The fur trade influenced the historical development of Canada in a number of ways including: the development and expansion into western and northern Canada; the significance of Canadian place names; the origin and rise of the Métis Nation; the impact of interaction between the First Peoples and the Europeans-and these connections can be found in personal and commercial stories about the people and events of the fur trade.
Letitia Hargrave nee MacTavish (1813-1854) was the daughter of Sheriff Dugald MacTavish and Letitia Lockhart. In 1840, she married James Hargrave, Chief Trader for the HBC, and left Scotland for York Factory.
The letters Letitia wrote to family and friends provide us with observations of daily life that differ from the typical post journals of that time which were written by men.
Her correspondence is also recognized for its importance as being one of the earliest for pioneer women in the fur trade in Western Canada. Through her letters, we can see her mature from a gawking and sea-sick newcomer to a shrewd and experienced observer of fur trade life.
This excerpt is from a letter to her sister “Polly” (Mary MacTavish), written on 1 September, 1840, describing the admirable qualities of “Betsy”, a cast-off “country wife.” It appears on page 72, 1st pgh: “I went into the kitchen…and be good to it.”
“I went into the kitchen today and found Betsy the washing woman busy over a tub with a Stuart tartan gown and her hair dressed for the occasion. She has charge of a family whose mother died in Spring and right in the middle of the floor stood the baby in its moss bag and cradle quite erect.
Betsy lived as squaw with a Mr Randall who went home in the Autumn and whom the people in London have put into the house there. She waited on Miss Ross and told her what she thought of Mr Randall having gone. She says she has had 4 or else 5 husbands, but she will never take another as it will only be for her money that they will ask her – Hargrave looked over her accounts and found she really has gathered £ 88. which is in the Company’s hands.
She makes it by washing and never spends a penny of the interest as she has her living from the kitchen and is well behaved – Her kindness to the poor baby is extraordinary. Miss Ross used to hear it squalling all night as it is teething and she soothed and sung to it as if she had been its mother – All this because when its own mother was dying she asked her to take it home and nurse it out of a sucking pipe and be good to it - ”
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