The Development of the Indian Treaty Medals of Canada
Treaty Medals 1871
Silver medals were very much a part of the regalia of the treaty ceremony. They offered a lasting visual reminder to all the participants of their treaty commitments.
The medal bears a bust of Queen Victoria and the inscription “VICTORIA REGINA”. The reverse side bears a wreath of oak leaves and acorns joined by a knot.
The medal was not made specifically for the treaties. It was purchased from J.S. & A.B. Wyon of London, England, and was selected from pre-made stock.
Interestingly, it resembles medals that were awarded at agricultural fairs.
Since the medal used in Treaties 1 and 2 was considered too small and the design inappropriate, a substitute medal was commissioned by the federal government in 1872 from silversmith Robert Hendry of Montreal.
The design for the new medal was adapted from the Confederation medal of 1867, to which Hendry added an outer 11 millimetre ring.
The medal bears the likeness of Queen Victoria. The inscription that was soldered to the outer ring reads “DOMINION OF CANADA CHIEFS MEDAL 1872.”
Four allegorical figures representing lumbering, mining, fishing, and farming are stamped on the reverse side with a seated Britannia.
The outer inscription on the reverse side reads “INDIANS OF THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES.”
The inscription CANADA INSTAURATA 1867 JUVENAS ET PATRIUS VIGOR can be translated as Canada was established in 1867 through youth and patriotic strength.
Despite the impressive size of this Canadian-made medal – it measured 95 millimetres in diameter and 10 millimetres in thickness – the silver plating peeled off too easily so an alternative had to be found.
In 1873, several copies of a third silver medal with a more appropriate western theme were ordered from J.S. & A.B. Wyon of London, England, at a cost of $24 each.
They featured a bust of Queen Victoria and the inscription “VICTORIA REGINA,” and on the reverse side, a stylized Indian encampment at sunset, with an Indian leader in war costume and a British officer shaking hands.
The inscription on the reverse side reads: “INDIAN TREATY N°. – / 187-.”
The spaces were deliberately left blank and would be incised with the treaty number and date at the appropriate time.
By Darren H. Courchene, July 2008