The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.

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Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.

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Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.

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Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”

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Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.

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Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”

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Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.

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Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

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The Globe, December 28, 1921.

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The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

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Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

Halloween in Toronto, 1978

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Malabar’s, the costume people, have never been busier than they have during the past couple of weeks, and the reason may provide a dandy little summary of the times we’re in. These times, inarguably, are rotten. The dollar, the family, the nation, the Argos…everything’s falling apart. Hallowe’en, if we’ll let it, gives us a chance to get away from all that. To hide. Fantasize. Escape from reality. Turn into someone—or something—else. – Peter Gzowski, Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Talking to staff at Malabar, Gzowski discovered one of 1978’s most popular costumes was one that would be frowned upon for numerous reasons 40 years on: an Arab. “They want to rich,” noted Malabar’s Michael Schilders. “They could just put on a tea-towel, a rope and a tablecloth, but if they come to us they can have gold and silver cords and really looks as if they owned oil wells.”

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1978.

Also popular that year: masks of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, anything Vatican related (the year had gone through three popes) and nun’s habits, especially among pregnant customers. Store staff noted that interest in costumes went up when the economy tumbled (the Great Depression had been especially good for rentals).

Best costume suggestion in the column: “the Blob Who Ate Etobicoke.”

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Toronto Star, October 25, 1978.

Over in the Globe and Mail, columnist Bruce West felt Halloween was going downhill, partly because nobody had the chance to tip over outhouses:

It is my personal theory that Hallowe’en started its downhill trend not long after the advent of inside plumbing brought about the demise of the outdoor privy. There was a time, I’ll have you know, when—particularly in the more rural areas—the humble outhouse was almost as import a symbol of Hallowe’en as the ghastly smile of a flickering pumpkin or even a witch flying by on a broom.

No one was really considered to have really won his spurs as a graduate Hallowe’en prankster until he had at least assisted in the overturning of one outhouse. The owners of these conveniences usually took this annual ordeal in fairly good humour—with the notable exception of one deceitful rascal in my home town who gained the undying hostility of a group of privy-tippers by craftily shifting back his outhouse a few feet, in the early hours of Hallowe’en, in such away that the raiding party, while later approaching their target in the deep darkness, suddenly encountered some mighty poor footing.

The scariest element of modern-day Halloween, according to West, came “when you are confronted by the horrible giant prices of a dwarf bag of hand-out chocolate bars or trick-or-treat apples.”

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Globe and Mail, November 1, 1978.

One candy kids wouldn’t get their hands on was Clikkers tobacco-flavoured gum. The Consumers Association of Canada (CAC) successfully lobbied Zellers to remove the product, which was offered as a seasonal special at some locations. Though it didn’t actually contain tobacco or nicotine, the CAC wondered what the chances were that “children who acquire a taste for tobacco-flavoured gum will be encouraged to try tobacco itself?” An official from Zellers’ head office in Montreal admitted that “based on the calls we’ve had, it just isn’t worth it.” Aspiring smokers had to settle for Popeye candy cigs.

Two Toronto-based animators, John Leach (later known as Jonathan Rogers) and Jean Rankin, created one of the season’s hottest new animated specials. Here’s how The Canadian magazine introduced Witch’s Night Out:

Winnifred, bless her black lace bloomers, is not your average witch. A grande dame with the Seventies style of a stand-up comic, a funky fairy godmother temporarily fallen on hard times, she worries because work isn’t coming in the way it used to; nobody seems to believe in magic anymore. But she still has class, wears expensive underwear, and puts on her makeup every morning. And she can make wishes come true.

Winnifred was named after Leach’s mother, who remarked “Fame at last!” The character was partly inspired by Gilda Radner, who provided her voice (other voices included Catherine O’Hara and Fiona Reid). The cartoon was originally intended for CBC, who sat on it for nearly a year before finally rejecting it. It ended up on NBC, where Radner was starring on Saturday Night Live.

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If you were running dry on costume ideas, you could always check the Star’s “Starship” page for inspiration via its ongoing “Costumes of the World” series. Who knows how many little fishermen from Flanders ran around the streets of Toronto! October 28, 1978.

Halloween night the Toronto tradition of egging drag performers attending balls on Yonge Street continued, which resulted in 90 arrests. “Most of the arrests,” the Star reported, “were for causing a disturbance, drunkenness and breach of the peace.” It was also noted that “one marijuana charge was laid.” Two years later, a crackdown by police and the community began winding down the hate-tinged mayhem.

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Art Eggleton would top the polls in Ward 4, which covered Trinity-Bellwoods and Little Italy. Two years later, he was mayor. Toronto Star, November 1, 1978.

Halloween 1978 also coincided with the municipal election campaign, resulting in some election sign pranks. A Globe and Mail editorial observed that householders were placed “in the position of being promised goodies as they hand goodies over. The trick is to tell the real hobgoblins from those in disguise and to beware of brochures with pins in them.”

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Toronto Star, October 26, 1978.

Fashion then, costumes now: the image above offers a sampling of the outfits one could put together from goods available at the 1978 edition of a long-running Toronto tradition, the Hadassah-WIZO Bazaar, which was promoted throughout the week of Halloween. Held on November 1 at the CNE’s Automotive Building, it was expected to draw 60,000 people looking to buy everything from high fashion to cantaloupe preserves.

Additional material from the October 28, 1978 edition of the Canadian; the October 27, 1978, October 30, 1978, October 31, 1978, and November 1, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the October 31, 1978 and November 1, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

Celebrating Carnival at the ROM

Originally published on Torontoist on July 27, 2012.

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Carnival mas band costumes designed by Brian Mac Farlane. Left to right: Time (2011), Mad Cow (2010), Dragon (2010).

Tucked in a corner beside a giant photo of a dinosaur, it would be easy for Royal Ontario Museum visitors to pass by the small exhibit near the main entrance. But a glance in the right direction reveals a quartet of eye-catching costumes crafted by Trinidadian Carnival outfit designer Brian Mac Farlane. From a traditional “mad cow,” to a stark depiction of departed souls, the costumes reflect the historical and social commentary which infuses Mac Farlane’s work and forms the core of the museum’s latest tie-in exhibit with the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival.

Carnival is a pre-lent festive season that is celebrated around the world, but especially in Trinidad and Tobago and on other Caribbean isles, where the event culminates in giant parades the day before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, participants in those parades wear elaborate, colourful costumes, like Mac Farlane’s.

Opening to the public on Saturday, “Carnival: From Emancipation to Celebration” features a gallery of sketches of Mac Farlane’s thematic designs over the past three years. Since beginning his career as a teenager in the early 1970s, Mac Farlane has won numerous awards for his Carnival work in Trinidad and Tobago and has been tapped to provide presentations for international events like this year’s Olympics. Looking at the sketches, one can see why his work has earned such prestige. His designs are attention-grabbing, and layered with symbolism.

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Sketch by Brian Mac Farlane for Aphotic costumes, 2012. According to the interpretive notes, these outfits project “a sense of hopelessness and despair” that people feel when they are “rendered powerless by the negativity that surrounds them.”

Take the “Sanctification…In Search Of” series of outfits Mac Farlane produced this year. According to his website, the designs came about as a result of his pain “at the inhumane way in which we treat each other.” Headline after headline regarding crime, the worsening economy, and the fraying of the social fabric led Mac Farlane to create a series of costumes employing the colours of Trinidad and Tobago’s flag: “Red represents our blood; Black represents the darkness, in which we currently find ourselves; and White represents cohesiveness and unity that form part of the solution.” The result is outfits that range from demonic figures draped in blood and darkness, to lighter figures embodying patriotism—which seems appropriate given this year’s celebration of the golden anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from Great Britain.

Besides Mac Farlane’s work, the gallery also features images from the past 45 years of Toronto’s Carnival celebrations (though don’t go looking for any reference to the festival’s former name, which the organizers are now legally prohibited from using). Video clips include thoughts from the likes of Toronto Raptor Jamaal Magloire on the meaning of the celebration. One drawback to the exhibit is how it’s split up. It’s unfortunate that Mac Farlane’s costumes are one floor away from the sketches they grew from. Rather than being almost hidden away in a corner, the full-size outfits could have formed a focal point in the centre of the exhibit’s main second-floor gallery.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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It appears there were at least two other pictures I took that were considered for the final piece. Unfortunately, I do not have descriptions on hand, so you’ll just have to gaze at the artistry of these works.