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H. P. Biggar and Canadian history at the IHR

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Biggar book plateFollowing on from last week’s launch of the library’s bequests webpage and in keeping with recent blog posts about our Canadian holdings, the IHR would like to take the opportunity to highlight a few examples of historic donations to our North American collections. The Institute’s extensive  resources relating to the early history of Canada came into existence as a result of several large bequests and donations from private donors and public bodies during the 1920s and 30s. Of these donors, H.P. Biggar stands out for his efforts to promote Canadian studies at the IHR and in London more generally.

The Biggar Collection

Henry Percival Biggar (1872-1938) served as the European representative of  the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa during the first three decades of the 20th century. While in Europe he received a doctorate in history at Oxford and published several titles on European exploration in North America including The voyages of the Cabots (Paris, 1903), The Voyages of Jacques Cartier (Ottawa, 1924) and The Works of Samuel de Champlain (Toronto, 1922-1936).

Biggar was central to the acquisition campaign for the Public Archives and later participated in the organization of historical manuscripts in the national collection, a project he wrote about at length in the first two volumes of the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research. From 1905 he served as the European representative of the Department of Canadian Archives, a position he occupied until his death in 1938. He was instrumental in the founding of the Canadian Historical Society in 1922 and served as its first secretary. As secretary he oversaw the transcription of important manuscripts relevant to the early history of Canada held in Parisian and London archives for deposition in the Public Archives of Canada. Biggar was also an activist for Canadian and imperial charities in the capital, serving as the National Commissioner of the Canadian Red Cross Society during the early years of the Depression.

From 1921 onwards Biggar donated books from his personal library to the IHR. As a result, a number of the Colonial Collection’s strengths reflect his research interests in the areas of early European exploration of North America and the history of New France before the British conquest of 1759/60. Biggar’s largest donations of books and pamphlets arrived in the IHR over the course of the summer of 1926 and the winter of 1927.  In 1938, the IHR library committee valued the Biggar Library, then consisting of 562 volumes and 256 pamphlets, at £950.

The Canadian Lectureship Fund Acquisitions

Throughout his years in London Biggar tirelessly promoted the professionalization and study of Canadian history in the UK. In 1926 he organized a fund to endow a lectureship in Canadian History at the University of London. Sadly, he was unable to collect enough money for a lectureship endowment before his death. The money raised for that purpose, however, did enable the IHR to significantly expand its colonial history holdings. In 1932 Biggar stipulated that the interest from the lectureship fund, then standing at £600, be used by the IHR library committee to ‘buy books to be presented to the Canadian section of the Institute library’. Many of the library’s holdings in the area of European exploration in North America were purchased through the Canadian Lectureship Fund including, for example, Paul Gaffarel’s, Histoire de la découverte de l’Amérique, 2 vols (Paris, 1892)and Henry Murphy’s The Voyage of Verrazzano (New York, 1870). Perhaps the most substantial additions to the library purchased under the aegis of the Lectureship fund were the initial two dozen volumes of the Rapport des Archives du Quebec series.

Provenance in the Biggar Collection

  • A presentation copy of Joseph-Guillaume Barthe’s (1816-1893) Le Canada Reconquis par la France (Paris, 1855) presented to the French illustrator and student of Delacroix, Maurice Sand (1823-1889) includes a letter from the author bound among the front flyleaves of the book. It is dated Quebec, 15 September 1867 and discusses a meeting between Barthe and Sand in Paris in 1861. La Canada Reconquis par la France argues for renewed French immigration to Quebec in order to rejuvenate French Canadian language and culture. [1]
  • The first volume of the  IHR copy of Etienne Michel Faillon’s Histoire de la Colonie Francaise in Canada contains a long citation from the work in Biggar’s hand. It also contains a letter, bound among the front leaves, with information about the book.
  • The library holds several books purchased by Biggar during his time as a student in Paris in the 1880s. Biggar recorded the location and year of purchase on the front flyleaves of many of these books including Leon Deschamps’s Un colonisateur du Temps de Richelieu, Isaac de Razilly (Paris, 1887) and Pierre Boucher’s Canada in the Seventeenth Century (Montreal, 1883).

[1] For more information on Barthe see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Biography – BARTHE, JOSEPH-GUILLAUME – Volume XII (1891-1900) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography