Hidden histories

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

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

By Ryan Courchene

The archival and published collections held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are amazing, and so extensive that you will never be able to see them all. You can find hidden gems every single day just by looking, either online on LAC’s website, or in one of the several buildings with archival holdings across Canada.

I work in the Winnipeg office, which alone holds over 30,000 linear feet (nearly 9,150 metres) of archival records. On a business trip to Ottawa in 2016, I had the opportunity to shadow the reference service employees at 395 Wellington Street. While there, I noticed three catalogue drawers near the desk and inquired about what they contained.

Colour photograph from a hallway, through a glass wall with two doors, of a reference room.

The reference room at LAC in Ottawa, seen from the hallway. The catalogue drawers containing research cards with copies of photographs can be seen on the left of the room. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

Colour photograph of four metal shelving units with eight pull-out drawers containing cards with copies of photographs and associated reference information.

Reference room catalogue drawers, organized by subject headings and geographical locations, containing research cards with copies of photographs held in the collections at LAC in Ottawa. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

I was told that they held small cards with images in the collection that were copied from microfilm and microfiche. Intrigued, I decided to look at some of the cards on my lunch break. I soon discovered the “Birth of the West” collection, which contains hundreds of incredible photographs of Western Canada, with many focusing on Indigenous images by Ernest Brown. I learned that the images contained in the drawers were only card copies of the originals; the images themselves are small and of poor quality. From a researcher’s perspective, this can be both frustrating and helpful when conducting on-site research. As with this image of the moose, many photographs indexed in the card catalogues have never been digitized. In these situations, the cards provide immediate access to images without having to order the original material in off-site storage.

The photographs in this noteworthy collection are not only visually stunning but also remarkable for the wealth of historical information on Canada and the First Nations peoples of the West. Even though there are hundreds of images in the collection, one image really caught my eye. It tells a fascinating story that evolves every time I examine it.

Colour photograph of a cream-coloured catalogue card. The left half contains typed information in black organized into different categories. A copy of a black-and-white photograph turned sideways on the right side depicts a moose with a harness hitched to a travois. The moose stands in front of a teepee.

Catalogue card of a copy of a photograph of a young moose with a harness hitched to a travois and standing in front of a teepee, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

This photograph depicts a small home, which could belong to a Métis or First Nation family, blankets hung to dry, some cleared tree brush, a pot of food by the fire pit, a beautiful teepee, and of course a domesticated young moose with a harness hitched to a travois. The one item that I did not notice immediately, which is probably the most important part of the image, is the hand holding the rope attached to the moose. My grandfather used to tell me about how he cleared his own land so he could farm and raise cattle. Is this what was happening here? Or was something else going on? Each time I look at the image, a new story emerges that raises more questions.

Detail from a black-and-white photograph showing a person’s hand holding onto a rope.

Detail of the photograph of a young moose with a harness hitched to a travois and standing in front of a teepee, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

After seeing this image of the young moose, I wanted a copy for myself. Since I was working backwards, I had to find the image in the collection to see if it was already digitized, and if not, verify any restrictions on getting a copy. To my disappointment, I found that it was not digitized, and I decided not to push the request any further.

It was not until 2019 that I learned the Ernest Brown collection was being digitized by the We Are Here: Sharing Stories (WAHSS) initiative. The moose photograph is one of 126 images in an album entitled “Birth of the West.” Dating from ca. 1870–1910, the album consists of photographs taken in the Northwest Territories (now Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nunavut) and British Columbia. In addition to fully digitizing and describing this album, the WAHSS team has digitized over 450,000 images, including photographic records, textual documents and maps, with the goal of providing free online access to primary sources, no travel required!

In October 2019, I was finally able to order a copy. It fills me with great joy to know that I have the first print from the digitized copy of this amazing image, which hangs in my office today.

Photograph of a black-and-white photograph with a thick white border mounted on a dark grey page in an album. The image depicts a moose with a harness hitched to a travois standing in front of a teepee.

Young moose with a harness hitched to a travois, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. This photograph is on page 28 of the “Birth of the West” album. (e011303100-028)


Ryan Courchene is an archivist in the Indigenous Initiatives division at Library and Archives Canada.

Exploring Indigenous peoples’ histories in a multilingual e-book—Part 2

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

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

By Beth Greenhorn in collaboration with Tom Thompson

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) launched Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada to coincide with the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021. The essays in this first edition of the interactive multilingual e-book featured a wide selection of archival and published material ranging from journals, maps, newspapers, artwork, photographs, sound and film recordings, and publications. Also included are biographies for each of the authors. Many recorded a personalized audio greeting for their biography page, some of which are spoken in their ancestral language. The essays are diverse and, in some cases, quite personal. Their stories challenge the dominant narrative. In addition to authors’ biographies, we included biographical statements by the translators in recognition of their expertise and contributions.

The Nations to Nations e-book was created as part of two Indigenous initiatives at LAC: We Are Here: Sharing Stories (WAHSS) and Listen, Hear Our Voices (LHOV). The essays were written by Heather Campbell (Inuk), Anna Heffernan (Nishnaabe), Karyne Holmes (Anishinaabekwe), Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour (Kanien’kehá:ka), William Benoit (Métis Nation) and Jennelle Doyle (Inuk) in LAC’s National Capital Region office. They were joined by Ryan Courchene (Métis-Anichinabe), from LAC’s regional office in Winnipeg, and Delia Chartrand (Métis Nation), Angela Code (Dene) and Samara mîkiwin Harp (nêhiyawak), archivists from the LHOV initiative.

This edition features the following First Nations languages and/or dialects: Anishinaabemowin, Anishinabemowin, Denesųłiné, Kanien’kéha, Mi’kmaq, nêhiyawêwin and Nishnaabemowin. Essays related to Inuit heritage are presented in Inuttut and Inuktitut. Additionally, the Inuit heritage content is presented in Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait (Roman orthography) and Inuktut Qaniujaaqpait (Inuktitut syllabics). The e-book presents audio recordings in Heritage Michif of select images in essays pertaining to the Métis Nation.

The development of this type of publication was complex. It presented technical and linguistic challenges that required creativity and flexibility. But the benefits of the Indigenous-led content outshine any of the complications. Given the space and time, the authors reclaimed records of relevance to their histories, offering fresh insights through their interpretations. The translators brought new meanings to the records, describing most, if not all, of them for the first time in First Nations languages, Inuktut and Michif.

Describing her experience while researching and writing her essay regarding manoominikewin (the wild rice harvest) of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg (Mississauga Ojibwe), archivist Anna Heffernan wrote: “I hope that people from Hiawatha, Curve Lake, and the other Michi Saagiig communities will be happy and proud to see their ancestors in these photos, and to see them represented as Michi Saagiig and not just ‘Indians’.”

A page from the e-book with three black-and-white images of people demonstrating different stages of wild rice harvesting.

Page from “Manoominikewin: The Wild Rice Harvest, a Nishnaabe Tradition” by Anna Heffernan, translated into Nishnaabemowin by Maanii Taylor. Left image: Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg man tramping manoomin, Pimadashkodeyong (Rice Lake), Ontario, 1921 (e011303090); upper-right image: Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg woman winnowing manoomin, Pimadashkodeyong (Rice Lake), Ontario, 1921 (e011303089); lower-right image: silent film clips featuring Ojibway men and women from an unidentified community harvesting manoomin, Manitoba, 1920–1929 (MIKAN 192664)

Reflecting on her experience, archivist Heather Campbell described the positive impact of the process:

“So often when we see something written about our communities, it is not written from the perspective of someone who is from that community. To be asked to write about Inuit culture for the e-book was an honour. I was able to choose the theme of my article and was trusted to do the appropriate research. As someone from Nunatsiavut, to be given the opportunity to write about my own region, knowing other Nunatsiavummiut would see themselves reflected back, was so important to me.”

A page from the e-book that shows pages from a picture book, text written in Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait and English.

Page from “Inuktut Publications” by Heather Campbell, translated into Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait by Eileen Kilabuk-Weber, showing selected pages from Angutiup ânguanga / Anguti’s Amulet, 2010, written by the Central Coast of Labrador Archaeology Partnership, illustrated by Cynthia Colosimo and translated by Sophie Tuglavina (OCLC 651119106)

William Benoit, Internal Indigenous Advisor at LAC, wrote a number of shorter essays about Métis Nation language and heritage. While each text can be read on its own, collectively they provide insights into various aspects of Métis culture. In his words: “Although the Métis Nation represents the largest single Indigenous group in Canada, we are misunderstood or misrepresented in the broader national narrative. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few stories about my heritage.”

A page from the e-book with text in English on the left side and a lithograph of a snowy landscape with a man seated in a cariole (sled) pulled by three dogs in colourful coats. A man wearing a blanket and snowshoes is on the left in front of the dogs. A man holding a whip and wearing clothing associated with Métis culture (a long blue jacket, red leggings and an embellished hat) walks on the right-hand side of the sled.

Page from “Métis Carioles and Tuppies” by William Benoit, with a Michif audio recording by Métis Elder Verna De Montigny. Image depicting Hudson’s Bay Company governor travelling by dog cariole with a First Nations guide and a Métis Nation musher, Red River, 1825 (c001940k)

The creation of the Nations to Nations e-book has been a meaningful undertaking and positive learning experience. Two and a half years in development, the e-book has truly been a group effort involving the expertise and collaboration of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation authors, Indigenous language translators, and Indigenous advisors.

I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing and dedicated individuals. A special “thank you” goes to the members of the Indigenous Advisory Circle, who offered their knowledge and guidance throughout the development of this publication.

As part of ongoing work to support Indigenous initiatives at LAC, we will feature the essays from Nations to Nations as blog posts. We are excited to introduce Ryan Courchene’s essay “Hidden Histories” as the first feature in this series.

Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada is free of charge and can be downloaded from Apple Books (iBooks format) or from LAC’s website (EPUB format). An online version can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile web browser without requiring a plug-in.


Beth Greenhorn is a senior project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Thompson is a multimedia production specialist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Exploring Indigenous peoples’ histories in a multilingual e-book—Part 1

By Beth Greenhorn in collaboration with Tom Thompson

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

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) recently published an interactive multilingual e-book called Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada. This e-book grew out of two Indigenous documentary heritage initiatives, We Are Here: Sharing Stories and Listen, Hear Our Voices, and it features essays written by First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation colleagues at LAC. The process for creating this publication was unlike any work LAC had previously carried out.

The project team began with just two people: me and Tom Thompson, a multimedia production specialist. I was tasked with coordinating an e-book that would focus on Indigenous records held at LAC. We determined that an e-book was an excellent fit to showcase newly digitized content. An e-book offered the best platform to incorporate interactive material, such as audiovisual records. It also provided the capability to feature Indigenous languages and dialects.

Work began after the United Nations declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. With this in mind, we consulted with our Indigenous colleagues. The discussions were heartening.

Initially, we intended to feature archival content and other historical materials held at LAC that were created by Indigenous peoples in their ancestral languages. After several months of unsuccessful research, we realized that with the exception of a small number of documents, there was little content written in First Nations languages or Inuktut, the Inuit language. As for Michif, the language of the Métis Nation, there is no known documentation in the collection at LAC.

Faced with this reality, the e-book team needed a new strategy on how to create a publication that supports Indigenous languages when the bulk of published and archival records was created by settler society. Following several brainstorming discussions, the answer became clear and was surprisingly simple. Instead of focusing on historical records written in Indigenous languages, the authors would choose collection items in any media that they found meaningful and then discuss them in their essays. The essays would be translated into the Indigenous language represented by the people portrayed in each section. Content that was translated into an Indigenous language would be presented as the primary text, with English and French versions being secondary.

The title, Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada, was chosen by the authors and emphasizes the distinction of the different nations and the diversity of voices. By positioning the authors’ voices at the front and centre, the stories provide a richer understanding of the world through awareness of the Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.

Recognizing that many Indigenous communities have limited Internet connectivity, dynamic content has been embedded in the e-book wherever possible. This includes high-resolution images, podcast episodes, audio clips and film footage. An Internet connection is still required to download the e-book and to access some content, such as database records, blog articles and external links.

A map of North America with symbols placed across Canada.

Pre-contact map of North America without any geopolitical borders, with icons linking to author biographies and essays. Image: Eric Mineault, LAC

Following a recommendation from the Indigenous Advisory Circle at LAC, we hired Indigenous language experts and knowledge keepers to translate the essays and related texts in the e-book. Of all of the tasks involved in the creation of this e-book, finding qualified translators was one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, activities. Many of the languages are at risk and, in some cases, are critically endangered. While language revitalization work has begun in many communities to create standardized lexicons and dictionaries, there were many words in English with no equivalent in the Indigenous language. Quite often, the translators needed to consult with Elders in their communities to confirm terminology and to find a word or phrase that would convey the same meaning.

One of LAC’s biggest paradigm shifts was in presenting the Indigenous language as the principal content, and in offering English and French as supporting texts. In an effort to emphasize this shift, the authors chose words to describe places, proper names and descriptions in their ancestral languages. These words are accompanied by translations in English or French in parentheses, the first time they are introduced to the reader, and only the Indigenous words are used for all further references.

Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada is free of charge and can be downloaded from Apple Books (iBooks format) or from LAC’s website (EPUB format). An online version can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile web browser without requiring a plug-in.


Beth Greenhorn is a senior project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Thompson is a multimedia production specialist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Five Myths about the Arms of Canada

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

By Forrest Pass

The Coat of Arms of Canada (also known as the Arms of Canada, the Canada Coat of Arms and the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada) turns 100 on November 21, 2021. An official emblem of the Government of Canada, the coat of arms appears on Canadian passports, banknotes, military badges, and public buildings. Elements of the coat of arms have influenced the design of other emblems, notably the National Flag of Canada, adopted in 1964.

A colour painting of a coat of arms. The shield at the centre is divided into five sections. The first section is red with three gold lions. The second section is gold with a red lion within a red fleur-de-lis border. The third section is blue with a gold harp. The fourth section has three gold fleurs-de-lis. The bottom (fifth) section is silver with a sprig of three green maple leaves. Above the shield is a crest consisting of a crowned gold lion holding a red maple leaf in its right paw. The lion stands on a twisted wreath of red-and-white silk atop a gold royal helmet. The motto “A mari usque ad mare” is written on a blue scroll below the shield, which rests on roses, thistles, shamrocks and lilies. The shield is supported by a lion and a unicorn. The lion holds a lance to which a British flag is attached. The unicorn holds a lance with a blue flag charged with three gold fleurs-de-lis, the banner of pre-Revolutionary France.

The final design for the Coat of Arms of Canada, 1921. Illustration by Alexander Scott Carter. (e008319450) The signatures of the committee members, including Dominion Archivist Arthur Doughty, appear in the bottom right-hand corner.

Library and Archives Canada preserves the records of the committee that designed the coat of arms. This committee, struck by the federal cabinet in 1919, included Dominion Archivist Arthur Doughty. Unlike the flag debate some four decades later, the coat of arms question never prompted a parliamentary debate or widespread public discussion. As a result, few Canadians know much about the deliberations that led to the adoption of the coat of arms, and popular myths about the emblem’s history and meanings have filled the gap. Here are five misconceptions, debunked by primary sources.

Myth # 1: The three maple leaves on a single stem were chosen to represent Canadian multiculturalism.

The three maple leaves on the shield are the Arms’ most distinctively Canadian feature. Since the 1960s, some commentators have suggested that this arrangement of leaves represents the unity of Canadians of different backgrounds. In her twangy ballad Three Red Leaves, written during the Great Flag Debate of 1964, country-and-western singer Diane Leigh praised the “Three red leaves all tied together / [that] Bind three nationalities in unity / English, French, and new Canadians / Living in this land of opportunity.” Until very recently, some official publications also described the leaves as symbolizing Canadians of all origins, including First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation, who were conspicuously absent from Leigh’s lyrics.

An emblem’s meaning evolves with the country it represents, so the symbolism of “unity in diversity” is attractive today. However, there is no evidence that the committee intended the leaves to represent this Canadian ideal. Rather, a sprig of three maple leaves was already a popular emblem by 1921. It first appeared as decoration on a Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day poster in 1850. The three-leaf motif also appears on the provincial arms of Quebec and Ontario, which the heralds of the College of Arms in London designed in 1868. In 1868, as in 1921, the choice of three leaves was probably aesthetic rather than symbolic: three leaves fill the triangular base of a heraldic shield better than one.

A typed page with the heading “Association Saint Jean-Baptiste” featuring a sprig of three maple leaves. Components of a parade, including “Drapeau britannique,” “les pompiers canadiens,” “la Société mercantile d’économie,” “la Societé de tempérance” and “Bannière du commerce,” are listed below the heading in a variety of typefaces.

A poster advertising the annual procession of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Montréal, June 24, 1850. (OCLC 1007829742) This is perhaps the earliest use of three maple leaves on a single stem.

Myth # 2: King George V chose red and white to be the national colours of Canada.

Beginning in the 1940s, Colonel Archer Fortescue Duguid, a military historian and heraldry enthusiast, suggested that King George V had chosen red and white to be Canada’s national colours because these were the colours of the wreath and mantling—the flowing cloth around the helmet—of the Arms of Canada. Therefore, Duguid argued, a new Canadian flag must also be red and white.

The idea that the Arms design would determine Canada’s national colours originated in 1918 with Eugène Fiset, the Deputy Minister of Defence. To Fiset, red suggested Britishness, military sacrifice, and autumn splendour. White evoked chilly Canadian winters. The coat of arms committee’s first design incorporated Fiset’s proposed red maple leaves on a white background, as well as a red-and-white wreath on top of the shield.

A colour painting of a coat of arms. The shield at the centre is divided into five sections. The first section is white with a sprig of three red maple leaves. The second section is red with three gold lions. The third section is gold with a red lion within a fleur-de-lis border. The fourth section is blue with a gold harp. The fifth section is blue with three gold fleurs-de-lis. On top of the shield is a crest consisting of a crowned gold lion holding a maple leaf in its right paw and standing on a patch of green grass, the whole resting on a twisted wreath of red-and-white silk. Under the wreath is a shield. Below the shield, the motto “A mare usque ad mare” is written in a grey scroll. The shield is supported by a lion and a unicorn.

The committee’s first proposal, illustrated by Alexander Scott Carter, 1920. (e011313790) Green maple leaves replaced the red in the final version, but the red-and-white wreath, and eventually red-and-white mantling, remained.

However, not everyone was a fan. Sir Joseph Pope, Undersecretary of State for External Affairs, preferred green maple leaves to red ones, which to him suggested death and decay. In the end, Pope prevailed, but the red-and-white mantling remained, probably by accident.

No one, least of all the King, cared much about the mantling in 1921. When a concerned citizen complained in 1922 that the mantling should be red and gold—the main colours of the shield—committee members shrugged and replied that it was too late to make changes. Neither the royal proclamation nor an official pamphlet issued in 1922 to explain the Arms’ symbolism mentions national colours. In 1946, during parliamentary hearings on a new Canadian flag, heraldry buff Hugh Savage rebutted Duguid: a national flag, not a coat of arms, typically gave a country its “national colours.”

Nevertheless, Duguid’s theory convinced many people and contributed to the choice of red and white for the Canadian flag in 1964.

Myth # 3: The chained unicorn commemorates the British conquest of New France.

The supporters in the form of a lion and a unicorn are borrowed from the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, reflecting the Imperial loyalties of the committee. The unicorn originally represented Scotland. Its chain perhaps recalls medieval legends about how difficult it is to tame these mythical beasts.

Because the Canadian chained unicorn also holds a royal French banner, some have interpreted this depiction as symbolizing British dominance over French Canada. There is no evidence that the committee intended, or even considered, this possible interpretation.

However, the committee’s inclusion of three gold fleurs-de-lis on the shield did concern the King’s heraldic advisors. The College of Arms worried that the fleurs-de-lis, intended to honour French Canadians, might imply that Canada claimed sovereignty over France! Canada’s Commissioner-General in Paris discreetly confirmed with French officials that the design would not spark a diplomatic spat.

A colour painting of a coat of arms. The shield at the centre is divided into seven sections. The first and fourth sections are red with three gold lions. The second section is gold with a red lion within a fleur-de-lis border. The third section is blue with a gold harp. The fifth and seventh sections are white, and each has a single green maple leaf. The sixth section is blue with three gold fleurs-de-lis. Above the shield is a crest consisting of a crowned gold lion holding a red maple leaf in its right paw. The lion stands on a twisted wreath of red-and-white silk. Below the shield, the motto “A mari usque ad mare” is written on a blue banner. The shield is supported by a lion and a unicorn. The lion holds a lance to which a British flag is attached. The unicorn holds a lance with a blue flag charged with three gold fleurs-de-lis, the banner of pre-Revolutionary France.

Counter-proposal from the College of Arms, London, September 1921. (e011313801) The English College of Arms suggested a new placement of the fleurs-de-lis so as not to imply that Canada ruled France. The Canadians rejected this idea.

Myth # 4: The committee that designed the coat of arms did not consider including Indigenous symbols in the design.

The symbols of two colonizing powers, Great Britain and France, dominate the Arms of Canada; there is no reference to Indigenous peoples. Yet one proposed design did spark a discussion with respect to featuring First Nations figures as supporters. It was a submission from Edward Marion Chadwick, a Toronto lawyer interested in both heraldry and First Nations cultures.

A black-and-white drawing of a coat of arms. The shield at the centre features a lion between two maple leaves at the top and a fleur-de-lis at the bottom. On top of the shield is a crest, consisting of a moose with its right hoof raised, standing on a twisted wreath and flowing cloth mantling; the crest sits on top of an esquire’s helmet marked with a cross. Below the shield, there is a scroll that reads “Dieu Protege Le Roy.” Two First Nations men support =the shield. They are wearing feathered headdresses and fringed buckskin clothing. One holds a tomahawk; the other holds a calumet, or ceremonial pipe.

Proposed Canadian Coat of Arms, by Edward Marion Chadwick, 1917. (e011313794) The supporters featured in Chadwick’s version were intended to represent First Nations from Eastern and Western Canada.

Including Indigenous figures and emblems in colonial heraldry was not unprecedented. The centuries-old arms of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador both have First Nations figures as supporters, and the pre-Confederation seal of Upper Canada included a calumet, or ceremonial pipe, to commemorate treaties and alliances. However, to Sir Joseph Pope, who often spoke for the coat of arms committee, Indigenous peoples were a forgettable part of the past. “I myself do not see any necessity for commemorating the Indians at all,” wrote Pope in dismissing Chadwick’s proposal.

Pope’s response was racist, and reflected the opinion of many white Canadians of the time. Few people today would approve of Chadwick’s design either, but for very different reasons. Chadwick did strive to depict clothing and regalia accurately. However, to modern eyes, his proposal smacks of stereotyping and cultural appropriation. His supporters are “noble savages,” romantic fantasies of what First Nations individuals look like. They represent regions of the country rather than constitute meaningful inclusion of Indigenous people, who were not consulted about the coat of arms project. Today, many Indigenous individuals rightfully object to the way that they have appeared in heraldry. As a result, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, is now reconsidering how First Nations individuals are depicted on its coat of arms, designed in 1635. Canada would undoubtedly be doing the same if Chadwick’s design had prevailed.

Myth # 5: The Arms of Canada can never be changed.

Could the Canadian government change the Arms of Canada to make them more representative of a diverse country? Coats of arms have an air of ancient permanence, but even very old emblems can evolve. For example, the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom—the model for Canada’s Arms—have changed half a dozen times since the union of the English and Scottish crowns, in 1603, most recently  in 1837). Since 1921, artists have twice reinterpreted the official version of the Arms of Canada, in 1957 and 1994, to update its “look and feel” without changing the formal elements.

If, one day, the Government of Canada wants to change the Arms design, it will require the collaboration of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, the division of the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General responsible for granting and registering coats of arms in Canada. The next time a major change occurs, there will be no need to consult British heraldic authorities, though the Queen (or King) will still have to approve the final design.

Whether it resulted in modifications to the current arms or in a completely new design, the process today would undoubtedly be more participatory—and more transparent—than it was a century ago.


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

A colonial governor’s creative math

By Forrest Pass

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.

On July 20, 2021, British Columbia marks 150 years of provincehood. This photograph of Victoria unintentionally tells an often forgotten story about the new province-to-be on the eve of its entry into Confederation. In the background, across the Inner Harbour, we see a colonial frontier capital with the old government buildings, nicknamed “the Birdcages,” to the right and the warehouses and wharves of the commercial district to the left.

A black-and-white photograph of villages on either side of a harbour, with a large ship on the water. There are forests behind each village.

View of Victoria Harbour, about 1870, by Frederick Dally. (c023418)

The foreground provides a different perspective. The buildings are the lək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) village at p’álәc’әs (Songhees Point). The lək̓ʷəŋən people have lived in what is now Greater Victoria since time immemorial. Although he may not have intended it, photographer Frederick Dally captured an important truth: “British Columbia” in 1871 was, in fact, a series of First Nations and Métis Nation communities with a very small European settler one.

This fact influenced British Columbia’s entry into Confederation in unexpected ways. Documents in the collection at Library and Archives Canada record the British Columbia negotiators’ efforts to use the large First Nations population in the colony to their own advantage while simultaneously dispossessing those same Nations of their traditional territories and resources.

Vancouver Island had become a British colony in 1849. Nine years later, the discovery of gold in the Fraser River brought some 30,000 fortune seekers to the nearby mainland and prompted the organization of a second colony, British Columbia.

By the late 1860s, however, the gold rush had ended. The island and mainland colonies were united in 1866 as a cost-saving measure, and the settler population of united British Columbia dropped to about 10,000. Having spent a fortune on wagon roads and other construction projects, the government was almost bankrupt. The Canadian government sensed an opportunity and orchestrated the appointment of Sir Anthony Musgrave as British Columbia’s governor in 1869. Musgrave had served as Governor of Newfoundland and although he had failed to unite that colony with Canada, his commitment to Confederation was well known.

A watercolour painting of two trees with a body of water and a mountain in the background

“View from the Morning House, Government House, Victoria,” watercolour by Frances Musgrave, about 1870. Frances’ brother, Governor Sir Anthony Musgrave, may have enjoyed a similar view when writing his dispatches on British Columbia’s proposed entry into Confederation. (c028380k)

On arriving in Victoria, Musgrave wrote to the British Colonial Secretary about the prospects of Confederation with Canada. Cost was a major obstacle. Governing a large but sparsely colonized territory was expensive and the annual federal subsidy of eighty cents per resident that all provinces received would be “insignificant” in British Columbia’s case.

Two pages with handwriting in black ink.

Letter from Sir Anthony Musgrave to Lord Granville, British Colonial Secretary, describing the obstacles to Confederation, October 30, 1869: “The machinery of government is unavoidably expensive from the great cost of living which is at least twice as much as in Canada…” (RG7 G21 Vol 8 File 25a Pt 1, Heritage).

Insignificant, that is, unless Musgrave could justify a larger population estimate. This involved some creative math. In an 1870 letter to the Governor General of Canada, Sir John Young (later Lord Lisgar), Musgrave showed his work. British Columbia relied heavily on imported goods, so Musgrave divided the colony’s annual customs revenue (about $350,000, or $7.2 million today) by the per capita customs revenue of the eastern provinces ($2.75, or $56.51 today). By this calculation, British Columbia had a population of 120,000 rather than 10,000 for setting its annual subsidy and its representation in the Parliament of Canada.

To bolster his argument, Musgrave pointed to the First Nations population. After all, he noted, First Nations people in British Columbia were “consumers” and paid customs duties just as settlers did. Including First Nations people brought the real population closer to Musgrave’s creative calculation.

Remarkably, Canada’s negotiators agreed in principle, though the draft Terms of Union reduced the population estimate to 60,000. Nevertheless, when the Parliament of Canada debated the British Columbia agreement in March 1871, the opposition howled that by including First Nations people the Terms violated the principle of representation by population. “We have never given representation under our system to Indians,” complained Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie. Similarly, David Mills, an Ontario MP, argued that First Nations people were not part of “the social bond, and could not stand on the same footing as the white population.”

But Musgrave never suggested that First Nations people should “stand on the same footing” as settlers. He did not believe that they should vote nor that they should benefit from that larger annual subsidy. In this sense, his formula was similar to the infamous clause in the Constitution of the United States that counted each enslaved person as three fifths of a person when calculating a state’s representation in Congress. Just as the three-fifths compromise used the enslaved population to increase the political influence of slaveholders, Musgrave’s formula increased British Columbia’s national influence without acknowledging the existing rights, title and sovereignty of the Indigenous majority.

Despite opposition objections, British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province on July 20, 1871. The correspondence on the subject in the Governor General’s records at Library and Archives Canada concludes with an official copy of the Terms of Union—a rare original printing of this important constitutional document. In his cover letter, the Colonial Secretary, Lord Kimberley, wished Canada and British Columbia “a career of progress and prosperity worthy of their great natural fertility and resources.”

Two pages, one with black ink handwriting and one typed with two long columns.

An original printing of the British Columbia Terms of Union, with the Colonial Secretary’s cover letter to the Governor General of Canada (RG7 G21 Vol 8 File 25a Pt 1, Heritage)

First Nations people would not share much in that “progress and prosperity.” Under the Terms of Union, Canada agreed to follow “a policy as liberal as that hitherto pursued” when dealing with First Nations. This was a cruel joke, as neither pre- nor post-Confederation policy was particularly “liberal.” Except for the Douglas Treaties, a series of controversial land purchases around Victoria in the 1850s, the colonial governments of British Columbia had signed no treaties with First Nations. After Confederation, federal and provincial policy would result in the marginalization of First Nations and the Métis Nation in their own territories and communities. For example, the lək̓ʷəŋən residents at p’álәc’әs would move to another village site in 1911, to make way for the growing settler city. First Nations people were integral to Musgrave’s population formula, which had helped to convince British Columbia settlers to support Confederation with Canada. However, the province’s entry into Confederation was no cause for celebration for most Indigenous people in the region, an important point to remember as we observe the 150th anniversary.


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team 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.

You can also listen to our Kahentinetha Horn podcast (Part 1 and Part 2) and flip through our Kahentinetha Horn Flickr album.

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.

How to Search for Enfranchisement Records

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 Jasmine Charette

In a previous blog post, “Enfranchisement of First Nations Peoples,” I discussed the history and impact of enfranchisement on First Nation communities. This blog post explains how to search for enfranchisement records.

Some parts of your search may require an on-site visit. If you are unable to visit us, you can hire a freelance researcher or request assistance from Reference Services through our Ask Us a Question form. Please note that our research services are limited.

Collections Search

The simplest way to find enfranchisement records is through Collections Search. You can do this if you know the individual’s name at the time, the approximate year of enfranchisement and their band. Sometimes, instead of the band, records will name the agency or district that administered the band at the time.

Screenshot of the Collection Search interface and search results.

Screenshot of a search for enfranchisement records for the Moravian Agency

If you are unsure which agency or district administered the band, you can check these finding aids to identify this information. Sorted by region, the finding aids list agencies, districts and superintendencies, noting which bands were under their administration, the years of responsibility, and allows for tracing administration over time. These guides are available in our Reference Room and are all part of RG10 (Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds).

  • 10-202: British Columbia
  • 10-12: Western Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and Northwest Territories)
  • 10-157: Ontario
  • 10-249: Quebec
  • 10-475: The Maritimes (Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland from 1984)
  • 10-145: Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia had a different system than the rest of Canada)

Here’s how to search for enfranchisement records with the Collections Search database.

  1. Under the “Search the Collection” menu of the LAC website, click Collection Search.
  2. In the search bar, search for “enfranchisement [NAME] [BAND/AGENCY].”
  3. In the drop-down menu, change “All” to “Archives.”
  4. Click the magnifying glass.
  5. Browse the results and select the one for the individual you are searching for.

A complete reference for a record will look something like this:

RG10-B-3, vol. 7222, file number 8015-25, title “Moravian Agency – Enfranchisement – Hill, D.C.”

Please note that the enfranchisement records you identify may be restricted and require an access request under the Access to Information or Privacy acts. For more information on these requests, please consult our site.

Orders-in-Council

A screenshot of the Collection Search database.

A screenshot of a search for the enfranchisement records of James Marsdewan

Another way to search for enfranchisement records is by searching Orders-in-Council (OICs). This is because enfranchisement was confirmed through OICs. While the OICs themselves do not include the main enfranchisement documents, they can provide the following information.

  • Whether or not someone was enfranchised
  • The band they were enfranchised from
  • Their name at enfranchisement
  • Whether or not the enfranchisement was due to marriage

With this information you may find more records in Collection Search.

OICs are indexed by year in our Red Registers, red books in our Reference Room. The registers are split into two parts. The first part lists OICs by number (which are loosely sorted by date), the second part lists keywords to help find specific OICs. Prior to the 1920s, people were mentioned individually in our Red Registers. An external tool can help you find individuals and families in later OICs—the Order In Council Lists website has an index with names of enfranchised people up to 1968.

For specific information on how to search OICs, please consult our previous blog posts “Orders-in-Council: What You Can Access Online” and “How to find Privy Council Orders at Library and Archives Canada.”

If you have any questions, are unable to identify an individual, or need assistance with navigating our holdings, please do not hesitate to contact Reference Services! We are always happy to help.


Jasmine Charette is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Hudson’s Bay Company: 350 years of archives

By Anik Laflèche

The year 2020 marked the 350th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Founded on May 2, 1670, HBC is one of the oldest still-operating companies in the world.

While HBC’s longevity is a feat on its own, this company stands out for another reason: a very large portion of its historical records has survived, kept, for most of its history, in London, England. Considering that the documents survived centuries of existence, life in the Canadian wilderness, trips across the Atlantic, poor conservation conditions, fires and floods, and two world wars, it is amazing that so many records can still be consulted today.

A black-and-white photograph of a building seen through a gate that reads “Hudson’s Bay Company, incorporated 1670” and a second building seen beyond a fence to the right.

A photograph of HBC Post [Fort] Chipewyan, Alberta, 1900. (a019629)

The HBC records have their own fascinating story, separate from the company’s history. The records were originally kept for legal and business reasons, not historical purposes.

While the records were arranged alphabetically in 1796, the first true efforts to describe and organize the collection date to 1931, when HBC hired its first archivist, Richard Leveson Gower. This was the result of mounting pressure from researchers and historians to access the collection.

In the 1960s, with the 100th anniversary of Canada’s confederation (1967) and the approaching centennial of the creation of the province of Manitoba (1970), serious thought was given to transferring the HBC archives to Canada. This idea became a reality in 1974, when all of HBC’s corporate archives were donated to the Archives of Manitoba. The HBC’s museum collection, on the other hand, is showcased in the Manitoba Museum.

While LAC is not the institution mandated to conserve the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, we do hold microfilmed copies of many—although not all—documents in MG20. Glimpses into the role that HBC played in the development of the North-West and land grants after the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory can be had in some of LAC’s other fonds, such as RG15, the fonds for the Department of the Interior.

Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company are classified in LAC’s collection as MG20. The fonds holds a large variety of documents, such as board minute books, letterbooks, journals, ledgers, staff records, ships’ logs, photographs, post journals, diaries, maps, architectural drawings and photographs, dating from 1667 to 1956. The organization of the records is the same as that originally created by the company and matches that of the collection in the Archives of Manitoba.

Black-and-white image of a textual document, specifically, a minute book. The date “24th October 1671” can be seen in the top-right corner. On the left is a list of men who attended the meeting. The rest of the text comprises two paragraphs describing the discussion had during the meeting.

This document, a minute book in which the first entry was made on October 24, 1671, is the oldest surviving record in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives. The minute book includes the records written during the first 18 months of the company’s existence. King Charles II granted the HBC charter on May 2, 1670. (MG20-A1, file A.1/1, Microfilm reel HBC-1)

Although the Hudson’s Bay Company holds a controversial place in Canadian history, having been one of the main tools for the resource exploitation period of colonization, its records are a crucial source of information of the history of Canada and the First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit. These documents offer insights into our colonial past, westward and northward expansion, economic and cultural development, as well as the daily life of fur traders, Indigenous peoples and frontier communities.

The HBC records offer insights into the birth and development of the Métis Nation, an independent people of First Nation and European ancestry who coalesced into a distinct nation in the northwest in the late 18th century. They would rise to resist the takeover of their homeland in the next century after the Hudson’s Bay Company transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada.

These records can help Canada on its journey towards Reconciliation with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit.

For more information on the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, I recommend reading Deidre Simmons’s Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives or consulting the Archives of Manitoba page “Hudson’s Bay Company Archives – About HBCA.”

If you are doing or planning to do research using the Hudson Bay Company archives records or research on a related topic, our reference specialists can assist you. Simply complete our form to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!


Anik Laflèche is an archivist in the Reference Services Division.

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.

Kahkewaquonaby, the Grand Council, and First Nations Rights

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 Kelly Ferguson

In the Sir John A. Macdonald fonds, there are a series of letters exchanged between Macdonald and Dr. Peter Edmund Jones (Kahkewaquonaby). These letters offer a small glimpse into the work of Jones as well as organizations like the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec in the struggle for the rights of First Nations during the 1870s and 1880s.

Jones was born in 1843 to Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and Elizabeth Field. In 1866, Jones earned a medical degree from Queen’s College in Kingston, becoming one of the first licensed Anishinaabe (and First Nations) doctors in British North America. After graduation, Jones worked as a practicing physician in Brantford, Ontario, Niagara, Ontario, and New York City. He eventually set up a practice in Hagersville, Ontario, next to the New Credit reserve. He served as Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit (now the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation) from 1870 to 1874, and again from 1880 to 1886.

A sepia photograph of a seated man dressed in traditional quill design buckskin jacket and bag, holding a ceremonial pipe and a string of wampum beads.

Portrait of Kahkewaquonaby (Reverend Peter Jones), father of Dr. Peter E. Jones. The photograph was taken on August 4, 1845, and is by David Octavius Hill (photographer) and Robert Adamson (chemist). (a215156k)

Beginning in 1874, Jones served as part of the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec. The Grand Council first met in 1870, and one of its primary tasks was reviewing the Indian Act and other pieces of legislation that related to the rights of First Nations.

By 1884, the Grand Council’s focus was on the Indian Advancement Act. The Act enforced significant changes to regulations and governing systems for First Nations in Eastern Canada, including limits on the size and functions of councils and the appointment of local Indian agents to preside over the councils.

The Grand Council continued to debate the new Indian Advancement Act from 1884 to 1886. There were major objections to the Act, particularly the limits to the size of councils and the limits to their function, as well as the appointment of local Indian agents as chairmen. In 1887 Jones, then a delegate on the Grand Council, sent Macdonald a letter with suggestions and comments about both the Indian Act and the Indian Advancement Act. Jones’ recommendations included granting power to local councils to make decisions when the Indian agent was not there, extending equivalent powers to the chiefs, as well as increasing the number of councilors.

A black-and-white microfilm of a handwritten letter.

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from Dr. Peter E. Jones written January 5, 1887. In the letter, Jones offers suggestions and comments regarding the Indian Act and the Indian Advancement Act. (e007956445)

Jones also wrote to Macdonald with recommendations on the Electoral Franchise Act. Although, in theory, First Nations men had been able to vote since 1867, enfranchisement meant that they were required to give up their status under the Indian Act, as well as the accompanying treaty rights. Jones was supportive of enfranchisement, but not at the expense of status. He saw the Electoral Franchise Act as an opportunity to support a version of enfranchisement that maintained a person’s status under the Indian Act and protected treaty rights.

A sepia scan of a handwritten letter.

Letter to Dr. Peter E. Jones (Chief) from Sir John A. Macdonald, written August 31, 1886, discussing the Electoral Franchise Act. (e011198071-001-v8) (e011198071-002-v8)

A black-and-white microfilm of a two-page letter written on Department of Indian Affairs letterhead.

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from L. Vankoughnet, Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs. Dated March 28, 1887, the letter discusses amendments to jthe Indian Act, including suggestions offered by Dr. Peter Edmund Jones. (e007956441) (e007956442)

In the end, the Macdonald government ignored Jones’s recommendations regarding the Indian Advancement Act, and Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal government later repealed the Electoral Franchise Act. The franchise would not be fully extended to status Indians under the Indian Act until 1960, and subsequent amendments to the Indian Act throughout the 19th century continued to assert increased control over the lives of First Nations. That said, these letters still provide a small glimpse into the work of organizations and individuals in the struggle for the rights of First Nations. Both in the 1880s and today, Indigenous Peoples have fought for the right to self-determination and the protection of their Indigenous, Aboriginal and treaty rights, and these letters offer a small window into one of many examples.


Kelly Ferguson is a political archivist in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.