Ephemera Society of Canada

The Ephemera Society of Canada first met on November 22, 1987 at the Viscount Hotel in Toronto. Twenty-two strong at the time, the meeting was convened to discuss actions that could be taken to rescue the paper ephemera collections at McGill University from being deaccessioned and perhaps from eventually being destroyed. Most notable among the holdings was a splendid lot of advertising bags from all over Canada. In the end no action was taken, but at this first gathering the mandate of the society became clear. The main function of the organization would be to promote an awareness of ephemera throughout the country much like other heritage groups made the public mindful of historic homes and buildings and the preservation of important landmarks.

One way to promote awareness is through exhibitions. The society's first show was called "This is Ephemera: Canada's Paper Heritage." It was held at Harbourfront's York Quay Gallery in Toronto from August 19 to September 11, 1988. Successful in opening people's eyes to the importance of paper ephemera in the study of Canada's history, it also led to an amusing headline in the Toronto Star. Society president Barbara Rusch explained to the reporter from the Star who had come to review the show that the artifacts on display had somehow escaped the wastebasket to provide evidence of Canada's popular culture. The title of the review in the paper the next day read: "Garbage on Display at Harbourfront's York Quay Gallery."

This initial display has been followed by many more, including "Symbols of Canada" and "The Art of Persuasion: The Design and Psychology of Early Advertising," both at the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, as well as "The Paper Trail." Other exhibitions mounted in cooperation with the Victorian Studies Association at the University of Toronto and at the Mississauga Civic Center focused on Christmas cards, Valentines, and paper ephemera associated with the centenary of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

The society's most recent exhibition is available to everyone. It is an online show at http://library.vicu.utoronto.ca/exhibitions/ephemera/index.htm called "Ephemera from the Age of Victoria," featuring items from the personal collection of society president Barbara Rusch. The exhibit was initially at the library of Victoria University, January 19-March 1, 1998.

Society activities also include talks and publications. Topics of presentations have included paper ephemera associated with the Titanic, the Dionne quintuplets, Toronto's Skydome, instant photographic portraits, and treasures in the archives of the province of Ontario. Volume one, number one of Ephemera Canada was published in the spring of 1991 and it continues today. The society's illustrated semi-annual newsletter, it is dedicated to the preservation and display of Canada's printed heritage.

Perhaps the most ambitious program that the society has undertaken was a combination exhibition-symposium-paper show, "The Ephemera of Change," hosted by the Ontario College of Art and Gallery 76 in 1992. A magnificent chromolithograph of the heraldic lion, eagle, and beaver from a nineteenth century label proof headed the colorful poster announcing the event. Speakers at the symposium were from Canada, Great Britain, and the United States, and their topics included Canadian packaging that involved printed paper, the study of matchbooks (philluminism), the graphic design and illustration of J.E.H. Macdonald, the Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, the image of women in magazine illustrations, and the influences that led to the growth of the Christmas card industry. At the banquet celebrating the symposium, society vice-president Donald Zaldin spoke on the influence of the Hudson's Bay Company on Canadian history and society president Barbara Rusch received the Pepys Medal from the Ephemera Society of the U.K. for her many contributions to ephemera study and collecting.

The society celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1997 at the Spadina House in Toronto. Home to the Austin family beginning in 1866 when financier James Austin built it, the place was enlarged and remodeled between 1898 and 1913, and it reflects the changing times of four generations. A special display of Spadina's wall coverings, "The Great Cover-Up," gave evidence of the changing fashions and styles in decorative arts and technological developments in wallpaper production during the time that members of the Austin family lived there.

Today there are about 70 members enjoying the benefits of membership in the Ephemera Society of Canada. If anyone interested in becoming a member, contact the organization at 36 Macauley Drive, Thornhill, Ontario L3T 5S5 or by email at ephemera@tht.net.

E. Richard McKinstry

[This article originally appeared in the Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art.]

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America