To Represent the Country in Egypt: Aboriginality, Britishness, Anglophone Canadian Identities, and the Nile Voyageur Contingent, 1884-1885


  • Anthony P. Michel


When the British War Office requested a contingent of Aboriginal “voyageurs” from Canada to join the British government’s Nile expedition in 1884, recruitment of the contingent raised much public comment and fascination. To many anglophones, the call for voyageurs offered an opportunity to demonstrate Canadian loyalty and usefulness to the empire, and to garner national recognition. However, the role of Aboriginal boatmen in the expedition complicated such questions of national representation. Not only did the Aboriginal Nile voyageurs demonstrate their superiority as boatmen, challenging assumptions of Native inferiority, but their behaviour often contradicted the stereotypes usually applied to Indians. An important dimension of the emerging “national” identity for anglophones seems to have been the maintenance of a sharp distinction between “Canadian” and “Indian”, a distinction not always recognized by Britons. This unprecedented expedition thus provides an instructive case study in the contending and emerging narratives of cultural identity in Victorian Canada.






Nation, Race, and Empire