Monday, November 26, 2012

Country Wife

On the Riel Trail, highway eleven home from Saskatoon, I see a mother and son, cast in metal. I cross the highway and follow the bumps and ruts of the newly made road. It's cold and I'm only wearing a light blazer and dress slacks, but I trot out to the statue. She's beautiful from every side and her son is such a little man, under her hand.

The interpretive sign is called, "The Lesson." I read: "Mother and son, she is Cree and he is Metis. There is much wisdom her culture, experience, and traditions can provide. She is the 'Country Wife' of a fur trader. From this union a new race is born, the half breed and Metis. Liaisons between her people and the mighty companies engaged in the fur trade economy of the Northwest are invaluable. Thus becomes her role as our diverse people weave a pathway that leads to nationhood."

My hands are freezing as I snap a picture of the sign. I have heard of the Country Wives, and their great contribution to Canadian history, but I'm surprised the sign doesn't acknowledge the suffering experienced by many of these women who were often replaced by the fur trader's "real wives". I run back to my vehicle, shivering.

In "Voices of the Grandmothers: Reclaiming a Metis Heritage", Christine Welsh says, "My great-great-great-grandmother was just twenty-one years old when she became the 'country wife' of the Governor of Rupert's Land. Though George Simpson was notorious for indulging in short-lived liaisons with young native women, his relationship with Margaret Taylor appeared to be different. He relied on her companionship to an unusual degree, insisting that she accompany him on his historic cross-continental canoe journey from Hudson Bay to the Pacific in 1828. Not only did Simpson recognize and assume responsibility for their two sons, but he also provided financial support for Margaret's mother and referred to Thomas Taylor as his brother-in-law, thus giving Margaret and the rest of fur-trade society every reason to believe that their relationship constituted a legitimate 'country marriage.' Nevertheless, while on furlough in England in 1830 -- and with Margaret and their two sons anxiously awaiting his return at Fort Alexander -- Simpson married his English cousin, Frances Simpson.

"It is not hard to imagine Margaret's shock when she learned that the Governor was returning with a new wife. No doubt she and her children were kept well out of sight when Simpson and his new bride stopped at Fort Alexander during their triumphant journey from Lachine to Red River. Once the Simpsons were installed at Red River the Governor lost no time in arranging for Margaret's 'disposal,' a few months later she was married to Amable Hogue..."

Turning onto the southbound Louis Riel Trail near Kenaston, I am haunted by this Metis mother in my rear view mirror, pointing to the horizon. What is the lesson she is sharing with her son today?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting your pics of this beautiful sculpture and the story with it.