Past exhibits in Special Collections and Rare Books

2024 exhibits: Archival Oddities

Archival Oddities: Discovering the unexpected in Special Collections and Rare Books (January to April 2024)

About the exhibit: What's in an archive?

Clockwise from top: Plant this book by Richard Brautigan; Death and Trauma by Rob McLennan; [The worm is devoted to digestion] by Mark Laba
Clockwise from top: Please plant this book by Richard Brautigan; Death and Trauma by Rob McLennan; [The worm is devoted to digestion] by Mark Laba.


As guardians of historical documentation, archives are known to contain manuscripts, primary and published materials, rare books, and archival materials. However, even we that work in Special Collections & Rare Books are surprised to discover items that depart from the conventional inside our vast collections. 

As the name suggests, Archival Oddities is an exhibit that showcases a collection of unusual and intriguing items that one might not expect to find in an archive. The exhibit features a diverse range of materials including toy robots, a poem made of dirt, a book with a dried worm, spoons, floppy disks, figurines, video games, a poem of seeds, wooden spoons, textiles, and more. 

These items illustrate that archives are not just about preserving the past, but also about exploring the unexpected and the unconventional.

What's on display?

Hand-knit textiles, wooden spoons, and iron nails from MsC-121 Doukhobor collection. The textiles and kitchen tools are examples of Doukhobor craftsmanship. The spikes and nails were gathered by Tom McGauley during his research into Doukhobor affairs during the hearings of the Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations (1982-1986) and are said the be from the death site of prominent Doukhobor leader Peter Vasilevich Verigin. 

2023 exhibits: Ex Libris Robin Blaser; Phyllis Webb Memorial Reading; Anfield Collection; From Draft to Book; Indigenous Storytelling; IMAGeNation

Peek into the personal library of renowned Canadian-American poet Robin Blaser (March to May 2023)

Ex Libris Robin Blaser: "New American" Companions

Portrait of Robin Blaser

About Robin Blaser

Robin Blaser (1925–2009) was a North American poet who came to SFU from San Francisco in 1966 to take a faculty position in the English Department. He taught for 20 years, during which he proved a charismatic teacher and an influential poet, editor, and essayist with a growing international reputation. In 1972 he became a Canadian citizen and in 2005 was appointed to the Order of Canada. He was awarded the country's top poetry prize—the Griffin Poetry Prize—in 2008 for his opus major, The Holy Forest. In later years his collected writings were published by the University of California Press; he also has been the subject recently of a scholarly biography.

Blaser's library

Blaser's personal library contained thousands of books on a wide range of subjects, especially in the arts and humanities, and especially literary. Many of the books were top quality and quite a few were rare. Although the Library was unable to accept all the Blaser books (many are duplicates of books already owned) hundreds of volumes are being retained, including many books of poetry and modern literature—especially those of the "New American Poets" and Canadian confederates. These include rare and interesting material by Blaser himself and by his contemporary "New American" companions, the poets Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan and Charles Olson. The exhibit focuses on works from the Blaser library by these four poets.


Photograph of the entrance to Robin Blaser's library, filled with many books, sculptures, and objects. This photograph was taken by photographer Christos Dikeakos

Robin Blaser's study and part of his library. Photograph by Christos Dikeakos.

Three editions of Donald Allen's The New American Poetry

About the exhibit

This exhibit features a selection of books from the library of (or in Latin, ex libris) Robin Blaser, donated to SFU Library in 2020.  

Blaser's library was very large and far-ranging. Hundreds of high-quality, often rare books from it are going into Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB). Most will go to the Contemporary Literature Collection, SCRB's collection of 20th- and 21st-century literature that is the largest and oldest of our special collections.  

The exhibit features selected items relating to Robin Blaser's own work as a "New American" poet in San Francisco in the 1950s and '60s, plus that of three of his close contemporary associates and allies: the poets Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson.


What's on display

The exhibit includes:

Bust of Jack Spicer and his book of collected works

A bust of poet, Jack Spicer with a Poet Be Like God, a comprehensive biography of the pivotal poet

Editions of Charles Olson's works

Editions of Charles Olson's works Mayan Letters and The Maximus Poems

Editions of Robert Duncan's works

A biography and the collected works of Robert Duncan

View the exhibit, Beyond the Vision Tree: Phyllis Webb in Conversation (April to August 2023)

Web banner for the exhibit, featuring a photograph of Phyllis Webb from 1948, and a headshot of Cecily Nicholson

Portrait of Phyllis Webb

About Phyllis Webb

Phyllis Webb (1927–2021) was a celebrated Canadian poet, broadcaster, and a major Canadian cultural figure from the 1950s through the 1980s. Webb published ten celebrated collections of poetry and prose and co-founded the CBC Radio program Ideas (in 1965).

When “words abandoned” her in the early 1990s and she was no longer able to write, she took up photography, photo collage, and eventually painting. Phyllis often took on the roles of mentor and mentee, pushing the boundaries of scholarly expectation and writing about the full confrontation of both death and suicide in her work.

Her poetry collection, The Vision Tree, won the Governor General’s Literary award for poetry in 1982. Phyllis went on to win the Canada Council award in both 1981 and 1987, and became an officer of the Order of Canada in 1992.



Such a legacy has inspired the Phyllis Webb Memorial Reading, which honours a Canadian poet with a cash award and a celebration of their work. This event will occur each April and will be organized and administered by the Poetry in Canada Society.

About the exhibit

Beyond the Vision Tree: Phyllis Webb in Conversation puts Webb's personal archival materials in conversation with the personal collection of Cecily Nicholson, the winner of the first annual Phyllis Webb Memorial Reading award.

Webb's work often centered around death, politics, and the power of passiveness. By taking a look at her letters, images, and legacy from her personal archive, both readers and writers can better understand what it meant to approach broadcasting and writing with a philosophical and meaningful lens, spanning from the late 1960’s up until her death in November 2021. This exhibit is curated by Bianca Weima, a Bachelor of Arts candidate in English and Publishing at Simon Fraser University.

What's on display?

Notable materials from Webb's archive that will be on display include:

  • early and rare editions of Webb's works
  • medals and other materials related to Webb's Order of Canada
  • photographs of Webb throughout her life and career
  • cassette tapes and other ephemera

As a complement to these materials, the exhibit will also feature some of Cecily Nicholson's personal archival materials, alongside published works from Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, Junie Désil, and Stephen Collis.

Editions of Phyllis Webb's Naked Poems, Even Your Right Eye, and two broadsides of Grape Vine and The Bowl

A contact sheet of headshots of Phyllis Webb, 1981. Photographs by Fred Katz

Two cassette tapes of a recording of several Canadian poets, including Phyllis Webb, for the CBC in 1965

View Visual Voyages: Selections from the Anfield Collection (April to May 2023)

Visual Voyages banner image featuring editions with ornate bindings from the Anfield Collection stacked on top of one another

About the exhibit

SFU Library is delighted to showcase selections from this remarkable collection of 79 antiquarian books on the topic of voyages of European exploration in the Pacific and Arctic.

Inspired by a love for the sea and maritime history, SFU alumnus and donor Frank Anfield began acquiring these texts over 50 years ago. Primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries, the collection includes books by explorers such as James Cook, George Vancouver, Alexander Mackenzie, and Roald Amundsen.

In gifting the Anfield Collection to SFU Library, Anfield has enabled readers to engage with colonial perspectives in more nuanced ways, including by reading them alongside archeological records and Indigenous histories (oral and written).

Ornately bound editions from the Anfield Collection stacked on top of each other, including voyages by Cook, Forster, and Mofras

A page of an atlas from the Anfield Collection


What's on display?

Highlights of the collection include the first English language edition (1772) of the official French expedition led by navigator Louis de Bougainville. This expedition included botanist Jeanne Baré who became the first woman known to have circumnagivated the globe.

Another notable title is the first English language edition (1908) of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s 1903-1907 voyage, the first European expedition to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage.

These voyages included professional artists and scientists who were charged with documenting plants, animals, and weather patterns; charting maps; and recording the Indigenous peoples and cultures already inhabiting these places.

The items selected for display convey the rich and wide variety of illustrations, maps, and charts on offer in these texts.

Second French edition of the Voyage of George Vancouver, depicting an engraved illustration of an abandoned village in Australia

First edition atlas of a Spanish voyage to Nootka Sound and the Northwest Coast, inside a marble clamshell box, open to an engraved illustration of people by a body of water


Explore From Draft to Book : A Journey Through the Publishing Process (May to December 2023)

About the exhibit: What is book publishing?

The process of publishing a book involves a series of steps from draft to submission, acquisition, editing, design, printing, sales, marketing, and finally publication.

SFU Library Special Collections & Rare Books is home to a variety of material that represents every stage of the publishing process.

The archival fonds of writers like Eden Robinson, Fred Wah, Lynn Coady, Shani Mootoo, Michael McClure, Lisa Robertson and many more include early drafts of published poetry and fiction.

The fonds of publishers like Douglas and McIntyre, Barbarian Press, New Star Books, Nightwood Editions, Talonbooks and other offer example of the business activities of a publisher and the journey of a work from submission to publication.

On exhibit are examples from a range of holdings representing the process of publishing a physical book.

What's on display

The exhibit includes:

  • rejections
  • book proposals
  • drafts
  • editorial correspondence
  • manuscripts and typescripts
  • production graphics
  • design mock-ups
  • proofs and galleys
  • published books

Material is drawn from:

  • MsC-138 Douglas & McIntyre fonds
  • MsC-8 Talonbook fonds
  • MsC-100 New Star books fonds
  • MsC-104 Eden Robinson fonds
  • MsC-75 Lynn Coady fonds
  • MsC-76 Shani Mootoo fonds
  • Contemporary Literature Collection
  • Paul Whitney Collection
  • and more!

Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Indigenous Storytelling from the Lutz Collection (September to December 2023)

Open books of Coyote stories and Medicine Boy and other Cree tales

About the exhibit

This exhibit features a selection of books from the Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature, donated to SFU Library's Special Collections and Rare Books in 2018.

Indigenous storytelling is a traditional way to pass on the ancestral teachings and knowledge to new generations. The stories provide teachings about Indigenous beliefs, customs, values and relationships, ceremonies and practices. In other words, storytelling is form of teaching and a way to transfer knowledge about ways of knowing and being.

The exhibit selection represents storytelling and their adaptation in Canada and the United States. The display showcases authors from various Nations across the North American continent, but it is not exhaustive. The exhibit also presents stories that were told to and adapted by non-indigenous authors.

Want to learn more about Indigenous storytelling? Check out these resources!


What's on display

The exhibit includes:

2 books on the table: Coyote Stories and Medicie Boy and other Cree Tales

four books on the table including stories of Iroquois, Sto:lo, and Cherokee

Indigenous storytelling books

About the collection

The Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature contains over 1000 books by Canadian and American Indigenous authors and on Indigenous subjects.

Hartmut Lutz is professor emeritus and former chair of American and Canadian Studies: Anglophone Literatures and Cultures of North America at the University of Greifswald, Germany. He is founder of the Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, a research centre for Canadian and American literature studies. Over the course of his career, much of Dr. Lutz’s research has focused on Canadian culture and Indigenous literature.

Experience the Power of IMAGeNation: materials from the Indigenous Media Arts Group archive (September to December 2023)

About the exhibit: The Power of IMAGeNation: materials from the Indigenous Media Arts Group archive

The Indigenous Media Arts Group, or IMAG (pronounced “image”), was a Vancouver-based organization founded in early 1998 to promote the development and dissemination of Indigenous media, arts, and culture.

IMAG organized the highly successful IMAGeNation Aboriginal Film and Video Festival, which was held annually in Vancouver from 1998 to 2006. Early festival included works produced, written or directed by Indigenous media makers from Canada. By the 2000s, the festival received submissions from Indigenous media makers from around the world.

In order to bring Indigenous film to rural communities in British Columbia, IMAG organized a traveling film festival that was held in Prince Rupert, Duncan and Enderby in 1999 and 2005.

Members of IMAG facilitated workshops and training programs in media and administration, and operated a resource centre for Indigenous people, access information about media arts, and equipment for film and video making.

IMAG held its first media training program in 2000 and continued to offer training in subsequent years, including themed training programs, such “Healing Hands: Voices of Resistance” and “Repatriation: Returning Home” in 2004-2005.

[Van East Cinema marquee with IMAGeNation festival]. MsC-209-12-17.
Randy Redroad workshop, part 3. MsC-209-12-26.

What's on display

The exhibit includes:

  • publicity materials
  • photographs
  • film festival programs
  • materials related to the administration of the organization
  • objects, including a t-shirt and an award!

Material is selected from:

Want to view more materials from the collection? Check out the IMAGeNation digitized collection on SFU Digitized Collections!

2022 exhibits: Depicting Dante; Writing Canadian Women; CUPE BC; Bindings and Beyond; bpNichol; Diaries; Indigenous Poetry

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)


Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Writing Canadian Women (Write) Out of the Archive (March to April 2022)

About the exhibit

For this exhibit, six participants—Pantea Fard, Robin Mitchell Cranfield, Linda M. Morra, Donald Shipton, Olivia Visser, and Angela Wachowich—were invited to choose one woman writer in Canada whose archive is located at Simon Fraser University Library Special Collections and Rare Books. The scope may have been vast in view of the extensive holdings of this institution, but each of the six responses was crafted in response to a more narrowly focused archival specimen currently featured in this exhibit. The materials selected consistently emerged from a woman writer’s archive from the late twentieth century up to a more recent moment and included Lisa Robertson, Eden Robinson (Haisla/Heiltsuk), Anita Rau Badami, Ann Diamond, and Shani Mootoo.

The materials exhibited for Writing Canadian Women (Write) Out of the Archive render clear how the archive may extend and shape our understanding—about a woman writer’s writerly aspirations, literary strategies, and oeuvre; about the political commitments and contexts that inform and give rise to the very form the materials assume; and about the kinds of private contradictions that might not otherwise be visible to public readers of their books. Being in the archives allows for a more privileged appreciation, which this exhibit means to share with a wider audience. These archival materials enrich our understanding of the range of and limits to literary practices and to fomenting political contexts that render authorial intentions more clear—or, at times, more complex.

The challenges the participants encountered were immediately apparent by the questions the materials themselves posed: To what were these archival materials responding? What about women writers who were identified as “Canadian” in various media outlets but did not self-identify as such? How did media outlets contradict more personal or private assessments of authors and what were the implications? What about the more uncanny elements of the archived materials about which women writers may not have been initially aware, only grasping more fully the narrative they had captured at the time the archive was established? How conscious were these women writers of the kind of power to which they were laying claim as expressed through their work—and through the archive?

Podcast cover on a pink and reddish background featuring the letters "GLWL," an abbreviation for "Getting Lit with Linda".

The archive, as these participants understood, may be approached as a staging of power, conferring recognition, reinscribing dominant structures, and securing historical legacies. The arkhē, that place of election “where law and singularity intersect in privilege,” as Jacques Derrida would hold, did not include women for centuries. This exhibit thus ultimately offers one corrective to the exclusion of women from archives, who were at one time not seen as carrying sufficient ontological weight and therefore not seen as worthy of such inclusion.

Learn more

Explore more about Canadian literature on Linda M. Morra's podcast, Getting Lit with Linda. In her recent episode, "'Of What Use is Poetry at a Time Like This?' An Interview with Shani Mootoo," she chats with Shani Mootoo about her forthcoming book of poetry, Cane Fire (Book *Hug) and the collaborative nature of its production. Morra also talks with Mootoo about the materials she chose from the Shani Mootoo fonds that appear in Writing Canadian Women (Write) Out of the Archive.

Organized by the Farley Distinguished Visiting Scholar (Linda Morra).


Discover Visible Labour, a Special Collections exhibit (May to August 2022)

Visible Labour: Activism and Solidarity in the CUPE B.C. fonds exhibit banner showing a CUPE rally at the Peace Arch

What's on display?

Carved wooden CUPE sign

Donated by CUPE B.C., this fonds represents the history of the B.C. Division of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) from CUPE’s inception in 1963 and into the 21st century. 

The exhibit contains a selection of representative material.


The fonds includes:

  • Early NUPE (National Union of Public Employees) records
  • Convention proceedings, committee reports, agendas and resolutions
  • Transcripts and cassettes from the 1960s to 2000s
  • BC division Executive Board meeting files and recordings
  • BC Federation of Labour Convention proceedings (1980-)
  • Canadian Labour Congress convention materials
  • CUPE National Convention materials, president’s papers
  • Papers of past presidents and secretary-treasurers
  • Newsletters, bulletins and other periodicals, campaign materials, and banners and flags.

What is CUPE B.C.?

CUPE B.C. represents over 100,000 workers in more than 160 locals across the province.

Members work in hundreds of occupations and trades, including in municipalities, school boards, airlines, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, colleges, universities (including SFU), social service agencies, the ambulance service, public utilities, and other institutions.


CUPE, labour, and activism

CUPE B.C. protesting

Labour unions, including CUPE, engage in activism beyond the workplace.

The history of CUPE B.C. represented in this collection includes activism for same-sex marriage, equality for women, and a host of other causes.

The fonds complements the large and still growing number of labour and activism-related collections in Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB).

Learn more about SCRB or visit us on the 7th floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library (Burnaby). 


Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Binding and Beyond: Modern Book Design and Decorative Elements (June to August 2022)

Open book displaying various book elements like headpiece, initials, catchwords and signature

About the exhibit

This exhibit features a selection of books that chart developments in book design and decorative elements in book making from the 17th to the 19th century.

Historically, the format and size of the printed book was determined by the layout of the printed text. The actual size of a book depended on the size of the sheet of paper that could accommodate the text, after which it was folded and bound. The exhibit explores different book sizes (like the Folio and Quarto) found in Special Collections and Rare Books holdings. The exhibit also displays the use of catchwords and signatures in books which helped bookbinders put gatherings of folded pages in correct order, later replaced by pagination.


books with various bindings lined up in the row on the table

Binding and Beyond: Modern Book Design and Decorative Elements offers a glimpse into elaborate decorations of title pages, such as the use of different inks, vignettes, and frontispieces, as well as in-text printed illustrations and hand-painted illustrations on inserted plates.

Some of the selected books from the early-modern period present printed decorations including initials, head- and tail-pieces—a trend that was inherited from manuscript production prior to the printing age. This trend slowly disappeared as books became mass produced with simpler and less costly design allowing for a common ownership of books.

The exhibit also features book design evolution that is evident in the choice of binding material from animal skins to cloth and paper on boards.


What's on display

The exhibit includes:

  • Book bindings: goatskin (morocco), various types of calf binding, pig skin, velum, marbled, cloth on board and cosway style
  • Page edges styles: trimmed, uncut, marbles, gilded, speckled, painted
  • Examples of page gatherings and folio sizes: Folio, Quarto, Octavo, Duodecimo
  • Elaborate decorative title page designs featuring use of colour inks, inclusion of printer devices, vignettes and illustrations, and inclusion of half-title pages
  • Book illustrations types: engraved or hand painted, in text illustrations, plates, frontispieces, and maps
  • Other text decorations and binding elements: chapter initials, head and tail pieces, catchwords and signatures

Open books displaying in text illustration and plates with handpainted illustration

Book illustrations


Stack of books demonstrating various sizes of the book design

Book sizes


Stack of books demonstrating decorative designs of page edges

Page edges design


Further reading

A new introduction to bibliography by Philip Gaskell (1972)
Dictionary of publishing and printing (2006)
Victorian book design and colour printing by Ruari McLean (1963)
Glossary of book binding terms in Publishers' Binding Online, 1915-1930: Art of Books

Explore our two-part exhibition on renowned visual poet, bpNichol (September to November 2022)

bpNichol exhibit banner


Minimalist line drawn portrait of bp Nichol


chain of thot, chain of images, chain of events

bpNichol, The Martyrology, Book 5

About the exhibition

Barrie Phillip Nichol, better known as bpNichol, was born in Vancouver in 1944. From the 1960s through to the 1980s, he led a prolific career as a writer of prose and poetry; the founder of two small presses, ganglia and grOnk; and a performer in the influential sound poetry quartet, The Four Horsemen. Today, Nichol remains a key figure in the history of the Canadian avant-garde.

Collecting the Collector & Processing the Process, a two-part archival exhibition, unveils Nichol’s process as both a creator and a collector, and traces the generative intersection at which these two roles converge. This exhibition is curated by Donald Shipton and Emma Metcalfe Hurst.


What's on display?

On the third floor of the Bennett Library, materials from Nichol’s various collections are on display. This includes a selection of his robots, instructional manuals for toys, a menagerie of H’s, and selections from his Dick Tracy comic book collection—all alongside other playful projects found in his archives. Together, these highlight the diverse media in which he found inspiration for his genre-blending literature.

Displayed on the seventh floor, at the entrance to Special Collections and Rare Books, is an exhibition centering Book 5 of The Martyrology, one part in a series that Nichol worked on for well over a decade. From conception to draft, to proof, to publication, the various archival documents on display track the production of this seminal text. If the exhibition at the library’s entrance focuses on what Nichol sourced for inspiration, the motivating question of this second part is how: how he organized his ideas, and how he brought them to bear upon the page.

bp Nichol's collection of materials all depicting his favourite letter, H

Draft excerpt from Book 5 of bp Nichol's Martyrology

Action figures and robots from bp Nichol's collection

Visit both displays to learn more about bpNichol’s creative process and to view selections from his diverse archival collections!

About the curators

Donald Shipton is an MA student in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. His scholarly interests reside primarily in contemporary Canadian literature and the archive. He is currently studying the chapbooks and ephemera of bpNichol, held in the Contemporary Literature Collection at SFU, with particular attention to their materiality and the possibility of replicating this in digital space.

Emma Metcalfe Hurst is a writer, curator, and researcher who is currently in her third year studying archives and librarianship (MASLIS) at the UBC iSchool. Her areas of interest include community, artist, and performing arts archives, public programming, and intellectual property rights. She has previously worked at Access Gallery, Nanaimo Art Gallery, grunt gallery, Western Front, Artspeak, Unit/Pitt, Co-op Radio, the UBC Music, Art, and Architecture Library, and the Museum of Anthropology. She recently launched the oral history and community archives project, Coming Out of Chaos: A Vancouver Dance Story, and was the project coordinator for Recollective: Vancouver Independent Archives Week. She is currently working as an archivist for VIVO Media Arts Centre and Karen Jamieson Dance.

Explore our exhibition on diaries and journals (November 2022 to March 2023)

Dear Diary: Documenting the Everyday exhibit banner

View Dear Diary: Documenting the Everyday, on display on the 7th floor at W.A.C. Bennett Library.

three diaries with a gray archives box

About the exhibition

Notebooks, journals, and diaries give us glimpses into individual private lives and personal thoughts that are otherwise missing from the historical record. But does "private" and "personal" necessarily mean unfiltered? People use diaries to document their days, provide a creative outlet, record their travels from home, or comfort them in difficult times. The act of keeping a diary shows a desire to preserve stories for future reading, even if only by a future version of the self. Sometimes diaries are intended for publication from the beginning, and in other cases the decision to edit a diary for publication is made later on. We invite you to think about how journals embody elements of both private and public writing and the overlap between these categories.


What's on display?

This exhibition features a selection of diaries and notebooks from across Special Collections and Rare Books. It explores different genres of diary, including travel diaries, diaries by incarcerated people, poetic diaries, dream diaries and everyday diaries.

Included in the exhibit are items from the following:

poetry pamphlet with handwritten notes

diary display


Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Indigenous Poetry: Verse from the Lutz Collection (November 2022 to April 2023)

Display of front covers of Indigenous poetry books

Front covers of poetry books by Algonkian authors

About the exhibit

This exhibit features a selection of poetry books from the Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature donated to SFU Library's Special Collections and Rare Books in 2018.

This exhibit's selections represent a glimpse into twentieth and twenty-first century Indigenous poetry in Canada and the United States. The display showcases authors from various Nations across the North American continent, but is by no means exhaustive.

This selection represents topics that Indigenous poets are passionate about, such as Indigenous wisdoms and knowledge, community, and traditional ways of living. On the other hand, the selection contains Indigenous poets’ emotional response to colonialism and its consequences, residential schools, imprisonment, urban life, loss of family and other heartfelt experiences.


What's on display

The exhibit includes:

Front covers of poetry books by Great Plains authors

Front book covers by Canadian Indigenous authors

Front cover of poetry books by Indigenous authors in Canada

About the collection

The Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature contains over 1000 books by Canadian and American Indigenous authors and on Indigenous subjects.

Hartmut Lutz is professor emeritus and former chair of American and Canadian Studies: Anglophone Literatures and Cultures of North America at the University of Greifswald, Germany. He is founder of the Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, a research centre for Canadian and American literature studies. Over the course of his career, much of Dr. Lutz’s research has focused on Canadian culture and Indigenous literature.

2021 exhibits: Early writing materials and technologies; Henry James; Wood engravings

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: Rocking against Radiation; Venetian Renaissance illustration

"Rocking against Radiation and Dancing for Peace: Anti-war and Peace Activism in B.C." (April to December 2019)

The west coast of Canada has a long history of protest and activism, be it for climate change, political causes, labour or human rights.

British Columbians have also taken an active role protesting Canada’s involvement in wars and fighting for global issues such as nuclear disarmament.

This display features political cartoons, photographs, posters and ephemera documenting and relating to peace movements in B.C. from the following collections held in the Library’s Special Collections and Rare Books division:

  • Editorial Cartoons Collection
  • Gordon E. McCaw fonds
  • Pacific Tribune fonds
  • Perry Giguere ‘Perry the Poster Man’ Collection
  • Vancouver Punk Rock Collection
  • Veterans Against Nuclear Arms (VANA) fonds

Bob Krieger cartoon - Dove sitting on a bomb


Vancouver Punk Rock Collection - Rock Against Radiation poster

Pacific Tribune photograph - Walk for Peace 1983


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.