ARCHIVED - Diamond Jenness

Information Archived on the Web

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.


Ethnologist, Anthropologist, Arctic Scholar
Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), 1912–19

Pioneer anthropologist

Diamond Jenness is recognized as Canada's pre-eminent pioneer anthropologist. He documented Aboriginal life in Canada's North, the Inuit of the western Arctic, and First Nations communities across Canada. His contributions to the knowledge and understanding of Canada's native peoples earned him national and international distinction.

Diverse education and experience

Diamond was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on February 10, 1886. After graduating from Victoria College in Wellington in 1908, he studied at Oxford University, receiving a master's degree in anthropology in 1916.

As part of his studies at Oxford, he led an expedition to New Guinea to study the d'Entrecasteaux Islanders in 1911 and 1912. But one of his greatest experiences would begin on his arrival in Canada in 1913.

Surviving the Canadian Arctic Expedition

The 1913–16 Canadian Arctic Expedition, directed by the GSC, was the first major scientific exploration of Canada's Arctic. Led by renowned Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the expedition would explore the northern and western parts of the Arctic. Diamond was one of two ethnologists with the expedition.

The cruel Arctic weather intervened in the exploration's first year, and the main expedition ship, Karluk, became frozen in the ice. While Stefansson, Diamond and four others were ashore hunting caribou, ocean currents carried away the ship. Surviving expedition members were forced to abandon the Karluk when it was subsequently crushed by ice. Henri Beuchat, the other ethnologist, was one of the 13 men who perished in the tragedy.

The People of the Twilight

With Beuchat's death, Diamond performed the work of two men, spending the next several years studying the Copper Inuit of Coronation Gulf. He became fluent in Inuktitut and recorded hundreds of drum dance songs, poems, legends and stories on wax phonographic cylinders. He also carefully documented the Copper Inuit's daily life. Diamond's book, The People of the Twilight (1928), is still regarded as one of the best sources of information on the life of a nomadic, indigenous people.

The legacy

Finally hearing news of World War I, the GSC expedition survivors returned south in July 1916. Diamond served with the Canadian field artillery as a gunner, from 1917 to 1919. After the war, he returned to Ottawa to complete his Arctic reports and begin his career with the National Museum of Natural Sciences (now known as the Canadian Museum of Nature).

From 1926 to his retirement in 1948, Diamond was Chief Anthropologist of the museum. He uncovered evidence of prehistoric Inuit cultures at excavations on Baffin Island and in Alaska, which he named the "Dorset" and "Old Bering Sea" cultures — fundamental discoveries in explaining migration patterns.

Copper Eskimos, Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1915

Diamond spent his life studying and writing about Canada's Aboriginal peoples — producing more than 100 titles, including The Copper Eskimo (1923), The Indians of Canada (1932), The Corn Goddess and Other Tales from Indian Canada (1956) and Dawn in Arctic Alaska (1957). All are still recognized as influential works on Canada's native peoples.

During his illustrious career, Diamond received six honorary doctoral degrees and numerous prestigious awards, including the Companion of the Order of Canada. He died near Ottawa on November 29, 1969.

Diamond Jenness Peninsula on Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories is named for him.

Life achievements

  • 1911 — Graduated from Oxford University.
  • 1911–12 — Led anthropological expedition to New Guinea.
  • 1913–16 — Ethnologist on Canadian Arctic Expedition
  • 1926 — Chief Anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences
  • 1937 — President of the Society for American Archaeology
  • 1939 — President of the American Anthropological Association
  • 1940 — Deputy Director of Intelligence for Royal Canadian Air Force
  • 1962 — Awarded the Massey Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
  • 1962–68 — Arctic Institute of North America issues his five volumes on Eskimo administration in Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
  • 1969 — Appointed Companion of the Order of Canada.

More Trailblazers