A Journey Through Time With “Caption This”

In the beginning of 2022, ROAAr’s newsletter inaugurated an engaging series: “Caption This” through which we put intriguing images from our archives to good use by inviting users to caption them. After a two-year successful run, the series concluded in late 2023. Now, as we enter the third month of 2024, we find it fitting to honour the series by embarking on a retrospective journey through its timeline.

In January 2022, the Caption This journey began with a tribute to the charm and challenges of snowy days. The series took off with a picture of a truck stranded in the snow, accompanied by two perplexed onlookers. Readers were given the following prompts:

– What clues are discernible that might unveil additional information?

– What elements seize your attention in the scene?

– What role do anonymous photos like this one play in historical collections?

– How would you caption this captivating photo?

While we received some amusing captions, one standout contribution came from David Ness. He conducted a thorough analysis of the image, delving into details such as the time, date, truck model, and even ventured to make conjectures about the circumstances. Read about his insightful exploration and findings here!

The February newsletter featured these three fierce-looking young sportsmen with “Tigers” inscribed on their uniforms.

This photo, part of the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds collection at McGill University Archives, lacks detailed information. The Montréal Parks and Playground Association Inc., active from 1902 to 1961, aimed to preserve city parks and open spaces. The collection holds over 1,000 photos from around 1906 to 1960, offering glimpses into sports, playgrounds, landmarks, and more. The winning caption for this photo was “The Fearsome Three,” submitted by Jayne Watson-Sevigny.

March marked the debut of our first coloured image, and it was a lively one – both visually and in spirit.

The image, found on a postcard in our holdings, captured a fearless woman rocking a skylift ride, her chic skirt swaying in the wind. Not only did it spark some creative captions, but it also sent us on a fascinating journey to unravel its origins. Dive into the article for the full story, featuring an unexpected cameo by Marilyn Monroe!

The April 2020 prompt was yet another fun postcard showing a child with a comically oversized egg, perfect for Easter!

Alongside the playful front, we uncovered some metaphorical Easter eggs on the back, such as doodled glasses on the stamp and a heartwarming inscription. Find out more about these discoveries and get a glimpse of postcard history on our blog post for that month.

In May 2022, we remained consistent with our love for the oversized, this time showcasing a massive ball.

The series spotlighted a puzzling photograph dating back to around 1890, depicting students immersed in a curious sport on campus. As players convened around the inflated ball, presumably to catch it, a captivated crowd of onlookers observed. The image sparked many speculations and associations, ranging from sci-fi villains to mimetic architecture. Using our limited photo editing skills, we tried to bring their visions to life. Check them out here.

In June, we were in full vacation mode, delighting in this postcard displaying the breathtaking view of Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil. 

July saw the Caption This series embracing the laid-back spirit of summer by sharing an image of a remarkably poised canine duo.

The possibilities for amusing captions were endless, and participants did not disappoint.

In August, our prompt for the Caption This series was an image of His Majesty’s Airship R-100 at the St-Hubert Airport during its 13-day trip to Canada in the summer of 1930. 

In September, as the Fall semester began, we discovered an engraving that perfectly depicted the mood of students returning from break to their classrooms.

Crafted in 1736 by William Hogarth, an influential English engraver of the eighteenth century, Scholars at a Lecture depicts students listening begrudgingly to Henry Fisher, a lecturer at Oxford. Stephen Silvester has appropriately captioned the image ‘Wake up, Mr. Jones!  No, not you, the one next to you.  It’s a B flat in bar 37.’

In the spirit of October and Halloween, we thrilled our readers with what appeared to be a torture device straight out of a supervillain’s lair.

Thankfully, upon further investigation, we discovered that the photo shows an Arc-light Projection Lamp, a medical device used for phototherapy. It originated from the 1902 book A system of instruction in x-ray methods and medical uses of light, hot-air, vibration and high-frequency currents : prepared especially for the post-graduate home study of surgeons, general physicians, dentists by S. H., Pelton. In the same book, we stumbled upon some more amusing medical devices. Curious? Learn more here.

In November, we were feeling mischievous, and we decided to inject a bit of humour into our readers’ feed. The Caption This of the month showed a boy engaged in a game of checkers, but instead of using his index finger to move the pieces, he was using his middle finger, adding a humorous element to the scene.

After December’s hiatus, we returned with a winter-themed edition in January.

Our prompt shed light on the nearly forgotten craft, or perhaps “sport,” of ice cutting. Before refrigeration became widely available, ice from frozen lakes and rivers was crucial for food preservation during the hotter seasons. Participants not only shared captions, but also their memories of those times.

In February, we selected another postcard from Montreal Import Co.’s “Canadian Sport Series,” this time focusing on a team sport: snowshoeing! 

The photograph captures the enthusiastic sportsmen of the Montreal Snow Shoe Club joyfully launching Lord Stanley Preston, former Governor General of Canada and fellow member of the MSSC, into the air as part of their “bouncing” tradition. Imagine our surprise when we found the top half of this image displayed a few blocks away from campus, outside the McCord Museum. It adorned the entrance sign for Notman Cafe, located inside the museum and named after the photographer behind this iconic photo.

In March, we stumbled upon another trio of boys, this time dressed in Inspector Gadget-like costumes instead of hockey uniforms.

The flat-capped young men appear to be in the middle of a scene in a play, huddled together as they share a secret of utmost importance. While we could not track down any details about this play or these talented actors, our readers let their imagination run wild as they came up with creative storylines and titles for the performance.

In April, we revisited bygone days of communication technology.

This switchboard, once an integral part of operations at McGill University, finds its resting place in the Archives now. Readers were presented with an additional challenge: to identify the beer brands featured on the wall clock.

May brought an incredible coincidence our way. We prompted readers with an image of a man immersed in paperwork, only for his daughter to stumble across it!

The busy man in the photo was Saul Hayes, editor of the McGill Yearbook in 1932. Saul had completed his BA and MA here at McGill in 1927 and 1928 respectively, followed by a Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1932. He also taught at the School of Social Work. Dive into our interview with his daughter here.

In June, we revisited antiquated technology once more, this time showcasing a stereograph showing a family on a picnic.

Long before the era of high-quality iPhones capable of capturing vivid images, photographers relied on stereographs and stereoscopes. They would capture a single scene from slightly different angles and place both images side by side on a stereograph. When viewed through a stereoscope, which utilizes lenses and prisms to merge the two images, stereographs create a striking three-dimensional effect. We have both stereographs and stereoscopes in our collection, take a look here!

By July, it had been a while since we last featured postcards. So, we decided to remedy that. We selected a picture of a man leisurely relaxing on a rock by the river, smoking his pipe, and observing two men on a boat. It was a snapshot that captured the essence of summer relaxation, inviting readers to pause and immerse themselves in the serenity of the moment.

In August, we chose to relive the summer spirit, being willfully ignorant of the fact that a new semester was just around the corner. We featured a delightful photo of a group of people enjoying a sunny day in their swimsuits and asked readers to guess the date.

Many were impressively close—1942! The pool is nestled between the Royal Victoria Hospital site and Mount Royal Park. Originally intended for the use of hospital staff and patients, the pool was a place of both leisure and treatment, but it closed in 2014. The key to accurately dating the image lies in the evolving fashions of swimsuits throughout the 20th century—be sure to read our summary post for deeper insights!

In September, we featured this comedic scene from a 1965-6 McGill theatrical performance by Brian M. Smith.

The image, labelled “Shots of McGill Faculty of Music production,” in our archives invited readers to unravel the mystery behind the actors’ expressions. Published in the 1966 McGill News, the photo and Smith’s article offer a glimpse into McGill’s dynamic theatre scene. Join us in decoding this visual enigma—an “imbroglio” of costumes and expressions.

In October, we embraced the Halloween theme again, sending shivers down our readers’ spines with this eerie clown from our collections.

Crafted from papier-mâché, this glove puppet was created by Rosalynde Osborne Starn for the play “Punch and Judy of Long Ago” around 1923. Starn meticulously crafted an entire ensemble of puppets for this production, all of which are available for viewing in the digital exhibition: “Pulling the Strings: the Rosalynde Stearn Puppet Exhibition.”

In addition to puppets handcrafted by Starn herself, the collection boasts a diverse array of puppets collected from around the world, along with plays, scripts, toy theaters, and sets.

Thanks to Sharon Cohen for an appropriately creepy rhymed verse:

Look into my eyes

You will be hypnotized

If you think I’m friendly

You will be surprised

(sounds of evil laughter)

In November, as we reached the end of our journey, we chose to pay tribute to the driving force behind this series for two years: Photography. This picture captures two McGill students, one holding a camera with determination, while the other poses happily, smiling for a different camera.

Thank you for two incredible years! Subscribe to our newsletter and keep an eye out for what we have in store next.

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