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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National News

Cigar makers looked everywhere for inspiration in naming their cigar brands, including the major issues and events of the day: if it caught the customer's eye in the newspaper, it might catch his eye in the cigar display case.


Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 4 Port 33E Series of 1922
H. E. Cooke & Co., Owen Sound, Ont.
CMC 1999.124.94

In 1927, to mark the 60th anniversary of Confederation, images of Robert Harris's classic 1884 painting depicting the Fathers of Confederation were everywhere. The painting itself no longer existed; it had been consumed in the great fire at Parliament in 1916. Reproductions were presumably based on a photograph of the work in the National Archives. Besides being reproduced widely in the press, the painting was featured on the Post Office's new 2-cent stamp, on Canadian National Railways menus, and on the label of H. E. Cooke's Confederation cigar.

Trimmed nailed wood box (25)
Factory 12 IRD 17 Series of 1883
Likely Samuel Romain, Montreal, Que.
CMC 2004.38.46

The Honourable J. S. D. Thompson was Prime Minister for only two years, 1892–1894. He died in office at age 51 after a brilliant judicial and political career.

In this contemporary cigar box photo composite of Thompson's cabinet, note the prominence given to J. F. Wood, Controller of Inland Revenue—the man in charge of tobacco taxation. The cabinet members are:

  1. J. F. Wood
    Controller of Inland Revenue
  2. T. M. Daly
    Minister of the Interior
  3. Mackenzie Bowell
    Minister of Trade and Commerce
  4. W. B. Ives
    President of the Privy Council
  5. A. R. Angers
    Minister of Agriculture
  6. Sir A. P. Caron
    Postmaster General
  7. C. H. Tupper
    Minister of Marine and Fisheries
  8. J. A. Ouimet
    Minister of Public Works
  9. Frank Smith
    Minister without Portfolio
  10. N.C. Wallace
    Controller of Customs
  11. J. J. Curran
    Solicitor General of Canada
  12. G. E. Foster
    Minister of Finance and Receiver General
  13. John Costigan
    Secretary of State of Canada
  14. John Carling
    Minister without Portfolio
  15. J. G. Haggart
    Minister of Railways and Canals
  16. J. C. Patterson
    Minister of Militia and Defence

Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 1 IRD 17 ca. 1883-1889
J. M. Fortier, Montreal, Que.
CMC 2003.116.12

Virtually a Canadian political cartoon on a cigar box. It is based on the "Noisy Boys" or "Recess" label by New York lithographer Heffron & Phelps (ca. 1880–1890). Montreal cigar maker J. M. Fortier, who in fact made a "Noisy Boys" cigar, seems to have had the label customized for a second "Noisy Boys" line featuring cartoon likenesses of politicians of the day, both Conservative and Liberal. From left to right (omitting the "teacher"), they appear to be:

  • Louis-François-Georges Baby
  • Sir Edgar Dewdney
  • John Henry Pope
  • Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau
  • Edward Blake
  • Sir Mackenzie Bowell
  • Sir John A. Macdonald
  • Sir Hector-Louis Langevin
  • Sir Alexander Mackenzie


Railways were very much on the minds of Canadians during the decades following Confederation. More than one prospective province had made a railway a condition of their membership in the Dominion. Prodigious feats of labour and engineering built iron roads from sea to sea, as political leaders rose and fell with their railway policies, western settlement by non-indigenous peoples expanded, and economic scandals multiplied. The railway craze reached fever pitch at the turn of the 20th century. By 1914, no fewer than three systems girded the country.

Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 5 IRD 8 Series of 1883
Cigars likely by A. Guay & Company,
St-Thomas-de-Montmorency, Que.
CMC 2005.139.5

Before the Canadian National, the Canadian Pacific, even before the Grand Trunk, there was the Intercolonial Railway. It was begun in the 1850s to link the Maritimes to the Province of Canada (present-day Ontario and Quebec). Its completion was made a condition of Confederation. Sanford Fleming was in charge of surveying and engineering. By 1876, the Intercolonial ran 1,100 kilometres from Halifax to the St. Lawrence and eventually connected to the rest of the country via the Grand Trunk Railway. The Intercolonial was vital to the development of Atlantic Canada, and Canada itself would not have existed without its being built. Never a commercial success, it was made part of the Canadian National Railway in 1919.

Trimmed nailed wood box
Factory 26 IRD 17 Series of 1897
L. Lewis & Co., Montreal, Que.
CMC 2003.116.9

Minnesota railroad man Jim Hill (1838–1916) was one of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1882, he brought in fellow American, Cornelius Van Horne, as General Manager to oversee construction. Van Horne turned out to be the right choice—he got the job done—but Hill resigned his own position within a year, protesting the expensive, all-Canadian route north of Lake Superior insisted upon by Prime Minister Macdonald.

Trimmed nailed wood box
Factory 38 Port 10-D
Series C (1935)
Thomas Harkness & Sons, Ltd., Montreal, Que.
CMC 2001.185.40 Tony Hyman Collection

The portrait of Canada's pioneer builder of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, William Cornelius Van Horne (1843–1915), is crowned by a locomotive, garlanded in maple leaves, and flanked by two scenes representing Canada's motto, "From Sea to Sea". (Note that Newfoundland, represented by the Cabot Tower and view of St. John's Harbour, left, hadn't yet entered Confederation when this label was printed.)

Van Horne was a famous cigar smoker (he developed the taste while building the Cuban railroad in 1900). In hospital towards the end of his life, he was forbidden by his doctor to smoke more than three cigars a day. The next day, a package arrived for Van Horne of custom made cigars, each 2 feet (60 centimetres) long and requiring four hours to smoke.

Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 34 IRD 17 Series of 1897
J. Hirsch, Sons & Co., Montreal, Que.
CMC 2004.120.11

The energetic graphics reflect the heady vision of a second railroad crossing Canada coast-to-coast. The Grand Trunk Railway created the Grand Trunk Pacific to extend its central Canadian track east from Montreal to St. John, New Brunswick, and west from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, B.C., so it could compete with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Construction of the GTP began in 1906. By 1914, the cost of laying thousands of kilometres of track and building tunnels, bridges and hotels overwhelmed the young company. Its parent took it over, only to succumb itself to bankruptcy five years later. The Grand Trunk Railway—at Confederation, the largest railway system in the world—was taken over by the Canadian government and finally merged with the Canadian National Railway in 1923.

Trimmed nailed wood box
Factory 4 IRD 27 Series of 1897
H.E. Cooke & Co., Owen Sound, Ont.
CMC 2005.202.5

The story of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) is one of national vision, private greed, public scandal, individual heroism, group sacrifice, personal ambition, and an endless supply of innovation, pluck, and energy—in short, it is a story of early Canada. In 1871, British Columbia was enticed to join Canada’s eastern provinces on the promise that it would be linked to them by rail within 10 years. It took fourteen. On Nov. 7, 1885, Donald A. Smith drove the last spike that joined east and west, an event recorded in what may be the nation’s first iconic photograph.

The C.P.R.’s name and famous logo (in its 1898-1917 version, showing the beaver’s tail draped over the top corner of the shield) was used by cigar manufacturer H.E. Cooke of Owen Sound. That Ontario town’s rail line to Toronto, built by Grey and Bruce, had been part of the Canadian Pacific since 1883, but it is not known if the cigars were officially offered to riders of the railway.

Trimmed nailed wood box
Factory 3 IRD 32 Series of 1897
Wm. Atkins, Brantford, Ont. (1886–1906)
Label registered Clark Litho, Toronto, Ont.
CMC 2003.46.60

This label pictures the railroad working man (clockwise from upper right: conductors, trainmen, firemen, engineers) rather than his bosses. Is there a reason? Might the cigar have been custom ordered by members of the railroad unions? Unlikely. Did cigar manufacturer William Atkins target railroad workers as a good niche market? Possibly. Was the theme simply one Mr. Atkins thought would appeal to the general public? Why not? It's a very attractive, eye-catching label.



Of all of Canada's natural resources, none caught the imagination of 19th- and early 20th-century Canadians like gold. There had been three major gold rushes in forty years to Canada's West and Northwest: Fraser River (1858), Cariboo (1860–1866), and Klondike (1897–1898). Pick, shovel and pan, the Chilcoot Pass, rough mining towns, single-minded prospectors, and the northern lights became Canadian icons.

Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 5 IRD 32 Series of 1883
Wm. Kelly & Sons, London, Ont.
CMC 2004.38.31

Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 4 IRD 9 Circa 1899
Saucier, & Bro., Maskinongé, Que.
CMC 2004.38.35

Trimmed nailed wood box (50)
Factory 3 IRD 38 Series of 1897
The Western Cigar Mfg. Co. Limited, Kamloops, B.C.
CMC 2004.216.2