In 1691, Henry Kelsey was 24 years old. He had been sent by the Hudson's Bay Company "to call, encourage and invite, the remoter Indians to trade with us." The first white man to see the western prairies and the vast bison herds, Kelsey has been represented to school children and other casual readers of history as a heroic, romantic explorer. The truth is far less intrepid. His success and very survival depended on the goodwill and cooperation of the Indian people. Kelsey came as a passenger, not an explorer.
So begins the story of the region that will become the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Hudson Bay Company had a fur trading monopoly granted by the British government and claim to a vast territory. Instead of venturing out to meet the Indigenous population and bring goods to trade with them, the Company waited for the First Nations people to bring the valuable beaver furs to them.
Bill Waiser has written a book that describes the beauty of the countryside, the extirpation of the bison and the decimation of the people who lived there. Three smallpox epidemics and at least one of measles all but wiped them out. The portrayal of the Indian as lazy and indolent began early. The Cree, in particular, were self-sufficient. They enjoyed some of the amenities brought by the HBC traders but could live without them. When they felt like trading, they came. When they were busy with the lifestyle that had maintained them for generations, they stayed away. The introduction of alcohol and its inherent problems began with the fur trade.
The history of the "opening" of the west is one of exploitation and deceit. Even the employees of the HBC couldn't depend on security. When their usefulness as over, the company would cut them loose. It was a hard life for everyone. For over a century, the main industry was the fur trade. The white folk depended on the Indian for pemmican, a staple of their diet and sometimes the only thing they lived on.
Apart from the story of the people, the prairies and the area that became Saskatchewan have unique and beautiful geographical features. The cliche of the flat, featureless plain is false. There are rivers, swamps, muskegs and forests. Waiser's book is full of colour pictures that prove this and it includes reproductions of paintings, historical maps, and historic photos.
A World We Have Lost is a tome. Don't read it in bed. If you fall asleep and it drops on your face, you risk serious injury. It isn't a book to read quickly. Its pages are filled with fascinating information and the paper is high quality. I recommend this book BEFORE spring is here and there are fewer long evenings for reading.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.