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Aboriginal Peoples

The members of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) were very talented and ready for hard work. Even so, they could not have travelled into the remote parts of the country and accomplished what they did without the help of their Native guides.

Photograph of members of a Geological Survey party, 1894

Joseph Tyrrell's GSC survey party, 1894; photo taken by Tyrrell

Native guides showed the surveyors hunting trails and portage routes. Besides acting as guides, they built and paddled canoes, and hunted, gathered and cooked food. They also acted as porters, helping to carry supplies, equipment and specimens.

Photograph of First Nations crew members at the Geological Survey camp Francis Lake, Yukon, 1887

First Nations crew working for George Dawson,
Francis Lake, Yukon, 1887

Close contact with First Nations peoples led to an interest in their cultures and customs. Geologists collected information on the Aboriginal peoples they met from the Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast, the High Arctic and everywhere in between. George Dawson, for example, collected very detailed and important information on the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, in 1878.

Photograph of the Cumshewa Indian village, British Columbia, with wooden buildings and totem poles, 1878

Cumshewa Indian village, Queen Charlotte Islands,
British Columbia, 1878;
photo taken by George Dawson

Robert Bell learned the Ojibway language during his travels in northern Ontario. He filled pages of a notebook with long lists of Native names of trees, animals, fish and birds in the Temagami area. He also recorded a Cree legend from the Eastmain River in Quebec, on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay. Bell was also very interested in the Inuit cultures of the eastern Arctic during his expeditions there in 1884 and 1885.

Photograph of a group of Inuit in Stupart's Bay, Quebec, 1884

Inuit in Stupart's Bay, Quebec, 1884;
photo taken by Robert Bell

In His Own Words

In 1877 at Great Whale River on Hudson Bay, Robert Bell had an amazing experience. Europeans and Native peoples had gathered for a few days in the summer for a whale hunt. They had a large feast and a dance with much music. There were English- and French-Canadian, Métis, Inuit, English, Scottish, Norwegian, Greek and African participants.

"The musical instruments consisted of three fiddles, two Indian drums or tom toms, a flute and a kettle drum made out of a section of an old smoke pipe from the oil house, with deer skin parchment stretched over the ends. The vigor of the players and the zest of the dancers made up for any want of harmony. � Far away and little heard of as Great Whale River may be, I doubt if a fashionable assembly in London, in the height of the season, could eclipse this ball in the varied nationality of its guests and certainly not in the heartiness of their enjoyment."

(Robert Bell, from manuscript for Young Canadian, 1891)