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Guest Blog – The Tupper Quilt and Canadian Confederation

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.

The Tupper Quilt was made ca. 1889 by Ada Tupper, daughter-in-law of Charles Tupper, one of the Fathers of Confederation. Photograph by Anne E. Dawson.

The Tupper Quilt was made ca. 1889 by Ada Tupper, daughter-in-law of Charles Tupper, one of the Fathers of Confederation. Photograph by Anne E. Dawson.

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.

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Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

See Full Biography

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. Roland received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology from Simon Fraser University (2005). Roland conducts research, is responsible for acquisitions, and develops exhibits related to the settlement period in Manitoba, including the development of Winnipeg. His research interests include the social meaning of material culture, 19th Century settlement in Manitoba, life in the home and historical archaeology.