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During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Department acquired most of their images from professional photographers such as Horatio Nelson Topley; John Woodruff and R. Sallows. The Immigration Program obtained their lantern slides either by hiring photographers for special photographic tours, in which they were instructed to capture specific types of images of Canada's beauty spots and bounty, or by purchasing negatives directly from the photographers. The negatives ranged in price from $3 for Sallows' to $12-$20 for one created by Woodruff.11Following the First World War, the Immigration Program required access to a larger variety and volume of images to satisfy their quickly expanding lecture program, As a result, they began to obtain most of their negatives and slides from the Department of the Interior's lantern slide library which was administered by the Natural Resources Intelligence Branch.12

Close examination of the images used by the Immigration Program provides further insight into the predominant messages and themes that were delivered to designated audiences. Some of the lectures that were given dealt with farming in Canada, historic sites, national parks and Canadian beauty spots. In response to shifting policies which removed some of the barriers restricting the entry of urban immigrants, lectures delivered following the First World War were expanded to include themes such as industrial development, modern appliances and tools, and town and city life within Canada. The deliberate positioning of information about Canada is one of the most compelling aspects of the photographs used for immigration purposes and presents an extremely rich resource for further probing.


Farm family in grain field, Edmonton, Alberta, n.d.
(C.M. Tait photo, PA-011616)

The most immediate inducement for immigration that the lantern slide presentations conveyed was the promise of harvesting bountiful crops and raising healthy domestic livestock in the new Dominion. This promise of entrepreneurial success was a recurring theme within the visual images during the years that both Prime Minister Laurier and Prime Minister King governed. For instance, in 1905, H.N. Topley was hired to photograph harvesting and agricultural scenes of Western Canada, as well as street scenes of Winnipeg. 13Topley's travels produced close-to-ground views of arable land, with a focus on the successful crops grown in the West. His photographs emphasized the prosperity of settled farms, the up-to-date techniques and tools used by farmers, and the promise of a high crop yield. Topley's depictions of the Canadian West as a seemingly unending fertile farmland attested to the relative geographic openness of the Canadian West, which one lantern slide script described as the "mecca for the ambitious settler."14The possibilities of abundant and readily available tracts of land conveyed by Topley's images would have produced a powerful psychological inducement to tenant farmers or farm workers eager to assert the claim of ownership over their yields.

One of the most difficult tasks which the Canadian immigration agents faced was to transform the paradigm by which Canada was known beyond its borders, that is, from a dramatic, wild version of Canada to a bucolic, tame version which had been firmly secured for "civilized" populations. Their first objective then, was to reclaim the image of the Canadian wilderness from both the threatening presence of the "frontier" and from the perceived threat of "Indians" in the Canadian West. Even though the Program attempted to provide a broad view of Canadian life, its main intent was to promote the positive features of the country and to dispel the popular myths and/ or "prejudices" about Canada which proved harmful to its mission. W.T.R. Preston, Inspector of Agencies, illustrated this goal in his statement that" all lantern slides showing Indians, ice palaces, snow slides and like scenes ought to be broken."15

To achieve this goal of projecting positive images of Canada, most of the slides used by the Immigration Program were taken during the summer months. Although European audiences were well aware of the cold and harsh Canadian weather, the agents attempted to highlight the beneficial aspects of the Canadian climate. In his lantern slide lecture delivered in Britain, one lecturer, W. Hennessy Cook, outlined some of the benefits of Canadian winters, stating:

"To my mind the winter of Canada has done an enormous good in keeping out the Negro races and those less athletic races of southern Europe. Nobody in good health feels any discomfort from the cold when properly dressed. The sun shines all day long, and although the thermometer may be pointing to several degrees of cold, it is felt very much less than the damp, foggy winter chill of England." 16

Threshing by electricity, 12 miles northwest of Brandon, Manitoba, ca. 1905
(H.N. Topley photo, PA-011418)

In addition to projecting a "warm" and comfortable image of Canada, agents such as Hennessy Cook attempted to convince Europeans from the United Kingdom that Canada's residents were civilized white people whose cultural values and lifestyles were similar to their own.

Another method that the Immigration Program frequently relied on to assuage audiences' fears regarding the "untamed North," involved the use of images within the British landscape tradition, such as pastoral scenes replete with grazing cattle. Other views exude a bucolic charm, such as the solitary contemplation of open terrain or gently rolling farmlands demonstrating the pleasures of rural life. In contrast to the harsh, menacing climate which Hollywood films loved to portray, Canada, as seen through the eyes of the Immigration Program, was cultivated and cultivatable. The images and corresponding texts, therefore, were patterned to conform to the hopes and fancies of its beleaguered working-class listeners, particularly those from Britain, by evoking the gentility and pastoral charm of rural England.

The lantern slide lectures received a great deal of favourable attention until the late 1920s when their popularity and use began to wane. This decline is evidenced by the number of lectures that were given in 1930 and 1931, which dropped from 1,426 to 730 during that one-year period.17This trend can be linked to two factors: the growing popularity and availability of film, and perhaps more importantly; the adoption of a far more restrictive, closed-door policy in regard to immigrants during the Depression years.18This period also marked the end of the land grant system and consequently expansion of the Canadian West. As a result of these prevailing conditions, the Immigration Program temporarily halted its publicity campaign. While lantern slides and other forms of publicity were utilized for educational purposes during this period, they never regained the popularity that they had achieved during the pre-Depression years. Their mystery; allure and entertainment value was apparently diminished with the release of feature Hollywood films. There was therefore a growing desire on the part of Americans and Europeans to be entertained by moving images with sounds, rather than illustrated lectures.


Plowing scene on the farm of William Hamilton, northeast of Hamiota, Manitoba, n.d.
(John Woodruff photo, PA-021561)

From the 1890s until the Depression, lantern slides served as a very useful tool to transmit pleasant and provocative images of Canada to prospective immigrants. In addition to being perceived as a neutral medium, lantern slides were viewed as the perfect method of illustrating serious educational lectures on Canada. Lantern slides were an extremely adaptable medium, since one only had to replace old images with new ones to refresh the lectures on Canada and meet the changing immigration policy objectives. In addition to being delicate and beautiful hand-painted objects, the lantern slides served as a potent propaganda tool that was used to convey seductive images of Canada intended to lure dissatisfied Europeans and Americans to Canada. These two realities were therefore paradoxical. Even though the magic lantern slides were only a single component of the Immigration Program's promotional arsenal, they were a unique and important form of advertisement that helped bolster the Department's campaign to populate the Canadian West.


  1. Ibid, Memoradum from W.D. Scott, February 26, 1913.
  1. RG 76, Vol. 49, File #1945, Part 4, Letter from F. James, Publicity Division, to F.C.C. Lynch, Superintendent, Natural Resources Intelligence Branch, Department of the Interior, December 17, 1920. In his report, entitled "Do the Almond Trees Still Bloom on Vancouver Island?," Archivist, Peter Robertson illustrates how the Department of the Interior's photographic library which was operated by the Natural Resources Intelligence Service, served as a centre that collected and housed photographs used by many of the agencies within the Department, including the Immigration Program. See finding aid for Department of the Interior Collection (Accession 1936-271), National Archives of Canada.
  1. In a letter from W.D. Scott to Robert Kerr, Passenger Traffic Manager for the C.P.R., Scott indicated that the Department was planning to secure a rail pass for Topley so that he could travel west beyond Winnipeg to take pictures "for use in immigration advertising matter." RG 76, Vol. 358, File #414571, September 2, 1905.
  1. Lantern Slide Lecture (1919), RG 76, Vol. 49, File #1945, Part 3, p. 6.
  1. House of Commons, 1900, App. 1, p. 490.
  1. Lantern Slide Lecture, W. Hennessy Cook, "If England Only Knew." RG 76, Vol. 560, File #808468, Part 1, p. 2.
  1. Department of Immigration and Colonization, Annual Report, 1931, p. 67.
  1. Immigration levels plummeted from 104,806 in 1930 to 11,277 in 1935, in response to Canadians' growing desire to protect the scarce jobs that still existed in Canada for Canadians. V. Knowles, Strangers at our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1990, (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1992), Table A.1.