Irish-born painter Paul Kane immigrated with his family to York (Toronto), Upper Canada before he was 12. His return trip with Hudson’s Bay Company brigades across the continent to Vancouver Island in 1846–48 made him famous. Before it, he worked as a portrait painter in the United States, ventured to Europe and studied sketching and painting in Italy, and made a trip to lakes Huron, Michigan, and Winnebago in 1845 to sketch landscapes and portraits of people and places on the North American frontier. In the autumn of 1846, he traveled up the Saskatchewan River, traversing Cumberland Lake on August 27 and reaching Carlton House on September 7. From there, he journeyed west by horse, visited a buffalo pound—constructed, according to his inimitably written field notes, “of they bouns of the Buffalo”—and stayed at Fort Pitt.
Riding on to Fort Edmonton, which he reached on September 28, he found the buffalo “so numeras [sic] that they impeded [his] progress.” After journeying to the Pacific Ocean and back, he made a return trip from Edmonton to Fort Pitt by cariole and dogs during the second week of January 1848, staying three weeks at Fort Pitt. In the late spring, he left the West, proceeding downriver with the annual HBC brigade in twenty-three boats to The Pas, leaving Edmonton on May 25 and arriving on June 12. He weathered a spring snowstorm en route, and met a “ware partey of Blackfeete, Blood Indians, Sursees, Grovants, Paganes, to the amount of 500.”
The subjects of Kane’s Saskatchewan portraits were Cree and Assiniboine, as well as one Chipewyan. Fur trade posts, buffalo, and parkland landscapes captured his interest too. Not the first European to paint in what is now Saskatchewan (midshipmen George Back and Robert Hood of Franklin’s first Arctic land expedition [1819–22] preceded him), Kane is seen as the first Canadian painter of the West. Wanderings of an Artist (London, 1859), based on his travels but written with the help of others, enjoyed Danish, French, and German translations long before the first Canadian edition appeared in 1925. Most of his over 500 sketches and paintings are held by the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, and by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.