George Mercer Dawson and the Haida Collection - McCord Museum

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George Mercer Dawson and the Haida Collection

This talk of the Belles Soirées series is an opportunity to learn about collector George Mercer Dawson and the context in which he collected Haida artworks.

Discover some of the pieces in the temporary exhibition Sding K’awXangs – Haida: Supernatural Stories with Guislaine Lemay, Curator, Decorative Arts and Interim Curator, Indigenous Cultures.


In 1878, while working for the Geological Survey of Canada, George Mercer Dawson was sent to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off of British Columbia. His mission was to describe the geology and the geography of the island, and he reported in detail on the various natural resources of the area but said little about the Indigenous people living there.

He, like other ethnologists of his time, felt that social and political evolution meant the inevitable extinction of the First Peoples and the systematic invasion of their territory. It was a considerable moral dilemma, as his work was laying the groundwork for that invasion. Nevertheless, he included in his report an in-depth description of the Haida way of life, language and art, and assembled an outstanding collection of objects now on display at the McCord Museum.


Guislaine Lemay, Curator, Material Culture and Interim Curator, Indegenous Cultures