100th anniversary of legendary fishing schooner Bluenose

By Valerie Casbourn

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first racing victories of the Bluenose, the legendary fishing schooner from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The Bluenose was launched in March 1921 and triumphed in the International Fishermen’s Cup Race the following October. Winning the trophy, it sailed into the hearts and minds of those in Nova Scotia and beyond. The remarkable schooner quickly became a well-known Canadian icon.

The inaugural International Fishermen’s Cup Race was held in the fall of 1920, and the Halifax Herald newspaper donated a trophy for the winner. The race was established for working fishing schooners; vessels had to have fished on the Grand Banks for at least one season to be eligible. Elimination races were held off the coasts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, to select the challenger from each country. The two finalists then competed to win two out of three races for the cup. The American challenger, the Esperanto, won the trophy races in 1920 and sailed home with the prize. In response, a group from Nova Scotia decided to build a new schooner, giving it the long-standing nickname for Nova Scotians, “Bluenosers,” as a name. A local naval architect, William Roué, designed the Bluenose to be both a competitive racer and a practical fishing vessel. The Smith and Rhuland Shipyard in Lunenburg built the schooner. With an enthusiastic crowd looking on, the Bluenose was launched on March 26, 1921.

Black-and-white photograph of the Bluenose at the finishing line of a race.

The schooner Bluenose crossing the finish line, W.R. MacAskill, 1921 (PA-030802)

The Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg entered the registration for the Bluenose in its ledger on April 15, 1921. Ship registration records include information about ownership, and also the type, dimensions and means of propulsion of vessels. Library and Archives Canada holds archived records from Ports of Registry across Canada, and many older registers are indexed in the Ship Registrations, 1787–1966 database. The Bluenose of Lunenburg, registered in 1921, is one of seven vessels with the same name in the database.

Some older registers are available on digitized microfilm reels, on a partner website, Canadiana Héritage. The Bluenose appears on page 34 in the Lunenburg shipping register for the years 1919 to 1926 (RG42 volume 1612 [old volume 399]), and a digitized copy is available on microfilm reel C-2441. The Bluenose was official number 150404, and the owner of the vessel was the Bluenose Schooner Company Limited of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Copy of the two-page registration entry for the Bluenose in the ledger of the Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

The registration page for the Bluenose from 1921, in the records of the Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (Reel C-2441, image 615; RG42 volume 1612 [old volume 399], page 34)

Captain Angus Walters and the crew of the Bluenose headed to sea and successfully completed their first fishing season. In October 1921, the Bluenose entered the second International Fishermen’s Cup Race. The Annual Report of the Fisheries Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries for 1921–1922 includes a description of the race. After the elimination race to select the Canadian challenger, the Bluenose sailed against the American challenger Elsie in two races and won both. The trophy races were “held off Halifax on Saturday and Monday, October 22 and 24, and enlisted very great interest, visitors being present in large numbers” (Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1923, volume 59, number 6, sessional paper number 29, page 38). The annual report describes the second and final race as follows:

The second race, Monday, October 24, the Elsie again being first to cross the starting line—9.00.32—the Bluenose following at 9.01.52. For nearly three hours the Gloucester schooner had the Bluenose trailing in her wake, but the Lunenburg schooner showed her quality on the homeward stretch and crossed the finish line at 2.21.41, followed ten minutes later by the Elsie.

These races have awakened intense interest and will doubtless result in evolving a type of fishing schooner well adapted for both the salt and fresh fish fisheries.

Black-and-white photograph of sailing vessels at the start of a race.

The start of the elimination race, W.R. MacAskill, 1921 (PA-030801)

The victory of the Bluenose inspired great pride and interest in Nova Scotia, and this quickly spread further afield. The next year, the International Fishermen’s Cup Race took place off Gloucester, Massachusetts. In honour of the race, a delegation from Nova Scotia attended. The Canadian government also sent a representative and the escort HMCS Patriot. Prime Minister Mackenzie King wrote to George Kyte, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton South and Richmond, on September 23, 1922, to confirm that Kyte would represent the Canadian government at the forthcoming schooner race. The Privy Council passed an Order-in-Council to that effect (PC 1922-1937).

One-page copy of Order-in-Council PC 1922-1937, dated September 21, 1922.

Copy of PC 1922-1937, the Order-in-Council appointing George Kyte, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton South and Richmond, the Canadian government’s representative at the 1922 International Fishermen’s Cup Race (Reel C-2246, image 211; MG26-J1 volume 75, page 64113)

The Bluenose won the trophy again in 1922 and continued to race in the three subsequent International Fishermen’s Cup Races held in 1923, 1931 and 1938. The schooner became increasingly famous. In 1928, the Post Office Department began to depict Canadian scenes on regular issue stamps. The Bluenose was one of the first subjects chosen for a scenic stamp, representing the fisheries, shipbuilding and seamanship of Nova Scotia. Less than a decade after the launch of the schooner, the Post Office Department issued the Bluenose 50-cent stamp on January 6, 1929. The stamp has a composite design that shows the Bluenose racing off Halifax Harbour, based on photographs by Wallace R. MacAskill.

Canada Post 50-cent stamp with an engraving showing two images of the schooner from different angles.

Bluenose, 50-cent postage stamp, date of issue January 6, 1929, copyright Canada Post Corporation (s000218k)

The Bluenose continued to be a working schooner, fishing on the banks of the North Atlantic. The crew set a record for the largest catch of fish brought into Lunenburg. Additionally, the vessel and crew represented Nova Scotia and Canada internationally. The Bluenose sailed to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair and to England for King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935.

As time went on, circumstances changed, and the schooner was sold in 1942. Sadly, the original Bluenose was lost in 1946 after striking a reef off Haiti and sinking. However, the “Queen of the North Atlantic” is remembered fondly and commemorated in a variety of ways. For instance, Captain Angus Walters and naval architect William J. Roué are each featured on their own commemorative stamps, issued in 1988 and 1998 respectively. The schooner first appeared on the Canadian dime in 1937, and it is featured in a song by Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers. The Bluenose II, a replica of the original vessel, continues to sail from the port of Lunenburg as an ambassador for the province.

Related resources

Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit: Bluenose: A Canadian Icon

Canadian Museum of History: Items in the William James Roué collection


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Halifax office of Library and Archives Canada.

Inuit of the 1975 Canadian $2 bill

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 Ellen Bond

In October 2020, I found an article from the Nunatsiaq News about the Canadian $2 bill printed by the Bank of Canada from 1975 to 1979. The bank note was the first Canadian bill to show Indigenous people. Through further research, I found two other articles about the same bill, another from the Nunatsiaq News in 2018 and one from the Bank of Canada Museum blog in 2020. In the 2018 Nunatsiaq News article “Taissumani, April 7,” there is a photo of the back of the $2 bill, on which the names of those featured on the bank note are written in syllabics by the late Leah Idlout.

A colour photo of the back of the 1975–1979 Canadian $2 bill, on which the names of the six individuals depicted are written in syllabics.

The late Leah Idlout wrote the names of the six men on the back of the Canadian $2 bill in syllabics. (Image courtesy of John MacDonald and the Bank of Canada.)

Below is a chart showing various spellings of the featured Inuit men’s Inuktitut names. The names in the first column will be used in this blog.

The $2 bill was created from an engraving by C. Gordon Yorke based on the photograph taken in 1951 by filmmaker Doug Wilkinson for his film Land of the Long Day. While the actual film is available “onsite only” in the collection held at Library and Archives (LAC), it can be found online at the National Film Board (NFB). The location of the film was Joseph Idlout’s camp at Alukseevee Island, about 60 kilometres from Mittimatalik (also known as Pond Inlet), Nunavut (formerly the Northwest Territories). The scene depicts hunters preparing their qajait (kayaks) to chase, spear and retrieve narwhals spotted swimming in the water and resting among ice floes.

A black-and-white photo of six Inuit hunters loading their qajaqs with supplies for the hunt.

Photo was used to create the engraving for the back of the 1975–1979 Canadian $2 bill. Left to right: Crouching next to a qajaq, Gideonie Qitsualik inflates a sealskin float; Lazarus Paniluk lifts a harpoon; Herodier Kalluk loads a qajaq; Ullattitaq inflates a sealskin float; Joseph Idlout shifts a qajaq into the water; and Elijah Erkloo raises a paddle. Photo was taken during the filming of Land of the Long Day, directed by Doug Wilkinson, Nuvuruluk, Nunavut, 1952. Source: Doug Wilkinson, Baffin Island, Canada, around 1951, NCC 1993.56.541.

Many photographs in the collection held at LAC were acquired and catalogued without detailed information or without information from original inscriptions and captions found on records. Hence, these photographs reflect the biases and attitudes of non-Indigenous society at the time. Project Naming is an initiative conceived by Nunavut Sivuniksavut that initially sought to identify the names of Inuit depicted in archived photographs. Begun in 2002 as a collaboration between Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Government of Nunavut and the National Archives of Canada (now LAC), Project Naming was later expanded to include First Nations and Métis from across Canada. It posts archived photographs to its social media pages. The date, location, event or other identifying information for the photographs may also be missing or may be limited.

The three articles about the $2 bill had our interest piqued. This made us wonder, in a reverse Project Naming way, does LAC have other named photographs of these men? Here is what we found:

Gideonie Qitsualik – On the $2 note, Gideonie is located at the far left. Leaning over a qajaq, he is inflating a sealskin float. There is one other photo (below) of Gideonie in the LAC collection. It was taken at about the same time. In this photo, Gideonie is second from left. Gideonie later became a well-known Anglican minister in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.

Black-and-white photo showing four adults and three children cutting up seals. They are on a rocky beach. Canvas tents are in the background.

At front right, Joseph Idlout is bending over. The others, from left to right, are Herodier Kalluk, Gideonie Qitsualik, Daniel Komangaapik, Uirngut, Ullattitaq (Paul Idlout), and Rebecca Qillaq Idlout. They are cutting up seals. (PA18905)

Lazarus Paniluk – Lazarus is the second man from left on the $2 bill. He is holding a harpoon. He has not yet been named in any other photos in the LAC collection.

Herodier Kalluk – Herodier is the third man from left on the $2 note. He is loading the qajaq. There are two other photos of Herodier in the LAC collection. In this photo, below, taken in 1952, Herodier is on the left, and Joseph Idlout is on the right. Idlout had just caught a seal with his harpoon. Herodier is the grandfather of Juno Award-winning singer Tanya Tagaq.

A black-and-white photo of Inuuk standing next to a seal on the ice.

Herodier Kalluk (left) and Joseph Idlout look at a harpooned seal on the ice off Button Point, near Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut. (PA145172)

Ullattitaq – Ullattitaq (also known as Paul Idlout) is the fourth man from left on the back of the $2 bill. He is shown inflating a sealskin float. There are two other named photos showing Ullattitaq in the LAC collection. The photo below shows Ullattitaq as a young boy in September 1945 in Mittimatalik/Tununiq. Ullattitaq later became Bishop of the Arctic.

Black-and-white photo of a young boy wearing a fur-lined hood.

Ullattitaq (Paul Idlout) at Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut, September 1945. (e002344212)

Joseph Idlout – Joseph, the fifth man from left on the back of the $2 note, who is shifting a qajaq into the water, was the leader of a small community of families, including the Aulatsivik hunting camp, where Doug Wilkinson filmed his movie. Joseph is the person with the most photos in the LAC collection: he is featured in nine! Joseph is in the middle in the photo below.

Black-and-white photo of three Inuit men standing outside in the winter. All three are dressed in traditional clothing.

From left, Daniel N. Salluviniq (Saudlovenick), Joseph Idlout, and Zebeddie Amarualik, all holding Brownie cameras as they await the arrival of the Governor General, Vincent Massey, in Qausuittuq (also known as Resolute Bay), Nunavut, March 1956. (e002265651)

A black-and-white photograph showing a man in a qajaq about to throw a harpoon. There are snow-covered mountains in the distance.

Joseph Idlout prepares to throw an ivory harpoon from his qajaq, Mittimatalik/Tununiq, Nunavut, July 1951. (R002169)

Elijah Erkloo – Elijah is the first man at right in the image on the back of the $2 bill. He is getting one of the paddles ready. A search for Elijah did not turn up any photos, but there is a photo of his grandfather. According to the two articles in the Nunatsiaq News, Elijah was a young boy when the film was filmed. Elijah later became the MLA for Amittuq (formerly Foxe Basin). Elijah notes that Joseph Idlout, his uncle, was the leader in camp. This is probably why LAC has so many photos of Joseph.

A black-and-white photo of a man with long hair and a mustache.

Akomalee of Baffin Island, 1924. Akomalee, the grandfather of Elijah Erkloo, was a local Elder of Mittimatalik, Nunavut. (PA102276)

Identification of people and learning their names is important. The work of Project Naming has provided opportunities to identify individuals and give back to communities across the country. If you or anyone you know has more information about the men of the $2 bill, please let us know. That can include other photos of them in the collection at LAC in which they are not named, or more information about any of the individual men. We can then add this new information to the records, making them more complete.

Project Naming social media pages:


Ellen Bond is a Project Assistant with the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

Frederick W. Waugh’s time in Nunatsiavut

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.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

By Jennelle Doyle

When searching an archive, all too often we find things in places where we would not ordinarily expect. The life journeys of explorers, researchers, anthropologists and other individuals who have donated material to an archive are integral to identifying the scope of a given collection. Frederick W. Waugh was an ethnologist who worked for a time with the Anthropology Division of the Geological Survey of Canada. His visit to the Inuit community of Nain in Nunatsiavut, the region of Inuit Nunangat situated in northern Labrador, in 1921–22 is reflected in a photo album his son R.F. Waugh donated to Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Frederick Waugh had set out for Labrador in 1921, noting in his journal his intent to photograph and study Montagnais people (now Innu Nation [Naskapi–Montagnais]). However, Waugh ended up at Nain and primarily photographed and documented Inuit who lived in that area. His photographs, in an album at LAC, provide a glimpse into the everyday life of Nainimiut: dogsledding, gathering driftwood, skinning seals, ice fishing and more.

A black and white photograph of three men standing around a group of sled dogs, who are eating. There is a white building in the background.

Three Inuit men feeding sled dogs (e011369232-025)

The album captures an interesting time in the community. In Nunatsiavut, Moravian ties are strong and many Nunatsiavummiut (Inuit of Nunatsiavut) still follow Moravian practices. German-speaking Moravian missionaries from Europe began settling in Labrador in the late 1700s. They established eight missions along the coast, one of which was Nain in 1771. In 1921, the Moravian church in Nain burned down. Waugh’s photographs captured the early efforts to rebuild the church using debris from the original structure (pictured here). The Memorial University Archives has images of the Moravian church before the fire, as well as other photographs of Nain in this period.

A black and white photograph of the ruins of a building with snow-covered items scattered around.

Ruins of Nain’s Moravian Mission, which burned in the fall of 1921, Nunatsiavut. Photo Credit: Waugh (e011369232-018)

The Canadian Museum of History houses copies of similar photographs, as well as Waugh’s journals. His journals from this period were titled “Labrador Eskimo Notes.” These journals provide a detailed account of various medicines, games, hunting practices, food knowledge and customs. As noted in his journals from Labrador, one of his most frequent sources was Amos Voisey.

A black and white photograph of four boys in parkas looking towards the camera. There are two buildings in the background.

Four boys in parkas and black-bottom kamek (sealskin boots) (e011369232-009)

Archives can sometimes be tangled webs that are difficult to navigate. I hope that by highlighting this album, it will help connect some of the dots for others who are interested in content relating to Nain, or Fredrik W. Waugh himself. Some of the names of those pictured in the photos may be inaccurate. We encourage you to reach out if you have any additional information that could help us create a more accurate record.

All in all, these beautiful photographs speak for themselves.

If you are interested in Nain, Nunatsiavut and the Nunatsiavummiut, visit Heather Campbell’s blog about Judith Pauline White.

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.


Jennelle Doyle is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices initiative at Library and Archives Canada. Jennelle grew up in Churchill Falls, Labrador, her family being from both the south coast of Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. She has been located in Ottawa since 2019 and is currently a master’s student at the University of Ottawa while continuing her work on the initiative.

Charles Angus Cooke (Thawennensere): Language and knowledge keeper

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.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, for example, language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our Historical language advisory for more information.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

A painting depicting a canoe on a lake, with a house in the background, and trees and rocks in the foreground.
Ruins of Fort Senneville, Lac des Deux Montagnes, near Sainte-Anne, Quebec; view from west side of Tio’tia:ke (island of Montréal) looking northwest toward the Kanien’kehá:ka village of Kanehsata:ke (Oka), 1839 (c011891k)

The archival records of Charles Angus Cooke at Library and Archives Canada are invaluable for Kanienhkeha (Mohawk) language and culture revitalization. Cooke was born Thawennensere (Double Name) on Kanehsata:ke Territory (Oka, Quebec) in 1870. At age 11, he relocated to Wahta (Gibson, Ontario), and at age 23, he moved to Ottawa. These records of his important work are based on his knowledge of his ancestral language.

A typeset page of a newspaper with three columns.
Onkweonwe newspaper. Title from caption: “Aterientarajera naah ne Kasatstensera” (knowledge is strength). October 25, 1900 (OCLC 1007186921)

An original first edition of vol. 1, no 1 of Cooke’s newspaper Onkweonwe, dated October 25, 1900, is in Library and Archives Canada’s library collection. It is the only known surviving copy. The newspaper was groundbreaking because it was written entirely in the Kanienhkeha language and was the first to be produced in a First Nations language in Canada. Articles included current events, and topics such as foreign affairs, national affairs, the economy, sports, federal politics, hunting season dates, and the prices of produce and animals. The newspaper was a resource that could assist the economic endeavours of readers. It focused on and was distributed to communities in the region occupied by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) communities of the Six Nations all the way up to and including Wendake, a Huron-Wendat community in Loretteville, Quebec.

A map showing the grid of the Township of Gibson, with the labels Medora and Wood at the top and Baxter on the right.
Plan of part of the Township of Gibson, Ontario, now known as Wahta, around 1887 (e008311360)

When Cooke left Kanehsata:ke in 1881, he spoke only Kanienhkeha, but learned English after his first year at Wahta. He was a teacher there before being employed as a clerk for the Georgian Bay Lumber Company. At the age of 23 in 1893, Cooke was hired as a library clerk for what was then known as the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa. His position included being an interpreter, doing translation and performing clerical duties such as document classification. He was one of the early, if not the first, public servants from a First Nation to be employed by the federal government.

A black-and-white photograph of a street in winter. There is a signpost showing a railway crossing, houses, a person walking in the street and power line poles.
Street scene, Ottawa East, looking down toward the canal, December 14, 1895 (a view of Ottawa at the time that Cooke began his 33 years of employment at the Department of Indian Affairs) (a134222)

Cooke pursued progressive ideas for projects that would benefit First Nations, only to have his attempts thwarted by uncooperative supervisors. One of these projects included a dedicated Indigenous-specific library, but it was never implemented. In addition to his Onkweonwe newspaper, he was able to complete a Comparative and Synoptical Indian Dictionary.

A page with handwriting and stamps. At the bottom, it is signed “Yours sincerely, Charles Cooke.”
Saint François Agency, correspondence regarding the “Comparative Indian Vocabulary” (list of words frequently used by Indians), Charles A. Cooke, 1899–1902 (e007472965)

Additional language materials by Cooke are held in other institutions. An extensive compilation of Haudenosaunee names is held at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A copy of these records is kept at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, including a Kanienhkeha dictionary manuscript and other notes.

In 1913, Cooke assisted Marius Barbeau, an early ethnographer, in a grammatical study of Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga and Tuscarora languages. Barbeau would request his assistance again much later in Cooke’s life.

Cooke served as a recruiter during the First World War. He was seconded from the Department of Indian Affairs to help in enlisting what was to be a regiment composed entirely of First Nations soldiers, the 114th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He recruited in the Kanien’kehá:ka communities of Kanehsata:ke, Kahnawake and Akwesasne in Ontario and Quebec.

Cooke left the Department of Indian Affairs in 1926, having attained the position of Principal Clerk. He spent the next 12 years touring eastern Canada and the United States, reciting Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) and Huron-Wendat lore, songs and dances. In 1949 and 1951, he again assisted Barbeau as an interpreter at Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario.

It is perhaps incomprehensible to the modern reader that, for all of his contributions and knowledge, Cooke worked in a political system that did not allow him to receive “Indian Status” under the Indian Act. As an adult, he made applications to register for First Nations Status, but these were never honoured. The applications would suggest that he was not registered as a child under the Indian Act. Cooke was born in 1870, six years before the Indian Act of 1876, so he may have not been registered during this time of upheaval for all Onkweonwe (First Nations peoples).

Between 1911 and 1926, Cooke sought recognition under the Indian Act as a member of the Dokis First Nation, based on his lineage from his Ojibwa grandfather, Showandai, who was a member of the Dokis Band. The Dokis Band refused Cooke’s claim. He was also never admitted into the Kanehsata:ke (Oka) Band or the Wahta (Gibson) Band.

Cooke’s life was an exceptional journey, from his ancestral roots to the intellectual and political front in Ottawa. He recruited his fellow Onkweonwe to join the armed forces for the First World War, was the cultural bridge for Barbeau’s research, and finally travelled and performed his Kanien’kehá:ka songs and dances throughout Canada and the United States. Cooke and his legacy are not forgotten by Onkweonwe today; he lives on through the important work he did, which is still accessible for the ongoing efforts of language and culture revitalization.

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.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Kahentinetha Horn: Flying over the Land

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.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Kahentinetha Horn, of the Kanien’kehá:ka (People of the Flint), will be featured in an upcoming Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Indigenous podcast, in which a selection of events from her life will be highlighted. LAC holds a diverse collection of archival materials that feature Kahentinetha (or Kahn-Tineta) Horn. These include photographs, audio-visual material, film and correspondence. The materials document her vision, her resilience and her aspirations with respect to bringing Onkweonwe (First Nations) issues to the forefront.

Her name, Kahentinetha, translates to “flying over the land.” She has definitely lived, and continues to live, by her name. I am fortunate to have known Kahentinetha when I was growing up in Kahnawake. Kahentinetha was a vibrant force. She was tall, thin and athletic in stature, and had refined Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) thick straight jet-black hair. In the opinion of many—myself included—she was in a class by herself. Her speech was concise, her voice always clear, never wavering. She had an inquisitive mind and was always ready to debate and bring new light to topics and situations of the time. As part of the podcast team, I gained deeper insight into—and greater appreciation of—her incredible life.

In February 2020, Kahentinetha and her daughter Waneek visited LAC to view archival materials. These materials included correspondence written by Kahentinetha to Maryon Pearson, wife of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, to the Minister and the deputy ministers of Indian Affairs, and to other federal government officials of the time, as well as internal correspondence and reciprocal letters. Also, among the textual papers were Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council correspondence and documentation that included a poignant Band Council resolution against Kahentinetha, which was never carried out.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard. Uncut brush landscape is in the background. There are no buildings on the horizon

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle, grandmother of Kahentinetha Horn), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], c. 1925 (e010859891)

Kahentinetha remembers her father as a definitive influence in her early life. He stressed to her the need to use the Kanien’kehá language at all times. She continues to pursue this linguistic endeavour by collaborating with Kanehsatà:ke (Kanien’kehá:ka Oka) elders. Working with them, she documents the pronunciation and spelling of complex expressions that otherwise would be lost forever.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman smiling at the camera wearing buckskin regalia, a necklace, bracelets and a headband.

Carnival Queen Kahentinetha Horn tries her hand at the controls of a Viscount aircraft. A newcomer to Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA), she was crowned Queen of the Sir George Williams College Winter Carnival in Montréal just one week after she joined TCA. Kahentinetha is wearing buckskin regalia made by her aunt Francis Dionne (nee Diabo). (e011052443)

Kahentinetha was born in Brooklyn, New York, like many Kahnewakeronon, as her father needed to be close to where the iron work was. The family later returned to Kahnawake. Her father died tragically on the job, just a half hour from Kahnawake, at the Rouses Point Bridge, which links New York State and Vermont across Lake Champlain. She lived through the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. This canal permanently separated the community from its natural shoreline.

Kahentinetha studied economics at Sir George Williams University in Tio’tia:ke (Montreal). This afforded her the opportunity to work abroad, in Paris. She also studied economics at McGill University. This presented an opportunity to travel with two other students to Havana in December 1959, to observe the people of that country celebrating the first anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

A black-and-white photograph of two women and a man in business attire.

Officer Harold Walker introduces Kahentinetha Horn to receptionist Pierrette Desjardins as Kahentinetha starts her first day of employment at Trans-Canada Airlines. (e011311516)

Kahentinetha’s resume includes employment as a secretary with Trans-Canada Airlines (name changed to Air Canada in 1965) and at the Power Corporation. Her career in fashion involved daily modeling at the Canada Pavilion during the Expo 67 World’s Fair in Montréal, Quebec, and being photographed for fashion advertisements in magazines. She also acted in film and television commercials. In 1973, she was employed as a public servant at the Department of Indian Affairs, in the National Capital Region. In the summer of 1990, while she was in the midst of doing scholarly research on Kahnawake, Kanehsatà:ke and Akwesasne, the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance (Oka Crisis) had reached a critical point. She knew her mission was to support and defend the Kanehsatà:ke land. She went to Kanehsatà:ke in July 1990 with all four of her daughters and remained there until September 26. On that date, the Canadian army entered the area, dismantled the barricades, and arrested the remaining supporters, including Kahentinetha and her two youngest daughters, Waneek and Kaniehtiio.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people walking around large pavilions near the waterfront. There is a train with white cars in the foreground.

Crowd in front of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67. Date: 1967. (e001096693)

Beginning on February 21, 1991, Kahentinetha participated as an individual witness in the public hearing for the House of Commons that resulted in the publication of the Fifth Report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs (May 1991). She followed this with a presentation to the Commissioners at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), in Kahnawake, in May 1993. The RCAP hearings were held across Canada to collect information, evidence and counsel, as well as to uncover issues on which action was required. Most recently, she was involved and took part in welcoming the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders on their arrival in Tyendinaga on February 20, 2020.

A colour photograph of a woman with a white sweater standing and talking to three women, who are seated on the other side of a long table.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), Kahnawake hearings. Seated are Kahente Horn-Miller (daughter), Kahentinetha Horn and Dale Dionne. Standing is Mary Sillett (Inuit, Nunatsiavut – Labrador), RCAP Commissioner. Kahnawake site, May 1993. (e011301811)

Of the many Kanien’kehá:ka elders Kahentinetha has known, the late Louis Karonhiaktajeh (Edge of the Sky) Hall gave her special insight and inspiration. Hall was a traditionalist, activist, writer and painter born in Kahnawake in 1918, who died in 1993 at age 76. Hall used his natural artistic abilities to paint vivid and powerful scenes of Kanien’kehá subjects. He painted the iconic red warrior flag with the profile of a Haudenosaunee warrior in the centre. When he was elderly, she brought him into her home and cared for him. He gifted her a portrait he had painted of her. This may be the only painting that left his private collection.

Kahentinetha would regularly visit at my home, usually with several other relatives and friends, sometimes from other places. My mother, Josephine Kaientatie (Things all over), always had a meal ready, and no one ever left hungry. One of my vivid memories of Kahentinetha was her arriving in a white leather fringed jacket, matching mini-skirt and white boots. It was the sixties, and she was able to carry off this look because she had confidence. Stories told in these visits were usually a combination of political and social issues. When the topics were mixed with Kanienkeha:ka humour, an abundance of laughter would fill our home.

There are other, less serious, memories, such as those from the summer of 1971. Kahentinetha had just purchased her first car, a new-edition Ford Pinto. Kahentinetha took my mother, her baby daughter, Ojistoh, and me on a road trip to visit our cousins. Heading west to two Kanien’kehá:ka communities, Tyendinaga and Ohsweken, of the Six Nations in Ontario, we sped down Highway 401 in our shiny red faux Cadillac.

Of great pride to Kahentinetha are her daughters, all of whom have pursued their own ambitions with great success. Her eldest, Ojistoh, is a medical doctor; Kahente holds a PhD and is a professor at Carleton University; Waneek an Olympic athlete and a Pan American Games gold medalist; and the youngest, Kaniehtiio, works in many facets of the media including roles in film and television.

A colour photo of three women smiling at the camera, sitting around a wood boardroom table.

Kahentinetha Horn, Hilda Kaheratahawi Nicolas and Nancy Kanahstatsi Beauvais at the Kanesatake Language and Cultural Centre, March 6, 2020. Photo by Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour.

Kahentinetha now spends her time at her home on the east side of Kahnawake, not far from where the Lachine Rapids flow. She enjoys tending her vegetable garden, with the help of her many grandchildren. A stream of water flows by the edge of her land. Through her life, she has influenced, and connected with people of many cultures from around the world. She continues her contributions by providing guidance and sharing knowledge of Haudenosaunee culture, language and history with those who seek it. I am thankful for this assignment, which enabled me to reconnect with her. She was and did so much more than I remembered or knew.

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.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

The extraordinary life of John Freemont Smith—a Black History Month Co-Lab challenge

By Caitlin Webster

Please note that some of the terms used and documents displayed in this article may contain language that is outdated, insensitive or offensive.

The late 19th century saw thousands of people flock to British Columbia, but few were as remarkable as John Freemont Smith. With an enthusiasm for his new home and a determination to succeed, he flourished as a businessperson, a municipal and federal official, and a civic volunteer. His accomplishments were all the more outstanding given that he was a Black man in a white settler community. He endured racism throughout his life while also earning respect and admiration from his contemporaries. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds many records relating to Smith’s work as the Indian Agent for the Kamloops Agency from 1912 to 1923, and a selection of these documents has been prepared as a Co-Lab challenge.

Head-and-shoulders portrait of John Freemont Smith.

John Freemont Smith, ca. 1870s. Credit: Kamloops Museum and Archives KMA 6163

John Freemont (also spelled Fremont) Smith was born in Saint Croix on October 16, 1850, a few years after slavery was abolished in the Danish West Indies. He received his education and training as a shoemaker in Copenhagen and Liverpool before travelling through Europe and South America. He arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1872, set up a shoemaking business, and in 1877, he married Mary Anastasia Miller.

Black-and-white studio family portrait, showing Mary Smith and John Freemont Smith seated, and five of their children standing around them.

John Freemont Smith and family, including wife Mary and children Agnes, Louise, Mary, Leo and Amy, ca. 1907–1910. Credit: Kamloops Museum and Archives KMA 10008

After brief stays in New Westminster and Kamloops, the family settled in the Louis Creek area in 1886. There Smith set up a store, prospected for minerals and dabbled in freelance journalism. He also served as Louis Creek’s first postmaster, a position he held until 1898.

That year, a fire destroyed the Smith home in Louis Creek, and the family relocated to Kamloops.

Colour-coded map of a portion of the city of Kamloops, showing streets and building locations.

Fire insurance plan of Kamloops, British Columbia, May 1914 (e010688881-v8)

Smith continued to thrive in Kamloops, serving as alderman from 1902 to 1907, and as city assessor in 1908. He was also active in the community in other ways, helping to organize groups such as the local Agricultural Association, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Conservative Association, and the Kamloops Board of Trade, where he served as secretary for several years. In 1911, Smith constructed the Freemont Block building on Victoria Street in Kamloops, which still stands today.

Black-and-white photograph of seven men in suits posing on a wooden sidewalk in front of a building entrance. Bystanders, including two men in suits and two unidentified young girls in white dresses and hats, appear in the background.

Kamloops City Council of 1905: Alderman J.F. Smith, Alderman D.C. McLaren, Alderman R.M. MacKay, Mayor C.S. Stevens, Alderman J.M. Harper, Alderman J. Milton and Alderman A.E. McLean; in background: J.H. Clements and William Charles; taken at the corner of Victoria Street and 3rd Avenue. Credit: Kamloops Museum and Archives KMA 2858

In 1912, at the age of 62, Smith was appointed Indian Agent for Kamloops, a position he held for over a decade. Smith took this role at a challenging time. His predecessor was generally considered ineffective and absent, and the interests of the local First Nation, the Secwepemc, suffered even further as a result. In addition, the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs for the Province of British Columbia was established in 1912. Commonly known as the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission, it had a significant impact on First Nations land bases by adding to, reducing or eliminating reserves throughout the province. Some of Smith’s earliest tasks as Agent were to travel throughout the sprawling agency to collect data for the commission, and then to advocate for the Secwepemc against attempts to cut off the most valuable portions of their reserve lands.

Map showing reserves in the Nicola and Kamloops agencies, with colour coding indicating existing reserves, new reserves and land cut off from reserves.

Kamloops Agency, 1916 (e010772172)

In addition, Smith’s situation was complicated. As a Black settler in a predominantly white society, he experienced racism from many in his community. Yet his task as Agent was to carry out the Canadian government’s policy of assimilation for Indigenous peoples. As shown by the 1910 general instructions given to new Agents in British Columbia, the goal was to steer the Secwepemc toward farming and ranching rather than their traditional ways of living, implement a Western system of separate land plots for each family instead of collective land, and encourage an ideal of individual independence over values of mutual aid.

One page of a typewritten letter, with some handwritten annotations.

Page six of a “copy of general instructions to newly appointed Indian Agents in British Columbia,” 1910 (e007817641)

Given Smith’s status and work, it is likely he was not naïve about the nature of these policies, as implementing them would be a requirement of any Agent. This resulted in a complex situation: a racialized individual imposing assimilation policies on another racialized community, on behalf of a colonial governance system. It is evident throughout Smith’s time as an Agent, however, that he approached the work with intelligent pragmatism, an outstanding work ethic and a spirit of advocacy for the Secwepemc.

The vast size of the Kamloops Agency and a constant lack of funds were two overarching challenges of Smith’s tenure as Agent. Additionally, the difficulties of encroaching settlement and its resulting strain on reserve land and irrigation were issues that plagued Smith throughout the 11 years that he held the position. From Smith’s earliest Royal Commission testimony to his reports that were logged a decade later, LAC’s holdings show the frustrating dilemma he faced. His task was to implement a policy to encourage farming and ranching, but there were few financial resources to help move this goal forward. Meanwhile farmers, ranchers and corporations from the settler community diverted water sources, trespassed on Secwepemc territory and lobbied for the removal of desirable lands from reserves.

An example of this pressure was the continual vigilance and advocacy required to protect and retain Kamloops Reserve No. 1, which was situated directly across the Thompson River from the city of Kamloops. Prominent individuals in the city lobbied for the removal of the Secwepemc from the reserve as well as the subsequent sale of the land. Attempts during Smith’s tenure as Agent included a submission by the Kamloops Board of Trade to the Royal Commission in 1913 arguing that the Secwepemc would be better off if they sold the land and moved away from Kamloops, and that the city could more readily expand with the removal of the reserve.

Handwritten letter on Kamloops Board of Trade letterhead, affixed to a Royal Commission form with an exhibit number.

Application to the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs for British Columbia by the Kamloops Board of Trade, to sell all or most of Kamloops Reserve No. 1 (RG10 volume 11021 file 538C from Canadiana Héritage)

An additional attempt took place in 1919 when Henry Denison, secretary of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund, put forward a proposal to use the land as a settlement colony for soldiers returning from the First World War. Unsurprisingly, Smith opposed the renewed bid to obtain the reserve land. This elicited a racist response from Denison in a letter to Member of Parliament H.H. Stevens claiming, without evidence, that the Secwepemc resented having a Black man serve as Agent.

One page of a typewritten letter, with some handwritten annotations.

Page two of a letter from Henry Denison to H.H. Stevens, expressing racist and anti-Catholic views (RG10 Volume 7538 File 26 154-1 from Canadiana Héritage)

These experiences, as well as his wealth of knowledge of local politics and officials, made Smith well placed to identify unfair tactics used against the Secwepemc. Acquainted with the cronyism operating in many small towns, Smith could spot the discriminatory practices of some local governments. For example, while attempting to have a peddler’s fee refunded to Chief Titlanetza of the Cook’s Ferry Band, Smith explained the approach of one municipal government: “It is common property that the overhead maintenance charges of the City of Merritt are considerably maintained from money extorted from Indians in fines and other methods.”

Smith continued as Agent until 1923, and he remained in Kamloops for the rest of his life. He continued to write for the local newspaper and carried on with his volunteer duties in civic organizations such as the local Rotary Club. Smith died at his office in the Freemont Block on October 5, 1934.

Co-Lab is LAC’s online tool to tag, transcribe, translate and describe digitized holdings on our website. To commemorate Black History Month, LAC has created a Co-Lab challenge to transcribe records relating to John Freemont Smith’s work as the Kamloops Agent. Please note that some of the documents in this challenge may contain language that is outdated, insensitive or offensive.

To learn more about John Freemont Smith and the lives of the Secwepemc at the time, check out the following resources:


Caitlin Webster is a senior archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Vancouver office of Library and Archives Canada.

Kirkina Mucko at a wedding in Rigolet, Labrador

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

Content warning: This blog contains graphic content (death/medical/amputation) that may be offensive or triggering to some readers.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men, women and children standing or sitting side by side in a field with flowers. There is water and land behind them, and a dog in the left foreground.

Wedding of Wilfred and Beatrice Shiwak; original title: A wedding party, at Rigolet. Wilfred and Beatrice stand in the centre, while Kirkina Mucko kneels between Wilfred’s mother and Wilfred (e011439717)

When I first began working at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in 2018, I naturally did a quick search to see what we had from my hometown in Labrador in the collection. I simply typed “Rigolet” and got a few hits, including one record that had yet to be digitized: “A wedding in Rigolet, 1923.” Because it was not digitized, I put it on the back burner and forgot about it until last summer, when I was searching through the International Grenfell Association (IGA) collection from the same time period. I thought I would give it a shot and ordered the box to take a look. When the photos came, I flipped through quickly, looking for that photo; I just had a hunch it was going to be something interesting. After all, the population of my community is only 320, so I was bound to know the family and their relatives.

I finally found it at the back of the batch.

They looked familiar.

Wait, I know that face.

Once, many years ago, I drew a portrait of him for my grandmother’s Christmas present, so I knew that face well. It was indeed him, my great-grandfather “Papa Wilfred,” and standing to his left was my grandmother’s mother, Beatrice! For all those years, the photo was tucked away in the archives, and I could finally show it to my family members back home!

I posted the image to Facebook, tagging Project Naming in the hope that we might be able to identify more people in the photo. Within minutes, we were in luck. The woman standing to his right is his mother, Sarah Susanna, and kneeling between them is well-known Inuk nurse Kirkina Mucko (born Elizabeth Jeffries). Reports vary, but local lore says that Elizabeth’s mother was in labour and her father went to find a midwife. When he got back to their home, his wife and their newborn baby had died, and little Elizabeth, age two, had severe frostbite on her legs and gangrene had set in. There were no doctors in the vicinity. He made the difficult decision to amputate Elizabeth’s legs himself using an axe. To stop the bleeding, he put her legs in a flour barrel! An article from years later states that when the local doctor Wilfred Grenfell (who later became Sir Wilfred Grenfell) learned of her story, he wept. Consequently, Grenfell took Elizabeth to the orphanage in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, and was able to raise money to provide her with artificial limbs. She travelled with him to the United States and Mexico to help raise funds for the IGA. The IGA provided health care to everyone in Labrador at that time, as well as conducting other charitable endeavours.

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of men, women and children standing on a pier with water behind them and a boat and land in the distance.

People from 20 miles around gathered for the annual service of the Anglican clergyman Parson Gordon, who is wearing his robes and standing toward the right of the group (e011439717)

Later, a doctor in Boston, for reasons unknown, changed her name to Kirkina. As stated by other Inuit regarding this era, Inuit children in southern hospitals were sometimes treated like pets. As such, they were taken home and raised by hospital staff, never to be heard from again by their families in the Arctic. I presume that this attitude is what led the doctor to change Elizabeth’s name. Her name changed once more when she was married and became Kirkina Mucko.

During the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, Kirkina lost her husband and between three and six of her children (some accounts may have included her stepchildren, which would explain the discrepancy). Spurred by this immense loss, Kirkina decided to become a nurse. She received her training and went on to specialize in midwifery. Her career spanned 36 years! Many mentions of Kirkina Mucko and her amazing story can be found in newspaper articles as well as in writings from the IGA, many of which are in the holdings at LAC. In 2008, the local women’s shelter in Rigolet was named Kirkina House as a tribute to her strength and perseverance.

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 Inuk artist originally from Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador. She was a researcher on the We Are Here: Sharing Stories team at Library and Archives Canada.

The Art of Dene Handgames / Stick Gambling / ᐅᐨᘛ / oodzi

By Angela Code

The Dene are a group of Indigenous People who are part of the Na-Dene language family. The Dene are also commonly referred to as Athabaskans or Athapaskans. We are one of the largest Indigenous groups in North America. Our land covers over 4,000,000 square kilometres, spanning from across northern North America to the American Southwest. There are three distinct Dene groups: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern/Apachean. There are approximately 50 distinct languages within the Na-Dene language family, and various dialects.

There is a game that the Northern Dene have been playing for many years called Dene Handgame, also called Stick Gambling, or simply referred to as handgames. Dënesųłiné yatiyé, also known as Chipewyan Dene, is one of the more widely spoken languages from within the Na-Dene language family. In the Sayisi Dënesųłiné dialect, Dene Handgame is called  ᐅᐨᘛ (oodzi).

There are different rules and various hand signals of the game across the north; however, the object of the game and how it is played is essentially the same. Basically, Dene Handgame is an elaborate guessing game. It is a fun pastime that requires a good sense of “reading people” and concealment. The players who compete with high energy, humour, good sportsmanship and performative gestures are often the most fun to play with and to observe.

How to play Dene Handgame

There must be an even number of players on each team. Tournaments will specify how many people per team will play—the number varies from region to region, and it often ranges from 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 per team. Two teams play against each other at a time. Each player must have a personal token—a small object that can be easily hidden in one hand (a stone, a coin, a button, a .22 shell, etc.).

When players are not personally competing in the game, they, as well as some onlookers, will hit individual caribou-skin hand drums with handmade wooden drumsticks in a fast-paced, rhythmic beat. The music of the drums, whoops, cheers, chants and songs fuel the high energy of the game. Drummers who are not personally playing in the game will often drum behind the team that they support. They drum when their “side” is hiding their tokens, to encourage them and protect them from being guessed out.

A black-and-white photograph of about 20 men and boys, some standing and some kneeling on the ground. One man near the centre of the photo is wearing a white buttoned-up shirt and dark pants with a wooden tobacco pipe in his mouth. He is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. There is a white canvas wall tent set up in the background, and fresh meat hanging to dry on a wooden rack.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame while a man drums, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories (a102486)

Each team has a captain. To begin the game, the two opposing team captains will play against each other. They will each hide their token in one of their hands, and then they will simultaneously indicate which hand they think their opponents’ token is in.

A colour photograph of eight men and one child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks. Two men are gesturing with Dene Handgame hand signals.

Men playing Dene Handgame, photographs from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples visit to Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, the community of the Sayisi Dene (Denesuline), 1992–1993. Back (left to right): Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Jimmy Clipping, Fred Duck, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck. Front (left to right): Unknown, Evan Yassie, Thomas Cutlip, Ray Ellis. (e011300424)

Once one of the captains correctly guesses where the opponent’s token is, then their respective teammates will join the game. The winning captain’s team becomes the first team to have the opportunity to win points.

Each member of a team will line up side by side, kneeling on the floor or on the ground, facing the opposing team. Because handgames can often go on for long periods of time, players will kneel on something soft like a mat or a bed of spruce bough.

It is not necessary, but often one or two designated, unbiased scorekeepers/referees will keep a keen eye on every player to ensure that scores are tallied correctly, no one cheats and any disputes are settled fairly. They sit close by on the sidelines between the two opposing teams so that they have the best vantage points to view the players and have access to move the winning handgame sticks.

The sticks are placed between the two teams and are used to keep score of the game. The number of sticks correlate with the number of players. For example, when 4 people are playing per team then 12 sticks are used, when 6 are playing per team then 14 sticks are used, when 8 are playing per team then 21 sticks are used, when 10 are playing per team then 24 or 25 sticks are used, and when 12 are playing per team then 28 or 29 sticks are used.

A colour photograph of the back of an elderly man wearing a “Sayisi Dene Traditional Handgame Club” jacket, watching a Dene Handgame match.

An Elder (Charlie Learjaw) observes a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300421)

The team whose turn it is to hide their tokens will place their hands under a cloth covering (like a blanket or spare coats). They will move their token from hand to hand until they decide which hand to hide it in. Then, when they have chosen their hiding hand, they will take their fists out from under the cloth covering and face their opponents. Commonly, players keep their arms straight in front of them or they cross them over their chests; however, players also develop their own elaborate and unique positioning of their hands. Players will use facial gestures, body movements and sounds to try and confuse or “psyche out” the opposing captain, who is the one who will guess and signal to where they think each token is hidden.

A colour photograph of six men and one small child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks and singing.

Men drumming and playing Dene Handgame, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993. Left to right: Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Fred Duck, Jimmy Clipping, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck and Ray Ellis. (e011300426)

Before the captain makes the hand signal indicating where they think the tokens are hidden, they make a loud sound—a big clap, or they hit the floor with their hand—to let everyone know that they are ready to call. There are many different signals that can be used; however, there are four main ones that the Arctic Winter Games follow.

Once the captain reveals their hand signal, all the opposing players must then open the hand that the captain has indicated so everyone can see if the token is there. If the token is not there, meaning that the captain was wrong in their guess, the opposition player(s) must then show the other hand containing the object. Each time the captain is wrong in their guess, a stick is awarded to the opposing team. For example, if the captain guesses and makes one correct guess and three wrong guesses, the opposition will receive three sticks. The player who was guessed correctly is eliminated from the round, and now there are only three players remaining. This will continue until the captain has correctly guessed all of the players remaining, or until the opposing team wins all of the sticks. If the captain guesses all of the opposition players correctly, it is their team’s turn to hide their tokens and for the other team captain to try and guess which hands the tokens are in. The team to win all of the sticks wins the game.

A black-and-white composite photograph of about 16 boys, some standing, some kneeling on the ground. They are playing Dene Handgame. One young man is standing and hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories, ca. 1930 (a102488)

Handgame tournaments

There are many small Dene Handgame tournaments happening all across the north all the time. My home community of Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, aims to play every Friday evening. There are also some very big Dene Handgame tournaments that happen a few times a year in various regions. Some of the prizes for winning teams are in the thousands of dollars!

Historically, there have been stories told about when people would play handgame—they would gamble goods such as firearms, bullets, axes, etc. I have even heard about men losing their wives to a game and having to win her back at another game!

Gender controversy in handgames

Children, both boys and girls, are taught how to play Dene Handgame at home and at handgame tournaments. In some regions, they are taught how to play at school as a part of physical education.

A colour photograph of a man, a teenage boy and a small child watching a Dene Handgame match. The man is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. The small child is mimicking the drumbeat with his own small hand drum.

A man (Peter Cheekie) hits a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick while a teenage boy (Christopher Yassie) and a small child (Brandon Cheekie) watch a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300429)

However, for adults, the sport is predominantly played by men. This is because some regions, particularly in the Northwest Territories, do not allow adult women to play. However, in the Yukon and in some northern Prairie provinces, women are not only allowed to play, they are encouraged and widely supported. This inclusion of women makes the games much larger and more fun to participate in and to observe. Tournaments will state whether they allow men’s teams only or mixed teams. There has only been one women’s handgame tournament (that I know of), which was held in Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2016. The inclusion of women to play handgames is a hot topic in the north. Some say that it is not “traditional” to allow women to play and that women “have too much power—so they would just win all the time.” Some communities do not even allow women to drum.

Others say that women played a long time ago, but that this changed with the imposition of Christianity. Some Christian missionaries actually banned the drum and playing Dene Handgames altogether. The drum in Dene culture is very important. It is spiritual and some Christian missionaries saw it as heathen and therefore unacceptable. They actually burned drums in some communities. Some people continued to play handgames in secret, but in other communities it only came back into practice in recent years. In one community in particular, I heard that handgames were not played for a long time, and it was the women who brought it back, encouraging the men and others to play again.

I think that in this day and age, it is not fair to exclude women from playing Dene Handgame, or to prevent them from drumming, for that matter. Gender dynamics change and shift within all cultures. I believe that more gender inclusion to compete in this fun pastime is a good, positive change for everyone.

I personally love to watch people play, but I much prefer to compete in the game myself, and I would love to see more women participate and have fun playing handgames as well.

Visit the Flickr Album for images of the Dene.


Angela Code is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

Christmas in the Archives

By Jennifer Anderson

In December, many of our clients, donors and readers are preparing for Christmas. So many Christmas traditions are linked to anticipation—preparing surprises for loved ones, dreaming up projects for the New Year, offering comfort and warmth to family, friends and strangers.

Simpson’s, the Christmas Tree Store, around 1955 (e011172111)

That feeling of anticipation is not unlike what it is to work as an archivist. In some ways, it feels like Christmas all year round in the archives: opening boxes, making discoveries, and anticipating the interest that the public will find in our collections. The work of a reference archivist is like customer service: it gives us great satisfaction to be able to assist researchers. Archival work also inspires a sense of gratitude to colleagues who work together to make good things happen.

Black-and-white photograph showing children lined up to see Santa Claus, together with three adult women. Everyone is smiling, although some of the children look nervous.

“Secrets to Santa,” 1952 (e011172113)

A case in point: working with the Sears Canada fonds has been the source of much enjoyment for me, and for my colleagues. The collection includes material relating to Sears stores across the country, as well as Sears Canada’s parent companies, all of which are household names in Canada: Simpson’s, Simpsons-Sears and Sears-Roebuck. The fonds consists of textual documents, photographs, scrapbooks, audiovisuals, drawings and architectural blueprints. Included in the acquisition were 200 boxes of published catalogues, which will supplement the already substantial and frequently consulted catalogue collection in Library and Archives Canada’s holdings.

Black-and-white photograph showing shoppers, mostly women, wearing winter coats and hats, studying catalogues at a counter, as well as the store staff behind the counter. There is a sign on the wall reading “Catalogue Shopping Centre,” together with Christmas decorations.

Catalogue Shopping Centre at Christmastime, around 1955 (e011172120)

One very pleasant surprise in the fonds: thousands upon thousands of archival photographs, which are of exceptional quality and interest. Documenting the leisure pursuit of shopping, but also the practical elements of the retail economy and the working lives of store personnel, the photographs are sure to interest the public. And they are fun! These photos also include glimpses of company-sponsored social and cultural extracurricular events like curling, bowling, dance parties and concerts.

Christmas shopping, Regina, Saskatchewan, around 1950 (e011172152)

Thanks to colleagues across Library and Archives Canada, as well as outside this institution, who were involved in the acquisition, organization, description and digitization work, all geared toward making the Sears Canada fonds discoverable.

Black-and-white photograph showing a large group of men, women and children watching an electric train in a store.

Crowd watching an electric train, Regina, around 1950 (e011172147)

Over the coming years, we look forward to seeing this material being used to generate new research findings. Please reach out to us if we can assist you in getting started on your own research.

Black-and-white photograph showing a little boy talking with Santa Claus, while other children and many parents, dressed for winter, are lined up nearby. In the background are two signs that read “Trains” and “Meccano.”

Visiting Santa Claus, around 1955 (e011172112)


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Public Services Branch, and she previously worked in the Science, Environment and Economy section of the Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

Manitoba: Kwaata-nihtaawakihk—A Hard Birth

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.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

By William Benoit

The year 2020 marks an important year in the history of Canada. One hundred and fifty years have gone by since the 1870 transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. It is also the year that Manitoba entered Confederation. This was no small feat. There were discussions as to whether the Canadian government would create a province or just keep it as a vast territory.

The Métis would push Canada toward creating the new province.

Painting of a person holding a riding crop above his head, standing on a sleigh being pulled through the snow by a rearing brown horse.

Breaking a Road in Manitoba (e011072986)

Manitoba would be the first addition to the list of four original Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There was no template to use. Deep, careful and altruistic thinking about the future should have been the order of the day. Instead, for the Métis, what resulted from the experience were feelings of displacement, trauma and resilience. In post-Confederation Manitoba, the position of the Métis deteriorated. New settlers from Ontario were hostile. Métis elders, over generations, described that period as a “Reign of Terror” against the Métis.

Métis Nation Elder Verna DeMontigny recently described the province-building exercise that led to Manitoba as a hard birth, or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk in the Michif language. It was certainly difficult.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its 2013 decision in Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. v. Canada, provides a detailed narrative of the Métis people, the Red River Settlement, and the conflict that gave rise to the Manitoba Act and Manitoba’s entry into Canada:

The story begins with the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited what is now the province of Manitoba—the Cree and other less populous nations. In the late 17th century, European adventurers and explorers passed through. The lands were claimed nominally by England, which granted the Hudson’s Bay Company […] control over a vast territory called Rupert’s Land, which included modern Manitoba. Aboriginal peoples continued to occupy the territory. In addition to the original First Nations, a new Aboriginal group, the Métis, arose—people descended from early unions between European adventurers and traders, and Aboriginal women. In the early days, the descendants of English-speaking parents were referred to as half-breeds, while those with French roots were called Métis.

On November 19, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory under its letters patent to the British Crown. By Order-in-Council dated June 23, 1870, the British government admitted these territories to Canada, under section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now the Constitution Act, 1867), effective July 15, 1870.

It took almost eight months from the Hudson’s Bay Company surrender until the completed land transfer took full effect.

The Canadian government, led by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, intended to absorb the territories and open them up to settlement. Before this could happen, Canada would need to deal with the Indigenous peoples who were living in these territories. Under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada was duty-bound to treat with the sovereign Indigenous nations to obtain their consent to the Imperial Crown to exercise its sovereignty over them. Written more than a hundred years before, the proclamation’s purpose was to organize and manage the newly expanded British North American territories after the Seven Years’ War. Included in the proclamation were regulations to stabilize relations with Indigenous peoples through the regulation of trade, settlement and land purchases on the frontier.

A drawing of people sitting in a circle around a person standing in the middle who is speaking. There is a building with people sitting and standing on the balcony in the background.

The Manitoba Indian Treaty; a chief lecturing at length at the Stone Fort (the Métis man seated on a chair within the circle may be the translator) (e010967476)

Therefore, for the First Nations, the process would be to enter into treaties, whereby they agreed to settlement of their lands in exchange for reservations of land and other promises. The government policy with respect to the Métis was less clear.

A sepia photograph of a town with buildings on either side of a wide dirt road with wagon tracks.

Main Street, Winnipeg, looking south, 1879; the street’s width was to accommodate the space needed for Red River Carts (e011156541)

Prior to confederation with Canada, white settlers had begun pouring into the Red River, displacing the social and political control of the Métis. This led to resistance and conflict. To settle the conflict and assure annexation of the territory, the Canadian government entered into negotiations with representatives of the Métis-led provisional government. The result was the adoption in 1870 of the Manitoba Act, which made Manitoba a province of Canada.

The Manitoba Act is a constitutional document with many treaty-like characteristics. It enshrines the promises and obligations that Canada has to the Métis people. These promises represent the terms under which the Métis agreed to surrender their claims to govern themselves and their territory, and to become part of Canada. These obligations remain in force today.

The Métis Nation is an internationally recognized Indigenous people. In Canada, it is one of three Indigenous groups with constitutionally entrenched Aboriginal and treaty rights, alongside First Nations (“Indians”) and Inuit (“Eskimos”). The Métis Nation Homeland is a vast area of land in west-central North America. The Métis, as the Founders of Manitoba in 1870 and Canada’s negotiating partners in Confederation, continue to play an important role in Canada’s development.

(In Michif: Li Michif Naasyoon nishtowinikaatew oobor lii piyii pi li moond nishtowiinikasowak li moond autochtone. Daan li Canada si te payyek enn band di moond avek lii dray tretii daan li constitution, aloon bor li Promii Naasyoon pi li Ziskimoo. Li Michif Naasyoon Nataal li piyii mitoni kihchi-mishow, li taryaen daan li sawntrel west Nor America. Lii Michif, koum li fondateur di Manitoba daan li 1870 pi Canada’s naasaasyi-iwow di maashkihtonikaywin daan li Confederation, kiiyapit il li enportaan daan li Canada’s oosishchikeywiin.)


William Benoit is the Advisor for Internal Indigenous Engagement in the Office of the Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada at Library and Archives Canada.