The Hudson’s Bay Company owned most of our Canadian geography (called Rupertsland) for several hundred years until it was ‘sold’ to the new Dominion of Canada after Confederation. Their main business was trading with the indigenous population. They traded European technology for beaver fur, hugely valued in Europe in those days.  Metal cookware, axes and shovels, knives and traps, and later firearms transformed the feast-and-famine hunter-gatherer local culture into one of relative prosperity, and started a process of modernization.

The Company kept detailed and voluminous records of local events along with their business records, and for a number of decades starting in the 20’s they produced a magazine called “The Beaver” with material drawn from those records. As the Company moved further from its fur trading roots, it sponsored creation of “Canada’s History Society”, which took over production of The Beaver.  Over time, it became more loosely tied to the Company archives and more broadly based, but still very interesting to we history nuts.  Its name was changed to “Canada’s History”, apparently the staff thought “Beaver” might be confused with CB radio slang.

The Aug/Sept issue includes a review of a book, “The Female Emigrants Guide”, by Catherine Parr Traill, published in 1854. It is meant to be helpful to European women emigrating to a Canadian homestead.  One of the excerpts caught my attention; she mentions a feeling of complete security and absence of fear on the homestead.  A quote, “a country where the inhabitants are essentially honest, because they are enabled, by the exertion of their own hands, to obtain in abundance the necessities of life”

This caused me to think about our own experiences here in the Wabigoon Valley. I remember back in the 80’s, our neighbour sold his (rural) house to some folks moving down from Winnipeg.  When the deal was done, the new owners asked him for the door keys.  “Door keys!” he exclaimed “We don’t have any keys; nobody locks their doors around here.”

And that was normal in the rural areas. The house I grew up in had no locks on the doors, and neither did most pre-1950 houses.  We (Fishers) only started locking our doors at night after an unfriendly visitor incident, also mid-80’s.

My point is that going back a few decades we trusted people, just as Ms. Traill observed a hundred years before. Even the occasional ‘knight of the road’ was helped along his way, without our expecting violence or robbery.  Doors were never locked; after all, if anyone comes along, no doubt they are having trouble and could freeze to death.  Even trappers shacks were left open, and usually with a small stock of groceries in case a lost soul in trouble came along.

That was the rural Canadian way, we worked together taming mother nature and living off her resources and our own hard work, we supported and encouraged each other, we did not rob or abuse. Of course that way of life is disappearing as we become more and more ‘urban’, but I like to think neighbourliness is still part of our Canadian psyche.

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  1. Fran Blair says:

    I like this, Mel. Reminds me of all the lost souls that would stop at our farm. Dad wouldn’t let them sleep in the barn it case they smoked, but would offer a day’s work and a bed for the night. Can you imagine anyone doing that today? They usually left with a full stomach and sometimes the last dollar in his wallet so they could have something to eat when they got to Kenora. I’m glad I don’t know what thoughts might have gone on in my Mother’s brain, or if she got any sleep at all while she kept a close listen until dawn, but we all survived without any dire happenings.

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