The Barbeau Archives at the Canadian Museum of Civilization: Some Current Research Problems

By Smith, Derek G. | Anthropologica, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Barbeau Archives at the Canadian Museum of Civilization: Some Current Research Problems


Smith, Derek G., Anthropologica


The archives containing the field research documents of the late C. Marius Barbeau (1883-1969) of the former National Museum of Canada (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization--hereinafter CMC) are extensive and complex. Although the Barbeau Archives were not generally accessible until the early 1990s, some ethnologists had access before that. In the years that they have been more accessible, the Archives have provided valuable data for scholars in many disciplines, especially Anthropology and Folklore Studies, but their full potential as a research base have hardly yet been realized. Under the present organization of the CMC the archives are administered by the Information Management Services Division, Information Access Services. The very able Client Archivist, with whom most researchers work to establish access to the Barbeau Archives, is Benoit Theriault, who has an enviable knowledge of the Barbeau holdings.

The principal components of the Barbeau Archives contain a diverse range of materials on aboriginal, folkloric and historical materials from across Canada. They consist of documentary materials, sound archives (mostly of songs) transcribed from wax cylinders used in field research by Barbeau and other National Museum personnel, photographic archives (which even include photographs of potlatches in progress on the North Pacific Coast during the prohibition period), and an extensive correspondence with some of the leading ethnologists, musicians, public servants, politicians, artists, musicians and folklorists of Barbeau's day. In the Museum collections there are totem poles, clothing and basketry, silverware, clothing, religious items and folk art which he collected on his many journeys in North America.

On appointment to the National Museum in 1911, Barbeau wanted to continue his work on the social organization, the subject of his thesis prepared under R.R. Marrett at Oxford. Edward Sapir as Chief of Ethnology urged him instead to begin immediately on assembling ethnographic documents relating to the Huron-Wyandot, and this was one of Barbeau's first tasks after his appointment to the Museum (Barbeau 1957-58: 57). Despite a widespread idea in Canadian popular thought, the Huron are not even now "extinct" in the sense of being eradicated; rather they were depopulated, dispersed and displaced. Barbeau interviewed Huron-Wyandot people particularly at Ancienne-Lorette near Quebec City and in Oklahoma, where many had taken up residence during the massive population displacements of Native peoples after the mid-17th century. Much of his work focussed on the displacement of the Huron and on their genealogies, many details of which were remembered early in the 1900s. Barbeaus's work was a kind of "salvage ethnology," an attempt to document information which could have disappeared quickly. Incidentally to this task, he collected much Iroquois, Mohawk, and other materials from Eastern Woodlands groups. In addition to textual, photographic and sound archival recordings, Barbeau collected many objects in Quebec which now reside in the permanent collections of the CMC.

Plate 1 [Not Transcribed]

Perhaps the best known and largest component of the archives is the Barbeau-Beynon Northwest Coast Collection. Barbeau began work in the Prince Rupert area in 1915, and he spent periods of time residing in the Skeena area (for example he spent 1921-22 in Terrace, BC, the location of much of my own present work with the Kitselas First Nation). During that time he brought many visitors to the Skeena and Nass River areas, including artists such as (Sir) Ernest MacMillan, A.Y. Jackson, Emily Carr, Langdon Kihn, Edwin Holgate and others.(1) His aim was to promote some degree of intercultural stimulation between the Skeena and Nass peoples and the Canadian arts, as well as to secure the technical advice and active collaboration of experts in music and the arts. Musicians Ernest MacMillan and Alfred Laliberte, and artists A. …

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