Past exhibits in Special Collections and Rare Books

2022 exhibits: Depicting Dante; Writing Canadian Women (Write) Out of the Archive

View Depicting Dante: The Divine Comedy in Book Art and Illustration (January to March 2022)

The image depicts Dante and Virgil beset by demons, passing through Hell, illustration by Gustave Doré of Dante's Inferno (The Divine Comedy).

About the exhibit

Special Collections and Rare Books is pleased to feature an exhibition of art and book illustrations inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy, in commemoration of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death.

Portrait of Dante Alighieri
Portrait of Dante, after Raphael Morghen. Engraving by R. Young.

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the Italian poet whose great allegory The Divine Comedy has exerted a profound effect on Western literature and thought, was born in Florence in May 1265. He came from a noble—though impoverished—family, descendants from the city's Roman founders, and probably received his early schooling from the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The aristocratic poet, Guido Cavalcanti, was a significant mentor of Dante and strongly influenced his early work. For the young Dante, writing poetry became an important expression of his passion for art and learning, and of his abiding concern with the nature of love and spiritual fulfillment. In 1295, Dante entered public life and emerged within a few years as a prominent figure in Florentine politics. In 1301, however, Dante was banished at once on trumped-up charges of graft, embezzlement, and other transgressions. Later sentenced to death by fire if he returned to Florence, Dante never entered his native city again. Perhaps as early as 1306, Dante began to compose The Divine Comedy. In his final years he was given asylum in Ravenna, where he completed The Divine Comedy shortly before his death in September 1321.



Celestial rose, illustration by Gustave Doré, Dante is looking towards circles of angels
Celestial Rose: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven. Engraving by Gustave Doré.

The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy (La divina commedia in Italian, and originally named La commedia), is a classical epic poem written in Italian circa 1308–21 by Dante Alighieri. It is considered to be one of the world’s great works of literature and one of the greatest narrative poems in any language. Divided into three major sections, Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise), the narrative traces the journey of the protagonist, Dante himself, from darkness and error to the revelation of the divine light. Inferno is a meditation on evil and evil behaviours; Purgatorio is focused on human nature, how we can overcome our human weakness and transcend the fallen state; and Paradiso centres on goodness, redemption, and virtue.

"You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
of others’ bread, how salty it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others' stairs…" Paradiso, Canto XVII


Jean Lamore, Divina Commedia, representation of the circles of hell, pencil on paper
Divina Commedia: Representation of the circles of hell. Illustration by Jean Lamore.

What's on display

Dante is still relevant today, 700 years after his death, and The Divine Comedy has a lasting influence. Dante's extraordinarily rich, visual imagination has inspired many artists throughout history—from manuscript illuminators in the Middle Ages to contemporary illustrators. The Divine Comedy has been adapted in various media, films, manga books, and video games.

This exhibit looks at the impact The Divine Comedy had on artists, authors, and poets throughout the centuries and is intended to introduce users to some of the most famous illustrations of the poem. It includes a selection of illustrations of The Divine Comedy in SFU Library's Special Collections and Rare Books and features a wide range of artists—from Sandro Boticelli, William Blake, Gustave Doré, to African contemporary artists. The exhibit also features one video game from the Games Collection at Fraser Library (SFU Surrey), Dante's Inferno.

"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate." / "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

During and after after the exhibit, readers may consult the illustrations in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room (Room 7100)




2021 exhibits: Early writing materials and technologies; Henry James

Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Dutton Collection of Early Writing Materials and Technologies (September to October 2021)

Dutton Collection of Early Writing Materials and Technologies

This exhibit features items from the collection of emeritus faculty member Paul Dutton. The collection reflects Paul’s interest with the materiality of writing systems; this provides some important context to our book history holdings.

Leaf from a Paris bible (1270)
Leaf from a Paris bible (1270)

The Dutton Collection of Early Writing Materials and Technologies includes incunabula, such as leaves from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a Paris bible (1270), facsimile and authentic cuneiform tablets, parchments and vellums, papyrus, wax tablets and reed pen sets. After the exhibit, readers may consult these titles in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room (Room 7100)

What's on display

The exhibit includes a selection of the material donated by Paul Dutton, once used for teaching his students in the Department of Humanities:


    Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Dr. Paul Delany Donation of Works by Henry James (November to December 2021)

    About the exhibit

    Special Collections and Rare Books is pleased to have recently acquired a collection of 55 first and early editions of books by the American-British writer Henry James (1843-1916).

    Simon Fraser University Special Collections and Rare Books book plate, bearing Paul Delany's donor information
    Dr. Paul Delany's book plates

    Henry James

    Regarded by many as one of the greatest novelists in the English language, Henry James is seen as a key transitional figure between literary realism and modernism.

    New York-born, he was the son of the American theologian Henry James, Sr., and the brother of renowned philosopher and psychologist William James and the diarist Alice James.

    Donor Paul Delany

    The collection was kindly donated by Dr. Paul Delany, SFU professor emeritus of English, a widely published literary scholar. Dr. Delany came to SFU in 1970 with a PhD from University of California, Berkeley, and enjoyed a long and distinguished career at SFU until his retirement in 2004.

    He is the recipient of numerous awards and honours and is a fellow both of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Canada.

    His publications include biographies and critical studies of George Gissing, Rupert Brooke, D.H. Lawrence and various other literary figures, as well as books on the relation of literature to commerce, literature and hypermedia.


    Two copies of The Ambassadors stacked on top of each other on a wooden table.The one on the bottom is bound in dark red and the one on the top is bound in light red. Both have gold text and embellishment.
    Two editions of of James' The Ambassadors

    What's on display

    The exhibit includes a selection of the material donated by Paul Delany, and is supplemented by other James volumes held in SCRB's Rare Book collection.

    The exhibit describes James' works that engage with themes of feminism, personal freedom, the theatre, differences between the New and Old World, and decadence and corruption in English fin de siècle life.


    Close up detail of four books on a wooden table. Two copies of The Awkward Age (one bound in brown and one bound in blue) and The Ambassadors (one bound in dark red and one bound in light red).
    Early editions of James' The Ambassadors and The Awkward Age

    Now available to researchers

    The entirety of Dr. Paul Delany's collection is now catalogued and available to researchers in Special Collections.

    After the exhibit, readers may consult these titles in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room (Room 7100)


    Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Wood Engravings as An Art of Book Illustrating (November 2021–February 2022)

    Wood-engraving illustrations exhibit

    About the exhibit

    This exhibit features a selection of books decorated with wood engraving techniques. The exhibit traces the revival of the engraving as an artful technique of book illustrating in the nineteenth century after it faded away in the sixteenth century.

    The renewed interest in this technique was promoted by Thomas Bewick and William Blake and many followed, including many women artists.This type of artful illustration lost its popularity again in the twentieth century, largely replaced by photography. The wood engraving method was picked up once more in the twenty-first century by the small press establishments that refined wood-engraving methods resulting in an exquisite art form.

    Corn linocut by Jim Rimmer for Shadow River: The Selected and Illustrated Poems of Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)
    Corn linocut by Jim Rimmer for Shadow River: The Selected and Illustrated Poems of Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)
    Frogs by Agnes Miller Parker in Agnes Miller Parker : wood engravings from The fables of Esope ; the story of a remarkable book
    Frogs by Agnes Miller Parker in Agnes Miller Parker : wood engravings from The fables of Esope ; the story of a remarkable book
    Title page of Bewick's Select Fables by Aesop and Others
    Title page of Bewick's Select Fables by Aesop and Others

    What's on display

    The exhibit includes:

    • Wood engraving history including William Blake’s attempt at creating such illustrations
    • Wood engraving methods - presenting a contemporary example of wood-engraving process of Venus and Adonis by Andy English
    • Wood engraving illustrations by naturalist Thomas Bewick
    • Women engravers including Clare Leighton, Gwendolen Reverat, and Agnes Miller Parker
    • Modern engraving by small presses featuring B.C.'s own Barbarian Press
    • Evolution of woodcut to linocut illustrations featuring Jim Rimmer’s linocut blocks used in illustrating of Shadow river: the selected and illustrated poems of Pauline Johnson.

    2020 exhibits: BC fine and private presses; fairy tales and fables

    Visit the Special Collections exhibit: A Decade in British Columbia — Fine and Private Presses (January to February 2020)

    Ephemera from B.C. presses

    We are displaying a small sample of our Book Publishing and Book Arts collections, including monographs and ephemera created by fine and private presses in British Columbia throughout the 2010s, with an emphasis on on book design, typography, illustrations, covers, paper making, and paper choices. 

    Featuring the work of many talented designers, printers, photographers, papermakers, bookbinders, and artists over the last decade, this exhibit highlights the attention to detail and collaboration required to create these limited editions. After the exhibit, readers may consult these titles in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room (Room 7100). 

    What's on display

    The exhibit includes a selection of limited edition books and ephemera, featuring fine press catalogues, prospectuses, invitations, and more, including:

    View the Fairy Tales and Fables Exhibit (January to February 2020)

    This exhibit features a selection of fairy tales and fables mostly published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with stylish illustrations and eye-catching covers to capture readers' interest. After the exhibit, readers may consult these titles in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room (Room 7100). 

    photo of illustrated books exhibit

    photo of illustrated books exhibit including Russian fairy tales

      photo of illustrated books exhibit including Aesop's fables

          Fairy tales

          This exhibit includes: 

          • Two exquisitely-illustrated editions of Arabian Nights
          • Examples of beautifully illustrated Japanese fairy tales,  printed on folded crepe paper
          • Classic Irish, French, and Western-tradition fairy tales
          • Two beautiful facsimile editions of works from Toronto Public Library's Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books
          • Four colorful Russian-language versions of fairy tales that are part of SCRB's Doukhobor Collection
          • An English-language edition of Pushkin’s The Golden Cockerel.


          The selection of fables includes:

          • Four different editions of Aesop’s Fables: two late eighteenth-century editions contain wood engravings by Swain and by J. D. Cooper, and a facsimile of the Osborne Collection edition full of colorful illustrations.
          • 1931 edition of fables by Jean de La Fontaine
          • A two-volume 1793 edition of fables by John Gay, both adorned with elaborate wood engravings.


          2019 exhibits: Venetian Renaissance illustration

          Saints, Sinners and Souvenirs in Venetian Renaissance Illustration (September to November 2019)

          Currently on display at SFU Library Special Collections and Rare Books is "Saints, Sinners and Souvenirs in Venetian Renaissance Illustration,” an exhibition showcasing highlights from SFU Library’s Wosk-McDonald Aldine Collection. The exhibition, curated by Ralph Stanton, former Head of Special Collections and Rare Books at SFU, is a themed collaboration with the Burnaby Art Gallery. The BAG’s exhibition, entitled "Saints, Sinners and Souvenirs: Italian Master Prints and Drawings from Western Canada", features Italian Master prints and drawings from Vancouver-area public and private collections. The exhibitions run until November 17. A catalogue featuring essays by Ralph Stanton, guest curator Dr. Hilary Letwin and Dr. Julian Brooks is available.     

          Display of Aldine books

          About the collection

          The Wosk-McDonald Aldine Collection was established in 1995 at SFU Library under the initiative of then Head of Special Collections Ralph Stanton and with support from Morris and Dr. Yosef Wosk.  Having spent more than 50 years amassing his collection, donor Hugh McDonald and his wife Jerry were eager to place the books produced by Aldus Manutius, the leading Italian Renaissance publisher, printer, and editor, in a Canadian university intent on building a “twenty-first century library for scholars not yet born.”  In the more than twenty years that these 106 exemplars of Italian Renaissance printing have been part of SFU Special Collections, they have been consulted frequently by faculty, students, and researchers in disciplines such as English, History, Art, Humanities, Hellenic Studies, and Publishing. These beautiful works, predominantly dating from 1501-1515, are also a source of inspiration to members of the public with an avid interest in Greek and Latin classics and the aesthetics and history of book making. 


          In his essay published in Festina Lente: A Celebration of the Wosk-McDonald Aldine Collection at Simon Fraser University (1996), Dr. Yosef Wosk noted that, “Gutenberg may have developed mass production moveable type for the Western printing press, but Aldus developed the moveable book.” Thanks to the interest of Publishing@SFU and the skill of the Library’s Digitization Centre, more than 40 titles from the Wosk-McDonald Collection have been digitized. These titles can be consulted from the Library’s digitized collections as well as from a prototype interpretative website. We’d like to think that Aldus himself would approve of such innovative efforts to make his editions more portable to every kind of reader.

          SFU Library is grateful to the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections for a loan of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for this exhibition. We are grateful to the authors Ralph Stanton, Dr. Hilary Letwin, and Dr. Julian Brooks whose words provide the foundation for these collaborative exhibitions. We also acknowledge the continued generosity of donors, especially Jerry, Daniel, David, and Kini McDonald and Ralph Stanton and Dr. Sabine Mabardi who recently enabled us to purchase more Aldines to enhance our already magnificent collection.

          2018 exhibits: Women of Wordsworth

          View the new "Women of the Wordsworth Collection" exhibit (August 2018)

          Special Collections and Rare Books is pleased to announce a new exhibit on the "Women of the Wordsworth Collection" curated by Kate Moffatt, an MA student in the Department of English. Located on the third floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library until August 31, 2018, the exhibit was developed through in-depth research and analysis of the Library's William Wordsworth Collection undertaken by Moffatt during a Directed Study in Special Collections and Rare Books.

          Women of the Wordsworth Collection Exhibit

          Introduction to the "Women of the Wordsworth Collection"

          The Wordsworth Collection in Special Collections and Rare Books at the SFU Library contains an extensive collection of William Wordsworth’s works – which is to be expected from a collection titled “The Wordsworth Collection.” What is less expected, however, but no less valuable, is the collection’s inclusion of many women writers published during the late Romantic and early Victorian period. This exhibit seeks to introduce you to a few of these women – to both showcase their works and provide the opportunity to appreciate authors whose gender often affected the critical attention they received.

          William Wordsworth (1770–1850) was a famed Romantic poet most well-known for Lyrical Ballads, the collection of poetry he published with his friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He lived in the Lake District in Northern England for much of his life, and is widely associated with the area due to his extensive writing on the subject of nature (much of which he observed on daily walks through the area).


          The women in the collection are all related to Wordsworth in some form or another: they are contemporaries from the period, such as Ann Radcliffe; authors of the Lake District, such as Harriet Martineau; or related to Wordsworth himself, as is the case with Dorothy and Dora Wordsworth. But each of these women – along with the others in this exhibit: Helen Maria Williams, Elizabeth Lynn Linton, and Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington – carry value beyond their reflection of, or relation to, Wordsworth and his works.

          Dorothy Wordsworth’s observations of nature in her posthumously published journals compare to (and occasionally inspired) Wordsworth’s; Dora Wordsworth, Helen Maria Williams, and Ann Radcliffe wrote and published journals of their travels through various parts of Europe; the Countess of Blessington published extensively, both travel narratives and novels, as a means of income; and Elizabeth Lynn Linton and Harriet Martineau, both female journalists at various points in their careers, wrote works describing the walking tours of the Lake District and its mountains. Their talents as varied as their lives, these women make up only a small portion of the women writers in the Wordsworth Collection.

          This exhibit hopes to introduce you to who these particular women were and prompt, perhaps, a curiosity about the many other accomplished women in both the Collection and the period.

          Reflections of the Curator

          "Working with the Wordsworth Collection to create this exhibit has been a bit of a dream - I've been studying Dorothy Wordsworth since my undergrad, and women's authorship has always been a focus of mine. There are more than 70 works by women in the Wordsworth Collection, despite its focus on the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and this exhibit allowed me to really showcase a few of them. It's been a neat experience, working in Special Collections - there's something very magical about touching and working with physical copies of texts that existed when your favourite authors did." -- Kate Moffatt

          2017 exhibits: "Allied Arts' Affirmative;" modern first editions; Canada 150; student-curated exhibits; Alcuin Society awards

          Visit the "Robert R. Reid: ‘Allied Arts’ Affirmative" Exhibition (January to March 2017)

          Special Collections and Rare Books is pleased to announce the following exhibition produced by the CAUSA Research Curators, and located on the 3rd floor and 7th floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library (SFU Burnaby).

          A fifth generation Canadian (b.1927), Robert R. Reid, at age fourteen, taught himself to operate a ‘hand press’ –so as to channel his absorbing interest in the practicalities of letterpress printing.

          His subsequent association with architects, landscape designers, poets, graphic artists (and editors for magazines and journals) has become emblematic of a post-WWII ‘Allied Arts’ Movement in Canada.

          In 1949, in an introduction to the first ‘artisanal’ private press book printed in Canada -- his redesigned edition of Alfred Waddington’s The Fraser Mines Vindicated (1858) -- Reid remarks: “Fine books have literary value … but it is their value as works of art which distinguishes them from other books.” In 1962, he became the first ‘design practitioner’ to be awarded a Canada Council Visual Arts Award.

          Having taught printing and graphic design at the Vancouver School of Art [now Emily Carr University of Art and Design], from 1957 to 1962, Reid moved to Montreal. He functioned, there, as Director of Design and Production for McGill University Press. Subsequently, before returning to Vancouver in 1997, he remained active as a freelance designer in New Haven and New York City,

          Robert R. Reid’s current practice sustains a digital-experimental typographer’s teleportation presence –and a mindful/regenerative global village aesthetic. In that regard, the present exhibition presents an assemblage of documents generated between 1949 and 2017. Components of the present exhibition will be intermittently replaced (and/or rearranged), in order to maximize the scope of an exploratory curatorial initiative. 

          About the curators

          Developing from affiliations with the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research (as  initiated by Joseph Beuys and Heinrich Böll), CAUSA – Collective for Advanced and Unified Studies in the Visual Arts – aims to develop autonomous scholarly analysis and interpretation of visual culture (including problems of intelligibility) within specific historical contexts. CAUSA functions in association with a 'global village' network of  independent and institutional scholars – in tandem with a pluralistic community of socially engaged contemporary artists.

          Robert R. Reid Typographical Image: Hope is the opposite of security
          Robert R. Reid, TYPOGRAPHICAL IMAGE. Digital design, 2016.
          Cover of book: Emily Carr: The Innocence of Trees
          THE INNOCENCE OF TREES: EMILY CARR + AGNES MARTIN, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, 2010.
          Designed by Robert R. Reid (Vancouver), this publication was supported by the Doris Shadbolt Endowment Fund for the Arts and the Canada Council for the Arts.
          Mao Tse-Tung: The Swimmer; The River.
          Robert R. Reid, TYPOGRAPHICAL IMAGE, digital design. 2017. [Included in poet John Newlove's first book, GRAVE SIRS --as published at the private press of Robert R. Reid and Takao Tanabe-- this now  'revivified' text functions as an augmentation of the current SFU Library exhibition.]

          Highlights of the Paul Whitney Collection of modern first editions on display (April to May 2017)

          Alice Munro panel from the Paul Whitney Collection

          Currently on display outside Special Collections and Rare Books is a selection of recently arrived material from a major collection of modern literary first editions. The collection was donated to Simon Fraser University Library by the former City Librarian of Vancouver, Paul Whitney, a lifelong collector.

          The Whitney donation consists chiefly of numerous in-depth collections of the works and various editions of leading modern British, Canadian, American and world writers, including Martin Amis, J.G. Ballard, William Boyd, William Burroughs, Peter Carey, Angela Carter, J.M. Coetzee, Mavis Gallant, B.S. Johnson, Malcolm Lowry, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields, William Vollmann, David Foster Wallace, and many others.

          The collections are comprised of rare and valuable volumes and first editions, including signed and advance copies, as well as more common books.  In addition, the donation includes a smaller number of works in translation, plus in-depth collections of several leading literary and fine presses, including McSweeney's (San Francisco), Gaspereau (Nova Scotia), and Blackfish (Vancouver).

          Visit the "Celebrating Canada 150: Nineteenth Century First Editions Published on and in Canada" exhibit (May to June 2017)

          Canada 150 first editions exhibit panel

          Exploration, the fur trade, the railway… All well-known components of Canada’s history in becoming a nation. This exhibit, by SFU MA Candidate in English Reese Irwin, reflects this past in first edition books published either in Canada, America, or Britain, and showcases a nation on either side of confederation during the nineteenth century. The books date fairly evenly from either side of 1867, with eleven titles pre-confederation and ten after. 

          All books but two are from the Canadian History Collection within Special Collections, and showcase a range of genres, from fictional narratives to travel writing to railway reports. The publication of these titles in Canada, as well as in Britain and America, demonstrate an increasing interest in Canada, particularly Vancouver Island and British Columbia, as colonies and as places of potential emigration. With this exhibit, Irwin has tried to capture that expansion and how the world envisioned our northern nation in the midst of its formation.

          This exhibit was created as part of a Directed Studies in Special Collections and Rare Books course offered through the Department of English.

          Visit Special Collections and Rare Books exhibits curated by English 377 (June to August 2017)

          Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB) is pleased to announce two new exhibits curated by English 377 Field School I students (Instructor Michelle Levy) and on display on the third floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library. Each exhibit focuses on a distinct selection of rare books held by SCRB.

          The British Imposition: Eighteenth-Century Exploration Narratives on North American Indigenous Women

          Curators: Bernice Puzon, Courtenay Connor, Hannah Guse, Kate Moffatt, Maggie McKoen, Vicky Chio, Zakkiyya Khan for English 377

          The British Imposition exhibit by English 377

          This exhibit examines representations of North American Indigenous women in the exploration narratives of three European explorers: James Cook, George Vancouver, and Samuel Hearne. Cook and Vancouver travelled up the North West coast of North America, encountering Indigenous populations throughout their travels in 1778 and 1792, while Samuel Hearne, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, went on extended expeditions near Hudson’s Bay with Indigenous guides in 1771. Each explorer provided descriptions of the Indigenous populations they encountered, and this project aims to exhibit, through these first editions of their exploration narratives, how these British explorers imposed their own European ideals and values onto the women they encountered, and how ideas of the Indigenous female were constructed and communicated through the male voice.

          We would like to formally acknowledge that SFU is located on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

          We would like to thank the staff of Special Collections, Melanie Hardbattle, David Kloepfer, Judith Polson, and Tony Power; and Rebecca Dowson and Ian Song who assisted with digitization. We are also grateful for the support of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences who supported this course with a FASS 150 grant.


          Poverty in Poetry and Print: Contact between social classes in Romantic era England

          Curators: "ENGL 377: The Wordsworth Circle": Grace Chen, Joshua Graham, Gurleen Grewal, Nick McLeod, Tanya Taneva, Joanne Xiao, Carina Yuen

          Poverty in Poetry and Print exhibit by English 377

          The Lyrical Ballads, originally published in 1798, was the product of the labours of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Radically divergent in its time, it adapted “the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society … to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” Although the collection initially had a modest reception, its reputation and influence, along with that of Wordsworth and Coleridge, has grown with the expanded editions published in 1800 and 1802, and beyond. The concern extended for the impoverished within these poems had a profound effect on what could acceptably be addressed in poetry.

          The poems collected in this display attempt to embody this sensibility of the Wordsworth Circle. However, the print of Gin Lane imagines lower class life in London as a morass occupied by filthy, debauched heathens; such a representation, though in striking contrast with the sentiments expressed in the writings of Wordsworth and Coleridge, was prevalent in eighteenth-century England.

          We would like to thank the staff of Special Collections, Melanie Hardbattle, David Kloepfer, Judith Polson, and Tony Power; and Rebecca Dowson and Ian Song who assisted with digitization. We are also grateful for the support of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences who supported this course with a FASS 150 grant. 


          View the 2016 Winners of the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada (July to August 2017)

          2016 Alcuin Book Design winners display, Comics panel

          Since 1981, the Alcuin Society has sponsored the oldest competition recognizing fine book design in the country, the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. Every year, The Alcuin Society generously donates a selection of the annual award winners to SFU Library’s Special Collections & Rare Books Division. The Alcuin Society Collection is part of our larger Book History Collection. On display is a selection of award winners from the following categories:

          • Children
          • Comics
          • Pictorial
          • Poetry
          • Prose Illustrated
          • Reference

          2016 exhibits: Komagata Maru documents; Wordsworth Country; Charles Olson

          Komagata Maru documents on display in Special Collections (May 2016)

          Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru, Vancouver 1914 (VPL 6226)
          Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru, Vancouver 1914 (VPL 6226)

          On May 18, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a statement of apology for the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons.

          On May 23, 1914, a crowded ship from Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers, most being immigrants from Punjab, British India, arrived in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet on the west coast of the Dominion of Canada. The passengers, all British subjects, were challenging the Continuous Passage regulation, which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship." The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 in an effort to curb Indian immigration to Canada. As a result, the Komagata Maru was denied docking by the authorities and only twenty returning residents, and the ship's doctor and his family were eventually granted admission to Canada. Following a two month stalemate, the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military on July 23, 1914 and forced to sail back to Budge-Budge, India where nineteen of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.


            Arjan Singh Brar
            Arjan Singh Brar

            In 2014, nearly 100 years after the Komagata Maru incident, Mr. Amarjit Singh Brar and his family donated to Simon Fraser University Library, Special Collections and Rare Books a suitcase full of his father’s documents, scrapbooks, diaries, photographs and other unique items chronicling the history of South Asians in Vancouver from the time of the Komagata Maru. Arjan Singh Brar originally came to Canada in 1926. An active member of the pioneer South Asian Canadian community, he held numerous roles with the Khalsa Diwan Society at Vancouver’s first Sikh Temple located at 1866 West Second Avenue, and was at the centre of the religious, political, economic and social life of the community.

            The Arjan Singh Brar Collection contains many original records documenting the Komagata Maru incident from the local South Asian community and others' perspectives, several of which will be on display at Special Collections from May 16 to May 18. These include:

            • Arjan Singh Brar’s diary. Started in the 1920’s, it documents the history of the community beginning in 1904 and ending in 1947. A significant highlight of the diary is its account of the Komagata Maru episode from a South Asian perspective – recorded chronologically is the community’s response to the ship’s arrival, including the activities of the Shore Committee, and events leading to the ship’s eventual departure
            • An alternate version of the official Komagata Maru passenger list, written in Punjabi
            • Letters from J. Edward Bird, the attorney for the Komagata Maru passengers, to the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver concerning Bird’s correspondence with Gurdit Singh and his son Balwant Singh
            • Scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings documenting early South Asian history in Vancouver, in particular the Komagata Maru incident

            To learn more about the Komagata Maru incident and to view related material visit the SFU Library's website Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey.

            Page 19 of diary documenting events during the Komagata Maru incident
            Page 19 of diary documenting events during the Komagata Maru incident
            A selection of items from the Arjan Singh Brar Collection
            A selection of items from the Arjan Singh Brar Collection


            Visit the "Wordsworth Country: The English Lake District and the Pacific Northwest" Exhibition (June to October 2016)

            Two engravings of Lake District landscapes

            This joint exhibition with the Wordsworth Trust celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Simon Fraser University and is inspired by the Lake District as a renowned cultural heritage site and popular tourist destination.

            Curated by Dr. Margaret Linley and her team, the exhibition explores the enduring impact of the life and writings of William Wordsworth on the Canadian Pacific Northwest’s literary and visual responses to nature. It showcases a range of Lake District travel writing, poetry and rare postcards from SFU Library’s Special Collections.

            Comparisons between the Lake District and British Columbia landscapes reveal how the remarkable influence of ideas that would eventually be associated with Wordsworth Country travelled the globe. In particular, we explore Wordsworth’s call to preserve and sustain what we now call “green space” for all to enjoy.

            The exhibition is located at the W.A.C. Bennett Library -- on the 3rd floor and in Special Collections & Rare Books, Room 7100. An online version of this exhibition is also available on the Lake District Online website, a bibliographic database and digital archives aimed at studying book ecology and migrating collections in a global context.

            View a selection of volumes from the Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson's books in Special Collections (November to December 2016)

            Olson copy of Israel Potter: his fifty years of exile
            Israel Potter : his fifty years of exile by Herman Melville (New York : Putnam, 1855). A gift from Charles Olson in 1935 to the grand-daughter of Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick and the subject of Olson's first book, Call me Ishmael (1947). Dr. Maud purchased this copy in 2012 from a Connecticut rare book dealer.

            A selection of volumes from Dr. Ralph Maud's collection of books relating to Charles Olson is currently on display in front of Special Collections and Rare Books, Room 7100 at the W.A.C. Bennett Library.

            Ralph Maud (1928-2014) grew up in Yorkshire, England and received his B.A. and PhD. degrees from Harvard University.  He was the first professor hired by the SFU English Department upon its founding and taught at the university from 1965 until his retirement in 1993. 

            Dr. Maud was a leading authority on the work of the American poet Charles Olson (1910-1970).  Over a period of many years - beginning not long after he first encountered the poet in 1963 as a fellow English instructor at the State University of New York (Buffalo) - Dr. Maud produced a large body of Olson scholarship. Among his many books on the poet is Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography (1996), a study of the poet's life by way of his reading - which was vast - and his library.


            In preparation for this book and subsequently spurred on by it Maud began to reconstruct and replicate Olson's library, the original of which is with the poet's archive at the University of Connecticut. Over time the 'Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson's Books' grew to more than 4,000 volumes, quite a few of them including Olson's annotations, which Maud painstakingly copied from the originals into the 'replica' books.

            Although the collection was largely comprised of copies it also included a number of 'originals', i.e. books that the poet had in fact owned and in many cases signed, inscribed, annotated, jotted notes in, and in at least one case outlined one of his books in. Maud donated his Olson 'originals' to Bennett Library's Special Collections & Rare Books Division over the past decade, while the larger 'replica' library is now housed in the poet's hometown of Gloucester, MA by the local writer's center. 

            Recently the SFU volumes have been catalogued and placed in the Library's Contemporary Literature Collection, a large special collection of modern English-language avant-garde poetry with Olson at its center that Dr. Maud himself founded upon his arrival at SFU. The display will be featured until December 23.

            2015 exhibits: Thank you to donors; Robin Blaser; Komagata Maru; William Morris

            Special Collections and Rare Books thanks donors (July to August 2015)

            Every year Special Collections and Rare Books received donations of books and manuscripts. These donations help the University support its missions of research and teaching, and the donated items can be securely housed as a valuable legacy for future scholars.

            Special Collections and Rare Books thanks our donors for entrusting us with their donations. Thank you very much!

            A selection of the donations received in the past year is currently on display in the Special Collections and Rare Books cases on the third floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library, SFU Burnaby.

            Shown is one of the images on display, taken from the Pacific Tribune Photograph Collection.

            people in front of Patricia Hotel
            Downtown Eastside Residents Association, (DERA) outside the Patricia Hotel protesting evictions leading up to the Expo 86 World Fair.  February 27, 1986

            Visit the Robin Blaser display and learn about this captivating poet, editor, and essayist (September to October 2015)

            Robin Blaser photograph

            Former SFU professor Robin Blaser (1925-2009) came north to Vancouver from San Francisco in 1966 to join the newly established SFU English Dept.  He taught at the university for two decades, during which time he proved a charismatic and inspiring teacher, as well as a practicing poet, editor and essayist with a steadily rising international reputation.

            As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration Bennett Library's Special Collections & Rare Books Division has mounted a display on Blaser's life and work.  Materials are drawn from the extensive Blaser archive, housed in the Contemporary Literature Collection of Special Collections and Rare Books.

            Visit the exhibit: Komagata Maru & beyond: A cultural history of Indo-Canadians (September to October 2015)

            Komagata Maru exhibit

            You are invited to view an exhibit on the Komagata Maru & beyond: A cultural history of Indo-Canadians.  It is a part of the “Traditional India Series” of events being held from September 25 to 27, 2015 for BC Culture Days. This exhibit showcases the cultural history of the Indo-Canadian community in Canada.  Some of the themes covered in the exhibit include, the struggle for obtaining “the right to vote” (withheld from 1904 to 1947), stories of pioneers, and workers’ rights.

            The year 2015 marks the 101st anniversary of the incident of the Komagata Maru, which challenged the discriminatory Order-In-Council popularly known as the “Continuous Journey Legislation.” In 2008, both the federal and the provincial governments issued an apology for the discriminatory legislation that had turned away the passengers.

            This display includes some of the original documents featured on the web site, Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey, which documents the history of the Indo-Canadian community, featuring a rich digital repository of biographies, books, diaries, documents, interviews, letters, memoirs, oral histories, photographs, and many other formats. The original items on display are from SFU Special Collections.


            Robert Coupe Collection of works by and about William Morris (December 2015)

            In November 2015, the SFU Library recognized the generous donation by Dr. Robert and Rosemary Coupe of an extensive and significant collection of rare books, pamphlets and other items by and about William Morris.

            Collector Dr. Robert L. M. Coupe

            Inspired by Philip Henderson’s biography of William Morris in the early 1970s, Dr. Robert Coupe purchased his first Morris book -- a new edition of Cupid and Psyche -- approximately forty years ago. Over the intervening decades, he visited book fairs and rare book shops, acquired the services of book dealers locally and internationally and, eventually, used the internet to build up an extraordinary and comprehensive collection of well over 1,000 items either by or relating to William Morris.

            Dr. Coupe’s interest in the illustrated editions of Morris’ work led him to write his own book Illustrated Editions of the Works of William Morris in English published by the Oak Knoll Press and British Library in 2002. A second edition was published in 2011.

            Collection highlights

            Dr. Coupe's collection represents the diverse range of William Morris' activities as a writer, typographer, and socialist activist. Some of the highlights of the collection include:

            • An extensive collection of volumes published by Morris' Kelmscott Press, including multiple editions of some of the works 
            • Rare pamphlets and books relating to Morris' socialist activities
            • Copies of Morris' Icelandic saga translations

            Kelmscott Press book from Robert Coupe Collection

            About William Morris

            William Morris (1834-1896) was an English artist and textile designer, poet, novelist, typographer, and socialist activist. He is considered to be one of the most influential figures in Britain during the Victorian era. Associated with the British Arts & Craft movement, Morris’s designs became a major influence on Victorian interior design and decoration. A founder of both the Socialist League and the Hammersmith Socialist Society, Morris was an active proponent of Socialism in the 1880s.

            In addition to producing English translations of many Icelandic sagas and classical texts, Morris published his own prose romances and epic poems, such as The Earthly Paradise (1868-1870) and A Dream of John Ball (1888).

            In 1890 Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, close to his home, Kelmscott House, in Hammersmith. Basing them upon German and Italian typography of the 1400s, he designed three typefaces: Golden, Chaucer and Troy. Before his death in 1896, Morris printed sixty-six limited edition illuminated-style print book volumes at the press, the most celebrated being the 1896 edition of Chaucer.