A.P. Low and the Many Words of Love in Inuit Culture

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

Albert Peter Low was a geologist and explorer, whose expeditions to Quebec and Labrador from 1893 to 1895 assisted in the creation of their borders. Low mapped the interior of Labrador and discovered large iron deposits, which later lead to the development of the iron mine at what is now Labrador City. His mapping of Labrador influenced expeditions after him including that of Mina Hubbard in 1905.

Black-and-white portrait of a man standing in a photo studio.

Portrait of Albert Peter Low by William Topley, 1897. (a214276)

In 1903 and 1904, Low commanded two expeditions on the steamer Neptune up the west coast of Hudson Bay where he formally claimed possession of Southampton, Ellesmere, and adjacent islands for Canada. Low detailed his travels in Cruise of the Neptune (Report on the Dominion Government Expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands on Board the D.G.S. Neptune 1903-1904). Much of his research was invaluable in the recording of Inuit culture in Quebec, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Albert Peter Low fonds includes photographs, proclamations, and journals, two from a prospecting trip along the east coast of Hudson Bay, now known as the Inuit region of Nunavik, Quebec and one notebook written between 1901 and 1907. The notebook records 40 pages of the many tenses and corresponding suffixes of the verb “to love” in Inuktitut. In the photo below, we see a notebook page starting with the basic form “him, her or it loves.” He moves on to record, in lesser detail, the variations of the verb “to teach.” At the end he lists other transitive verbs, passive verbs, and adverbs, many related to Christianity.

A handwritten page of a notebook, recording Inuktitut vocabulary for the word “love.”

A page from the notebook kept by Low during his expeditions along the coast of Hudson Bay. (e011304604)

In 1886, Low married Isabella Cunningham and they had three children. Sadly, their first son died as an infant in 1898, and their second son died at age 19 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Only their daughter Estelle, born in 1901, survived to adulthood and looked after her ailing father until his death in 1942. In 1943, she donated his collection to the Public Archives of Canada, which included Inuit art, mainly hunting scenes rendered in ivory. The collection was transferred to the Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of History) in 1962. Most of the works are miniature ivories created by Harry Teseuke, leader of the Aivilingmiut and Captain Comer’s mate. Comer’s ship, Era, wintered in Fullerton Harbour (near Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut) in 1903–1904. Low likely consulted with Teseuke who may have enlisted others to assist with Low’s research.

Although this journal is an extensive study of the sentence structure and grammar of Inuktitut, it also sheds light on Inuit culture. You’ll notice that verbs have no masculine or feminine forms or gender pronouns. This relates to the practice of naming children, as traditional Inuit names are unisex. And this is tied to the somewhat intricate practice of creating sauniq (namesake) relationships. For example, if a boy was named after a deceased woman with children, those children would address the boy as “my mother” or “my little mother” to acknowledge that special relationship. Bonds are often formed between people who are not related. It’s a lovely way of creating a strong sense of belonging and strengthening interconnectedness within a community. Inuit believe some of the unique characteristics of someone who has passed can live on in their namesake. Of course, love is the tie that binds these concepts.

Black-and-white photo of a ship surrounded by snow and ice, with people next to it building a snow shelter.

The expedition ship Neptune in its winter quarters at Cape Fullerton, Hudson Bay, Northwest Territories. (a053569)

I can’t help but wonder what Low’s fascination was with this particular word. With varied interests including geology, botany, photography, and hockey, he leaves the impression of an educated man with a curious mind. Was it curiosity alone that fed his hunger to know the nature of Inuit love? Despite the study of Inuktitut words related to Christianity, he was familiar with the Inuit traditional practice of polygamy. In Cruise of the Neptune, Low defends the custom, calling it a mistake for missionaries to attempt to abolish the practice. All of this paints a picture of a liberal-minded man and an early ally of Inuit. No personal writing or correspondence by Low has survived. Therefore, we will never truly know what inspired his fascination with Inuit culture and its many expressions of love.

Black-and-white photo of a woman sewing skin boots, while a child plays with her braids.

Rosie Iggi, also called Niakrok (left), and Kablu (right). Kablu is sewing kamiks (boots), and Niakrok is playing with Kablu’s braids. Photograph by Richard Harrington, 1950. (a147246)

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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is a researcher for the We Are Here: Sharing Stories project at Library and Archives Canada.

Inuit Qimmiit (sled dogs)

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 Laura Johnston

Traditionally, qimmiit (sled dogs) were an important part of Inuit culture. They represented a way of life and a connection to the land. Qimmiit were especially useful in transportation, safety and hunting. Today, however, the relationship between Inuit and qimmiit has changed, in part because of permanent settlement and a massive decline in the qimmiit population. Qimmiit have become more of a symbol or a connection to the cultural past.

Black-and-white photo of a team of sled dogs pulling a sled across an expanse of snow.

Qimuksiqtut (dog team with more than one person), Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly Coppermine, Northwest Territories), 1949 (a129937)

A black-and-white photo of a sled dog jumping across an opening of water, while a man holds its reins.

Phillip Napacherkadiak and his Qimuksiqtuq (dog team with one driver), Taloyoak, Nunavut (formerly Spence Bay, Northwest Territories), 1949–1950 (a129590)

Before the snowmobile was introduced to the North in the 1960s, going by qimuksiqtuq (dog team) was the primary means of transportation to travel across the frozen land and sea. Even after the introduction of the snowmobile, some preferred qimmiit as a way to travel. In contrast to the noise of snowmobiles, travelling by qimuksiqtuq was more pleasant and peaceful.

A black-and-white photo of a sled dog resting on the snow.

Qimmiq (sled dog) resting during a trip from Moose Factory Island, Ontario, to Kuujjuarapik, (formerly Great Whale), Quebec, 1946 (e010692583)

Travelling by qimuksiqtuq offered other benefits, including safety and protection. On account of their acute senses, qimmiit were useful for their ability to find their way home, or even a temporary camp, if a traveller were caught in a blizzard or a whiteout. Qimmiit were also useful to Inuit for travelling safely over ice. They were better able to sense whether the ice was too thin, and were usually able to avoid such areas. Qimmiit could also spread out and disperse their weight when travelling over thinner ice, making it less likely for a sled to fall through. However, even if a qimmiq (a single dog) fell through the ice, not every dog—or the traveler—would necessarily be endangered.

A black-and-white photo of a man holding a sled dog. The sled dog is wearing booties.

Possibly Ulaajuk and his qimmiq, Taloyoak, Nunavut (formerly Spence Bay, Northwest Territories) (a114721)

Qimmiit offered safety to Inuit in another way: from the threat of polar bears. Polar bears can be aggressive toward humans; they can pose a real danger to Inuit communities, especially travellers. Qimmiit were ideal protection, as they could warn people about bears entering a camp. Even without training, qimmiit would instinctively fight off polar bears. Consequently, Inuit travellers were able to sleep in peace and without fear when out on the land.

A black-and-white photo of some people pulling a seal, which they have just hunted, out of a hole in the ice. A sled dog team is in the background.

From left to right, Aqaatsiaq, Ipeelie Inuksuk, Felix Alaralak and Uqaliq, and their qimuksiqtut (dog team), Iglulik, Nunavut (formerly Igloolik, Northwest Territories) (a146059)

In additional to protection and safety, qimmiit played an important role in assisting Inuit in seal hunting. Hunting has traditionally been a defining element of Inuit life and culture. While the dogs were not necessarily trained to hunt, Inuit relied on the keen sense of smell of qimmiit to sniff out the locations of breathing holes and seals.

A black-and-white photo of a man with a dog.

Unidentified Inuk with his qimmiq, Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly Coppermine, Northwest Territories) (a146586)

Transportation, safety and assistance in hunting were all ways that qimmiit traditionally aided life in the Arctic. However, the enforced settlement of Inuit into permanent communities, and the dog slaughter during the 1950s and 1960s, resulted in a massive decline in the dog population. For more information on the slaughter, visit the Qikiqtani Truth Commission. In August 2011, the Quebec government offered an official apology for the negative effects on Inuit society of the mass slaughter of sled dogs in Nunavik (northern Quebec). This decline across the North created a profound shift in the relationship of Inuit with qimmiit. Today, qimmiit are mainly used for racing, which is a demanding and challenging sport. Dog racing has since become a celebrated new tradition in many Inuit communities.

A colour photo of two men with a team of sled dogs pulling a sled up a hill.

Qimuksiqtut at “Innukshuk” historical site, located either on the Foxe Peninsula, Baffin Island or Inukshuk Point (also spelled Enukso Point), Nunavut, 1958–1966. Photo by Charles Gimpel (e011211980)

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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Laura Johnston, from the School of Art and Culture at Carleton University, is an undergraduate practicum student in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development records: Estate files

By Rebecca Murray

When researching First Nations genealogy, estate files can be a valuable source of information. Estate files are held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) fonds, known as RG10.

What are estate files?

The Department, now known as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada, continues to administer “the estates of deceased Indians” as per the Indian Act. The contents of estate files vary. These forms record vital information on the deceased, summaries of land and personal assets, summaries of debts, and vital information on heirs and next of kin.

The types of information found in these files can be very useful when conducting genealogical research. Before you begin researching, record the information you already have in a pedigree or family chart, both of which are available on our website. You can use any information you find in the estate files to fill in the blanks.

How do I identify estate files held at LAC?

The file title by the name of the deceased individual identifies estate titles held at LAC. Below are a few examples of complete references to estate files in our holdings:

RG10, 1996-97/816, box 91, file “Estate of Clifford Leonard – Kamloops,” 1928–1948.

RG10, volume 11266, file 37-2-8, “ESTATE NELSON, JOB,” 1928–1929.

2017-00390-5, box 4, file 411/37-2-179-48, part 1, “Estates – P. Meneweking – Spanish River,” 1946–1967.

These examples show the different title formats used by estate files. Researchers can search by family name, with or without the given name (first name). Sometimes the band name is included.

The department formerly known as DIAND has used various file classification systems throughout its history. The following file numbers indicate that a file is classified as an estate file:

Modified Duplex Numeric System (1950s–1980s): 37-2
Thousand Series: 16000
Block Numeric System: E5090

Aside from file classifications, this type of research is one of the few cases where searching by the name of an individual is the best method for identifying a relevant file. It is best to begin your search in our archival database, Archives Search. If you are unable to identify a file for an individual described in our database, do not worry. Many files are not described at the file level in our database.

To identify these files, try another search with keywords “estate” AND the name of the band or agency of the deceased individual. For example, complete a keyword search for “estate” AND “Sudbury” in two separate fields and submit. A long list of results can be filtered by hierarchical level on the left-hand side of the page; in this case, choose Accession.

One of the results, 2017-00390-5 “Estate Files of the Sudbury District Office,” 1900–1983, is an example of a set of 18 boxes of records comprised almost exclusively of estate files, with no descriptions at the file level. In these instances, check the Finding Aid section for information on how to access a file list. In this case, the finding aid (or file list) is not linked to the description, but it can be consulted in person at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, or you can write to us and ask that we check it for a specific name. Doing this extra step beyond the keyword search for the deceased individual’s name, and including your work in your written request, can help Reference Services staff triage and treat your request more efficiently.

How do I access estate files held at LAC?

You will find that access is restricted to most estate files held at LAC for privacy reasons. Please make an access request online. Some early files are open. Of those, some are available on digitized microfilm, for example: RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900, “CARADOC AGENCY – ESTATE OF THE LATE DOLLY NICHOLAS OF THE ONEIDA BAND,” 1897–1898.

If an open file is not available online, please request the original for Retrievals and Consultation.

A white page with black handwritten text.

The first of two pages of a letter from RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900 (e007575915)

A second white page with black handwritten text.

The second of two pages of a letter from RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900 (e007575916)

This information should help you to identify and access estate files held at LAC. To ask a question about estate files or on any other topic, please write to us!

________________________________________________

Rebecca Murray is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Butterflies, love triangles and the northern lights

By Shane McCord

The recently concluded Library and Archives Canada (LAC) exhibition Premiere included four drawings by midshipman Robert Hood (c. 1797–1821). These drawings were first presented on the Discover Blog in April 2015, shortly after they had been acquired by LAC. Robert Hood was a talented draftsman, cartographer, scientist, natural historian, and anthropologist before the term existed. He is remembered today for his participation in the 1819–1822 Coppermine Expedition, led by John Franklin. While on this expedition, Hood was the first to document various species of animals and insects. He was also the first to note the electromagnetic nature of the aurora borealis. Posthumously, some of his drawings were reproduced and published in Franklin’s account of the expedition, which included a glowing report on Hood’s work and conduct.

While Hood is known, to a degree, for the contributions to scientific knowledge he made during the expedition, his story is also remembered for the part he played in a now infamous love triangle between himself, a Dené woman known as Greenstockings, and Sir George Back, another artist who was part of the expedition. The story, which includes a failed duel between Back and Hood, has been told many times and is neatly summarized in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for Hood.

A colour lithograph of a woman sitting on the ground and mending a snowshoe, with a man standing on the right. Both figures are wearing long fur cloaks.

Keskarrah a guide from the Yellowknife Denes and his daughter Green Stockings, mending a snow shoe (e011156563)

All the members of the expedition were suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, and Hood did not survive. He was likely near death when he was killed by a fellow member of the expedition, the voyageur Michel Terohaute. Terohaute was executed for the murder, and was later suspected of cannibalism.

A watercolour of two young Inuit men wearing western-style clothing. One is captioned “Augustus”, the other “Junius”.

Portraits of the [Inuit] interpreters from Churchill, employed by the North Land Expedition. (e011154367)

The first of the four drawings shown in the Premiere exhibition is a double portrait of two Inuit guides and interpreters, Tattanoeuck (“Augustus”) and Hoeootoerock (“Junius”). Tattannoeuck was a member of three expeditions, two with Franklin (1819–1821, 1825–1827) and one with Back (1833–1835). He was heavily involved in these expeditions and was well respected by his companions, to the point that Sir John Richardson, a member of both the first and second Franklin expeditions, named a species of butterfly Callophrys augustinus in his honour. Hoeootoerock was separated from the members of the Coppermine Expedition during the crossing of the Coppermine, and is presumed to have died there.

Two of the drawings are depictions of northern mammals: a mink and a cross fox. At the time these works were produced, such species were becoming objects of study in Western European science. Images such as these were among the primary reasons why Hood, an officer with a talent for drawing, was selected for the expedition. Apart from their aesthetic value, these images were important as evidence of wildlife in the region of the expedition and provided valuable information for the expansion of the fur trade.

A watercolour of a mink peering into the water by a rocky river shore.

[Mink] (e011154368)

A watercolour of a white fox hunting a mouse in a snowy landscape.

[Cross Fox catching a Mouse] (e011154369)

The final and most interesting drawing shows the interior of a Cree tent. The inscription is “Interior of a Southern Indian tent; taken on the Basquiase Hill, Cumberland House, Hudson’s Bay. The tent is made of Moose skin parchment; the cloathes [sic] of the indians are made of skins. The cloth obtained from the English factories. March 25th 1820 Robert Hood North Land Expedition.” The drawing is valuable for the anthropological information it provides and for its historical context. In Hood’s journal from the expedition, he describes making such a drawing on March 31, and he provides several anecdotes regarding the people in the tent. It is yet to be determined if this is that same drawing and there is an inaccuracy in the dates, or if Hood made a second drawing.

A watercolour showing the interior of a tent. Seven people are sitting around a fire. One is a mother with a child in a cradleboard. Pelts or meat are drying on a cross beam and a pot of food is over the fire. A musket and a bow and arrows are leaning against the side of the tent. One person is eating and another is smoking a pipe, while the others appear to be observing the artist (Hood) at work.

[Interior of a Cree tent] (e011154370)

All four of these drawings relay important documentary evidence about the region of Cumberland House, in what is now northern Saskatchewan. These drawings are also fascinating simply as items carried on that ill-fated journey. The Franklin expeditions are an important part of the history of Canada’s development as a nation, and the tragic aspects of the first expedition in particular have made it one of the most popular and well-known episodes in Arctic history.


Shane McCord is an art archivist in the Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

The Eastern Arctic Patrol of 1945

By Mathieu Rompré

From the 1920s to the 1940s the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was using its own ship, the RMS Nascopie, to bring supplies to its northern stations and to rotate its employees in the Arctic. Every summer, as long as conditions allowed, the Eastern Arctic Patrol (as the yearly trip of the Nascopie was called) meant fresh supplies and the opportunity to receive basic health care. In addition, the ship carried goods (mainly furs) and people out of the communities. It is interesting to know that, from 1933 to 1941, the Nascopie also took tourists on board for a summer cruise of the Arctic!

Indeed, the Nascopie was typically carrying the personnel necessary to provide basic health care: a doctor, a dentist, an optometrist, etc. In 1945, Dr. Roy Gordon Hemmerich, a dentist from Kitchener, Ontario, was hired by the HBC to provide dental care for the company’s employees and their families. Other people living in the North, mostly Inuit and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers, were to receive dental care “to the extent of the time available”, as stated by the HBC in a letter to Dr. Hemmerich dated April 16, 1945. According to the letter, the services of Dr. Hemmerich would be paid “at moderate city rates”. Dr. Hemmerich decided to go ashore to provide his services, while the dentists who had made the trip before had chosen to treat patients on board the ship. Close to a hundred Inuit were treated by Dr. Hemmerich in the summer of 1945.

A black-and-white photograph of four children sitting on bags of flour.

Group of children watching the unloading of supplies from RMS Nascopie (e002213356). Facebook.

In addition to providing dental services, Dr. Hemmerich had the opportunity during his trip to witness firsthand an unusual event, as a member of the jury for a criminal trial held on the Nascopie. An Inuk woman, Miktaeyout, had been charged with murdering her husband in July 1942. Since the HBC supply ship was unable to break through the ice to reach Fort Ross (a now deserted HBC trading post on Somerset Island) in both 1943 and 1944, the trial was not held until September 3, 1945. Miktaeyout, who had been forced to marry an abusive husband after her first husband took another wife, pleaded not guilty to the charge. She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to one year of hard labor under RCMP watch at Pangniqtuuq (called Pangnirtung at the time) on Baffin Island. For more details about the trial, see The Ottawa Journal, May 24, 1946, p. 6, and The Living Legend: The Story of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Alan Philips (Boston/Toronto, Little Brown and Company, 1957
[1954], pp. 266–268).

A black-and-white photograph of woman with a child in an amauti getting her teeth examined by a dentist.

Dr. Roy Hemmerich performing a dental exam on an unidentified woman onshore, during a trip by the RMS Nascopie from Pond Inlet to Fort Ross (a184875). Facebook.

Even though the Nascopie sank in July 1947 after hitting an uncharted reef off Cape Dorset, Dr. Hemmerich made two additional trips North, in 1949 and 1954–1955, but the 1945 trip is by far the most well documented. Indeed, both Dr. Hemmerich and Dr. Arthur H. Tweedle, an optometrist and amateur photographer who was also part of the 1945 Eastern Arctic Patrol, have left textual documents, but also photographs and moving images, maps, etc., about their trip. Even though they are not from an Indigenous perspective, the Roy Gordon Hemmerich fonds (R15580) and the Arthur H. Tweedle fonds (R848) provide interesting testimonies of life in the Arctic around 1945.

Do you recognize someone in these pictures?

Please let us know! You can either email us, or follow the Facebook links under each photograph. You can also visit the Project Naming Facebook or web page to look at other photographs in the Library and Archives Canada collection that need identification.


Mathieu Rompré is a reference archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

A day in the life of a Reference Archivist

By Alix McEwen

I’ve always thought that, to be a good reference archivist at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), you need certain qualities. You need to have a solid knowledge of Canadian history and culture. You need to have an understanding of what is in LAC’s holdings, and how the records are collected organized. You must also enjoy working with people. However, it really helps if you are a lover of puzzles and are prepared to do some digging to help solve them.

A recent puzzle that came my way originated with a question from a former colleague about a copy of a particular document presumed to be a pre-Confederation Order-in-Council (OIC). He wanted to know if the federal Cabinet of the time had actually approved the OIC. The date scribbled in the margin of the document is “12 July 1856 OIC pp. 220-221 Vol. 10019.” Almost exactly the same reference information appears at the bottom of the document: LAC RG 10 vol. 10019 pp. 220-221. The subject of the text is the formation of the Indian Land Fund.

The copy of the record of pre-Confederation OICs is found in RG 1 E-8 (RG 1 = Records of the Executive Council of the Province of Canada). However, the LAC reference given is to a Department of Indian Affairs document (RG 10). A brief moment spent in our Archives Search database showed that the RG 10

volume 10019 corresponds to Matheson’s Blue Books, which did not provide evidence that this was an exact copy of an OIC.

Back to the first steps: I searched the indexes and registers of RG 1 E-7 volumes 72-93. These sources are available to help a researcher locate pre-Confederation OICs. The problem is they are handwritten and the writing is not easy to decipher. I looked for the following entries: Indian Land Fund, then Fund on its own, then Land on its own—but no luck.

On to the next steps: Google Books (yes, we do use Google!). A search there provided some confirmation that there was an OIC relating to Indian Affairs signed on the date in question. More importantly, it led me to an unpublished Indian Affairs research paper “The Indian Land Management Fund,” by David Shanahan. My colleagues in the LAC Aboriginal Archives section were able to provide me with a copy of this paper.

This was a turning point. In the introduction to this paper, Mr. Shanahan notes, “There is no satisfactory evidence that the fund was established by Order-in-Council as has been previously believed.” He then devotes a whole chapter to the origins of the Management Fund. Most important to me was the fact that there was indeed an OIC dated July 12, 1856; however, what it did was to set up the Pennefather Commission, tasked with discovering the “best mode of managing the Indian property.”

So, why could I not locate this OIC? This time I returned to the microfilm of the OICs themselves, not to the indexes and registers. As is the case with many of our unrestricted microfilm reels, access is much easier, now that they are digitized and available via Heritage. I found the section that covered the date in question, and was then able to turn from page to page before finally finding what I wanted. RG1 E 8 vol. 60 p. 443 12th July 1856 (reel H-1795)—that was my final reference. The OIC, indeed, did not set up the Indian Land Management Fund.

A microfilmed page with handwritten text from RG1 E 8 volume 60, page 443.

Order-in-Council dated 12th July 1856, RG1 E 8 volume 60 page 443 (microfilm reel H-1795)

I was still puzzled as to why I could not locate a reference to this OIC in the indexes and registers. Back I went, this time resolved to go slowly and start under the letter “I” for anything related to Indian. Before too long, I found my reward. The OIC was referenced in the index under “Indians, Civilization of”—an uncomfortable reminder that to search historical records you need to be aware of the terminology and attitudes of the time.

Do you have a puzzle that could use the attention of a problem-solving archivist or librarian? Submit your question in writing to us today.


Alix McEwen is a Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division.

St. Eugene Indian Residential School: Repurposing an Indian Residential School

By Katrina Swift

Less than 10 kilometres from Cranbrook, British Columbia, St. Eugene Indian Residential School was the smallest one in the province. Open from 1898 to 1970, the school was primarily run by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Providence and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Construction of the main building was completed in 1912.

Background

As a project between the Canadian government and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, the residential school system was in operation from 1892 to 1969. However, residential schools for Indigenous children predate Confederation, and the last one, run by the federal government, closed in 1996. Children from surrounding communities and reserves between the ages of 6 and 15 were coerced or taken away from their homes and forced to attend residential schools for 10 months each year, in many cases suffering physical, emotional, cultural and sexual abuse. By the late 1950s, St. Eugene was at its peak with 150 students, and even by its final year, it still had 56 students in residence.

A blurry black-and-white photograph of a building taken from the side, showing the main entrance and the front of the building.

St. Eugene Indian Residential School – Kootenay, main building looking south, Cranbrook, B.C. Photograph taken on September 11, 1948 (e011080318)

The painful impact of these institutions continues to cut through generations. In Rick Hiebert’s 2002 article in Report Newsmagazine, Chief Sophie Pierre, who attended St. Eugene from ages 6 to 16, says, “…there was this feeling to just blow it up. Knock it down. No one wanted to see it anymore.” But, Pierre continues, they were swayed by the powerful words of Elder Mary Paul. “She said it was within the St. Eugene Mission that the culture of the Kootenay Indians was taken away, and it should be within this building that it is returned.”

A technical drawing of a three-story building with a high peaked roof. The central front entrance has a peak with a cross above it.

A technical drawing showing the front elevation of St. Eugene Mission in Cranbrook, B.C. (e010783622)

Moving forward

In 1996, the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council submitted St. Eugene Residential School for designation as a site of national historic significance. According to Geoffrey Carr’s 2009 article in an academic journal, the application was rejected for a number of reasons: the site was going to be changed too radically, it did not satisfy the other criteria for the designations of schools, and finally, there was some wariness to commemorate a place that might be perceived as an embarrassment to the Canadian government. Instead, two years later, Coast Hotels & Resorts and the five bands of the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council (St. Mary’s, Columbia Lake, Lower Kootenay, Tobacco Plains and Shuswap) announced that they would turn the historic site into a $30-million resort. The five bands would hold the lease to the property and control all the shares of the development corporation.

Chief Sophie Pierre, the major coordinator of the project, recalls her time at the school as terribly lonely. “Brothers and sisters were kept apart, not allowed to talk to each other,” she says in a 2003 Toronto Star article by Ian Cruickshank. Elder Mary Paul was a key inspiration for this project, saying,“…if you think you lost so much in this building, it’s not lost… You only really lose something if you refuse to pick it up again.” For the Tribal Council to maintain the building, studies showed that a resort would be the most profitable way to proceed. Although most funding came from federal government loans and grants, the Tribal Council made a particular effort to operate the business without governmental help.

The St. Eugene residential school is “…the only project in Canada where a First Nation has decided to transform the icon of an often sad period of its history into a powerful economic engine,” according to the resort’s website, “by restoring an old Indian Residential [S]chool into an international destination resort for future generations to enjoy.”

Critics argue that the redevelopment of St. Eugene has put economic gain before social memory. Carr writes that “…St. Eugene’s bears both the imprint of national contrition and the grotesque, enduring features of colonial violence.” Nevertheless, Chief Pierre takes great pride in how much this project will benefit the community in the long term.

In 2001, the resort’s golf course was named Golf Digest Magazine’s third-best golf course in Canada. According to statistics from Aboriginal Tourism BC, the main demographic group to visit such resorts are upper-middle-class baby boomers. By 2004, after some unfortunate financial struggles and a court order by the B.C. Supreme Court, the project was taken over by the Mnjikaning First Nations of Ontario, the Samson Cree First Nations of Alberta, and the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council—effectively maintaining a complete First Nations operation, but with the Tribal Council no longer in its previous position of sole ownership.

Library and Archives Canada plays an important role in the collection and maintenance of information about residential schools across Canada. The records are integral for research regarding claims, architectural plans, and reports of administration and attendance. These records speak to the fact that the Indian residential school system was a deliberate choice by the Canadian government to take care of “the Indian problem,” as it was referred to in many government documents throughout this period.

Related resources

Sources

  • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Indian Residential Schools Located in the Province of British Columbia – One-Page Histories. Government of Canada, 2013.
  • Geoffrey Carr. Atopoi of the Modern: Revisiting the Place of the Indian Residential School. English Studies in Canada 35:1 (March 2009): 109–135.
  • Ian Cruickshank. Indian chief brains behind resort. Toronto Star (July 5, 2003): J16.
  • Rick Hiebert. Holidaying in Auschwitz: a BC indian band is turning an old residential school into a new resort casino [St. Eugene Mission residential school]. Report Newsmagazine 29:1 (January 7, 2002): 54.
  • Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, www.steugene.ca.
  • Ted Davis. C.’s First Nations welcome the world; Baby boomers are now joining international travellers in exploring the province’s aboriginal-based attractions. CanWest News (June 17, 2008).

Katrina Swift is a master’s student in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University who was doing a practicum in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Rosemary Gilliat’s Arctic Diary

By Katie Kendall

In June 1960, photographer Rosemary Gilliat (later known as Rosemary Gilliat Eaton), along with journalist Barbara Hinds, travelled across the Arctic. Northern Affairs Canada and the National Film Board of Canada sponsored her journey. Her assignment in Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay, Nunavut), Kuujjuag (formerly Fort Chimo, Quebec), Kangiqsualujjuag (formerly George River, Quebec), Killiniq (formerly Port Burwell, Nunavut), and Cape Dorset (Nunavut), was to take photographs of life in the north. During this period, Gilliat kept an extensive diary of her travels, describing the people, places, ways of life, events, and even the flora and fauna she encountered.

A colour photograph of two women fishing on the banks of a water body. They are standing on rocks and there are ice floes in the water.

Rosemary Gilliat (L) and Barbara Hinds (R) fishing (MIKAN 4731485)

As a practicum student at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) this term, I read the diary in full, taking note of important dates, people, places, and events. This will help improve the archival descriptions of Gilliat’s photographs in LAC’s collection. Many of the photos taken by Gilliat during this trip have been included as part of Project Naming, a LAC initiative that enables Indigenous peoples to engage in identifying the people, places, and activities in historical photos. Gilliat’s 455-page diary and many of her photos from the Arctic will be available for the public to help transcribe, tag and describe in our new and upcoming tool Co-Lab!

A colour photograph of two Inuit children wearing traditional coats in front of a white tent in a rocky landscape.

Two children wearing white parkas in the Arctic (MIKAN 4324336)

Gilliat’s diary describes many fascinating aspects of the Arctic in the summer of 1960, reflected in the almost-daily entries. Gilliat describes the landscape of the north in spectacular detail, and particularly focuses on the Arctic flowers at the start of her travels, when she had not yet made many acquaintances. Her occasional frustration with friend and travel companion Hinds is relatable, and her frequent photographic mishaps (for example, forgetting to carry film) are amusing. The snippets of news from the outside world provide the reader with a glimpse of life at that time. For example, Gilliat receives news about the ongoing space race—Russian dogs Belka and Strelka successfully orbit the Earth and return from space in August 1960—prompting Gilliat to muse on when the world will see the first human in space, which would happen less than a year later in April 1961. Gilliat also takes note of women’s roles in the north, referencing the second wave women’s movement of the 1960s.

A colour photograph of a community of wooden houses on the shores of a water body. There are flowers in the foreground.

Landscape view of wooden houses by the water (MIKAN 4731543)

Most importantly, Gilliat shares experiences with the Inuit of the communities she visits, accompanying members of the community while they fish for char, hunt for seals, and travel from one location to the next by boat or plane. Gilliat had a couple of near-death experiences travelling by boat through storms and ice, and was stranded a couple of times (once on an island for several days). In late August, she witnessed a beautiful polar bear swimming, only to realize that Eetuk, Isa, Sarpinak and Moshah, her Inuit companions, were going to kill it to provide food for their people. Gilliat’s expressive writing vividly explains her conflicting feelings on the event.

A colour photograph of a man seen in profile aiming a gun. He’s wearing a traditional fur-trimmed parka with alternating green and red stripes on the sleeves.

Oshaneetuk, a sculptor and hunter, on a seal hunt, Cape Dorset, Nunavut (MIKAN 4731420)

The hunting expeditions and tumultuous sailing events are thrilling, but the quiet moments between Gilliat and Inuit friends stand out. For example, in Cape Dorset, she meets Kingwatsiak, one of the oldest and most respected members of the community. Kingwatsiak invites Gilliat into his home and asks her to take a photograph of him. He also asks her to write a request on his behalf to Queen Elizabeth II. Kingwatsiak wishes for a photograph of her younger son, Prince Andrew, as his name (in English) is also Andrew. The letter is included in the diaries, and explains that he received a medal at the Queen’s coronation and travelled to Scotland as a young man and attended Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. He asks the Queen to deliver the photograph soon, as “I am now a very old man” and therefore may not have much time left.

A colour photograph of an elder wearing a traditional coat with green and red stripes on the sleeves. He is also wearing a medal with an image of Queen Victoria engraved on it.

Kingwatsiak in a tent, Cape Dorset, Nunavut (MIKAN 4324230)

Although much of the terminology and ways of thinking are outdated, Gilliat’s descriptive anecdotes and direct observations makes the diary a joy to read. She remains objective but eternally optimistic, describing what she sees but never letting it dampen her outlook on the beauty of the Arctic and the kindness and resolve of its people.


Katie Kendall was a practicum student (MA Art History, Carleton University) in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

“Incited to Potlatch”

By Sevda Sparks

A potlatch is a ceremonial gift-giving feast practiced by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the United States. The Canadian government’s potlach ban began in 1885, and underwent many amendments to strengthen it until its removal in 1951. Library and Archives Canada’s holdings include a wealth of material on the potlatch, including many letters and petitions on the suppression of the custom as well as efforts to continue it. Of special interest is the correspondence of Kwakwakawakw Chief Billy Assu, Indian Agent William Halliday, and British Columbia Chief Justice Matthew Begbie.

A black-and-white photograph of a streetscape with potlatch participants and items to be given away.

Potlatch, Alert Bay, British Columbia, June 1907 (MIKAN 3368269)

In the midst of the potlatch ban, Chief Billy Assu wrote to the deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs, J. D. MacLean, in 1919, explaining the potlach or “our old custom of giving away.” In describing the roots of the celebration, and the desire to retain it, Assu stated:

“We all know that things are changing. In the old days, the only things that counted were such things as food, dried fish, roots, berries, and things of that nature. A chief in those days would get possession of all these things and would pass them on to those who had not got any… ”

The potlach was a way to hold onto important cultural customs despite the changing times. Assu also commented more broadly on the potlatch in indigenous society:

“…some were trained to make canoes, some to hunt, some to catch fish, some to dry fish, some to get material to make our clothes, then we divided this up amongst the others. This was the beginning of our feast of giving away.”

Section 149 of the Indian Act, which banned the potlach, was a challenge to enforce, both practically and legally. It was difficult to determine exactly what the potlatch was, under the law, and to prove when it was happening. In 1889, Chief Justice Begbie found the legislation on the potlatch to be lacking when it came to sentencing, stating:

 “…if the legislature had intended to prohibit any meeting announced by the name of “potlatch” they should have said so. But if it be desired to create a new offence previously unknown to the law there ought to be some definition of it in the statute.”

The law was amended in 1895, and agents were particularly determined to prosecute those who were “incited to potlatch”, despite the lack of legal evidence in some cases, as demonstrated by William Halliday, agent to assistant deputy and secretary J. D. McLean in Ottawa. The methods of curtailing the potlach extended to holding meetings between agents and First Nations leaders, so that the agents could “read to them the specific article…and give reasons why the potlach should be condemned and done away with.” Agents deemed the tradition wasteful, leaving nations “near penury.”

After such a meeting, agent Halliday states:

“Yesterday and today they have been to a certain extent violating that section as they have been holding mourning ceremonies, part of which consists in singing mourning songs and part in receiving gifts from the surviving relatives, but I have not interfered with them in any way.”

Such accounts from agents and other departmental officials illustrate an attempt to monitor, control and suppress basic aspects of First Nations culture, even beyond the potlatch itself. This continued despite efforts by indigenous leaders to explain indigenous lifestyle and customs to government officials.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of potlatch participants with items to be given away.

Potlatch, 1907 (MIKAN 3572940)

The great contrast among Chief Assu’s letter, Justice Begbie’s remarks and Agent Halliday’s account allows for a more complete understanding of the potlatch ban issue. Assu’s letter is straightforward in describing the potlatch and its importance. Begbie’s comments speak to the challenges in attempting to use legislation to control cultural practices. Halliday’s account provides insight into the mindset and practices of the Canadian government at the time. Having access to these multiple perspectives highlights the importance of archival records in researching complex historical issues.

Additional resources


Sveda Sparks worked at Library and Archives Canada’s Vancouver public service point in the summer of 2017 as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).

 

Web Archiving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

By Russell White

The World Wide Web is the defining communications medium of our era, and a vital source of Canadian documentary heritage. At the same time, websites lack the durability of analogue materials and have a limited lifetime online.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was coming to a close in late 2015, there was concern in the archival community that historically valuable information created on the web since the TRC’s 2008 inception could be lost. To meet this challenge, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) archivist Emily Monks-Leeson and LAC‘s web archiving team began preserving websites related to the TRC that were national in scope. We collaborated on the project with archivists at The University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, who were at that time working on preserving TRC-related websites focused on the province of Manitoba.

Making It Public

The result of this collaboration is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Web Archive. Launched jointly with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), The University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba in July 2017, the TRC Web Archive provides public access to a spectrum of voices from the web related to the commission itself and, more broadly, to the theme of reconciliation. These include official TRC and NCTR websites and related documents, blogs and personal sites on the residential school system, media articles, and sites with a community focus on survivors, commemoration, healing and reconciliation.

The websites in the collaborative TRC Web Archive were captured, described and made accessible through the Internet Archive’s Archive-It platform. To date, LAC has collected approximately 260 resources that, we believe, will be invaluable to researchers, students, survivors and their families, and anyone wanting to learn more about the TRC, its effects and legacy, and the responses to it from individuals, organizations, and media.

Here are a few examples of archived websites in the collection:

  • âpihtawikosisân: Meaning “half-son”, this is the personal blog of Métis writer and educator Chelsea Vowel, who writes about education, aboriginal law, and the Cree language. The archived blog includes observations on the legacy and public perception of residential schools.
  • We Were So Far Away – The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools: A virtual exhibit that presents the stories of Inuit survivors of residential schools, providing moving examples of what life was like for students.
  • “The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (Parliament of Canada): This paper by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service reviews the TRC‘s historical context, provides an overview of its terms of reference and its purpose, and discusses certain themes drawn from past truth commissions and other transitional justice initiatives conducted internationally.

About the Commission

The TRC, which began its work in 2008, spent six years collecting testimony from over 7,000 former students of Canada’s residential schools, in order to reveal the harmful legacy of the residential school system. The Commission concluded in December 2015 with the creation of the NCTR at the University of Manitoba and the release of the TRC final report, which included 94 calls to action for reconciliation and healing across Canada.

View the archived TRC reports and calls to action from the NCTR website.

Students in uniform standing in front of the Battleford Indian Industrial School in Battleford, Saskatchewan, 1895.

Battleford Indian Industrial School, Saskatchewan, 1895 (MIKAN 3354528)

What’s Next?

The TRC Web Archive is an ongoing project, and we continue to add resources to it. In the course of our work, we were also inspired by TRC Call to Action #88—in support of Indigenous sport—to create a separate online archival collection focused on the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, held in Toronto with more than 5,000 participants from across North America.

We welcome nominations from the public. If you know of a site related to the TRC, reconciliation, or Indigenous issues more broadly that would enhance our collections, please send an email to LAC’s web archiving team at bac.archivesweb-webarchives.lac@canada.ca, and we’ll assess it for preservation.

Library and Archives Canada sincerely hopes that the TRC Web Archive adequately preserves the history and legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a respectful and sensitive documentary and research resource.

 

Related Resources


Russell White is a Senior Project Officer in Digital Integration at Library and Archives Canada