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Hide coat painted in red, green, blue and yellow with various motifs and yarn tassels | Donald Ellis Gallery

Hunting Coat


early 19th century

hide, paint, woolen broadcloth, yarn tassels

height: 40"

Inventory # CW3984


acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON


Collected by General Sir John Henry Lefroy (1817-1890), officer in the Royal Artillery of Great Britain, and a scientist specializing in terrestrial magnetism. Lefroy arrived in Toronto in 1842. In the spring of 1843 he departed on a journey from Montreal to York factory via the Hayes River, and later, in the winter of 1843-44 travelled down the Mackenzie River, taking magnetic readings along the way. This work culminated in Lefroy’s publication “In Search of the Magnetic North”. Lefroy was the director of The Toronto Magnetical Observatory until its transfer to the Canadian government in 1863, and went on to hold public office as Governor of Bermuda (c. 1871-77) and Administrator of Tasmania (c. 1880-81).       


The British Museum, London, 1982 – 1987 (Thunderbird and Lightening)
On loan to the Newfoundland Museum, St. John’s, 1990 - 2004


To Please the Caribou: Painted Caribou-Skin Coats Worn by the Naskapi, Montagnais, and Cree Hunters of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula, Burnham, Royal Ontario Museum, 1992
Thunderbird and Lightening: Indian Life in Northeastern North America 1600-1900, King, The British Museum, London, 1982, pl. 39
Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 2005, pgs. 22 - 23
Brasser, Ted. J. Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Firefly Books, 2009, pgs. 1-2, 98


Royal Artillery Institution, Woolwich, London (UN 828)

See: Burnham, Dorothy. To Please the Caribou: Skin Coats Worn by the Naskapi, Montagnais, and Cree Hunters of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1992, pg. 153, pl. 14 for another Naskapi coat from the collection or General Sir John Henry Lefroy.

Canadian Museum of Civilization, No. III B 590 – See: Ibid, pg. 45, pl. 7

The extraordinary painted designs on the caribou skin garments of the Algonquian speaking inhabitants of Eastern Quebec and Labrador are said to be inspired by a dream. Coming to the hunter in his sleep, a helping spirit would describe the specific designs that would convey the power necessary for a successful hunt (see: Speck 1977, pg. 80).

For the Innu peoples of the region, life depended largely on the hunt, and every effort was made to insure success. Pre-hunt feasts, dancing, drumming and communication with the spirit world through dreaming, helped convey honor and respect to the caribou in the hope that they would surrender their lives to the hunter.

The magnificent coat illustrated here was collectd by General Sir John Henry Lefroy, a distinguished officer in the British Army. Lefroy arrived in Toronto in 1842, and several years later was immortalized by his friend, the artist Paul Kane, in his painting “Scene in the Northwest – Portrait” (see: Sotheby’s 2002, pg. 39).

The magical power of a hunter’s coat was said to fade within a year, and the next year another dream would inspire a new coat design (see: Webber 1984, pg. 116). Older coats, their power gone, frequently found their way into the fur trade, becoming fashionable garments for British military officers. This can be readily seen in paintings and engravings from the early 19th century (see: Burnham 1992, pgs. 14-15).

Decorated hunting coats of the Innu are exceedingly rare, with only a handful found in private collections. This superb example attests to the artistic achievement of these northern Algonquian peoples.

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