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No. 50: Fur Trade Christmas: Part One: Feasting

During the fur trade, Christmas was the big social event of the year.

All work was abandoned between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. And depending on how much people enjoyed the festivities, work didn't begin all that promptly on January 2nd, either.

As historian Michael Payne reports, the celebrations at larger posts like Fort Chipewyan and Dunvegan involved the whole community.

These posts were filled with families of the men and their wives and children. The local Aboriginal population as well, living around the post. And for many of the larger posts as well, people would come in from the smaller posts in the neighborhood to join in the bigger Christmas festivities.

The giving of gifts occurred, but was not a significant activity. Instead, the Christmas festivities revolved around feasting, and the accounts of many explorers comment in amazement at the amount of food people devoured.

It was not uncommon, in fact, for people in these posts to sit down to Christmas dinners that consisted of, beginning with fish, and then they might have some fowl, if they were available - ducks or geese to eat - followed up by roast bison, or stewed moose or something like that. So there were large amounts of food, particularly meat, eaten at these festivities.

Whenever possible, people at the fur trade posts tried to recreate the kinds of Christmas dinners they would have eaten in their homelands. In the case of the Hudson's Bay Company, this would have been Scotland, the Orkney Islands, England and Quebec.

For example, at many of the posts where the stuff was available, they actually imported dried plums so that they could make plum pudding for Christmas. They also had flour and other things so that they could do some baking. And, whenever possible, of course, they'd like to have kind of a Christmas goose or Christmas ham, as people would have had back home.

The further into the back country, the harder it was to get alcohol. So Christmas festivities at the fur trade posts were often fueled by large kettles of boiling tea.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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