Saturday, November 7, 2015

Indian Maps in the Hudson's Bay Archives: A Comparison of Five Area Maps Recorded by Peter Fidler, 1801-1802

Map of Aka-Omahkayii (Old Swan), Blackfoot Chief, 1801, showing the Pacific Northwest, The Upper Missouri River, The Columbia River, The Fraser River, The Bow River, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, as recorded by Peter Fidler

Judith Hudson Beattie
Archivaria 21 (Winter 1985-86)

From the beginning, the success of the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trade depended on close cooperation with native North Americans. In fact, simply to survive in the unfamiliar conditions around Hudson Bay required an adaptation to Indian ways. To venture inland meant dependence on Indian and Inuit knowledge. Henry Kelsey may have been the first company employee to travel inland to the prairies, but he was successful only because he was accepted as a member of an Indian travelling party. Samuel Hearne met with frustration and failure until Matonabee guided him to the Coppermine River. Given the company's reliance on native knowledge of geography, it is not surprising that the Hudson's Bay Company Archives preserves an unusually large number of maps either drawn by Indians or of Indian origin which constitute a major source for study of native maps and mapping techniques.

D. Wayne Moodie has described native mapmaking as a "widespread and well developed art," with the maps "usually drawn on the ground or in the snow" and "sketched from memory."' There are some thirty maps attributed entirely to Indian mapmakers, some recorded in more than one version, and a great many more maps in the archives executed by company servants but incorporating significant geographic areas and routes based entirely on Indian information. This may not seem to involve a large number of maps, but as a proportion of the Indian maps surviving, or at least identified to date, it is considerable. Malcolm Lewis, a geographer who has scoured the major North American repositories over the last decade in search of maps of Indian origin, has gleaned references to only several hundred items for the entire continent. Certainly if we restrict our area of interest to Western Canada, the majority of the surviving lndian maps are found in the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba (HBCA, PAM).

Over two-thirds of the Indian maps in the company archives were recorded by Peter Fidler, who served as postmaster and surveyor for the company from 1788 until his death in 1822. From 1801 to 1810, when all his copies of Indian maps were drafted, he was exploring, mapping, and establishing posts on the inland waterways draining into Hudson Bay. He collected maps from Indians with various tribal affiliations and different hunting and travelling experiences. Some he knew well and others he simply passed on the trail, but all contributed to his knowledge about the location of the richest fur sources and the alternative routes into these areas.

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