Moccasins from Chief Kinistino, c. 1900s
William A. S. Magrath and his brother James L. Magrath emigrated from Ireland to Ontario in 1874. In 1884, they headed west, settling on a farm at Crescent Lake near Yorkton. As part of Yorkton’s steady growth, the Magrath brothers opened a general store specializing in the fur trade.
Friendship Across Cultures
Magrath family history tells of a close friendship between William, James and Chief Kinistino of Little Bone First Nation. Chief Kinistino likely met the Magraths at their store, but they may have met earlier in the Crescent Lake area, as contact between settlers and Indigenous peoples in these years was common. Chief Kinistino and James were reportedly such close friends that Kinistino served as a pallbearer in James’s funeral. He is remembered as a “true friend” of the Magraths.
Chief Kinistino would sometimes offer gifts to the Magraths in exchange for provisions. These moccasins form part of a collection of beaded handicrafts from Chief Kinistino. The moccasins symbolize the bonds of friendship between early settlers and Indigenous peoples at a time of momentous change.
The moccasins also remind us that in the early decades of European settlement, Indigenous peoples helped settlers adapt to their new surroundings. Indigenous people would location scout for water and food sources, assist with travel, act as midwives and provide medicines. Settlers prized the Indigenous handicrafts and beadwork they would exchange during these and other interactions. As such, many of them became family heirlooms, like this pair, and ended up in museum collections.