Who was Bill Reid?

Bill Reid's journey

Young Man

Photo: Portrait and paragraph about Bill Reid in Ryersonia Yearbook 1951

Portrait of Bill Reid
Ryersonia Yearbook, Ryerson Institute of Technology
Courtesy Ryerson Institute of Technology

Photo: Bill Reid at the CBC microphone c. 1952

Bill Reid at the CBC microphone
c. 1952
Courtesy CBC Archives

1938-1940: (age 18-20)
Reid left school after completing one year at Victoria College. Gifted with a beautiful voice, he began working without pay as a radio announcer in Victoria, BC, and soon took a paid position in Kelowna, BC, followed by Kirkland Lake, ON, Rouyn, QC, and others.

1943: (age 23)
A year after his father’s death, Bill Reid made his first visit to Haida Gwaii since his early childhood. He was reunited with his Haida maternal grandfather, Charles Gladstone, who spoke little or no English.

He discovered that his grandfather, in addition to being a skilled boat builder, made jewelry and carved argillite, a black stone found only in Haida Gwaii. Gladstone had learned these traditional skills from his talented maternal uncle, the now well-known Haida carver and jeweler, Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920), whose tools he had inherited.

While in Skidegate in 1943, Bill Reid met Haida storytellers Solomon Wilson and Henry Young (c. 1871-1968), whose storytelling and oratory style deeply affected him. He later dedicated his book, The Raven Steals the Light (1984), to Young, the man who first told him the myths.

1944-1950: (age 24-30)
He married Mabel van Boyen and moved to Toronto, where he spent the next six years. At 28, he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Toronto as a radio broadcaster, the start of 16 years in broadcasting.

He enrolled shortly thereafter at the Ryerson Institute of Technology, Toronto, as a part-time student of jewelry making, with the desire to make Haida jewelry.

He frequently visited the Royal Ontario Museum to study the heraldic pole, originally from his maternal grandmother’s village of Tanu, and now displayed in the stairwell at the ROM.

In 1950, Reid completed his goldsmithing studies at Ryerson, began an apprenticeship with the Platinum Art Company, continued his work as a radio broadcaster for the CBC in Toronto, and became a father.

1951: (age 31)
He moved back to Vancouver, where he worked as a broadcaster for the CBC and made contemporary modern, western-style jewelry, such as the sterling and ruby brooch, in his basement workshop. He remained in Vancouver for the next 17 years.

1954: (age 34)
When his grandfather, Charles Gladstone died, Reid attended his funeral in Skidegate. During his visit he completed a Haida silver bracelet that Gladstone had left unfinished at his death.