May 28, 2018

KH Associates Stacey Devlin and Emily Keyes attended the 18th Rupert’s Land Colloquium in May. They both contributed to this article.

From May 16-19th, the Centre for Rupert’s Land Studies hosted their biennial colloquium, which took place in Grande Prairie, AB, in beautiful “Peace River Country.” The colloquium brought together fur trade and Métis historians, local archivists, students, researchers, and heritage enthusiasts to talk about a diverse range of topics and methodologies.

The plenary and keynote address puzzled if there is a new “fur trade history.” Tolly Bradford (Concordia University of Edmonton) explored how the fur trade is being examined through the lens of British Imperialism, and, in turn, what the fur trade can tell us about the Imperial world. George Colpitts (University of Calgary) shared his research into the day books of the HBC, and how these sources could add a deeper understanding of the economics of the fur trade. Frieda Klippenstein (Parks Canada) spoke about the new directions Parks Canada has been taking, including the push to broaden the “geography of voices” presented at National Parks and National Historic Sites. Klippenstein accredited this action to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Actions.

Staying in step with the theme of introducing new voices to fur trade history, Anne Lindsay gave a presentation on Pierre Bonga, a former slave turned fur trader, and his descendants. Other memorable presentations included one on the patterns of rum and tobacco consumption amongst fur traders at Fort Edmonton (by John Cole), how the HBC managed treaty payments in a nearly cashless economy at Sault Ste. Marie (by Victor Lytwyn), and the community-led Six Seasons of the Assiniskow Ithiniwak Project (by Lesley Beardy and Patricia Murdock.)

Know History’s own Stacey Devlin also presented on the opportunities and challenges historical GIS can pose. Her presentation built on the work of other scholars who have demonstrated the importance of kinship and mobility to Métis. She discussed the many challenges that arise from mapping large-scale archival research while highlighting the potential for GIS to enhance our understanding of historic Métis populations. Stacey ended her presentation by calling on the audience to consider how maps can guide research and make it accessible to a variety of audiences. As a special side note, this was Stacey’s first trip westward, and she enjoyed seeing the mountains!

The colloquium is a sign that we are far from exhausting fur trade history in Canada; there are many more lessons to learn and stories to tell, especially in the case of Indigenous stories. The diversity of attendees at this year’s colloquium is also an indicator that academic and public historians, students, and history enthusiasts all have a role in telling these stories.