Manitoba history and the penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, 1871–1877

By David Horky

The records documenting the Manitoba Penitentiary’s beginnings at the “Stone Fort” (Lower Fort Garry), from 1871 to 1877, are almost as old as the province of Manitoba itself and are a testament to the turbulent origins of the new province. Many of the records from this early period of the penitentiary, such as the Inmate Admittance Books, Warden’s Order Books and Surgeon’s Daily Letters, held at the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), are also available online at Canadiana Héritage. There are also various other documents pertaining to the Manitoba Penitentiary held by LAC or other sources, many of which are accessible online. Together, these records supply details about the penitentiary and some of the inmates themselves, providing a fascinating perspective on Manitoba’s early history immediately following its creation in 1870.

The Stone Fort

A black-and-white photograph of a white building with a dark roof behind a fence.

Fur store, interior of Lower or Stone Fort, 1858 (e011156706); this building housed the original Manitoba Penitentiary and Asylum from 1871 to 1877

The Manitoba Penitentiary was established at Lower Fort Garry in 1871, shortly after Manitoba entered Confederation as the Dominion of Canada’s fifth province in 1870. The fort was originally built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1830 on the western bank of the Red River, 32 kilometres north of the original Fort Garry (in present-day Winnipeg), and it served as a trading centre and supply depot for the Red River settlement.

The Stone Fort had previously been the headquarters for the British and Canadian troops under the command of Colonel Garnet J. Wolseley. This military force was sent by the Canadian government in 1870 to establish peace and maintain order following the Métis-led Red River Resistance that ushered in the creation of the province of Manitoba. Ironically, the Canadian troops, particularly those from Ontario, were widely accused of conducting a “Reign of Terror” (English only) of violence and intimidation with impunity against the Métis of the Red River settlement.

When Wolseley and the British troops vacated the fort in 1871, the Canadian troops were relocated to Upper Fort Garry and the Fort Osborne barracks. One of their number, Samuel L. Bedson, a quartermaster sergeant in the 2nd (Quebec) Battalion of Rifles, remained behind to serve as the first warden of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry.

Within the fort, the stone warehouse was converted into a prison for criminals and an asylum for people living with mental illness. Bars were added to all windows and dormers, the western doorway was blocked up, the eastern door was adapted for prison security, a signal mast and ball were added, and palisades were erected.

No ordinary prisoners: Indigenous inmates and Manitoba’s history, 1871–1877

A two-page ledger with handwritten entries.

Inmate Admittance Book, 1871–1885 (T-11089, Image 810; R942-29-1-E, RG73-C-7)

The number of inmates listed on the admittance register for the first couple of years of the Manitoba Penitentiary’s operations was quite small, only seven. In 1871 and 1872, the crimes listed involved horse theft, petty larceny, theft, and breaking and entering. Even at this early date, the inmates had surprisingly diverse origins: a Swede, a few Americans, an Englishman, some Canadians from Ontario, and a few from the Red River settlement itself. Included in this early listing is a person identified in 1874 as a “lunatic”—a harsh term then used to describe someone living with a mental illness. The penitentiary, both here and at its later location at Stony Mountain, served as an asylum for these people until the opening of the provincial asylum in 1886 in Selkirk, Manitoba, which was the first of its kind in Western Canada.

The admittance register recorded the names, convictions and sentences of this initially small number of inmates. However, other sources provide information about the circumstances leading to their imprisonment. In the case of Indigenous prisoners from First Nations and Métis communities incarcerated at the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, the context of contemporaneous events within the Red River settlement, and more broadly the Northwest Territories, is especially important.

In fact, the very first inmate listed on the admittance register in May 1871 was John Longbones from the Dakota First Nation, sentenced to two years for “assault with intention to maim.” A few years later in 1873, two other men from his community, Pee-ma-ta-kow and Mc-ha-ha, would be sentenced to prison at Lower Fort Garry for larceny and breaking-and-entering respectively.

The small number of First Nations inmates at Lower Fort Garry at this time reflected the fact that they were being punished for breaking the law—and being caught—within an established settler community. Indeed, at the time, the broader applicability of the law of the Dominion of Canada to the outlying regions of the northwest was not recognized by First Nations peoples, nor was there then a means to enforce it.

On the question of extending the laws of the Dominion of Canada to First Nations communities, the Manitoba Penitentiary was to play a significant, if largely symbolic, role. The Canadian government sought to prepare the way for the orderly settlement of the new province of Manitoba and the recently acquired Northwest Territories. With an increasing number of newcomers arriving from Eastern Canada (particularly Ontario) and abroad, the Canadian government attached great importance to negotiating treaties with First Nations as a key element in establishing “peace, order and good government” in the Canadian West.

A typed page from a government report.

Adams G. Archibald, July 29, 1871, Report of the Indian Branch of the Department of the Secretary of State for the Provinces, 1871 (e18710014)

As fate would have it, the first of these treaties took place under the shadow of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry on July 25, 1871, as the topics of law and punishment became central issues in the negotiations. In a report by the Indian Branch dated July 29, 1871, Adams George Archibald, the first Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, describes his meeting with the Chiefs of the Chippewa and Swampy Cree to negotiate the signing of Treaty No. 1. To his astonishment, the Chiefs were unwilling to proceed until first a “cloud was dispersed.” Archibald learned that the Chiefs were troubled by the imprisonment of a number of their brethren at the Manitoba Penitentiary for breach of contract and desertion of service with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In reply to the Chiefs’ demands for their freedom, Archibald insisted, “every offender against the law must be punished.” Nonetheless, given the importance of the treaty to the Canadian government, he assented to their release, not as a matter of law but as a “favour” extended on behalf of the Crown. Negotiations then resumed, and Treaty No. 1 was signed a few days later on August 3, 1871.

At the same time that the Canadian government was initiating treaties with First Nations, there was also growing concern with continued Métis unrest in the Red River settlement. Angered and frustrated with the Reign of Terror perpetrated by the Canadian militia and with the broken promises over the protection of their rights and land, a small number of Métis allied themselves with a group of Fenians operating across the American border at Pembina (in present-day North Dakota). The Fenians were Irish nationalists living in the United States who sought to capture Canadian territory to exchange for Irish independence from British rule.

In October 1871, a few Métis participated in the Fenian-led raid (English only) on a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost at Emerson, near the American border. Intended as a prelude to a potentially wider incursion on the entire Red River settlement, the raid was foiled by the intervention of the American cavalry from Pembina. Some captured Métis participants were later taken by Canadian officials to Winnipeg for trial for “feloniously and unlawfully levying war against Her Majesty.”

Only one of these Métis, Oiseau Letendre, is among the small number of inmates recorded on the Manitoba Penitentiary admittance register for 1871. Listed as being from Red River, Letendre actually resided across the American border at Pembina. No reason is given for his incarceration, although it clearly shows that he was given a hefty 20-year sentence. A small note subsequently added indicates that he was later released in 1873 by order of the Governor General.

A lined page with handwritten entries. The words “capital case” and the number 1673 are written at the top.

Oiseau Letendre was tried before Mr. Justice Johnson in a capital case at Fort Garry, Manitoba, for levying war on Her Majesty; the sentence was commuted to [imprisonment] for 20 years, 1871–1872 (e002230571)

Records from his capital case file indicate that Letendre was a buffalo hunter and cart driver on the trails that transported goods between Fort Garry and St. Paul. Letendre had numerous family ties to the Red River settlement and the community of Batoche along the South Saskatchewan River. Consequently, Dominion officials were fearful that Letendre’s opposition to the Manitoba government was not an isolated case, so he was made an example and sentenced to hang. In an act of clemency, Letendre’s sentence was commuted to 20 years by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. However, as Letendre claimed American citizenship, substantial diplomatic pressure was exerted by the United States government for his release. Consequently, Letendre was granted a pardon by the Governor General in January 1873 on the condition of his exile from Canada until the expiry of the 20-year sentence.

Shortly after Letendre’s release, there was another and even more high-profile case involving the arrest and trial of a prominent Métis individual who was also incarcerated at the Stone Fort, though briefly. Ambroise Lépine, Louis Riel’s adjutant in the provisional government, was arrested in September 1873 and tried for his involvement in the execution of Thomas Scott during the Red River Resistance in 1870. Ironically, both he and Riel opposed Métis involvement in Fenian plans to invade the Red River settlement. In fact, while both were still fugitives, they returned surreptitiously in October 1871 to lead volunteer troops from St. Boniface to defend the settlement against the Fenian threat.

After his capture, Lépine was initially conveyed to the Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry for “safe keeping.” It is not clear how long he was incarcerated there, as his imprisonment was not recorded on the inmate admittance register. At some point toward the end of 1873 or the beginning of 1874, Lépine was transferred to the new provincial prison that was being built next to the courthouse in Winnipeg. This is where Lépine’s subsequent trial took place and where he later served his sentence.

Lépine’s trial was followed with intense interest not only in Manitoba, but also throughout the country. As would be the case a dozen years later with Riel’s trial in Regina, Lépine’s trial in Winnipeg also polarized the nation, provoking his condemnation in Ontario while evoking sympathy for his cause in Quebec. And like Letendre, Lépine was initially sentenced to hang. However, the Governor General eventually commuted his sentence to two years but nonetheless revoked his civic rights indefinitely. Later, Lépine was even offered a full amnesty subject to exile for five years, but he refused and served his full sentence, finally obtaining his release in October 1876.

Hand-drawn portraits of four men on a page.

Frontispiece to the book Preliminary Investigation and Trial of Ambroise D. Lépine for the Murder of Thomas Scott, 1874 (a digitized version is available at Internet Archive); Lépine is at the bottom, Riel at the top, and Lépine’s lawyers J.A. Chapleau and Joseph Royal are to the left and right respectively

End of an era

Many of the issues encountered during the early history of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, reflecting the turbulent origins of the province and its uneasy relations with First Nations and Métis communities, would have wider repercussions as the Canadian government promoted settlement further westward.

By 1877, the Canadian government had negotiated most of the numbered treaties 1 through 7 with First Nations, covering vast portions of the Northwest Territories in present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. This paved the way for the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the advancement of colonial settlement across the Prairies. Conversely, as settlement progressed, the situation of many First Nations became more desperate as their traditional means of securing food supplies were increasingly compromised or—in the case of the bison hunt—had suffered irreversible collapse.

The Métis communities of the Red River settlement were also reeling under the pressure of more settlers pouring into Manitoba from Eastern Canada and abroad. Despite the assurances made in the Manitoba Act, the Métis had suffered from the Reign of Terror conducted by the Canadian Militia and from land swindles perpetrated in the law courts. Consequently, thousands of Red River Métis left Manitoba in the 1870s in a westward diaspora, either joining pre-existing or establishing new Métis communities in present-day Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Perhaps in anticipation of encountering increased trouble in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories from the desperate and dispossessed, the Canadian government took steps to extend the long arm of Canadian law in the northwest. Territorial courts were established for prosecution, and the North West Mounted Police was created for enforcement. Moreover, preparations were being made as early as 1872 to replace the Stone Fort at Lower Fort Garry with a new and larger federal penitentiary to serve as the site of punishment for the entire region.

Thus, the era of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry ended with the completion of the new Manitoba Penitentiary at Stony Mountain in 1878. By this time, Manitoba was also entering a new era in the nation’s history, assuming its role as the “keystone province,” the administrative and logistical centre for all of Western Canada.

The Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada also has many of the records of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Stony Mountain (or Stony Mountain Penitentiary, as it was later called), available online at Canadiana Héritage, but they are deserving of many more, equally fascinating, stories.


David Horky is a senior archivist in the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada.

Centuries of kinship—Exploring Métis identity through genealogy

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 Delia Chartrand

Examining the ancestry of my father, Maurice Emile William Chartrand, has brought me closer to my own Métis roots. I am what could be called “a modern Métis.” I did not grow up on my traditional territory, like my father did on his homestead near Inwood, Manitoba. Rather, I grew up in a small mining town in northern Manitoba. I did not grow up speaking my traditional language. Michif was not an option in our household as my father had long forgotten how to speak what he called “Bush French.”

I did listen to Métis fiddling music at family reunions and to my father’s colourful stories of growing up on the land, but there was not a huge year-round family presence, living as we did, isolated in the North. Over time, many Métis of newer generations have become a more geographically dispersed people, moving farther from our communities and territories. Sometimes I wonder if we are not merely revisiting our atavistic “coureurs des bois” traits, which I assume are built into the DNA of many of us.

A handwritten and typed document

A page of the scrip affidavit for Josephte Chartrand (e000011889)

Studying genealogy has been an important way for younger generations of Métis like me to rediscover their roots and the successive generations of ancestors, both Indigenous and European, who found each other and created a unique people who embraced aspects of both cultures. Prior to the formation of the Métis Nation in the late eighteenth century, patterns emerged in the immigration and migration of European settlers, as well as in the marriage and cohabitation trends amongst settlers and Indigenous cultures. These can be seen when tracing familial roots.

My particular family tree stems from various regions of France, such as Gironde and Picardie. These regions are recognized as common areas of origin for early New France settlers. For example, Jacques Lussier, who was baptized in 1620 in Rouen, Normandy, and Marie Guyon, who was baptized in 1624 in St. Jean de Mortagne, Perche, are among my ancestors.

In New France, long before the Métis Nation coalesced, military alliances with neighbouring First Nations became critical. Those relationships are reflected in my genealogy. The French and Huron initially had a symbiotic relationship by allying themselves against their long-standing opponents: the British Empire and the Iroquois Nations. Evidence of the threat of conflict between the Huron and Iroquois can be found in my genealogy. The passing of my 9th generation grandfather, Nicolas Arendanki, in 1649 is marked by the phrase “Huron tué par les Iroquois” [“Huron, killed by the Iroquois”]. Arendanki’s daughter, Catherine Anenontha/Annennontak would go on to marry French settler Jean Durand dit Lafortune in 1662. The lives of these ancestors demonstrate the conflict among First Nations in the region during the colony’s early years and affirm the practice of marriage between the Huron and French settlers. And while the children of these unions would have been of mixed descent, they were not considered to be Métis.

As French settlers moved farther into the interior of the continent, intermarriage with other First Nations peoples began to occur and tied to these marriages were different social and economic impacts. Marriage records support these findings. Diversity among marriages to women of different Indigenous groups can be found with much frequency among my ancestral grandparents who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In my research, I noticed French men from Quebec marrying various Indigenous women, who were often designated by their first names followed only by a remark regarding their specific Indigenous group ties. Some of these historic terms are no longer in use.

A watercolour painting of two white buildings with a river in the foreground. There are two boats on the river.

St. Boniface, Red River Settlement by William Henry William Napier (c001065k)

In my family, the historical documents state that Laurent Cadotte, baptized in 1766 at Ste-Genevieve-de-Batiscan, Quebec, married Susanne Crise/Cree in St-Boniface, Manitoba; Etienne Boucher married Marie Siouse/Sioux; Pierre St-Germaine married Louise Montagnaise/Chipewyan; and Joseph Rocque married Amerindienne/Amerindian—no first name was given. This movement into the interior and the increased rate of intermarriage indicates many if not all of these individuals were involved in the fur trade. They likely depended on marriage and familial ties to Indigenous groups as a means to solidify their economic stability as they pursued hunting and trapping for furs.

The changing political structures of the nineteenth-century fur trade led to successive generations of mixed heritage families who no longer identified with either an exclusively European or Indigenous cultural framework, but who instead developed their own sense of cultural expression through a coalescence of cultures. This collective of people were referred to as the Métis Nation.

While Métis identity is often linked to certain families of dual descent within Red River, it is important to recognize that there are communities located outside the settlement. One such settlement is St. Laurent, a location on Lake Manitoba in the southwestern part of the province. My family traces its more recent genealogy to St. Laurent. By the late 1820s, those Métis who lived in semi-permanent settlements in that area were uniquely involved in various subsistence patterns, such as fishing and salt production, as a result of the demand for provisions coming from other established posts around them.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the St. Laurent region in Manitoba was permanently settled by four Métis families: the Chartrands, the Pangmans, the Lavallées and the Sayers. The Chartrand and Lavallée surnames are particularly significant to me. The matrilineal line of my father’s genealogy stems from Marie Rose Germaine Lavallée, baptized in St. Laurent in 1918, or Granny as I knew her. The patrilineal line stems from Joseph Gedeon Harvey Chartrand, baptized in 1907 in St. Laurent. Although we never met, I’m told he went by Harvey.

Colour photograph of a man and a young girl smiling at the camera with a white camper and a car in the background.

A contemporary example of Métis kinship. The author is pictured with her father, Maurice Chartrand, circa late 1990s.

There are many variants comprised within the cultural term “Métis.” I wanted to provide a closer look at the development of just one of the unique Métis communities in southern Manitoba. By examining eleven generations in the family tree of my father, Maurice Emile William Chartrand, we can connect to the personal stories of seventeenth-century French immigrants to New France, through to the European traders who migrated into the interior. A specific focus on the marriages occurring over the last four centuries shows the gradual development of just one example of interconnected Métis heritage.

Personally, I like to think about all the grandparents who came before me. How they shared their distinct cultural perspectives and teachings with one another in order to create new communities and unique identities for their children. And I smile a little knowing my parents did the same for me, a self-professed modern Métis.

If you are interested in learning more about your family’s story or your Indigenous identity, you can find more information on Library and Archives Canada’s genealogy pages.

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.


Delia Chartrand is an archivist for the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

Archives as resources for revitalizing First Nations languages

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 Karyne Holmes

The preservation of First Nations languages is crucial for the survival of the unique identity of each nation and community. The ability to speak your language strengthens your connection to your ancestral heritage, community, and land and nature. In effect, language knowledge instills a strong sense of pride and confidence in your identity, and it is interconnected to mental and emotional well-being.

Since colonial contact, government policies have caused the displacement and separation of our people from their families, communities, lands and languages. Attempts at assimilation, such as the establishment of residential schools and the ongoing Millennium Scoop, have distanced multiple generations from their languages and cultures. Canada recognizes only English and French as official languages. First Nations communities have therefore taken leadership in ensuring that their languages are maintained, relearned and passed down. The decline in the natural inheritance of language through kinship has led to the rise of language-preservation and language-revitalization projects.

Revitalization initiatives value both traditional and technological approaches to learning. Digital resources are also important, as they offer various supplements to land-based language learning, such as video lessons, online dictionaries and interactive games. Social media platforms like Facebook allow for online classroom communities with communication opportunities between teachers and learners that would otherwise not be possible because of distance. Language-learning apps are rising in popularity and continue to be developed to support the needs both of beginners and of students who wish to spend extra time learning independently on their own schedules.

In addition to individuals recovering their languages, communities are empowering themselves by collectively reclaiming the original-language place names of the geographic territories that they occupy. These original names give insight into the history of the area and provide knowledge about it. The names are highly descriptive, reflecting physical characteristics of bodies of water and terrain, or honouring notable events, stories and activities associated with the locations. Some names reveal ecological knowledge or communicate information about travel and navigation. These insights were gradually diminished through the imposition of settler-drawn maps that assigned and formalized their own names to locations. As part of the movement toward decolonizing spaces, the restoration of place names in First Nations languages is being done through the redrawing of maps, and through designating names in First Nations languages to traditional territories and the institutions located there.

A hand-drawn map showing a river and bodies of water, with writing indicating locations and directions. On the right of the page is a white ruler, shown for scale.

A drawing, dated 1896, of a canoe route between Lake Waswanipi and Lake Mistassini showing Cree place names (n0117726)

Archives can play a supporting role both in current language revitalization and in future language preservation. Historical research into archives can be of value to language initiatives, as researchers can find documentation of languages in several forms. Although mostly created by non-Indigenous explorers, missionaries and anthropologists, types of records that are of special interest include journals, maps and dictionaries. These may reveal what the creators of these records learned from their encounters with First Nations peoples. Of particular interest are recordings of songs and stories, as well as historical documents that may recover traditional place names and include older vocabularies with insights into the origins of and the knowledge associated with those names.

A typed page with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Nakoda.

Transcription of a page from an English-Nakoda dictionary written between 1883 and 1886 (e011055392)

A handwritten document with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Innu-aiman.

Page from a notebook of Innu-aimun vocabulary learned while trading, ca. 1805 (e011211380)

Archives are relevant for finding out about our past, but they can also be valuable for assisting language maintenance and protection. They can function as spaces to preserve and make accessible for future generations newly created resources that reflect the current language knowledge of fluent speakers. Archives can be either physical or digital resource centres for language learners to access a vast collection of language content. Collaborations between leaders of language-revitalization initiatives, language keepers and archivists can ensure that our grandchildren have pride and flourish in their identity, not only by speaking their original language, but also by hearing it through our ancestors’ voices.

Check back for future blogs related to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation language resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

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.


Karyne Holmes is an archivist for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

First Nations cradleboards: understanding their significance and versatility

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 Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Cradleboards are still an integral part of the cultural practices of First Nations peoples. I experienced using a cradleboard for my family when we received one from my mother-in-law. It was not new, the paint was flaking off and its footrest was wobbly. An antique restorer stabilized the paint and repaired the footrest. I selected a floral printed fabric to make a pad and embroidered a long sash of denim with multiple colours. I bundled my infant daughter in a thin flannel blanket, placed her on the cradleboard and wrapped the sash snugly around her. She was content when on the cradleboard and would usually fall asleep within minutes. I used it to bring her to local community events. Unfortunately, she outgrew it in about a month.

The cradleboard now decorates my home and is a reminder of those first few months of her life—it brings back cherished memories. Only later did I become aware of its cultural and historical significance while reading a book on First Nations cultural materials. The features of our cradleboard matched one that was over a hundred years old. Early First Nations cradleboards are in museums or private collections, as anthropologists and antique collectors visited communities and approached families directly to purchase and collect them.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard.

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], ca. 1910 (e010859891)

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the design and materials for cradleboards correspond to the culture of each First Nation. Generally, cradleboards are used by the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois), Plains and West Coast First Nations. Cradleboards are different from other infant carrier–type baskets, bags, slings, carrying hoods and dugout-trough-style cradles.

A black-and-white photograph of three children. The youngest child is in a cradleboard that is embroidered with a pattern of flowers.

Two young girls standing on a wooden porch beside a boy in a cradleboard, Temagami First Nation, probably Lake Temagami, Ontario, unknown date (e011156793)

The construction of a cradleboard starts with a flat plank of wood to which functional components are added. The handle or canopy is at the top end and provides protection for the head. This part may be a bar of curved wood or a canopy of arched bark. A flat piece of wood or bark rail is attached close to the bottom of the board as a footrest and keeps the infant in place when the board is placed in an upright position. Materials that are used for the cradleboard may include wood, leather, bark, cord, plant fibres, woven fabrics or a combination of these. Cradleboards can be stylized by carving, shaping, painting or adding decoration to the different components. Since a newborn grows quickly, a second, larger board may be used to accommodate a growth spurt. Boards may be shared between families, with a new mother borrowing one when needed. Cradleboards can be commissioned ahead of the arrival of an infant and range from a simple utilitarian style to more artistic creations.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and two children in a canoe. One of the children is sleeping in a cradleboard.

Atikamekw woman, infant on a cradleboard and young girl in a canoe, Sanmaur, Quebec, ca. 1928 (a044224)

A cradleboard enables a mother to return to her daily activities more easily after birth, while keeping her newborn close by her. The infant can be carried safely, while being comforted by the stimulation of being swaddled. Swaddling is done by bundling the newborn and securing its arms in a thin blanket with light pressure. This is thought to be good for the infant’s posture, as the back is flat on the board and the spine can be kept straight. When the cradleboard is placed horizontally, a cross bar attached under the board on the top end raises the head slightly higher than the bottom end. Using gravity, the infant’s blood circulation is enhanced. Of course, not all of the infant’s early life is spent on the cradleboard, as it is used as occasions warrant.

A black-and-white photograph of eight people, including a baby in a cradleboard in a forest. There is a canoe in the foreground.

First Nations family, Ishkaugua portage, [Newton Island, Ontario], 1905 (a059502)

Once the infant is wrapped in the swaddling material, it is placed on the cradleboard on a thinly padded cushion and secured by wrapping the sash several times around the child and board. Another technique is to place the infant in a leather or cloth bunting bag (also known as a moss bag) that is easily placed on or removed from the cradleboard. The bag is then attached to the cradleboard, the infant is placed in it and then secured with leather or cord laces. Sashes and extra covers may be made by the mother, relatives or friends and could include unique embroidery, beadwork and ribbon work designs. Designs featured may represent clans, traditional symbols, or motifs of plants, animals and nature.

Smaller versions of cradleboards are made for the children. These provide the opportunity for young girls to practice their nurturing skills while at play and prepares them for motherhood or caregiving. A cloth or corn-husk doll or a bundle of sage or other dried plant material is usually placed on the board

A black-and-white photograph of 7 women, a teenager and children on the shore of a lake. Two babies are in cradleboards.

Cree women and children at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, 1925 (a019995)

Eastern area

Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois) and Algonquin-style cradleboards start with a flat plank of wood. On the backs of older Haudenosaunee boards, there are usually low-relief carved images of animals, flowers and leaves painted in basic colours of red, black, green, yellow and blue. There may be additional carving on the top end of the board, handle, footboard and wood bar. In rare examples, silver or metal inlays have been inserted on the wood bar.

A colour photograph of a man in a purple and white shirt sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. In front of him is a baby in a cradleboard with red and white fabric.

Kenneth Atsenienton (“the fire still burns”) Deer and grandson Shakowennenhawi (“he is carrying the words”) Deer at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Kahnawake, Quebec, May 1993 (e011207022)

Some of the wooden structural elements were attached with wood pegs. Handles were reinforced with leather strips, gut or cord. The curves on the wood handles were hardwood that had been steamed and bent. Haudenosaunee wood handles were straight across, while the Algonquin boards had a bowed wood handle. A cover can be draped over the handle to provide a quiet space or shield the infant from the elements. Objects might be hung from the handle for the child to look at, such as beaded strings, charms or possibly a baby rattle. Some Algonquin cradleboards had a one-piece rail attached to the board, which would go up each side, curving at the bottom and serving as a footrest.

A cradleboard could be carried on a person’s back by attaching straps or a tumpline to the cradleboard; these then went around the chest or forehead and left the hands free.

A watercolour painting of two women and a man. One of the women has a pipe in her hand and a baby in a cradleboard on her back. The man has a rifle in his hand.

This watercolour painting shows a woman carrying a baby in a cradleboard, ca. 1825–1826 (e008299398)

Western area

First Nations in the Plains region would cover the leather or fabric used for the cradleboard with their traditional beadwork styles. The infant was placed in an enveloping enclosure attached to the cradleboard.

Northwest Coast First Nations had more than one type of cradleboard, as well as a dugout-trough cradle. Cradleboards were made of woven plant fibres, cedar boards and hollowed-out logs.

The tradition of making new cradleboards is carried on today by First Nations carvers and craftspeople. In celebration of the birth of new generations, they may incorporate past knowledge in new designs including personalized elements and stylistic representations of present culture.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of cradleboards.

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.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and legacy

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 Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s name is associated with speed, athleticism, determination, courage and perseverance. His Onondaga name, “Cogwagee,” translates as “all” or “everything.” Facts, stories and photographs of his life have been collected, published and examined over the past century, in an attempt to capture, recreate and demystify his life.

Thomas Charles Cogwagee Longboat was born to George Longboat and Elizabeth Skye on July 4, 1886 (some sources have June 4, 1887). He was Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation from Six Nations Territory and lived a traditional life of the Haudenosaunee (Longhouse). At the age of 12 or 13, Longboat was forcibly sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School, an Anglican denominational and English-language school, which operated from 1823 and closed in 1970. This experience did not go well for him and his fellow First Nations students, who were forced to abandon their language and beliefs to speak English and practice Christianity. Longboat reacted by escaping the school and running home. He was caught and punished, but then escaped a second time, with the foresight to run to his uncle’s farm, where he would be harder to find. This proved successful and marked the end of Longboat’s formal education. He worked as a farm labourer in various locations, which involved travelling great distances on foot.

Longboat began racing as an amateur in 1905. He won the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1907, in two hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds, shaving nearly five minutes off the previous record for the world’s most prestigious annual running event. With this incredible race, he brought tremendous pride and inspiration to Indigenous peoples and Canadians. The following article was published the day after he won the marathon:

“The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdily.” (The Boston Globe, April 20, 1907)

A year after winning that race, Longboat competed in the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London, England. He collapsed and dropped out at 32 kilometres, unable to finish the 42.2 km race. He then turned to professional running, and in 1909 received the title of Professional Champion of the World at a Madison Square Garden race in New York City.

A black-and-white page from the 1911 Canadian census with entries for each of 38 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, occupation and citizenship, and language and education.

A page from the 1911 census listing Thomas C. Longboat and his wife Loretta [Lauretta], in York County, Ontario. His profession is listed as “runner.” (e002039395)

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long-distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

In 1916, Longboat went overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in the First World War. He employed his natural talent and served as a dispatch runner. Longboat was mistakenly declared dead in the battlefields of Belgium, after being buried in rubble as a result of heavy shelling. His wife, Lauretta Maracle, a Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk) woman, whom he had married in 1908, believed him to be deceased and remarried. Longboat subsequently married Martha Silversmith, an Onondaga woman, with whom he had four children. He continued his military career, serving as a member of the Veterans Guard in the Second World War while stationed at a military camp near Brantford, Ontario. The Longboat family settled in Toronto. Upon his retirement from employment with the City of Toronto, Longboat moved back to Six Nations. He passed away on January 9, 1949.

In 1951, he received posthumous recognition with the establishment of the prestigious Tom Longboat Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to Indigenous athletes who exemplify the hard work and determination they put forth in their chosen endeavours. The original trophy remains at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary, with a travelling replica held by the Aboriginal Sports Circle in Ottawa. In 1955, he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

A red rectangle plaque with gold writing, with the crest of Canada and “Tom Longboat 1886–1949” at the top.

A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque honouring Tom Longboat, located at 4th Line Road, Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Parks Canada)

Tributes in recognition of Longboat’s achievements continue today in many forms. A Government of Canada plaque was erected in his honour in 1976 at 4th Line Road, Six Nations, Ohsweken, Ontario. In 1999, Maclean’s magazine recognized him as the top Canadian athlete of the 20th century. Canada Post issued a stamp in 2000 commemorating his winning time. In Ontario, the Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008 designated June 4 as “Tom Longboat Day.” Tom Longboat Corner in Six Nations, a Tom Longboat Trail in Brantford, Ontario, a Tom Longboat Lane in Toronto, and a Tom Longboat Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. There is also a Longboat Hall at 1087 Queen Street West in Toronto, the location of the YMCA where he trained. A statue of Longboat entitled “Challenge and Triumph,” created by David General, and an exhibit about him are on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre at Six Nations. Most recently, a children’s book about his life called Meet Tom Longboat was published in 2019.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and accomplishments are both fascinating and inspiring. To learn more about him, listen to our podcast, “Tom Longboat is Cogwagee is Everything,” which includes additional information.  Also check out the Tom Longboat 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.

2019 Indigenous acquisitions: books for kids!

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 Sarah Potts

Here are a few titles to add to the holiday wish lists of budding readers

At Library and Archives Canada, we love books! Around the holidays, we often share ideas about gifts for our loved ones. Choosing good reads for our kids (or children at heart) can be tricky. This librarian’s solution? Check out our recent acquisitions of works by Indigenous authors or featuring Indigenous stories. I hope this list inspires you to grow your young (and older) readers’ collections!

Colour photograph of four books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

For younger readers

Nokum Is My Teacher, by David Bouchard, illustrated by Allen Sapp, music by Northern Cree Singers. OCLC 1080218454

Nokum Is My Teacher tells the story of a conversation between a boy and his Nokum (grandmother) about why he should learn to read. His Nokum knows the power of reading, but she also reminds him to respect his traditional knowledge. The story is in English and Cree, and it comes with downloadable music.

Una Huna: What Is This?, by Susan Aglukark, illustrated by Amanda Sandland and Danny Christopher. OCLC 1122616081

Ukpik loves to go camping in the North! One day, a captain comes to trade with her father, and she worries that everything is going to change. Ukpik speaks with her grandmother, who reminds her that while some things change, her love for family and camping never will.

You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel. OCLC 973043772

You Hold Me Up teaches children and their guardians about the importance of empathy and why we should consider the feelings of others in our everyday actions. It will help your littlest ones to develop an understanding of respect and empathy.

Nibi’s Water Song, by Sunshine Tenasco, illustrated by Chief Lady Bird. OCLC 1080643036 (French translation by Hélène Rioux: Nibi a soif, très soif, OCLC 1083095552)

In a child-friendly way, Nibi explains why it is so important for everyone to have clean water. Through beautiful illustrations, an unlikely character—her hair—explains Nibi’s feelings and journey! As the communities learn to listen and communicate with each other, they come together to ensure that all Canadians have access to clean, healthy water.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox, by Danielle Daniel. OCLC 1022939643 (French translation: Parfois je suis un renard, OCLC 989789937)

A beautiful introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals. Children explain in their own words why they feel connected to certain animals. For each chosen animal, there is an adorable illustrated image of the child as his or her totem animal.

A Children’s Guide to Arctic Butterflies, by Mia Pelletier, illustrated by Danny Christopher. OCLC 1004529871

If you thought that only polar bears and rabbits lived above the treeline, think again! Arctic butterflies are real, unlike mythical North American “house hippos.” This book is a fact-filled, beautifully illustrated journey into the world of the resilient butterflies of the North.

Colour photograph of six books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

The Gathering, by Theresa Meuse-Dallien, illustrated by Arthur Stevens. OCLC 966404621

Alex has never attended a spiritual gathering (mawiomi) and is feeling overwhelmed. Once she begins meeting Elders, she becomes more at ease; eventually, and most importantly, she finds her voice in a talking circle.

Mokatek et l’étoile disparue, by Dave Jenniss, illustrated by Claudie Côté Bergeron. (In French) OCLC 1080217733

Each night, to fall asleep, Mokatek loves to speak with the stars. He really enjoys telling his stories to the best and brightest star in the sky, the North Star! One day, his favourite star disappears, and he has to find it. In this book, the youngest of readers join Mokatek on a journey with his animal friends to find the brightest star and bring it back home.

Dragonfly Kites, by Thomson Highway, illustrated by Julie Flett. OCLC 1055555884

Dragonfly Kites is the second book in a magical trilogy by iconic author and playwright Thomson Highway. This bilingual book (English and Cree) is about two brothers who fly their kites during the day, but fly at night in their dreams. The brothers remind us about the beauty of using our imaginations!

Colour photograph of four books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

For pre-teens and teens

A Two-Spirit Journey: the Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder, by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer. OCLC 927382779 (French translation by Sophie M. Lavoie: Un parcours bispirituel : récit d’une aînée ojibwé-crie lesbienne, OCLC 1035313410) (Content warning: homophobia and transphobia)

This selection is a story of resilience and self-discovery. Ma-Nee Chacaby brings you on a journey through her life with humour, kindness and a willingness to accept oneself.

Trickster Drift, by Eden Robinson. OCLC 1035334241 (Content warning: drug use)

In Trickster Drift, the second book in a planned trilogy, we follow Jared, who has a knack for attracting trouble and magic. He moves to Vancouver for high school and discovers that just because you leave the magic behind, the magic does not leave you, especially when you are the son of a Trickster!

Voices from the Skeena: an Illustrated Oral History, by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd, illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers. OCLC 1107990291

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good history book, and if the book has pictures, even better! Take a trip along the Skeena River to meet those who have known this river since time immemorial, and those who came after them. This is the perfect book for the budding West Coast historian.

I hope that I have inspired you to explore what is available from Indigenous authors and their worlds this holiday season!


Sarah Potts is an acquisitions librarian in the Legal Deposit section of the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities

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 Annabelle Schattmann

George Mully (1926–1999) was an American playwright and documentary film director. He began as a playwright, working on off-Broadway shows, travelling productions, and operas in the United States and Europe. Mully had various roles, including stagehand, stage manager, lighting designer, and director; he even worked as a puppeteer. After marrying and settling down in England with his wife Ann, Mully pivoted his career from the stage to audiovisual production. He started his own educational production studio, writing, directing, and producing stories on subjects and issues he was passionate about. By 1979, the family had immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

The George Mully collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, consists of personal and professional documentary photographs taken in the later part of Mully’s career. The images demonstrate his varied interests, including international development, the environment, history and socio-cultural topics, music, and art. In Canada, Mully worked closely with the National Film Board and museums in the capital region, directing many documentary films. Acid from Heaven (1981), a documentary film about acid rain, is a notable work included in his collection.

Colour photograph of a young girl staring into the camera.

An Inuk girl with yellow sunglasses, a red jacket, and multicolour mittens. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218259)

Of particular interest to the We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative is a series of 363 photographs taken between 1978 and 1988. They depict First Nations people and Inuit from across Canada, as well as Diné (Navajo) and Inde (Apache) from the United States. Mully’s images document how Indigenous people lived and worked in the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the photographs show people going about their daily lives, often while performing an activity. Sometimes it is a traditional activity, such as hunting, gathering, creating art, and making crafts, or a contemporary activity such as working in a modern industry. Occasionally, Mully captures crossover between traditional and contemporary life.

Colour photograph of four men sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by microphones and facing each other, singing and drumming.

Four unidentified First Nations drummers performing under a tent. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218157)

Mully’s interest in human rights is evident in a series of photographs taken in July 1979, when the Indian women’s rights march arrived in Ottawa. The march, led by Maliseet women Sandra Lovelace and Caroline Ennis, protested inequality and discrimination faced by First Nations women who lost their Indian status upon marrying non-status men. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in June 1985 by removing the relevant provisions and reinstating status for those affected, among other changes. The revisions to the Act have been critiqued for not adequately addressing the issue.

Colour photograph of a person sitting on green grass behind a sign that reads “Save our sisters.”

Unknown individual sitting on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a protest sign. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

It is not initially clear why Mully captured particular images or what purpose they might have served. Some photographs might have been taken in preparation for a possible documentary or as part of research on a future project. The names of the people depicted, the locations, and the dates of the photographs are unknown; none of the images has a detailed caption, and few textual records accompany the collection. As such, a selection of over 300 photographs will be part of an upcoming Co-Lab challenge and Flickr album. If you recognize someone or a location, or know when an event took place, please go to the George Mully Co-Lab challenge and tag the photographs! Tagging the images with names, locations, and dates will allow others to find images of family members and their communities, and ensure that the people and places are remembered. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and for your assistance in this endeavour.

Colour photograph of a man in dark blue clothing wearing sunglasses and sitting on a wooden bench carving a vase.

Unidentified Inuk artist at an arts event, working on a ceramic vase with an abstract design. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

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.


Annabelle Schattmann is an archival assistant for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

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

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

by Heather Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

By David Horky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mighty Indigenous Warriors: From Egypt to the First World War

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 Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour and Sara Chatfield

When First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation were recruited in 1914 to fight in the First World War, enlistees were not aware of the new reality of 20th-century warfare. As a prelude to the First World War, in 1884, approximately 56 Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk), 30 Ojibway and 19 Métis men were recruited for Britain’s six-month Nile expedition in Egypt totalling 400 men. The men were chosen for their strength, endurance, and skill in handling boats and rafts—qualities that were needed to navigate up the numerous cataracts and rapids of the Nile River. They did not see active battle, as they arrived two days after the city of Khartoum, Sudan had fallen, and British Major Charles G. Gordon had been killed. The expedition returned with the loss of 16 men and stories of what they had seen. Along their journey on the Nile, they saw monolithic temples and statues carved out of hillsides at Abu Simbel, the Sphinx of Giza, the pyramids, exotic markets and Egyptian life in Cairo.

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of men standing in front of the Parliament buildings.

Canadian voyageurs in front of the Parliament Buildings, a detail from the “Canadian Nile Contingent,” 1884. (c002877)

Three decades later, their next involvement in an overseas military expedition was with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) in the First World War. It was an opportunity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation soldiers to see the world, and to prove their courage and combat skills. Soldiers were facing a major change in combat style and warfare. The new reality of war involved the use of chemical warfare, machine guns, fighter aircraft, armoured vehicles, and trench warfare.

Our latest Co-lab challenge, Correspondence regarding First Nations veterans returning after the First World War, illustrates some Indigenous peoples’ experiences during the war, touches upon how their communities coped during their absence, and gives information about their lives after they returned home. These documents provide us with information that the Personnel Records of the First World War may not. They offer information such as what the solider planned to do after the war, if he owned land or farm animals, or if he was suited to farming. There is also information about whether the soldier suffered any lingering disabilities, who they lived with, and if they had any dependants.

Created by the former Department of Indian Affairs, these records are unique in that an overseeing federal “Indian Agent” included personal information and comments on the returning First Nations soldiers. In contrast, this was not the case for non-Indigenous soldiers, as no similar sets of records exist for the rest of the CEF.

A page from the “Indian Agent’s Office,” Chippewa Hill, Saugeen Agency, February 14, 1919.

Document from RG10 Vol 6771 file 452-30 sent to Duncan Campbell Scott from T.A. Stout on February 14, 1919, providing information about John Besito. (Image found on Canadiana)

This personal information became part of the federal government files in Ottawa. The records are also unique in that the “Indian Agents” delved into the soldier’s post-service life. The information that was collected included gratuitous private information and personal judgements about the veterans and the civilian lives they returned to. For example, the “Indian Agent’s Office” notes dated February 1919 for Private John Besito from Saugeen Agency, Ontario, state, “He has a location of fifty acres in the Reserve. He has a house and some improvements on his location.”

As well as administrative information, such as CEF regimental numbers and membership in First Nation agencies and bands, these records also give us genealogical information. For example, the names of three deceased soldiers are listed in a letter to the Department of Indian Affairs dated February 12, 1919, written by the “Indian Agent” of the Griswold Agency in Manitoba. The letter states that the deceased soldiers are from Oak River and Oak Lake Reserves. The letter also includes the CEF regimental number of one of the deceased, Private John Taylor, and that the Department of Indian Affairs paid a pension to his wife and two children. Other correspondence informs us that Private Gilbert Moore, who was killed in action on March 24, 1918, left behind parents in poor circumstances and that they applied for a pension; and that Private Thomas Kasto left a mother who received a pension.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a First World War soldier in uniform and holding a rifle.

Photograph of Canadian Expeditionary Forces soldier Michael Ackabee. (e005176082)

As well as providing information about the soldiers who fought with the CEF, these files make reference to women in First Nation communities who provided funds to help with the war effort to organizations such as the Red Cross, the Girls Overseas Comfort Club, and the Canadian Patriotic Fund. Women in the communities knitted socks and made shirts to add to the “comfort boxes” that were mailed to the men overseas. They also fundraised by making beadwork, woven baskets, and quilts to sell at box socials and fairs.

Indigenous soldiers who survived the war often returned home changed, both positively and negatively. Sapper Peter Taylor, a Kahnawake soldier, suffered the rest of his life with complications from mustard gas poisoning until he passed away in 1955. Private Tom Longboat, the Olympic long distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, returned home from his duty overseas in France to find his wife had remarried after receiving word that he had been killed.

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

Many who returned home were affected mentally and physically. We give our gratitude for their sacrifices and service, and they will be forever acknowledged, honoured, and respected.

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 and Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Service Branch at Library and Archives Canada.