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Political Cartoons

A Unique Historical Record

Newspapers and other periodicals played a vital role in the progress of Confederation throughout British North America. While articles and editorials provided the most direct source of information on political developments and public opinion, political cartoons were just as effective in communicating popular concerns. Illustrators employed exaggeration, analogy and other techniques in order to critique current events or to satirize public figures. Influential political cartoonists such as Jean-Baptiste Côté and John Wilson Bengough not only generated a unique record of the Confederation era, but they also dealt with many issues that remain important to contemporary Canadians - such as regional identities within Confederation and the character and conduct of federal politicians.

Jean-Baptiste Côté



"Effet de la Confédération"

Trained as an architect, Jean-Baptiste Côté (1832-1907) chose instead to pursue a career as a wood carver in the Quebec shipbuilding industry. His skills in that field were well known by the 1860s, when he began contributing to a number of literary publications as an engraver and caricaturist. He revealed his talent for uncompromising satire in La Scie, a periodical that opposed Confederation and caricatured its supporters, such as George-Étienne Cartier, Joseph-Édouard Cauchon, Hector-Louis Langevin and George Brown. Côté's productivity in the 1860s was remarkable, as he generated hundreds of caricatures and other graphic elements for activist newspapers. The humor and intensity of Côté's political cartoons are still evident, thanks to a distinctive style, in which a concentrated political statement is delivered through a purposefully simplified image.

John Wilson Bengough



"O, Our Prophetic Soul!"

When J.W. Bengough (1851-1923) was 22 years old, he founded the satirical magazine Grip. The launch of that publication in 1873 coincided with the eruption of the Pacific Scandal; as a result, Bengough had ample material to "draw upon" as an artist and humorist. His depictions of impish parliamentarians, and in particular his portrayal of Sir John A. Macdonald as a figure of endless mischief, were immensely popular: Grip claimed a circulation of anywhere between 7,000 and 50,000 readers. Bengough's engagement with public affairs did not stop on the printed page, as he championed a number of social reform issues and was elected as a Toronto alderman.


Béland, Mario. -- "Côté, Jean-Baptiste" -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 17, 2004]. -- Access:

Béland, Mario. -- Jean-Baptiste Côté, caricaturiste et sculpteur. -- [Québec] : Musée du Québec, c1996. -- 156 p.

Bengough, J.W. -- A caricature history of Canadian politics : events from the Union of 1841, as illustrated by cartoons from "Grip", and various other sources. -- Toronto : The Grip Printing and Publishing Co, 1886. -- 2 v.

Cook, Ramsay. -- "Bengough, John Wilson". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 17, 2004]. -- Access:

Fetherling, Doug. -- "Introduction". -- A caricature history of Canadian politics. -- Toronto : Peter Martin Associates Limited, 1974. -- 269 p.

Hou, Charles. -- "Decoding political cartoons." -- Learning centre [online]. -- Library and Archives Canada. -- [Cited December 17, 2004]. -- Access:

Hou, Charles ; Hou, Cynthia. -- The art of decoding political cartoons : a teacher's guide. -- Vancouver : Moody's Lookout Press, 1998. -- 71 p.

Hou, Charles ; Hou, Cynthia. -- Great Canadian political cartoons, 1820 to 1914. -- Vancouver : Moody's Lookout Press, 1997. -- 232 p.