Heritage Trail: Women In The Fur trade Part One: Marriage

The success of the fur trade depended to a large degree on the involvement of Aboriginal women.

Men trapped and transported the furs, and hunted game for the posts. But it was their native wives and daughters who prepared the hides for trade, dried meat and fish, and made pemmican for the brigades. And it was the women who influenced the choice of European goods for trade.

As historian Susan Berry explains, marriage between European fur-traders and aboriginal women was common.

In fact in 1805, the Northwest Company traders Alexander Henry reported that there were about thousand, well 1019 men, 369 women, 569 children, were connected with the companies posts the Northwest.

And at Fort Vermilion, the post that he commanded, along the North Saskatchewan River in 1809-1810 uh, there 130 people who spent the winter there. 36 were men, and 30 of these men, including Henry and the other two officers, had wives and/or children living with them, so there was total of 130 people at the post. There were no European women in the Country at the time. These wives all Aboriginal women, It was, marriage between Aboriginal women and European fur traders was common, it was widely accepted.

Since there was no clergy in the northwest in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the marriages were not solemnized in formal church ceremonies. However, they did confirm to aboriginal practices of marriage.

Men would formally ask a woman’s father or another male relative for consent to the marriage and would present both the woman and her family with gifts. And then at some of the larger posts, there were special fur trade ceremonies, in which a man would go to his wife’s camp, escort her formally to the post, where she would be greeted by other women at the post. They would then present her with a new suit of European style clothes, which marked her transition to this new way of life.

These marriages were recognized as serious and binding, and many of them were permanent and quite a few husbands provided for their wives and families after retired form the fur trade.

Once married, the new wife was quickly integrated into the work routine at the fur trade post.

On the heritage trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.