Whittlin' Round The Cracker Barrel

| May/June 1969

Author of 'West of Yesterday' and 'Brave Heritage' and Curator of the Western Development Museum at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada essays to talk about old time threshing.

Perhaps, before I start to talk about threshing in Canada at the turn of the Century I should tell you a little bit about these strange people living north of the International Boundary Line. Some people seem to think we are part Eskimo, living in snow igloos and we almost need to be to survive the short cold January days of this region. Some folk seem to think we are part French and there is a French element in Canada.

The French sailed up the St. Lawrence River over 300 years ago and established themselves on its banks in Quebec. At the same time the ever daring sailors of England were voyaging into the Hudson's Bay. The English were given a Charter by King Charles the Second of England, which gave them clear title to all lands draining into the Hudson's Bay and, what was of equal importance, in those days, the sole right to trade in the furs of that vast inland empire.

Winnipeg, lying north of St. Paul and Fargo, on the Red River, flowing to the north, was the gateway to the Canadian North West. It was here that the English from the North and the Frenchmen from the east met in disputed territory. The prize was the vast area now comprising Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with British Columbia thrown in for good measure.

These white men, both French and English found themselves thousands of miles from their homeland and, taking to the free open life on the lakes, woodlands and prairies became permanent traders and settlers of this brave new world. With no white women at hand, these hardy, bold venturesome men intermarried with the Indian girls. In the West it was principally with the Crees who were divided into the Swampy Crees who lived around the swamps, rivers and lakes of Manitoba. Then there were the Woody Crees who lived in the northern woods and the Plains Crees who lived on the open prairie plains.

The Cree Indians were more amenable to the so called civilizing influences of the white man. The descendants of these marriages often resulted in lovely women and hardy well formed men. They often combined the characteristics of the Indian with the background of the white man. They became tireless courageous hunters and traders and Canada owes much to these people.