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The Peoples, Their Places

Northwind Dreaming: The Europeans

Ladies, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. 1899. All early Europeans were aligned with trading companies. The North West Company was operated in Montreal and at the inland posts by Scots and Englishmen. They took over the trade from the French following the fall of Québec and its transfer to Great Britain in 1763. The "Canadians" they hired as their labor force were French-Canadien voyageurs, many of whom were the descendants of Indian mothers. The early journals mention Piché, Boucher, Rourangeau, and other men whose surnames are common in Fort Chipewyan today.

The management of the Hudson's Bay Company was primarily English, but its labour force in the 19th century was mainly Highland Scots and Orcadian. Peter Fidler's entire crew at Nottingham House in 1802-06 consisted of Orkney men. Names which have persisted into the 20th century in Fort Chipewyan include Flett, Wylie, Fraser, Loutit, and McKay.

Robert Campbell (n.d.:102) described both the men and their acculturation to the country:

"The Company engaged clerks and labourers mostly in North and West of Scotland, and Lower Canada, for a term of service of five years at, till recently, very low wages. These greenhorns, after getting to their winter's quarters, found everything strange, food,.scenery and whole surroundings very different from what they were accustomed to or expected, and many a one wished he was back with his mother again; but by the time his term of service by their contract expired they, for the most part, would be reconciled to their surroundings and would be re-engaged at an advance of wage; thus the apprenticed clerks got to know thoroughly all the ins and outs of the business and ways of the country and got an interest in promoting the fur trade and so a most efficient staff of recruits were always ready to take the place of retiring officers and keep the business in first class running trim."

Hudson's Bay Company staff and friends, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. 1899. The Canadians and the Orcadians were culturally distinct. For example, the Canadian men were often seen as superior voyageurs, while the Orcadians were considered better fishermen. Stereotypes of each abound in the fur trade literature. These solitary men took Indian wives when they lived in Fort Chipewyan and at other posts. Sometimes their wives were from the local Indian bands, while other wives accompanied their husbands far from their place of birth and their own people. The women served as interpreters and as a labour force, processing foods, sewing clothing, and manufacturing various goods used by the traders. These marriages and the children that resulted are the earliest beginnings of a northern Métis population, with kinship ties to Indians and Métis at other posts throughout the northwest.  [continue]

Reprinted from "Northwind Dreaming: Kiwetin Pawatmowin Tthisi Niltsi Nats ete" with permission of the Provincial Museum of Alberta and Dr. Patricia McCormack.