First Lives

Reviewed by Margery Fee

Tracking the travels of Indigenous people to Europe is a busy area of academic research: Kate Flint’s The Transatlantic Indian (2008), Kate Fullagar’s The Savage Visit (2012), Jace Weaver’s The Red Atlantic (2014), and Coll Thrush’s Indigenous London (2016) all arrived on the scene before Cecilia Morgan’s Travellers through Empire. Morgan focuses on a relatively small group of well-educated men and fewer women from early Canada whose status and literacy mean that records remain of their movements. Despite the emphasis on travel, Morgan produces insightful analyses of the rhetorical self-fashioning of these travellers. Thus the book will be of interest not only to historians, but also to literary and performance studies scholars. Self-fashioning is also a focus of Doris Jeanne MacKinnon’s Metis Pioneers, as she details the lives of two Métis women born in 1861, during the time when the fur-trade culture into which they both were born transitioned into a new settler-colonial economy. The books overlap to some extent: both spend time on Métis fur-trade children who were sent abroad for education.

Morgan’s first chapter deals with John Norton, the dashing Scottish-born son of a Scottish mother and a Cherokee man captured by the British as a child. Morgan does not deal at length with Norton’s exceptional leadership in the War of 1812, recorded in his journal, instead bringing to the fore less well-known parts of his life, including his duel over an insult to his young wife, and his subsequent estrangement from her and his adopted community, Six Nations Grand River. A chapter on Anishinaabeg travellers to Britain between 1830 and 1860 discusses Peter Jones, Peter Jacobs, John Sunday, Catherine Sutton, and George Copway. “Intimate Entanglements” examines the marriages of Eliza Jones, Elizabeth Howell Copway, and Frances Kirby Brant-Sero, and the travels “home” to England of mixed-race children of the fur trade, including the daughters of Ann Hodgson, a Cree-Scottish woman, and HBC chief factor John Davis. One of these daughters, Matilda, set up a school for young ladies in Red River, and paid to educate some of her nephews at schools in England. The network of HBC traders and wives produced correspondence that Morgan has mined to discover the ordinary lives of Métis children educated abroad. The letters of Letitia Hargrave, the Scottish wife of trader James Hargrave, are a mine of gossipy information about the HBC network, including detailed accounts, half-disapproving and half-envious, of the ostentatious wardrobe of a fur-trade daughter, Jane Ross. What future historians will do without such troves remains to be seen: where will our emails have gone?

MacKinnon’s book pays detailed attention to two women, Marie Rose Delorme Smith (1861-1960) and Isabella Clark Hardisty Lougheed (1861-1936), whose lives intersected with many others in the fur trade. The book aims to explain how two Métis women fashioned themselves as respectable homesteading pioneers, transforming a birth identity that was increasingly scorned as incoming settlers swamped more inclusive fur-trade sensibilities after the Riel Resistance in 1885. MacKinnon published The Identities of Marie Rose Delorme Smith in 2012. However, this book situates Smith’s life in a broader context that tackles the ever-more vexed issue of Métis identity; Smith came from a free-trading, French-speaking Métis family of some means. Nonetheless, her mother forced her, at sixteen, into marriage with a hard-drinking older white trader, Charlie Smith, with whom she had seventeen children. A widow for forty-six years, she ended up supporting herself on their ranch in Pincher Creek, Alberta.

Lougheed was born into a relatively privileged English-speaking Hudson’s Bay Company family. Lougheed’s father eventually became an HBC chief factor for the Mackenzie district, and she married James Alexander Lougheed, a lawyer who became a senator in 1889 at age thirty-five. Through marriage, he gained a connection to Richard Hardisty, Isabella’s uncle, described in James Lougheed’s Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry as “the richest man in the North-west Territories,” and to Donald Alexander Smith, her uncle by marriage, described in the same entry as soon to become “the richest man in Canada.” (Genealogical charts might have clarified some of these family relationships.) After her husband died in 1925, Lougheed lived in Beaulieu, their family mansion in Calgary, supported by the province. For Marie Smith, self-fashioning took the form of writing; she produced an array of manuscripts as well as publishing some articles in the Canadian Cattleman. Lougheed arranged her self-fashioning differently, encouraging interviews and news coverage of her life. MacKinnon’s text occasionally rambles or repeats and at times falls into (forgivable) speculation of the “of course we can’t know . . . but undoubtedly” type. MacKinnon definitely should lobby to enter these women’s lives into the Dictionary of National Biography.

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