Page 69c2 Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Great Canadian Tombstones

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Tombstones of the Rebellion of 1885 - The Frog Lake Incident - 1885

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Hanging Site, Fort Battleford, Saskatchewan
Orig. historic site -
Found - Battleford, SK
Whose Shame? On this lonely corner of Fort Battleford, as far as you could get from the Commandant's house, inside the stockade, were gathered the white people from Battleford, and many local Indians, to watch the biggest mass hanging in Canadian history in November, 1885.

Eight Indians were to be executed on a scaffold that was erected on this spot. And to make sure that other Indians would learn the lesson well, all the native children from the local industrial school were brought in on a field trip to watch their fellow countrymen strangle to death.

125 years later there is still no plaque or marker here to note this important event in the history of Canada.

Dealing with shame is an important element in historical commemoration, whether that of whites or Aboriginals. Ignoring it merely perpetuates the old racist stereotypes. Forcing contesting communities to come together to deal with it, and publicly posting the story, is the only reasonable way to deal with uncomfortable historic events, and give white people and Aboriginals, both, a truth they can live with in public and in private.

Part of the ongoing problem of non-Aboriginal people having difficulty in coming to terms with the history of the white occupation of traditional Indian lands and the means they took to secure them. And using their power to refuse to post a major historic event because they don't want to embarrass themselves and/or native people by doing so.

If First Nations people were in charge, some kind of historical marker would have been erected here, long ago, to remind Canadians of the darker side of history that still plagues the lives of many Aboriginal people today.

Right the mass grave of the eight executed Indians today on the slopes below the fort.

Life in western Canada had descended into chaos after the treaties were signed in the 1870s, giving the vast majority of the Indian lands to the Government of Canada, and forcing the Indians to sit tight on postage stamp sized reserves.

The Government, which had been feverish to get the Indian signatures, was not equally feverish to honour their side of the treaty terms and support the captive natives.

Food and supplies were slow in coming, or never came at all, as promised, to people who were literally starving, because the buffalo, the traditional mainstay of their food supply, was gone.

Year after year things got worse. The young men got angrier and angrier. Young war chiefs urged action.

At the remote settlement of Frog Lake, in north eastern Alberta, several white men were killed during angry confrontations with young Cree warriors, and the Rebellion of 1885, was on.

Some chiefs joined the revolt of the Métis and the protesting Indians. The uprising was quickly put down, those accused of killings at Frog Lake and elsewhere, were put on trial, and eight were executed together inside Fort Battleford, in Saskatchewan.

The were buried in a mass grave below the walls of the fort, above the Saskatchewan River. A set of tipi poles stands over them.

Few Canadians have ever heard of the largest mass hanging of First Nations people in Canadian history; fewer yet have ever visited this lonely place.

Some of the victims of the "Massacre" at Frog Lake, lie here, only meters from where they died at a remote and largely unvisited site in north-eastern Alberta.

Men and women had originally been herded into the church which stood on the other side of the road behind the monument. Then they were led down the trail to the left to be taken as prisoners to the Indian village.

Angry white men, challenging Indian authority, and chafing at the imposition, provoked a confrontation that erupted into shootings.

Further down the path to the left, is the cross which marks the spot where the shooting started with the killing of the unpopular Indian agent Thomas Quinn. In 1885 log cabins stood on both sides of the trail. Today all has returned to wilderness in this remote and desolate location.


Trail of Tears

A few metres down the path above left the trail turns left again up the hill right to where the Indian village once stood beyond.

As the captives were dragged up this hill an angry and arrogant Thomas Quinn provoked a confrontation that led to him being shot by the Cree War Chief Wandering Spirit, where the cross is.

Another was shot beside him. Random acts of violence broke out with most of the other white men being shot at different places.

The wives of the dead men were kept as prisoners and dragged along with the band as it fled, for months, from the army sent to punish the murderers.

As a result of the killing at the cross, hundreds of Indian, Métis, and white men were to die in the conflagration that became known as the Riel Rebellion of 1885.

Though peace returned to the frontier it was only the peace of the graveyard, as the Métis were almost destroyed as a people being forced to flee for their lives, many into exile to the United States. And Indians only sank further into poverty and destitution.

Go to the North West Rebellion
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Frog Lake Massacre, April 2, 1885
Orig. lithograph - Size - 8 x 9.25
Found - Cookstown, ON
Hand-coloured, Canadian Pictorial & Illustrated War News Souvenir Number, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885

A "back east" view of what happened "out west," pictures Mrs. Gowanlock comforting her dying husband, while Father Fafard is shot while giving him the last rites. Incendiary pictures like this - of a random act of violence by a small fringe group of angry young braves - would colour the white man's view of all Indians for generations to come.

And who was there to right the balance, even a century later, to explain that the vast majority of Indians refused to resort to violence in spite of treaty violations and the horrors of debilitating poverty and starvation that white men and white governments had inflicted on their men, women and children.

Theresa and John Gowanlock. She, like many Indian women and children, never got over the harrowing ordeal of surviving the harsh life on the prairies, and died young.

Tombstones of the Rebellion of 1885 - The Great Chiefs - 1885

Go to the Blatchly Prints

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Petocahhanawawin - Poundmaker
Edmund Morris 1910
Orig. pastel - Size - 15" x 21"
Found - Toronto, ON
Pastel on paper, and signed by Edmund Morris
An original painting from the finest series of portraits ever painted by a leading artist of Canadian Indian chiefs. (A commission for the Legislature of Saskatchewan 1910)

Cree Chief Poundmaker has been saddled, by white historians, with being one of the disloyal rebel Indians in 1885, when all he really wanted was a fair deal for western Canadian Aboriginal people. And he cautioned his people against violence.

When he died, after a stint in a cold and dank Stony Mountain Penitentiary, north of Winnipeg, his body was brought back to the Blackfoot Reserve south of Cluny, Alberta.

His body was interred above left, on a hill overlooking Blackfoot Crossing.

In 1967 his body was removed and brought back to the Cut Knife Reserve, west of Battleford, AB, where, in 1885, he had successfully fought off an attack on his village by the Canadian militiamen under Colonel Otter.

Today Poundmaker's grave lies across the line of march of Otter's forces, who approached over the distant plain, and charged up the hill across where his grave is today, at the spot where the Red Cross flag is in the wagon park left. (The photo of his grave is a reverse angle, looking down the hill.)

For several hours this height of land was the centre of the Battle of Cut Knife, until surrounded on all sides by Poundmaker's warriors, the Canadians had to withdraw down the hill and back from whence they had come.

Their lives were only saved from a Custer-like annihilation (six years before) because Poundmaker held back his angry young warriors, who wanted to pursue the fleeing soldiers and, like the Sioux in the US, wipe out those who had attacked their mothers, sisters, and their children in their own homes.

Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot's heart was with the other Aboriginal people, in their struggle for justice, and food to stave off starvation, which the treaties had promised, but rarely delivered.

In fact he had adopted Poundmaker, a Cree, the traditional enemies of the Blackfoot, as his son.

Still, he convinced his own Blackfoot people to trust the Government once more, instead of joining other Indian and Métis people in resorting to armed resistance.

He did not long survive the other chiefs; he lies buried below, only a few hundred yards from Poundmaker's original grave, top, on a ridge overlooking Blackfoot Crossing, south of Cluny, AB, just a few minutes south of the Trans Canada Highway.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Chief Crowfoot - John S Perry c 1920
Orig. pastel on sandpaper - Size - 16 x 24"
Found - Calgary, AB
Probably the most stunning portrait ever painted of Chief Crowfoot, by a celebrated artist of Canadian Indians, John S. Perry. This portrait turned up at a recent Calgary auction when the estate from a long-time collector of Canadian Indian lore was sold.
Nez Perce Chief Joseph (1840-1904) is one of a number of American Indian chiefs who tried to escape the genocidal attacks of the American Army by seeking a safe haven for his people in Canada.

After a 1500 mile trek across the north western US, Chief Joseph and those of his people - mostly sick and elderly - who were not killed along the way by pursuing troops, were surrounded just 40 miles from the Canadian border and taken back to a reservation in Idaho.

Several score of his younger people actually made it across the border and found sanctuary in Canada.

Chief Joseph's grave is on the Colville Reservation, north of Nespelem, Washington, USA.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Chief Joseph, Jeanette McClelland Brookes
Orig. pastel - Size - 21" x 28"
Found - Calgary, AB
As fine a portrait of a great Indian leader as any painted by her renowned predecessors in this exotic art - Catlin, Kane, Morris, and Perry - this exquisite work was originally commissioned by the Nickle Family Foundation (The Nickle Arts Museum, University of Calgary, AB.)
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Grave, Chief One Arrow, St. Boniface, Manitoba
Orig. grave site
Found - St. Boniface, MB
Only a few metres from the grave of Louis Riel is this iconic tombstone that summarizes Canada's 19th century draconian behaviour towards what was essentially a poor, defenceless, destitute, and helpless Aboriginal population. At least three chiefs were incarcerated under such bad conditions that all died within months of their release. Their only protectors? Catholic Church prelates like Arch-Bishop Taché...

And it begs the question - how has Canada answered the plea from the grave?

However much white Canadians like to pretend racism exists, these days, mostly in history books, it is an ongoing reality for many non-whites in Canada.

Shockingly, systemic white racism, which prevents First Nations people from getting a fair shake in Canadian history, from some public institutions of Canada, continues to bedevil lives of Indian people in Canada.

There is a stamp for General Brock but none for the ally he trusted and counted on, above all others, and who died in his service, defending Canada against the American invaders, Chief Tecumseh of Upper Canada (Ontario.)

And no pardon has ever been issued to the Great Chiefs of the Canadian West during the 19th century, who were imprisoned till they sickened and died.

And no stamp has ever been issued in their honour, in order to validate the lives, the heritage, the history, of Canada's First Nations people in the West.

The Canadian Mint and Government continues to perpetuate the old myth of a 125 years ago, that the Great Canadian Chiefs of the West - not one of whom has blood on his hands - were criminals, don't deserve commemoration, and are guilty of treason for standing up for their people, and for demanding that the Canadian Government fulfill its treaty obligations. In their view, these First Nations leaders were - and continue to be - bad Canadians.

And every new generation of Aboriginal children are saddled with the shame that the great leaders of their past are only what they were defined as by white men, then and now, as undeserving criminal types.

But Canada has no hesitation in issuing stamps to honour white men for killing Indians.

As long ago as 1944 a stamp was issued to honour 17th century French-Canadian hero Dollard des Ormeaux, whose chief claim to fame, in Canadian history, was long said to be that he killed so many Indians, and struck such a fear into their hearts, that they abandoned trying to evict the French settlers from Indian land. (The facts are somewhat different but the stamp was issued to commemorates the myth.)

Tombstones of the Rebellion of 1885 - Louis Riel - 1885

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Grave of Louis Riel & Family, St. Boniface, Manitoba
Orig. site
Found - St. Boniface, MB
Louis Riel lies for eternity just metres from the banks of the Red River, and within sight of the site of Old Fort Garry where he had set up the Provisional Government in 1869, and drawn up the demands that would later be embodied in the Manitoba Act that admitted the territory as Canada's fifth province in 1870.

A Family Tragedy - Louis' wife Marguerite lived only a few months after he was hanged for treason in 1885. His children also had lives that were tragically cut short. Today all lie together in St. Boniface, before the old cathedral.

But the Canadian Mint tried to make amends by issuing a postage stamp in his honour, in 1970, the House of Commons by declaring him a Founder of Manitoba in 1992, and pronouncing Nov. 16, Louis Riel Day. Below his statue in front of the Manitoba Legislature.

It took almost 100 years for Canada's Métis people to overcome the systemic racism that prevented a passionate champion of their rights from being accorded his proper place in Canadian history.

First Nations people suffer from a continuing and harsher form of racism.

There are no postage stamps for their historic leaders; there are no statues, in Canada's public places, for Crowfoot, Poundmaker, Big Bear, Red Cloud, Pie-a-Pot, or any of the western Canadian chiefs, all of whom were champions of their people during a tragic time of transition and betrayal by a ruthless and greedy government.

The Great Indian Chiefs of the 19th century are still stigmatized by the white hierarchy as criminals, instead of the Great Canadians they were.