Tsimshian Treasures: The Remarkable Journey of the Dundas Collection.


144 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 978-1-55365-332-5
DDC 704.03'97412807111





Edited by Donald Ellis
Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.


In 1863, Reverend Robert James Dundas sailed to the northern coast of British Columbia where he obtained, from the well-known lay missionary William Duncan, numerous native artifacts. These artifacts comprise what is now known as the Dundas Collection. This book was published in conjunction with the brief time that the Dundas Collection was on tour in various museums in British Columbia.


Because Duncan was not ordained he could not perform baptisms and marriages, which is why he was called to Metlakatla near Prince Rupert. According to the authors, the Dundas Collection is the first missionary-acquired collection of artifacts from the Northwest Coast. The collection has been held by the Carey family, who are descendants of Dundas and who, despite their best intentions, had the collection auctioned in pieces at a record public sale in New York. Although the collection did not remain intact, the majority of pieces were purchased by Canadian individuals and museums.


This beautifully illustrated book not only showcases the artifacts but provides detailed information about the complex history of how the collection was originally obtained. It appears that many of the artifacts were given up by Native people as part of their conversion to Christianity. This may explain why ceremonial artifacts associated with the potlatch and haleyt, such as grease bowls, blowing sticks, and other regalia dating between 1830 and 1850, predominate the collection. Although Dundas also wrote 14 notebooks, a diary, and journals covering the period 1859–65, only a few tantalizing excerpts appear in the book.


The book features contributions from several specialists in museum collections, history, and culture and provides a useful outline of the history of the collection of “curiosities” from the Northwest Coast starting with the voyage of the Spanish explorer Perez in 1774. There is a particularly informative and illustrated section by Alan Hoover, who has diligently reconstructed the identity of who may have originally carved or owned the artifacts. This book is indeed a treasure for understanding Northwest coast art and artifacts and the role of missionary influence in the region.


“Tsimshian Treasures: The Remarkable Journey of the Dundas Collection.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28096.