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Before posters could become a widespread form of communication, a very important technology first had to be developed: printing. Renaissance metalsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented a way to mass-produce the metal letters from which the earliest printed impressions were taken. Printing multiple copies of a written text from raised metal letters, known as letterpress printing, was an enormous step forward in communication, and it remained the primary means of printing for hundreds of years.
The main drawback of this technology, however, was its limited ability to display images. The poster advertising "free grants of 160 acres" in Manitoba is done in letterpress. It is handsomely printed in two colours (red and blue), and is even able to show us Canada's place in the world on a map. But its visual appeal is limited: everything is printed in simple lines or letters.
Figure 1: Advertisement for land grants in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan, March 1, 1892
Figure 2: Advertisement for land grants in western Canada, ca. 1890 - 1920
Let's now compare it to a full-colour poster that serves the same purpose, recruiting new immigrants to Canada's West, but promising a "New Eldorado," or mythical city of gold. Appropriately, the images and even the headline text are awash in a golden light. The ability to reproduce powerful and appealing images greatly improves the visual communication of this poster. So attractive and convincing are the pictures of Manitoba's promised lands that the texts are far shorter, because the images do much more of the work of description. The short, punchy lines of text have become more like modern advertising, designed to quickly excite our interest (sometimes even at the expense of complete disclosure or accuracy).
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