Treasures Revealed Episode 6 – Pimm Panorama

Greenish stylized treasure chest with Library and Archives Canada maple leaves at the bottom and rays rising from the chest at the top. Numbered #05. 

In this episode of Treasures Revealed, we speak with Marcelle Cinq-Mars, senior military archivist in the Government Archives Division at LAC. Marcelle tells us about the amazing discovery she made while rehousing documents LAC received from the Department of National Defence.

Duration: 16:19

File size: 22.6 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: October 20, 2022

  • Transcript of Treasures Revealed episode 6

    Théo Martin (TM): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I’m your host, Théo Martin. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.

    Welcome to Treasures Revealed!

    In this podcast series, we’ll be showcasing certain items in the Library and Archives Canada [LAC] collection. Each episode, we’ll speak to a LAC employee and highlight an item that they consider a real “treasure” in our collection.

    They may be rare items, perhaps unusual or valuable, or items with historical significance. Perhaps they will have a compelling or interesting story to go along with them. More importantly, all of them will showcase our vast and rich collection that is the shared documentary heritage of all Canadians.

    Now, on to Episode 6, “Pimm panorama”. Our guest for this episode is Marcelle Cinq-Mars.

    Marcelle Cinq-Mars (MC): Hello, my name is Marcelle Cinq-Mars. I’m a Senior Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada. I’ve been working here for over 12 years.

    TM: Marcelle, what can you tell us about this object?

    MC: This document is a long strip of cardboard, about 30 centimetres wide and two metres long. It’s known, in military jargon, as a military panorama, and it shows a view of an enemy trench. So a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in his own trench had a wide view, obviously, of the enemy trench facing it. And he drew, on this long strip, in panoramic vision, the extent of the enemy trench. The document includes incredible details like, for example, the positioning of machine-gun nests, enemy bunkers, places where ammunition was stored. Also the locations of enemy snipers, which is very important for the military. These are among the first targets when attacking the enemy. Snipers were greatly feared at the time, during the First World War. The enemy trench shown on the panorama was located near what is known as Bois Quarante in Belgium, about eight kilometres southwest of Ypres.

    This type of panoramic drawing has been part of the military tradition since the 18th century and was developed further in the 19th century. Let’s not forget that, at that time, there was no photography, in the 19th century, I mean. So the only way to have a view of the enemy positions was to draw them. Of course, the military also produced reports of their observations of enemy trenches or enemy positions, often resulting in lengthy written documents. But if you really want a view of the enemy position, a picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. It’s much faster if you can just see a depiction of what’s in front of you, that you want to attack. So this is the point of drawing a military panorama that shows the position of the essential elements to be eliminated in an attack.

    This is also a special kind of panorama, called a static panorama. This means it’s not a drawing done in passing or after 10 minutes of observation. This panorama was actually created over a fairly long period. The person who made it, in this case a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, sketched it while in a trench, in a static position from which he could observe the enemy’s position over several days. So the result, this panorama, is a very detailed drawing that shows, as I mentioned, several essential elements and even the positioning of the barbed wire in no man’s land, the enemy’s defensive elements. Therefore, this static panorama is full of essential information to prepare a possible attack on the enemy’s position.

    TM: Who drew the panorama? Under what circumstances was the work created?

    MC: The Canadian Expeditionary Force soldier who drew this picture was Victor Lionel Pimm, born in 1893 in a London, England, neighbourhood. So how did he end up in the Canadian Expeditionary Force?

    Before the war, he visited one of his aunts, who was living in New York. He arrived in New York in 1913, when he was 20 years old. After visiting his aunt, he wandered around the United States for a while, but eventually he crossed the border into Canada to work as a farmhand. And while he was working on a farm in Ontario, the First World War broke out in August 1914. As a young man, aged 20 years and four months, he decided to enlist. Of course, his first choice would have been to join the British army, but he was in Canada, so like many British nationals in Canada, he decided to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This was actually part of the British army anyway, since Canada was not independent yet.

    So he enlisted in Windsor, Ontario, in 1914 and was sent to the 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion. He went with the battalion to England in 1915. When he made this panorama, he was still with the 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion, which was stationed in Belgium at the time. So we estimate—there is no date on the panorama, but we know that he drew it before June 1916. How do we know this? Because Victor Lionel Pimm transferred from the Canadian Expeditionary Force to the British Army in June 1916. Since Pimm wrote 18th Battalion on the panorama, he was still with that battalion at the time. And since he was transferred to the British Army in June 1916, we know that the drawing was made before June 1916.

    We also know that shortly after joining the British Army, Pimm was promoted to Second Lieutenant, and he was killed in action near Ypres in November 1916, just a few months later.

    TM: Marcelle, how did you discover this item in our collection?

    MC: It was in the First World War records that were transferred to Library and Archives Canada several years ago by the Department of National Defence. These documents are a group of frequently consulted files, so the boxes they’re kept in have deteriorated over the years because of the amount of circulation among researchers. The documents themselves are well preserved, but the boxes end up being a bit worn out. So one day, I had this box in hand, and I decided that it was time to change the box. And when archivists do that, well, of course we take the files out and put them in a new box. So far, so good. But I also take time to look at the files while I’m at it, as I imagine most archivists do. We take a few moments to check them out.

    And that’s when I noticed a file in the box that was much thicker than the rest, in a really unusual way. So I took out this document, which in the box measured maybe 30 centimetres by 20 centimetres, and I quickly realized that it was a folded document. Now, you don’t leave folded documents in boxes. So I unfolded it, and unfolded it, and unfolded it. And I realized that the two-metre document was folded into something like eight layers. Just imagine my amazement, realizing that it was a military panorama, and while unfolding it, seeing its quality, its level of detail. Not only were there preservation issues, clearly, but I wasn’t going to just refold the document and put it back in the box. That much was clear. From that moment on, we proceeded to preserve this document, which is really almost unique in our collection.

    TM: At that stage in your career as an archivist, had you ever seen a panorama like this?

    MC: Of course, I knew about military panoramas in general, but I had never seen any like it in our collection. We often see panoramic photographs in our collection. But a military panorama drawing, coming from a long tradition, a military speciality, that was something I had never seen in our collection. I’m not saying that there aren’t any to be found. In fact, if there are others, I’d love to find them! But there shouldn’t be any others, because it’s not the kind of document you would leave in a filing box. This one, I think, had been in that box long before Library and Archives Canada received it. It must have been folded already as part of a file, and obviously somebody thought it would be best preserved that way. Preservation rules have changed over the past hundred years. And if nobody had seen it in the folder, it would have just stayed there. But nowadays we’re more careful with this type of document. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen. It’s really a fantastic discovery!

    TM: What do we know about Victor Pimm? Was he an artist? Why was he selected to create the sketch?

    MC: We know that there were several artists in the Pimm family in London. Pimm himself didn’t work as an artist, but he obviously had some artistic skill. And, just looking at the panorama, you can see how careful he is about detail, even with a little bit of humour, because I think there’s an area where he shows a nest, a bird’s nest in a tree. So you really have to look at the panorama in detail to see the artistic side of it, although it is a military tool as well.

    TM: Why do you consider this object to be a LAC “treasure”?

    MC: As I explained earlier, I’ve never seen another military panorama drawing in our collection. They’re quite rare in general. The reason these documents are so rare, first of all, is that they are created on paper. And their primary purpose is to show an enemy position at a given time. So we have to realize that once the enemy’s position has been attacked or even captured, the information on the panorama is no longer useful, since everything has changed. As a result, these documents have a very limited useful life. Once you have taken the enemy position or attacked it, the panorama is no longer useful. For this reason, and because it was done on paper, it quickly lost its strategic value for the military. And in general, not just for the military, but in general, in everyday life, when you have a document that you no longer need, you don’t bother to take very good care of it. As a result, a lot of these panoramas have been lost over the years or have not been preserved.

    The other factor, as I mentioned, is that the advent of photography from the mid-19th century onward gradually replaced the art of the military panorama. So armies increasingly used cameras to take photographs and even panoramic photographs. And of course, photography is faster than drawing a long, two-metre document with all kinds of details. With a photograph, you can see something directly. So this was the time when photography increasingly replaced military panoramas.

    It really was a turning point. Like many things during the First World War, it was a technological turning point, where we moved from an old tradition to a modern way of doing things. I won’t go into the details of all of the changes brought about by the First World War, but this is one of them: going from observation and drawing to photography. The military panorama is still sometimes used, but much less so. It’s used, I’ve heard that they use it occasionally, in Afghanistan or places like that, but that’s perhaps more as a tradition than for utility, because with all of the technology today, we don’t need it. And certainly, we don’t necessarily have time to observe for long enough to make a drawing, since a photograph will give us the information immediately.

    So it’s a bit, it’s what it represents in terms of military technique, of observation, of a time where we went from an observation made by an individual over a long period of time to an immediate observation. It really says a lot of things about the First World War.

    TM: To see the incredible sketch that Marcelle has discussed, go to the LAC website and type “Pimm Panorama” in our Collection Search tool. You can also view Victor Pimm’s file in the First World War personnel files by going to the Canadian Expeditionary Force database on our website. Don’t worry, we have what you need! We’ll provide links to both of these documents in the show notes on the episode page for this podcast.

    You can also view this amazing panorama by visiting LAC’s Flickr page. There, you will find an album of images called Treasures Revealed. We will update that album with each episode, giving you a chance to view the treasures that we will be highlighting. We will also add a link to the Flickr album in the Related Links section on the episode page for this podcast.

    Thank you for being with us. I’m Théo Martin, your host. You’ve been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank you to our guest today, Marcelle Cinq-Mars. Special thanks also to Isabel Larocque and Sandra Nicholls for their contributions to this episode.

    The music in this episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions.

    This episode was produced, engineered and edited by David Knox, with additional editing by Tom Thompson.

    If you liked this episode, you’re invited to subscribe to the podcast. You can do it through the RSS feed located on our website, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

    If you’re interested in listening to the French equivalent of our podcast, you can find French-language versions of all of our episodes on our website, Apple podcasts and Spotify. Simply search for “Découvrez Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.”

    For more information on our podcasts, go to LAC’s homepage and type "podcast" in the search bar in the top right corner and click on the first link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, you can find the email address for the podcast team located at the bottom of the episode's page.

Host: Théo Martin, LAC archivist

Guest: Marcelle Cinq-Mars, LAC senior military archivist


Subscribe to automatically receive new episodes.

Related links

Contact the podcast team

Send your feedback to: