Canada in a Box, Cigar Containers that Store Our Past 1883-1935 Canada in a Box, Cigar Containers that Store Our Past 1883-1935 Back Next
Canada in a Box, Cigar Containers that Store Our Past 1883-1935
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Of the many thousands of cigar brands manufactured in North America
between 1883 and 1935, some could only have come from Canada. The people and places depicted on their boxes, and the symbols used,
are quintessentially Canadian.


Symbols / Icons

Within a few years of Confederation, Canadians were developing an iconography of symbols to represent the new Dominion to each other and abroad. Some of these images—like the beaver and the maple leaf—were already widely used and recognized. Others may have been helped into the national consciousness through the medium of cigar box labels.


THE BEAVER

As if in homage to the connection between tobacco and the beaver in Canadian history (17th-century fur traders opened negotiations with Native trappers with gifts of tobacco), early cigar packaging made prominent use of the beaver on revenue stamps and box labels.

THE BEAVER THE BEAVER
Trimmed wood box (50)
Factory 16 IRD 38 Series of 1897
F. J. Lynch, Vancouver, B.C.
CMC 2004.38.3

SHAW'S SINGLE BINDER SHAW'S SINGLE BINDER
Trimmed wood box (50)
Factory 2 IRD 39 Series of 1915
Edmonton Cigar Factory, Edmonton, Alb.
CMC 2003.46.101

BEAVER BEAVER
Trimmed wood box (100)
Factory 26 IRD 26 Series of 1897
Andrew Wilson, Toronto, Ont.
CMC 2003.46.82

THE BEAVER MERCANTILE CO SPECIAL THE BEAVER
MERCANTILE CO. SPECIAL
Trimmed wood box (50)
Factory 2 IRD 32 Series of 1897
Jose Gaste, London, Ont.
CMC 2003.46.34
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THE MAPLE LEAF FOREVER—AND OTHER CANADIAN ICONS

By the time cigar boxes came along in the 1880s, the maple leaf had been in use as a national symbol for nearly 40 years in both French and English Canadian popular media such as sheet music and book-cover art.

There is only one Maple Leaf cigar box in the museum's collection, but there are several boxes with the maple leaf as one Canadian motif among many.

MAPLE LEAF MAPLE LEAF
Trimmed wood box (25)
Factory 2 IRD 26 Series of 1897
John Taylor, Toronto, Ont.
CMC D-9117

KEYSTONE KEYSTONE
Trimmed wood box (25)
Factory 6 IRD 36 Series of 1897
Keystone Cigar Company, Winnipeg, Man.
CMC 2004.38.62

EDMON
EDMON
Trimmed wood box (50)
Factory 3 IRD 14 Series of 1915
Likely Edmond Cigar Co., L'Epiphanie, Que.
CMC 2005.41.4

A beaver, passant guardant proper (in the language of heraldry—"standing on four feet, facing left, in its natural colour") and multicoloured maple leaves frame a beaver dam in lush woods—in Ontario, presumably, if that province's shield (bottom) is any indication. The quality of the cigars is suggested by the gold medals flanking the shield.

JACK CANUCK
JACK CANUCK
Trimmed wood box (25)
Factory 9 IRD 28 Series of 1922
F. Keil, Waterloo, Ont.
CMC 2003.46.2

In the last quarter of the 19th century, two national symbols were introduced to Canadians: the Red Ensign flag, featuring the composite arms of Canada's provinces; and a figure promoted in political newspaper cartoons as an icon for the nation, Jack Canuck. Both appear on this label along with a giant log and maple leaves, flanked by iconographic Canadian scenes: beavers building a dam and farmers reaping wheat.

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A DOMINION WITHIN AN EMPIRE

Canadian and British iconography often appeared jointly on our cigar box labels, reflecting the fact that for many Canadians at the turn of the 20th century, the country's membership in the British Empire was a fundamental part of their heritage and identity. [For Canadian boxes even more involved with things British, go to The Mother Country.]


AMO
AMO
Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 12 IRD 26 Series of 1897
Flor de Canada Cigar Co., Ltd., Toronto, Ont.
CMC 2001.185.26 Tony Hyman Collection

The Amo label features a Latin name and Canadian iconography: autumn-hued maple leaves, a bison, and shields from the coats-of-arms of Britain and Canada. The seven provinces represented on the Canadian shield tell you the label was designed before 1905 (when Saskatchewan and Alberta joined Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia).

NATIONAL
NATIONAL
Trimmed nailed wood box
Factory 5 IRD 14 Series of 1897
Manufactured for George J. Foy, Toronto, Ont.
CMC 2005.41.18

The sun rises (one would like to think) over the Canadian beaver standing on a luxuriant bed of maple leaves, against a backdrop of Great Britain's Union Jack and Canada's new Red Ensign flag.

NEUTRAL
NEUTRAL
Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 2 IRD 42 Series of 1897
T. J. Fair & Co., Brantford, Ont.
CMC 2003.46.77

A densely iconic if somewhat puzzling label. One guesses it honours the equal allegiance owed by Canada to three of Great Britain's component nations.

GEN'L WOLFE
GEN'L WOLFE
Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 17 IRD 32 Circa 1897
Likely G. Olmsted, London, Ont.
CMC D-13692

The brand names of 19th-century London, Ontario cigar makers reflect an especially reverent attitude towards the connection between Canada and Great Britain. G. Olmsted's "Gen'l Wolfe" memorialized the commander of the British force that took Quebec in 1759 and ended French rule in Canada.


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