Who is Methuselah?: Author Footnotes with Thomas F. McIlwraith

When it comes to prolific authors in the University of Toronto Press repertoire, Thomas F. McIlwraith stands high on the list. Back in 1948 The Bella Coola Indians came out, two fat volumes offering a comprehensive ethnographic account of the Nuxalk people of the central coast of British Columbia. McIlwraith lived with the community for many months in 1923 and 1924, and word is that he was ready with the completed manuscript within a few years. The Depression, political correctness and the Second World War all intervened, however, and publication was delayed for decades.

Undeterred, McIlwraith approached the Press again during the 1980s, and after a relatively short gestation – say 15 years – Looking for Old Ontario appeared in 1997. This volume was a natural outgrowth of McIlwraith’s involvement with the Archeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario in the 1950s, leading into heritage conservation activity further stimulated by the centennial of Confederation in 1967. McIlwraith took advantage of his year-in and year-out proximity to the local countryside research base, where he now lived, to demonstrate how the rural Ontario landscape – its houses, barns, field patterns, road jogs, and more – is a reflection of its cultural evolution through two centuries.

It was an easy jump from interpreting the cultural landscape to accounts of the cultural vitality of a northern Indigenous community. Now, early in the 21st century, McIlwraith has returned to British Columbia to offer thoughts on the subject of resource management and cultural history in We are Still Didene, newly published in 2012. The subtitle – ‘stories of hunting and history from northern British Columbia’ – sums up McIlwraith’s experience among the Tahltan people of Iskut. Derived from more than a year of fieldwork, the book uses the narrative of Tahltan hunters to describe the continuing importance of hunting to Iskut personal and community identities.

Well, who is this Methuselah, now closing in on a century of scholarly publication? Thomas F McIlwrath is actually three people of that identical name: father, son, and grandson (or in family genealogy, Thomas 5th, 6th and 7th). Thomas 5th (1899-1964) grew up in Hamilton, studied anthropology at Cambridge, and was founding Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, in 1925. His work in heritage conservation was unconsciously revived by Thomas 6th (b. 1941), who was raised in Toronto, did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and has had a career in historical geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga (aka “Erindale College”). Thomas 7th (b. 1969) grew up in Mississauga, did graduate study in anthropology at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and is an instructor in anthropology at Douglas College in New Westminster.

Three consecutive generations in academia is not particularly unusual; three academics with the same name is rarer (except, perhaps, among those of Scottish lineage); three consecutive generations of namesake academics publishing books in the social sciences with the same press is nothing short of extraordinary. We McIlwraiths are grateful for having had the opportunity to pursue scholarly careers and to have had our research published by a distinguished press.

-Thomas F McIlwraith and Thomas F McIlwraith


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