I thought today I would combine a Throwback Thursday with a What I’m Reading. Footsteps in the Snow is a book from the Dear Canada collection. It features the Red River Settlement in 1815 and is written by Carol Matas. The book features the fictional Isobel Scott, an immigrant from Scotland whose family was pushed off their land during the Clearances.
The Red River Settlement (also known as the Selkirk Settlement) eventually became Winnipeg and the original settlers of the region were caught in the altercations between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company who were feuding over land in that region. The settlers were trying to make their homes when the Pemmican War was happening, which was essentially a conflict between the companies where each were trying to control the supply of pemmican as that allowed the fur traders to move deeper into Canada in search of new sources of fur. The Northwest Company relied pretty heavily on local resources, but the Hudson Bay Company imported much of their supplies so they were not as concerned. Having settlers on Hudson’s Bay land meant that the Northwest Company couldn’t harvest the bison necessary to make the pemmican. The Pemmican Proclamation was also put into place which prevented any supplies being removed from Hudson Bay land to ensure that there were adequate amounts for the arriving settlers.
There were a number of bloody altercations, including the destruction of Fort Douglas, which was an important outpost of safety for the settlers. The Scottish immigrants, including Isobel in the story, were forced to move south each winter as something inevitably destroyed their crops several years in a row.
In the story, Isobel and her family befriend several natives and her father eventually marries one as well. In literature, as with history, the survival of early settlers was almost entirely dependent on the goodwill of the natives they encountered. Relying on their knowledge of hunting, trapping, medicine, etc. the settlers were at the mercy of nature with only the natives as a buffer against death. Anyone who has experienced even a few minutes of a Manitoba or Minnesota winter can appreciate just how difficult life would have been for the settlers in their early years. I could not imagine going through a northern winter without proper food and heating. The Hudson’s Bay Company provided some assistance of course, but conflict, distance, apathy and travel time would have severely impacted their ability to provide for the settlers. The story takes place prior to the Rebellion so the relationship with the natives were not so dire as it eventually becomes. Canadian history has many dark patches regarding natives and in the story Isobel approaches them initially as savages who are inferior in every way. As she spends time with them she realizes how wrong this is. I enjoyed reading her slow enlightenment and her growing appreciation for a new people who simply have a different way.
I would definitely recommend Footsteps in the Snow to young children seeking to learn more about some of the early history of settlement in Western Canada. It was an interesting read and hopefully it prompts more questions and study in the reader.
Thanks for stopping by!