E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), 1861 -1913

One hundred years ago, on March 7, 1913, Emily Pauline Johnson died in Vancouver. She retired here in 1909 as a celebrated poet, author and performer and, although Johnson lived a brief four years in Vancouver, she left a lasting legacy in the city.

Portrait of E. Pauline Johnson, undated. George T. Wadds, photographer. Reference code AM54-S4-: Port P637

Portrait of E. Pauline Johnson, undated. George T. Wadds, photographer. Reference code AM54-S4-: Port P637

Born in 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, outside Brantford, Canada West (Ontario), Pauline Johnson was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and an English mother. Her Mohawk name was Tekahionwake. She published her first poem in 1884. In 1892 she began to read her poems to audiences, honing her skill as a dramatic performer as she performed on tours across Canada, in the United States and in England over the next 17 years. Her first book of poems, The White Wampum, was published in 1895.

Pauline Johnson visited the West Coast often during her tours. In 1906 she met Squamish Chief Joseph Capilano (Su-á-pu-luck) in London and began a friendship with him. In August 1909, already suffering from breast cancer, Pauling Johnson retired from touring and moved to Vancouver.

By 1911 Pauline Johnson was ill and living with modest means in the West End. She worked with Chief Capilano, retelling his stories in Legends of Vancouver, a book she published in 1911 with the help of her Vancouver friends. Johnson included the stories of Stanley Park landmarks Siwash Rock and Deadman’s Island and of The Lions (Two Sisters), a Vancouver icon. Her poem Lost Lagoon immortalized the name of the inlet now cut off from the sea by the causeway to Stanley Park.

First edition of Legends of Vancouver privately printed in Vancouver in 1911. Photo by Jeffery Chong.

First edition of Legends of Vancouver privately printed in Vancouver in 1911. Photo by Jeffery Chong.

From the Bute Street Hospital where she last lived in Vancouver, Pauline Johnson wrote to a Mr. Fleming to ask that copies of Legends of Vancouver be delivered to her. This is one of the autographed documents by Pauline Johnson in the holdings of the City of Vancouver Archives.

Letter Page 1

Page 1 of letter written by Pauline Johnson to Mr. Fleming, December 8, 1912. Reference code AM650-: LEG427.1.1

Letter Pate 2

Page 2 of letter written by Pauline Johnson to Mr. Fleming, December 8, 1912. Reference code AM650-: LEG427.1.2

In 1912, again with the assistance of friends, a collected edition of her poems, Flint and Feather was published. This volume, according to her entry in Wikipedia, “has been reprinted many times and is one of the best-selling titles of Canadian poetry.”

On March 10, 1913, Vancouver mourned the death of Pauline Johnson by declaring the day a civic holiday. A procession started at the Bute Street Hospital, where she had died, and ended at Christ Church Cathedral where the service was held. Thousands of Vancouver residents witnessed the procession along Georgia Street including many local First Nations people. Her casket was followed by Chief Matthias, son of Chief Joe Capilano. Four days later a small ceremony was held in Stanley Park, near the site of her present memorial, to bury her ashes.

Pauline Johnson’s coffin and flowers in the room in which she died at the Bute Street Hospital, March 7, 1912. Reference Code AM1102-S3-: LEG427.7

Pauline Johnson’s coffin and flowers in the room in which she died at the Bute Street Hospital, March 7, 1912. Reference Code AM1102-S3-: LEG427.7

Funeral procession for Pauline Johnson, on Georgia Street near Granville Street, Vancouver, March 10, 1913. Reference code AM54-S4-: Port P1422

Funeral procession for Pauline Johnson, on Georgia Street near Granville Street, Vancouver, March 10, 1913. Reference code AM54-S4-: Port P1422

Shortly after her death, the Women’s Canadian Club of Vancouver began to organize a monument to commemorate Pauline Johnson. Charles Marega proposed an elaborate design but it would have been costly to make and difficult to raise funds during the First World War and so work on a monument was delayed.

Design by Charles Marega for a memorial to Pauline Johnson in Stanley Park, n.d. Reference code AM54-S4-: MON.P.82

Design by Charles Marega for a memorial to Pauline Johnson in Stanley Park, n.d. Reference code AM54-S4-: MON.P.82

After the war the Women’s Canadian Club of Vancouver settled on a more modest design by architect James Anderson Benzie, perhaps best known for his design of the Japanese-Canadian War Memorial erected in Stanley Park in 1920. The stone monument and fountain are located between The Teahouse and Third Beach, just off the side of Stanley Park Drive.

In 2012 a blueprint design of the Benzie-designed memorial was discovered and donated to the City Archives by J.B. Newall Memorials.

Design for memorial to Pauline Johnson, Stanley Park by James A. Benzie, March 1922. Item No.: 2012-009.1

Design for memorial to Pauline Johnson, Stanley Park by James A. Benzie, March 1922. Item No.: 2012-009.1

Ceremony at the memorial to Pauline Johnson, Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C., 1922. Reference code AM1535-: CVA 99-1328

Ceremony at the memorial to Pauline Johnson, Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C., 1922. Reference code AM1535-: CVA 99-1328

Artifacts and archival records relating to E. Pauline Johnson are held in a number of institutions. The principal repository is the E. Pauline Johnson fonds at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The records include much correspondence received by Pauline Johnson during her residence in Vancouver, 1909-1912. We have a number of photographs, copies of her publications and a very few letters.

The Museum of Vancouver has quite a number of artifacts associated with Pauline Johnson, many left to them in her will, including the native costume she performed in. One of the most poignant objects in their collection is her death mask, created by Pauline Johnson’s friend and sculptor Charles Marega.

Death mask of E. Pauline Johnson by Charles Marega, 1913.  Reference code AM1102-S3-: LEG427.5

Death mask of E. Pauline Johnson by Charles Marega, 1913. Reference code AM1102-S3-: LEG427.5

In March 2013 Herstory Café has planned two events to honour the 100th anniversary of Pauline Johnson’s death in Vancouver, featuring Janet Rogers, a Mohawk spoken word, performance and media poet. The event on March 10, 2013 will take place at the Pauline Johnson memorial in Stanley Park.

5 responses to “E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), 1861 -1913

  1. This was very interesting and I wish that people who were planning events here in Vancouver, had advertised it earlier as I would’ve liked to attend.

    I have recorded a CD based on the poetry of E. Pauline Johnson which I wrote music to and sing and play on the album. It’s entitled. “Faithfully Yours – The Ballads of E. Pauline Johnson”. It was a challenge to write music to her poetry as there aren’t any choruses and it’s verbatim. After having a stroke then a ruptured brain aneurysm, the dream I’d had for over 6 years I finally made possible. I decided it was time to record the album on the 150th year of her birth in 2011.

    Now I have been asked to perform at Pauline’s birthplace, Chiefswood Museum in Ont. and will be there for their event on June 15th. Cuts from the album are going to be played at the exhibits they have inside the museum and my CD will be sold in their shop and their website. How exciting this is for me for as a young person I made numerous trips to Chiefswood!

    Photos I took of her cairn were once displayed in the trophy case at the museum. It was an honour that the Six Nations band council accepted them as a gift.Unfortunately due to a flood last year they were destroyed.

    I was able to go to the Vancouver Museum a number of years ago and see the many artifacts they have there in their archives and that was such a treat. Pauline was a remarkable lady. I am so glad people are recognizing her artistic gift to Canada and it’s people. She was a treasure.

  2. Dianne Quinn

    Greetings. My great Grandfather was Edward Morton Fleming and ran his own printing company Franklin Press in London Ontario and Toronto. This company was purchased by the Methodist Bookroom and eventually McClelland and Stewart. Edward was the Mr. Fleming in Ms. Johnson’s letter and moved to Vancouver for a short period working with Saturday Sunset presses to complete this and several other endeavours. I would love to se this letter in person some day!
    Regards, Dianne Quinn

  3. Heather Gordon

    Please do visit if you have a chance, Dianne. We’re open for document retrievals Monday to Friday, 10:00 to 5:00

  4. Thank you Leslie Mobbs |for posting this valuable information about my cousin, four generations removed .
    I am truly sorry that I missed these events !!!
    In my attempts to resurrect Pauline’s, memory, for the hundredth anniversary of her passing, and to make it possible to have her wish, to be buried in view of the Siwash rock, a reality, I met with obstacles (( the winter games and others )) even though I had the ex chair of Vancouver’s parks board and Chief Gibby Jackobs of the Squamish tribe on board it all fell through the cracks, There where no plans by the city to hold any event to celebrate her contributions to bringing the heart of B. C. to the rest of Canada and the world . In fact the city never even replied to my questions and my proposal .
    I still carry the dream to have her wish granted and maybe 2010 would be the goal to have this dream and the plans made, come to fruition, become a reality !!!
    B. J, “A” 2

  5. PS Must have had a senior’s moment ???, got lost in a time warp ???, “ I still carry the dream to have her wish granted and maybe 2010 would be the goal to have this dream and the plans made, come to fruition, become a reality !!! ”. I meant 2023, leaving plenty of time to set up a society, raise funds in order to move her monument to Ferguson point where she and her monument would be laid to rest in plain view of the Siwash Rock behind which a glass, brass Tee Pee would house imagers of her reciting her poetry in front of a long house in which native artisans would perform their crafts, teach them and sell their finish pieces .

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