Un­set­tling Scenes

Re­cently dis­cov­ered paint­ings and jour­nal en­tries of­fer a re­mark­able per­spec­tive on the Frog Lake Mas­sacre and the North­west Re­bel­lion.

Canada's History - - CON­TENTS - By Jon Del­lan­drea

Re­cently un­cov­ered paint­ings of­fer a re­mark­able per­spec­tive on the Frog Lake Mas­sacre and the North­west Re­bel­lion.

ATROVE OF RE­CENTLY DIS­COV­ERED PAINT­INGS OF­FERS A com­pelling view of one of the most con­tentious mo­ments in Cana­dian his­tory — the North­west Re­bel­lion of 1885. Dur­ing that in­ci­dent, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment sent mil­i­tary forces to the North-West Ter­ri­to­ries to quell an “up­ris­ing” of Métis and Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples, led in part by Louis Riel. To the Indige­nous peo­ples of the re­gion, armed re­sis­tance was a le­git­i­mate re­sponse to set­tler en­croach­ment on their tra­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries.

Part of the con­flict was cap­tured on can­vas by Cana­dian painter Fran­cis Fitz Roy Dixon. Born in Bat­ticaloa, Cey­lon, Dixon grew up with the legacy of a grand­fa­ther who was an of­fi­cer in the Bri­tish colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion. Colonel Charles Ge­orge Dixon died dur­ing the In­dian Re­bel­lion of 1857 when Fran­cis was a baby.

Ap­pointed a justice of the peace in what is now Man­i­toba in 1884, Fitz Roy Dixon found him­self on the edge of a fes­ter­ing con­flict that was re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to his fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ences in colo­nial In­dia.

Dixon painted pro­lif­i­cally, hav­ing been trained at the Royal Col­lege of Art in Eng­land in the early 1870s. But most of his work did not see the light of day un­til re­cently. A chance dis­cov­ery on an In­ter­net auc­tion site about a year ago led to the find­ing of more than seventy paint­ings, plus let­ters and other ma­te­ri­als. In­cluded are his im­pres­sions of the 1885 Frog Lake Mas­sacre, in which nine set­tlers were killed.

So lit­tle of Dixon’s work is in the pub­lic do­main that schol­ars and col­lec­tors have paid it scant at­ten­tion. Fif­teen or so of his paint­ings can be found in the Royal On­tario Mu­seum, Li­brary and Ar­chives of Canada, the Man­i­toba Provin­cial Ar­chives, the Win­nipeg Art Gallery, and a pri­vate col­lec­tion or two. As a re­sult of the In­ter­net of­fer­ing, some for­tu­itous cir­cum­stances, and con­tact with de­scen­dants, Dixon’s art, sketch books, and re­lated archival ma­te­ri­als have come to light. Re­search is un­der­way for a book and ex­hi­bi­tion on his life and art.

See more paint­ings at CanadasHis­tory.ca/FitzRoyDixon

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