About this blog
"What does it look like today?"
A.K.A. Where is/was that?
What is MIKAN?
MIKAN is the name for the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) photo collection. Military photos, 1914-1919. Department of National Defence collection, Mikan 8181. MIKAN is a computer system for searching, creating, and modifying information about archival materials. The name is based on an Algonquin word, meaning “road,” “path” or “discovery.” In Ojibwe, it’s spelled Miikan and means “trail” and sometimes “road”. The MIKAN number is a unique record number automatically assigned by the MIKAN system to a record at all levels of description (fonds, series, accession, file, item). Because it is a mandatory field in the MIKAN system, the number appears on each archival descriptive page – at the very bottom – in our Library and Archives Canada - Archives Search database. Although it can be used to locate and order material, it is not an archival reference number per se and will not show up on our examples of reference numbers page. Therefore, it is best to always include the full archival reference and not just the MIKAN number.
Canadian War Records Office
Despite the enormous Canadian war effort, the government took a passive attitude to documenting the war. Luckily for Canada, and future generations, Sir Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook) took it upon himself to establish the Canadian War Records Office (CWRO) in January 1916, which he paid for himself. The CWRO had two functions: to publicize the Canadian war effort and to ensure that there was an historical legacy. These two functions complimented one another and, by early 1916, Aitken used his considerable political influence as Canada's official Eye Witness, a newspaper baron and Member of Parliament to convince the British War Office to allow him to put photographers, painters, and cinematographers in the field. Captain Harry Knobel, Lieutenant Ivor Castle, and Lieutenant William Rider-Rider, as well as a few additional photographers, would eventually take over 7900 images. There were several series of photographs illustrating naval activities, individuals, and training in England, but most of the images belong to the O series, which primarily captured Canadian troops in France. These evocative photographs document the Canadian wartime experience, and although a few were faked and purported to represent events that they did not, most images offered a poignant testimony to the soldiers experience behind the lines and in the trenches.
The battlefield photos were sometimes modified — “photoshopped,” in today’s lingo. There is a familiar image of the 29th Bn in No Man's Land which has dead bodies and exploding shells added to the original photo.
These photographs can be accessed under the Canadian War Records Office and were organized and given prefixes by the CWRO such as:
“HS” prefix: Historical Section
“I” prefix: Individual portraits of Victoria Cross recipients
“M” prefix: Miscellaneous
“N” prefix: Navy
“O” prefix: Official photographs
“S” prefix: Sports
The largest of these CWRO-created prefixes is the “O” prefix. It includes about 4705 images, which were taken between May 1916 and May 1919.
Attributing individual photographs to photographers in this collection is difficult. Official photographers used several types of cameras, and worked with assistants who also may have taken photos. Item no. O-1 to O-650 were taken by Captain Harry E. Knobel. O-651 to approximately O-1500 were taken by or under the direction of William Ivor Castle. Approximately O-1500 to O-3970 were taken by or under the direction of William Rider-Rider. The rest of the material (up to O-4705) came from a variety of sources.
A full year before the CWRO hired an official photographer, Private Edwin Pye of the 5th Bn had surreptitiously taken 57 black and white prints of life at the front.
Pye was not the only soldier to do so, but his photos are the most well-known.
It is unclear when Pye compiled this album of photographs, but there are multiple types of captions, as though he revisited the images and added new insights.
On 28 April 1916 Captain Harry Knobel became official photographer to the Canadians in France.
Before falling ill and leaving the front the following August, Knobel took 650 photographs.
Thanks to, 206CEF, we know William Rider-Rider was commissioned as an official Canadian photographer in July 1917.
He took 2,800 negatives and would receive an MBE on the recommendation of Sir Arthur Currie.
Knobel was succeeded by Ivor Castle, a photographer from the Daily Mirror, who was given the rank of lieutenant and subsequently snapped 800 photographs.
On 4 June 1917 Castle was replaced by Honorary Lieutenant William Rider-Rider, who would soon be known for his daring.
Rider-Rider was wounded/injured performing his duties - though I have no details of this yet.
The Q series was photographed by Lieutenant Ernest Brooks, the first photographer appointed by Britain.
Lt. Brooks recreated and staged some of his earlier photographs.
He was exposed by other journalists for faking photographs and in 1916, Britain introduced a policy known as Propaganda of the Facts,
which banned staged or fake images, noting that they undermined Allied credibility.
Following the war, Lt. Brooks reputation was high enough to earn him a job as the official photographer to the Royal Family.
However, this post came to an abrupt end, with a delayed onset of PTSD.