Perhaps the history of the fur trade, and the people who worked in it, is becoming fashionable again. There have been a number of new history books issued and more are to come! Some of them are entirely relevant to the history of the territory west of the Rocky Mountains — others touch on it or tell the stories of other territories close by. Let us begin with the first of these new history books:
The Fur Trade Gamble: North West Company on the Pacific Slope, 1800-1820, by Lloyd Keith and John C. Jackson [WSU Press, 2016]. This book tells the story of the North West Company on the west side of the Rockies — a history that began with Alexander Mackenzie in 1793, and ended with the merger between the HBC and the NWC in 1821. In his introduction to the book, John C. Jackson writes this:
The authors have undertaken to narrate the neglected role of the North West Company of Montreal in the development of the Pacific Northwest, and its lasting heritage. Over many years of extensive research H. Lloyd Keith tracked down a body of business documents and private correspondence revealing how that partnership opened a vast new region and developed its potential. These largely unexamined and unpublished letters between Montreal management and western wintering partners revealed deeper insights into the vision, organization, and implementation of a business conducted on the edge of of the continent with the promising potential of a Chinese market…
Unfortunately my good friend died before he could complete the documentary history with which he intended to extend the record he published in his ground-breaking North of Askabaska…. This study combines our mutual understanding into a narrative history of the opening of the Pacific Northwest to the fur trade and the world. [John C. Jackson, author of a number of books about the fur trade and the metis in Washington and Oregon, died in August 2015].
The Hudson’s Bay Company Edmonton House Journals, Correspondence and District Reports, 1806-1821, edited by Gerhard J. Ens and Ted Binnema [Historical Society of Alberta]. You will find their website here: http://albertahistory.org/calgary/publications/publications-list Ted Binnema is a professor at UNBC, and tells me that the Historical Society makes you fill out an order form, write a cheque, and send it in the mail. Its a little inconvenient perhaps, but you will still get the book in the same amount of time that it would take if your local bookstore had ordered it. The Historical Society of Alberta says this:
This publication includes a full transcription of all of the post journals, correspondence and reports from Edmonton House held by the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives for this crucial period. [The editors’s] extensive introduction, scholarly annotations, index and appendices provide readers wit the historical context for these documents and help to explain the complex history of trade and trade relations on the North Saskatchewan River in the early 19th century.
Long available only to researchers with access to the collections of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, these journals and district reports provide a detailed day-by-day account of the operations of Edmonton House during this crucial period. They provide direct insight into the Aboriginal, social, and economic history of the region, and new information on the foundation of the Red River settlement and the struggle for control of the trade in the Athabasca region. [Historical Society of Alberta site]
I went through the HBCA journals (on microfilm) for news of David Thompson and for information about my great-great-grandfather Beaulieu, if there was information. I found nothing, but the man in charge of Edmonton House, James Bird, did keep a very close eye on what was happening west of the Rocky Mountains. On one occasion he wrote that David Thompson’s man, Jacco Finlay, visited Edmonton House, and was inordinately fond of his liquor. Amusing, to say the least.
There is a second book in this series:
The Hudson’s Bay Company Saskatchewan Journals and Reports, 1821-1826: Edmonton House, 1821-26, Bow River Expedition, 1822-23, by Ted Binnema and Gerhard J. Ens, eds. [Calgary: Historical Society of Alberta, forthcoming, 2016] The Bow River Expedition was a failed HBC expedition, an attempt to open up the territory south of Edmonton House to the fur trade. The HBC men were chased out by the Natives — but Donald Manson, who spent much of his life west of the Rockies, was there! Note: this book will be published later this year, in October, perhaps.
Collectively [the reports] reveal a wealth of information about the nature of the fur trade, the engagement of the traders, the relations between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, and, especially, aspects of the lives of the principal clients in the fur trade, the various First Nations who the occupied lands from as far away as Lesser Slave Lake to the Oldman River, east to the confluence of the Saskatchewan Rivers, and west to the Rocky Mountains. Now… the historical community has been presented with the continuation of these journals from 1821 to 1826, after the amalgamation of the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies. In addition, the volume includes the journal of the Bow River Expedition of 1822-23, a fascinating account of the new company’s dealings with the Blackfoot and other First Nations in what is now southern Alberta, as it explored the prospect of establishing a permanent post in the area. [Historical Society of Alberta site]
I could do with this book right now! Instead I have to order the Edmonton House post journals from HBCA, to find out when New Caledonia’s James McDougall arrived at that post in 1826. I have the date for the arrival of the Lesser Slave Lake brigades, and probably McDougall travelled with them. I don’t really need to know this, but I want to know. You know how it is!
One more book, not yet published!
Songs Upon the Rivers: buried North American History, by Robert Foxcurran, Michel Bouchard, and Sebestien Malette [Baraka Books, October 2016]. http://www.barakabooks.com/songs-upon-the-rivers-buried-north-american-history-forthcoming/
In this seminal work, authors Foxcurran, Bouchard, and Malette uncover the important but buried history of French speaking Canadien, Creole and Metis who inhabited the lands of North America before borders were dawn. By rereading old works and extracting what histographers have invariably omitted, they propose a new historical narrative with an alternative model for the emergence of a Metis national identity in a continental framework. [Baraka Books site]
I think there is some good reading coming up. I am delighted to see that there are so many books of fur trade history coming up, and perhaps we will get to the point where the fur trade is not considered “the dark ages” of our Pacific Northwest and British Columbia history. We all need to know where we came from, and how the territories that we now make our homes in were opened up to later colonisation. We also need to recognize that the Natives who lived here long before we arrived played an important role in our shared history.
So, too, did the metis. I use the small M in this word. I have discovered that being a capital M Metis is far more complicated than we believe it to be.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.
- John Warren Dease
- The Athabasca Portage North from Edmonton House