Bill Reid | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Bill Reid

William Ronald Reid, sculptor (born 12 January 1920 in Victoria, BC; died 13 March 1998 in Vancouver, BC). An internationally recognized Haida artist, Bill Reid is frequently credited with the revival and innovative resurgence of Northwest Coast Indigenous arts in the contemporary world. (See also Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada.)

Reid, Bill
Haida artist Bill Reid is credited with the revival of Northwest Coast Indigenous arts (photo by Thomas King).

Early Life and Education

Son of a Haida mother and a Scots-American father, Bill Reid was a teenager before he knew of his Indigenous heritage. Later in life, while a CBC broadcaster, he studied jewellery and engraving at Ryerson, Toronto (1948), and began investigating the arts of the Haida in 1951. Furthering these studies, he went to the Central School of Art and Design in London, England (1968).

The Raven and the First Men
The Raven and the First Men; sculpture in yellow cedar by Bill Reid seen at Museum of Anthropology (University of British Columbia) Vancouver, Canada. Photo taken on: September 18th, 2010)

Artistic Works

Returning to Vancouver, Bill Reid became involved with the creation of a monumental sculpture for the University of British Columbia, called  Haida Village. Reid eventually became a recognized leading authority on Haida art and life. Accomplished in many media, Reid carved in silver, gold, wood and argillite and cast in bronze. He issued several editions of serigraphs and illustrated and collaborated on many books, including The Raven Steals the Light(1984).

Among his major works were the 4.5-ton cedar sculpture Raven and the First Humans in UBC's Museum of Anthropology (1980); a bronze killer whale sculpture,The Chief of the Undersea World,for the Vancouver Aquarium (1984); a canoe commissioned for Expo 86 (1986); and Spirit of Haida Gwaii,commissioned for the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC (1991).

Raven the Trickster
This is a moment in the Bill Reid Rotunda at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, that depicts the ancestral past of the Haida people when Raven, a wise and powerful yet mischievous trickster, found the first humans in a clam shell on the beach, and is coaxing them out of it.
Did You Know?
To celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday, the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, BC, put together an exhibit about his life and legacy, To Speak With a Golden Voice (16 July 2020 to 11 April 2021).

Legacy and Significance

Bill Reid was a renowned and well-respected artist who helped bring attention to Haida art and Northwest Coast Indigenous art, more broadly. Reid was also an eloquent and outspoken proponent of Indigenous rights in Canada. He was especially active in the battle to preserve the national and cultural history of South Moresby in Haida Gwaii.

Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe at the Vancouver International Airport.

Awards and Honours

In addition to his many achievements, Bill Reid was awarded an honorary doctorate from UBC in 1976. In 1977, he won the Molson Prize and in 1994, Reid was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire).

First Nations Collection

Indigenous Peoples Collection

Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide