From the Archives: Sheardown Scrapbooks

The Trinity College Archives recently received two scrapbooks from Zena Sheardown, the wife of the late John Sheardown. He was the chief immigration officer at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran in 1979 during what would become the Iranian hostage crisis, when supporters of the Iranian Revolution captured the American embassy and took 52 Americans hostage. 6 Americans escaped and were eventually sheltered by the Canadian embassy. John and Zena hid 4 of the Americans in their own home off of the embassy compound at great personal risk to themselves. The eventual rescue of the Americans became known as the “Canadian Caper” and was depicted in the 2012 film Argo (although the Sheardowns’ role was omitted from the film).

The scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings and letters related to Zena and John’s efforts to have her role in the hostage crisis recognized with an Order of Canada. Other embassy staff, including the ambassador Ken Taylor, and John all received the award, but Zena was barred on the grounds that she was a British citizen and not Canadian. Eventually, through the intervention of Flora MacDonald, the former Secretary of State for External Affairs, she was made the first honourary member of the Order of Canada, a distinction awarded to non-citizens.

The contents of the scrapbook were carefully removed from the adhesive pages and into acid-free archival folders to better preserve the paper. The contents of the scrapbooks, a sample of which is included in the image carousel above, range from letters from prime ministers to the public back-and-forth in newspapers about whether the wives of the diplomats would receive their deserved Order. Also included is a telex message from the CBC confirming Zena’s appearance on the popular game show Front Page Challenge. The Zena Sheardown fonds (F2376) is now available for research consultation in the Trinity College Archives.

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