Alexander Mackenzie and David Thompson are legendary heroes in Canada’s history. These men did not travel alone—they were guided by Métis, Iroquois and French guides who risked everything to assist the push westward. These were the men who knew how to navigate the land, hunt, fish and survive. They are the unsung men of bravery that facilitated the opening of Canada.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Iroquois guides and French Coureur de Bois left their homes along the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal, and headed west. They set out on an adventure to distance lands, which became their new home. Engaged in the transportation of goods by canoe during the fur trade years, the Iroquois men were referred to as voyageur’s, a French word, meaning “traveler,” and Coureur des Bois, meaning “runner of the woods.”
By 1784 the North-West Company explored as far west and north as Lake Athabasca, and Iroquois voyageurs travelled up the Athabasca River, settling in the upper Athabasca Valley in an area now called Jasper. They intermarried with the Sekanaise women and their families thrived in the Rocky Mountains for more than a hundred years.
During the early 1800s Métis families were integral to the settling of the Canadian Rocky Mountain region. North West Company (NWC) Proprietor John Findlay was noted as being in the Athabasca District as early as 1799, along with employee Simon Fraser. The 1804 Compagnie du Nord-Quest List of Voyageurs records show that some of the mixed blood voyageurs in the Athabasca River District included Ignace Wanyandie, Pierre Delorme, Joseph Haws, and Jacques L’Hirondelle. Others who followed later included characters like Jacco Findlay, James Findlay, Charles Loyer, and Louis Loyer, to name a few. The language of these men was French, and their faith was Catholic. The 1804 list outlines proprietors, clerks and interpreters. It details that John Findlay was the proprietor in the Athabasca District.
The Mountain Métis have access to records that clearly shows that their families continuously inhabited the Athabasca Valley throughout the 1800s. Church records, Northwest Company and Hudson Bay Records details family names, work records, job titles, marriage, birth and death records. According to the records of Pierre de Smet, Mission d’Oregan (April 16, 1846) in the History of Jasper, “The Iroquois, for some reason decided to stay in the Athabasca area, where they maintained a livelihood by hunting and fishing. Their languages (Iroquois and French) and their customs isolated them from contact with the native tribes such as the war-like Cree. Even following their unions with women of the Sekanaise, they continued to remain aloof from the local Indians, preferring the company of the mixed blood of French and Indian descent.”
The Province of Alberta Records of the Jasper House 1872 Census shows the following population:
- Shuswap -17 men, 14 women, 40 children
- French Halfbreeds – 30 men, 30 women, 150 children
- English Halfbreeds – 0 men, 0 women, 0 children
- Whites – 0 men, 0 women, 0 children
- Total Jasper House Population – 47 men, 44 women, 190 children
The Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta 1906 Canada Census details 196 people living in Jasper, the year after Alberta was made a Province. There were 115 newcomers who increased Jasper’s population, as they were working on the newly constructed railroad that was being pushed through the Yellowhead pass. The census included 81 Metis descendants of the original Coureur de Bois, Voyageurs, Northwest Company and Hudson Bay Factors. The men and women who helped open Canada—coast to coast.
In 1907 the Canadian Government signed an obscure Order In Council that set aside the Jasper Forest Reserve. Newly appointed Park Wardens sought to remove the Mountain Métis in 1909 and 1910. Some of the families that had inhabited the Jasper Valley left, however six families stood their ground, and refused to leave. The new authorities sealed the guns of the remaining families. “In 1910, shortly after the boundaries of Jasper National Park had been established, J.J. Maclaggan came from Ottawa to buy out claims of residents who had homes in the Jasper area. The families included Lewis Swift, the four Moberlys—Ewan, John, Adolphus, William—as well as Isadore Findlay and Adam Joachim. Many of these families were forced to move to the Edson, Hinton or Grande Cache areas, as they could not hunt with sealed guns, and were forced to leave their homeland. It is hard to understand why the Canadian Government would welcome newcomers to Jasper, but push out the very families that had helped open Canada.
Over the next century, other Métis families settled in the Edson, Robb, Cadomin, Brule, Hinton, and Grande Cache areas, adopting the traditional lifestyle of hunting, trapping, guiding, and outfitting
 “Overland by the Yellowhead” James McGreggor
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