Century-old diary from Queen's Archives celebrated in Moose Factory
By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer
When Queen’s Archivist Paul Banfield boarded a plane in Timmins, Ontario for the 50-minute journey to Moose Factory in July, he was only there as an escort. The real traveller was a small, well-weathered black diary from the university archives. As a historically significant document, the book had been invited to make an appearance at the James Bay Treaty – Treaty No. 9 conference hosted by the Moose Cree First Nation.
Penned in 1905, the diary belonged to Daniel George MacMartin who, at the time, served as Ontario’s Treaty Commissioner. That same year, the Federal Government was negotiating Treaty No. 9 – otherwise known as the James Bay Treaty – for land rights. Mr. MacMartin was sent, along with two others, to carry out the negotiations and to have the northern community’s Chiefs and Elders sign the document. One of their stops was Moose Factory, a former Hudson Bay trading post with a current population of less than 2,500.
“It was clear that neither side understood the other,” says Mr. Banfield, “and that much was lost in translation.” He explains that while all three men kept diaries, only Mr. MacMartin’s, written in a penciled script, clearly outlined those difficulties. “What MacMartin’s diary says is that the aboriginal people had the right to hunt, fish and trap on their land in perpetuity,” explains Mr. Banfield. “What was in the treaty was that they could only do that until the government said they couldn’t. What is clear – or what is now being argued – is that it was never well explained and if it had been, negotiations would have taken a different turn.”
That’s why the diary, which was donated to Queen’s as part of a larger estate gift and rediscovered in the archives in 1995, has become a vitally important piece of history from a First Nations perspective, particularly as court cases dissect the merit of the original treaty. That’s also why it was given a place of prominence at the conference, where it was displayed alongside the original Treaty No. 9 parchment – likely the first time that the two documents had come together in 108 years.
“One of the Elders told me he saw the diary as a new bible,” says Mr. Banfield, explaining that the free conference attracted people from across the northern community. “Everyone viewed it with great reverence and respect, as they did the treaty. It was a moving experience to be there.”
The diary is now safely home and back in the Archives where it is available for consultation by the public.