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ARCHIVED - Posters and Broadsides in Canada

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Advertising and Marketing

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Some early examples of posters imagined the tragedy of a young, helpless Canada being sold to an eager American moneybags, although most images were intended to help close the deal, such as selling an image of Canada as young, strong and wide open for business. However, limited largely to type, most nineteenth-century posters settled on lists of what goods were available or the details of an event. As the need to attract and command the viewer's attention grew, however, the use of a second color became an important part of broadside design.

Black-and-white campaign poster with illustration of Sir John A. Macdonald patrolling along a fence and locked gate. Behind him two men straddle the wall and are receiving two bags of money from Uncle Sam below. Title at top, text at bottom

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Figure 1
Colour poster with illustration of a farmer standing beside a basket of vegetables. He is carrying a young boy in his left arm and a bushel of wheat under his right arm with cows, pigs and chickens in background. Title at top, text at bottom

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Figure 2
Broadside with black text in different sizes and fonts on beige paper. Crest at top, followed by title

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Figure 3
Broadside with map showing travel routes to Canada, and a crest flanked by the letters "V" and "R." Text in red and blue

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Figure 4

Figure 1: Campaign poster featuring John A. Macdonald protecting Canada from U.S. interests, 1891

Figure 2: Canada West publication, Immigration and Colonization, Ottawa, Canada, 1925

Figure 3: Notice regarding the speaking engagements of James Spencer Lidstone on Scotland, Ireland and Poland, held at McAuley's Hotel, Montréal, 1847

Figure 4: Advertisement for land grants in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan, March 1, 1892


As name brands began to replace generic products, large full-colour images of factories began to appear, which flattered the industrialists whose names were on them but surely did little to interest or inform buyers. It can be said that modern advertising began with lavish images showing the benefits, real or imagined, associated with a product: a life of leisure at the lake awaits you in a package of tea; a lively sailor ropes in a new flavour of candy. It is also worth noting that printing had become a huge, steam powered, factory-based industry itself in the late 19th century, and that the mass reproduction of colour posters and lithographic images quickly replaced simpler woodcut pictures and wildly creative typography.

Colour poster with illustration of a three story, stone building. Brewery's name at top, owner's name at bottom. Text and ornamentation at left

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Figure 5
Colour poster with illustration at centre of a lumber mill and surrounding buildings. Each corner has an illustration of a part of the property. Company name at top, location at bottom

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Figure 6
Colour poster with illustration of a woman pouring tea for a man and another woman. They are sitting at a table outside, overlooking a lake, with mountains in the background. Title in brown at top, company name in red at bottom

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Figure 7

Figure 5: Advertisement for the Nova Scotia Brewery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, ca. 1865 - 1870

Figure 6: Advertisement for E.B. Eddy's Manufacturing & Lumbering Establishment, Hull, P.Q, ca. 1884

Figure 7: Advertisement for King Cole tea. Date unknown


Once brand images became less generic themselves, they proved particularly useful in differentiating "parity products," those largely identical, staple goods that come to us in different guises. The highly accomplished Canadian illustrator, Rex Woods, did many renderings of the MacDonald's "highland lassie," familiar for years on Export "A" cigarette packs. Other mythical beings, such as the familiar Robin Hood character, created brand recognition-even if the link between flour and medieval marksmen was perhaps not entirely clear. The use of such brand images quickly demonstrated the value of supplementing or even supplanting words with images. One of the most universally recognizable brands is not for a commercial product at all, and the power and simplicity of the abstract Red Cross symbol contributes considerably to the effectiveness of the organization itself. Name brands and brand images also allowed manufacturers to survive the upheavals of modernity: the McLaughlin Carriage Co. of Oshawa originally took a hostile view of the horseless carriage, but went on to become part of General Motors.

Poster illustration of Robin Hood carrying a large sack of flour over his left shoulder. A loaf of bread, pie and cake are at his feet. Cpmpany name and text at right

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Figure 8
Colour poster with illustration of a nurse with outstretched hands. A red cross, in the background, is superimposed over three figures: a praying elderly woman, a soldier and a man with a bandaged head. Text in red at top and bottom

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Figure 9
Black-and-white advertisement of a horse-drawn carriage passing an automobile on the road. The vehicles have stopped and the male occupants are tipping their hats to each other, while the two male drivers shake hands

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Figure 10

Figure 8: Advertisement for Robin Hood flour, ca. 1935

Figure 9: Canadian Red Cross advertisement for giving blood, ca. 1939 - 1945

Figure 10: Advertisement for the McLaughlin Carriage Co. depicting its models for a horse-drawn carriage and automobile passing each on a road, ca. 1910


Governments, meanwhile, would promote products and trade in suitably general ways. As part of the Empire Marketing Board initiative, a lovely Art Deco abstraction reminds buyers of the importance of the British Empire to the motor industry (and vice versa), while a soft colour palette and the bright, inviting storefront of "John Bull and Sons" lures modern shoppers in to sample other British wares. How different, then, the message of wartime posters admonishing us to stop buying and invest in Victory Bonds. A clever graph using toy trains clearly demonstrates how pennies a day can add up to big savings just a few months down the track. But the postwar boom would soon replace the logic of wartime restraint and savings bonds with shiny new goods promoted through modern marketing.

Colour poster with an art-deco design for the background and border. Title and text at centre

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Figure 11
Colour poster with illustration of a white elephant on an orange background. A "For Sale" sign is on its flank. A man and woman examine the elephant. Title split between top and bottom

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Figure 12
Colour poster with illustration of a woman holding her child's hand, looking into the window of a busy butcher's shop. To the left, people enter the shop

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Figure 13
Colour poster with illustration of three locomotive engines on tracks leading to different kinds of victory bonds. Each engine is labelled with a different savings rate. Title at top, text at bottom

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Figure 14
Colour poster with illustrations of a street scene depicting pedestrians and shoppers in front of a store. Shown in five panels. Name of store at top

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Figure 15
Colour poster with illustration of a man walking past a grocer's window stocked with goods from across the Empire. At right, people are entering the store.

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Figure 16
Colour poster with illustration of two women talking on a busy sidewalk. One on them holds her dog on a leash. People walk by in both directions in the background

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Figure 17
Colour poster with illustration of a man leaving a store carrying three bags of groceries. People outside the store are stopping to chat or examine produce on either side of him.

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Figure 18
Colour poster with illustration of a woman in a dark pink coat walking down a sidewalk. She has just passed a man tipping his hat to her, and is approaching a woman, child and their dog. People in background are chatting.

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Figure 19

Figure 11: Advertisement for Empire Overseas Motor Industry, 1926

Figure 12: War production and savings poster against unnecessary purchases

Figure 13: Far-right panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a woman shopping, ca. 1928

Figure 14: Victory Bonds poster "All Aboard!"

Figure 15: Complete version of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons and Daughters" featuring all five panels, ca. 1928

Figure 16: Far-left panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a man walking in front of a store, ca.1928

Figure 17: Near-left panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons and Daughters" featuring a woman walking a dog, ca. 1928

Figure 18: Centre-panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a man exiting the store, ca. 1928

Figure 19: Near-right panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a woman walking down a street, ca. 1928


Images of the exotic and faraway have long been among the most powerful ways of getting us to spend, luring Canadians to travel by bus, catch a flight to the nightlife of the Caribbean, or experience the timeless thrills of the circus. But perhaps the central engine of postwar recovery was simply providing an easy means of spending our savings and more, through a vast expansion of consumer credit.

Black-and-white poster with black text in different sizes and fonts on beige paper. Text and drawings of victory bonds, a tractor, car, armoire and radio are positioned throughout. Title at top

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Figure 20
Colour poster with illustration of a Mountie in the foreground at right. Mountains, a forest, river, bears, moose, mountain goat, a hotel on a hill, and men fishing from a canoe are in background. Title at top, company name at bottom

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Figure 21
Colour poster with illustration of a woman dancing, wearing a colourful dress, headdress, heels and jewelery. Title at top in blue and red on yellow background

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Figure 22
Colour poster with illustration of three circus clowns. One is tthrowing firecrackers. Title at top, text at bottom, in red on cream-coloured paper

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Figure 23

Figure 20: Victory Bonds poster "We're Going to Need So Many Things When the War Ends...," 1942

Figure 21: Advertisement for Greyhound, ca. 1951 - 1959

Figure 22: Advertisement for British Overseas Airways Corporation, ca. 1955 - 1960

Figure 23: Advertisement for Polack Bros. Circus,ca. 1950 - 1959


As visual imagery has become the raison d'être of the poster, then it follows that many of the most interesting posters have been the work of Canada's best visual designers. Vittorio transfixes us with a bold, graphic eye for a film festival; Theo Dimson suggests the peacock finery of Lipton's fashions with an Art Nouveau-style line; an eerie grinning face by Neville Smith promotes an Ottawa gift shop. This latter poster, in fact, began life as an abstract exercise, illustrating the concept of "sound," and was only later dusted off (and the five letters changed, to "folio") to reappear as a retail advertisement. A great visual idea can transcend its intended use.

Colour poster with illustration of a stylish woman wearing a fur wrap, seated among parcels. Tags hang from her clothes and parcels. Title at top. Company name and logo, and text at bottom

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Figure 24
Colour poster with illustration resembling an eye in black and red on white. Title and date at bottom

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Figure 25
Colour poster with illustration of a woman's profile in white, wearing a large headdress of feathers and flowers printed in black on blue. Title at bottom in black on lavender-coloured background

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Figure 26
Colour poster with an illustration of a grinning face with exaggerated eyes, red lips and teeth resembling piano keys. Title along the edge and bottom

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Figure 27

Figure 24: Advertisement for Chargex "Winter Bargains!"

Figure 25: Advertisement for the 6th international film festival, held at Loew's Cinema, Montréal, 1965?

Figure 26: Advertisement for "Lipton's Spring Images," 1982

Figure 27: Advertisement for the Folio gift shop, designed by Neville Smith, Ottawa


Because of the extraordinary power of such images, as a government informational poster reminds us, "Canada's Cultural Industries are Big Business." Graphic design has emerged as an art form, distinct from the advertising and printing industries. This promotional poster for the prominent Toronto typesetting firm, Cooper & Beatty, pays homage to the remarkable visual inventions of a previous century, displaying dramatic typography, lush colour, and imaginative brand associations. Can these very different packages really all represent tobacco? Will Yardley soap really transport you to a meadow full of maidens? In a way, yes, thanks to Heather Cooper's artistry. By offering so much more than just the "straight," factual message, by creating desirable and sometimes otherworldly associations for everyday products, marketing posters can be said to fill one of the most striking and creative corners of our visual culture.

Colour poster with illustrations and colour photographs of a a variety of artistic and cultural endeavours including dance, painting, and film-making. Title at top, text below in black on grey background

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Figure 28
Colour poster with six rows of various tobacco tins. The tins have different colours, typography and design

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Figure 29
Colour poster with illustration of a three robed womenin a flowered meadow. From left-to-right: one is standing, second reclines against a rock, third sits. All are around a small pool of water. Title in red at bottom

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Figure 30
Colour poster with illustration of a woodlands setting. In the foreground is a white horse and black pegasus. In the backgroud are a variety of forest animals and trees. Title at top, university logo at bottom

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Figure 31
Poster with black-and-white photographs of various clowns, acrobats and a ballerina doll in four horizontal rows. Title and event information, printed in red on black background, in French and English at bottom

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Figure 32

Figure 28: Advertisement, "Canada's Cultural Industries Are Big Business", Department of Communication, Government of Canada, ca. 1981 - 1982

Figure 29: Advertisement for tins of tobacco, Beatty &aamp; Cooper Ltd., Toronto. Date unknown

Figure 30: Advertisement for Yardley of London (Canada) Ltd.

Figure 31: Advertisement for the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario

Figure 32: Advertisement for The Magic Box, a 30-minute show introducing children to ballet, Expo '67, 1967


Professor Brian Donnelly
Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
York University
Sheridan Institute Joint Program in Design

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