Cranmer, Dan

Identity area

Type of entity


Authorized form of name

Cranmer, Dan

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Other form(s) of name

  • Pal’nakwala Wakas

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Description area

Dates of existence

April 1, 1885 - June 10, 1959


Chief, Activist, Fisherman -
Chief Dan Cranmer was born April 1, 1885 in Knight Inlet (dzawadi). His parents were Jackson Qimolas, Chief Wakas, from Alert Bay (ʼYa̱lis) and Betsy Wi Ka La Li Sa Mi Ka from Gilford Island (ǥwa'yasda̱m's). Dan Cranmer was a Kwakwaka’wakw Chief who carried the Nimpkish (‘Namgis) hereditary name Pal’nakwala Wakas.
Dan Cranmer's father owned one of the first big houses in 'Yalis built in 1894. A totem pole two stories tall fronted the house. It was carved from a single cedar tree. A Raven sat at the base of the totem, its protruding beak open, a ceremonial portal to the house. Later the carved Raven figure was painted across the facade of the house which represented the history of the Wakas Family. Ellen Neel (1916 - 1966), one of the first female Northwest Coast carvers, was born in this house. The famed Wakus House appeared in the 1914 photo by Edward Curtis: “Nimpkish Village at Alert Bay”. It was also portrayed in 1986 in paintings by Gordon Miller: “Alert Bay” and “Potlatch Dancers”. In 1936, the Wakas Pole moved to Vancouver when it was bought for display at Stanley Park. The Museum of Civilization in Ottawa purchased the Wakas Pole in 1987 for a permanent West Coast exhibit titled Wakus House. A replica house pole carved by Doug Cranmer, Dan Cranmer’s son, stands in Stanley Park today known as the Wakas Pole.
Working mostly as a fisherman, Dan Cranmer raised nine children. Cranmer was at the centre of one of the most significant Nimpkish cultural events of the early 20th century. From December 21st to 25th, 1921 Dan Cranmer held a notable potlatch on Village Island (ʼMimkwa̱mlis). It is significant as one of the largest, public First Nations’ potlatches in defiance of Indian Act legislation, Section 149, prohibiting an ill-defined collection of aboriginal ceremonies under the general description of potlatch. Indian Agent W.M. Halliday presided over the trial in the Albert Bay Day School, which also served, for the duration of the trial, as the jail. The arrests and trial resulted in April 1922 in 58 informations laid with nine dismissals and 49 convictions. Twenty-six of the convicted were brought by boat to Vancouver and then sent to Okalla Prison, sentenced to either two months imprisonment (22) or six months (4). Twenty-three received suspended sentences after agreeing to turn over their ceremonial regalia to Indian Agent Halliday and promising to abandon potlatches. These confiscated ceremonial regalia came to be commonly known as the “Potlatch Collection”. The artefacts were dispersed to public cultural institutions in the United States, England, and Canada and to private collectors. Efforts to repatriate the collection began in the late 1950s
Cranmer was a consultant for the anthropologist Franz Boas. In 1938, Cranmer journeyed to New York to assist Boas with his work on a Kwakwala dictionary. While he was in New York, Boas and George Herzog recorded at Columbia University Cranmer’s performances of several dozen Kwakwala songs and speeches saved onto 22 aluminum sound discs. The valuable collection currently resides at the Indiana University (Bloomington) Archives of Traditional Music (Accession number: 54-235-F). This collection was added to the 2013 National Recording Registry by the Librarian of Congress.
In 1953, at Alert Bay, Ida Halpern recorded Dan Cranmer and Stanley Hunt giving interviews and performing ceremonial songs of various Kwakwaka’wakw communities.
Dan Cranmer died on June 10, 1959 in St. George’s Hospital in Alert Bay. He was laid rest on June 12 at Alert Bay Indian Cemetery


Alert Bay (ʼYa̱lis);
Gilford Island (ǥwa'yasda̱m's)
Knight Inlet (dzawadi)

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Central Name Authority Files.

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Created by: Dennis Duffy.
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