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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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1. It must have been evident to all who have been interested in our work that our Terms of Reference in general were neither designed to be nor have been interpreted very rigidly. This has had the fortunate result of encouraging large numbers of enthusiastic organizations to appear before us, to an extent which we could not possibly have anticipated when we began our task. It will, we trust, not be misunderstood if we observe that to none of us in the early stages of our work did it occur that we should be receiving submissions on heraldry, chess, numismatics, mediaeval studies, town-planning, folklore, zoological gardens and handicrafts. We were however promptly and pleasantly informed about the diversity and the energy of our fellow-citizens, and we recall with particular pleasure the spirited and good-humored assaults made upon us by societies and individuals concerned with the fostering and growth of Canadian handicrafts. The Cercle des Fermières de la Province de Québec, for example, which has a special interest in this matter, concluded a long series of very sensible proposals with the following salute: "Et voilà votre Commission avec une nouvelle gerbe de recommendations!"1.

2. We have had, however, some difficulty in determining what exactly is meant by "handicrafts", although we found this definition helpful: "An individual product of usefulness and beauty, created by hand on a small scale, preferably by the same person from start to finish, employing primarily the raw materials of [his] own country and when possible of [his] own locality."2 But it seems to us that the term is employed in Canada rather loosely to include the work of highly-skilled full-time professionals (notably in metal crafts, ceramics and textiles), of skilled amateurs who augment their normal income by part-time handicrafts, of invalids who find a therapeutic value in such work, of Indians or Eskimos, of cellar-workshop hobbyists who work for their own and their friends' pleasure, of employees in small "handicraft industries", of part-time workers who make at home to a fixed design what are essentially mass-produced goods for commercial markets, and no doubt of still other groups such as housewives who take pleasure in weaving their own curtains, or their husbands who undertake to make new rungs for the wobbly windsor chair, or to fashion built-in cupboards for the kitchen. However we may define the term, there can be no doubt that handicrafts are an important activity of Canadian citizens.


3. Some forty-four societies or individuals gave evidence before us on handicrafts in Canada, and we have had before us a statement outlining the work and recommendations of a provisional interdepartmental committee of the Federal Government on Canadian Hand Arts and Crafts (January 1942--January 1944). We have had, in short, no dearth of information on handicrafts, and, judging from the enthusiasm which this subject has aroused, we are quite prepared to accept the statement made to us that handicraft workers in Canada number well on to 300,000. Probably others will share our surprise to learn that there are 70,000 hand looms operated in the Province of Quebec alone.

4. As with the arts and letters and many other activities of our people, public-spirited and energetic citizens interested in handicrafts have come together and formed associations locally, provincially, and on a national scale. A central organization is maintained by the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, with its centre in Montreal, and this society was incorporated as long ago as 1906. With the Handicrafts Guild are associated provincial branches in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and in the Northwest Territories. In addition, the Canadian Handicrafts Co-operating Guild has affiliations with seventeen societies which cover the whole of Canada excepting Newfoundland. These affiliated societies include: the Canadian Guild of Potters, Cape Breton Home Industries, Spinners and Weavers of Ontario, Regina Arts and Crafts Society, Victoria Hand Weavers Guild, Charlotte County Cottage Crafts in New Brunswick, and others. The principal purposes of the Guild as described in their brief, are to encourage, revive and develop Canadian handicraft and art industries throughout the entire country, and to encourage the crafts and industries brought to Canada by new settlers. The Guild also gives assistance in finding markets, both in Canada and abroad, for the products of skilled craft workers. The Guild arranges exhibitions of home arts and crafts and undertakes to provide instruction and to give directions to people interested in handicrafts.

5. In Ontario, there is a very active branch of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild which has affiliations with ten other Ontario societies. The Ontario branch publishes a monthly bulletin on handicrafts, arranges travelling exhibits, including exhibitions at the Canadian National Exhibition, and has made a permanent collection of particularly fine handicrafts.

6. In addition to the Canadian Handicrafts Guild and its associated and affiliated societies, various of the Provincial Governments have taken the initiative through one of their Departments in fostering and developing hand arts and crafts. This is particularly true of the Province of Quebec, where for many years the Department of Agriculture has, through such organizations as the Cercle des Fermières de la Province de Québec, provided the necessary leadership and organization. In other provinces,


notably New Brunswick, handicrafts form part of the activities of the Adult Education Section of the Department of Education or are associated for various reasons with other Departments of the Provincial Governments.

7. Although formal encouragement of handicrafts is a responsibility of Provincial Governments and of voluntary societies this matter is also of national concern since it clearly affects the lives of so many of our fellow Canadian citizens. Various organizations appearing before us on this matter have suggested that handicrafts and handicrafts exhibits and demonstrations can and do exert an important influence on our national unity. In Winnipeg we were told by a representative of the Manitoba Branch of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild something of the work which the members of this Branch were doing among our people of central and east-European origin:

"By constantly bringing these people together through exhibits and demonstrations of crafts, during the last twenty years our Branch has promoted better understanding and more good will than any other organization could possibly have done. Being non-political and non-denominational, they are admirably fitted for their work and they have used their advantage for the benefit of the community at large.
There has not been anything cold or calculated about their methods. Everything has been completely spontaneous, filled with warmth, colour, and happy activity. Members of the National Groups have enjoyed meeting each other and becoming acquainted. The public has loved the displays and the colour and gaiety, thus contributing to our cultural life."3

The same point was made in the introduction to the brief presented to us by the Canadian Handicrafts Guild in Montreal:

"Handicrafts--the practical arts, like other forms of art, can be a great force in the integration of a national culture in society in fostering mutual appreciation, co-operation and unity of spirit between widely diverse age groups, social groups and newly arrived racial groups."4

8. It was mentioned above that, in our view, the formal encouragement of handicrafts is a responsibility of the provinces and of the various voluntary organizations. We do not propose, therefore, to make formal recommendations on this subject, and we believe that handicrafts in Canada can be most effectively and suitably aided through the strengthening of the appropriate national voluntary organization, the Canadian Handicrafts Guild. We should, however, like to record our interest in a proposal made to us that the National research Council undertake a study of handicraft problems and issue easily followed instructions in such matters as the bleaching and dyeing of textile materials, the selection and preparation of pottery clay and methods of glazing. We also heard that the National


Film Board could usefully prepare films on Canadian handicrafts for instructional purposes in such crafts as weaving and pottery. We were told also that there should be created a simple and effective procedure to protect handicraft designs from infringement by commercial companies. We were particularly interested in a suggestion that the Parks Branch of the Department of Resources and Development might arrange permanent displays, with facilities for sale, of the better Canadian handicrafts; it was also proposed that similar displays might usefully be arranged in the hotels of our two railway systems, and we have recently learned with great interest of the handicraft collection which has been assembled in the head offices of an important Canadian oil company. These proposals seem to us practicable and we should be happy to have them considered by the appropriate authorities.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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