Guest curator: Jeff Thomas

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Canada Day 2005, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, by Jeff Thomas, 2005

First Nations figure set in front of a train marked “Canada” with grain graffiti on its side.

Canada Day 2005, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada from The Delegate on Tour Series by Jeff Thomas, 2005 (MIKAN 3932014) ©Jeff Thomas

For Iroquois artist Jeff Thomas, Canada has always excluded his people. He made this series in order to symbolically place them back in the national picture. Each photograph takes back a major symbol of Canadian nationhood.


Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and I am an enrolled member of the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario. I am a self-taught photographer and curator. My career in photography began from a near-fatal car accident in 1979 that left me with a permanent disability from a spinal cord injury. I turned to my interest in photography to begin the process of rebuilding life. My career began with two objectives: to address the absences of contemporary and of historical Indigenous photographers in archival collections. My primary objective was to address the absence and invisibility of urban-based Iroquois like me.

In 1990, I was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when I discovered, during a research project at the Manitoba Museum, that LAC had a complete copy of Edward Curtis’s 20-volume series The North American Indian. Curtis played the role of antagonist in my early career, primarily because of his staged images of an Indigenous tribal life, which had vanished decades before. Very little was known about Curtis—wanting to know more, I moved to Ottawa in 1993 and began the next stage of my career.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

In 1999, my son Bear was moving to the West Coast, so I was losing my muse. Bear had started posing for me in 1984. Around the same time that Bear was leaving, I received a box in the mail from documentary filmmaker Ali Kazimi. Ali had made a documentary film about my work titled Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeff Thomas. Ali introduces the film by holding up a plastic Indian and cowboy. And when I opened the box, I saw the plastic Indians and the cowboy, with a note from Ali saying, “You will find something interesting to do with them.”

Indians on Tour began in the summer of 2000 during a walk around the Parliament Hill area in Ottawa. I had a plastic toy Indian figure in my camera bag, and when I stopped to photograph a statue of an Indian hunter, I placed the toy Indian in front of the bronze hunter and photographed the two. What transpired when I saw the photograph was a new level of possibilities for me in addressing absences of Indigenous representation in the everyday world. From that point, I started taking the plastic figures with me wherever I travelled. I eventually added new Indian figures that I discovered in tourist shops, and to make posing them less reliant on a flat surface, I started making portable dioramas for the figures, mounted on a portable light stand.

Small light-brown First Nations figure set in front of Indian hunter statue. Tall office buildings and trees can be seen in the background.

War Dancer and Indian Hunter Statue by Jeff Thomas in Ottawa, 2000 © Jeff Thomas

In 2005, I was in Brandon, Manitoba, for an opening of my work, and since the next day was Canada Day, I drove around the city looking for an interesting site to pose the delegate. When I saw the grain car with “Canada” and some graffiti on its side, I knew I had found the site for my Canada Day image.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

A black-and-white photo of a Dakota First Nation woman wearing a striped dress under a long beaded breastplate. It is matched with a necklace, long earrings and braids.

Studio portrait of Dakota First Nation (Sioux) woman (MIKAN 3258922)

In 1994, LAC hired me to write new captions for photographs showing Indigenous people, with culturally insensitive words in the old captions. One image stands out from my project. I wrote a new caption for a photograph showing a full-length image of an Indigenous woman. She was probably a mother, wife, grandmother and elder for her community. The caption was “Sioux Squaw”; squaw is considered a very derogatory word. The caption I wrote was simply “Dakota Woman.”

An important point is that the original caption was not deleted, so researchers will see both captions in the database. The new caption inspired a researcher to try and identify the woman, and the new information he found was subsequently added to the database caption. It was amazing to see the impact that changing two words had on one photograph. I suspect that once more Indigenous people use the database, someone from her community will add her name to the caption.

Biography

A colour photograph of a lightly bearded man smiling at the camera.

Jeff Thomas credit Justin Wonnacott

Jeff Thomas is an urban-based Iroquois, self-taught photo-based artist, writer, public speaker and curator, living in Ottawa, Ontario. He has works in major collections in Canada, the United States and Europe. Jeff’s most recent solo shows were Mapping Iroquoia: Cold City Frieze, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario; Resistance Is NOT Futile, Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Ontario; and The Dancing Grounds, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Thomas has also been in many group shows, including l:ke – Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971–1989, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario; Land/Slide: Possible Futures, Markham, Ontario; SAKAHÀN, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; and UNMASKING: Arthur Renwick, Adrian Stimson, Jeff Thomas, Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France. In 1998, he was awarded the Canada Council for the Arts’ prestigious Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography. He was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 2003. In 2008, he received the Karsh Award in photography.

Related resources

Project Naming: celebrating the past and looking to the future

By Julie Dobbin

Since its beginnings in 2002 as an Inuit-focused project, Project Naming has expanded to engage all Indigenous peoples to identify photographs in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection.

The majority of individuals in the images of the collection have never been identified; they are anonymous. Additionally, archival descriptions relating to events or activities are absent or have outdated information (e.g., place names, band names or terminology). The information is based on original inscriptions and captions found on the records, and hence it reflects the biases and attitudes of non-Indigenous society at the time. Since 2002, approximately 10,000 images have been digitized, and approximately 2,500 mainly Inuit individuals, activities and places have been identified.

In honour of the project’s 15-year anniversary, a celebratory event took place over the course of three days in March 2017. It was held at LAC and Carleton University in Ottawa and involved Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples as well as the general public.

Project Naming’s 15th anniversary event was not only a celebration of all the individuals who have been identified and of partnerships with Inuit communities, but also a celebration of Indigenous cultures as well as a chance to look back at the past to build a better future. Throughout the three days, Inuit, First Nations and Métis Elders shared their knowledge and made important recommendations on the future direction of Project Naming, and on the future of a country where Indigenous peoples are no longer unidentified, silenced and forgotten.

A colour photograph of a man from the Métis Nation wearing a beaded vest standing at a podium.

Clément Chartier, President of the Métis National Council, at LAC for the 15th anniversary event of Project Naming, March 3, 2017.

Although Project Naming has taken some important strides in undoing past wrongs, much more work still needs to be done. To mark the 15th anniversary, new official Facebook and Twitter pages for Project Naming have been launched. This greater presence on social media provides a new platform for non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous peoples to recount their stories, share their histories and continue the significant work that Project Naming has begun.

A colour photograph of two Inuit women looking closely at a picture. The older one holds the picture while the younger one takes a photo on her iPhone of it. Behind them are people talking and tables covered with papers.

Manitok Thompson (left) and Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merrit (right) identifying photographs at the Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, March 2, 2017.

“When you see those pictures, it’s like coming home,” Inuit Elder Piita Irniq declared during the event. His statement indicates just how much power a photograph can have. Project Naming is therefore not simply about identifying people, places and things; it is about regaining what has been lost, finding oneself and being able to return home. Sessions at the event became about more than just identifying names. These sessions were about sharing knowledge, whether about clothing, physical traits, hunting, fishing, trapping, families or traditional ways of life. Most importantly, every photograph in every session was a means of sharing a story or personal memory.

A colour photograph of an older Inuit man wearing a traditional Inuit jacket who is standing in front of a monitor pointing to an image on the screen. Two young Inuit are watching and listening closely.

Elder Piita Irniq (right) and Nunavut Sivuniksavut students Gabe Klengenberg (left) and Aislyn Gizelle (centre) during a session at LAC for the 15th anniversary event of Project Naming, March 1, 2017.

I cannot speak for others, but I had the sense that those who attended the event left with more awareness than when they arrived. It was truly three days of education, an education that every Canadian would benefit from, and one that Project Naming is intended to foster. Every time a face was identified during the event, it felt like a victory, like a difference was being made and an identity restored. Having the chance to watch the Elders identify people and places was remarkable. What was even more incredible was the energy in the air, the feeling of collaboration, respect and reconciliation. Project Naming will continue the meaningful work it has done over the past 15 years; with new partnerships with Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples, a positive difference will continue to be made. To all those who may not know about Project Naming and how to help, visit the web page and social media accounts, “like” the page, share the photos and help make a better Canada, one where people’s identity will not be erased but will instead be celebrated and honoured.

Promote and learn more about Project Naming:

A colour photograph of a young Inuit man looking at several large photographs on easels.

Curtis Kuumuaq Konek at LAC during the 15th anniversary event of Project Naming.


Julie Dobbin is doing her MA in Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University. She wrote this article during a practicum in the Exhibition and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Inuit women and seals: a relationship like no other

By Julie Dobbin

Seals are a central part of life and an essential source of locally-harvested food for Inuit peoples. Many traditions, customs, beliefs and oral histories revolve around the seal. Inuit peoples were and still are in an important and direct relationship with this animal. Inuit hunters have great respect for the spirit of the seal, an animal that is so heavily relied upon. Every single part of the seal is used, as the harvesting must be sustainable, humane and respectful. Most importantly, cold and harsh arctic climates demand that people have the right shelter and clothing to keep warm and dry, and seals help meet this need through their skins, fur and oil.

Black-and-white photograph of an Inuit woman inside an igloo wearing a floral print parka and tending a seal oil lamp, with a young Inuit child wearing a fur parka.

Woman tending a seal-oil lamp inside an igloo, Western Arctic, probably Nunavut, 1949 (MIKAN 3202745)

Inuit women developed highly skilled techniques in order to treat and use seal in various ways throughout the seasons. They scraped the skins clean of blubber with an ulu (a traditional, women’s knife with a crescent-shaped blade) then stretched and dried them, as seen in this photograph of Taktu.

A colour photograph of an Inuit woman wearing a red cloth jacket, crouching on a rocky coastline and scraping fat from a seal skin with an ulu (a woman’s knife).

Taktu cleaning fat from a seal skin, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, summer 1960 (MIKAN 4324316)

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Voices of the Past

By Harriett Mathews

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has roughly 30 million photographs from various collections in its possession, a large number of which have Aboriginal content. During my time here as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) working on Project Naming, I have been able to explore the database and discover breath-taking photographs from different Aboriginal communities all over Canada.

Correcting the Historical Record

Although the photographs themselves are quite wonderful to behold, the records often leave something to be desired. For many Aboriginal images, the titles contain antiquated and offensive language, or are simply vague. It is imperative that these records be updated with modern terminology and information gathered from members of the communities where these photographic records originated. The involvement of Aboriginal people in this process is crucial because these records depict their history, their culture, and their families; their voices are the ones that have been omitted and lost. As I myself belong to the First Nations, I have greatly enjoyed being able to share my culture and help restore the lost voices of photographs by helping to update the records.

One example is an image titled “Dirty Daisy and her baby.” The photograph depicts an Inuit woman and her child suffering from malnutrition. “Daisy” was not the name of this woman; it is more likely the name that was assigned to her by a government official. By calling this woman “Dirty Daisy”, the individual who wrote the caption effectively stripped her of both her dignity and her name. Hopefully, through Project Naming, the real name of this woman and her child will be uncovered. In the meantime, the record has been updated so that the title now reads “An Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut.”

Black and white photograph of a gaunt looking Inuit woman and child sitting in a small tent with cooking supplies in the background. The woman is feeding the baby with a rectangular bottle.

Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut (MIKAN 3855414)

Improving Access – Photo by Photo

Since Project Naming began in 2002, more than 2,000 photographs have been identified. Additionally, thousands of records have had inaccurate and insensitive terminology removed from their titles and moved into a general notes field in order to provide historical context and perspective. Identifying names, places, events, and cultural objects facilitates the sharing of Aboriginal culture and stories with all who are interested in searching the archives. These include stories about Aboriginal politicians, for example Inuit Senator Charlie Watt who represents Quebec. I had the pleasure of working on DIAND Album 38, which contains several photographs of young Charlie Watt and his parents, Daisy and Johnny Watt. The photographs take place at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, and even though the photographs are black and white, the vibrancy of that Inuit community shines through.

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 154, 156, and 157) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of an Inuit woman in a plain dress and plaid shawl standing on a porch with a little girl in a parka drinking glass of milk. The photograph in the top right corner is of two Inuit women in plaid shawls and flower headbands sitting in front of wooden crates, one holding an accordion, with a baby sitting in the foreground to the left and a little boy in dress clothes standing beside the woman with the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of a woman in a blazer and ribbon headband dancing with a man in a suit; the woman on the left is holding a man’s hand – the rest of the man is out of the shot – and there are three women and an oil lamp in the background.

Album page fifty-three with photographs of an Inuit woman and girl (Daisy Watt, possibly with Harriat Ruston), a group of Inuit women and children—Daisy Watt is playing the accordion, Christina Gordon is on the right, and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) is standing on the left—and S.J. Bailey and H. Lamberton dancing with two Inuit women—Daisy Watt is on the right with S.J. Bailey, the woman behind her is Susie, and Hannah (Susie’s sister) is on the left holding H. Lamberton’s hand—in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec (MIKAN 4326945)

Black and white photograph of five women, four of them seated and one on the far right standing with a baby wrapped in a plaid shawl. The woman in the centre of the photograph is playing an accordion, and the woman to her left has a young boy in her lap. Behind them are several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.”

A group of women and children at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, the woman playing the accordion is Lizzie Suppa and to her immediate left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) (MIKAN 3855585)

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 158, 159, and 160) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of women and children sitting in front of several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.” The photograph in the top right corner is of two couples dancing while a woman plays the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of an Arctic ground squirrel in a grassy field with a rock in the foreground.

Album page fifty-four with photographs of a group of women and children [Lizzie Suppa is playing the accordion, seated to her left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt], two Inuit couples dancing [Johnny and Daisy Watt are on the left, on the far right is Lizzie (with her accordion again)], and a Siksik (an Arctic ground squirrel) (MIKAN 4326946)

Restoring Aboriginal Voices

All of these photographs are essential to the telling of Canadian history. They demonstrate the narrative of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the Canadian government, and most significantly, they tell the stories of the individuals in the photographs and share their culture. For decades, First Nations, the Metis Nation, and Inuit voices have been lost in these records. Project Naming is vital because it provides Aboriginal people a forum through which they can reclaim their stories and identities. I am glad that I have been able to contribute my voice, as a First Nations woman, to these records. There are so many stories to be told, and I am sure that as LAC continues to move forward in partnership with Aboriginal peoples, we will be able to hear them.


Harriett Mathews was an FSWEP student who worked in the Exhibition and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada during the summer of 2016.

The Inuit: Disc Numbers and Project Surname

Today’s Inuit use a combination of Euro-Christian given names with Inuit surnames. This has not always been the practice. Prior to the first half of the 20th century, the Inuit did not use surnames. Traditional Inuit names reflected things of importance (family, spirits, animals, the environment) and were neither gender-specific nor recognized shared family names.

By the 1920s, there was a push by missionaries, fur trade employees and government officials to identify the Inuit in accordance with European norms and the patriarchal social model. These groups believed that the lack of surnames and consistent spelling made it difficult to identify each Inuk for trading, census information, and other records. The introduction of disc numbers was implemented not only to identify Inuit, but also to administer the distribution of family allowance, other benefits, and health care.

A black-and-white photograph taken inside an igloo of two men reading a disc number attached to a boy’s parka.

Taking the census and checking on family allowance matters, Windy River, [N.W.T. (Nunavut)], December 10, 1950 (MIKAN 3380264)

At the time, several suggestions were put forward to the federal government such as introducing a binomial naming system with family names, standardizing spelling, creating individual RCMP files and obtaining fingerprints of each Inuk. The RCMP started fingerprinting but it was not well-received, largely due to its association criminal activity.

Finally, in 1941, the federal government chose to register each Inuk with a unique numeric identifier, which was stamped on a disc or printed on a card. These identifiers were often called “Eskimo disc numbers” or ujamiit (ujamik) in Inuktitut. The Inuit were required to carry these numbers on their person, so they were often sewn onto clothing or hung from laces around the neck. These numbers were used until 1972 except in Quebec where the practice continued for a few more years.

Following are three photographs of a family taken sequentially holding their disc number that was written on a chalkboard.

A black-and-white photograph of an Inuit man holding a small chalkboard with the number 6008.

Portrait of a man [David Arnatsiaq] holding a small chalkboard with the number 6008, at Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik/Tununiq), Nunavut, August 1945 (MIKAN 3606623)

A black-and-white photograph of an Inuit woman holding a small chalkboard with the number 6009.

Portrait of a woman [Tuurnagaaluk] holding a small chalkboard with the number 6009, at Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik/Tununiq), Nunavut, August 1945 (MIKAN 3606624)

A black-and-white photograph of an Inuit woman holding a small chalkboard with the number 6010.

Portrait of a woman [either Juunaisi or Eunice Arreak] holding a small chalkboard with the number 6010, at Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik/Tununiq), Nunavut, August 1945 (MIKAN 3606625)

From 1968 to 1971, the federal government with the Northwest Territories Council undertook to change the identification system from disc numbers to the use of last names under Project Surname. This project was headed by Abraham “Abe” Okpik who toured the Northwest Territories and northern Quebec (Nunavik) with a linguist.

Library and Archives Canada holds evidence of the disc number system in photographs and documents, such as lists of individuals and their disc numbers, as well as lists showing the transition to surnames and social insurance numbers. Note that these records are restricted as they contain personal information.

Project Naming is Expanding!

In early 2002, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) teamed up with the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program and the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, to create Project Naming. The goal was to digitize photographs of Inuit from present-day Nunavut in LAC’s photographic collections in order to identify the people depicted in the images. At the time of the launch, LAC expected that the project would be concluded the following year. We never imagined that this initiative would become such a successful and popular project with the public.

To mark the annual National Aboriginal History Month in June 2015, LAC is pleased to announce the launch of Project Naming. While the project still includes communities located in Nunavut, it will be expanded to Inuit living in Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories), Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Nunatsiavut (Labrador), as well as First Nations and Métis communities in the rest of Canada. Project Naming: 2002–2012 will still be available online, but new content will only be added to the new project site.

Project Naming: 2002–2012 began with the digitization of 500 photographs from the Richard Harrington fonds. Since then, LAC has digitized approximately 8,000 photographs from many different government departments and private collections. Thanks to the enthusiasm and support from Inuit and non-Inuit researchers, nearly one-quarter of the individuals, activities or events portrayed in the images have been identified, and this information along with the images is now available in the database.

Over the years, LAC has received many wonderful stories and photographs from members of the public who have reconnected with their family and friends through the photographs. Among these was a photograph shared by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society that organized several community slide shows during the winter of 2011. Mona Tigitkok, an Elder from Kugluktuk, discovered her photograph as a young woman during one of these gatherings.

Colour photograph of an elderly Inuit woman wearing a fur-trimmed floral parka posing in front of a screen with a slide projection of her photograph when she was a young woman, taken at a community hall.

Mona Tigitkok posing with a picture of herself taken more than 50 years ago, Kugluktuk, Nunavut, February 2011. Credit: Kitikmeot Heritage Society.

Author and historian, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, has used Project Naming, both personally and professionally. In her words:

I was first introduced to Project Naming a few years ago through my work in the Inuit heritage field, but there is also a personal connection for me—the database allows people to search by communities in Nunavut so I’ve discovered photographs of relatives and community members.

It was not uncommon in the past for photographers not to name the subjects of images. Often photo captions were simply “group of Eskimos” or “native woman” and so on. One afternoon, over tea, I showed some of the photographs from the Project Naming database to my mother, Sally Qimmiu’naaq Webster, and we were able to add a few names to faces from our home community of Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq). I felt a sense of satisfaction in identifying unnamed individuals in photographs and providing names to replace nondescript captions provided by the photographer. In a sense, when we do this we are reclaiming our heritage.

Photograph of a young Inuit woman wearing a turtle neck sweater looking away from the camera.

Photograph of the late Betty Natsialuk Hughson (identified by her relative Sally Qimmiu’naaq Webster). Taken in Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq), Nunavut, 1969 (MIKAN 4203863)

Project Naming allows people to not only identify individuals in images, but to add information including corrections to the spelling of names in an online form. It is well worth checking out the database, especially with an Elder, because seeing the image opens up discussion.

As part of my work I manage a Facebook page Inuit RCMP Special Constables from Nunavut to acknowledge the contributions of our Inuit Specials and pay tribute to them. Last year I posted a portrait photograph that I found on the Project Naming database of Jimmy Gibbons, taken in Arviat in 1946. Special Constable Gibbons was a remarkable man who joined the RCMP in 1936 and retired to a pension in 1965. This post was met with many enthusiastic likes, shares and comments from S/Cst. Gibbons’ descendants saying that he was their father, uncle or great-grandfather. Some people also simply said “thank you.” Shelley Ann Voisey Atatsiaq proudly commented, “No wonder I wrote earlier that I highly respect the R.C.M.P. I’ve got some R.C.M.P-ness in my blood. Thank you for sharing!”

Black-and-white photograph of a close-up of an Inuit man wearing a knitted vest and tie standing outside.

Jimmy Gibbons, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Special Constable, Arviat, Nunavut, August 1, 1946 (MIKAN 4805042)

For more information about the history of the project, read the article Project Naming / Un visage, un nom, International Preservation News, No. 61, December 2013, pp. 20–24.

As with the first phase of the project, LAC wants to hear from you through The Naming Continues form.

Start your search for Aboriginal content

Arctic Images from the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Explorers and travellers have long been documenting their Arctic adventures in diaries, manuscripts, maps, sketches and watercolours. Their accounts portray the Arctic as a mystical land, whose inhabitants and way of life seem unspoiled, and this imagery was further disseminated to audiences abroad with the invention of the photograph.

The following photographs are part of the Arctic Images from the Turn of the Twentieth Century exhibition presented at the National Gallery of Canada. Featuring material from Library and Archives Canada’s collections, the exhibition showcases rarely seen images, which document photographers’ travels in the Canadian north. In many cases, these images present a romanticized view of the people and places.

One of the earliest images is this photograph of a hunter, taken by George Simpson McTavish while he was stationed at the Hudson’s Bay Company at Little Whale River, Quebec, in 1865.

Portrait of a hunter, a beluga, a seal skin “daw” (a buoy), and a kayak along the edge of the Little Whale River, Quebec. Photographer: George Simpson McTavish (MIKAN 3264747)

Portrait of a hunter, a beluga, a seal skin “daw” (a buoy), and a kayak along the edge of the Little Whale River, Quebec. Photographer: George Simpson McTavish (MIKAN 3264747)

The majority of photographers who ventured to the Arctic regions were men, and for the most part, were employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Canadian government. Geraldine Moodie was one of the few female photographers. She had a successful photography studio prior to moving north with her husband when he was posted to the North West Mounted Police station in Fullerton (Qatiktalik in Inuktitut), Nunavut. Her portrait of an Inuit widow and her children, taken around 1904, is a good example of her beautifully composed images.

Widow and her children, Nunavut, by Geraldine Moodie (MIKAN 3376416)

Widow and her children, Nunavut, by Geraldine Moodie (MIKAN 3376416)

The vast majority of photographs of Inuit emphasized the ethnological attitudes of the era by presenting them as “types,” such as this 1926 image of an unidentified man.

Unidentified man, Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut, by Lachlan T. Burwash, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (MIKAN 3376543)

Unidentified man, Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut, by Lachlan T. Burwash, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (MIKAN 3376543)

In other cases, Canadian government staff took photographs to highlight federal government initiatives and policies, such as this 1948 image of four women looking at a family allowance poster. Below it, also from Health and Welfare Canada’s Medical Services Branch, is the portrait of Bella Lyall-Wilcox carrying her baby sister, Betty Lyall-Brewster. Taken in 1949, the lighting and composition of this portrait link it aesthetically to the pictorial tradition of the majority of photographs in this exhibition.

Women looking at a family allowance poster, Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq), Nunavut, by unknown photographer, Health and Welfare Canada (MIKAN 3613868)

Women looking at a family allowance poster, Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq), Nunavut, by unknown photographer, Health and Welfare Canada (MIKAN 3613868)

Bella Lyall-Wilcox (left) and Betty Lyall-Brewster, Taloyoak (formerly Spence Bay), Nunavut, by Studio Norman, Health and Welfare Canada (MIKAN 3613832)

Bella Lyall-Wilcox (left) and Betty Lyall-Brewster, Taloyoak (formerly Spence Bay), Nunavut, by Studio Norman, Health and Welfare Canada (MIKAN 3613832)

The Arctic Images from the Turn of the Twentieth Century exhibition opened on March 14, 2014, and will continue until September 1, 2014, at the National Gallery of Canada. For more information about LAC’s photographic collections portraying Inuit and the Arctic, visit our Project Naming web page.

Reconnecting families through digitization

As part of Project Naming, a community engagement and photo identification project that aims to reconnect Inuit and their past, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has undertaken the digitization of a series of photographs from the Indian and Northern Affairs Collection. These albums have been the starting point of a great story regarding a family from Nunavut.

In this collection, are a number of images of the Weetaltuk family taken during the summer of 1949 on the Cape Hope Islands in Nunavut. The original captions accompanying the photographs provided basic details. Fortunately, the database records for these images are now more complete after several family members contacted LAC to provide the names of relatives and other relevant information about these pictures. Most importantly, they were able to correct the Weetaltuk surname, as well as community names that had been incorrectly recorded. From the original captions, we knew that George Weetaltuk was a community leader, a skilled hunter and an expert boat builder. His family members explained the detailed process that George followed in creating his boats, as seen in this photograph of him with his son, William, and his adopted son, Simon Aodla, constructing an 11.58 metre (38-foot) boat.

Another record that the Weetaltuk family was able to correct was this group photograph taken in front of a log cabin. The caption states that this picture was taken on Cape Hope Islands. We now know that the picture was probably taken on nearby Charlton Island, James Bay, where for many years, George and his family resided while he was employed seasonally by the Hudson’s Bay Company. In addition to this information, the family was also able to identify five of the people in the photograph, and provide genealogical connections.

Weetaltuk family photograph. Back row: Adla (far left), married to William, George’s oldest son (2nd from left),  George Weetaltuk (centre) and his first wife, Ugugak (4th from left). Front row: George’s sons Alaku (far left) and Tommy (sitting on the ground). (PA-099605)

Weetaltuk family photograph. Back row: Adla (far left), married to William, George’s oldest son (2nd from left), George Weetaltuk (centre) and his first wife, Ugugak (4th from left). Front row: George’s sons Alaku (far left) and Tommy (sitting on the ground). (PA-099605) Source

In addition, another of George’s sons, Edward, was a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was the first Canadian Inuk to serve in military combat with the Canadian Army during the Korean War. Following his 15 years of service, he began writing his life story. According to a news article, Edward (Eddy) Weetaltuk “wanted to show young Inuit that education was important and that Inuit can become anything they want and even become famous, if that’s what they want.” (Nunatsiaq Online, July 16, 2009)

Although Eddy started writing E9-422: Un Inuit, de la toundra à la guerre de Corée in 1974 (in French only), it was not published until 2009 only a few days before his death.

Through these family connections and dialogue with the community, our photographic collections are constantly improved and enriched for future generations.

For more information about Project Naming, read our Blog article, published on May 9, 2013, and listen to our Project Naming and Canada’s North podcast.

Project Naming: The first ten years and beyond

Initiated in 2002, Project Naming is a community engagement and photo identification project that aims to reconnect Inuit with their past by identifying the people and events portrayed in photographs held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). We have added the names of individuals and descriptions of activities to our database, which you can search online.

Over the last ten years, we have digitized more than 8,000 of those photographs and have received identifications for approximately 1,900 individuals. New information about these pictures is gathered through a variety of methods, including an online form, community slide shows and other social gatherings, weekly features in local newspapers, social media and on-site research visits.

Quite often, identifications come as a result of intergenerational conversations that take place in person or virtually—or both. Such was the case when Nunavut News/North published a photograph of Rhoda Qaqsauq, and her daughters, Lucy Evo and Janet Tagoona, on February 11, 2013; upon discovering this picture, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster shared it on Facebook, thus sparking a lively conversation between her and other family members.

An example of a successful on-site visit occurred in June 2012 when a group of Elders and youth from Arviat, Nunavut, located on the southwest coast of Hudson Bay, made a trip to Ottawa. They looked through hundreds of photographs and negatives taken between the 1920s and the 1970s.

This enabled them to identify 31 family members in 17 images. Louisa Gibbons discovered her mother, Catherine Kopak, and her grandmother, Yarat, in a picture taken in Kingayualik, near Padlei.

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak (left), Louisa Gibbons (centre) and Elder Mary Nowtalik (right).

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak (left), Louisa Gibbons (centre) and Elder Mary Nowtalik (right).

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak also discovered a photograph of her mother, Uyaupiak, dating from the late 1960s. Today, the remaining 22 Elders in the community of Arviat are the only ones able to recognize people and describe what life was like in photographs taken more than 50 years ago. Elder Muyunaganiak passed away in September 2012; her death reminds us of how time-sensitive an initiative Project Naming is.

Project Naming has now evolved into a broader community engagement initiative that has expanded beyond the territory of Nunavut to other Aboriginal communities in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Labrador. We hope to build upon this dialogue with members of Northern communities using new technologies and social media.

To learn more, listen to our Project Naming and Canada’s North podcast.