The Bella Coola Valley
Harlan I. Smith's Fieldwork Photographs, 1920-1924Book - 1991
This catalog presents sites, activities and portraits recorded by Harlan I. Smith while doing ethnographic fieldwork among Nuxalk, Chilcotin and Carrier people in the Bella Coola Valley between 1920 and 1924.
Harlan Smith was a self-trained archaeologist, a prolific photographer and one of Canada's earliest ethnographic film makers. He gained experience in Northwest Coast archaeology soon after joining the staff of the American Museum of Natural History as the archaeologist for the Jesup North Pacific Expeditions. Smith worked on both the British Columbia plateau and coastal regions, where he collected some artifacts and photographs, but was mainly concerned with the mapping and excavation of shell heaps.
In 1911, Smith joined the Geological Survey of Canada as the head of the Archaeology Section under the direction of Edward Sapir, then Chief of the Anthropology Division. His early work concentrated on discovering and excavating archaeological sites in Eastern Canada and Ontario. In 1919 he returned to the Pacific coast to conduct surveys of archeological sites on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. In 1920, Smith went to Bella Coola to begin a period of ethnographic fieldwork focusing on the traditional uses of plant and animal materials. Thomas McIlwraith joined Smith in time for the 1921 fieldwork season and gathered an extensive body of information on Nuxalk social organization and ritual traditions. During these later seasons Smith worked with the carrier and Chilcotin communities, searched for archeological sites in the Bella Coola valley, took plaster casts of petroglyphs and continued to create an extensive photography record both for himself and McIlwraith.
Along with his own work, Smith's collection also contains copies of photographs held by local residents. Iver Fougner, the local Indian agent (1909-1939) shared some early photographs and a set of prints of a traveling Bella Coola dance group (numbers 62093-62104) taken in Germany in 1886 were lent by B. Fillip Jacobsen.
Smith documented each photograph, the captions often running a half page or more in length. Multiple images of the same object or view were usually given the same caption, with an additional not of the change of view or camera position. Most of the photographs were dated, allowing for some tracking of Smith's traveling up and down the Bella Coola valley. Despite the seeming detail of information however, it is not always possible to determine the exact location of some of the houses, archaeological sites and grave yards.
Each catalog entry lists the negative number, picture title, the date the photograph was taken and the condition of the negative. An asterisk following the negative number indicates a contact print is reproduced in the catalog. A brief description of the picture's central image along with any secondary or background objects of interest is taken from Smith's original captions.