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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 57: Fur Trade New Years

Ce texte a été publié en anglais et n'est pas disponible en français.

During the fur trade in the mid-1800s, people finished off the Christmas season with yet another celebration on New Year's Day. They'd already feasted and danced every night for a week. Yet they still found the fortitude for one more go-round on January 1st.

In the larger posts, like Fort Chipewyan, Dunvegan and Edmonton, it was common practice for the men to rise in the morning and pay homage to the officer in charge.

Historian Michael Payne details the events.

In the morning, people would come out of the post and do what they called "saluting" the officer in charge of the post.

They would go out and fire off guns, run up the flag, etc.

And the officer in charge of the post was expected to reciprocate. Where they were available, the officer in charge was expected to hand out something that was called "old man's milk" to everybody who'd participated in the salute.

Old man's milk was a mixture of brandy and milk and various spices that were available on the post to make it a little bit more palatable. I guess it was kind of an early form of eggnog.

After everybody had had their glass of old man's milk, then they proceeded to go around the post and they would visit back and forth between all the different houses. So, the people living around the post were expected to kind of entertain all of their neighbours as they went around from place to place.

Louisa McDougall, of the missionary McDougalls, wrote home to her brother about the New Year's celebrations in Edmonton in 1880.

As historian Michael Payne notes, the party was sponsored by Chief Factor Hardisty, and his wife.

The first thing that was done was a duet, which was performed by Mrs. Hardisty, the chief factor's wife, and her sister, Mrs. Wood, and was followed on by a song titled "Don't You Go, Tommy," by Mr. Fraser, then Mr. W. E. Trail, of the famous literary family, did a recitation, entitled "Address to the Devil."

What follows is a whole series of folksongs - Scottish, English, and, occasionally, Irish, and there was even a canoe song by Jimbo and the Iroquois crew, as it's referred to in the program.

And, just to round everything off, at the end of the evening they all sang God Save the Queen.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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