Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"Pauline Johnson : A Lady to Remember"
Doris Lemon, February 1994, Vol.6 No.1, Pages 19-20
Many years ago, probably in late September or early October of 1946, I recall my first grade teacher at Dickson School in Galt (now Cambridge), Ontario, reading Pauline Johnson's poem The Song My Paddle Sings. I think my teacher's name was Miss Pringle, although I am not absolutely certain either of her name or its spelling. Miss Pringle was a prim and proper lady, perhaps nearing retirement. Sadly, she was not to remain with us for very long. It was only a few weeks or even days after she read Pauline Johnson's poem that Miss Pringle, a cancer victim, entered hospital and I never saw her again. She died a few months later.
I remember that brief event and Miss Pringle's oral recitation of that famous poem, if only because she captivated her young class with Pauline Johnson's love of canoeing and nature. That incident was the first and last time that I encountered either Pauline Johnson or her literary works in school. Until very recently, when I began looking at this famous Canadian and entertainer of the late Victorian period, I had largely forgotten that Pauline Johnson ever existed. This past October, as our President, Jim Files has already noted, Grand River Branch of the United Empire Loyalists' Association, donated $3000 to the Chiefswood Restoration Fund. It is fitting and timely that we remember Pauline Johnson and we offer this brief dedication in her memory.
Emily Pauline Johnson, born at "Chiefswood", near the Six Nations Reserve, was a renowned poetess, recitalist and popular "platform entertainer", in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Canada. Pauline was born on March 10, 1861. She was the fourth child of Chief George Henry Martin Johnson and his wife, Emily Susannah Howells, the sister-in-law of the Reverend Adam Elliot, the Anglican missionary on the reserve. George Johnson (Teyonnhehkewea) married Emily Howells on 27 August, 1853, over raised eyebrows of Upper Canadian society. Devoted to his wife, George Johnson purchased land between the Grand River and the road to Brantford and built "Chiefswood", completed in late 1856. It was in this beautiful, colonial estate home that Pauline was raised.
The Johnson family was close and affectionate. Her parents were well-respected in the community and amiable hosts, who often entertained famous visitors from afar. Pauline was a product of two worlds. The first was the gracious, Victorian culture of the time, with its emphasis on tasteful, mannered living, the importance of a classical education and its respect and loyalty to Great Britain and the Empire. Steeped in this tradition, she early acquired a love of reading and poetry. The other world, which was central to Pauline's development, was the Native culture of her father and grandfather. Chief John Smoke Johnson (Sakayengwaraton). Smoke Johnson was a famous warrior in the War of 1812, a gifted orator, much admired by his own people and a fountain of knowledge on Mohawk history and tradition. In her youth, Pauline avidly listened to her grandfather relate the events and legends of her Native ancestors. Complementing her exposure to indigenous oral history, was Pauline's other love -- literature. Chiefswood had an excellent library and by her teen years, she had read extensively from the great works of English and American literature. Pauline took the best from her Native heritage and her English roots and fashioned a new life as a poet and stage recitalist in the 1880's and afterwards, a life which would propel her into the limelight, both in Canada and England.
Pauline Johnson or Tekahionwake (Double Wampum), was a charming, beautiful woman who undoubtedly possessed a commanding presence on the stage. Billing herself as the Mohawk princess and dressed in her theatrical
buckskin costume and bear claw necklace, she could hold audiences spellbound. Whether in the drawing rooms of London or a church hall in a B.C. mining town, people would watch and listen to Pauline and laugh and cry with her. Her prose and especially her poems were popular in Canada ninety years ago. Pauline's literary efforts did not last as long as Pauline Johnson, the legend. Much of her poetry was hastily written doggerel and even her better poems disappeared from school texts many years ago. I do not know if any of her works are to be found either in a Canadian textbook or school library today.
Pauline Johnson had a mystic's sense of the past and a quiet, contemplative perspective on the world of nature. She loved her Indian heritage and loved Canada. She was also one of our early patriots. An exponent of yesterday's nationalism, Pauline Johnson saw another great North American nation emerging, a nation proud of its loyal past, proud and supportive of its Native people and their gifts, and a nation firmly attached to its political culture and its symbols. Only recently, have some writers had the opportunity to re-examine the life of Pauline Johnson and reassess her work. Marcus Van Steen's Pauline Johnson: Her Life and Work (Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965) and Betty Keller's Pauline: A Biography of Pauline Johnson (Halifax: Formac, Goodread Biographies, c1981, reprint 1987) offer superb insights into this remarkable woman from the Six Nations Reserve.
Emily Pauline Johnson died of cancer, in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 7, 1913. Her body was cremated and the ashes buried at Ferguson Point in Stanley Park. A monument in Pauline's memory, was erected at the site in 1922. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake remains a part of our local and national history and a lady to remember.
1 Pauline Johnson, "The Song My Paddle Sings", in Pauline Johnson: Her Life and Work, Marcus Van Steen (Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965), p.97-99