Located right in the centre of Montreal, the McCord Museum provides a wonderful voyage through time. Are you ready? Then let’s go!

It is a wonderful spot to learn about Canadian history through archaeology, costumes, archives, old photographs, paintings and decorative arts. You can also admire Canada’s Aboriginal heritage.

A Vision for the Future

The McCord Museum of Canadian History invites the public to take a journey through time. Located in the province of Quebec in the heart of downtown Montreal, the McCord Museum provides an exhilarating museum experience, especially designed to develop the discovery and appreciation of history.

The museum’s founder, David Ross McCord, belonged to a well-known Irish family of merchants and lawyers who settled in Canada at the end of the 18th century. An enthusiastic supporter of the preservation of objects associated with Canada’s history, David Ross McCord searched the length and breadth of the country for various objects, which he selected for their beauty as well as for their historical significance. In 1919, he gave McGill University some 15,000 objects f Read More

Located right in the centre of Montreal, the McCord Museum provides a wonderful voyage through time. Are you ready? Then let’s go!

It is a wonderful spot to learn about Canadian history through archaeology, costumes, archives, old photographs, paintings and decorative arts. You can also admire Canada’s Aboriginal heritage.

A Vision for the Future

The McCord Museum of Canadian History invites the public to take a journey through time. Located in the province of Quebec in the heart of downtown Montreal, the McCord Museum provides an exhilarating museum experience, especially designed to develop the discovery and appreciation of history.

The museum’s founder, David Ross McCord, belonged to a well-known Irish family of merchants and lawyers who settled in Canada at the end of the 18th century. An enthusiastic supporter of the preservation of objects associated with Canada’s history, David Ross McCord searched the length and breadth of the country for various objects, which he selected for their beauty as well as for their historical significance. In 1919, he gave McGill University some 15,000 objects from his enormous collection with the aim of laying the foundation of a museum of Canadian history. In 1921, the McCord Museum opened its doors and fifty years later, the museum is lodged in the old McGill University Centre. The elegant McCord Museum building, the work of the well-known architect Percy Nobbs, reflects the influence of the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

In the interest of better serving its visitors, the Museum undertook an ambitious expansion and renovation project in 1989 with a view to integrating the old and the new in a dynamic way.

A Window on Canada’s History

The McCord Museum of Canadian History houses one of the most remarkable historical collections in North America. The museum’s holdings cover five main areas: ethnology and archaeology; costumes and textiles; the Notman document and photography archives; paintings, stamps and sketches; and decorative arts. They bring together more than 13,000 Aboriginal objects, 750,000 historical photographs and over 16,000 costumes and accessories. The ethnology and archaeology collection is the largest of its kind in Quebec and the costume section is an authority in this field in Canada.

The McCord Museum collection is the highpoint of exhibitions. Using ingenious display techniques, thematic exhibitions give objects the ability to speak and the power to evoke other eras and ways of life. The First Nations permanent collection is a captivating showcase for Aboriginal objects which highlights the wonderful heritage of Aboriginal cultures throughout Canada. Although the museum’s priority is the display of the various parts of its collection, travelling exhibits are an essential aspect of its permanent exhibition program.


© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

McCord Museum

The McCord Museum of Canadian History

CHIN
The McCord Museum of Canadian History

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Kanien'kehá:ka

This spectacular photograph taken in 1869 shows a group of Kanien'kehá:ka men and women attired in extremely elaborate beaded clothes. Some non-Aboriginals also appear in the group including the mayor of Montreal, William Workman. Although we do not know the background to this photograph, it was almost certainly taken during an important public event.

Photographer (probably James Inglis)
Notman Photographic Archives
1869
Historical Photograph
© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


The Kanien’kehá:ka, or Mohawks, belong to a larger community of Iroquois-speaking people occupying land bordering Ontario, Quebec and the state of New York in northeastern North America. For centuries, the Kanien’kehá:ka have produced magnificent shell and glass-beaded objects, some of which are in the McCord Museum collection. This art still lives today. In Kahnawake where a large Kanien’kehá:ka community lives south of Montreal, women and children continue to create splendid beaded objects using the same techniques and materials as their ancestors. Besides maintaining a vital link with the past, these artists give future generations a sense of traditional values.
The Kanien’kehá:ka, or Mohawks, belong to a larger community of Iroquois-speaking people occupying land bordering Ontario, Quebec and the state of New York in northeastern North America. For centuries, the Kanien’kehá:ka have produced magnificent shell and glass-beaded objects, some of which are in the McCord Museum collection. This art still lives today. In Kahnawake where a large Kanien’kehá:ka community lives south of Montreal, women and children continue to create splendid beaded objects using the same techniques and materials as their ancestors. Besides maintaining a vital link with the past, these artists give future generations a sense of traditional values.

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, the Aboriginal people of Canada used beads and other ornaments made from natural materials to decorate their bodies, clothing and accessories. Seeds and cloths, teeth, shells and bones were threaded into necklaces or stitched on clothing made from animal skins. Women also used porcupine quills, moose hair, feathers, fur and pigments to create designs on clothing. This work was not only decorative, however. Archaeological research and oral traditions suggest that those raw materials were invested with very specific meanings and that those who wore them considered them to be substances and motifs with symbolic as well as real power.

It is not surprising to find that glass beads were among the cargo of the first Europeans to sail up the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the end of the 15th century. Africa’s discovery and exploration by Europeans in the middle of the 15th century provided a powerful impetus to the manufacture of Venetian beads. Almost every merchant, fisherman and explorer carried these beads with them and they quickly became essential articles for trading with non-European peoples. Given as gifts or exch Read More
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, the Aboriginal people of Canada used beads and other ornaments made from natural materials to decorate their bodies, clothing and accessories. Seeds and cloths, teeth, shells and bones were threaded into necklaces or stitched on clothing made from animal skins. Women also used porcupine quills, moose hair, feathers, fur and pigments to create designs on clothing. This work was not only decorative, however. Archaeological research and oral traditions suggest that those raw materials were invested with very specific meanings and that those who wore them considered them to be substances and motifs with symbolic as well as real power.

It is not surprising to find that glass beads were among the cargo of the first Europeans to sail up the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the end of the 15th century. Africa’s discovery and exploration by Europeans in the middle of the 15th century provided a powerful impetus to the manufacture of Venetian beads. Almost every merchant, fisherman and explorer carried these beads with them and they quickly became essential articles for trading with non-European peoples. Given as gifts or exchanged for furs or other valuable objects, glass beads, like metal tools and fabric, quickly became part of the Kanien’kehá:ka culture. Beads were sewn on garments and accessories, worn as necklaces and earrings or attached to tools and talismans.

During the initial period of the fur trade, exchanges between Europeans and Aboriginal peoples were often carried out on a basis of equality. Furs and European products like glass beads were carried along the traditional Amerindian trading routes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the impact of this trade, which was by now flourishing, was felt by every Aboriginal people in North America. The fur trade became the vehicle for the spread of epidemics and the cause of increased armed clashes. Many Aboriginal groups were destroyed and disappeared from the map; others were decimated, dismantled or driven out of their ancestral lands.

In the early 19th century, the survivors of this upheaval joined together to form new societies. The beaded clothing and accessories that the Kanien’kehá:ka produced at this time are a forceful testament to the resilience of traditional cultures and beliefs, and they demonstrate that a new way of envisioning the future had emerged. The complex beaded motifs and bright colours attracted a great deal of attention from non-Aboriginals, who found objects decorated in this way exotic and romantic.

During the same period, Euro-Canadians and foreign tourists began to visit reserves and popular recreation sites along the St. Lawrence River and at Niagara Falls. There they bought a whole range of beaded objects as souvenirs. Aboriginal people did not take long to turn a profit from the growing popularity of their beaded motifs and between 1880 and 1920 they manufactured and sold increasingly large numbers of hand-crafted objects. Women’s skill in beading and traditional sewing became an essential source of income in this new cash-based economy. Eager to respond to the expectations of non-Aboriginals, the beaded works that were manufactured at this time developed and took on non-traditional forms (pin cushions and photograph frames) that merged traditional motifs with a new form.

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

The significance of glass beading has evolved over time but it is still a very important part of Kanien'kehá:ka culture. Women still make beaded clothing today designed to be worn on special occasions (pow-wows, graduations and weddings). The varied styles range from traditional motifs to the innovative and resolutely modern. The Kanien'kehá:ka are anxious to reassert their Aboriginal identity and usually wear beaded jewellery as well as other beaded accessories. Whether bead work expert or novice, the Kanien'kehá:ka take their inspiration from old beaded objects preserved in museum collections like the McCord's to renew some of the technical and aesthetic aspects of this art form. Beading remains today, as it has always been, one of the favourite forms of cultural expression of the Kanien'kehá:ka and an integral part of their daily life.
The significance of glass beading has evolved over time but it is still a very important part of Kanien'kehá:ka culture. Women still make beaded clothing today designed to be worn on special occasions (pow-wows, graduations and weddings). The varied styles range from traditional motifs to the innovative and resolutely modern. The Kanien'kehá:ka are anxious to reassert their Aboriginal identity and usually wear beaded jewellery as well as other beaded accessories. Whether bead work expert or novice, the Kanien'kehá:ka take their inspiration from old beaded objects preserved in museum collections like the McCord's to renew some of the technical and aesthetic aspects of this art form. Beading remains today, as it has always been, one of the favourite forms of cultural expression of the Kanien'kehá:ka and an integral part of their daily life.

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

The heavily beaded bag and belt were made in the early 20th century. The artist’s eye for colour and her technical skill clearly reveal her talent. A catch stitch or cover stitch produces "flat" beading like that illustrated here. A row of beads that has already been strung can be sewn onto a piece of fabric or animal skin using these broken stiches that go around the thread holding the beads together.
The heavily beaded bag and belt were made in the early 20th century. The artist’s eye for colour and her technical skill clearly reveal her talent. A catch stitch or cover stitch produces "flat" beading like that illustrated here. A row of beads that has already been strung can be sewn onto a piece of fabric or animal skin using these broken stiches that go around the thread holding the beads together.

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Iroquois Type

Iroquois Type Early 20th century

Made by Ellen Jamieson
Gift of M.E.M. Chadwick

Brantford, Ontario, CANADA
© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


The beauty of the Iroquois beaded motif may be fully appreciated in this historical photograph from the turn of the century. Madame Marquis is wearing a silk dress with extremely elaborate beaded accessories (headdress, collar, belt and blouse). Her young daughter, Kwanen’tawi, is snuggled up in comfort in her baby carrier.

The beauty of the Iroquois beaded motif may be fully appreciated in this historical photograph from the turn of the century. Madame Marquis is wearing a silk dress with extremely elaborate beaded accessories (headdress, collar, belt and blouse). Her young daughter, Kwanen’tawi, is snuggled up in comfort in her baby carrier.


© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Historical Photograph

Mrs. Marquis and her daughter, Kwanen'tawi

Gift of Elizabeth
Kanien'kehá:ka Roatitiahkwa Cultural Centre, Kahnawake
19th Century
Historical Photograph
© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal, Canada and its Iroquois bead collection
  • Describe the history of beading in Iroquois culture
  • Explain the importance of beading to Iroquois culture and reflect on the connection between art and function

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