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The Singing Wax

The Indian cylinders
at the Canadian Museum of Civilization
in Ottawa.


Within the framework of the digitization scheme of the cylinders of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau near Ottawa, I was fortunate to deliver my latest Archeophone there.

Not only was I welcomed in the kindest possible way, but I was also fascinated by what I saw and heard on the spot as I installed the machine.

The Museum owns a big collection of cylinders which for most part were recorded by American Indians. That is the Marius Barbeau collection, which deserves to be presented here in further detail.

Marius Barbeau, a Canadian ethnologist (1883-1969) had an interest in Canadian traditional music and American Indians. After a law degree, he studied anthropology in Oxford and then at the Sorbonne.

A warm welcome at the Museum


He held a post at the Geology Commission in 1911 and set about studying the culture of the Hurons of Lorette near Quebec and later of the American Indians of western Canada. From 1914 onwards, he took down folk and traditional French Canadian songs. The whole of his scientific publications represents an imposing bibliography.

Barbeau worked as an ethnologist and anthropologist at the National Museum of Man in Ottawa until he retired in 1948. He was taken to his work until his death, producing an extensive collection of written and sound archives which he widely used in his numerous publications dedicated to traditional songs and folk tales of the French-Canadian civilizations as well as those of the American Indians.



Marius Barbeau, pioneer Canadian folklorist,
transcribing songs from a wax cylinder recording (1957)


These sound archives consist of about 3000 phonographic cylinders and are now featured among the rich collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilizations.

Barbeau used the cylinder phonograph and made field recordings for his research from 1911 to 1948. The collection also includes cylinders that are the result of the work of other anthropologists. The oldest cylinders in this collection were recorded in 1898.



We can mention the American Indian cylinder collections of :

- Albert.B. Reagan, William H. Mechling, Wilson Dallam Wallis (Hurons Indians, Wyandott, Iroquois, Malecite, Ojibwa, Sioux : 1911-1913)
- James Alexander Teit, John Alden Mason, Cornelius B.Osgood (Cree Indians, Hare, Loucheux, Sarcee, Crow, Chipeywan, Yellowknife, Dogrib : 1915-1948)
- Diamond Jenness, Christian Leden (eskimo cylinders 1913-1916)

- As for French Canadian traditionals, in addition to the collections of Edouard-Zotique Massicotte (about 920 cylinders), and Gustave Lanctot (24 cylinders), there is also that of Marius Barbeau (about 550 cylinders).


These voices which were picked up for the sake of study and preservation have remained silent for a very long time. They now resonate afresh on the shores of the Outaouais river.

Paris, May 5th 2003

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