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.