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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 28: Iroquois in Alberta

The fur trade really heated up in the late 1780s, with intense competition between the North West (NWC), XY and Hudson's Bay(HBC) companies.

More men were required and all three companies started recruiting from the Iroquois [largely Mohawk] communities around Montreal, in particular, Kahnawake.

As historian Michael Payne explains, there were several things that made the Iroquois very attractive to the fur trade companies.

First and foremost was, they were, by and large, excellent, absolutely outstanding canoemen. They had a very high reputation for their skills on the water.

They were quite willing to leave their home communities and travel thousands of kilometres into the northwest to find work, unlike many other people at the time. And so, in that case, they were available and willing to work.

And they were also, in many cases, expert trappers as well. They were particularly good, and had a very high reputation, as being skillful trappers of beaver and other fur-bearing animals.

So the Iroquois came west. And, when their contracts of employment were finished, many decided to stay here.

Yes, there were a number of communities that developed. These people appear in fur trade records, particularly in the Hudson's Bay Company Records, under the name "freemen".

So, if you look at Hudson's Bay accounts from places like Jasper House, or Dunvegan, even Fort Edmonton, you'll often see a separate category of people included in the post records of trade, under this title of "freemen".

Many of the Iroquois "freemen" settled along the eastern slopes, between the fur trade posts at Jasper and Dunvegan, as well as on the North Saskatchewan River near Edmonton.

At first, local natives regarded the Iroquois as interlopers. But, as historian Michael Payne notes, eventually they intermingled.

There are also many names among First Nations and Métis groups in Alberta that actually can be traced back to these group of Iroquois who came west with the fur trade. Names like Callihoo, Calliou, Cardinal, are very closely associated with the Iroquois background, and most people with that name in Alberta probably can find an Iroquois ancestor from Kahnawake or Oka in their background.

And that's how the Iroquois came to Alberta.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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