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Browse Exhibits (46 total)

"Brief Vodka Honeymoons": Strategic Canadian Estimations from Moscow, 1943-1946

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Canada often appears as little more than a footnote to studies of the shifting international order between world war and Cold War. As an emerging middle power, Canada neither played nor had any expectations of playing a central role in world affairs. With Britain in decline and the United States on the rise, Canada sought to reconcile its increasing autonomy with persistent hemispherical and ideological polarization. Nonetheless, Canada quietly crafted its own identity in international affairs, albeit always cognizant that the Canadian position would bear some relation to the policies of the United States and United Kingdom. 

Relative to the historiography of British or American foreign policy in this era, the history of Canada’s early Cold War foreign policy is limited. This, in turn, might appear to indicate a lack of relevance and worth. This is not quite right, or not totally right. Part of it can be explained by the methods by which Canada practised its diplomacy in this period: by thoughtful and analytic observation. The Canadian Embassy in Kuibyshev, and later Moscow, sought to inform the Department of External Affairs (DEA) of what was happening in the Soviet Union, but also how other states approached the USSR.

It is well known that Canada maintained close relations with both the United States and the United Kingdom and was influenced by their respective Soviet policies. What this narrative implies, however, is that Canadian diplomats in Moscow blindly followed the dominant opinions propounded by their larger allies. The documents in this collection show that this is not the case. The Canadian dispatches from 1943-46, chiefly written by Dana L. Wilgress, demonstrate a distinct shift in policy recommendations throughout the period. Though initially opposed to the hardline American approach, when it came time to choose, the Canadians could no longer support their “firm yet fair” policy and instead had to join the “tough school.”[1] Though they were willing members of the Western camp, the Canadians were swept along with the commanding American current of Soviet policy as the Cold War took on a more tangible form. 

Studies of Canadian early Cold War policy and foreign relations have generally neglected to answer how Canadian diplomats perceived US and British policies toward the Soviet Union, and how these in turn influenced Canadian interpretations and policy recommendations. The story of Canadian diplomatic circles in the early Cold War is rich and sheds light on Canada’s development as an international power in the 1940s. 

The documents in this collection have been selected to demonstrate the shift in Canadian diplomats’ Soviet policy recommendations from 1943-46. The Canadian Embassy to the Soviet Union was established in Kuibyshev in 1943, headed by Dana L. Wilgress, Ambassador to the Soviet Union. From 1940-42, Canada relied on British documents to be informed of Soviet policy, and so there was little Canadian analysis on location in the Soviet Union in this period.[2] The most compelling documents of the collection are written by Wilgress, whose perceptive analyses and recommendations illuminate the shifting Canadian position on Soviet policy from 1943-46. Wilgress’ opinions were highly regarded in Ottawa,[3] and further, the DEA was virtually the only ministry that was well-informed about foreign policy.[4] Mackenzie King was focused on domestic policy,[5] and hence the Canadian Foreign Service in the Soviet Union was virtually the Canadian government’s only direct contact with the Soviets.[6] Primary documents are invaluable for understanding how Canadian diplomats in the field understood the nature of the unfolding conflict in relation to Canada’s increasing autonomy, restructured Anglo-American relations, and shifting Anglo-American perceptions and Soviet policy from 1943-46.

[1]Moscow to Ottawa no. 368, 5 Sept. 1945, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG 25, series 2-AE(S), vol. 1. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

[2]Lawrence Aronsen, "Preparing for Armageddon: JIC 1 (Final) and the Soviet Attack on Canada," Intelligence and National Security 19, no. 3 (2004): 493.

[3]John W. Holmes, The Shaping of Peace: Canada and the Search for World Order, 1943-1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 17.

[4]Denis Smith, Diplomacy of Fear: Canada and the Cold War, 1941-1948 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 4.

[5]Robert Bothwell, The Big Chill: Canada and the Cold War (Toronto: Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 1998), 22.

[6]Lawrence Aronsen and Martin Kitchen, The Origins of the Cold War in Comparative Perspective: American, British and Canadian Relations with the Soviet Union, 1941-48 (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1988), 152.

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100 Years of Skule Nite

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SkuleTM Nite is a musical revue / comedy / sketch show run entirely by Engineering students at the University of Toronto. It is a professional-level production done entirely by volunteers, put on annually at Hart House (Skulepedia, 

It has been one hundred years (give or take a few) since the first show and this exhibit is designed to let you meander through various aspects of the past and present. 

Welcome to SkuleTM Nite!

To learn more about Skule Nite 2T1 and other 100th anniversary celebrations please visit

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A Brief History of Toronto Encampments

This exhibit explores the history of informal settlements in Toronto, beginning with those on Toronto Island in the late nineteenth century, moving to those in the Don Valley in the early twentieth century, and ending with the spread of tent cities in the twenty-first century.

Through a combination of text, YouTube videos, images from the city's archives, and newspaper clippings, visitors will gain insight into the lives of those who lived in these communities, and the struggles they faced in their quest for adequate housing and shelter.

The exhibit starts with a display of historical photos of Toronto Island in the late 1800s, when it was home to a community of squatters who built their homes from the materials they found on the island. Visitors will learn about the challenges that this community faced in establishing a settlement on land that was considered to be public property, and how the city eventually sought to remove them.

Moving forward in time, the exhibit will explore the history of informal settlements in the Don Valley during the early 1900s. Visitors will learn about the residents of this area, who built shacks and shanties in the valley in order to escape the high rents and poor conditions in the city's tenement housing. 

The final section of the exhibit focuses on the spread of tent cities in Toronto in the twenty-first century. Visitors will learn about the growing problem of homelessness in the city, and the ways in which people have come together to create their own communities in the absence of affordable housing. It will also focus on the more recent entwinement of encampments with protest movements, and the weaponizing of police violence to evict encampment residents, setting the stage for the Covid-19 encampment closures. 

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An Unexpected and Challenging Transition: Pierre Trudeau and the Ascent of the Reagan presidency, 1980-1981


The United States of America has been unquestionably Canada’s most important external relationship, especially post-1945.  Consequentially, relationships between Prime Ministers and Presidents have naturally been the subject of interest for Canadian journalists and academics alike; that Americans have not paid similar attention reflects the realities of power asymmetry between them. Day-to-day relations across the 49th parallel are traditionally managed by Cabinet members, bureaucrats and diplomats, but the personal rapport at the top sets the tone and shapes the relationship. Conflicts and personality clashes have at times arisen existed between Presidents and Prime Ministers due to differences in temperament, outlook or policies, as was famously the case between John Diefenbaker and John F. Kennedy, Lester Pearson and Lyndon Johnson, and Pierre Trudeau and Richard Nixon. Such scenarios have demanded skilful diplomacy on the parts of ambassadors, senior officials or even Cabinet members to mitigate disagreements and keep relations on an even keel. Since 2016, this has again been the case, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemingly as different from US President Donald Trump as possible.  

From Ottawa’s perspective, Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US Presidential election was both unexpected and undesirable. Yet this was not the first time that a Liberal Canadian Prime Minister faced the unexpected election of a conservative Republican American President who was not only starkly different in temperament and outlook, but also committed to changing established norms and expectations, on American terms. This array of documents reflects how Canadian officials assessed Reagan and his agenda, and how they readied Pierre Trudeau to engage the new President in a way that would mitigate differences as best possible while defending Canadian interests and goals

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Canada and the Second Berlin Crisis, 1961-1962


Canada has long held an unusual position within NATO. At once strategically important due to its close proximity to the Arctic but also geographically isolated from Europe, historians and foreign policy experts continue to debate Canada’s role in NATO. Because Canada has neither the global reach of the United States nor the local considerations of European nations, some argue that Canada is uniquely positioned to be a mediating force within the North Atlantic Council.

Berlin was in many ways the powder keg of the Cold War and it seemed, during multiple crises after 1945, that the United States and the Soviet Union might go to war over their respective rights in the city. During the Second Berlin Crisis (1958–1962) the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, demanded that the United States, along with the British and French, pull all forces from the city, which they refused to do. At the same time, Khrushchev was offering to sign a peace treaty with the German Democratic Republic and hand over responsibility for the border.

During the Second Berlin Crisis, the Western allies created contingency plans for the possibility of full-scale war. The contingency plans were made by two separate commands: the Tripartite (American-British-French) LIVE OAK and NATO itself, which later developed its own Berlin-contingency plans (BERCONs).

In 1959, the Americans, British, and French established the Tripartite Ambassadorial Group in order to streamline the contingency-planning process and keep it contained amongst themselves. They also established an individual command called LIVE OAK that was separate from NATO. President John F. Kennedy’s administration wanted close coordination of planning between LIVE OAK and NATO. In September of 1961, General Lauris Norstad (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) briefed the North Atlantic Council on LIVE OAK and began an effort to develop NATO contingency plans that would build on LIVE OAK. What resulted was a months-long debate on the merits of the new NATO plans, with Canada’s ambassador Jules Léger expressing specific and significant concern about the inclusion of the demonstrative use of nuclear weapons. He worried that the inclusion of nuclear weapons in any military plans would increase the likelihood of a full-scale nuclear exchange.

In 1962, the North Atlantic Council considered NATO’s own contingency plans.  While LIVE OAK plans were primarily defensive in nature, NATO’s BERCON was intended to “provide a demonstration of intent to go further.” Once again, the Canadian delegation, now led by Ambassador George Ignatieff, were the primary dissenters. The major issues continued to be political authority and nuclear weapons. Ignatieff stalled the planning for many months, but this had virtually no effect on the final plans. The Canadians were not viewed as a mediating force, but rather an “obstacle” to the Council, disrupting what was otherwise a consensus. Further, although they initially planned to make a reservation to the inclusion of nuclear weapons in the plans and thus take a controversial stance, Prime Minister Diefenbaker edited Ignatieff’s instructions at the last minute to include only an approval of the BERCON plans.

The compiled files offer an overview of this process from the Canadian perspective and allow us to examine and question Canada’s role within NATO. Did the Canadian delegation have an effect on American or NATO decision-making? Why might Canada feel more comfortable prolonging NATO decision-making than the European members?


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Canada, NATO, and Global Strategy, 1952-1953


Faced with a deteriorating economy and over-extended military obligations, the British Government released a paper outlining its new Global Strategy in 1952. A “fresh analysis of the problems facing the free world,” the British document suggested that the new atomic capabilities developed by the United States would be sufficient to replace some existing ground forces in Europe.1 This strategy would not only be more economical but would also be the best way to address what the British believed was a reduced threat of hot war from the Soviets. There was another central tenet to Britain’s plan—a unified global plan between allied states. The British believed that many states had spread their commitments throughout various regional bodies and personal military pursuits, and that it was necessary for these plans to be coordinated to form a stronger defence against the USSR.

The Americans, however, had reservations. They believed that Britain’s new plan was “dictated more by the UK (sic) slim pocket-book than real strategic consideration.”2 The US government did not believe that atomic weapons would affect the numbers of troops needed on the ground until 1956, nor did they believe that the Soviet threat had diminished. Any reduction in forces or military expenditures had the potential to give the Soviets the upper hand, a risk which the US was not willing to take. These opposing views on the capabilities of new weapons and the risk presented by the USSR encompassed the main considerations of whether and how a global strategy should be formed, and whether or not NATO was a suitable entity for carrying out that strategy.

The Canadian position was generally in line with the American assessment, though Canada wanted to “[reconcile the] UK and US views.”3 Canada believed that the distinction between global strategy and planning was crucial, as strategy entailed “military policy” while planning was “the means to implement that policy.”4 Canada generally supported global strategy but was concerned that participation in global planning would overextend its resources and commitments, especially as France demanded more support from NATO’s North American members. Canada also worried that an extension of NATO’s involvement outside of the North Atlantic would indicate “aggressive intentions” and may actually increase the risk of conflict.5 Based on these concerns, as well as Canada’s limited global interests, the Canadian government resolved not to push for membership in any global planning body. Canada insisted on being kept informed of decisions and consulted when matters directly affected its interests but did not feel the need to be directly involved. The documents included in this briefing book reveal that the Canadians were keenly aware of their role in NATO and the limits of their participation within the organization. Global strategy and planning had serious implications for Canada’s own security and policy. Though these considerations of NATO and global strategy seem removed from Canada’s domestic interests, they illustrate that Canadian strategy and planning was not in isolation from issues raised by its NATO allies.


1 Privy Council Office memorandum for the Prime Minister, 25 Jun. 1952, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG 2, vol. 223, file no. I-60-1.

2 Privy Council Office memorandum, "Notes on Discussion with General Bradley held in Ottawa," 10 Sept. 1952, LAC, RG 2, vol. 223, file no. I-60-1. 

3 Chiefs of Staff Committee minutes, 17 Sept. 1952, LAC, RG 2, vol. 223, file no. I-60-1.

4 Permament Representative of Canada to the North Atlantic Council to the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs letter D-65, 2 Feb. 1953, LAC, RG 25, vol. 4903, file no. 50115-P-40, part 2. 

5 Department of External Affairs draft memorandum, "Memorandum on Global Strategy and Organization of Security in the Pacific Ocean Area," 28 Feb. 1953, LAC, RG 25, vol. 4903, file no. 50115-P-40, part 2. 

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Canada’s Oldest Profession: Sex Work and Bawdy House Legislation

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"Discrimination on the basis of class, race, ethnic origin and sex," writes legal historian Constance Backhouse, has been "a hallmark of the Canadian legal response to prostitution." Long before the Canadian government's passage of Bill C-36 in 2014, numerous laws have attempted to end "the world's oldest profession" in Canada. Beyond stopping the exchange of money for sex, however, these laws have also frequently been used to police a range of communities based on hierarchies of race, class, gender and sexuality.


Moral reformer (right) harassing a sex worker (left) in a red light district

This digital exhibit complements and expands upon the exhibition, Canada's Oldest Profession: Sex Work and Bawdy House Legislation, on display in Robarts Library, 1st floor exhibition space, from March 8th to June 1st, 2016. It includes material featured in the exhibit and additional information related to the topic of the history of sex work and bawdy house legislation in Canada. The exhibit is sponsored by the University of Toronto Libraries, the Departments of History, and Sexual Diversity Studies. 

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Canadian Law and Canadian Identity

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This Exhibit explores the intersection between Canadian law and Canadian identity (understood broadly to include dimensions such as culture, language, geography, race, ethnicity, and religion).  We consider how Canadian law has shaped conceptions of what Canada is and what a Canadian looks like, thinks, and says.  We also consider how Canada's history, geography, culture, and demographics have shaped Canadian law.

As Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we offer you a tangled set of stories about how law has shaped a country and how a country and its people have shaped law. We are unable to say with any certainty or authority what it means to be "Canadian". Perhaps the most important pattern to note is a general willingness in this country to have difficult conversations and to leave room for disagreement, even disagreements about what it means to be Canadian. 

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Canadian music publishing and the war effort


The University of Toronto Music Library's Canadian Sheet Music Collection highlights the Toronto music publishers’ responses to the Great War. The sheet music included in this exhibit comes straight from our archival vault and was published between 1914 and 1918.

The incredible cover art and inset photos of military personnel aside, the intense and frequently heartfelt lyric of these pieces speak to the ways in which everyday people on the home front responded to the war, whether through wholehearted support, or recognition of longing, loss and death. The outpouring of human emotion imbued in these texts provides a direct window into the mindset of people from 100 years ago, when considerable anxiety gripped the public at large as everyday people struggled with the personal costs brought about through the wholescale devastation and slaughter.


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