Harlan Ingersoll Smith (1872-1940)

Harlan Ingersoll Smith
   © MCC/CMC No. 99477

Harlan Smith joined the Geological Survey of Canada as head of the Archaeology Division (now part of the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in 1911. His early work concentrated on excavating archaeological sites in Eastern Canada, and on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Returning to British Columbia in 1920, Smith began ethnographic fieldwork among the Bella Coola (including the Nuxalk, Carrier and Chilcotin communities), concentrating on their use of plant and animal materials, social organization and ritual traditions.

Smith was also a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker, documenting Plains, Plateau and Northwest Coast Aboriginal people. His work as a photographer, including portraits from First Peoples communities in British Columbia, also merits artistic consideration for his use of composition, natural light and communication with his subject.

Smith's work also includes extensive caption information, listing dates of birth, names, family lineage, community roles, time and location. Smith was also careful to ensure that his subjects saw the pictures he took, and records this information in his notes. This may have been an unusual practice in the early twentieth century, when it is assumed that most First Peoples subjects never saw the photographs that were taken of them.

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