Temagami First Nation and Bear Island, Ontario: Canadian History in Vintage Postcards
Highlighting in vintage postcards the history of towns and townships in the greater Lake Nipissing and Lake Temagami areas of Northern Ontario, Canada, including the Nipissing District and portions of the Parry Sound district which are in the “Blue Sky Region.” These Canadian postcards are shown in digital, virtual museum format for educational purposes. If you have images or historical information which you’d like to share with our virtual museum, feel free to do so. To navigate these pages, mouse over the top navigation bar. Drop-down menus will appear of the areas of interest. Click on the thumbnails for larger images. Close the larger image before opening another thumbnail. The occasional duplicates for sale can be found using the search box on the main (home) page of VintagePostcards.org. This is an ongoing project; comments and questions to the webmaster at webmaster - at sign - vintagepostcards.org are welcome.
While it can be difficult to identify individual Bear Island / First Island residents, the lovely lady standing by the canoe is on a vintage postcard named “An Indian Belle of Temagami, Northern Ontario”. She was first described thusly in the September-October 1921 issue of Mer Douce (meaning gentle sea or sweet sea), the Algonquin Historical Society magazine: “A modern Indian woman, a good exhibit of the beauty and strength of her ancestral race [sic]. Here we see her dressed in civilization’s garb, with her birch-bark canoe manufactured by herself, and the paddle whittled out of cedar wood by her husband’s skill. The bark canoe will soon be a method of travel known only through the pages of history. It is still the mode of travel by the Crees in the Abitibi and Hudson Bay region.”
Many thanks to Gary Peck of the Toronto Postcard Club (#131) for his article entitled Mer Douce Magazine and Its Postcards, in which the above information is found. Peck then wrote: “The paddle looks somewhat like a cut-back oar from a rowboat or poll from a logging pointer. Interestingly it appears that a pair of oar locks had been added to the gunwale midway…What is of particular interest is that a name can be given to the Amerindian in the postcard. Donald B. Smith’s definitive history of the conservationist Grey Owl (Archie Belany) in From the Land of Shadows: The Making of Grey Owl on page 29 shows a circa 1905 Lake Temagami photograph from the Archives of Ontario. Identified are John Egwuna and his family and a young woman named Maggie Petrant standing by a tent. In the photograph she is wearing the same dress she was wearing when photographed [for the postcard]. John Egwuna was the uncle of Angele Egwuna who Grey Owl married on August 23, 1910.”
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Bear Island Cemetery Postcards
Bear Island Church Postcards: The original Catholic church, seen in the first two images below, was built of squared logs. Early log buildings were often later covered with clapboard (as a societal norm in both Canada and the United States), and other images of the Catholic church, seen below, show its many later embellishments, including clapboard. The Anglican church is seen at far right.
One of Bear Island’s early buildings, which survived until 1973, was the Lakeview House, where the TFN (Temagami First Nation) recreation center is now located. Seen here in a c. 1920s real-photo postcard, it was a two-story substantial L-shaped residence. Area residents as well as what appear to be tourists pose on the porch in this image.
Also known as “Old John Turner’s place,” we were told in an oral history interview with a Bear Island resident’s family that the house was built about 1885 and was constructed of log. This would probably have been just the first story of the building; although two-story log houses exist, they are uncommon. Notice that by the time this photograph was taken by the Canadian National Railways as part of Northern Ontario tourist promotion, clapboard had been applied to the house. Many settlers’ cabins throughout both Canada and the United States were covered with wood siding at the earliest possible opportunity: while clapboard made the building more weather-tight, the primary motivation from a social history perspective was often “keeping up with the Joneses.”
The unused postcard bears a King George V stamp which was issued on 6 June 1930 and printed in Ottawa by the British North American Bank Note Company, Limited, according to the Canadian Postal Archives Database.
We’ve included this real-photo postcard, an aerial view of High Rock Island which was postmarked in 1921, on the TFN page because — while the view is attractive enough — the card’s importance lies primarily in its contemporary comments regarding “Indians”. The sender, M. K., in writing to her sister, Miss Ellen Webster / 16 Irving Place / New Rochelle, NY, said: “My address is Bear Is. Ont. Canada, hunt it in your geography and see if you can find me! The Indian children have school all summer and their vacation all winter, would you like that?…Tell Daddy there is a vast deal of timber up in this Nippsing [sic] Dist. where I’m camping for the summer & just love the wild life among the Indians. And Billy, you’d love the fishing & spiders.”
Steamer Aubrey Cosens
This unused CKC c. late 1940s real photo postcard shows the steam ship Aubrey Cosens VC, in use as a tour boat, leaving the docks at Bear Island. The boat was originally known as the Sea Duck. In 1945, the Sea Duck was purchased by the Temagami Navigation Co. (TNC), part of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T&NO). Colonel C. E. Reynolds, a native of Sault Ste. Marie and a WWI veteran, was the chairman of the railroad company. As a veteran, Col. Reynolds was very supportive of other veterans. On 21 May 1945, it was announced that Latchford, ON native Aubrey Cosen (1921-1945) had posthumously been awarded the Victoria Cross — Canada’s highest military honor for bravery — one of only 16 Canadians to be thus honored in World War II. The North Bay Nugget newspaper reported that both Sgt. Cosens and his father, Charles Cosens, had worked for the T&NO, Aubrey having left school at age 17 and working as a section hand for the railway until WWII broke out a year later. Cosens tried to join the RCAF but was told he was too young. In 1940, he joined The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, later transferring to The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. In August 1944, Cosens was part of the D-day reinforcements in Normandy, France.
Early on the morning of 26 February 1945, his unit attacked enemy forces at Mooshot, Germany; Mooshot was a strategic position in the success of future military operations, the goal being to disperse enemy forces. After his platoon suffered heavy casualties, young Cosens assumed command. He led another attack against three enemy strong points, supported by a tank. He captured the tank and single-handedly captured a number of prisoners. While on his way to report the victory to his commander, Aubrey Cosens was killed by an enemy sniper. News that this Canadian World War II hero had won the Victoria Cross created a sensation in Northern Ontario. Colonel Reynolds almost immediately petitioned to rename the Sea Duck in honor of Sergeant Cosens. The name change was approved by the TNC board with the following proclamation: “It was approved that the name of the Motor-launch ‘Sea Duck’ be changed to ‘Aubrey Cosens’ in honor of Sergeant Aubrey Cosens VC an employee of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in battle at Mooshof Germany where he lost his life on February 21, 1945, and that a Memorial Plaque recording these facts be placed in the boat.” The Aubrey Cosens steamship continued to serve the Temagami area from 1946 to 1966.
The large image below is from a 1906 magazine called “The Four-Track News,” and shows a Teme-Augama Anishnabai man holding an axe, in front of a log cabin. One white man sits in the doorway of the log cabin, while another stands with an oar near a canoe in the water. The caption reads: “Temagami — There seems to be in it the sound of lapping waters, the murmur of whispering leaves.” Four Track became Travel Magazine later in 1906, and was America’s first automobile touring magazine.
In July 1940, a real-photo postcard (RPPC) was sent from Camp Keewaydin which described “Alec, our guide.” Camp Keewaydin had been known to use “faux” Indians in the past, but this man looks so realistic that we’ve included him on the Temagami First Nation page. Does anyone know who he was? More information on Camp Keewaydin is on the main Temagami page. The postmark, which refers to Keewaydin Camp, is seen to the right in this vintage postcard. Robert Lochead, Camp Keewaydin’s bookkeeper, was the postmaster. Lochead supervised everything related to the post office, from its construction to its furnishings. He also made sure that the mail got through on the daily steamer, the Belle of Temagami, which stopped at the main dock. This post office was in operation from 1932 until Lochead’s death after the 1946 season.
Inaccurate Bear Island Portrayals: This handsome native image was found in a “Souvenir View Album” published by the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway to promote travel and tourism in an area extending from North Bay to Cochrane. There is speculation that these are actually Plains Indians; however, they’re included here for historical interest.
We’ve saved the worst for last. Here’s the Canadian Post Card Co. of Toronto’s portrayal of a “Native Canadian Indian Chief,” bearing “Greetings from Temagami” on the reverse. We named him Chief Wannabe.
For collectors of vintage postcards, old postcards and the antique postcard. Deltiology, the hobby of collecting vintage postcards, is one of the fastest-growing collectibles hobbies. Old postcard collections interest collectors of antiques, memorabilia and ephemera; collectables such as old vintage postcards are used by museums and historians to document what was.