The fur trade, in which millions of Canadian beaver gave their lives to provide felt top hats for European gentlemen, was the major impetus for the exploration and settlement of Canada. The fur traders employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company were of French and Scottish origin. They fanned out across the country, establishing trading posts to buy furs from the Indians in exchange for tools, weapons and other items. One by-product of the fur trade was the maps and descriptions of the country which were sent back to headquarters and provided information for future settlement.
The fur traders were based out of Montreal, but spent years at a time in the Canadian west where white women were loathe to go. As a result, most of them took Indian wives. There was a major difference in the approach of the French and the Scots. When a French man took an Indian wife he considered himself to be married for life. He would either settle down in the west permanently, or take his Indian wife and their children back to Montreal with him. A Scottish man generally had a Scottish wife in Montreal and an Indian country wife. When he retired, he abandoned his family in the west and returned to his Scottish wife and family in Montreal.
The descendents of the French-Indian marriages became known as Métis and were themselves a potent force in the exploration and settlement of the Canadian West and established the first farming communities.
Some descendents of Scottish-Indian liaisons blended into Métis society, but most of them adopted the Indian identity of their mothers. Thus there are numerous Indian people today with names like McKay, McLaren, McDonald, etc.
A few years ago, folks in a small Scottish town discovered that there was an Indian band in Saskatchewan with the same last names as themselves. After a little investigation, it was established that they were in fact related. The Scottish fur traders who had given their names to these Indian families had come from this village in Scotland. Thus began a round of visits where some of the Scots came to visit their long-lost Canadian cousins and the Canadians visited their Scottish cousins and were welcomed with much fanfare.
One thing that was never mentioned in news stories about this reunion is that there would be another group of cousins in Eastern Canada who most likely do not wish to be made aware of their Indian cousins in Saskatchewan.
The Indian people of Canada are known today as the First Nations. There is a saying among them that goes like this: “The first white men who came respected our elders and our women; the second white men who came had no respect for either our elders or our women.” Need I explain that the first white men were the French and the second white men were the Scots?
Yet when I was growing up, the general attitude was that all people of French background were good for nothing half-breeds and the Scots were all fine, upstanding Christian people. Of such perceptions are prejudices born.