Lady Lougheed: Métis Matriarch

Editor’s note: This week, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Matt recently wrote about the Métis of Rouleaville.

Written by: Matt Hiltermann

When Albertans hear the Lougheed name, they likely think of late premier Peter Lougheed. Others may may also be familiar with his grandfather, Sir James Alex Lougheed. Much less discussed, however, is the matriarch of the Lougheed family: Lady Isabella Clark Hardisty Lougheed.

To the extent that history has focused on rich, white men, this is unsurprising if disappointing. At the same time, Isabella was widely regarded as the driving force behind her husband.[1] She and her Hardisty kin also formed the nucleus of the Lougheed family.[2] All evidence seems to point to her being a binding force in both her family and the community at large. Who was this Métis matriarch, and how did she become the “First Lady of the Northwest?”[3]

Isabellla Lougheed, ca 1910s. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

Isabella Hardisty was born around 1861 at Fort Resolution in what is now the Northwest Territories.[4] Her father, William Lucas Hardisty, was one of only four Métis men to attain the rank of Chief Factor between 1851 and 1869.[5] Her mother was Mary Anne Allen, a Métisse of obscure origins.[6] Both of her parents’ families had intergenerational ties to the fur trade.[7]

Because of his high prestige and formal education, there is substantial evidence that Isabella’s father, William Lucas Hardisty, tried to emulate Victorian ideals of behaviour and comportment and that, despite his mixed ancestry, he aspired to whiteness.[8] Certainly, he was not above criticizing his wife and children for their “mischievous habits” born of their association with, “the Indians who are always about the house… [and the] disadvantage that their mother has no education”[9] Despite their pretensions and status, however, there is some evidence that the Hardistys are thought of as “native” by British and American outsiders.[10] For example, Smithsonian researcher, Robert Kennicott, as described William Lucas Hardisty “a native (sic) with some Indian blood.” [11]

Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories. The birthplace of Isabella Hardisty has been denoted on the photo. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

Due to the status, prestige, and education of the Hardisty family, a great deal is known about Isabella’s father. The same cannot be said about her mother. Mary Anne Allen’s origins are foggy at best. Her scrip record claims that she was born at Dunvegan on August 10, 1846.[12] This seems unlikely, however, as HBC employment records seem to indicate that her father, Robert Allen, died in the Pacific Northwest over a year before, in early March of 1845.[13] According to MacKinnon, her mother, Charlotte Scarborough, passed about the same time as or before her father.[14]

Charlotte’s origins are even more obscure than Mary Anne’s, though MacKinnon argues that Charlotte is likely a daughter of Paly Temalkimi Tchinouk from a marriage previous to the latter’s relationship with Capitan James Scarborough.[15] Following the death of her parents, James Scarborough became the guardian of Mary Anne and her siblings. However, it would seem to have been James Birney who stepped into the role of raising the children.[16] This still begs the question as to how Mary Anne Allen came to Dunvegan; both Scarborough and Birney are attested to have settled in the Columbia district and remained there until the 1850s.[17] Regardless, it was at Dunvegan that she was baptized in 1846, and where she met and married William Lucas Hardisty in 1857.[18]

While little documentation exists about Isabella’s early years, her upbringing would likely have been typical of a child at a northern trading post. Likely to her father’s chagrin, MacKinnon observes that, “William Hardisty’s bouts of illness, and the duties that often took him away from the post, meant that Mary Allen Hardisty was the primary caregiver of her children for extended periods.”[19] This is significant, as what little information we have on Mary Allen would seem to indicate that she was enculturated in a Métis milieu at Fort Dunvegan.[20] According to Robert Kennicott, Isabella’s mother possessed many of the skills one would expect of a woman that grew up in the northern fur trade. In particular, Kennicott notes her skill with a dog team and the fact that she ran her own string of rabbit snares.[21] Taken together with the social proximity of different classes and ethnic groups at northern trading posts, it is likely that Isabella’s early years were characterized by a very pluralistic upbringing, with Dene, Métis and Euro-Canadian influences.[22]

To fill in some of the gaps in the record regarding Isabella’s upbringing, MacKinnon extrapolates by way of analogy, drawing on the autobiography of Charles Camsell.[23] Camsell, like Isabella, was born in the MacKenzie district in the late 19th century to a HBC officer and a Métis woman.[24] MacKinnon’s choice to use Charles Camsell has more validity than simply by way of analogy; there is evidence that the Hardistys and the Camsells not only lived in similar conditions, but that they knew each other and occupied those spaces simultaneously.[25]

His autobiography details what everyday life was like growing up at an HBC trading post in the MacKenzie district.[26] Demographically, he notes the small population and diverse composition of Fort Laird, which consisted of four to a dozen people – mostly Métis or First Nations.[27]  Subsistence was a combination of farming, hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering. Amazingly, some of the crops grown at the northerly Fort Laird included wide array of vegetables, as well as wheat, oats and barley.[28] The “seasonal round” (for lack of a better term) consisted of a busy winter, spring and fall, but a quiet summer. Tasks throughout the year included planting crops, building boats and making syrup in spring; relaxation in summer; stockpiling fuel, food and fish, and repairing snowshoes, toboggins and other winter gear in the fall; and trapping, snaring and socializing in winter.[29]

In 1867, when Isabella was about six years old, she was sent to Red River to be educated.[30] This was common practice among officers of the HBC throughout the 19th century.[31] In fact, Isabella’s father and Uncles Richard and Joseph had also been sent to Red River for education as boys.[32] There, she attended Miss Matilda Davis’s Oakfield Education Establishment for Young Ladies.[33] Although ostensibly established to provide a “European” education to the children of the fur trade elite, it is worth noting that Miss Davis was, herself, a Métis woman from the parish of St. Andrew’s in Red River Settlement who had been educated in England.[34] At Miss Davis’s school, “the girls were taught French, music, drawing, dancing, needle work, and deportment.”[35]

Unfortunately Isabella’s time at Miss Davis’s school was cut short due to illness. With her father insistent on her education, she was sent at this time to live with her grandmother in Montreal. After two years of recovery, Isabella was sent to Wesleyan Ladies College in Hamilton, Ontario at the age of eight.[36] There is evidence that neither Isabella nor her father considered this arrangement ideal. MacKinnon notes that William, “expressed his desire that Isabella receive her education at Red River…among other HBC children, rather than at Wesleyan Ladies’ College in Ontario, which she eventually attended.”[37] Similarly, there is evidence that Isabella may have been lonely or felt like an outsider at the Wesleyan school.[38] The only Indigenous student in a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant environment, Isabella’s peers mistakenly believed her to be the daughter of an “Indian chief”.[39] Whether because of her isolation from her peers or due to other mitigating factors, Isabella did not graduate from the Wesleyan Ladies’ College, withdrawing around 1877.[40] Following her withdrawal, she sought to make her way back to her homeland of the west.[41]

When Isabella Hardisty first arrived in Calgary in Calgary in 1882, something about the place likely felt familiar to her.[42] Although the rolling foothills of the Rocky Mountains were a far cry from the northern taiga where she grew up, both Calgary and Fort Resolution on the Great Slave Lake were predominantly Métis communities.[43] Indeed, the first white women would only arrive in Calgary that year.[44]

Métis New Year’s day celebration a Lac La Biche, Alberta. 1895. Lady Isabella Lougheed continued the tradition of opening her home to visitors until her death in 1936. Illustration by Frederic Remington. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

Accounts of Calgary from before 1883 generally give the impression of a vibrant Métis community.[45] While the Métis character of the settlement would be subsumed by Anglo-Ontarians after the arrival of the railway, many of the Métis families present in the area would continue to reside in the area.[46] Traditions, too, would persist. Throughout the 1880s, a common New Years tradition was to go “calling,” a Métis New Years tradition that involved going from house to house and visiting neighbours. Visits were typically about a half hour long, and visitors were welcomed with the best food or drink the household had to offer. Community members would typically be expected to accommodate guests according to their means.[47] As such, the homes of better off families were called upon most often.[48] Lady Lougheed is said to have continued this New Year’s Day tradition until three months before her death in 1936.[49]

Another Métis tradition that seems to have remained in both the Calgary landscape and the Lougheed family was the Red River Jig. Isabella is said to have been an accomplished jigger well into her adult life.[50] The Lougheeds even had an orchestral rendition of the dance played at the fifth annual Pioneer Association Ball in 1913.[51] The Pioneer Association, like other “Old Timers’” associations, involved an eclectic mix of folks who were in a given prairie settlement prior to about the 1890s. Due to the demographic realities of that early time period, this meant that many such organizations included a substantial Métis contingent. It is somewhat fitting, then, that it would be Lady Isabella Lougheed who established and became the first president of the Woman’s Pioneer Association of Southern Alberta in 1922.[52]

Walter J. Phillip’s Red River Jig, 1931. Print, woodcut on wove paper. Source: Library and Archives Canada.

Soon after her arrival in Calgary, Isabella met her future husband, James Alexander Lougheed. James was born in Cabbagetown, in the “poor eastern section of Toronto.”[53] His father was a carpenter, and the family attended the Trinity Methodist Church, which was sometimes colloquially known as “the poor Man’s Church” to the denizens of Cabbagetown.[54] Despite his humble roots, James was ambitious and pursued a career as a lawyer. During his time in Ontario, he was involved with the Orange Order, an Irish Protestant fraternal society. MacKinnon speculates that his participation had more to do with networking than a strong identification with the organization and its causes, as there is no evidence of his further involvement with the Orange Order following his marriage to Isabella. [55]

Indeed, his marriage to Isabella may well have done more to propel James’s career than anything he accomplished in a court of law or the halls of the senate. MacKinnon writes that when James arrived in Calgary in 1883, “[like] most men who came to Calgary in those days, he was not overburdened with surplus wealth”.[56] Yet by 1889, when he was appointed to the senate to replace his uncle-in-law, Richard Hardisty, James and Isabella had amassed a fortune of more than $70,000 in real estate holdings.[57] As MacKinnon poignantly notes, “[most] accounts of James stress his immense financial and political success, all of which occurred after his marriage to Isabella”.[58] Indeed, it may well be the case that this success was because of his marriage to Isabella.[59]

Lady Lougheed, ca early 1900s. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

The fact that James’s success can be attributed to Isabella raises some tensions when one considers James’s policy views and legislation in the senate. He was vociferously anti-Indigenous, despite being married to an Indigenous woman.[60] There is also some suggestive (albeit, inconclusive) evidence that at least part of the Lougheeds’ extensive real estate holdings was acquired through dubious dealings in Métis scrip.[61]  Since other members of the extended Hardisty family, including Richard Hardisty and Donald Smith are known to have profited from such sharp dealings, James’ involvement would be unsurprising.[62] If he did not profit from scrip speculation himself, it is nonetheless clear that he sympathized with scrip profiteers, as he introduced legislation in 1922 that would retroactively limit the ability of Métis individuals to pursue claims against scrip speculators.[63] Despite being the head of a Métis household, James’ interests were clearly aligned with those of the Anglo-Canadian elite.[64]

If there was ever tension between Isabella and James over these issues, it was likely mitigated by the fact that he spent much of his time in Ottawa.[65] As such, the responsibility for networking, hosting and keeping up appearances largely fell to Isabella and her children.[66] Although as “merry” as other upper-crust social events in early 20th century Calgary, it is worth noting that the Lougheeds were unique for their liveliness.[67] Indeed, they were so uproarious they were once censured by a local Baptist congregation for dancing the tango in 1914.[68]

Garden party at Senator Lougheed’s residence, ca 1900. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

Lively dances are not the only evidence of Lady Lougheed’s wild side. MacKinnon recounts an occasion when she directly defied the Senator and drove to Banff for a day trip with her children. As cars were illegal in Banff at the time, their automobile was impounded for the duration of their visit. Following its return upon their departure from the park, the car sustained a flat tire and the family – including the elderly Isabella – had to walk seven miles to the nearest train station![69]

Following James’ death in 1925, the family fell on hard times. Even before 1930, Alberta was mired in a severe economic recession.[70] This had the effect of depressing real estate prices. Since most of the Lougheed fortune was tied up in real estate, this left the family destitute.[71] By 1934, the City of Calgary had acquired the Lougheed’s famous abode, Beaulieu, the iconic 1891 mansion that today sits on 13 Ave. and 6 St. SW. The reason for this acquisition was nonpayment of property taxes.[72] Still, despite taking possession of the house, Lady Lougheed was allowed to continue residing there until her death in 1936.[73] Much like the majestic Beaulieu, Lady Isabella Clark Hardisty Lougheed left a profound mark on the social and historical landscape of Calgary, and her legacy is well worth remembering in its own right.


[1] “A Daughter of the West who made a difference,” Calgary Herald, 31 December, 2001, A11

[2] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 82-89

[3] Doris Jeanne MacKinnon, “HARDISTY, ISABELLA CLARK (Clarke) (Lougheed, Lady Lougheed) – Volume XVI (1931-1940),” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, accessed January 3, 2021, URL:

[4] Sources vary on her exact date of birth, from 1859 to 1864. Most experts on her life giver her date as April 18, 1861. See Lougheed House, “Fur Trade,” Conflicting Loyalties: The Hardisty Family Legacy (Digital Museums Canada, July 26, 2019), URL:

[5] Denise Fuches, “Native Sons of Rupert’s Land 1760 to the 1860s” (PhD Thesis, University of Manitoba, 2000), 69.

[6] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 40-49; Lougheed House, “Fur Trade”.

[7] MacKinnon, “Hardisty, Isabella”.

[8] Fuches, “Native Sons of Rupert’s Land,” 78-79. See also MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 28-30, 39-42.

[9] Cited in MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 39.

[10] According to Carol Judd, employees from Rupert’s Land were almost always listed as native, an umbrella term that included “Indians, mixed bloods, and theoretically at least, also Europeans. Because very few natives of Rupert’s Land were of [entirely] European descent, and fewer still probably worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, it is reasonable to assume that ‘native’ employees were either mixed blood or Indians.” Cited in MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 358n.6.

[11] Ibid., 30. Elsewhere, Denise Fuches notes that when Chief Trader William Watt wrote about the “native officers” of the Saskatchewan district, “[he] was referring to William Joseph Christie and Richard Charles Hardisty.” The latter of these men was William Lucas’s brother and Isabella’s uncle. Fuches, “Native Sons of Rupert’s Land,” 164.

[12] Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG15-D-II-8-c, Volume number: 1369, Microfilm reel number: C-15006, “Thomas, Mary”.

[13] “Robert Allen,” Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA), Biographical Sheets, accessed January 6, 2020, URL:

[14] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 45.

[15] Ibid., 44-46, 49.

[16] Ibid., 46-47.

[17] Ibid., 47; “James Birnie,” HBCA Biographical Sheets, accessed January 6, 2020, URL:

[18] MacKinnon, Metis Pioneers, 46, 49.

[19] Ibid., 31.

[20] Ibid., 52.

[21] Cited in ibid., 31-32.

[22] Ibid., 32-37, 54.

[23] Charles Camsell, Son of the North (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1954).

[24] Ibid., 3. See also “Julian Stewart Camsell,” HBCA Biographical Sheets, accessed January 6, 2020, URL:; LAC, RG15-D-II-8-c, Volume number: 1339, Microfilm reel number: C-14955 “Camsell, Charles”.  

[25] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 360n22.

[26] Camsell, Son of the North, 6-13.

[27] Ibid., 6.

[28] Ibid., 7.

[29] Ibid., 7-9.

[30] MacKinnon, “Hardisty, Isabella”; Lougheed House, “A Proper Education,” Conflicting Loyalties, accessed January 2, 2021, URL:

[31] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 32. See also Lougheed House, “A Proper Education” ; Jonathan Aniuk, “Forming Civilization at Red River: 19th-Century Missionary Education of Métis and First Nations Children” in The Early Northwest, ed. Gregory Marchildon (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2008), 253.

[32] Fuches, “Native Sons of Rupert’s Land,” 139.

[33] MacKinnon, “Hardisty, Isabella”. On Mathilda Davis’s Oakfield Education Establishment for Young Ladies, see “Miss Davis’ School,” Anthropology Museum (The University of Winnipeg), accessed January 7, 2021, URL:

[34] On Providing a “European” education, see Aniuk, “Forming Civilization,” 249-269; MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 59-60. On Miss Davis’s Red River roots, see  LAC-BAC, RG15-D-II-8-a, Volume number: 1320, Microfilm reel number: C-14926, “Scrip affidavit for Davis, Mathilda”; Marjorie G. Morley, “DAVIS, MATHILDA – Volume X (1871-1880)” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, accessed January 3, 2021, URL:

[35] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 60.

[36] Lougheed House, “A Proper Education”.

[37] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 40-41.

[38] Lougheed House, “A Proper Education”.

[39] Ibid.; MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 64. This misunderstanding may be fairly straightforward; Isabella’s father was a chief factor for the HBC, and Isabella’s Indigenous roots were well-known among her peers. It is possible that they misinterpreted her father’s rank in the company and filled in the blanks with images of the “Imaginary Indian”. See Daniel Francis, The Imaginary Indian (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011 [1992]).

[40] MacKinnon, Metis Pioneers,64-65, 372n165.

[41] Ibid., 65.

[42] As with her birth, there is some discrepancy as to whether Isabella arrived in Calgary in 1882 or 1883. However, the scholarly consensus on the subject seems to prefer the former date. This is also the year given by Lady Lougheed herself, as cited in MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 73.

[43] Of the 173 Individuals enumerated in the area around Fort Calgary in the 1881 census, 115 can be shown to be Métis by cross-referencing their vital data with the Métis scrip archive. For a brief discussion of the demographics of early Calgary, see Matt Hiltermann, “The Métis of Roulleauville,” RETROactive, November 16, 2020. URL:

[44] Nora Sleumer, “Mrs. George Jacques: Calgary’s First White Woman,” Fort Calgary Quarterly vol. 7, no 1 (1987): 9. See also A.R. Dyer, “Dear Josie: A Letter From the Frontier,” Fort Calgary Quarterly vol. 1, no. 4 (1980): 14-16. Originally writing in September 1882, he notes that although there were First Nations and Métis women in the area, there was “nary a white woman” in the vicinity of Fort Calgary.

[45] Lawrence Bassard, “Early History of Calgary,” (MA Thesis, University of Alberta, 1935) 87-88;  A.R. Dyer, “Dear Josie,” Cecil Denny, The Law Marches West (Toronto: JM Dent and Sons, 1939), 85. 

[46] Hiltermann, “The Métis of Roulleauville”.

[47] Margaret Arnett MacLeod, “Red River New Year”, The Beaver (1953), 43-47.

[48] See, for example, Manitoba Historical Society, “Memorable Manitobans: Alexander “Sandy” Logan,” MHS, May 19, 2018, accessed December 7, 2020, URL:

[49] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 182.

[50] Ibid., 36.

[51] Ibid., 111.

[52] “Alberta’s Women Pioneers Will Form Organization,” Calgary Daily Herald, March 20, 1922, 13.

[53] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 74.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 74-75.

[56] Ibid., 78-79.

[57] Ibid., 79.

[58] Ibid., 135.

[59] Ibid., 136.

[60] Ibid., 95-99.

[61] Ibid., 160-166.

[62] Ibid., 140, 167.

[63] Ibid., 161-162.

[64] Ibid., 165.

[65] Ibid., 72, 109.

[66] Ibid., 109-111.

[67] Ibid., 111.

[68] Ibid., 104-105.

[69] Ibid., 101-104.

[70] Fort Edmonton Park, 1920 Street: The Metropolitan Era, 1919-1929 (Edmonton: City of Edmonton, 2013), 58.

[71] MacKinnon, Métis Pioneers, 167-168.

[72] Ibid. 182.

[73] Ibid.

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