‘Far asunder there are those to whom my name is music’: Nineteenth-century Hudson’s Bay Company families in the British imperial world
The Hudson’s Bay Company’s (HBC) establishment of trading posts throughout Rupert’s Land, the vast territory it claimed in British North America, provided the context in which marriages ‘in the custom of the country’ between its employees and Indigenous women became a pillar of fur trade social relations. In the wake of the personnel surplus brought on by the HBC’s merger with the North West Company (NWC) in 1821, employees and their Indigenous families began to settle in clusters outside Rupert’s Land. This dissertation examines the understudied experiences of HBC families that settled in Britain or the burgeoning agricultural communities of present-day Ontario and Quebec in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The racial and gendered terrain of their new home communities in Canada and Britain were complex ones for Indigenous women and their children to navigate. They were connected to vast imperial networks of power and patronage and occupied the upper echelons of the small towns they settled in; yet, their presence raised potentially unsettling questions about race, gender, and citizenship. They played roles in both the reification and subversion of racial and gendered imperial hierarchies, and thus came to occupy unexpected and even contradictory positions in family and local historical narratives. The dissertation highlights the extent to which women and children were vital to the creation and maintenance of networks kith and kin that linked the geographically (and often historiographically) far-flung yet mutually constituted imperial contexts of Rupert’s Land, Canada, and Britain. Looking at these families as British imperial subjects highlights the extent to which these diverse settings operated as part of a single, and decidedly imperial, tapestry of social and economic opportunity for HBC families. The families examined in this study lived their lives across a variety of borders, creating webs of connection that extended across the British Empire. Comparing the experiences of fur trade families in different social and geographic contexts reveals how imperial identities were constructed and reconstituted and how everyday people on both sides of the Atlantic defined and constructed race and family in the context of empire.
Canadian History, Fur Trade, Canada and the British Empire, Indigenous, Family History, Museums, Scotland
“From Rupert’s Land to Canada West: Hudson’s Bay Company Families and Representations of Indigeneity in Small-Town Ontario, 1840-1980.” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 26:1 (2016), 67-97.