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

During the fur trade, many European traders took Aboriginal women as wives.

At the time, the fur traders were highly dependent on maintaining good relations with the natives.

And as historian Susan Berry explains, the fur trade companies recognized that native women brought valuable skills with them to their new life at the posts.

Well, they raised their families. They also netted snow shoes. Snow shoes were quite important and they made winter travel in the fur trade country possible. And they also sewed hid moccasins for, not only their husbands but for all post employees. And moccasins were standard foot wear in the fur trade. They cleaned and tanned some of the pelts that were brought in that might not have been up to standard.

They snared rabbits and small game, and collected berries and other country food to feed people at the post. They helped tend the gardens that were planted at some of the larger posts, and each spring, they cleaned and scrubbed the posts in the annual spring cleaning.

Some of the voyageur families would travel with the fur trade brigades. And it was the women who often did the paddling.

In fact early on when the Hudson’s Bay Company first started to move into the interior, they didn’t have many skilled, well people who ere skilled in manning canoes. And women took over some of the paddling and acted as guides as well.

Most often, though, the women and their children would stay behind in the interior while the men headed out toward the Bay or back east, uh, and they might either stay at the post during the summer or go back to their own families in the First Nations Bands and spend the summer there.

They also, at northern posts, did a bit of fishing, they tended fish nets and they split and dried the fish. They also preserved food and helped make pemmican for the fur trade brigades.

All this work was quite important and fur trade companies benefited greatly. However, it was unpaid labour, since the women were married to company employees.

On the heritage trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.