca in Incan times was, based on the yarn spun from their fleece!

5000 Years of Textiles            World Textiles           Textiles
Eager for some more textile time travel, I went up to the fourth level of the Michael
Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum to see the exhibition on display there,
"Cairo Under Wraps: Early Islamic Textiles."  There are some rare examples of clothing
on display, many
intended for the royal household, and the decoration on them consists
mainly of Arabic inscriptions. 

Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto shall be my next destination, to see an outdoor
quilt exhibition, "Quilts at the Creek," 
which will be on during August 16th and 17th. 
I shall also be sure to look at the pioneer spinning and weaving techniques, which the Peruvians had already perfected so many years ago.

   Textiles of the Islamic World     Fashioning Fabric     Repair Cafe

This summer, for free, you can go on your own or take a friend or your family, to
the Textile Museum of Canada,
the Royal Ontario Museum and Black Creek Pioneer
Village, with a Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass
, available at Toronto Public

If you would like to learn how to repair and extend the life of your own clothing for
the future, you may be interested in going on August 9th from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
to the Repair Caf
é at the Toronto Reference Library.






A Canadian Love Story in WWI Silk Embroidered Postcards

June 28, 2014 | Bill V. | Comments (13) Facebook Twitter More...

Come with me gentle reader and admire some silk embroidered WW1 postcards as they tell the love story of Vernon and Beatrice. The Toronto Reference Library owns a small collection of these postcards, three of which a soldier sent back home to his Toronto girl. 


Silk WW1 embroidered postcard - flower design with insert and longer letter on back


Open up the lace flap on this card and see the small printed insert "To my dear friend". 


WW1 Silk embroidered postcard with insert. Flowers on front longer letter on back


"Dearest B,  Love from far away. Bombardment now on which makes a terrible noise. Love Vernon X."


To my Dear Friend printed and then in handwriting  Dearest B Love from far away. Bombardment now on which makes a terrible noise. Love Vernon.

                     To My Dear Friend - Souvenir de Glorieuse Memoire

How poignant that Vernon wrote his loved one during a German bombardment. I imagine him in a trench or hut and writing by candlelight with his pencil - he was possibly afraid for his life and thinking of home.

The back of the card is below and has a more commonplace practical tone.


WW1 Silk embroidered postcard flowers on front with pouch and insert card  message on back starts dear Beatrice  A razor would be very handy
"Dear Beatrice - A razor would be very handy to me as the army razor is no good and I lost all my personal belongings but Mother can buy me one and send it to me out of my money which is going home. Your father and the boys will need theirs. Love yours as always Vernon.

This is the Christmas card that Vernon wrote Beatrice.

WW1 Silk Postcard Happy Christmas with flags of France and England and holly and with insert May the next one be with you
WW1 Silk Postcard "Happy Christmas" with flags of France and England and holly. Printed insert "My Christmas Wishes"  and handwritten note "May the next one be with you"


Below is the back of the card:

WW1 Silk Postcard Happy Christmas back message Dear Old Top    I wish you all the joys that one can have and hope that next year will be ours - Love from your own Vernon xxxxxx....
WW1 Silk Postcard "Happy Christmas" back message "Dear Old Top, I wish you all the joys that one can have and hope that next year will be ours - Love from your own Vernon xxxxxx...."


This is another Christmas card Vernon wrote Beatrice.  It's dated Belgium November 29 1915 and has her Toronto address. Through the combination of her name and address we were able to more fully trace their story.

WW1 Silk embroidered postcard Christmas Greetings (with pine cones and Church scene) November 29 1915. Mailed to Miss Beatrice Thornton at 93 Bellwoods Ave in Toronto.
WW1 Silk embroidered postcard Christmas Greetings (with pine cones and Church scene) dated on back Belgium November 29 1915.

The back of the card has a lovely Christmas message from Vernon but the address and name are faint. 

WW1 Silk embroidered postcard Christmas Greetings with pine cones and Church scene November 29 1915.  Dear Beat, with love and best wishes for a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year - your affectionat
WW1 Silk embroidered postcard Christmas Greetings (with pine cones and Church scene) Belgium November 29 1915. Dear Beat, with love and best wishes for a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year - your affectionate Vernon

I asked our Digitization and Preservation Department at the Toronto Reference Library to scan the back and enhance the name and address. Through the wonders of technology, and much like CSI, they did and it became very clear that Beatrice was Miss B. Thornton of 93 Bellwoods Ave in Toronto.  

Christmas Greetings Silk embroidered WW1 postcard 1915 with Beatrice Thornton's address and message Dear Beat With love and best wishes for a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year your affectionate Vernon
WW1 Silk embroidered postcard Christmas Greetings (with pine cones and Church scene) Belgium November 29 1915. Mailed to Miss B. Thornton at 93 Bellwoods Ave in Toronto.

With her family name and address I used the Might's City Directories on the 2nd floor of the Toronto Reference Library (part of the Genealogy Collection).  I discovered the Thornton family, including Beatrice and her brothers,  living at this address. These directories are helpful for family research as they are arranged by both name and address.  They are also available online if you want to use them from home.  Here's the 1913 Might's Toronto City Directory.

From there I used Ancestry Library Edition /, a genealogy research tool, that is available free for use only on Toronto Public Library computers. 

Beatrice Thornton married a Hugh V. Spence July 19, 1919. Searching his name I found V stood for Vernon. The mystery of who Vernon was suddenly became much clearer.  

Library and Archives Canada has an online tool where you can look up Canadian WW1 soldiers by name and I found a great deal of information about him.

His attestation papers showed he enlisted at the beginning of the war on September 26 1914 when he was 24 years old.   He had also served in the Queen's Own Rifles (QOR) for six years prior to his enlistment.   He stood 5'10 1/2 inches and had dark complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. He had a scar under his chin.  His unique service regiment number was 9068.

Very unusually, Hugh Vernon Spence's entire military service file has been digitized as a pdf by the Archives and there are 56 pages of military documents relating to him.  He joined the 3rd Battalion, Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force and started the war as a private and ended in 1918 as a sergeant. He was awarded several medals including the Distinguished Conduct Medal on January 1916 ( the second highest award for gallantry (after the Victoria Cross), awarded to non-commissioned officers and soldiers for acts of distinguished conduct in the field). He was mentioned for outstanding service in dispatches.  He suffered shell shock concussion and gas on June 17 1916 and was admitted to the No 2 Canadian Field Ambulance service. 


Libraries and Archives Canada has online versions of the period War diaries of this unit (and others). When Vernon wrote Beatrice in November of 1915 his unit was at Dranoutre Belgium and also in the trenches. On November 6 - "Mud very bad, dugouts fallen in" according to the unit diaries and November 18 - "Considerable artillery activity on both sides." 

On November 24 1915:

  • 9 a.m. Guns opened on trenches and wire opposite D section and other places. Fire continued intermittently till 1:30 p.m., and from then heavily until 3:30p.m. German wire cut in many places and trenches wrecked, large heads blown in parapet and many casualties caused. Germans who bolted from the shelled section over the open were badly caught by machine guns. One of the “Towers” of MESSINES CHURCH demolished, the other hit but not destroyed.
War Diary November 24 1915 of 3rd Battalion from Archives and Libraries Canada digitized copy.
War Diary 3rd Battalion Canada November 24 1915 (pg 9 of Nov 1915)


The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada Museum and Archives has transcribed all the war diaries of the 3rd Battalion on their own site arranged by year. This labour of love and respect is very helpful for research purposes as you can search them looking for specific names. In the transcribed 1918 war diary I did a search for Spence and found this:

  • The Belgian Government has awarded the CROIX DE GUERRE to No. 202001, Private A. Colvin, (deceased); No. 9068, Sergt. H.V. Spence (Stretcher Bearers)


In 2012 the British auction house DNW sold off Hugh Vernon Spence's medals.  

Hugh Vernon Spence WW1 medals from DNW auction site
A Great War D.C.M., M.M. group of eight awarded to Sergeant H. V. Spence, 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry.Hugh Vernon Spence was a pre-war member of the Canadian Militia, being an N.C.O. in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, but it was for his gallant deeds in the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry, that he was awarded his D.C.M. and M.M. He was also mentioned in despatches in Field Marshal Sir John French’s despatch dated 30 November 1915, and awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre (London Gazette 12 July 1918 refers).

Today, June 28 2014, is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which was the spark that lit the tinderbox of Europe that became World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars.  The War that pulled Vernon from Toronto and Beatrice over to Europe and then back home.  

Vernon was demobilized in late April 1919 in Toronto and married Beatrice in July of 1919. We don't know how Vernon's medals ended up for auction in England. Nor do we know how we got his and Beatrice's postcards.  But now we know a bit more about their history and his military record.


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