Lecture revisits Western’s Archives and Tecumseh’s death

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In the 1930s, Western surgeon Dr. Edwin Seaborn recorded a series of interviews with members of the Saugeen First Nation to learn about their medical practices.

Using a wax cylinder recorder owned by the medical school, Seaborn recorded one interview that dealt with the death of Tecumseh, as told by the grandson of an eye-witness to the event. The recording presented a relatively unknown account of the Shawnee war chief’s death from the aboriginal perspective.

Vivian McAlister, current Western professor and surgeon, will re-visit that story at a Marching Through Time History Symposium, historysymposium.com, this Saturday at the London Central Library.

McAlister knew of Seaborn, and the Tecumseh interview, from Seaborn’s book, March of Medicine in Western Ontario. Last year, McAlister supervised a medical student during her research into Western’s First World War hospital, one commanded by Seaborn. This re-kindled the interest.

“I turned to finding out more about the wax cylinder recordings of the medicine songs that Seaborn collected in 1938 from Pe-wak-a-nep (also known as Peter Thompson) of the Saugeen First Nation,” McAlister said. “One of the songs appears to be an eye-witness account of the death of Tecumseh. I was interested in it especially because of the bicentenary. With the help of Western Archives, I was able to locate the wax cylinders to Museum London.”

Post-graduate student Bimadoshka Anny Pucan, a member of the Saugeen First Nation, is helping McAlister with the presentation.

“We are collaborating in the study of these treasures,” McAlister said. “We are hoping to make digital copies of the recordings. Our goal is to document First Nation’s medicine as recorded in these songs.”

In October 1813, as British, Canadian and First Nations forces retreated eastward up the trail by the Thames River, Tecumseh insisted they turn to fight the advancing Americans. Eventually, American mounted troops broke through and routed the British line of regulars, who immediately fled, leaving Tecumseh’s force to fight alone. Tecumseh was killed and his body allegedly mutilated.

But the recording of Seaborn’s interview, with Pe-wak-a-nep, who was 70 years old in 1938, gives his grandfather’s eye-witness account of Tecumseh’s last battle. It describes the chief fighting with ‘a long knife’ on a bridge. Tecumseh’s lance snapped close to his grip and he fell after ‘a long knife’ was run through his shoulder from behind.

The witness, who hid in the water by ‘turning himself into a turtle’ under a log, saw Americans take the body of another warrior to a tree and mutilate it, not Tecumseh.


In response to a question from university Senate, Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic), outlined the university’s plans for the now-vacant HBA building, informally referred to as the “old Ivey building.”

The original portion, on the west side of the building, will serve as  “swing space” for University College (UC) faculty, staff and students as the building heads into major – and much-needed – renovations. Prior to the move, the HBA building will be updated for office and teaching space. Initial funding for UC renovations was among $103 million of capital budget highlighted during Friday’s budget presentation. Once UC is completed, and reoccupied, Deakin said the swing space could be used for Thames Hall faculty, staff and students, as that building is scheduled for future renovations.

The Lawrence National Centre for Policy Management, on the east side, will serve as the future home of Western International as well as Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

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Mother’s Day may still be a month away, but Mother Earth takes centre stage during the month of April as Western joins the global celebration of Earth Month. Visit sustainability.uwo.ca for further event details and a full schedule. Among the upcoming events:

Eco-Action Day. Friday, March 28. Western’s London Youth Sustainability Network has planned a fun afternoon packed with sustainability-related activities, dialogue and videos. Eco-Action Day is a collaborative event that aims to encourage personal sustainability. Register at ecoactionday.eventbrite.com.

World Earth Hour. 8:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29. On the last Saturday of March, the world joins together to turn the lights out from 8:30-9:30 p.m. Earth Hour is the world’s largest call for action on climate change and continues to grow every year. For the hour, Western’s Environmental System Control group will shut off all non-essential air-handling units on campus to cut back on energy consumption.

Green Awards Ceremony. Monday, March 31. The seventh annual Green Awards Ceremony will be held from 12-1 p.m. in Mustang Lounge East. Stop by and learn about some of the exciting sustainability work members of the Western community are involved in.

Campus Clean Up. Tuesday, April 1. The event is open to all students, staff and faculty at Western, and is a great way to show appreciation for the university’s beautiful campus. Three clean-up times will be held throughout the day: 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. After each group returns from their clean-up, they will receive a free BBQ lunch. If interested, email sustainability@uwo.ca and indicate in which time slot you would like to volunteer.

Earth Day Colloquium. Wednesday and Thursday, April 9-10. Organized by graduate students at Western, the free event brings together the knowledge and research of undergraduate and graduate students and community members involved in environment and sustainability. Visit uwo.ca/enviro/Colloquium/EDC2014 for more information.