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Bill Reid: Reluctant icon

Bill Reid spent his life confronting public opinion. The artist, who was of Haida and European descent, was largely credited with inspiring a Haida renaissance with his masterful works of art. Some viewed Reid as a curiosity – an artist who navigated his way through two dissimilar worlds. Others viewed him with a more cynical eye and criticized him as a mimic with manufactured ties to the Haida community. CBC Archives explores the esteemed, influential and at times controversial career of Bill Reid.

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At age 65, Reid confesses he's always felt like a "loser." His admission in this CBC Radio interview comes as a surprise given his celebrated career. Reid has largely been credited with inspiring a Haida art renaissance with his soaring totem poles and remarkably detailed sculptures. His career in the arts followed a successful stint in broadcasting where he was recognized as a honey-voiced news announcer for CBC Radio. Despite his successes, Reid says he is unimpressed by fame and is reluctant to embrace his icon status. 
• William Ronald Reid was born on Jan. 12, 1920 to Sophie Gladstone and William Reid in Victoria, B.C. Sophie Gladstone, a Haida from the Queen Charlotte Islands, was educated at the Coqualeetza residential school. William Reid, an American of Scottish and German descent, travelled north of the border to seek his fortune as a hotel proprietor.

• In interviews with CBC Radio, Reid describes his mother as the backbone and breadwinner of the family. While Reid's father tested his luck at different failed ventures, Sophie Gladstone supported the family as an expert seamstress. William Reid left his family in 1932.

• Reid said that he was unaware of his Haida heritage until his mid-teens. He said he was inspired to try his hand as a craftsman after spending time with his maternal grandfather, Charles Gladstone. Gladstone, an expert jeweller, honed his technique with the guidance of his uncle Charles Edenshaw, a revered Haida sculptor and craftsman.

• "I haven't had the total experience in the Indian world and I never could have. Everybody who lives at Skidegate [a Haida village in the Queen Charlotte Islands] has known everyone else since they were born, and I was born in Victoria. My mother thought it was a good place to live since it was full of English people and she was a life-long, ardent anglophile. She is the best example of brainwashing that the Indian residential school system ever turned out." — Bill Reid in Saturday Night, February 1982.

• In 1959, Reid and his first wife Mabel Van Boyen divorced. Together, the Reids had a daughter, Amanda, and an adopted son Raymond.
• The Haida, (pronounced Hi-duh) one of Canada's First Nations, live on the Haida Gwaii or Queen Charlotte Islands. At their largest, the Haida numbered 8,000 in the first half of the 19th century. But after suffering through the ravages of foreign diseases such as smallpox their numbers dwindled. As of 2004, approximately 2,000 Haida live in Canada, almost all in Haida Gwaii.

• The Haida observe an ancestry of matriarchal lineage. Families are divided into subgroups of eagles and ravens according to their mother's ancestral lines. Renowned for their expert fishing abilities and techniques, the Haida are also celebrated for their exquisite crafts and carvings.
Medium: Radio
Program: Variety Tonight
Broadcast Date: Aug. 12, 1985
Guest(s): Bill Reid
Host: Vicki Gabereau
Duration: 9:40

Last updated: February 6, 2012

Page consulted on August 1, 2014

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