People / Bill Reid

Artist, writer, broadcaster, filmmaker. William Ronald Reid was born in Victoria in 1920. His father, William, was of Scottish-German heritage and his mother, Sophie, was of Haida heritage, a fact that Reid did not discover until his teens. At age 23, Reid visited Skidegate, his mother’s village. There, he met his maternal grandfather, Charles Galdstone, a silver engraver and carver of argillite, and other community elders. After high school, Reid worked as a radio announcer for local stations in British Columbia, eventually ending up at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto. There he gained greater exposure to Haida culture by virtue of the Northwest Coast collection at the Royal Ontario Museum. In addition, Reid enrolled in a jewelry-making course at Ryerson Institute of Technology (now Ryerson University), later apprenticing at night with the Platinum Art Company. In 1951, Reid returned to Vancouver and established a jewelry workshop in his basement. It was at this time that he set to learning the formal language of Haida art, creating Haida designs with non-Haida jewelry making techniques. Shortly thereafter, Reid participated in totem pole salvage and restoration projects, in collaboration with the Royal British Columbia Museum and the University of British Columbia’s Department of Anthropology, wherein he was able to work briefly with Kwakwaka’wakw master-carver Mungo Martin. It was during this time that Reid left his position at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to focus on his artistic practice.

From 1965 to 1967, he also acted as consultant for Arts of the Raven (1967) at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In 1968, Reid spent a year studying at the Central School of Design in London, as well as studying Northwest Coast collections in Europe. Upon his return, Reid relocated to MontrĂ©al for four years. There, he produced the most notable pieces of his early career, including, Raven Discovering Mankind in the Clam Shell (1970). Although silkscreen prints provided Reid’s steady source of income and he thought of himself first and foremost as a goldsmith, Reid is remembered for his large-scale public sculptures, such as Chief of the Undersea World (1984), erected outside of the Vancouver Aquarium. During his career, Reid was the recipient of honorary doctorates from institutions such as the University of Western Ontario, the University of Toronto, and the University of British Columbia. His many awards include the Royal Bank Award for Outstanding Canadian Achievement and the Canada Council’s Molson Prize for cultural achievement. Reid passed away in 1998.
Additional information and materials about Bill Reid are available on request in Art, Architecture and Planning at the University of British Columbia Library.

  1. 04. Bill Reid and Doug Cranmer carving cedar log in Totem Park
    Doug Cranmer and Bill Reid (Photograph)
  2. 05. Bill Reid and Doug Cranmer carving the frontal board of Haida Mortuary pole
    Doug Cranmer and Bill Reid (Photograph)