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An Act of Kindness

When I first started at the museum I spent a lot of time opening cabinets and drawers to check out this remarkable collection that is now under my care.  There are many impressive artefacts, but this one really struck a chord with me.

Tullauhiu's Leg 001

I opened a drawer to find what appears to be a simple box (carefully constructed by skilled conservators!).  A closer look at the photo label revealed this:

Tullauhiu's Leg 002

It’s someone’s leg!  I was a bit shocked, I did not expect to find a prosthesis in the HBC collection.  I immediately went to our database to find out more.

As it turns out, Tullauhiu was an Inuit hunter who lost his leg to a polar bear.  John Ross (yes, THE John Ross who went in search of the Northwest Passage) ordered the Victory‘s carpenter to fit Tullauhiu with a wooden leg.  The carpenter apparently worked with the ship’s surgeon and Tullauhiu was fitted with a prosthetic leg on January 15, 1830.

Tullauhiu's Leg 004


Constructed from wood, leather, iron nails, sheet copper, and copper nails (hence the green-ish tinge) Tullauhiu was given a new lease on life.  What prompted John Ross, on his second Arctic voyage, to do this?

John Ross journal

Ross briefly mentions this event in his 1835 Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a NorthWest Passage (this excerpt is from page 5).  Apparently the event is also discussed in Farley Mowat’s Ordeal By Ice (1993: pg 228-236) but I have yet to snag a copy to see for myself.

Perhaps it really was just a simple act of kindness, or maybe there was more to the story (page 52 of Ross’s narrative alluded to something).  Either way, looking at this prosthetic leg in a box gets me thinking about what this leg meant for Tullauhiu.

Tullauhiu's Leg 005

That’s what I love about my job, it’s not just the material ‘things’ in the collection, but the stories behind them and thinking about what these items meant for the people who made and used them.

*UPDATE: The plot thickens on this interesting artefact, stayed tuned for part 2!*


Dr. Amelia Fay

Curator of HBC Collection

See Full Biography

Amelia Fay joined The Manitoba Museum in September 2013. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), and recently completed her Doctoral degree from MUN. Amelia’s research has focused on Inuit-European contact along the Labrador coast, and her interests are continually expanding to explore Indigenous-European contact throughout Canada during the fur trade era.

Amelia’s job as Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection involves building the collection, responding to public inquiries, preparing exhibits, and conducting her own research.  Her research interests centre on the interactions between Europeans (including HBC employees) and Indigenous peoples as they negotiated space, material culture, and their daily activities.  Amelia’s goal is to showcase this amazing collection, and highlight the important role that Indigenous people played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company.