From the World’s Fair to the North Island

Brenda McCorquodale describes the link between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the Kwakiutl.

Many people from the North Island have likely heard of the World’s Fair, or perhaps attended Expo ’86 in Vancouver.

The North Island has an interesting connection to one specific historical World’s Fair,  of which many people may not be aware. This link, which resulted in the attraction of many of the first non-First Nations settlers to the North Island, was the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

In the mid 1800s the Hudson’s Bay Company first built Fort Rupert on the North Island. Due to the isolation and late settlement of the northwest coast, the First Nations of the area were considered to be relatively ‘untouched’ by European culture.

In order to show off this unique and interesting culture to the rest of the world, an entire Kwakiutl village site was re-constructed in Chicago for the World’s Fair. Big houses were relocated to Chicago from the North Island, along with a large number of totem poles, local ceremonial items and artifacts. Seventeen Kwakiutl band members (fifteen adults and two children) wearing traditional cedar robes and other historic paraphernalia, were also a part of the display.

The Kwakiutl display attracted a lot of interest and attention. The souvenir book said that the Indians in their reconstructed village would: “live under normal conditions in their natural habitations during the six months of the Exposition.”

The First Nations put on displays of singing and dancing for visitors, some of which were recorded. When the Fair ended the First Nations returned home, but many of the artifacts which had been shipped to Chicago were sold to a local museum.

The Fair was a huge success, with over 27 million visits recorded, at a time when the entire population of the earth was only about 65 million people.  On one day over 750,000 people attended.

Many of the North Island’s first white settlers were lured to the North Island from the stunning reports of the area at the World’s Fair.

Alexander Lyon was intrigued by the Kwakiutl exhibit, and moved to Fort Rupert. He married Sarah Hunt, one of Robert Hunt’s daughters (Hunt worked for the HBC and bought out the fort when the HBC decided to close it). They started a trading post in Hardy Bay.

Harry Cadwallader was a guard at the fair, and also was interested enough by what he saw there to travel back to the North Island. He met and married Jane Charity Hunt, another of Robert’s daughters.

A number of Quatsino settlers were also lured by the Chicago display.  Christain Nordstrom, Edyius Evansen, Halver Bergh, Ole Skarberb (Sherberg) and about five others decided to relocate to the area.

Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at storeysbeach@gmail.com. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at http://undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.