Upcoming Exhibitions

Mon, Mar. 20, 2017 to Fri, Sep. 01, 2017
Lithograph of Canadian Confederation

The British North America Act, the document that provided the constitutional structure for the new Dominion of Canada, was passed by the Parliament of United Kingdom and signed by Queen Victoria on 22 March 1867. It is not as evocative a document as Magna Carta, nor does it contain the lofty prose of the American Declaration of Independence. It is a prosaic piece of legal writing, crafted by relatively conservative French Catholics and stolid English Protestants who saw in their union the advantages of ‘peace, order, and good government’. Like those it would govern, it might best be described as unassuming. Concealed in its cautious language, however, are almost three hundred years of struggle to become a people. The documents in this exhibition – manuscripts, printed books, engravings, and photographs – tell the story behind the making of a nation. On these pages may be found the record of our ancestors’ efforts to understand the majesty and wealth of this land and its waterways; the interaction between colonists and the First Nations, the legacy of which remains problematic to the present; and the tension between French and English which has so often threatened to tear apart the national fabric. But in these works may also be found something of the hope that is a constituent part of our national character – a character born as a result of these various struggles. Since that character is partially determined by what we are not – neither European nor American – these documents also reflect our ongoing endeavour to define ourselves for ourselves. In the 150 years since Confederation, much has indeed changed, but much remains very much the same. We are still a nation of immigrants, a place where compromise and accommodation are the keys to our prosperity and stability, making us the envy of so many other less fortunate places on the planet. To understand ourselves, we need only to look at the bequest left by those who went before us, whose witness still speaks eloquently – on paper and in ink.

Featured documents will include the first depiction of Niagara Falls, found in Louis Hennepin’s Nouvelle decouverte d'un tres grand pays situé dans l'Amérique from 1697; Owen Stanley’s Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of the N.W. Passage in H.M.S. Terror from 1836; a 1647 copy of the ‘Jesuit Relations’ dealing specifically with Huronia; a 1710 petition by the Hudson’s Bay Company to Queen Anne for the restoration of their charter lands; manuscripts from the Rebellions of 1837; the principal documents from Charlottetown and Quebec that ultimately led to the BNA Act; a rare copy of the proclamation of Confederation, as well as personal letters, photographs, maps, and prints.

This exhibition will be curated by Pearce Carefoote of the Fisher Library.

Mon, Sep. 25, 2017 to Wed, Dec. 20, 2017
Pope as donkey - Reformation propoganda

During one of his ‘Table Talks’ Martin Luther said that ‘printing is God’s ultimate and greatest gift. Indeed through printing God wants the whole world, to the ends of the earth, to know the roots of true religion and wants to transmit it in every language. Printing is the last flicker of the flame that glows before the end of this world.’ So close were he and the other Reformers to the appearance of this new ‘black art’, as printing by moveable type came to be known, that the Reformation is often referred to as ‘Gutenberg’s child’. That may be something of an overstatement. While the printing press cannot be solely credited with the revolution that occurred in Europe in the sixteenth century, however, it certainly facilitated it. The reality is that the thought of men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, as well as Fisher, Loyola, and Bellarmine, was transmitted in a way unimaginable only a century earlier during the manuscript era.

The printing press proved to be a double-edged sword. For the Roman Catholic Church it represented the tool par excellence by which its message could be effectively disseminated; most Protestants, like Luther and John Foxe, celebrated what the press could do for the cause of reform. Both groups were in agreement on one point, however: the press had to be controlled. In the end, the overwhelming influence of this revolution in print would be no better resisted in the sixteenth century than the Internet could be in the twenty-first. In example after example, the first texts issued by the newly-established printing houses in the Germanic territories would be treatises either for or against the Reformation.

Although the vast majority of the population could not yet read, the presses of Europe churned out thousands of copies of sermons and pamphlets, Bibles, and commentaries that were finding their way into the hands of those who actually could. Whether the printed word was proclaimed from pulpits or shared in the taprooms of inns, the ideas of both the reformers and representatives of the old religion were now being more widely heard, if not yet universally read, while topical woodcut caricatures began to appear that were open to the interpretation of literate and illiterate alike. Luther’s comment during his table talk, therefore, that printing was the last flickering of the flame before the end of this world was not apocalyptic; rather it was the prescient observation of a man who understood that the printed text would become one of the most important instruments lighting the way into the modern era.

Among the highlights of this exhibition will be late Medieval vernacular texts, popular among the Humanists; early pamphlets by Luther and his associates; classics of the Continental Reformation, such as Calvin’s definitive 1559 edition of the Institutes; a 1549 copy of the Book of Common Prayer; early Catholic responses to the upheaval, like St John Fisher’s Sacri sacerdotii defensio contra Lutherum of 1525; and numerous works of illustrated propaganda, such as the first edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and the exquisitely gruesome Ecclesiæ anglicanæ trophaea published by the Roman College in 1584. The exhibition continues by looking at the ripples of the Reformation in North America, as well as the way in which the movement left its lasting effects on the world of art.

This exhibtion will be curated by the Fisher Library's Pearce Carefoote.