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ARCHIVED - Framing Canada:
A Photographic Memory

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War and Conflict

Photograph of a female anesthetist holding a mask over a patient's mouth and nose, Leavesden, England, 1944
Captain Shirley Fleming, anaesthetist
at No. 20 Canadian General Hospital
Leavesden, England, July 1944
Photographer: Lt. J.H. Smith

War has been described as long periods of boredom interrupted by short periods of terror. Early photography could capture the boredom  --  portraits of officers and soldiers or views of fortifications and training camps  --  but not the terror of war. Thus Kingston, Montréal, Québec, Fredericton, Halifax and other garrisons were documented, but the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870 were not.

Photographic methods improved sufficiently that 15 years later, amateur photographer Captain James Peters used his portable camera to take battlefield scenes during the course of the second Riel Rebellion. In the First World War, during which Canada employed special war photographers in its armed forces for the first time, photography was used extensively for intelligence (aerial photography, for example) as well as for propaganda and historical documentation.

Between the First World War and Second World War, the armed forces declined greatly and were used primarily for non-military purposes. The Royal Canadian Air Force did aerial surveys, fire-spotting and forestry work and during the Depression the army was used to create work camps for the unemployed. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Canadian Army had only 4,500 officers and men. In months it grew to over 100,000 and, accompanied by both film and still photographers, was sent overseas. For six years the activities of the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army were documented in the hundreds of thousands of images now found at Library and Archives Canada.