Fonds 1547 - Thomas Forsyth McIlwraith fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1547


Thomas Forsyth McIlwraith fonds


  • 1871-1978 [predominant 1920-1960] (Creation)

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Extent and medium

6.2m of textual records (45 boxes)
1.3m of graphic material (10 boxes)
2.47m of cartographic records
1 artifact

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Thomas Forsyth McIlwraith was born in Hamilton, Ontario on April 9, 1899, the son of Thomas and Mary (Stevens) McIlwraith. He attended Highfield School and entered McGill University as an undergraduate in Arts in the autumn of 1916. His education was temporarily put aside in June of the following year when he enlisted as a private in the University of Toronto Overseas Training Company. On reaching Europe at year’s end, he was transferred from the Canadian to the British Expeditionary Force, posted to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, and promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He sailed for France a month before the war ended. McIlwraith’s war service made him eligible for an Imperial Settlement Scholarship, which took him to Cambridge where he placed in the first class in the Anthropological Tripos in 1921. He remained there as a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology for a year and then came to Canada as a field assistant of the National Museum of Canada in order to undertake the first comprehensive study of an Aboriginal tribe in Canada. His two-volume work on the Nuxalk Nation, titled The Bella Coola Indians, was not published until 1948, due to lack of funds. For the 1924-1925 academic year, he held a position as a research assistant at Yale University, then returned to Canada as a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Toronto. In 1936, when the Department of Anthropology was created, he was appointed Professor and head, a position retained until his death. He also held a cross-appointment at the Royal Ontario Museum, beginning as a keeper of Ethnological Collections and becoming, in 1947, Acting and then the Associate Director.

During his forty-year career at the University of Toronto, he held a wide number of positions. He chaired the Canadian Social Science Research Council for two years; was President of the Royal Canadian Institute and later its Honourary Editor; Chairman of an Advisory Board for the Protection of Archaeological and Historic Sites of Ontario; Chairman of an Advisory Panel on Indian Education, arising from his many years of lecturing in the Canadian School of Missions; Vice-President of the International Technical Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Toronto and Regional Conservation Authority. An avid bird watcher, he was active in the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and directed its summer camp for many years. A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he was also Vice-President of the American Anthropological Association and a member of the American Folklore Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Besides field work on the Bella Coola he studied the Cree and Ojibway in northern Ontario in 1930 and explored various sites in southern Ontario between 1937 and 1955. He also did pioneering research at the Pucksaw Pits in Northern Ontario, beginning in 1956, and undertook personal research on the Inuit in the early 1960s. In June of 1925, he married Beulah Knox. They had three children: Thomas F. Jr., Mary, and Margaret. He died on March 29, 1964.

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Scope and content

The T.F. McIlwraith fonds consists of records documenting McIlwraith’s training and career as an anthropologist as well as his roles as an administrator and professor at the University of Toronto. Covering three separate accessions, material primarily includes professional records related to his research, teaching, and publishing activity. Fonds includes significant coverage is of McIlwraith’s writing, both published and unpublished. Series 17 (The Bella Coola Indians) focuses on his research with the Nuxalk Nation for the book The Bella Coola Indians. Extensive correspondence, subject files, maps and photographs are included within the fonds and partially consist of material collected and/ or sent to McIlwraith in connection with his research.

Also includes a typescript of Prof. McIlwraith's book "The Bella Coola Indians" (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1948) including field notes, vocabulary card, photographs and copper plates of illustrations related to his research about the Nuxalk Peoples of Bella Coola, British Columbia.

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Files in this fonds are open with the exception of the following files:
Series 3:
• B1979-0030/001(15) – (17)
• B1979-0030/001(22)
• B1979-0030/002(16)
• B1979-0030/003(22)- (24)
• B1979-0030/005(37)
• B1979-0030/008(05)
Series 4:
• B1979-0030/010(05) – (08)
• B1979-0030/010(10) – (11)
• B1979-0030/010(15)
• B1979-0030/010(21) – (23)
• B1979-0030/011(03) – (14)
• B1979-0030/012(01) – (14)
• B1979-0030/015(07)
• B1979-0030/015(51)
• B1979-0030/016(32)
• B1979-0030/016(35)

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