The Huron Missionary Museum

Introduction

Prior to the City of London, the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, and Lūnaapéewak peoples occupied these lands. It is important to acknowledge their continuous history and importance in this region.

Hello and welcome to this summer-long study on the history of the Huron Missionary Museum and the importance of repatriation. My name is Kevin den Dunnen and I am going into my fourth year at Huron in the History program. I am really looking forward to this summer-long project where I will explore the history of Indigenous collections at the universities of London, Ontario. The City of London

The Huron Missionary Museum operated from 1911 to 1941 as a small collection of artifacts donated by alumni and students of Huron University College who performed missionary work in Africa, Asia, and South America in the early twentieth century. [2] The school placed some of the collection on display as the Huron Missionary Museum to showcase the missionary influence of Huron University College. While no longer part of a museum, some of the collection remains in long-term protective storage within the depths of Huron University College.

This series of blog posts will illustrate the legacy of missionary collections as sites of justification for imperial influence through racist depictions of Indigenous communities as inferior peoples. It will place a particular focus on university museums within London, Ontario and discuss their legacy of collecting Indigenous objects. The Huron Missionary Museum collection remains as a part of the colonial legacy of Universities in Canada. A strong way to begin healing the wrongdoings of the past is to repatriate such collections to their rightful owners and thereby aid in decolonizing the legacy of Huron University College.

Post by Post

This series will feature nine posts published every two weeks. Following this introduction, the next two posts will analyze two impactful books that focus on the meaning of cultural objects to Indigenous cultures. The first book is Collections and objections: Aboriginal material culture in Southern Ontario, 1791-1914, by Michelle Hamilton, a professor of history at Western University. The second book is Naamiwan’s Drum: The Story of a Contested Repatriation of Anishinaabe Artefacts, by Maureen Matthews, a curator of cultural anthropology at Manitoba Museum and adjunct professor at the University of Manitoba. Through analyzing object meanings to local communities, these works demonstrate the importance of repatriating colonial collections and will greatly add to the impact of this project.

Next, I’ll write a history of the Huron Missionary Museum to show how the institution collected and displayed the artifacts in a colonial light. This will incorporate the early history of Huron University and why they accepted foreign artifacts from missionary collectors.

The fifth post will feature a history of the Wilfred Jury collection initially housed at Western University. Wilfred Jury was an influential amateur archaeologist who excavated many Indigenous sites across Ontario. Western University’s Museum of Indian Archaeology and Pioneer Life opened in 1934 with the collections of Wilfred Jury and his father, Amos. Wilfrid was the curator for many years and taught some of the first archaeology classes at Western University. [3] The Museum of Indian Archaeology’s artifacts would go on to become part of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology as well as Fanshawe Pioneer Village’s collections.

The next post will investigate how Wilfred Jury obtained this large collection of Indigenous objects. It will expand to explain the ways early institutions like the Museum of Indian Archaeology portrayed these artifacts through an imperial view of Indigenous people as inferior people.

Post 7 will relate the literature study and collections analysis with significant artifacts from the Huron Missionary Museum. This will place the artifacts within specific communities and show objects can have significant meaning to their communities.

 The eighth post will introduce the importance of repatriation and how it can begin to heal the relationship between colonial institutions and Indigenous peoples. This post will further illustrate how colonial perspectives shape views of Indigenous peoples and remove agency. This post will end by arguing that museums and institutions must collaborate with Indigenous people to return these objects and begin healing these relationships with Indigenous people.

Connecting the previous eight posts, the ninth and final post will place the Huron Missionary Museum within the wider movement of repatriating Indigenous collections. It will argue for the repatriation of the Huron Missionary Museum collection to decolonize the institution and return the objects to their communities when possible.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the CURL Fellowship program at Huron University College for supporting this project. This series would not be possible without the assistance, knowledge, and project inspiration provided by Professor Thomas Peace. I would also like to thank Professor Amy Bell, who guided some of my early ideas for the project and provided useful resources.

This upcoming series of blog posts would not be possible without the work of former Huron University College student, Rémi Alie. As part of Professor Amy Bell’s “The Historian’s Craft” at Huron, Alie created a catalogue for much of the remaining collections of the Huron Missionary Museum in 2015. In the final remarks of this project, Alie stated “How does this collection relate to the broader historiography of anthropology, collecting, and missionary work in Ontario?” [4] This series of posts will aim to answer the question and expand by bringing in the argument for repatriation.


[1] To read the full acknowledgement, please visit the City of London’s website and search “Land Acknowledgement,” or click City of London Land Acknowledgement | City of London.

[2] Kim Knowles et al., 150 Huron Memories, 1863-2013 (London, ON, Canada: Huron University College, 2013), 6.

[3] Ronda Allen, “The Museum of Ontario Archaeology,” Education Forum: The Magazine for Secondary School Professionals 36, no. 2 (2010): pp. 36-39, 36. “Wilfrid Jury’s Legacy: Wilfrid Jury (Part 5).” Museum of Ontario Archaeology, July 20, 2017. https://archaeologymuseum.ca/wilf_jury_5/.

[4] Rémi Alie, “Notes/Recommendations for Further Student Projects,” (unpublished, March 15, 2015).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.