Fish Hook

Tales and Treasures from the rich legacy of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Written by Amelia Fay Posted May 7, 2024

This tiny ivory fish hook is a prime example of excellent design — it’s both functional and beautiful. Measuring only 5.0 centimetres long and 1.4 centimetres wide, it was carved into a fish shape. The artist even added eyes and a mouth! While I have seen eyes on other hooks, I have yet to see a mouth on similar fish-shaped examples from other museum collections. 

The hook was formed by bending a short iron nail through a piece of carved ivory. A small piece of bird quill sticks out where it was likely attached to a fishing line made from baleen. Baleen is the filter-feeding part of a baleen whale’s mouth and is made from keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails. 

As with many items in the HBC Museum Collection, we know very little about this tiny fish hook. Based on the style, it was likely fashioned by an Inuit artist or maker; but we have no idea of exactly where across the vast Arctic it might have originated. The fish hook somehow made its way to a very prolific collector, Dr. W.E. Anderson, who ran a medical practice in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. He eventually sold his collection to the Hudson’s Bay Company. 

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! 

Amelia Fay is the curator of the HBC Collection at the Manitoba Museum.

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2024 issue of Canada’s History.

Related to Museums, Galleries & Archives