Heritage Trail: Women In The Fur Trade Part Eight: Marriage Polices

Both the Hudson Bay Company and Northwest Company had different policies towards marriage.

As historian Susan Berry explains, In the early years of the fur trade, the Hudson’s Bay Company forbade its employees from marrying aboriginal women or even bringing them into the fort.

However they also had a policy of recruiting young bachelors who like William Flett who joined when he was 17 or 18, from the Orkney’s. These men would come over and put in a number of years of service. During that time the would not have the opportunity to visit with their families in the Orkneys. And they really formed; they looked to aboriginal women for emotional sustenance, for sustaining relationships, for family life.

So although the formal policy discouraged, or prohibited marriages and long lasting relationships, the actual recruitment policies encourages them. The policy was basically unenforceable.

Finally, in the early 1800’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company changed it’s policy. So many of its employees had families in the Northwest, the company realized the time had come to accept the inevitable and support these families.

These included switching from the policy of hiring young boys from Britain, and instead, apprenticing the sons of their employees in Canada and the Northwest.

They also sent school books and supplies to the major posts and instructed the factors to have classes established, schools established, for the children of their employees.

On the other hand, the Northwest Company looked upon marriages with aboriginal women as good for business.

Many of the men came from Quebec or the Eastern States. Upon retirement, they could take their families back east and set themselves up as independent traders.

The Northwest Company unlike the Hudson’s Bay Company did not provide mechanisms for formal education of the children of its employees.

Daniel Harmon did, and others, took it upon themselves to teach their children to read and write, teach some English, but there wasn’t, the … the Northwest Company never did put in place the kinds of institutions did for the support of the families… not the support for the education of the families.

And in 1806, the Northwest Company changed its policy, forbidding employees to marry native women, although they were encouraged to marry the Métis daughters of fur trade employees.

On the heritage trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.