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HBC Collection

HBC Collection

02/17/17

Legacies of Confederation: The Document that Shaped Canada

2017 marks Canada's 150th birthday, and to commemorate this anniversary all seven museum curators collaborated on the creation of an exhibit that really highlights what was happening here in Manitoba at the time of Confederation, and the effects of this political shift.  Our Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History opened last week, and runs throughout 2017 so you'll have plenty of time to check it out.

As with any exhibit, there is never enough space to tell all of the stories we want.  Instead, each curator will be blogging about an artifact or specimen in the exhibit, or perhaps things that didn't make it into the exhibit.  This post falls into the latter category, as I had the fantastic opportunity to view what I think is one of the most important documents for Canadian history and one that shaped Canada as we know it today.

Last summer during my UK research trip I made a stop at the National Archives in Kew specifically to view this document.  I had made an appointment in advance (always advised!) but was very excited to finally visit this incredible institution.

National Archives (UK)

National Archives (UK)

What document am I talking about?  The Deed of Surrender (ref # CO42/694).  This document outlines the sale of Rupert's Land (which King Charles II granted the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670) to the Canadian Government.  And here's why this document is so important, look at this map of Rupert's Land territory and just think about how different our beloved Canada would look if this transaction had not taken place!

Rough outline of Rupert's Land (grey area).

Rough outline of Rupert's Land (grey area).

The Deed was signed November 19th, 1869 but due to some political disruption right here in Red River, it did not come into effect until July 15, 1870, the same day as the Manitoba Act.  The HBC received £300,000 for the land and was able to keep some land along what was called the 'fertile belt' (an area bounded by the 49th parallel to the south, the Rockies to the West, the North Saskatchewan River, and Lake of the Woods to the east).  HBC was also able to retain the lands around their trading posts and was guaranteed the right to trade without taxation.

Some might ask why HBC was willing to sell their vast empire for such a small price, it seems like a lot of money (especially in those days) but when you consider the natural resources of this 3.9 million square kilometers (roughly 1/3 of Canada today) territory, Canada got it for a steal.  Especially when you look at what the US paid Russia for Alaska in 1867, a whopping $7.2 million!

So, what motivated the HBC to go along with this?

Since this post is already lengthy I'll give you an over-simplified answer.  HBC had no interest in governing or additional colonies throughout the territory (to get the full, fascinating scoop I highly recommend HBC Heritage Services and the Canadian Encyclopedia entries).

How did a very newly formed Canada afford what has been considered the largest real estate transaction in Canadian history?

They received a loan from Britain to facilitate the deal.  Hence, the Deed of Surrender is a British Document regarding a transaction between the Crown and a British company, which is why the original is preserved for us at Kew.

A note on the document: the three pages of vellum are stitched together and the entire thing folds into a pouch (which is why there are creases on each page).  My photos have been watermarked at the request of the archives, but if you're not in the UK and want to see the Deed the HBC Archives has a copy.

11/21/16

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, & A Ferry: My UK Adventure

This summer I spent three glorious weeks exploring museum collections, historic ships, archaeological and historic sites, and local cuisine in England and Scotland.   Here's the stats on this trip:

  • 8 cities
  • 22 museums & galleries (including 4 historic ships)
  • 15 heritage sites (including archaeological sites)
  • 2 17th century pubs (for Nonsuch Gallery research!)
  • 380,504 steps (according to my iphone health app)
  • 10 days of train travel
  • 1 roundtrip ferry to Orkney
  • 4 days of driving (eep!) in Orkney

I went on this whirlwind trip with two major goals: to view collections related to the HBC; and to conduct research for our upcoming Nonsuch Gallery renewal.  I came back exhausted, but also incredibly inspired and I can't wait to start pulling all of my photographs and notes together.

For some folks my itinerary might seem a bit museum-heavy, but for a nerd like me it was heaven!  In fact I really only started to experience museum fatigue on my last stop, in Edinburgh (which just means I'll have to go back!).

So, did I achieve my goals?  YES!

Viewing collections housed in other institutions is important to get a sense of what else is out there and learn more about the people collecting Indigenous artifacts during their employment with the HBC. Some of the artifacts I viewed were quite similar to ones here within the HBC Museum Collection, including some beautiful embroidery that was likely made by the same women from Norway House that made the pieces my colleague Maureen Matthews exhibited last year.

I also had great meetings with people who care for Cutty Sark (in Greenwich), Victory and Mary Rose (Portsmouth).  I feel quite lucky that our Nonsuch is indoors and does not have to deal with the elements which pose much greater conservation issues than what we deal with in our climate-controlled gallery!

I hope to blog about specific stops along my journey as time permits so stay tuned, but here's a small sample of photos!

 

06/20/16

200 Years Later: The Battle of Seven Oaks

Yesterday (June 19th) marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks, the boiling point of years of conflict (not always violent) between the Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company in the Red River settlement region.

Like any historic event, isolating the details of June 19th, 1816 is a disservice to both parties involved, so I strongly encourage readers to take a look at the resources listed at the end of this post to get the context, and garner multiple perspectives on what happened.

Many scholars have debated what to call this event: battle; massacre; incident; skirmish.  Joe Martin's article on the Manitoba Historical Society's website weighs in on this semantic discussion here.  I noticed that popular media, like recent CBC articles, seem to use 'battle' so that's what I've stuck with here.

I searched through the HBC Museum Collection to find an artifact connected to this event.  The only thing related to it is this calendar print, produced by the HBC as a marketing tool to promote their retail activities and highlight the Company's history.  You can read up on the history of the HBC calendars on the HBC Heritage Services website.

 

The 1914 HBC Calendar shows the Battle of Seven Oaks, painted by Charles William Jefferys.

The 1914 HBC Calendar shows the Battle of Seven Oaks, painted by Charles William Jefferys.

This painting, like all calendar paintings, was commissioned by the HBC.  What's depicted here is likely not how things played out at the time, but is a representation of how people (specifically the HBC) felt about the event nearly 100 years later.  It's interesting to compare this image to how we think about it today, 200 years later.

 

ONLINE RESOURCES:

Canadian Encyclopedia: The Battle of Seven Oaks

Canada's History: Selkirk Settlers, Cuthbert Grant & the Battle of Seven Oaks

Coutts, Robert and Stuart, Richard (eds.) The Forks and the Battle of Seven Oaks in Manitoba History, Manitoba Historical Society (1994).

Dick, Lyle (1991) "The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition, 1816 to 1970", Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 2(1):91-113.  PDF available here.

PRINT RESOURCES:

Barkwell, Lawrence J. (2010) The Battle of Seven Oaks : a Métis perspective. Winnipeg : Louis Riel Institute.

Bumsted, J.M. (2008)  Lord Selkirk: a life. University of Manitoba Press.

Bumstead, J.M. (2003) Fur Trade Wars: The Founding of Western Canada.  Great Plains Publications.

04/01/16

Beadwork Then and Now

One of the really fun parts of my job is when I get to interact with other researchers and assist them with their projects as they use the collection.  One of these lovely individuals is Monique Olivier, Assistant to Heritage and Education Programs at Festival du Voyageur.

Monique has been learning how to do beadwork, and she asked if she could use one of the dog blankets in the HBC collection for inspiration in a reproduction.  Today she came in with the finished piece and we laid them side-by-side, it's pretty incredible!

Monique's new blanket on the left, the original on the right.

Monique's new blanket on the left, the original on the right.

I asked Monique why she chose to work on a dog blanket, since we all know there are thousands of beautiful beaded things she could have selected.  Her response?  Of all the material culture of the fur trade, dog blankets are some of the most whimsical and unique pieces.  I couldn't agree more, and I think we both just stood there smiling at the thought of dogs all dressed up in their gorgeous blankets.  (Shameless self-promotion: check out the April-May 2016 edition of Canada's History Magazine for a little blurb I wrote on dog blankets!).

I'm sure you're all wondering how she went from looking at an original museum piece to completing her own, so here's how she tackled it:

  • First, she takes close-up images of each section and measures the size of the motifs as well as the overall piece;
  • The pictures are printed to scale, and she uses carbon paper to trace the pattern eventually transferring to brown paper bags;
  • Then she begins the actual beadwork, ripping off the paper pattern at the end
Beaded tea cozy made by Monique

Beaded tea cozy made by Monique.

When I show off the beaded works in our collection people always ask me how long it would take, so I threw that question back to Monique.  This project took her about 70 hours, including drafting the pattern.   The biggest challenge?  Finding the right bead colours, especially pinks and oranges.  Some of the colours we have on pieces in our collections are no longer available, much to the dismay of contemporary beaders!  Monique added that she owes a lot of her success to Jennine Krauchi for helping her improve and hone her skills (for recent news on Jennine's incredible work check out this CBC article).

The artist herself, Monique Olivier.

The artist herself, Monique Olivier.

If you'd like to see more of Monique's work you're in luck!  Drop the Beads: Big Challenges & Small Victories in Contemporary Beadwork is a showcase of her work opening on Tuesday, April 5th at the Tiger Hills Arts Centre in Holland, Manitoba (about 1 hour, 40 min southwest of Winnipeg and you can see the centre right from the highway!).  The show features both traditional pieces, like this beautiful dog blanket, and contemporary ones that reflect her interests in sci-fi, and runs until the end of the month. Monique will be there for the Open House on Friday, April 8th at 7pm so be sure to stop by!

 

12/23/15

Christmas at York Factory

Yes, I still have York Factory on the brain.  I have many more photos and stories from our trip to share but those shall have to wait until the new year.  Instead I thought I'd share some of my recent thoughts on Christmases past, what was Christmas like during the fur trade?

Fortunately for me the HBC Archives has started digitizing some of the post journals, saving me a long trek through the snowy streets of Winnipeg to go and explore early journals from York Factory.  I found this gem on their website, written by James Knight in 1714, and you can see that Christmas day is just one little notation along with all the others.

A closer look, and a good squint to read his beautiful handwriting, reveals a rather nice message on the 25th:

I gave the men a hogshead of strong beer and some provisions extraordinary to enjoy themselves with this Christmas...prayers today and was celebrated with the [two words I can't decipher!]

Although I can't figure out those final two words, I think celebrating with a hogshead (a large cask, roughly 238 litres) of strong beer sounds like a pretty good way to spend the day!

UPDATE!  Thanks to my boss (Adele Hempel) and good friend and colleague (Amanda Crompton) I now know what those last two words are:

I gave the men a hogshead of strong beer and some provisions extraordinary to enjoy themselves with this Christmas...prayers today and was celebrated with the usual solemnity.

For more on Christmas during the fur trade check out this article from Canada's History, originally published in The Beaver in 1941.

Happy Holidays dear readers, and all the best in 2016!

10/07/15

The Smell of History

It's fairly obvious based on my current job and previous work experience that I love all things old.  I love the smell of old books, antique furniture, and apparently historic sites.

One of the goals for my recent trip to York Factory National Historic Site was to capture the site for our visitors with a videography team, but in the planning it seems I forgot about the other senses.

A lot of people have asked me about my trip and whether or not York Factory lived up to my expectations.  I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations, and in ways that I hadn't really considered.  Yes, the site is visually impressive and completely captivating but what really struck me was the smell of York Factory.

What does York Factory smell like?  It smells like history!  Each floor of the Depot had a different smell, and none of them bad (somewhat surprising considering that this particular structure has been standing for 177 years!).  The main floor had an earthy smell, not musty but the cooler air at ground level made it feel like you were still outside.

The saleshop (converted from storage in the 1930s).

The saleshop (converted from storage in the 1930s).

The second floor was my favourite, the wood walls seemed to glow in the sunlight and it smelled warm and cozy.  The rooms on the second floor were used for storing trade goods and it's almost as if you can smell the goods themselves.  Little maps show visitors what the rooms used to contain, and my absolute favourite room apparently used to store salt, sugar, and liquor (three things I enjoy!).

 

Looking out over the tables of artefacts you can see the warm glow of the walls and all the bright light from the windows. I wish you could smell it.

Looking out over the tables of artefacts you can see the warm glow of the walls and all the bright light from the windows. I wish you could smell it!

Parks Canada placed these neat maps on each floor so visitors can see each room's purpose.

Parks Canada placed these neat maps on each floor so visitors can see each room's purpose.

The third floor felt a bit like a cabin, but it lacked the same warm and cozy smell of the second floor.  From the third floor you can head up through a small attic area and step into the cupola (a look-out on top of the depot), which might be the only part of the whole Depot that had a slightly musty scent.

The third floor still has that lovely glow, but it didn't smell as wonderful as the second floor!

The third floor still has that lovely glow, but it didn't smell as wonderful as the second floor!

So how does one describe the smell of history?  It smells like years of human interaction and activity I guess.  The Depot at York Factory had people moving goods in and out, and even though I am certain it was hard work and not all happy-fun times like my visit, the place just feels good.  From all senses.

Laying on the second floor and looking up at this beautiful ceiling.

Lying on the second floor and looking up at this beautiful ceiling.

 

08/24/15

NORTHERN EXPOSURE –PART 4 (CATALOGUING)

Guest blog by Jacinda Sinclair, contract Cataloguer and long-time TMM volunteer.

In Northern Exposure Parts 1-3, Amelia wrote about her experiences excavating. Now I’m going to cover what happened to her artefacts once she got them back to the museum.

Cataloguing is a 7 step process.

Step 1 is sorting. To start, I order the artefacts by matching them to the field records made by Amelia’s team. Artefacts found in the same excavation unit are always grouped together.

Matching field-bagged artefacts to their record sheets. Sometimes figuring out what goes where can be tricky.

Matching field-bagged artefacts to their record sheets. Sometimes figuring out what goes where can be tricky. 

Step 2 is cleaning. A bucket of plain water and an old toothbrush is usually the way to go.

I wouldn’t want to brush my teeth like this, but it’s just fine for artefacts.

I wouldn’t want to brush my teeth like this, but it’s just fine for artefacts.

Step 3 is identification. This is the hard one. I need to figure out what each artefact is as well as any other information I can gather about how and when they were made. So how do I figure this out? I use a combination of resources: reference books, websites, and the museum’s own comparative reference collection. This information is entered into a computer database. I also add excavation information from the field notes. The computer assigns each artefact its catalogue number and prints catalogue cards.

Step 4 is labeling. I use a special sealant to glue acid-free labels onto artefacts.

Labelling tools. Until recently, labels were written onto artefacts using fountain pens. It was harder to do and even harder to read.

Labeling tools. Until recently, labels were written onto artefacts using fountain pens. It was harder to do and even harder to read.

Step 5 is photography. Photos create an extra record for the assemblage making it easier for archaeologists to do research. Typically not all artefacts are photographed, but if done correctly, anyone looking at the pictures will have a good idea of what the site was like.

Photographs need to be taken from many angles. Getting things into position can be tricky.

Photographs need to be taken from many angles. Getting things into position can be tricky.

Step 6 is conservation.  Damaged (rusty) artefacts need special treatment to protect them from further damage. While I might identify which artefacts need conservation, the museum has a specialist who does the work during this step. The coolest thing about conservation is that sometimes details like maker’s marks are only visible after rust is removed.

 

Is there the outline of a maker mark on this fishhook? We won’t know for sure until after conservation.

Is there the outline of a maker mark on this fishhook? We won’t know for sure until after conservation.

Step 7 is storage. Each artefact gets put in a plastic bag with its catalogue card. Everything is filed and placed in climate-controlled storage.

The end product ready for storage.

The end product ready for storage.

That’s cataloguing! Some of the steps sound kind of fussy and boring, but I’m someone who likes to be moving and doing something (even when I’m watching TV), so actually the whole process is pretty relaxing.  I love how sites from the same time period and/or area can turn out to be really different from each other. Finding out how each site is unique is the best part of cataloguing.

Broken pieces of pipe stems are common at fur trade sites and don’t usually get as much attention as bowls and spurs, but it’s really impressive to see a complete stem laid out.

Broken pieces of pipe stems are common at fur trade sites and don’t usually get as much attention as bowls and spurs, but it’s really impressive to see a complete stem laid out.

08/21/15

Journey to York Factory

My last stint of fieldwork this summer had me checking off a box on my bucket list, I finally made it to York Factory!  Why did I want to go there so badly?  Well, not only is it one of the most important Hudson's Bay Company sites, it was also the entry-point for early immigration to our province and beyond, I knew I had to see if for myself.

In partnership with Parks Canada, York Factory's current custodians as it is now a National Historic Site, Kevin Brownlee and I set out with a fantastic videography duo (Kevin and Chris Nikkel) from Five Door Films to try and capture the essence of the site and bring it back for our museum visitors.

York Factory is located near the mouth of the Hayes River, it's not the most convenient location for most Manitobans or tourists to visit.  That said, the site and surrounding environment is INCREDIBLE so if you ever have the chance to travel up that way, jump on it!

Map of Manitoba showing area of our journey (Map adapted from Google Earth).

Map of Manitoba showing area of our journey (Map adapted from Google Earth).

A close up of the Nelson and Hayes rivers (Map adapted from Google Earth).

A close up of the Nelson and Hayes rivers (Map adapted from Google Earth).

Our journey to the site was just as amazing as the site itself, we opted to travel by boat so we arranged our trip with Clint from Nelson River Adventures.  Clint was incredibly helpful with the planning and logistics, and he even arranged our transportation from the Gillam airport to his boat launch.

Nelson River Adventures has a pretty sweet set-up to take folks out to York Factory.

Nelson River Adventures has a pretty sweet set-up to take folks out to York Factory.

The Nelson River was very scenic, we went through some rapids, saw eagles flying overhead, and made a quick stop on Gillam Island to inspect a plaque in honour of Thomas Button (the first European to set foot in Manitoba in 1612, and the one to give the Nelson River its name).

The Nelson River is stunning.

The Nelson River is stunning.

Plaque on Gillam Island in honour of Thomas Button.

Plaque on Gillam Island in honour of Thomas Button.

As we came to the mouth of the Nelson a bank of fog rolled in, making old Port Nelson look extra creepy. In 1912 the Canadian Government had selected this site over Churchill for their port on Hudson Bay and planned to link it with the Hudson Bay Railway.  There were many reasons why this attempt was unsuccessful (too many for this post!) resulting in the abandonment of the site in 1918.  Now all that remains is a wrecked dredging ship, and the truss bridge out to a man-made island.

Wrecked dredge at Port Nelson.

Wrecked dredge at Port Nelson.

The fog persisted as we emerged into Hudson Bay, and the sea was angry!  It was just as I imagined the Bay to be, I would have been disappointed if it was smooth and calm.  The boat has to swing out wide into the bay to avoid the shallows of Marsh Point between the Nelson and Hayes rivers.  Clint deftly handled the waves while we enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Our Captain Clint with First Mate Grizz.

Our Captain Clint with First Mate Grizz.

Eventually we made our way around the point and down into the Hayes.  Claude and Kyle (Parks Canada site manager and summer student) were waiting for us at the dock and helped us unload all of our gear.  We'd made it, and while the journey itself was exciting we were in for a lot more during our week-long stay!

After climbing up the steep steps from the dock this is the view I was greeted with!  The Depot is in the foreground and the Parks Canada staff house in the distance.

After climbing up the steep steps from the dock this is the view I was greeted with! The Depot is in the foreground and the Parks Canada staff house in the distance.

07/30/15

Northern Exposure- Part 3

Boreal forest archaeology is very different from my experiences in the arctic, the biggest thing of course being the trees and massive roots that run through our excavation units.  Root clippers quickly became my best friend, but when they fail there's always the good old chainsaw to take care of a few stumps!

Excavations underway.

Excavations underway.

My crew worked hard to try and delineate the post, and half-way through our excavation we realized that the building was not oriented perfectly East-West, but rather on an angle of Northwest-Southeast to the shoreline.  We were able to find some remnants of the exterior walls, and the floor boards were fairly well-preserved.

Floor boards still visible after all these years!

Floor boards still visible after all these years!

We didn't find a ton of artefacts, but we also didn't excavate the area immediately around the hearth (stone chimney) or the cellar.  Perhaps next year we'll find all the goodies!  We did recover enough artefacts for me to get a sense of the date of occupation, it seems like late 18th century but I'll have a better idea once the artefacts are cleaned up and processed in the lab.

Of course fieldwork is not all-work, I caught my first pickerel (delicious) and on one fishing trip witnessed how quickly a forest fire can spread (scary!).  On my way back to Winnipeg I made sure to stop in Thompson to clean my filthy truck, and made a quick side trip to Pisew Falls (highly recommended, it's gorgeous!

Caught my first pickerel, it was delicious!

Caught my first pickerel, it was delicious!

A forest fire broke out near Barrington River when we were fishing and quickly spread.

A forest fire broke out near Barrington River when we were fishing and quickly spread.

Archaeology is dirty business.

Archaeology is dirty business.

Pisew Falls is gorgeous and serene.

Pisew Falls is gorgeous and serene.

I enjoyed my three weeks along the Churchill River, and will post more about the results of our excavation once its catalogued, but my next northern journey will take me up to York Factory so I'd better start packing my gear for another great trip to an AMAZING HBC site.

Shout out to my great crew, thanks for all your hard work in the heat, bugs, and smoke!

From L-R: Makayla, Lorynn, Randi, Keith, and Alvin.

From L-R: Makayla, Lorynn, Randi, Keith, and Alvin.

07/21/15

Northern Exposure- Part 2

Just a few days after coming back from York Landing I was packing up the truck to make the drive back north, only this time I was going back to get my trowel dirty!

Years of watching dad pack the car for camping helped me tetris all of my gear into the pan of the truck!

Years of watching dad pack the car for camping helped me tetris all of my gear into the pan of the truck!

As you can imagine, the remnants of the fur trade are all over this fine country and while many of the big sites have been investigated there are hundreds of smaller posts scattered along the waterways just waiting for archaeologists to excavate and learn all about them.

This site was located by local archaeologist Keith Anderson after a forest fire had cleared out a lot of the vegetation, and coincidentally it’s less than 100m away from a post site that was excavated by provincial archaeologist Brian Smith in the 1990s.

The site seen from the water.

The site seen from the water.

Since this post is close to the eroding bank we decided to start work on it this summer.  Fortunately for me, Keith and his clearing crew had already done the hard work of removing the dead trees before I arrived (yes, I’m spoiled!).

When a burnt tree messes up your grid, cut it down!

When a burnt tree messes up your grid, cut it down!

My goals for this season were to determine the limits of the site, by identifying the walls of the post and any related features outside of visible structure, and to acquire enough artifacts to be able to figure out the date of the site.  I want to know if it was occupied at the same time as the other nearby post, was it also HBC or their rivals the Northwest Company?  There is much to learn from any new archaeological site, and this one will be no different!