Suit of armour remains a mystery for Fort Smith, N.W.T., museum

A suit of armour brought to the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith, N.W.T., from a shed in 1994 has proven an enduring mystery. ‘What the devil is this?’ Ray Currie remembers thinking. 'I had no idea.'

'It's wonderful to have it out and start trying to unravel that mystery' says curator

A suit of armour brought to the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith, N.W.T., from a shed in 1994 has proven an enduring mystery. Now the museum’s curators are seeking help to find out more about the singular artifact.

"What the devil is this?" museum volunteer Ray Currie remembers thinking when he first saw it in the early 2000s. “I had no idea.”

The artifact stands out sharply in a museum dedicated to the fur trade and the aboriginal people who facilitated it. 

The artifact stands out sharply in a museum dedicated to the fur trade and the aboriginal people who facilitated it. (Jacob Barker/CBC)
Museum records reveal very little.

They show the armour officially became part of the museum’s collection in 1995, after undergoing several treatments so as not to contaminate other artifacts.

The single clue as to its origins is a handwritten sentence in the archives that reads: “Bought by Mr. Louis Bisson in China during the war and brought back to Canada upon his return."

Though elsewhere in the records, without explanation, the word “China” is scratched out and replaced with “Japan.”

"Outside of that one short note," says Currie, "we have very little information."

The museum’s curator, Rachel Dell, wants to know more.

"It's wonderful to have it out and start trying to unravel that mystery and what the story of it is" Dell says. "I wish that more of it had been recorded."

Dell says she thinks the suit was purchased during World War II because Canadian troops were stationed in China at the time.

As for the identity of Louis Bisson, Dell says that remains a mystery.

"I'm trying to learn more about who Louis Bisson was and as much about him as I can," Dell says, adding there must be someone around that knows who he was.

The style of the suit and a symbol at the top left corner of the armour could also be clues.

Dell says she plans to send pictures to the Royal Ontario Museum and other institutions that may have more experience in this field.  

She’s also appealing to the public.

"If anyone sees or recognizes anything or has any information please contact the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith."

Suit inspires graphic novel

The mystery suit has inspired a graphic novel by Richard Van Camp. (submitted by Richard Van Camp)
Staff at the museum aren't the only ones interested in the suit.

Richard Van Camp says it inspired an upcoming graphic novel called "A Blanket of Butterflies.”

Van Camp is a well-known author from Fort Smith, known for his book-turned-award-winning-movie "The Lesser Blessed."

He says he learned about the suit of armour from a friend and former security guard at the museum.

"The whole question of how did a suit of armour end up in Fort Smith, NWT," Van Camp says. "That mystery, that's what drew me in and I had this image of a little boy going every day to see the Samurai suit of armour."

People who'd like to get their hands on the graphic novel will have to wait.

Van Camp says it won’t be coming out for a couple of years.


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