Métis Violin

A family heirloom set people dancing for nearly two hundred years.

Written by Mathieu Drouin

Posted February 6, 2023

The festive traditions of Métis peoples are celebrated across Canada. Revolving around dance and music, they derive from a combination of French-Canadian, Plains Cree, and Ojibway customs.

Métis musical instruments reflect the impromptu character of festive gatherings in Métis villages and on long voyages. The violin, harmonica, mouth organ, and jaw harp, all light and easy to carry, accompany songs performed in French, English, Plains Cree or Michif.

This violin — created between 1795 and 1805 by luthier John Betts in London, England — belonged to Pierre Bruce, a Métis guide and interpreter for the North West Company. Pierre's son, Jean-Baptiste, played the instrument during a 1850 voyage in search of Sir John Franklin's lost polar expedition and at the Red River Settlement in Saint-Boniface, in present-day Manitoba.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Jean-Baptiste’s son Pierre tickled the violin’s strings in the Entre-les-Lacs region of Manitoba and at the Pantages Playhouse in Winnipeg, accompanying his own son Pierre, who was dancing.

The final Pierre won various amateur violin competitions in the 1940s and 1950s. After some two hundred years of travels and performances in Manitoba and the Northwest, the violin was donated to the Manitoba Museum by the family in 1996.

You could win a free book!

Sign up for any of our newsletters and be eligible to win one of many book prizes available.

Help keep Canada’s stories strong (and free)

We hope you will help us continue to share fascinating stories about Canada’s past.


We highlight our nation’s diverse past by telling stories that illuminate the people, places, and events that unite us as Canadians, and by making those stories accessible to everyone through our free online content.


Canada’s History is a registered charity that depends on contributions from readers like you to share inspiring and informative stories with students and citizens of all ages — award-winning stories written by Canada’s top historians, authors, journalists, and history enthusiasts.


Any amount helps, or better yet, start a monthly donation today. Your support makes all the difference. Thank you! 

This object resides at the Manitoba Museum.

This article originally appeared in Cinquante Merveilles de nos musées: les plus beaux trésors de la Francophonie Canadienne. The special interest publication was part of Projet Portage, a five-year initiative to connect history lovers in French and English Canada, generously supported by the Molson Foundation.

Related to Arts, Culture & Society