Many thanks to guest blogger, Barbara Towell, for contributing the below post! Barbara is University Archives’ E-Records Manager and an enthusiastic collector of antiques. This is the first post in her occasional series on jewellery pieces worn in historical cabinet card portraits.

Popular complications: telling the time

I can pinpoint the moment my love-affair with the past began. It was the day a trunk was moved from my grandmother’s house in New Westminster to our basement in Burnaby. The chest was the curved-top variety lined with cedar with a large bottom drawer. How long it sat in the basement before I uncovered its secrets, I cannot tell you, likely hours, not days. The weight of the lid…the squeak of the hinges…the smell of the cedar; that was the moment.

Item zero: watch found in cedar trunk. Fitted case not original to the watch. Image credit: Barbara Towell

The bottom drawer was where the treasures lay. The passage of time had dried out the wood, to open it I had to pull one side of the drawer then the other inch by inch. When I got it open, I saw hundreds of photographs. I expected to recognise my grandparents, my father, or my uncles, but in photo after photo I did not know a single person. Over the days, months and years I made my acquaintance with each and every face. Sitting in the basement studying the faces stored in the bottom drawer was a favourite childhood pastime. But the photographs were not all the trunk contained, there was another item hidden amongst the trunk’s contents: an old watch.

Sometimes I am asked about the first item in my collection of old things. Perhaps because I can recall the particular transaction so clearly, I have always answered that it was a Czechoslovakian glass and brass necklace from the 1920s bought for $12.00 at a shop called the Blue Heron. It is only in writing this blog that I realize the watch uncovered in the cedar chest that day when I was 11 years old was actually item zero.

I tell you this story because old photographs and jewellery introduces a series of blog posts I am writing looking at cabinet card portraits of women and the jewellery they wore. In these examples the ornaments displayed hold a central role in the images’ composition and meaning.

C.W. Van Alstine. [Portrait of woman]. UL-1734-01-0037.

Originally shot by Van Alstine photographers Red Oak, Iowa, the photo is part of the Uno Langmann and Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs. Cabinet cards gained popularity in the 1870s and 1880s and were an accepted and affordable method of portraiture. One can locate many such examples in this period of (primarily white) women in black clothes wearing a watch on a long chain. Dr. Annie Rudd describes this kind of portraiture as the social media of the 19th Century (Rudd, 2015). Rudd sees the carte de visite, a smaller precursor to the cabinet card, as a “socially sanctioned and standardized mode of self-presentation” (Rudd, 2015) and because both the carte de visite and the cabinet card were designed to be shared they helped shape cultural standards through their distribution.

All we can see of the woman’s outfit is a black button-down bodice and an odd-looking pocket sewed onto the front of the outfit. The pocket has not been sewn on straight, the right side is higher than the left. One cannot mistake the quality of the material and perfectly close fit of her bodice so why is the pocket sewed on in this way? Part of the answer is that the pocket holds a watch. Watches were very popular all through the 19th Century and women in the last quarter wore their watches one of three ways:

  1. tucked into a belt or a fit-for-purpose pocket at or near the waist;
  2. at the bodice hanging from a brooch watch chatelaine; or
  3. as we see in this photo tucked into a crochet or lace pocket angled with the right side higher than the left.

But why? The answer is for practical ease of access. The subject is right-handed and it is simpler for the right hand to take the watch out of the pocket on the left if the pocket is slightly angled. It would stand out more to viewers contemporary with the period if the crocheted pocket wasn’t angled. In all three cases the watch hung from a long chain called a muff or guard chain which was typically 154.4 centimetres in length (Cummings, p. 95).

The guard chain in the Van Alstine cabinet card is doubled under the chin drawing the viewer’s eye toward the face. Given this is a portrait the brooch and chain’s placement near the throat makes sense; it emphasizes the subject. Her appearance is not all we are meant to see; the draping of the chain draws the viewer’s eye to the crocheted pocket. The angle and texture of the pocket emphasizes the timepiece within suggesting action, functionality and matter-of-fact practicality on the one hand, and a modicum of affluent comfort on the other. If highlighting the face is the point of the portrait, the watch functions as a balancing counterpoint. Everything included in the cabinet card’s field of view was made by choice. The passage of time has undermined the clarity of photograph’s message, but her outfit and the simple yet meticulous construction of the image communicates middle class propriety and tasteful prosperity.

Cabinet cards typically include an advertising block containing the name and location of the business; indeed, advertising was one of the main objectives of the medium. They also promote a “carefully calibrated self-presentation” of the subject (Rudd, 2015). The assembly of clothes, hair and pocket watch work together as kind of visual shorthand for respectable middle-class conventionality. The actual material conditions in which this woman lived are unknown to us, but through the composition of the photograph we are led to believe that she has a comfortable life with places to be and appointments to keep!


Works Cited

Rudd, Annie. 2015. “Public Faces: Photography as Social Media in the 19th Century.” The International Center of Photography, Aug. 27, 2015. Accessed Dec. 26, 2020.

Cummins, Genevieve. 2010. How the Watch was Worn: A Fashion for 500 Years. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club Publishers.


Many thanks to guest blogger Brandon Leung for contributing the below post! Brandon is a graduate student in the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management program at Ryerson University and has just completed an archival internship with Rare Books and Special Collections.

In the beginning of my internship at RBSC, I was able to first work on the Chung Collection, which I was interested in for its materials related to the experience of Chinese people in Canada. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 this project was put on hold as well as my internship. Fortunately, I have been able to continue my internship in the past few months with a new project involving the Uno Langmann Family Collection of BC Photographs, a primarily photographic collection. Given my background in photographic history, I was tasked in identifying the various photographic processes contained within the Langmann collection. Of course, because of the present circumstances, I had to rely on the photographs that have been digitized so far for my work, which is less than ideal (so many physical details can help you identify a photographic print!). Nevertheless, it still gave me the opportunity to look through a large amount of the different kinds of historical photographs held in the Langmann collection.

Flipping (virtually) through the myriad of photographs, I came across a series of postcards, one of many series of postcards in the collection, that were created by a specific photographer named George Alfred Barrowclough. According to Breaking News: The Postcard Images of George Alfred Barrowclough (2004) by Fred Thirkell and Bob Scullion, Barrowclough was born on May 1, 1872 in Birkenhead England. He immigrated to Canada with his family in the 1880s where they settled in Winnipeg. By the 1890s, he began working as a photographer and in 1904 opened his first photographic postcard business. In 1906 he moved in with his brother in Burnaby and even went down to San Francisco to photograph the ruined city after the recent earthquake. By 1909 he was living in Vancouver. The majority of his BC postcards were made from 1908 to 1912.

Barrowclough’s postcards piqued my interest for various reasons: one, I have become interested in historical “real photo postcards” (photographs printed onto photographic paper with postcard backings); two, most of the postcards in the Langmann collection are either created by photographic printing companies or unknown photographers (though other identified photographers come up such as Leonard Frank and Phillip Timms); and finally, many of Barrowclough’s postcards are different from what one might expect of postcard imagery. Many of his postcards do depict the usual touristic fare (city views, prominent buildings, Stanley Park), but, of interest to me, some of his photographs seem to have been taken surreptitiously or are subjects you would expect from a photojournalist. For example, a few of his postcards depict the aftermath of a streetcar crash into a drugstore and crowds viewing a Barnum and Bailey Circus parade in Vancouver (UL_1624_03_0040 and UL_1624_03_0043).

There was one of Barrowclough’s postcards that I came across which brought up some questions and associations for me. The postcard in question is titled Hindu Immigrants, Vancouver, B.C. (UL_1624_03_0052). In it, we see a group of turbanned South Asian men in front of a train station by the Vancouver waterfront (there is a ship in the background). Some of the men hold bags or packs. Others can be seen loading their belongings onto a nearby horse-drawn cart. We can tell the photograph was taken clandestinely; no one appears to notice Barrowclough. The photograph is composed at an angle, as if it were taken quickly and sneakily. Other observers seem to be present; besides Barrowclough himself (and now us looking at the postcard in the present), a blurry man can be seen to the far left in a suit and straw boater hat.

George Alfred Barrowclough, Hindu Immigrants, Vancouver, B.C., [between 1910 and 1920?], gelatin silver print (UL_1624_03_0052, Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs)

In particular, I was interested in why Barrowclough chose this subject matter—presumably immigration—for a postcard. Though photography’s artistic and cultural value can easily be seen today, as photographs are readily found in museums and archives, but throughout its history, photography straddled the fields of art, science and business. And certainly, Barrowclough made his photographs to sell. Why sell images of immigration? Why would people be interested in pictures of immigrants in the same way they would be interested in views of Granville Street?

Photographic history can give us an answer. Photography has been used to depict the “other” (oftentimes non-White individuals) throughout its history. Rising in tandem with 19th century European imperialism, photography was used to photograph colonized peoples as scientific specimens or entertaining spectacles for European audiences. As photography came soon after to what is now called North America, it was also used to extend the colonial gaze onto Indigenous and Native American populations.

In the early 20th century, when Barrowclough made his postcards, American photographer Lewis Hine took photographs of newly arrived immigrants in Ellis Island, New York to document the conditions there; German-American photographer Arnold Genthe took candid photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown with an Orientalist and sentimental aesthetic. In Canada, Indigenous people would ask to be paid for European photographers’ use of their image, highlighting the power dynamics between photographer and subject. This relationship can also be seen in Barrowclough’s postcard. His subjects do not seem to be aware of being photographed, yet their image and status as “immigrants” were definitely being used and sold. Not many of Barrowclough’s other postcards depict the trade in images of Indigenous people, but the sentiment remains. White photographers and consumers of photographs and other visual imagery were interested in depictions of those different from themselves.

George Alfred Barrowclough, Where 23 Japs lost their lives in G.N.R. wreck, Nov. 28, 09, near New Westminster, B.C., 1909, gelatin silver print (UL_1624_03_0123, Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs)

This colonial gaze is not just apparent from how Barrowclough photographed these men, but also from how he titled the postcard, Hindu immigrants. Likely the men are Sikhs because of the turbans they wear, called “Dastaar” in Sikhism. Sikh immigrants are well known for their early role in British Columbia’s economy, especially as workers in wood mills. Yet to European observers, anybody from India is a “Hindu.” All Chinese immigrants were “Chinamen.” In a more sensationalist postcard, Barrowclough photographed the aftermath of a train crash and freely used a slur in its title: Where 23 Japs [sic] lost their lives in G.N.R. wreck, Nov. 28, 09, near New Westminster, B.C. (UL_1624_03_0123) Language reveals the attitudes of the time and the fraught relationship between “settlers” and “immigrants.” Of course, these relationships were all happening on what was, and is, First Nations land.

Canada’s creation as a “White man’s land” and Canadian immigration history also play an important part into how we read this image. Examples of Canadian immigration policy of the early 20th century reveal the power dynamics at play in this kind of looking. In 1885, the Canadian government implemented an immigration policy popularly known as the Head Tax. It forced Chinese immigrants to pay upwards of five hundred dollars to enter the country. By 1923, the Head Tax was replaced by the Exclusion Act that barred almost all Chinese immigration.

The postcard also reminded me of another incident in Canadian history, also related to South Asian immigration. In 1914 the passengers of the ship the Komagata Maru, many of whom were Sikhs, tried to gain entry into Canada through Vancouver. They challenged two existing laws aimed at stopping immigration from India, one barring immigrants who did not travel on a “continuous journey” by ship and the other barred immigrants who had under two hundred dollars in savings. Both laws were instituted in 1908, overruled, but then reinstated by 1914. Photographs of the Komagata Maru, its passengers, government agents inspecting the ship and on-shore onlookers also exist, but this passing interest in these South Asian immigrants also did not benefit them. After about a month in Vancouver’s harbor, the Komagata Maru was forced to turn back. Some of its passengers were met with deadly force from British Officers upon their return to India.

Photographs are never just pictures, just as archives or collections are never neutral. Images are a construction of the time period they were created in. Even the most innocent-looking or everyday images can tell us more about their creators or remind us of how loaded with meaning and connotations they are. Coming across an image like Hindu Immigrants reminds us of the history of this unceded land and the people who have passed through it.

1919 guide to British Columbia

Many thanks to guest blogger Emily Homolka for contributing the below post! Emily completed her MLIS degree from UBC’s iSchool (School of Library, Archival and Information Studies) in May 2020. She is currently project archivist for the Nilekiwe Yesilawiwaci Sharing History project with the Shawnee Tribe Cultural Center.

I’m very pleased to introduce my digital exhibit, Ghost Towns in British Columbia, curated using some of the archival and historical holdings of Rare Books and Special Collections!

Ghost Towns in British Columbia explores some of the themes of emergence, daily life, and sudden (or eventual) disappearances of towns in British Columbia, looking briefly at the rise and decline of Anyox, Phoenix, and Sandon. Through those towns and through the holdings of RBSC, this exhibit looks at the broader phenomena of ghost towns, considering their connection to history, memory, and memory institutions, such as libraries, museums, and archives.

I first became interested in the idea of ghost towns in 2019, when I spent the summer working with a project called “Digitized Okanagan History” (since rebranded as British Columbia Regional Digitized History), which digitizes local archival and historical materials in Kelowna, a city in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. As I worked, I would often come across photographs of towns that, when I searched for them, would only show up in a Wikipedia page about ghost towns in British Columbia or briefly mentioned in a travel pamphlet. I became fascinated with the idea that I was seeing a glimpse of a place that no longer exists, and that I would not have known ever existed before I found traces of them buried in the archives.

Sandon after the big fire

Ghost towns are by their very nature ephemeral, there and then gone, sometimes leaving behind scant amounts of information or the remains of building, sometimes getting repurposed (for good or for ill) decades after the end of the town, sometimes leaving behind nothing at all except memories and a romantic notion of what the town used to be. Exploring the collections at RBSC to see what information has been left behind and thinking about how that information shapes the modern day understanding of ghost towns has been an incredibly rewarding and fascinating experience. Through my exhibit, I hope I show what it is about ghost towns that has so captured my own imagination and to spark a similar interest in my readers!

I hope you enjoy the exhibition Ghost Towns in British Columbia!

This exhibit was possible due to the feedback and support that I received from Erik Kwakkel and Chelsea Shriver, as well as Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library that was so generous with my use of the archival materials. Thank you also to the Uno Langmann Family and to Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung, whose donations made this exhibit possible.

November 2020 is the 6th anniversary of Indigenous Disability Awareness Month in B.C. and across Canada. The B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society notes that “Indigenous people in Canada experience a disability rate significantly higher than that of the general population. Indigenous Disability Awareness Month (IDAM) brings awareness of these barriers and issues that Indigenous peoples and their families living with disabilities face every day. More importantly, we celebrate their achievements and recognize the significant and valuable contributions they make to our communities socially, economically, and culturally.”

In relation to Indigenous Disability Awareness Month X̱wi7x̱wa Library hoped to produce a booklist of #ownvoices fiction, non-fiction and scholarly sources related to Indigenous experiences of disability. After searching UBC’s scholarly resources, Twitter, GoodReads, Google, we found a gap in fiction, non-fiction and scholarly writing on this topic.

We’d love to hear from you: what are your recommendations for #ownvoices reading or media about Indigenous experiences of disability? Email us at!

At UBC, the Crane Library is available to support students with disabilities through the Centre for Accessibility.


Researching Disability and Indigeneity

The language used to define and discuss disability, or differing abilities, is often context dependent and especially so in Indigenous communities. Beliefs about wellness and unwellness are different from community to community and often expanded to include the impact of colonization. Research about disability and Indigenous people is limited but is located primarily at the intersection of Disability Studies and Indigenous Studies, although it could encompass other areas of study (e.g.: education, social work, occupational therapy). Please bear in mind that some of the terminology used to do research about disability and Indigeneity may be outdated.

Start your research using the UBC catalogue or Summon. Please visit X̱wi7x̱wa Library’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies research guide for more information about doing research. Please email for additional research support.

Useful keywords for searching UBC Summon and databases might include:

Combine keywords related to Indigenous identity with keywords about your topic. For example: Indigenous AND disability

  • Indigenous
  • Aboriginal
  • race
  • disability / disabilities
  • accessibility
  • ableism
  • wellness
  • Terminology specific to different abilities (deaf, deafened, Sign Language, Indigenous Sign Language, etc.)
  • Terminology specific to Indigenous communities (Cree, Métis, Inuit, etc.)

See X̱wi7x̱wa Library’s “First Nations and Indigenous Studies” guide for additional information about searching using keywords and finding Indigenous perspectives.

Some useful subject heading for searching UBC Summon might include:

(Native people with disabilities)

(“Aboriginal Canadians” AND Disabilities)

(“Disabled people” AND “Native American studies”)

Useful journals and other e-resources might include:

Disability & Society

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Native Health Database


Routledge Handbooks Online

Core Indigenous Studies journals

Indigenous health databases and statistics


Fiction and Non-Fiction

Below, you’ll find some adult and children’s books written by self-identified Indigenous authors with disabilities, Indigenous literature with differently abled characters, and books on the topic of disability. Unless otherwise noted, all books listed are available at a UBC Library for currently registered students, faculty and staff. For community borrowers, please check for these books at your local public library. If your library does not carry a book that you want, you can often request the library purchase it.

Adult Books & Media

Heart Berries: a memoir by Theresa Marie Mailhot: In this memoir, Mailhot chronicles her experience living with chronic mental illness.

“Seed Children” by Mari Kurisato in Love After the End. Love After the End is a new two-spirit, Indigiqueer science fiction/fantasy anthology, currently available as an ebook with the physical book on order at Vancouver Public Library.

Aboriginal Sign Languages of the Americas and Australia edited by D. Jean Umiker-Sebeok and Thomas Sebeok:

Indian Sign Language by William Tomkins: An unabridged and corrected re-publication of the 1931 fifth edition of the work originally published by the author in San Diego, California under the title Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America.

My Sister by Thirza Cuthand and Danielle Ratslaff (streaming media): Two thoughtful young friends openly discuss their relationship with their sisters, both of whom have intellectual disabilities.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie: In this 2017 memoir, the author recounts his childhood hydrocephaly, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.

All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism: “Delve into poetry, essays, short fiction, photography, paintings, and drawings in the first-ever anthology entirely by autistic people of color, featuring 61 writers and artists from seven countries. The work here represents the lives, politics, and artistic expressions of Black, Brown, Latinx, Indigenous, Mixed-Race, and other racialized and people of color from many autistic communities, often speaking out sharply on issues of marginality, intersectionality, and liberation.” Available at Vancouver Public Library.

My only daughter : Karina Beth-Ann Wolfe / producer/director, Grace Smith: “Carole Wolfe, a deaf Indigenous woman in Saskatoon, bravely shares the story of her daughter’s disappearance in 2010. Told in American Sign Language.”

Children’s Books

Native Athletes in Action! By Vincent Schilling (for middle grade ages): In Chapter 3, readers meet Cheri Becerra-Madsen (Omaha) a wheelchair racing Olympian and world record holder who lost use of her legs at age 3.

Tribal Journey by Gary Robinson (for middle grade ages): “Sixteen-year-old Jason is left with a paralyzed leg after a car accident and it is only after becoming involved with his Duwamish mother’s tribe and learning to “pull” a canoe that he begins to see himself as more than a boy in a wheelchair.”

Spirit Bear and Children Make History (for elementary grade ages): “Hello! My name is Sus Zul in the Carrier language. In English, people call me Spirit Bear. I am a proud member of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. I am on my way to Ottawa, Ontario, to witness a very important human rights case. Would you join me on this journey?” When Spirit Bear’s mom tells him about an important human rights case happening in Ottawa, Ontario, he makes the LONG trip (by train, his favourite way to travel) to go and watch, and to stand up for First Nations kids. And he isn’t the only one! Lots of children come too — to listen, and to show they care. Spirit Bear knows that children can change the world because he’s there to see it happen. This is the story of how kids — kids just like you — made a difference … with a bit of help from some bears and other animals along the way!”

UBC Library has purchased temporary electronic access to approximately 200 titles in LWW Health Library to meet the new demand for remote teaching and learning materials for use in health sciences courses at UBC. LWW Health Library is an online portal for materials from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, an imprint of the publishing company Wolters Kluwer.

Because of the health and safety measures and closure of the physical libraries in place due to COVID-19, many of the print textbooks that would be mainstays within Course Reserves for science-based courses at UBC are not currently available to faculty and students. These include titles such as the Bates Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines, basic health sciences textbooks and other specialized subject materials. Compounding the issue, digital versions of these books are simply not available for purchase in standalone e-book format from publishers. In reaching an agreement with Wolters Kluwer, the library is able to provide students, faculty and staff with electronic access to material that would otherwise only have been available in print.

The subscription went into effect in August, just in time for the start of the new term, providing continuity for students, librarians and faculty in disciplines spanning medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology, speech sciences and more. UBC Library users can download and print chapters from any of the materials included in the subscription and can also make use of supplementary materials, such as self-assessment tools, video, audio, cases and other materials that can be used in class or presentations. Training is available for these tools through the subscription vendor Ovid. Contact Charlotte Beck ( for more information.

The subscription will remain in place for one year, thanks to the support from the Rodger Stanton and Peggy Sutherland Endowment Funds.

Access LWW Health Library materials via Summon and through the UBC Library catalogue.

This project is part of UBC Library’s strategic direction to create and deliver responsive collections.

Learn more about our Strategic Framework.

Show and Tell: Selections from our Personal Archives and Libraries

How we remember, and what we hold dear, differs from person to person. All of us have personal archives we keep to preserve memories that are precious, that document our families, our histories and record important events. It could be a simple piece of ephemera we love and cannot part with (a ticket stub from our first concert, for example), or photographs of ancestors that offer clues to our origins, or anything we have set aside and saved for a myriad reasons. Similarly, our personal libraries hold volumes that have emotional value to us, not just for the words contained in it, but as a reflection of a time in our lives, we found them particularly relevant. This could be the first book of poetry that made us fall in love with verse, or the dog-eared copy of a classic novel that led us to our current passion for libraries and library work. This blog series explores selections from the personal libraries and archives of members of the Rare Books and Special Collections team, and other colleagues from UBC Library and beyond. We hope our stories will help you reflect on what is meaningful at this time in your, and in our, collective histories.

— Krisztina Laszlo, Archivist

Ashlynn Prasad, Archives and Reference Assistant, RBSC

As a young professional acquainting myself with archives, it actually took me a long time to understand the ways in which the archival world had already touched my personal life. I started working in an archives at the age of 18, at which point older cousins of mine had already been entering what I would come to understand as archival spaces for years. They were undertaking a genealogical research project that would hopefully uncover who we were, who our ancestors had been, and where we all came from.

Nana’s Birth Certificate

The information that had travelled down through the generations about our family history was minimal at best: we knew that my great-grandparents’ generation had migrated to Fiji from India in the late 1800s. We knew that they had been indentured labourers for the British Empire, who held control of India at that time and were looking for a labour force to work the land in Fiji, another place they had colonized. The list of things we didn’t know was much longer: the names of our ancestors who had originally migrated, the name of the ship they had come over on, where in India they had come from, why they had chosen to leave their home for a difficult life of farming on a remote island nation that was fraught with sometimes violent tension between the colonizers and the indigenous community – and the list went on. Theories abounded in our family, particularly over the latter question. Our theories were mostly romanticized stories that we told ourselves, about ancestors who had fled India, perhaps to escape arranged marriages, with a secret lover, in hopes for more freedom in Fiji.

Research on the part of my cousins and other Indo-Fijian scholars has provided us with a vision of the past that is slightly less rosy. In recent years, the term “indentured labour” has come to be understood as little better than debt slavery. And while we had assumed that our lack of information about our ancestors was due to an intentional effort on their part to hide information about themselves, it now appears that the true reason is due largely to the poor record-keeping practices of the British.

A further complicating factor has been the fact that naming conventions among the Indo-Fijian community are different than what we in western society are accustomed to, and what the British record keepers would have expected. In Indo-Fijian society, there is no such thing as a family name. Siblings will often all have the same last name, but it won’t be the same name as their parents. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to track lineage through a family name. And because the British record keepers didn’t understand this, there is nothing in the records of Indo-Fijian immigrants to tie generations of one family together.

This is what has made the search for our family’s origins so challenging. The search has been a piecemeal collaboration of whatever information we can find. It has included scraps of records that we were able to find using the information we already had, such as the birth certificate of my maternal grandfather pictured above.

Aja’s Emigration Pass

It has also included records that were painstakingly dug up from the notoriously restrictive Fiji National Archives. In one instance, my cousin began undertaking research in the archives, equipped with the name of my mother’s paternal grandfather – he had dropped his first and middle names and simply went by his last name, “Gupta” (written by the British as “Guptar”). My cousin was able to narrow down his search to two possible records, but reached an impasse because he had no further information about our great-grandfather. The only way he was ever able to figure it out was by calling upon the help of the rest of the family: my mother, her ten siblings, and the twenty-eight cousins in my generation. It turned out that, years before, a great-aunt had visited my parents, had told a few stories and happened to mention the name of a village in India, which my mother had happened to make a note of. That piece of information allowed my cousin to narrow down his search to the record you see here: my great-grandfather’s emigration pass, which tells us his father’s name, his age when he migrated, his brother’s name, the specific area in India he came from, his occupation, and – perhaps most interestingly – his caste.

In some ways, the moral of the story had been in front of me for years before I even knew what an archives was: good record keeping matters.

Between the late 1800s and 1996, more than 150, 000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended Indian Residential Schools. Orange Shirt Day, September 30th, was inspired by the story of Survivor Phyllis Webstad and honours the experiences of all children impacted by the Residential Schools.

On September 30th join X̱wi7x̱wa Library in the conversation about Orange Shirt Day by reading a book from our curated children’s book list about residential schools. Below are 5 additional children’s books related to Orange Shirt Day and Residential Schools.

See X̱wi7x̱wa Library’s “Indian Residential School System in Canada” research guide for more resources and research advice. Please email for additional research help or questions about borrowing material from the Library.

The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) at UBC will host several Orange Shirt Day events and workshops this year, starting on September 22 with a talk from Phyllis Webstad, author of “The Orange Shirt Story.” To learn more about events and the inspiration for Orange Shirt Day, visit the IRSHDC’s website.


The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad.

“The Orange Shirt Story” is based on Phyllis Webstad’s personal experience attending residential school. For her first day at residential school, Phyllis wore a bright orange shirt given to her by her grandmother. When she arrived at the school, teachers immediately took her orange shirt and Phyllis never saw the orange shirt again. Since then, the colour orange has always reminded Phyllis of her traumatic experience at residential school and her orange shirt has become a symbol for honouring the legacies of children who attended Indian Residential Schools.

This title includes a teacher’s lesson plan and additional teaching resources. The Orange Shirt Story is also available in French and Shuswap.

“Spirit Bear: Fishing for Knowledge, Catching Dreams” with words by Cindy Blackstock and illustrations by Amanda Strong

Spirit Bear is off on another adventure! Follow him as he learns about traditional knowledge and Residential Schools from his Uncle Huckleberry and his friend, Lak’insxw, before heading to Algonquin territory, where children teach him about Shannen’s Dream. Spirit Bear and his new friends won’t stop until Shannen’s Dream of “safe and comfy schools” comes true for every First Nations student.”

“Goodbye Buffalo Bay” by Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden

“The sequel to the award-winning book As Long as the Rivers Flow and the award-finalist When the Spirits Dance , Goodbye Buffalo Bay is set during the author’s teenaged years. In his last year in residential school, Lawrence learns the power of friendship and finds the courage to stand up for his beliefs. He returns home to find the traditional First Nations life he loved is over. He feels like a stranger to his family until his grandfather’s gentle guidance helps him find his way. Goodbye Buffalo Bay explores the themes of self-discovery, the importance of friendship, the difference between anger and assertiveness and the realization of youthful dreams.”

“The Journey Forward: A Novella on Reconciliation” by Richard Van Camp and Monique Gray Smith / readers’ guide by Alison Gear 

“From award-winning authors Richard Van Camp and Monique Gray Smith come two honest and memorable middle-grade novellas on residential schools and reconciliation. The novellas will be bound together in a ‘flip-book’ format, which offers the intended audiences two important perspectives in one package. This stunning and unique book will feature two covers: Lucy & Lola will include a cover and spot illustrations by renowned artist Julie Flett. When We Play Our Drums, They Sing! will feature cover photographs by Tessa MacIntosh.” For ages 9-13.


“I Lost my Talk” words by Rita Joe and art by Pauline Young

“One of Rita Joe’s most influential poems, “I Lost My Talk” tells the revered Mi’kmaw Elder’s childhood story of losing her language while a resident of the residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. An often quoted piece in this era of truth and reconciliation, Joe’s powerful words explore and celebrate the survival of Mi’kmaw culture and language despite its attempted eradication. A companion book to the simultaneously published I’m Finding My Talk by Rebecca Thomas, I Lost My Talk is a necessary reminder of a dark chapter in Canada’s history, a powerful reading experience, and an effective teaching tool for young readers of all cultures and backgrounds. Includes a biography of Rita Joe and striking colour illustrations by Mi’kmaw artist Pauline Young.”

[Letter, Charles R. Darwin to John Burdon-Sanderson, July 16, 1875]. RBSC-ARC-1731-1-22

In honour of Science Literacy Week 2020’s theme of biodiversity, we’re excited to highlight UBC Library’s two collections of archival materials related to English naturalist and geologist Sir Charles Darwin.

Darwin-Burdon Sanderson Collection

This collection, which was acquired by Woodward Library in 1966, consists of correspondence between Darwin and physiologist Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson from the years 1873-1881. After his medical education at the University of Edinburgh and at the University of Paris, Burdon-Sanderson became a Medical Officer of Health for Paddington in 1856 and subsequently a physician to the Middlesex Hospital and the Brompton Consumption hospitals. Between 1858-1866, he investigated diphtheria, cattle plague, and cholera when they appeared in England. He was one of the forerunners of penicillin, observing its ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria before Alexander Fleming. Burdon-Sanderson was also the first person chosen to be the Waynflete Chair of Physiology in Oxford in 1882. In 1895, he became Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, a post he held until his resignation in 1904.

The letters in this collection deal with the research Darwin and Burdon Sanderson did on the digestive powers and leaf movements of insect-eating plants, notably Drosera and Dionaea. Darwin published the results of this research as part of his Insectivorous Plants (1875).

Pearce/Darwin Fox Collection

This collection is made up of family records of the Darwin Fox family, most notably correspondence between William Darwin Fox and his second cousin Charles Darwin. The Reverend William Darwin Fox graduated from Cambridge in 1829 and was appointed vicar of Delamere, Cheshire in 1838, where he remained until his retirement in 1873. Darwin Fox shared his cousin’s passionate interest in natural history. In addition to being a naturalist, he was also an entomologist, with a particular interest in collecting beetles. He is credited as the person who introduced Darwin to entomology and tutoring him in natural history. Fox and Darwin had quite a close relationship, maintaining regular contact through letters. The collection was purchased by Woodward Library in 1970 from Captain Christopher Pearce, a descendant of the Fox family and resident of Vancouver Island.

Both of these collections have been digitized and are available in UBC Library’s Open Collections for your perusal and ejoyment.

Science Literary Week runs from September 21 to 27, 2020. For more details about Science Literacy Week activities at the Library, visit the UBC Library Guide to Science Literacy Week.

David Mark Graham (1945-2012) was a Vancouver native and a double UBC alumnus (BA, BArch) with a life-long interest in Asia. At UBC, he was closely involved with projects such as the construction of the Asian Centre, the rejuvenation of the Nitobe Japanese Garden, and a proposal for a travelling exhibition of the university’s Tokugawa map collection.

The David Mark Graham Memorial Fund honours David’s memory through the purchase of print materials for UBC’s Asian Library, focusing on traditional visual and material art and architecture of Northeast Asia, particularly Japan and Korea.

The Asian Library is pleased to present the following two rare Japanese acquisitions recently made possible by the David Mark Graham Memorial Fund and the UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. We acknowledge the continued support from the Asian Studies faculty, especially Drs. J. Mostow and C. Laffin, in providing expertise in Japanese rare books. Many thanks also to the Library’s Acquisitions and Cataloguing units for their technical support and to the Digital Initiatives unit for digitizing the items and making them openly accessible in the Open Collections platform.

異國人物圖 Ikoku jinbutsuzu (Illustrations of the people of the world)

Produced in the mid-18th century, Ikoku jinbutsuzu allows us a fascinating glimpse into Japanese view of the world and its inhabitants in the Edo period (1603-1868). Pictures of people from various parts of the world, from China, to Vietnam, and to Holland, are hand-drawn and painted in vivid colours. The images were largely derived from astronomer and geographer Nishikawa Joken’s Shijūnikoku jinbutsu zusetsu (Illustrated account of the people from 42 countries, 1720), a very influential book at the time. This well-preserved manuscript is a valuable addition to the number of pre-modern Japanese works depicting and discussing the world’s peoples, including the popular Bankoku Sōzu (Map of all nations), in the UBC Library’s Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era collection.

View Ikoku jinbutsuzu at UBC Open Collections here.

奈良絵本断簡 Nara ehon dankan (Illustrated pages from a Nara ehon picture book)

Photo credit: Library Communications

Nara ehon is a type of Japanese manuscript book, containing a short story accompanied by illustrations. Nara ehon books were produced from the late Muromachi period to the early Edo period in the early 1600s, and while many were mass-produced and circulated widely among the general public, some were exquisitely painted and ornately decorated with high-quality materials and intended for high-ranking samurai and daimyō (great feudal lord) families.

Our new acquisition includes ten sheets of illustrations, hand-painted in gold, blue, green, and other bright colours, with borders in gold. According to the scholars who examined the pieces, the high quality of the paper and paint indicates that the illustrations were possibly from a picture album for the high class audience rather than a mass-produced story book.

The Library is pleased to have acquired these beautiful specimens of Nara ehon illustrations. The images are now available digitally in the UBC Open Collections not only for our faculty and students to study but also for any art and picture book enthusiasts all over the world to enjoy viewing and sharing.

View Nara ehon at UBC Open Collections here.

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