Metis History

Some Metis History

The Asham Stompers embody an unparalleled level of energy as a dynamic Metis dance group on a mission. Rooted in a commitment to recapturing and preserving the rich history of the Metis people, our performances center around the iconic RED RIVER JIG. Originating in the early 1800s at the confluence of the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, this dance was crafted to attract fur traders into the first Metis Colony for fur trading.

The European Exploration and the eventual settlement of Canada began with the fur trade. The merchants of New France were the first to realize its potential riches, but their traditional English enemies were not far behind. It was the English who first organized the fur trade after the Hudson Bay Company received its royal charter in 1670 which granted it sole trading privileges to the vast area which drained into the Hudson Bay. In the next few years the Company built trading posts around the shores of Hudson Bay. The most important of these was York Factory, established in 1682. Here Company ships came each summer from England, bringing trade goods and supplies and returning with rich cargo of furs for sale in Europe.

Such a cold climate demanded warm human relations and within a few brief years officers of the Hudson Bay Company were eagerly taking Native wives. By 1763, the majority of the HBC’s employees were of “mixed blood”. This new class of people, “Half-breeds” as they were called, inherited unexpected new skills (European AND Native) necessary for the fur trade. In fact the fur trade could not have been carried out without the Company’s acquisition of the traditional skills of the Native women. The Native wives made pemmican which the Voyagers could live on for months without any other food supplement. They also made snowshoes and made and repaired canoes which were of course vital to the fur trade. Today, all Canadians of Native and European descent proudly call themselves Métis. These Métis people were the first to journey into the interior. The formation of the province of Manitoba was largely a Métis achievement.

The Red River Settlement (now the City of Winnipeg) was founded at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in 1812. Indeed most of the important historical events concerning the fur trade happened in or near the Red River Settlement. The Red River colony was unique. For years, the settlers at the Red River were virtually isolated from the outside world. In order to attract men from the remote posts with their dog trains laden with goods to trade at the Company store the settlers engaged in lively parties which often lasted all night. The Scots and the Métis both had a long tradition of dancing and considered it a perfect way to cheer up winter evenings. One onlooker reported:

“Jigs, reels, and quadrilles were danced in rapid succession, fresh dancers taking the place of those on the floor every two or three moments. A black-eyed beauty and a strapping Bois Brule would jump up on the floor and out do their predecessor in figure and velocity and above the thumps of the dancers’ heels and the frequent Ho! Ho! Were the loud laughter of the crowd and the fiddle-shrieks of trembling strings as if the devil were at the bow. It was not uncommon for a dancer to wear out a pair of moccasins in one evening. The festivities continued till dawn when the fiddlers and dancers were all exhausted.”

From 1822 to 1869 Red River was the home to this rich cultural mix of people who, on a whole, lived in harmony with each other. Said one resident of the Red River, “There is hardly a lock and key, bolt or bar, on any dwelling house, barn or store amongst us and our windows are … without any shutters. We are all like one family.”

As the number of settlers increased however the Métis found themselves unable to adjust to the settled life of farming and moved westward toward Portage La Prairie and smaller communities in an attempt to recreate their traditional lifestyle.