Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Migration, Mobility and the City

Vancouver developed in the heart of Musqueam traditional territory, which encompasses the entire lower mainland. In its midst, the city had local First Nations who, in the late 19th century, began to live on allocated Indian reserves. Other aboriginal groups and individuals whose history of seasonal mobility can be traced to traditional trade economies, and later to wage labour industries such as fishing, logging and long-shoring also came to the city. These people were part of a “return migration”; moving back and forth between reserves and work places.

Young Native Folk look forward to..., Native Voice, February 1963

This was a pattern familiar to artists such as Mungo Martin and George Clutesi who had been labourers. It is important to see their respective moves to the city to develop an economically viable art practice in the context of men who worked these ‘jobs’ to support their families. In this sense, Ellen Neel and Henry Speck were also part of this mobile art practice that included a larger history of a labour-based return migration. In contrast, in the 1940s, younger people such as Francis Baptiste and Judith Morgan were part of a ‘Indian art’ practice that included regional, national and international institutions; their subsequent moves to attend post-secondary art schools in the United States were linked to significant individuals in museums and residential schools that supported contemporary “Indian art.”

This need for institutional connections and support was also true for other young people in the late 50s and 60s such as Doug Cranmer who came to carve at the Museum of Anthropology with Bill Reid, and for a young Robert Davidson who came to attend high school. They (and others) were part of long standing return mobility between village and city, unlike Neel who moved permanently to Vancouver. She and other aboriginal artists, and the young couples who later came to take advantage of off-reserve housing in the late sixties, would depend on new kinds of social networks, assistance, and information to survive. Some brilliant young artists like Pat McGuire, who came from Haida-Gwaii got lost in the city. These artists paid the dues for those who came later and took on the mantle of professional artists making “high art.”

August 1, 1950






May 17, 1968


January 29, 1970

October 1970

December 29, 1970