From Buffalo Hunting to Cattle Ranching: The Métis of the Belly River

Editor’s note: In honour of National Indigenous History Month, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Marsii Matt!

Written by: Matt Hiltermann

The history of the Métis in the MacLeod-Pincher Creek area before 1874 is difficult to parse, due in-part to the shifting nomenclature of the area. During the 19th century, the Belly River was variously applied to not only its modern course, but also the Oldman river between its confluence with the Belly and its confluence with the Bow. Sometimes, its French name, the Gros Ventre River, was even applied to the entirety of the South Saskatchewan. As such, determining where events took place along the so-called “Belly River” can be difficult to determine. Most references to the Belly River, however, likely take place in what is now the Oldman River watershed, so these early accounts are pertinent to discussions of the Métis history at Pincher Creek, Fort MacLeod and Lethbridge.

The lack of literature – both primary and secondary – reflects the distance of the Oldman-Belly watershed from imperial – and  later colonial – record makers, such as fur traders and missionaries, who were situated primarily on the North Saskatchewan and Missouri Rivers, hundreds of miles away. Still, while evidence is sparse, the few sources that ventured into the Oldman-Belly Watershed inevitably make mention of Métis people or of Métis families in the area. 

The earliest accounts of trading parties into the Belly River country come from Peter Fidler, who wintered among the Peigan there in 1793.  Beyond that, it is only mentioned once between 1795 and 1821. The Belly River only comes back into focus during the 1822, when Francis Heron led a party of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employees and contracted Freemen into the region as part of the HBC’s Bow River Expedition. On October 27, 1822, “Mr Heron and his Party consisting of Messrs. J.E. Harriott[,] Dond. Manson, Hugh Munro, Alexr Douglas and Twenty men” departed for the Oldman-Belly Watershed. It is worth noting that Harriott would spend most of his career trading with the Blackfoot at Rocky Mountain House and Peigan Post (aka Old Bow Post), while Munro would marry a Piikani woman and live out most of his life among the Blackfoot. It not clear who the other 20 men on the expedition are, although the likes Jimmy Jock Bird, Louis Brunais (Bruneau), Jack and George Ward, and Michel Patenaude were probably among their numbers, as all of these freemen had or would later develop kin connections with the Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina or Gros Ventre, and remained active in the Southern Alberta Trade throughout the 1820s. [i] These men were Métis themselves or gave rise to prominent Métis families.

“Country between the Red River Settlement and the Rocky Mountains showing the various routes of the expedition, under the command of Capt. John Palliser, 1857-1858.” Source: Historical Maps Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary. 
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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]

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The Métis of Rouleauville

Editor’s Note: November 15- 21 is Métis Week: an opportunity to recognize the culture, history and contributions of Métis people to Alberta and across the country. The following post is written by Matt Hiltermann on behalf of Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Through extensive research of census records and archival material, Matt tells the story of the many Métis families who lived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, and who contributed to the social fabric of Rouleauville—one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods.

Communities do not spring from the soil fully formed; rather, they tend to coalesce around existing population centres, important trade routes, and/or vital resources, among other things. As a fording place for the buffalo herds, the area that would become Calgary and its environs was an important gathering place for the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and their Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda allies since time immemorial. [1] Due to its status as a gathering place rich in resources, by the mid-19th century, Métis freeman bands with kin ties to the Tsuut’ina or Niitsitapi began to visit these peoples along the Bow. [2] These Métis freemen acted as middlemen in the ever-important pemmican trade that fueled the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) northern trading posts, brigades and the fur trade more broadly.[3]

“A Red River Cart at Calgary, N.W.T.” Painting by Edward Roper, ca 1887 – 1909. Source: Library and Archives Canada.
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