The exhibition Hiding in Plain Sight, presented in the lobby of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa earlier this year, provided visitors with a rare opportunity to view items from LAC's collection of materials on the Métis, the second largest of three main Aboriginal groups in Canada. Developed by LAC in collaboration with the Métis National Council and the Manitoba Métis Federation, the exhibition was intended to broaden public awareness of the history of the Métis Nation and to highlight the collection in the hope of encouraging more comprehensive research of a community that has largely been marginalized. The exhibition follows major efforts at LAC in recent years to expand the cataloguing and digitization of items containing Métis content.
The Métis are descendants of First Nations women and European men involved in the fur trade. Having been marginalized by both groups, they emerged as a distinct people in Canada's western regions during the 18th and 19th centuries. Métis communities were established mainly in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, and to a lesser extent in British Columbia, Ontario, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota. After the Métis resistance at Red River in 1869–1870 and in Saskatchewan in 1885, it became dangerous for Métis to identify themselves publicly as such, and they survived as a group by blending into the background. The exhibition highlighted aspects of their neglected history through 52 reproductions of archival and other items, including photographs, watercolours, and oil paintings. The dates of the images ranged from ca. 1822 (Peter Rindisbacher, Indian Hunters Pursuing the Buffalo in the Early Spring) to 1956 (Rosemary Gilliat Eaton, Pierre Paquin, La Broquerie, Manitoba). The 38 reproductions of photographs were copied [End Page 183]from albumen and silver gelatin prints, cellulose nitrate and glass plate negatives, and colour slides.
The lobby of Library and Archives Canada presents numerous display challenges, including limited wall space and a sunken area originally intended for seating. The curators, Beth Greenhorn, Al Benoit (Manitoba Métis Federation), William Benoit, and Carolyn Cook, were able to overcome these constraints by dividing the presentation into two independent, easily navigable display areas. The east wall of the lobby was covered with four large panels, each featuring multiple images, and the sunken area was used to accommodate six free-standing panels, with images and explanatory text presented on both sides. The text on the free-standing panels matched the information provided on the wall panels. This repetition was a sensible choice, as it allowed visitors to enter the exhibition in either one of the two display areas.
The first of the wall panels, entitled "Who Are the Métis," featured background information about the Métis, along with reproductions of 10 photographs (by Robert Bell, Humphrey Lloyd Hime, Charles Horetzky, O. Rolfson, and members of the Royal Engineers) and two oil paintings (by Frances Ann Hopkins and Edward Roper). The second and third panels, entitled "Identifying the Métis," explored that theme through 20 images (including photographs by Robert Bell and Charles Horetzky; a lithograph and a water-colour by Peter Rindisbacher; watercolours by William Armstrong and Berdoe Amherst Wilkinson; oil paintings by William G.R. Hind and Frances Ann Hopkins; and a woodcut by W.J. Phillips). The fourth panel invited viewers to search for Métis content in 11 images (by H.S. Spence, Humphrey Lloyd Hime, Robert Bell, Lachlan Taylor Burwash, Rosemary Gilliat Eaton, and a member of the Royal Engineers) through indicators such as original title, dress, profession, and location. Along with textual information relevant to Métis history and culture in Canada, each panel included basic facts, such as title, artist, and medium, for the displayed images. The selection was varied and effectively conveyed the continuing challenge of identifying and documenting Métis content.
The wall panels featured a wide variety of scenes from daily life, and the...