Women of the Fur Trade - Exhibit to Honour Magdeleine Poitras

Native Women's Role in Early Survival - The Making of Pemmican : Staple Food of the Metis Voyageur - Fur Trade exhibit now at Macdonell-Williamson House July & August 2013
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Metis museum
Fur Trade Museum
Voyageur Museum
Historic Portage
Pemmican Wars Exhibit


Ontario - Canada

July 5, 2013 - PRLog -- Along the Ottawa River and just beside the Carillon Dam sits one of the best examples of a Georgian mansion that was built in 1817 for fur trade partner John Macdonell and his Metis wife Magdeleine Poitras. The sound of the water rushing through the dam is a reminder of days when that spot was a forced portage area for every Voyageur heading west out of Montreal.

Thousands of men got out of their canoes at that spot, and carried it and their provisions across the area where the house sits, its stone walls thick and cool grey, it's shuttered windows open for another summer season. But it's not just an historic site because of its location, nor due to the majesty of the house itself. The family it was built for were part of the most important fur trade families in Canadian history. It's secrets, including family ties in the thick of the Pemmican War years, are now being revealed in the form of a new exhibit at the house, aptly called "Pemmican : Staple Food of the Metis Voyageur". The reasons pemmican was a big part of this family are numerous.

First, pemmican was the staple food for anyone travelling by canoe to the west. Thousands of men took pemmican with them in order to survive, and thousands of Native American and Metis women just like Magdeleine Poitras made pemmican so that these men would survive. This was a time of prosperity for both European settlers and Native Americans who welcomed them and their trade. Magdeleine Poitras, having been born of a Fur Trade partner and Native mother, had all the skills of a fur trader's wife on the trail before she arrived at Pointe-Fortune to the house they had named "Poplar Villa", now known as Macdonell-Williamson House.

The exhibit showcases pemmican -- how it's made, its importance and its politics -- between the families of Magdeleine and her husband John Macdonell. His brother was Miles Macdonell, first Governor of Assiniboia and the man who declared the "Pemmican Proclamation", banning trade or sale of pemmican out of Red River. Newly arrived Scottish to Selkirk Settlement had been too late to arrive and needed the help of the Metis to survive that first winter. The following summer saw snowfall, effectively destroying crops. Miles Macdonell decided to secure the pemmican supply for the Scottish settlers, but this meant it was cut off from the Northwest Company voyageurs, who depended on pemmican for survival.

A pemmican ban surely meant the demise of the Metis people and their fur trade, that of the Northwest Company, since they needed voyageurs from Quebec to paddle thousands of miles to get furs. That year the fur trade nearly ended, because food supply was so low the men couldn't leave Montreal.

Considering Cuthbert Grant Jr., first leader of the Metis in the resistance to the pemmican ban at Selkirk Settlement, was a close relative of Magdeleine's (and that's a story in itself), and adding that John Macdonell had been a partner in the Northwest Company, this ban must have brought cause for very interesting discussion at the dinner table in their household. It was a time when the Metis in the west made pemmican for trade with men who went west, and a time when the Metis were free-ranging on those lands.

The Macdonell, Poitras and Grant families, their trade, their lives, their history, and the history of our first international economy, that of the fur trade, are now on display in the grand mansion that sits today for all to come visit and remember. Why not take a drive out and see it for yourself?

The Macdonell-Williamson House Heritage Site is open Saturdays and Sundays in July and August only, from 12 - 5pm. There is also a general store, tea room and other exhibits, including the 1800s home of lumber industry founder William Williamson, and a local militia exhibit.

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Tags:Metis museum, Fur Trade Museum, Voyageur Museum, Historic Portage, Pemmican Wars Exhibit
Industry:Tourism, Travel
Location:Ontario - Canada
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