Medals that commemorate important events in a nation’s history fill every history museum collection around the planet. Collectors and antique traders adore medals, but let’s be honest: when they’re on display they don’t have the impact of a giant dinosaur skeleton. Medals are small. But that didn’t stop politicians and government officials from clamouring for shiny objects when Canadian Confederation was officially enacted in 1867.
In our exhibit “Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History” we have on display not one, but two Confederation medals, minted in 1869, that commemorate the founding moment of the Dominion of Canada.
The Confederation Medal is seemingly the first honour of Canada, approved by Queen Victoria in 1868. John A. Macdonald himself, then Prime Minister of Canada, signed the recommendation on behalf of the Minister of Justice and ordered 551 medals: “One Gold [for the Queen], fifty Silver and five hundred Bronze Medals, without delay.” After a delay of a year or so the medals were delivered, and given out to various institutions and VIPs around Canada, which was comprised at the time of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. But these medals were not meant to be worn. They sat in small boxes or stands on desks and shelves, proof of the importance of their owners.
Queen Victoria of England is shown on the front, or “obverse” of the medal. The imagery on the reverse side is a bit strange for a proud young nation. The woman on the left represents “Britannia”. The girls, her subjects, represent Ontario (sickle for agriculture); Québec (canoe paddle for trade); Nova Scotia (shovel for coal mining); and New Brunswick (axe for forestry). While the symbolism of the time indicated loyalty, to the modern mind it might look like the relationship between the infant Dominion of Canada and the British Empire was based on resource exploitation, and that Canadians were subservient, immature subjects to the Crown.
Around the perimeter of the medal is a Latin phrase: Canada Instaurata 1867 Juventas et Patrius Vigor (Canada Inaugurated 1867, Youth and Patriotic Strength).
The first four provinces are represented on the medal, and rightly so, but what Confederation meant for the rest of the continent was not in evidence. After all, the year 1869, when the medals were completed, is also the year when Canada acquired Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. This was quickly followed by surveyors who trespassed on the land of Métis farmers at Red River, which resulted in a swift and bold resistance movement. The medal and its message were eclipsed by events Confederation itself had set in motion.
One legacy of Confederation is the Treaties that were negotiated by First Nations leaders and the Canadian government. Confederation and the numbered Treaties are intimately linked. It makes sense then that the first Treaty medal (made for Treaty Nos. 1 & 2) was a version of the Confederation medal. It has an extra ring around its centre that reads “Dominion of Canada Chiefs Medal 1872” on the obverse and “Indians of the North West Territories” on the reverse. These medals were rejected by Indigenous leaders because the silver plating wore off and they were considered too cheap for the meaning that they conveyed. This medal was replaced by a sterling silver Treaty medal with a new design.
After Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870 and the Canadian government negotiated Treaty No. 1 with First Nations leaders, Canada began to actively engage potential immigrants to settle and farm the prairies. The first two groups that arrived in large numbers were English speaking Ontarians and German speaking Mennonites from eastern Ukraine. This first large wave of immigration to Manitoba would begin the irrevocable transformation of the environment and the economy of the province forever. The success of the Mennonites in particular may have helped open the door to other immigrants who did not speak English and had different religious backgrounds compared to the English Protestants and French Catholics who dominated political life in Canada. Icelandic, Jewish, Ukrainian and many immigrant groups from Eastern Europe began entering the province by the 1880s.
Our new exhibit “Legacies of Confederation” features a number of personalities, including William Hespeler (1830-1921) who played an incredibly important role in immigration from the 1870s to the 1890s. The exhibit features his Speaker’s Chair, used in the Manitoba Legislative Building between 1900 and 1903. In 1899 Hespeler entered provincial politics, winning the rural seat of Rosenfeld. In 1900 he was chosen as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, which he held for three years before retiring. The carved wooden armchair was built for his position as Speaker and he retained it after he left politics. It has been handed down to generations of his descendants since he died in 1921. The chair was donated to the Manitoba Museum in 2016 by his great-great-grandson Michael Boultbee of Victoria, BC.
Hespeler was born to a wealthy family in Baden, Germany and moved to Berlin, Canada West (that is, Kitchener, Ontario) in 1850. After business success in establishing mills and distilleries in Canada, he moved back to Baden with his sick wife Mary Keatchie in 1872.
In Baden, Hespeler was informed by the Canadian government that a large population of Mennonites had grown dissatisfied in their colonies in Ukraine. Many felt their religious freedoms were being threatened as a new schooling system and military service were enforced. Mennonites were looking to emigrate, and the Canadian government hoped they might migrate to farm the lands of southern Manitoba. Hespeler went to Ukraine and convinced Mennonite delegates to visit southeastern Manitoba in 1873, which led to the migration of 7000 Mennonites to Manitoba. Along with Anglo-Ontario settlers, this comprised the first wave of mass migration into the province. It would also set the stage for more waves of Mennonite migration to Canada in the 20th Century. Not only did Mennonite settlement in Manitoba help prove the viability of farming on the open prairie, it also had long term effects for Mennonite populations around the world, as they realized Canada could be a safe homeland.
After this success William Hespeler was appointed as dominion immigration agent for Manitoba and the North-West Territories. As such he assisted with the immigration of Icelanders, Germans and Jewish refugees. He planned the village of Niverville, establishing what might be Canada’s first grain elevator. He also managed the Manitoba Land Company, and acted as the German consul for Manitoba.
William Hespeler worked diligently to provide Manitoba with immigrant farmers after the province joined Confederation and Treaty No. 1 was signed in 1871. Since then Canada and Manitoba have had varying degrees of openness to immigrants and refugees, but certainly one of the legacies of Confederation for Manitoba is the creation of a society that largely welcomes and values the contributions of newcomers.
Guest blog by Rachel Erickson, Assistant Curator
For the past four months, I’ve been working at the Manitoba Museum on a project about contemporary migration, just one part of the large capital renewal project Bringing Our Stories Forward. My project involves researching all aspects of migration to Manitoba; why do people come to Manitoba, and from where, what sort of policies have existed over the years that encourage (or discourage) migration, how have people settled in, and what sort of challenges might they face upon arrival. One of the aims of the project is to collect oral histories about modern migration to Manitoba, and potentially collect new objects that can be added to the museum’s collection, in order to paint a more inclusive picture of the diverse communities that now live in the province.
In August, I hosted a series of “pop-up museums” at three shopping centres in Winnipeg: Garden City, Polo Park, and Portage Place. I took out five museum objects (some with their own interesting migration histories), and set up a mini exhibition. We brought along an interactive activity that asked the public, “Do you have a migration story in your family?” and asked visitors to share stories about their decision to come to Manitoba, their journey here, and what it’s been like settling in.
A family tells their story at Garden City.
Over the course of a few days, we heard stories from all over the world – Somalia, India, England, Trinidad, Philippines, Nigeria, Kosovo, you name it! Unsurprisingly, a fair number of “winter arrivals” expressed their horror at the cold weather and the copious amount of snow. One of these new arrivals found that learning to skate was the most effective Canadian initiation.
There are many reasons why people leave home – some move for a job, or the hope of better opportunity, others move for university and then decide to settle, some are uprooted by war or political strife, others find love, or move to be closer to family. No matter the reason for movement, the people we spoke with all had fascinating stories to share about settling in, finding their way in a new place, and ultimately, feeling at home in Canada. I can’t wait to hear more.
If you have a migration story that you’d like to share with the museum, please get in touch! You can contact Rachel Erickson at the museum at 204-988-0685.
The Manitoba Museum is hosting the Canadian Museum of History national travelling exhibit “Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada” exhibit, opening July 14, 2016. The exhibit features the incredible story of Terry Fox as he embarked on the Marathon of Hope in 1980 to raise funds for cancer research. The marathon, which so many Canadians remember through annual Terry Fox Runs, is memorialized by personal artefacts collected by Terry’s mother.
We’re asking Manitobans to help us find artefacts and memorabilia that may be tucked away around the province. If you have anything related to the early days of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, or if you have something from a Terry Fox Run that you think is special, please contact Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will potentially accept either loans or donations.
Usually geese migrate from North to South and back again. Some goose decoys, however, migrated from Manitoba to British Columbia a hundred years ago, and have now come home to Manitoba again.
A woman from Victoria, British Columbia called some time ago wanting to donate a batch of goose decoys that had been in the possession of her father. Duck and goose decoys used for hunting are common enough items, but the photographs the donor showed me were unique. These decoys, which were said to have been made in Manitoba in the 1880s, were made from actual geese. Twelve body forms were adorned with goose feathers, and these were accompanied by twelve taxidermied heads. Twelve wooden stakes were also included, and these acted as both stands for the body forms and stakes for the heads. All of these materials were packed neatly in a woven cane structure surrounded by a custom made canvas bag. Printed on the bottom of the bag in large letters: “V. R. SUTHERLAND”.
The more closely I looked at the items with my colleagues Dr. Randy Mooi (Curator of Zoology) and Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson (Curator of Botany), the more we learned. Six of the goose heads were Canada Geese, while six were White-Fronted, the latter species being common in western Manitoba. All the heads seem to have been treated with arsenic and some included glass eyes, both common taxidermy methods in the 1880s. The cane frame was made with common cattail. The bag itself is a thick canvas, with a zipper that is of 1930s or 1940s vintage. From this physical examination we can surmise that although the goose decoys themselves may date to 1880s Manitoba, the bag and cane frame probably date to about the 1940s.
So who was V.R. Sutherland? Victor Richard Sutherland (1893-1969) was born in Winnipeg to Roderick Ross Sutherland and Martha Anna Richardson. Roderick was a lawyer and the couple belonged to the upper class of Winnipeg at the time. If the decoys were indeed made in the 1880s they likely belonged to Roderick, and certainly not Victor (who wasn’t born until 1893). The Sutherland family moved to Victoria, BC in 1912, which means the bag and cane frame were likely made there. Victor was a great friend of the donor’s father, G. Fitzpatrick Dunn, and it is believed Dunn received the decoys either from Victor or his wife Lucy in the 1960s or early 1970s.
Despite all of this rich historical background and physical examination by experts, we are still not entirely certain where these decoys were made or how old they are. Our best guess is built on stories married with facts. G. Fitzpatrick Dunn’s claim that the decoys were made in Manitoba in the 1880s is given weight because he was a good friend of the man who owned them and who would have provided this information. Another issue is that Canada Geese and White-fronted Geese are found throughout the western provinces, including the Pacific Coast region, so they could have been made in either of the places where the Sutherlands lived.
This is how curatorial investigation sometimes works – a lot of study, revision, and discussion, followed by a plausible but not quite definite explanation. Whatever the case, no one with whom we’ve spoken has ever seen goose decoys like these before. They are unique and look like they were custom made for an avid hunter with financial means. Contact us if you’ve ever seen anything resembling this!
By Kelly Burwash, Practicum student, Master of Arts in Cultural Studies/Curatorial Practices, University of Winnipeg
One of the great things about museums is that they can help foster relationships with (so-called) distant historical events. My placement at The Manitoba Museum involves doing research for an upcoming exhibition on the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
As a new resident of Manitoba, it has been especially interesting for me to research what Confederation means to the province’s unique context. Manitoba was, of course, not part of the original four provinces that became Canada on July 1, 1867. At the time, Canada consisted of Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec. This does not mean that Manitoba was unaffected by actions in the East. During the discussions of the Quebec Conference leading up to Confederation, the politicians did not forget about this area. They decided future seats in the House of Commons would be set aside for the North West when it was brought in to Confederation. The politicians in the East thought that this would be an easy unification. Although this was not the case, the West was a part of Confederation in 1867 in conversation if not in result.
Another interesting part of my research on Confederation has been my examination of the Tupper Quilt. This quilt was almost certainly made in Winnipeg by Ada Tupper, daughter-in-law to Charles Tupper. Charles Tupper was briefly prime minister of Canada, as well as premier of Nova Scotia and one of the Fathers of Confederation. You might think, “What does this have to do with Manitoba? Why is this quilt here?” I confess, I had the same initial thoughts. It turns out the Tupper family is firmly entrenched in Winnipeg history. James Stewart Tupper and William Johnston Tupper, two of Tupper’s sons, formed a law firm in Winnipeg with Hugh John MacDonald. Tupper’s son-in-law, Donald Cameron, was one of the chief commissioners for the Boundary Commission and lived in Dufferin while mapping the 49th parallel.
Charles Tupper himself came to Winnipeg in 1869 to secure the release ofluggage belonging to his daughter Anna and son-in-law Donald Cameron, which had been seized by the Red River Resistance. In order to get the luggage back, he met with Louis Riel who agreed to return their belongings. The pair parted on good terms. These are just some of the stories that are found on the crazy quilt. Each of the many symbols tells a different story. It has been fascinating to research and amazing to find all these local connections to Confederation.
The Tupper Quilt is on loan from a Private Collection. Contributing research done by Anne Dawson.
Master's student Jessica Adam in the Urban Gallery café. The gallery represents Winnipeg in 1920, one year after the events of the General Strike.
By Jessica Adam, Practicum student, Master of Arts in Cultural Studies/Curatorial Practices, University of Winnipeg
In 2019, it will be the one hundredth anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, a movement that had major social and political repercussions across Canada. To commemorate this dramatic episode in Winnipeg’s history, The Manitoba Museum is researching a potential exhibition about the strike, and specifically, the experience of what it was like to be there – on the streets, in the crowds, part of the events. My role in this, as a student researcher working towards my MA in Curatorial Practices, has focused on first-hand accounts, archival photographs and materials from the Archives of Manitoba, as well as The Manitoba Museum’s collection of recorded oral histories. The recollections of people who personally witnessed these events add an extra dimension to the colourful history of Winnipeg, as they create a tangible link to the past. As I have worked my way through this research, I have become acutely aware of how connected we are to the past, overall. In many ways, this is part of what museums do –facilitate this connection for everyone through exhibitions and education.
Researching and listening to oral histories, especially, has furthered my appreciation for Winnipeg’s local history, and placed it into the larger context of Canadian history. The importance of these kinds of historical accounts, as well, cannot be overstated. They are exciting, original, and engaging, and they can make us feel like we are sharing the experience of being there, as it’s all happening. This kind of primary source research can be slow and time-consuming, but is well worth it. I’ve heard stories I never thought I’d get to hear, read sensational accounts, and admired amazing pictures taken during incredibly important moments. As a history nerd, I feel like this has been a bit of a dream come true.
Finally, I’ll end with an example. While there are many compelling stories in The Manitoba Museum’s oral history collection, I found Mr. Leslie Paulley’s description of the infamous Bloody Saturday very thrilling. In this brief segment, he discusses the violence that erupted on the streets of Winnipeg between the strikers and the Mounted Police:
They turned around and they recharged the crowd, this time with revolvers drawn. Previously, as I recall, they were only swinging batons. They swept down upon the crowd, and as they approached the gathering in front of the City Hall, they fired shots at it. One man dropped dead with a bullet through the heart on William Avenue, quite close to Main Street. Another man was shot through the head. And a third man died later in hospital of wounds to the chest. There were scores of people injured, some of them, of course, being the mounted men engaged in the charge.(Paulley, Leslie 110 - 38:45-39:34)
The Grasslands Gallery was developed as one of the first galleries at The Manitoba Museum when it opened 45 years ago. The Log Cabin exhibit in this gallery has been used intensively by our school programs ever since, and hundreds of thousands of visitors have enjoyed its pioneer flavour.
Whenever you hear someone say “pioneer flavour”, you know it’s time for a change.
The Log Cabin just didn't seem as engaging as it could be, so we put in new spotlights and removed a plex-glass wall that was meant to protect the artefacts, but really just created a visual barrier. But most of all, I wanted our visitors to learn about the amazing artefacts in the cabin. Some of them had been there for almost half a century, but had never had their stories shared with the public.
Some of these artefacts include the Alexander Sutherland Violin, which is more than 200 years old; the Catherine McPherson Spinning Wheel, made for her in the 1830s and based on a French model provided by the Bishop at St. Boniface; and the Rupert Franks chair, which was made for little Rupert when he was one year old in 1837.
When I started researching the objects in some depth, I was reminded again that the small details were important, and actually quite fascinating. How could we show folks the wear and tear produced by tiny feet on the footrest of the Rupert Franks chair? Also, how would our visitors be able to see the label inside the violin, a label which tells its own interesting story?
We decided that a high-definition touch screen with high resolution, beautiful images, would let visitors explore and see what the curators were seeing. I always remind myself that the museum and its stories belong to all Manitobans. So come to the museum and explore your artefacts! As you do so, you’ll learn about the amazing stories of people who lived hundreds of years ago and in their own way helped make the province that we live in today.
The Manitoba Museum would like to acknowledge the financial support provided for this project by the Province of Manitoba through the Heritage Grants Program.
One of the goals for our new exhibit “Nice Women Don’t Want the Vote”, about the 100th anniversary of the right to vote for women in Manitoba, was to elicit visitors’ opinions about the vote for women and women’s rights today, and display these opinions in the exhibit itself. In just over three weeks we’ve put up over 150 comment cards on the exhibit wall. We asked visitors to respond to their choice of three statements and here are some results:
Most Manitobans would consider Jonathon Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks the crowning cultural exchange between the windy cities. But many are also aware that Winnipeg has often been referred to as the Chicago of the North. To understand why, we need to look back more than 100 years.
Both cities were rapidly expanding prairie metropolises built as much on optimism and corruption as a real economy. Their economies were both based on real estate, transportation hubs and warehousing sites for the growing populations of the rural west. Chicago did grow much larger and earlier than Winnipeg, but our fair city expected to do the same thing, just a bit later. Our fantastic Legislative Building, the Shoal Lake aqueduct, and an architectural building boom all held out the promise of bigger and better (but mostly bigger) things to come. Huge numbers of immigrants flooded the city.
That was over 5 generations ago, almost too remote to recall, and Winnipeg has since the mid-1910s meandered down its own path.
On a recent trip to Chicago I was faced with concrete reminders of that early boom period in many ways, mostly in the form of historic architecture. Architect John Danley Atchison worked in Winnipeg from 1905-1923, and he was responsible for a number of buildings that still stand in Winnipeg. An American educated at the newly founded Chicago Institute of Art in the early 1890s, Atchison was a student of some of the key figures in the so-called “Chicago School of Architecture”, and worked in the famous firm of Jenney and Mundie before coming to Winnipeg. On a walking tour of the early skyscrapers of Chicago, I noticed a number of parallels between that
work and Atchison’s buildings in Winnipeg.