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ARCHIVED - Framing Canada:
A Photographic Memory

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Essays

Photographic Collections

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Canadian Government Photography

The Canadian government was quick to recognize the value of photography as a tool to document westward exploration and expansion. From the late 1850s onwards, government photography provided a record of Canadian topography and Aboriginal culture and set the stage for future uses of photography in documenting government activities and projects. By the 1930s, photographic units were permanent fixtures in many government departments.

By the 1960s, the acquisition of federal government photographic records became a major concern for the National Archives. Major collections were acquired from the departments of the Interior, National Defence, Public Works, Energy Mines and Resources, Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and Health, as well as the National Film Board and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. These collections provide an unparalleled view of government activities and agendas from the 1850s to the present day.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit life in Canada as seen from a government perspective are extensively documented in more than 80,000 photographs from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, covering the period from 1880 to the present. Also documented are monuments, historic sites and forts across Canada and other locations in the Northwest Territories and the Arctic Archipelago. The Indian Affairs and Northern Development photographs invite comparison with photogravures in the LAC's complete edition of Edward S. Curtis's North American Indian, published from 1907 to 1936. Both sets of images offer revealing insights into the living conditions of Aboriginal peoples as well as the dominant culture's perception of those conditions.

The Department of National Defence Collection includes more than 600,000 photographs. It documents Canada's military participation in the Boer War, both world wars and the Korean War.

Among the most frequently consulted government collections are the 130,000 images acquired from the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau and the National Film Board of Canada. These photographs, which date from 1920 to about 1962, portray aspects of various industries, industrial products, agriculture, domestic activities, Canadian urban and rural environments and the daily life of Canadian citizens. Promotional in intent, these photographs are consequently an important visual record, both of recent Canadian life and of the pursuit of Canadian identity.

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