Inuit soldiers of the First World War: Lance Corporal John Shiwak

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

by Heather Campbell

A black and white photograph of a young Inuk man in a military uniform staring towards the camera.

Lance Corporal John Shiwak, First Royal Newfoundland Regiment, c. 1915. Courtesy of Veteran’s Affairs Canada

As we remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars, many of us are aware of the First Nations and Métis soldiers who fought for our country. But only a few of us may know about the Inuit soldiers who also fought alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. My great-great-uncle, Lance Corporal John Shiwak, was one of those men. Due to his skills as a hunter, he became a sniper—“one of the best in the British Army,” according to a fellow officer.

My uncle hailed from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region in northern and central Labrador, which was part of the British Dominion of Newfoundland in 1914. When the call came for Newfoundland men to enlist, it also made its way up the north coast of Labrador to the Inuit men of these settlements. Inuit culture was, and still is, largely a non-confrontational culture. Many of these young Inuit men were encouraged to enlist by people in positions of authority, such as Dr. Harry Paddon, a physician for the International Grenfell Association. Regardless of their motivations, approximately fifteen Inuit men enlisted and set sail for England in the summer of 1915.

A black and white photograph of two Inuit women and an Inuit child standing beside a wooden house.

Hopedale, Newfoundland and Labrador, 1913. Credit: Edith S. Watson (e010791418)

What a culture shock it must have been for these men who, like my uncle, were all from tiny, isolated communities of a few hundred people at most. In addition to the size, hustle and bustle of European towns and cities, the worldview was very different. Although Inuit hunt for survival, we respect each life we take and are taught from a young age to not cause an animal pain or distress. When we take a shot, we want to be certain it is precise and effective. Especially during the early 20th century, when the cost and scarcity of ammunition meant that every bullet had to count. Sometimes that meant going home empty handed.

I imagine those Inuit soldiers felt exactly the same way when they discharged their firearms in war. It must have been a huge adjustment for them to fire in haste, knowing they may have wounded someone. However, they knew that the men on the other side of the trenches had to be stopped for others to live, just as animals in Labrador had to die for their families to live. I imagine it was the only way to reconcile themselves with the horrors of war.

A black and white photograph of trees and white houses with black roofs. In the background, there is a boat on the water.

Hudson’s Bay Company Buildings, Rigolet, Labrador, September 1926. Photo Credit: L.T. Burwash (a099501)

The story of my great-great-uncle Lance Corporal John Shiwak is unique because in addition to his traditional activities as a hunter, trapper and fisherman, he was also a writer, poet and artist. He wrote many letters from the front lines to his friend Lacey Amy, a journalist and author from Ontario. Mr. Amy wrote the article “An Eskimo Patriot” in the July 1918 issue of The Canadian Magazine, telling of their friendship and some of Uncle John’s feelings during the war.

The duration of the war was wearing on him. He had no close friends, none to keep warm the link with his distant home. In September he lamented: “I have no letters from home since July. There will be no more now till the ice breaks”. And in his last he longed again for the old hunting days. Labrador, that had never satisfied his ambitions, looked warm and friendly to him now… That was in mid-November. A month later an official envelope came to me. Inside was my last letter. On its face was the soulless stamp. “Deceased”.

Every year on Remembrance Day, our family would talk about Uncle John with a quiet reverence, remembering the deep grief experienced when he did not return home. I have yet to meet a Labradorian living elsewhere who does not long to return to Labrador. The connection that we have to the land is difficult to express. We see firsthand how the land provides us with everything that we need to survive. Many generations of history are embedded in not only the community, but also each fishing spot, trapline, woodcutting path, hunting ground and berry-picking spot. This creates a special bond between people and the land. To be away from Labrador is to be disconnected from a piece of ourselves.

When I first visited the Canadian War Museum, I was drawn to the recreation of a First World War trench. Visitors can walk through it and put themselves in the shoes of soldiers on the front lines. As I slowly made my way through the trench, it affected me deeply. Tears streamed down my face as I imagined Uncle John huddled in the mud, writing in his journal or sketching images of the land and animals, longing for the peace and solitude of his ancestral home. A home that he would never see again.

A black and white photograph of a cemetery behind a fence and small leafless trees near Cambrai, France. There is a house and a farm in the background.

Raillencourt British Cemetery near Cambrai. Shiwak was not buried in this cemetery, but was equally far from home. (a004409-v8)

During the battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917, an exploding shell killed Uncle John and six other soldiers. Eighty-eight years later, in 2005, my cousin, Jason Sikoak (formerly written as Shiwak), took part in the Aboriginal Spiritual Journey. In this journey, a group of Indigenous people travelled to Europe to honour Indigenous soldiers. Jason told me that during this journey, Uncle John’s spirit visited him in a dream. We hope that he followed Jason back to the shores of Rigolet and that he is at peace.

A black and white photograph of ships in body of water. There are trees in the foreground of the photo.

A point of land seen from a distance with Hudson’s Bay Company buildings along the shoreline and boats anchored in the cove. Rigolet, c.1930. Photo credit: Fred. C. Sears (e010771588)

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is an archivist in  the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Recognition and Remembrance: A Métis soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1917–1918

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By David Horky

The Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) maintains a list of over 5,000 individuals whose names are engraved on the National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument in Batoche, Saskatchewan. Unveiled in 2014, the monument serves to recognize, remember and honour veterans from across the Métis Nation Homeland who have served Canada throughout history. The list of Métis veterans (PDF) provides the veteran’s name, service number, enlistment (the war or activity), and the location of their inscription on the monument (by column and row).

The GDI list has been invaluable for my own personal research about one of my distant relatives who fought and died in the First World War. I recently discovered Métis branches on my own family tree on the Métis Genealogy section of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website, and it was while doing this research that I found the digitized military service file of a distant relative, Private Arthur Carriere.

Searching the GDI list, I was proud to find an entry for a Private Arthur Carriere, confirming that he was indeed among the many names engraved on the National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument. I realized in the process that the service number on the GDI list—2293697—corresponded to the regimental number referring to the same soldier on the LAC website. This simple example demonstrates the great value of the GDI list to relatives and researchers interested in identifying Métis veterans from the 600,000 digitized service files in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.

Being able to access a digital copy of Arthur’s First World War service file—a tangible record of his involvement in the war—was a very personal way for me to pay my respects to one of my kin in remembrance of his service and sacrifice to our country. Despite the brevity of much of the information recorded on the various forms and documents in the file, they collectively provide a story, impressionistic to be sure, about Arthur’s brief and tragic wartime experience.

A typed page with the title, Particulars of Recruit, Drafted under Military Service Act, 1917. There are also stamps and handwriting on the page.

The Attestation Paper from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

Although there weren’t any explicit references to Arthur’s Métis heritage recorded in the file, I thought I could detect traces or clues in some of the records, especially the Attestation Paper, which provides basic information about his background at the time of his enlistment—age, occupation, residence, name and address of next of kin, etc. Born in 1893 in St. Adolphe, Manitoba, Arthur was 24 years old, single, and a farmer living in St. Vital, Manitoba at the time of his enlistment. His next of kin is his mother, A. (Angèle) Carriere, of Ste. Rose, Manitoba. The communities in particular struck my attention—all are Franco-Manitoban with strong and continuing Métis roots. The next of kin information is often very useful to trace Métis roots, as ethnic origin is not usually stated in the file.

The Attestation Paper also indicates the circumstances of Arthur’s enlistment—the most obvious being that he did not volunteer, but was drafted under the provisions of the Military Service Act. He reported for medical examination on November 14, 1917 in Fort Frances, Ontario, and was called up on January 11, 1918 in Winnipeg for active service as a private with the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians), a regiment of mounted rifles.

A typed and handwritten form with the title “Casualty Form—Active Service.” The regimental number, rank and name of the soldier is typed underneath in blue ink along with handwritten notations.

The casualty form from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

The Casualty Form—Active Service record provides us with a very brief outline of Arthur’s activities following his enlistment. Leaving Halifax on April 15, 1918 on the S.S. Melita, the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians) arrived in Liverpool, England on April 28, 1918. On August 20, 1918, shortly after arriving in France), Arthur joined the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre where troops were held before being sent to reinforce existing units. A couple of weeks later on September 13, 1918, he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD), a regiment assigned to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade but that mainly played an infantry role throughout the war. Less than a month after joining the RCD, Arthur’s life was tragically cut short. On October 10, 1918, he is simply reported as “killed in action.” This is one month and a day short of the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 that ended the First World War.

A few more details about Arthur’s death is provided by another military record, the Circumstances of Death Registers, First World War, which the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) used to report the cause of a soldier’s death, where and when it occurred, and the soldier’s final resting place. The entry for Private Arthur Carriere indicates that on October 10, 1918 “while acting as a medical orderly at Brigade Headquarters in Troisvilles, he was killed by an enemy shell.” The location of his final resting place is given as Grave 8, Plot 11, Row C in the Highland British Cemetery, recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Register as being one mile south of Le Coteau, France.

Too many to list here, there are other First World War records held at LAC, as well as external sources of information that can provide valuable additional details about WWI soldiers and the various CEF units serving overseas in France and Flanders.

An index card listing the regimental number, rank, surname, Christian name, unit, theatre of war, date of service, remarks and latest address of a soldier. In the top right corner the letters “B” and “V” are written, with a blue checkmark through them.

The medal card from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

An index card with the name “Carriere, Pte. Arthur,” “649-C25592” and a checkmark written at the top. There is also a large “M” written in blue ink.

The Memorial Cross card from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

Arthur’s story does not end simply with his death. The medals he garnered, such as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, indicated by crossed-out capital letters “B” and “V” on the medal card along with the Memorial Cross, Scroll and Plaque, were dutifully given by a grateful nation to his mother in mourning.

The Franco-Manitoban Métis community of St. Norbert also felt the loss of Arthur’s death. Shortly after the end of war, they erected the St. Norbert War Memorial in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Arthur and 12 other local residents.

In this light, one can see in Arthur’s story a tradition of recognition and remembrance of the services rendered to Canada by veterans of Métis Nation communities that stretches back from the memorial erected in St. Norbert at the end of the Great War all the way to the present-day National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument in Batoche. The GDI acknowledges that there are probably many unknown Métis veterans who deserve our recognition and remembrance. Using the GDI form, you can submit the names and military service information of additional Métis veterans to engrave on the National Métis Veterans Historic Monument and ensure that they receive the recognition and honour due them from Canada and the Métis Nation.


David Horky is a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada, Winnipeg office.

Portraiture and the H. Sarah Howard Album (1874)

By Hilary Dow

In the past, photographic albums were used not only as mementos of loved ones and treasured events. They also declared the social identity and status of their owners, and they were forms of artistic expression. Sarah Howard’s 42-page album includes 123 photographs and was created in 1874. The H. Sarah Howard Album is an example of how women in that era used photocollage to express and represent their personal and social identities. An album does not deliver a conventional portrait, but this one reveals much about Howard and her life. It communicates dimensions of her personality and identity that could not be captured through traditional painted or photographic portraits.

An album page with photographs of three men and a woman, surrounded by coloured maple leaves

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Sarah Howard (1843–1911)

The words “H. Sarah Howard” are imprinted in gold embossing on the cover of the brown leather volume. This inscription refers to Hannah Sarah Howard, a Canadian woman born in Buffalo, New York, on December 25, 1843, to parents Marianne (née Wallbridge) and Hiram E. Howard. In 1861, Sarah Howard began studying science at the Buffalo Female Academy. Later, in Canada, she was involved with the Ottawa Agricultural Society and The Canadian Horticulturist, publishing articles and giving lectures on floriculture. In addition to her scientific pursuits, Howard was involved in the arts. She was trained as an amateur pianist and performed during the years that she lived in Buffalo. Howard also wrote and published poetry throughout her life, and she was regarded as a talented “sketcher” in Ottawa newspaper reports from the period.

Despite these accomplishments, Howard’s primary duty was to her family and domestic life, during a period when the social mobility of women was restricted. Following the death of her parents, Howard and her younger siblings Frances, Caroline, Henrica and Lewis immigrated to Belleville, Ontario, in 1868. They resided in the “Wallbridge White House” with their uncle Lewis Wallbridge, who was the last Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. In her early years in Canada under her uncle’s influence, Howard had access to elite social circles. She regularly attended upper-class functions and balls in Ottawa, such as Governor General Lord Dufferin’s Fancy Dress Ball of 1876. Three years after moving to Canada, Sarah purchased a home on John Street in Belleville for herself and her siblings; as the eldest of the Howard children, she was their legal guardian. During the time she lived there, from 1871 to 1878, she was the sole head of the household and acted as such. As an extension of her domestic duties at this time, she produced two decorative photo albums documenting her family life and social connections.

The H. Sarah Howard Album (1874)

Album-making was a common activity for upper-class and upper-middle-class women of the period. The craft was seen as an extension of domestic duty and reaffirmed women’s dominion over the family realm. Like other Victorian albums, the pages of Howard’s scrapbook contain photographic prints of the owner’s family and friends, which are surrounded by colourful paintings and drawings. The types of imagery used in the photocollages in Howard’s album include designs of flowers, animals and plant life, copies of European artworks, and comedic caricatures. The use of photocollage, a technique that creates a composite picture by assembling fragments of photographs in combination with other artistic and natural materials, results in compositions that are comical and imaginative. One page, for example, features caricatures holding picture frames, likely drawn from comedic stock characters illustrated in the British periodical Punch.

An album page of coloured images that include a man beating a drum, a man holding a poster, a man sitting in a chair reading a newspaper and a man blowing a horn with a banner attached. There are four photographs, embedded in the drum, poster, newspaper and banner.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

An album page with a large photograph of a man in the centre, surrounded by six smaller photographs of women and men. There are also coloured drawings of flowers, birds and a squirrel.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Photocollage albums, which are often referred to as “scrap albums” by photo historians, initially became popular in Europe with the invention of the carte-de-visite by the French photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854. Sometimes referred to as cabinet cards, these types of photographs were small 54-mm by 89-mm paper prints mounted on cabinet card backings and easily reproduced, shared and collected. Cartes-de-visite were sold in Canadian photographic studios by photographers such as William Notman and William James Topley. Howard had her portrait taken by Topley on numerous occasions, and several of his works appear in her albums. Most of the photographs in the album are portraits of Howard’s siblings, parents, schoolteachers, fellow students, cousins and friends. The photographs are sourced from Buffalo and Belleville. Photographs of her husband and children do not appear in it, so the album represents her life as a young woman until 1874, prior to her marriage to the Honourable Octavius Lambart in 1878.

Howard’s album can be interpreted as a portrait that shows her family life and how she wanted to be seen in society. Given her interest in maintaining her public appearance, it is likely that Howard used her album to uphold her public image and class status, factors central to her identity. It was standard practice for albums to be displayed in the parlour room of homes; they functioned as tools of social performance that told outsiders who the owner was and what he or she represented. Several pages in the album feature Howard’s portrait prominently.

An album page with a photograph of the album’s owner, Sarah Howard, in the centre of the photocollage. Her image is surrounded by paintings of morning glory flowers, and an individual and two group portraits of people who are likely Howard’s family and friends.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Howard is typically pictured in profile view with a stern expression, and her clothing and jewellery are emphasized. These are features of the solemn Victorian portrait that was believed to represent one’s virtue, status and moral character. While Howard’s album, on one hand, shows her public image, it also conceals her private sentiments and feelings about specific moments in her life. A good example of this is a memorial page dedicated to Sarah’s parents. In the collage, the portraits of Hiram and Marianne Howard are placed inside a forget-me-not plant.

An album page with photographs of a man and a woman in the middle of two green leaves and surrounded by purple flowers.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874: a memorial page to Sarah’s parents, Hiram and Marianne Howard (e011201205)

Flowers had distinctive symbolic meanings in the Victorian era. Throughout the album, paintings of flora are used to visually communicate emotions and experiences attached to specific individuals and photographs. The album, though not a typical portrait, thereby expresses public, intimate and personal aspects of Sarah Howard’s identity.

 Collaborative albums: portraits of women by women

The H. Sarah Howard Album not only functions as a self-portrait, but also serves as a portrait of Sarah Howard by a professional woman artist. It may appear at first glance that Howard is the sole creator of her album; however, the Howard album bears a remarkable resemblance to the C.W. Bell Album, illustrated by Caroline Walker in 1875 and now in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection. Select pages of both albums have exactly the same photographs of sitters (Howard and Bell were relatives), and the same design templates and styles of paintings are used.

An album page with photographs of eight men and women in the middle of green leaves and surrounded by white flowers.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Caroline Walker (1827–1904) was a professional artist who exhibited watercolours and ink sketches at the Upper Canada provincial exhibitions between 1859 and 1865. Walker made albums for other influential settler families in Ontario during this time, including the lawyer Charles W. Bell, Sarah Howard’s cousin.

It may seem peculiar to contemporary viewers that something as mundane as a family photo album could have been a commissioned work produced by an artist. However, albums represent cultural values and signifiers, as do conventional portraits. A portrait’s ability to represent power, status and social class is central to how art historians have defined this genre of art. Owning a family album in the 1870s was a marker of one’s social status, just as having one’s portrait made indicated one’s social importance. With the advent of photography in Europe and North America, gone were the days when portraits were confined to the medium of painting. While the development of the cartes-de-visite enabled the mass circulation of photographs, with lower prices and greater accessibility for the middle class, handmade albums containing hundreds of photographs were expensive and signified elevated individual and familial social rank.

Despite the album’s similarity to the artistic style of Caroline Walker, the album is mostly likely a product of collaboration between Howard and Walker. The album includes two distinct painting styles, and the photographs selected were evidently selections from Howard’s photograph collection. Regardless of the album’s attribution, the H. Sarah Howard Album represents biographical elements of Howard’s life and displays characteristics of portraiture such as identity, social status and self-representation.

The H. Sarah Howard Album is a Victorian photocollage album created in Belleville, Ontario, in 1874. The album comprises 42 pages and contains 123 photographs in total. It is in Library and Archives Canada’s holdings as part of the Lambart family collection.

© Hilary Dow


Hilary Dow is a young professional and emerging scholar and curator based in Ottawa. She recently graduated with an MA in Art History and a Graduate Diploma in Curatorial Studies from Carleton University.

The prime minister as reader

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses exhibition looks at Canada’s prime ministers through the lens of their relationships with the arts. One aspect of the exhibition is an exploration of the prime minister as collector and fan. Among the items featured that explore this theme are correspondence between Sir Wilfrid Laurier and painter Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, a painting from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s personal collection, and a fan letter from John Diefenbaker to artist Alma Duncan.

But the exhibition mainly focuses on the prime ministers’ libraries. If you read enough prime ministerial biographies, a pattern emerges: almost every one contains references to its subject’s prodigious reading habits. A biography of Alexander Mackenzie (OCLC 20920624), for example, notes that Mackenzie “was a greedy reader, and never tired of poring over his books.” According to the authors, Mackenzie’s family would spend their winter evenings

“sitting round the wide, old-fashioned fire-place, cheerful and ruddy with the blaze of the big logs, reading and discussing literary subjects and authors, especially Shakespeare and Byron, two prime favourites of theirs. It was a very interesting group, and its intellectual life was a fitting preparation for the future statesman. All who have heard Mr. Mackenzie speak, know that he could readily quote from the poets, and from current literature, and that his addresses were invariably pitched on the high plane of presupposing intelligent hearers.”

Sir John A. Macdonald, too, was known for quoting from literature in his speeches, according to biographers. In his book about Macdonald (OCLC 2886256), Joseph Pope claimed Macdonald was an “omnivorous” reader, meaning that he would read almost anything, but his favourite genre was political memoirs. Sir Robert Borden studied classical languages. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto now holds a number of very old Greek and Latin books that contain Borden’s bookplate; one of these, a 1725 edition of writings by Cicero, is currently on loan to LAC for the exhibition. Mackenzie King was an avid reader who regularly commented in his diary on the books he had been reading. Many of his books are now in LAC’s collection, but a portion of his extensive library remains on view in his study at Laurier House.

Each of the prime ministers likely had favourite books and authors—Macdonald was a devotee of novelist Anthony Trollope, and King was so enamoured with poet Matthew Arnold that he began collecting books from Arnold’s own library.

A book open to the inside front cover. Attached to the left-hand page is the bookplate of Matthew Arnold. The right-hand page is blank and held down by a weight.

Bookplate of Matthew Arnold affixed to the inside front cover of The Holy Bible (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828), from the Collection of Books from the Library of William Lyon Mackenzie King (OCLC 1007776528) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

But Arthur Meighen stands out among them all for his dedication to one particular literary figure: William Shakespeare. Meighen was known to be able to quote long passages of Shakespeare from memory. In 1934, during an ocean voyage to Australia, he composed and memorized a speech on Shakespeare, which he entitled “The Greatest Englishman of History.” Meighen delivered this speech a number of times; one address, at the Canadian Club in Toronto in February 1936, was recorded. This recording was eventually released on vinyl (OCLC 981934627), giving Meighen the unusual distinction of being the first Canadian prime minister ever to release an album.

A black 12-inch vinyl record with a yellow label.

Photograph of the vinyl record The Greatest Englishman of History by Arthur Meighen (OCLC 270719760) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

You can hear a clip of the audio recording of Arthur Meighen delivering his speech “The Greatest Englishman of History” in the Prime Ministers and the Arts episode of the LAC podcast.

The exhibition is open at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until December 3, 2019.


Meaghan Scanlon is Senior Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Chief Poundmaker: Revisiting the legacy of a peacemaker

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Anna Heffernan

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was a Plains Cree chief who was known as Chief Poundmaker in English. In 1885, he was tried and convicted of treason-felony because of his alleged involvement in the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance. On May 23, 2019, 134 years later, the Canadian government posthumously exonerated him and officially apologized to the Poundmaker Cree Nation of Saskatchewan, which is home to many of his descendants. His people, and other Plains First Nations who passed down accounts of his life, remember Poundmaker as a leader who remained committed to peace even when faced with dire circumstances. After decades of advocacy by his First Nation community, Poundmaker’s story is also coming to the attention of the broader Canadian public thanks to his exoneration. At Library and Archives Canada, we have many photographs and documents that help to tell this story.

Poundmaker was born around 1842 to a Stoney Nakoda father and a Métis mother of French Canadian and Cree descent, near Battleford in what is now Saskatchewan. In the early 1870s, an influential Blackfoot chief, Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), adopted Poundmaker and gave him the name Makoyi-koh-kin (Wolf Thin Legs), after a son whom Crowfoot had lost in battle. Poundmaker returned to the Cree after living for a time with the Blackfoot, but he maintained a friendship with his adopted father.

A black-and-white photograph of Poundmaker standing in front of a tipi wearing a fur hat, a shirt and vest, a blanket around his waist, and moccasins. Standing next to him is his wife, wearing a blanket around her shoulders over a dress.

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), right, with his wife, circa 1884 (a066596-v8)

A black-and-white photograph of Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), seated holding an eagle feather fan and wearing a hide shirt adorned with fur and beads or quills.

Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot) in 1886 (c001871)

By August 1876, Poundmaker had become a headman and spoke at the Treaty Six negotiations. He was successful in having a famine clause added to the treaty, which promised that the Canadian government would provide rations to the signatory nations during times of food scarcity. Poundmaker recognized that the majority of his band favoured making a treaty, and he signed it on August 23, 1876. In 1879, Poundmaker and his band settled on a reserve about 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Battleford.

Faced with the ever-increasing settlement of the West, which reduced the land and game that First Nations relied on to survive, Poundmaker urged his people to remain peaceful. He advised that war was no longer a feasible option, and in his words, “our only resource is our work, our industry, our farms.” In 1883, the Canadian government reduced the rations they had been providing to First Nations, and many were dissatisfied with the government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises.

In June 1884, several bands came to Poundmaker’s reserve to discuss the situation, including Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) and his followers. With over 2,000 Cree gathered, they held a Thirst Dance (also known as a Sun Dance), a sacred ceremony in many Plains First Nations traditions. The North West Mounted Police attempted to disperse the Cree and prevent the Thirst Dance from taking place. Poundmaker and Big Bear were able to keep the peace for the time being, but it was clear that tensions between First Nations and the police were high, and it was becoming more difficult to restrain the young warriors in their bands.

In 1885, representatives of the Métis in the District of Saskatchewan, North-West Territories, wrote to Louis Riel, who was living in Montana territory at the time. They were also experiencing difficulty because of increasing white settlement and lack of government recognition of their rights, and they asked Riel to return to the region to help. Leaders of the Cree and other First Nations continued to meet with each other and discuss their worsening predicament. With buffalo herds in decline, hunting was no longer a reliable source of food. The transition to agriculture was difficult, and both First Nations and settler farms in the region were failing to yield sufficient crops. Many Cree were starving, and their leaders were desperate to find a solution.

In the eyes of the settler-Canadian press, the Métis movement and the First Nations movement were the same. In fact, although they had many of the same grievances, the Métis and First Nations leaders were far from being united. Poundmaker sought to pressure the Canadian government into honouring its treaty promises through peaceful means. But as the Métis resistance grew, some of Poundmaker’s band members joined in fighting alongside them. In papers seized from Louis Riel at Batoche, there are French and English translations of a letter from Poundmaker to Riel, in which Poundmaker responds to a letter from Riel. Poundmaker’s reply was likely translated from Cree to French for Riel.

Handwritten letter, written in English

Translations of Poundmaker’s letter to Riel, found among Riel’s papers seized at Batoche. (e011303062)

The letter is undated. Based on its contents, it was likely written after the Battle of Duck Lake, the initial engagement of the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance between the North West Mounted Police and commander Gabriel Dumont’s Métis forces. In this letter, Poundmaker expresses respect for Riel but also makes it clear that he is not interested in joining the fight and is ready to negotiate with the military. As the translation reads, “We have all laid down our arms and we wish that the war was finished between us and when the General arrives I am ready to treat with him (hear him literally) with the most sincere intentions of the most complete submission.”

Poundmaker saw the Métis victory at Duck Lake as an opportunity. He wanted to take advantage of the uncertain state that the Canadian government found itself in to negotiate for supplies and rations. His people desperately needed these, and the government was obliged by treaty to provide them. Poundmaker’s band and a Stoney Nakoda band that was camping with them went to Battleford to open negotiations with the Indian Agent. The white settlers had deserted the town and holed up in the fort with the Indian Agent. After waiting for a day, the starving band members looted the empty Battleford homes for food, despite Poundmaker’s attempts to prevent this action. Although greatly exaggerated by the press at the time, the “looting of Battleford” was an act of desperation, not an attempt to start a conflict.

When the Indian Agent would not agree to meet with Poundmaker, the band left the town and set up camp at Cut Knife Creek. Some of the warriors erected a warriors’ lodge at the camp, signifying that the warrior society had taken control. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and his column of soldiers travelled to Battleford. On April 31, 1885, he set out with over 300 men to attack Poundmaker’s band in retaliation for the perceived attack on Battleford. They arrived at Cut Knife Creek on May 2. Poundmaker did not take part in the battle, which lasted for seven hours before Otter withdrew. Poundmaker convinced the warriors not to pursue the retreating army, which prevented many losses. Following this attack, many of the warriors in Poundmaker’s camp departed to join the Métis forces in Batoche. On May 12, Riel’s forces were defeated. Upon learning this, Poundmaker sent a message to Battleford offering to negotiate a peace. Major-General Frederick Middleton replied that he would not negotiate and demanded Poundmaker’s unconditional surrender. On May 26, Poundmaker obliged and came to Battleford, where he was arrested

Oil painting of a large group of First Nations people sitting and standing in a semi-circle with tipis in the background. Chief Poundmaker is seated on the ground in the centre with a ceremonial pipe in front of him. General Middleton is on the right seated in a chair, with several army men standing behind him.

The Surrender of Poundmaker to Major-General Middleton at Battleford, Saskatchewan, on May 26, 1885. Oil painting by R.W. Rutherford, 1887 (e011165548_s1)

On August 17, 1885, Poundmaker’s trial began in Regina. He was charged with treason-felony. The trial lasted for two days. In our collection, we have a written account of the testimony that Poundmaker gave at his trial. This account was found in a box of miscellaneous files in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the author of this account.

A handwritten page in English.

A written account of Poundmaker’s testimony from his 1885 trial (e011303044)

Poundmaker spoke to the court in Cree, while an interpreter translated his words into English. According to the account, the Chief’s words were translated as, “Everything I could do was done to prevent bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now, I would be on the prairie. You did not catch me, I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace.” The jury deliberated for half an hour before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced him to three years in a penitentiary. The impact of this decision on Poundmaker was immediately apparent. According to the author of this account, upon hearing his sentence, Poundmaker said, “Hang me now. I would rather die than be locked up.”

For a man who had spent his life on the land, hunting and leading, the effects of incarceration were profoundly detrimental. After only one year in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Poundmaker’s health had declined so much that he was released. Four months after his release, he died of a lung hemorrhage while visiting his adopted father Crowfoot on the Siksika Blackfoot reserve.

Nothing can truly right the injustice of Poundmaker’s imprisonment, or reverse the damage that the loss of his leadership had on his band and the Plains Cree. However, recognizing this injustice is a step toward greater understanding between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

Dave Heath: sexuality, death and other demons

By Lisandra Cortina de la Noval

 “The themes that absorb him above all others are eros and God; or the mysteries of women and death.”

Cynthia Ozick

Two headshot photographs of the artist Dave Heath wearing glasses.

Diptych of Dave Heath, 2005, by Michael Schreier (e008299923)

Who is Dave Heath?

The late David Martin Heath was born on June 27, 1931, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Abandoned by both parents by the age of four and rejected by the rest of his family, Heath grew up in a series of Jewish foster homes until he was placed in an orphanage at age 12. Three years later, he began to pursue photography as an escape from loneliness, setting the stage for a long and outstanding career that would leave a mark on modern photography. In 1970, he came to Canada and settled in Toronto.

Mostly self-taught, Heath was a photographer, printmaker, writer, critic, editor and teacher. Best known for his book A Dialogue with Solitude (1965), he experimented with different expressive forms: traditional darkroom work, audiovisual slide presentations, Polaroid technology, digital colour photography and artistic journals. Heath’s journals, spanning 1974 to 2016, are now part of Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

Following in the traditions of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Heath considered photographic sequence as an art form and put the relations between words and images at the centre of his work. He understood photography as a “wordless poetry” (Dave Heath journals). His art, though deeply personal, is an exploration of the human condition.

A gentle yet haunted soul

Reclusive by nature, Heath lived his life as a continuous struggle. The abandonment in his early years, by his mother in particular, was a curse he was unable to exorcise throughout his adult life. Adopting the name “Dave” was his way of gaining the necessary dimension, presence and character denied to him as a child. This became his name as an artist.

Despite his abandonment issues and his inability to connect with others or to maintain a long-term relationship, his work reveals his love for women. In his journals, he wonders: “Is the repetitive preoccupation with women in my work an avenue to escape the original trauma by investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery so that she becomes reassuring rather than dangerous, thus transforming her into something satisfying in itself, a work of art?” This might explain his fascination with the female body, breasts in particular, not only as sexual objects but also as “loving warmth and heart of a woman—forgiving, comforting, consoling and life-affirming” (self-interview by painter Paul Matthews, September 26, 2006, Dave Heath journals). Sexuality was for him a source of artistic ideas. He created and gathered an amazing collection of pictorial erotica over the years. His last book, Eros and the Wounded Self, brings together a selection of his polaroids of women.

Always the loner, Heath had very few friends, but he loved them dearly. His journals show a gentle soul, a man who unhesitatingly supported his friends and fellow artists, economically and emotionally. “You must persist without guarantee of recognition, fame, fortune or posterity. It is the burden of being a true artist rather than a spurious imitation” (Dave Heath journals).

“Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end”

(from “Just A Smack At Auden,” poem by William Empson, Dave Heath journals)

“We live, we die. Only death and oblivion our true destiny.”

Dave Heath

Death is treated extensively in Heath’s work, but not in the traditional “fear of death” way. He confessed that he had thought of death since he was seven years old, or probably even four, when his mother deserted him. His work, based on profound loss, explores the inevitability of death. Everyone is born to die, but what really mattered to him was what we do before then, what we are able to accomplish while living: legacy versus oblivion.

His final years were a race against death, as he worked hard to finish a last body of work, his swan song. Despite some health issues, he managed to complete and publish his last two books: Dave Heath’s Art Show (2007), featuring some of his digital work, and Eros and the Wounded Self (2010).

Heath died on June 27, 2016, his 85th birthday, at his home in Toronto. He lived his life wanting to redeem the stain of rejection through creative work. “It has always been my wish, my thought, my desire, my ambition that my work would be the marker of my life on earth, the truer memorial of my advent” (Dave Heath journals).

If you are in the National Capital Region this summer and want to see his work, visit the Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, which continues until September 2, 2019.


Lisandra Cortina de la Noval is a photo archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Prime Ministers and the Arts”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Prime Ministers and the Arts”.

Colour image of a puppet that resembles Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

Library and Archives Canada is the main repository for documents relating to Canada’s Prime Ministers. LAC not only has all the political documents relating to each Prime Minister, but also intriguing, less official and often unexpected items.

The exhibition entitled Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses curated by LAC employees Madeleine Trudeau and five time podcast guest Meaghan Scanlon, weaves artwork, artifacts, documents, objects, portraits and photographs together to reveal a less formal, but equally fascinating side to our former Prime Ministers.

The exhibition is on right now at 395 Wellington in Ottawa. It runs until December 3rd, 2019.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

Related Links:

Discover the Collection: Art

Discover the Collection: Biography and People

Discover the Collection: Politics and Government

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

The Winnipeg General Strike trials: a new Co-Lab challenge

By David Cuthbert

This year marks the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike, one of the most pivotal events in Canadian and world labour history. As my colleague Kelly Anne Griffin described in an earlier blog post, the strike saw over 30,000 men and women from various backgrounds stand together for six weeks to demand collective bargaining rights, fair wages and more power for working people.

The strike is also historically noteworthy for the federal government’s role in its suppression, and for the deportations and criminal prosecutions of some of the strike’s leaders on questionable charges. Among the numerous records related to the Winnipeg General Strike held by Library and Archives Canada (LAC), a large, two-volume Department of Justice file provides powerful evidence of the federal government’s involvement in the strikes and of the public’s response to the arrests and trials of the strike leaders. This file is known as RG 13 (Department of Justice), 1987-88/103, Box 36, 9-A-1688, “William Ivens and Robert Russell the King Vs. the A/M Regarding the Winnipeg Strike.”

A selection of digitized documents from the first volume of this file is now available as LAC’s latest Co-Lab challenge. The Co-Lab is a crowdsourcing tool that the public is invited to use to enhance the description and discoverability of particular archival documents. By contributing transcriptions, translations, tags and descriptive text through the Co-Lab challenge, individuals can help improve LAC’s search tools and enrich everyone’s experience of the historical record.

Telegram dated August 29, 1919, from the Women’s Labor League of Elmwood Winnipeg to the Minister of Justice condemning the government’s actions toward the strike leaders and demanding their release.

Telegram from Women’s Labor League of Elmwood Winnipeg to the Minister of Justice, August 29, 1919 (e011201449)

Arthur Meighen and A.J. Andrews

Department of Justice file 9-A-1688 earned some notoriety among historians of the Winnipeg General Strike following the publication in 2010 of a book by Reinhold Kramer and Tom Mitchell, When the State Trembled: How A.J. Andrews and the Citizens’ Committee Broke the Winnipeg General Strike. Kramer and Mitchell carefully examine the correspondence in the second volume of this file. They demonstrate the extraordinary extent to which the federal government’s response to the strike was guided by representatives of the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand, a private group established by members of Winnipeg’s business and ruling classes to oppose the strike.

Prominent local lawyer and former Winnipeg mayor A.J. Andrews emerged as the principal strategist of the Citizens’ Committee. After persuading Acting Justice Minister Arthur Meighen to appoint him as an informal representative of the federal Department of Justice, Andrews sent frequent reports to Meighen on developments in Winnipeg. Andrews argued that foreign revolutionaries had orchestrated the strike, and he urged the federal government to take decisive action. He saw the strike as a political opportunity to defeat the labour movement and tried to thwart any negotiations with the Central Strike Committee.

Meighen was initially reluctant to encroach on the jurisdictions of the civic and provincial governments by intervening in the strike. Nevertheless, with the encouragement of Andrews, Meighen amended the Immigration Act in early June to permit the federal government to deport British-born individuals suspected of subversive activities. This amendment allowed the government to target some prominent leaders of the strike, many of whom were trade unionists born in Great Britain, who had previously enjoyed the same rights as Canadian-born citizens.

Arrests in the night

In the early hours of June 17, Andrews ordered the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP) and a squad of “special constables” recruited by the Citizens’ Committee to raid the Central Strike Committee headquarters and the homes of several strike leaders. The RNWMP seized documents and books as evidence, and arrested R.B. Russell, William Ivens, George Armstrong, R.E. Bray, A.A. Heaps, John Queen, Max Charitonoff, Oscar Schoppelrei and Moses Almazoff. More arrests, of others also perceived as strike leaders, including William Pritchard, J.S. Woodsworth, Samuel Blumenberg and Fred Dixon, followed over the next week. R.J. Johns was arrested when he returned to the city.

The first page of a typewritten document listing and summarizing the documents obtained from Room 30 of the Ukrainian Labour Temple. The descriptions include short summaries of minutes from Central Strike Committee meetings.

A list of documents confiscated from the Ukrainian Labour Temple after the Royal North-West Mounted Police raided the Central Strike Committee headquarters in the early morning of June 17, 1919 (e011201486)

The federal state’s apprehension of the leaders inspired immediate outrage among supporters of the strike. A group of war veterans organized a silent march to protest the arrests, which led to the large June 21 gathering on Main Street that triggered the explosive events of Bloody Saturday. Another group of veterans submitted a petition to the Department of Justice requesting their own deportations from Canada, because they felt that “this Country is not Governed in the Democratic Spirit for which we fought.”

A petition dated June 24, 1919, with a typewritten statement followed by columns for signatures, addresses and the number of family members. The signatures, addresses and family members listed below the statement are in manuscript.

A petition signed by war veterans requesting their own deportations because Canada is no longer “Governed in the Democratic Spirit for which we fought.” (e011201484)

A “seditious conspiracy”

Shortly after the detention of the strike leaders, Meighen was surprised to learn that Andrews wanted to charge some of the men under the Criminal Code, rather than the Immigration Act. Meighen resisted this approach for as long as he could, but with the return from Europe in early July of Charles Doherty, the Justice Minister for whom Meighen had been acting, Andrews found an audience more receptive to his plan. Ultimately, only the four detained strike leaders of Eastern European ancestry—Blumenberg, Charitonoff, Schoppelrei and Almazoff—had immigration hearings, and all but Almazoff were deported.

The intention of Andrews to criminalize the strike was evident at the preliminary hearing for Russell, Ivens, Armstrong, Bray, Heaps, Queen, Pritchard and Johns. (The trials of Woodsworth and Dixon took place later.) Each man faced charges of six counts of involvement in a seditious conspiracy and one count of committing a common nuisance. Importantly, the charges related not only to the men’s actions during the strike but also to the ideas they had espoused and the public statements they had made over the previous year. The Crown, with Andrews as its lead prosecutor, maintained that the men had contributed to the strike by promoting conflict between social classes and by advocating the overthrow of the Canadian government. As Andrews phrased it during the preliminary hearing, “They started the fire and it was still burning.”

Moreover, the judges presiding over the preliminary hearing concurred with the argument by Andrews that the eight men could not be trusted to refrain from speaking and agitating for their cause in public. In a shocking decision, the judges denied the strike leaders release on bail while they awaited their trial date. Although an appeal would overturn this decision a month later, the injustice endured by the jailed strike leaders inspired another campaign of protest, one that is richly documented in the Co-Lab documents.

A manuscript letter on yellowing paper dated August 26, 1919.

Letter to the Minister of Justice, Charles Doherty, from William G. Irwin of Winnipeg (e011201451)

Shortly before the trial was set to begin in November 1919, the prosecution separated R.B. Russell’s case from those of the other seven accused leaders, partly to facilitate the appointment of a jury more favourable to a conviction. Found guilty by the jury on all counts, Russell was sentenced to two years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. The trial of the remaining seven leaders in January 1920 resulted in the convictions of six of the defendants, with only Heaps cleared of all charges.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld Russell’s guilty verdict. With no dissenting opinions in the provincial appeal, the case was ineligible for reference to the Supreme Court of Canada. Nevertheless, Russell’s supporters elected to send his case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in Great Britain. The JCPC was reluctant to interfere in a foreign criminal case and declined the appeal, but the document submitted to petition for appeal offered a detailed summary of the charges and evidence against Russell and the other leaders. It also contained lengthy extracts from the transcript of the trial and a summary of some of the legal indiscretions that, in the petitioners’ view, contributed to Russell’s wrongful conviction.

A page of typescript, with a handwritten note in the left-hand margin at the top of the page.

First page of the Petition for Special Leave to Appeal (e011201487)

According to Mary V. Jordan, Russell’s long-time secretary, the judge who presided over Russell’s first trial asked on his deathbed to speak with Russell, presumably because the judge felt guilty about the trial’s outcome. However, Russell refused to visit him.

An appeal for collaboration

LAC’s latest Co-Lab challenge offers participants a chance to examine in great detail some of the public and legal responses to the Winnipeg General Strike. As noted above, Kramer and Mitchell’s When the State Trembled provides a thorough discussion of the behind-the-scenes efforts by A.J. Andrews to break the strike, as documented in the second volume of Department of Justice file 9-A-1688. By focusing on the first volume of the same file, this Co-Lab challenge highlights some of the public expressions of support for the strike leaders and invites participants to reconsider the verdicts of the Winnipeg General Strike trials.


David Cuthbert is an archivist in the References Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada’s Winnipeg office.