Bonds of Affection

Metis_Family2_thuThe intermarriage between fur traders and Aboriginal women did more than create economic ties; they also created bonds of affection and a new kind of society. There is evidence that marriages were not simply based on economic necessity, but also on strong feelings of affection and respect. The historian, Sylvia Van Kirk, in her book Many Tender Ties, lists many examples of such shows of affection, including one HBC officer watching over his Cree wife when she becomes ill and then grieving her death. She argues that this affection between spouses and families was necessary for the fur trader to survive the harshness and loneliness of the Canadian wilderness.

Families of mixed blood were a result of these marriages. These families combined both European and Aboriginal cultural aspects to create a culture or fur trade society that was unique to Western Canada. Of course, the two cultures did not always meld so easily and towards the latter 19th century the tendency towards suppressing the Aboriginal aspects grew. For instance, it became common for officers to send their young children, especially boys, away to Britain or Upper Canada to receive a "civilized" education. Also, young mixed blood daughters of officers were encouraged to learn to accomplishments of a lady, such as manners, dance and the fine arts, rather than the more practical survival skills of their native ancestry. As the fur trade began to dwindle and "white" settlement increased, many mixed bloods also found themselves alienated from both European and Aboriginal culture.

Sources:

Millar, Nancy. Once Upon a Wedding. Calgary: Bayeux Arts, 2000.


Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur Trade Society, 1670-1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer Publishing, 1980.

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Heritage Trails #485 - Marriage Policies of the Fur Trade Companies

Susan Berry describes HBC's anti-intermarriage policies, bonds of affection between traders and wives and education of mixed blood children.

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