Two worlds in juxtaposition. I’ve been learning about a landscape at the Winnipeg Art Gallery that will be included on our upcoming Indigenous history tours with kids. It’s called The Dakota Boat and was painted by W. Frank Lynn in 1880. When we think of steamboats most of us imagine them chugging down the Mississippi so I was surprised to learn that more than one hundred and twenty steamboats navigated the prairie waterways in the late 1800s.
The Dakota, the steamboat in the painting, was built by a Minnesota company owned by Norman Kittson. It could navigate rapids as well as shallow water. It hauled lumber, meat and fish and brought new immigrants to their homes. When the first steamboat docked near Fort Garry the Cree called them ‘fire canoes.” They represented a world very different from the traditional life of the Indigenous and Metis people in Fort Garry and artist Frank Lynn captures that in his painting.
Frank Lynn was born in England. His father was a surgeon. One brother became an astronomer, another an engineer, but Frank took a different path and became an artist and a writer. He went to the United States to cover the Civil War as a journalist and then took a job accompanying immigrants from England to their new homes in Ontario and reporting on their lives. In 1872 he traveled to Manitoba on an assignment and stayed. He worked for the newspaper The Manitoban and wrote regular letters to Toronto’s Globe newspaper about living in Manitoba. Eventually, he owned a grocery and notions store, run by his wife, on a plot of land that would later be sold to the T. Eaton Company as the site for their department store.
One thing I want to explore with the students on my tours is how this painting might have looked different if an Indigenous artist had painted it and also ask them to compare it to the way the Upper Fort Garry site at the corner of Broadway and Main Street in Winnipeg looks now.