Wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked, the tiny tots peep out of the pages of the February 1921 issue of The Beaver. Little Sydney, a nine-month-old from Vancouver, wears a light frock. Margaret, from Kamloops, B.C., sports a toque with an enormous tassel that seems almost as large as the seven-month-old’s head. Elsewhere, year-old Stanley has the wide-eyed look of someone whose hand has been caught in the proverbial cookie jar.
The article, titled “Featuring Bonnie Babies”, is followed by a two-page collection of baby pictures titled “Presenting a Bevy of Fine Babies, Whose Fathers are Members of H.B.C. Staffs.” It’s the likely much-anticipated sequel to an article from a previous issue, which had called for the submission of baby pictures for a company cuteness contest.
This type of article was common in the early years of The Beaver, along with Hudson’s Bay Company staff news and gossip, morale-boosting missives, and tips to increase productivity. First prize went to bouncing baby Betty, a nine-month-old Winnipegger who looks like she came straight from a casting call for a Pablum commercial.
The article was meant as a lighthearted reminder that the employees at HBC’s far-flung outposts and big-city stores were all one big family. However, there’s an irony in that the cover of the issue also features a child who, at that time and in that era, would never have received consideration by the judges.
Her name is “Little Miss Ouikpigak, a future Eskimo belle of Great Whale River,” a community located near Nunavik, Quebec.
The fact that the baby contest winners were all non-Indigenous — despite the many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people who worked in the fur trade — is a vivid reminder of the schism that divided white society from people of colour in the early twentieth century.