R.I.P. Alice Munro (1931 – 2024)

“Compared to Anton Chekhov for her peerless short stories for which she won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, Alice Munro (left) has died.FULL STORY


#189 Pauline Johnson

September 22nd, 2016

LOCATION: Pauline Johnson monument. Above Third Beach, near Stanley Park tearoom.

When Canada’s most famous First Nations poet, Pauline Johnson, was suffering from inoperable breast cancer, she expressed her desire to be buried in Stanley Park. Wary of setting precedents, civic authorities agreed to Johnson’s request with the proviso that she be cremated. She died on March 7, 1913, just three days before her 52nd birthday. Thousands of people lined Georgia Street to witness her funeral procession. She had lived in Vancouver for four years.

Although Johnson had requested that no structure be raised in her memory, the Women’s Canadian Club began its campaign to erect a stone monument for her ashes, near Third Beach, in 1914. Construction was not completed until 1922. Initial response to the monument was mixed. The face and braided hairstyle of her image are not representative of her appearance, and Johnson’s right profile is depicted looking away from her beloved Siwash Rock. It nonetheless remained Vancouver’s only well-known monument to a local writer for more than one hundred years after her death.


Pauline Johnson is widely accepted as the starting point for aboriginal writing in B.C. although she never learned to speak an aboriginal language and most of her poetry was not about First Nations people.

As of 1895, Emily Pauline Johnson or “Tekahionwake” toured extensively, often wearing European clothing for one half of her performances on stage and “Indian” clothing for the other half. Historian Daniel Francis has suggested in The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (1992), that the “need to satisfy the demands of a White audience stultified Pauline Johnson’s development as a writer and limited her effectiveness as a spokesperson for Native people.” She is mostly remembered for her poems “The Song My Paddle Sings” and “The Legend of the Qu’Appelle,” as well as Legends of Vancouver (1911).

When visiting the West Coast, Pauline Johnson usually stayed at the Hotel Vancouver. Increasingly troubled by ill health, she announced before an appreciative audience at the Pender Auditorium in 1909 her intention to live permanently in Vancouver. She took an apartment at 1117 Howe Street and concentrated on her writing, increasingly turning her hand to essays and short fiction.

In 1910, Johnson began publishing prose pieces in the Saturday Province Magazine, edited by Lionel Maskovski, and these stories led to Legends of Vancouver (1911). It contains her versions of stories told to her by Chief Capilano and Mary Capilano of the Squamish Band, including the well-known story “The Siwash Rock” about the rock in Stanley Park near Lions Gate Bridge. Pauline Johnson wanted their collaboration to be called “Legends of the Capilanos.” Unfortunately she did not get her wish and Joe and Mary Capilano are rarely, if ever, credited as First Nations authors.

A follow-up volume, Flint and Feather (1912), combining poetry from her first two books, has proven to be one of the most reprinted poetry collections in Canadian history, rivalling the works of Robert Service.

In 2016, Sandra Butt paired her illustrations with with the first individual publication The Two Sisters (Waterlea Books 2016), An origin story of the Lower Mainland’s geographical sights and a tale of peace that has inspired generations. Originally published in Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver, The Two Sisters shares the journey of two girls who bring two warring tribes together through the sharing of food, music, and friendship in celebration. The Sagalie Tyee (Creator) notices the friendship the sisters facilitated and to reward the girls he immortalizes them as mountain peaks, what we now see on the horizon at Capilano.


Pauline Johnson is widely accepted as the starting point for Aboriginal writing in British Columbia although she never learned to speak an Aboriginal language, most of her poetry was not about First Nations people, she was biologically more English than Aboriginal and she lived only four years in Vancouver. The Pauline Johnson memorial in Stanley Park, above Third Beach, is the only literary monument erected in Vancouver for a Canadian writer during the 20th century—and it commemorates the Mohawk princess who specifically requested in her will that no such memorial be built.

The youngest of four children, Emily Pauline Johnson was born near Brantford, Ontario, on March 10, 1861. She lived at the Chiefswood mansion on the eastern bank of the Grand River, at the edge of the Grand River Reservation, on a 200-acre estate, until age 22. Her father, Chief George Henry Martin Johnson (Onwanonsyshon), was the church translator prior to her parents’ marriage in 1853. A Chief of the Six Nations, who was fluent in several languages, he taught Pauline Johnson how to use a canoe, a skill that would result in her best-known verse, ‘The Song My Paddle Sings’ [“Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!”]. His mixed-race mother Helen Martin was the hereditary clan-mother of the Wolf Clan; Chief Johnson’s lineage was one-quarter white. E. Pauline Johnson’s mother was Emily Susanna (Howells), sister-in-law of the Anglican missionary for the reserve, Reverend Adam Elliot. As a member of a relatively free-thinking family that included Quaker abolitionists, she kindled her daughter’s interest in English Romantic poetry.

At 14, Pauline Johnson was enrolled in the Brantford Collegiate Institute but she left that school in 1877. Her education beyond English middle-class culture was greatly influenced by her grandfather John Smoke Johnson (1792-1885), also known as Chief Sakayenwaraton. The relatively well-to-do Johnson clan encouraged assimilation with the Euro-Canadian society as Christians, but also struggled to maintain cultural ties with the increasingly splintered Six Nations community. Pauline Johnson’s father died in 1884 after he was beaten by white liquor traders who resented his efforts to impede their commerce among his people.

At 22, Pauline Johnson, her mother and her sister Evelyn were forced to move to much more modest accommodations in Brantford from where she would publish 60 poems in North American periodicals, including Saturday Night magazine and The Week magazine, during the next seven years, also branching into prose in 1890. In 1885 she published her first poem in Gems of Poetry (New York). Her career as an entertainer was launched in January of 1892 when was invited by Frank Yeigh to address the Young Liberal Club of Toronto during a Canadian Literary Evening. Her recitation of a ‘A Cry from an Indian Wife’, previously published by The Week in 1885, proved sufficiently popular for her to design a memorable stage costume in autumn of 1892. To reinforce her newfound theatrical reputation as the Mohawk Princess, she created an asymmetrical buckskin dress adorned with various regalia that later included a necklace of bear claws given to her by the naturalist author Ernest Thompson Seton. This ‘get-up’ of silver brooches, wampum belts, her father’s hunting knife and a scalp given to her by a Blackfoot chief was partially inspired by an artist’s rendering of the character of Minnehaha from Longfellow’s poem about Hiawatha.

At age 30 Pauline Johnson began her theatrical career as a poet-entertainer, mirroring her duality by performing the first half of her program in her Indian regalia, and the second half in an evening dress. She also adopted the Aboriginal name of her great-grandfather Jacob Johnson, a hero of the War of 1812, as her stage name. Tekahionwake, meaning Double Wampum, referred to the strung-together white and purple Atlantic shells that were used as currency by her Aboriginal ancestors. In 1892, Pauline Johnson began touring Ontario with the first of several male co-performers, Owen Smiley, honing her performances in the north-eastern United States before crossing the Atlantic for the first time in 1894. Carrying letters of introduction from Lord and Lady Aberdeen, she entertained British audiences and was introduced by Canadian novelist Sir Gilbert Parker to John Lane, publisher of risqué authors Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. Lane was suitably impressed by the exotic colonial to issue her first poetry collection The White Wampum (1895) from the Bodley Head. Although less than one-quarter of the text addressed First Nations topics, the front cover credited the author only as Tekahionwake and the artwork emphasized her Aboriginal heritage.

After her mother died in 1898, Pauline Johnson moved to Winnipeg where she became engaged to Charles Robert Lumley Drayton in 1898-1899 until the arrangement was mysteriously annulled. Having visited British Columbia in 1894, she toured the Atlantic provinces in 1900. She became connected romantically with her manager, Charles Wuerz, but the exact nature of their relationship also remains unknown. Thereafter Johnson toured extensively with her much younger stage partner, Walter McRaye, who remained by her side until 1909. One of her anonymous poems entitled ‘Both Sides’ suggests the poignant incompatibility of their ages. It was necessary for Johnson to avoid scandal in order to continue to advertise herself as a tame savage who was capable of behaving as a lady in drawing room society. Returning to England, Pauline Johnson did much to cultivate a romanticized notion of her homeland and Aboriginal culture, simultaneously developing an ideal of Canadian nationalism, in partnership with Great Britain, as evidenced by her stirring, patriotic poems such as ‘Canadian Born’. In the preface to her second book of poetry, Canadian Born (1903), she optimistically proclaimed “White Race and Red are one if they are but Canadian born.” Also visiting London in 1906, lobbying King Edward VI for recognition of his people’s land claims, was Chief Joe Capilano of Vancouver, with whom Johnson became a close friend. Pauline Johnson had already begun to champion the potential of the West Coast city to one day supplant Toronto in her poem ‘Little Vancouver’ that was inspired by her first visit in September of 1894; the willingness of Chief Capilano and his Squamish people to welcome her as a cultural hero furthered her affinity.

When visiting the West Coast, Pauline Johnson usually stayed at the Hotel Vancouver. Increasingly troubled by ill health, she announced her intention to live permanently in Vancouver in 1909 before an appreciative audience at the Pender Auditorium. Eschewing her career as a pop star of her times, she took an apartment at 1117 Howe Street and concentrated on her writing. During the final ten years of her life she published only 20 poems. She increasingly turned her hand to essays and short fiction, including a story called ‘The Potlatch’ and ‘The Siwash Rock’, her rendition of an Aboriginal story told to her by Chief Capilano. In 1910 she began publishing prose pieces in the Saturday Province Magazine, edited by Lionel Maskovski, and these were privately printed as a fundraising initiative on her behalf by the Pauline Johnson Trust Fund. This project proved to be a runaway bestseller, released in official and pirated editions, even after it was formally published as Legends of Vancouver (1911). A follow-up volume of selected poems called Flint and Feather (1912), combining poetry from her first two books, has proven to be one of the most-reprinted poetry collections in Canadian history, rivalling the works of Robert Service.

Suffering from painful and inoperable breast cancer, Pauline Johnson expressed her desire to be buried in Stanley Park. Wary of setting precedents, civic authorities agreed to Johnson’s request with the proviso that she be cremated. Nine days prior to her death on March 7, 1913, just three days before her 52nd birthday, Pauline Johnson requested that no structure be raised in her memory, adding “I particularly desire that neither my sister or brother wear black nor what is termed mourning for me, as I have always disliked such displays of personal feelings. I desire that no mourning notepaper or stationery be used by them.” Literally thousands of people lined Georgia Street to witness her funeral procession, easily one of the most galvanizing events in Vancouver history. To ensure all her debts were paid, two more prose collections, The Moccasin Maker (1913) and The Shagganappi (1913) also proved successful after her death. The Women’s Canadian Club began it campaign to erect a stone cairn for the ashes in 1914.

When the editor of the Vancouver World newspaper received a $225 share for the sales of Legends of Vancouver in 1915 from the poet’s sister, he used the money to launch a subscription fund to buy a gun for the 29th battalion during World War I. After enormous public response, the necessary $1,000 was raised and the gun was delivered to the troops. On the gun barrel was inscribed the word, Tekahionwake. Insufficient funds delayed construction of the E. Pauline Johnson monument project until 1922 when a modest fountain, designed by James McLeod Hurry, was built in the woods near Third Beach, not far removed from Siwash Rock. Initial response to the memorial was mixed. Johnson’s right profile is depicted looking away from her beloved Siwash Rock and the face and braided hairstyle were not representative. Pauline Johnson’s sister commented in 1924, “I do not like the way Vancouver seems to claim Pauline. Pauline lived all her life in the East with the exception of about four years which were passed in Vancouver where she died.” A Vancouver chocolate company adopted Pauline Johnson’s name for their product in the 1920s, thereby rivalling Laura Secord chocolates in Ontario, and William McRaye protected and advanced Pauline Johnson’s literary reputation until his own death in 1946.

Neglected during World War II, the Pauline Johnson monument was stripped of its bronze by thieves in 1945. It was desecrated with red paint in 1953. Vancouver Sun book columnist Don Stainsby reported the dilapidated condition of the monument in 1961, the same year the Canadian government issued a commemorative stamp in March to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth. Like the depiction on her monument, the honorary stamp didn’t bear much resemblance to Johnson. The Vancouver Parks Board refurbished the memorial in 1981, the same year novelist Ethel Wilson recorded her impressions of Johnson in “The Princess,” an article printed in Canadian Literature. Wilson never forgot meeting Johnson and acknowledged that she “pursued a path of her own making, and did this with integrity until the last day of her life.” Although Johnson was not nearly as outspoken as her suffragist friend Nellie McClung, she had advocated outdoor exercise for women, she had stressed the necessity of forging a separate Canadian identity, she had remained financially independent, unmarried and untouched by scandal and she dedicated herself to her writing for almost 30 years.

Although some have since glorified Pauline Johnson as an independent female artist and an advocate for Aboriginal pride, the quality of her writing has been less easy to celebrate than her reputation. As historian Daniel Francis suggested in The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (1992), the “need to satisfy the demands of a White audience stultified Pauline Johnson’s development as a writer and limited her effectiveness as a spokesperson for Native people.” Other writers who have belittled Johnson’s literary output include Earle Birney, Mordecai Richler and Patrick Watson. In terms of literature, she is mostly remembered for her poems “The Song My Paddle Sings” and “The Legend of the Qu’Appelle,” plus her transformed versions of stories told to her by Chief Joe Capilano and Mary Capilano of the Squamish Indian Band. Pauline Johnson wanted their book to be called Legends of the Capilanos but for marketing reasons it was released as Legends of Vancouver.

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
Legends of Vancouver: 100th Anniversary Edition


Johnson, Pauline. The White Wampum (London: John Lane; Boston: Lamson, Wolffe; Toronto, Copp Clark, 1895).
Johnson, Pauline. Canadian Born (Toronto: Morang, 1903).
Johnson, Pauline. ‘When George was King’ and Other Poems (Brockville, Ontario: Brockville Times, 1908).
Johnson, Pauline. Legends of Vancouver (Vancouver: privately printed in 1911 by the Pauline Johnson Trust Fund from the Province Magazine in 1,000 copies, followed by many editions including Vancouver: G.S. Forsyth, 1913; Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1914; McClelland & Stewart, 1922, 1949, 1961; Douglas & McIntyre, 1997; Talonbooks 2014).
Johnson, Pauline. Flint and Feather (Dozens of printings including Toronto: Musson, 1912, 1912, 1914, 1916, 1917, 1920; 26th printing by Hodder & Stoughton, 1967; Paperjacks, 1972, 1981, 1987). Reprinted as Flint and Feather: The Complete Poems of E. Pauline Johnson (Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1917).
Johnson, Pauline. The Moccasin Maker (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913; Ryerson, 1927).
Johnson, Pauline. The Shagganappi (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913; Ryerson, 1927).
Gerson, Erica & Veronica Strong-Boag (editors). E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose (University of Toronto Press, 2002).
Johnson, Pauline. North American Indian Silver Craft (Vancouver: Subway Books, 2005).


Foster, Mrs. W. Garland. The Mohawk Princess: Being an Account of the Life of Takahion-Wake (E. Pauline Johnson) (Vancouver: Lions Gate Publishing, 1931).
McRaye, Walter. Pauline Johnson and Her Friends (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1946).
Van Steen, Marcus. Pauline Johnson: Her Life and Work (Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965).
Keller, Betty. Pauline: A Biography of Pauline Johnson (D&M, 1981).
Crate, Joan. Pale as Real Ladies: Poems for Pauline Johnson (Iderton, Ontario: Brick Books, 1989).
Johnston, Sheila M.F. Buckskin and Broadcloth: A Celebration of E. Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake 1861-1913 (Toronto: National Heritage, 1997).
Strong-Boag, Veronica & Carole Gerson. Paddling Her Own Canoe (University of Toronto Press, 2000).
Gray, Charlotte. Flint & Feather: The Life and Times of E. Johnson Tekahionwake (HarperFlamingo, 2002).
Gerson, Carole & Veronica Strong-Boag (editors). Paddling Her Own Canoe: Times and Texts of E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) (University of Toronto Press, 2000).

Number of poems referring to Aboriginal subject matter that were among the first 100 poems written by E. Pauline Johnson – 12

Number of these that appeared among 36 poems in her first book – 8

Number of these that were placed at the outset of this book – 7

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2016] “Stanley Park” “Pauline Johnson”

North American Indian Silver Craft (Subway Books $9.95)

Precious little has ever been published about the jewellery—often exquisite, and symbolically rich—made by First Nations silversmiths. One of the few sources is a series of essays by the famous Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake. They appeared in an obscure American magazine in 1910. A few years later, after she had been diagnosed with cancer, Johnson revisited the material, revising and rearranging it slightly, evidently with book publication in mind. But death intervened in 1913 and the manuscript was never published. It appears only now, in an inexpensive pocket-sized edition, complete with Johnson’s own drawings of several key pieces.

Pauline Johnson was a poet, short story writer, essayist—and celebrity. In the last years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, she was the most famous living writer of indigenous ancestry, known, through her books and public readings, to readers in the United States, Britain and especially her native Canada.

Some regarded her as an authority on aboriginal affairs but at times she felt as much an outsider among Natives as among whites, who referred to the “Indian poetess.” Indeed, she spent her entire life walking a tightrope between the white and the Native worlds. Her predicament seemed to be symbolized by the fact that, on her long and hugely successful personal appearance tours, she wore a version of Native attire during the first part of the show but changed into a middle-class mainstream outfit for the second. Her audiences were usually white, and they found her a person of enormous charm and charisma.

In 1908, with her writing and performing career in decline, Johnson moved to Vancouver, where she long had had a loyal following. She supported herself there by journalism, including a suite of articles originally printed under the umbrella title “The Silver Craft of the Mohawks”.

Her retelling of Native myth and legend, and look at the silver ornaments symbolizing them, will be of interest both to students of First Nations cultures and to admirers of craftsmen in silver. North American Indian Silver Craft will also form part of the ongoing reappraisal of Pauline Johnson and her contribution to Native culture. ISBN 0-9687163-7-7

[Subway Books]

Margaret Atwood’s “Pauline” opera
Press Release (2013)

City Opera Vancouver has announced casting for “Pauline”, an opera by Canadian literary star Margaret Atwood, to be directed by Norman Armour. “Pauline” will open May 23, 2014 for a five-performance run at Vancouver’s newly restored York Theatre.

“Pauline” is Margaret Atwood’s first opera, and is set at Vancouver in March 1913, in the last week in the life of poet, writer, and actress Pauline Johnson.

”She had courage, brains and beauty, like many of the best operatic heroines. She also led a double life, in which a secret love, a jealous sister and an early death were elements,” commented Atwood.

In announcing the cast City Opera president Nora Kelly said of the opera: “Haunted by failure, torn by her dual identity as both Mohawk and white, Pauline Johnson fights to confront her past before the end, as her doctor tries to control the pain and her sister tries to control the story that will be told. It is an extraordinary work of art.”

“We are delighted with the cast that we have assembled for this important new work” concluded Ms. Kelly.

Starring in the role of Pauline Johnson will be dramatic mezzo Rose-Ellen Nichols. Born and raised in Pender Harbour, BC, and of Coast Salish First Nations heritage, Rose-Ellen graduated from UBC with a Masters in Opera. She has appeared in numerous productions, including the premiere of Veda Hille’s “Jack Pine” as Rebecca (Vancouver Opera); Menotti’s “The Old Maid and the Thief” as Mrs. Todd; in Ireland’s Wexford Festival; and, in the premiere of Arthur Bachmann’s “What Brought us Here” as Fadila (Calgary Opera).

Co-starring as Pauline’s sister Evy will be soprano Sarah Vardy. She holds a degree in Vocal Performance from the Vancouver Academy of Music, and is currently studying with Rebecca Hass. Sarah has sung with the Regina Symphony Orchestra, Saskatoon Symphony, Saskatoon Opera, Pacific Opera, and Lyric Opera Studio Weimar. Her stage credits include Floria Tosca (Tosca), Countess (Le Nozze di Figaro), Mercedes (Carmen), Fiordiligi (Cosi fan tutte), and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni). Ms. Vardy recently made her European debut as Floria Tosca with Opera Wroclawska in Poland.

Appearing in four different roles will be tenor Ken Lavigne. One of the founding ‘Canadian Tenors, Ken studied at the University of Victoria with Susan Young and Alexandra Browning-Moore, and at the Victoria Conservatory of Music with Selena James. Further study took him to Wales with Stuart Burrows, and New York with Joan Dorneman. He has appeared at Carnegie Hall in a one-man show, and with Pacific Opera Victoria, Portland Opera, Burnaby Lyric Opera, and in 2012 created the role of Phillip in City Opera’s Fallujah.

Also singing in “Pauline” will be bass John Minàgro as Grandfather Smoke; mezzo Cathleen Gingrich as Mother and Nurse; baritone Edward Moran as Father, Minister and Smiley; and, sopranos Diane Speirs and Eleonora Higginson as two ladies.

“Pauline” is composer Tobin Stokes’ fifth opera. Regarding its music, he observed, “This is the most unique, inspiring text I’ve ever worked with. The colourful characters and forces that surround and beckon her are dramatic, passionate, and exciting. What more could a composer ask? The music is set to illuminate the pushes and pulls of duality, and the trailblazing beauty that is Pauline Johnson.”

“Pauline” opens May 23, 2014 at the York Theatre, and runs May 25, 27, 29 and 31. Tickets will go on sale at The Cultch in mid-January 2014.


Producers: Nora Kelly and Janet Lea
Stage Director: Norman Armour
Assistant Stage Director: Cameron Mackenzie
Production Manager: Jayson Mclean
Stage Manager: Ingrid Turk
Set and Visual Design: Marianne Nicolson
Lighting Design: John Webber
Costume Design: Mara Gottler
Research Consultant: Lorna Brown
Advisor: Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde
Coach and pianist: David Boothroyd
Orchestra contractor: Jim Littleford
Music director and conductor: Charles Barber

THANKS & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: City Opera Vancouver wishes to thank the numerous private and public donors who have made possible this commission and world premiere. They include:

Accent Inns
BC Arts Council
City of Vancouver, Cultural Services
Hamber Foundation
Heffel Fine Art Auction House
Estate of Kitty Heller
Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation
Tom Lee Music
McLean Foundation, Toronto
The late Abraham Rogatnick
SFU Vancity Office of Community Engagement
Stern Partners, Inc
Vancouver Foundation

Website: www.cityoperavancouver.com

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