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ARCHIVED - Posters and Broadsides in Canada

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Politics and Protest

Up Against the Wall-Political and Protest Posters and Broadsides

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Since the passing of the Constitutional Act, 1791, elections have been a regular feature of Canadian life, and posters and broadsides have been used by political candidates to present themselves and their ideas. In the 2008 federal election, for example, there were more than 1,400 candidates in all, and each candidate put up political posters everywhere they could, hoping to get their name recognized by voters. (figure 1, a cartoon about the proliferation of lawn signs by Sid Barron). Since 1867, there have been hundreds of federal, provincial and municipal elections, with hundreds of thousands of political posters created as a result.

Yet nobody has ever systematically collected and preserved political posters. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) probably owns fewer than 1,000 examples, most of which come from the archival fonds of some political parties, such as the Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic and Communist parties. LAC holds few representative examples from some other parties, such as the Reform Party, Canadian Alliance, Bloc Québécois, Social Credit Party and Créditistes.

Black-and-white cartoon with illustration of two men looking down a suburban street and commenting on the signs that are posted on every lawn


Figure 1
Election poster in blue and red text on a white background with central image, in blue, of the Hon. Flora MacDonald smiling and walking


Figure 2

Figure 1: Sid Barron cartoon commenting on post-election signage in neighbourhoods, May 27, 1979

Figure 2: Electoral campaign poster prepared for the 1980 Federal Election promoting the re-election of the Hon. Flora MacDonald M.P., P.C.; riding of Kingston and the Islands, ca. 1979 - 1980

Other posters come from the papers of prominent politicians, especially prime ministers, cabinet ministers, and leaders of the opposition-but few from non-mainstream candidates. In some cases, a politician's route to power takes him or her from local to provincial to federal politics, but most don't keep examples of all their posters along the way. Though political posters are an ever-present part of both the urban and rural landscape during campaigns, they invariably vanish after the election is over. Posters are taken down and destroyed, put away for re-use by the same politician or recycled for other campaigns. For the most part, this is no big loss: the modern political poster is usually not about ideas, but about the individual. It is really only a photo of the candidate with his or her name, party affiliation and symbol (figure 2).

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