By Cameron Zimmer
With typical bravado, Canadian communications
theorist Marshall McLuhan once claimed “Historians
and archaeologists will one day discover that the
ads of our time are the richest and the most faithful
reflections that any society ever made of its entire
range of activities.”
While some may have found McLuhan’s statement too audacious to consider seriously, former University of Saskatchewan Library employee Neil Richards and project staff from the University Archives and Library took it as a challenge.
Though the team knew websites on advertising history existed, they could find few that focused on a narrow geographic area and none based on the Canadian Prairies.
“We thought we’d like to give this a test and see whether you could tell the story of a region through the advertising it used,” says Richards. “We wanted to examine how people persuade each other both to spend money and also to accept ideas.”
With a grant from Canadian Heritage’s Canadian Culture Online (CCOP) Memory Fund, the team created the online exhibition Persuasion: Print Advertising and Advocacy on the Prairies.
The Persuasion website presents more than 600 prairie advertisements produced over the last 125 years, found in the collections of the Diefenbaker Canada Centre, University Archives, and University Library’s Special Collections department. The team’s research into prairie advertising led to some unusual documents that presented odd glimpses into prairie history.
For example, the exhibition includes a postcard from 1945 with a small but bold postal cancellation stamp calling on the recipient to “Stamp out Syphilis in Saskatchewan.”
The stamp was part of a public campaign against venereal diseases afflicting Canadian armed forces and others during the Second World War. It’s intriguing, says Richards, to find the government so publicly acknowledging a taboo problem in what has been considered a sexually conservative era.
Recommend this Story?