Author Tags: Anthropology, First Nations

Hilary Stewart of Quadra Island was an important authority on Northwest Indian art and culture with more than ten titles directly concerned with Aboriginal cultures starting with Artifacts of the Northwest Coast (1973) and Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast (1977).

Her Cedar (1984), an examination of the various ways Aboriginal cultures utilized cedar, received one of the first four B.C. Book Prizes that were presented in 1985. Stewart’s reiusse of the journal kept by English sailor at Nootka Sound in 1803, John R. Jewitt, Captive of Maquinna (1987), also received a B.C. Book Prize. Other titles included Robert Davidson: Haida Printmaker (1979) and Totem Poles (1990).

Hilary Stewart was born in St. Lucia, West Indies, on November 3, 1924. After attending boarding school in England, she spent six years in the armed forces, during and after the war. Upon completing studies at St. Martin's School of Art, she followed her brother, Peter, to Canada in 1951. She worked as an artist for CHEK TV and became increasing fascinated in the art, artifacts and cultures of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Long associated with the Archaeological Society of BC, she produced twelve books.

Stewart lived for many years on Quadra Island but was forced to move to Campbell River after a stroke. She spent the last five years of her life in a nursing home in increasingly frail health. She died on June 5, 2014. Hilary Stewart was pre-deceased by her brother Peter and her sister Heather. She is survived by her sister in-law Anna Stewart, her niece Robyn Stewart and her nephew Ian Stewart.

"Hilary Stewart was one of those unique talents who was equally distinguished as a writer and a graphic artist," said her final publisher, Howard White. "Her keen study of aboriginal cultures of the BC coast led her to make a major contribution to popular understanding."

In lieu of flowers for a a celebration of Stewart's life on June 21st, at 1:30 pm, at the Quadra Island Community Centre, friends and admirers were urged to make a contribution to the "UBC Museum of Anthropology" for the Hilary Stewart Endowment Fund for First Nations Education Programs.

[photo: Hilary Stewart as an award winner at the first B.C. Book Prizes gala in 1985]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Artifacts of the Northwest Coast Indians
The Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt
Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast
Totem Poles


• Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award for excellence in writing (1980)
• Certificate of Merit for INDIAN FISHING and LOOKING AT INDIAN ART
• Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize (1985)
• Bill Duthie Booksellers Award twice (1985 and 1988)
• James F. and Margaret Pendergast Award for contributions in Archaeology
• Governor General’s Commemorative medal for setting up the “Hilary Stewart Endowment Fund for First Native Educational Programs at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology


Indian Artifacts of the Northwest Coast (Hancock House, 1973)
Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast (Douglas & McIntyre, 1977, 1982; University of Washington Press, 2003).
Robert Davidson: Haida Printmaker (Douglas & McIntyre, 1979)
Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast (Douglas & McIntyre, 1979)
Wild Teas, Coffees & Cordials (Douglas & McIntyre, 1981)
Cedar: Tree of Life ot the NorthWest Coast Indians (Douglas & McIntyre, 1984)
John R. Jewitt: Captive of Maquinna (Douglas & McIntyre, 1987)
Totem Poles (Douglas & McIntyre, 1990)
Looking at Totem Poles (Douglas & McIntyre, 1990)
Stone, Bone, Antler & Shell (Douglas & McIntyre, 1996)
On Island Time (Douglas & McIntyre, 1998)


Images: Stone: BC, by Wilson Duff (Hancock House, 1975)
Gathering What The Great Nature Provided, by the 'people of Ksan' (Douglas & McIntyre, 1980)
Assu of Cape Mudge, by Joy Inglis (UBC Press, 1989)
Spirit in the Stone, by Joy Inglis (Horsdal & Schubart, 1989)

[LITHIS / BCBW 2014] "First Nations" "Anthropology"

The Adventures and Suffering of John R. Jewitt (D&M 1995)

The most notorious account of the early relations between Europeans and Indians on the West Coast is John Jewitt’s memoir of his two years as Nuu-chah-nulth Chief Maquinna’s slave at Nootka Sound on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The Adventures and Suffering of John Jewitt has never been out of print.

Chief Maquinna was the most powerful chief known to the Europeans in the late 18th century. He met Captain Cook in 1778 and later hosted the negotiations between Captains Vancouver and Quadra who represented the interests of England and Spain in 1792.

Born on May 21, 1783, John Jewitt was the son of a Lincolnshire blacksmith who wanted his son to become a surgeon. In the seaport of Hull, John Jewitt heard tales of the sea and signed on as the armourer, or blacksmith, on the Boston, a sailing ship that arrived at Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound on March 12, 1803.

Trading was undertaken amicably until Captain Salter of the Boston insulted Chief Maquinna on March 21. Salter had given Maquinna a gift of a double-barrelled rifle. When its lock jammed, Maquinna announced it was bad and needed repair. Salter, not realizing the extent to which Maquinna understood English, cursed Maquinna and gave the rifle to Jewitt for repairs.

Jewitt later recorded the incident. “I observed him, while the captain was speaking, repeatedly put his hand to his throat and rub it upon his bosom, which he afterwards told me was to keep down his heart, which was rising into his throat and choking him.”

The following day the local Nuu-chah-nulth Indians took revenge. After coming aboard the Boston for a feast, they suddenly attacked and killed 25 crewmembers. John Thompson, a sailmaker, hid during the attack and was found the following day. Jewitt was struck unconscious early in the struggle and was accidentally spared.

Maquinna had observed Jewitt at his forge and recognized his value. When Jewitt revived, he had to promise to be a good slave and to make Maquinna weapons and tools. Jewitt negotiated for the life of the other survivor, Thompson, who was 20 years his senior, by telling Maquinna that Thompson was his father.

Jewitt was asked to identify the severed heads of his 25 former shipmates. The two captives were not treated harshly. Thompson, from Philadelphia, remained bitter and violent, but Jewitt set about to endear himself and learn the language.

Jewitt forged the first axes and ironworks made on the North Pacific coast. He also kept a daily journal that provided mainly favourable impressions of his captor, Maquinna. “He was dressed in a large mantle or cloak of the black sea-otter skin, which reached to his knees, and was fastened around his middle by a broad belt of the cloth of the country, wrought or painted with figures of several colours; this dress was by no means unbecoming, but, on the contrary, had an air of savage magnificence.”

On July 19, 1805, another trading brig, Lydia, approached Friendly Cove, also known as Yuquot. Jewitt hastily wrote a note to its captain detailing the murders and his slavery, begging the captain to invite Maquinna aboard, capture him and demand the release of Thompson and himself. The Nootkas were advising Maquinna against going aboard the ship. Maquinna asked Jewitt for advice. Jewitt said it would be safe.

After the captain supplied Maquinna with an alcoholic drink, Maquinna was held at gunpoint. After much agitation ashore, Jewitt and Thompson were swapped for Maquinna. The captain also persuaded the Indians to return all items that had been taken from the Boston two years earlier.

Jewitt sailed on the Lydia to New England. The release of his journal temporarily gained him celebrity status. He died in obscurity in Hartford, Connecticut in 1821.

In 2003, John R. Jewitt, a sixth-generation descendant of John Jewitt, traveled to Yuquot on the east side of Vancouver Island to meet with Mike Maquinna, a descendant of Maquinna, to mark the 200th anniversary of their forefathers’ meeting. The two men had already met on October 29, 1987 at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, 184 years after the capture, at which time the museum made available a dagger that was made by Jewitt for Chief Maquinna during his captivity. The Adventures and Suffering of John R. Jewitt (D&M 1995) by Hilary Stewart 155054408X

[BCBW Winter 2003]

Remembering Hilary
Essay 2014

by Vickie Jensen

Hilary was both a close friend and a mentor to me. We pulled cedar bark from great trees in the spring, learned how to twine or weave headdresses, cooked in steam-bent boxes, gathered, sniffed, tasted and tried, all the while gaining a respect for the complex culture of coastal native peoples.

Over decades of drawing, photographing and writing, she produced a shelf-full of resources on Northwest Coast native culture that were read, collected and utilized by First Nations peoples, academics and ordinary folks intrigued by the unique aboriginal culture of this coast.

Hilary believed in learning by looking and doing. Indeed, her book research spilled over into workshops, demonstrations and one-on-one sessions that taught so many, from First Nations artists and docents-in-training, to elementary students and amazed tourists.

Despite having no academic credentials in archaeology or anthropology, Hilary became an expert about everything she wrote. A founding member of the Archaeological Society of British Columbia (ASBC), she volunteered on an archaeological dig on the banks of the Fraser south of Hope, producing meticulous drawings of the artifacts being unearthed.

Her work caught the attention of Dr. Charles Borden, UBC’s first archaeologist, who encouraged her to publish them in book format. The result was Artifacts of the Northwest Coast Indians (Hancock House 1973), later revised and reissued as Stone, Bone, Antler and Shell (D&M 1996), a resounding success that was also the first comprehensive record of such information.

When working on Indian Fishing (D&M 1977), she interviewed native fishermen and searched out historic collections of fishing equipment, then proceeded to create all the lures herself. Not content with that, she took her halibut hook to the Vancouver Aquarium and got permission to test it out. In the process she discovered that halibut hooks floated up rather than down from their anchor line. But what pleased her most what the tooth marks left by a halibut that couldn’t resist the temptation of her lure.

In the early 1980s Hilary was thick into the research for her epic resource Cedar (D&M 1984). One frosty morning, she called and asked if I was busy. I immediately cleared my schedule as she explained that she’d asked the Vancouver Parks Board to be on the lookout for a sizeable cedar drift log so she could attempt splitting cedar planks from it, just like in the old days. They’d just found such a log. So armed with stone hammers and an array of fire-hardened yew-wood wedges she’d made, we set off for Jericho Beach.

It was a morning forever etched into my memory, stepping back in time as we drove those wedges into the straight-grained wood and then re-set them further along as the long house planks began to split off the log. “I knew we could do it!” she beamed.

Hilary treasured the relationships she made with First Nations peoples while researching her books. Many are referenced in her books. But the impact of those teachings continued long after publication. Karen Duffek of UBC ‘s Museum of Anthropology recalls Skidegate cedar-bark weaver Vicky Moody telling her that Cedar had in fact changed her life. Initially, she knew nothing about weaving, but the book’s precise illustrations and text encouraged her to try. She then went on to incorporate those techniques in her own innovative works, many of which are now in museum collections.

Hilary’s main publisher Scott McIntyre noted, “One happy outcome of Hilary’s deep love of this place, her First Nation friends, and the remarkable culture which flourished here is that the nine books of hers we were privileged to publish have sold over 600,000 copies in some ten countries and several languages. Imagine, as but one example, a book which teaches the Japanese how to fish!”

Certainly Hilary Stewart was pleased with the honours her books and endeavours earned, but she was also especially proud that she was able to make her living as a writer. Always frugal, she bought land and built a house nestled among the ferns, trees and creatures of her beloved Quadra Island. There she produced her final book, On Island Time (D&M 1988).

[first printed in BCBookLook]