Métis History

Often known as children of the fur-trade, the Métis participated as trappers, guides, interpreters, factors, dock and warehouse workers, voyageurs, coureurs des bois, canoe and York boat paddlers, and Red River cart teamsters.

Before cattle were abundant enough to become a food source, Métis hunted buffalo to make pemmican to provide a meat source to feed the outlying communities and trading posts. Wild berries and wild vegetables were gathered and sold along with the pemmican. Métis people assisted new settlers adapting to the harsh conditions of this country. Métis worked as farm labourers, clearing land and planting crops. Métis women taught newly arrived European women the preparation and preservation of wild game and other foods needed to survive the long harsh winters.

Before the establishment of the mounted police in the west, the Métis organized themselves in a military style that proved useful in the creation of border patrols that discouraged invasion by both the American Fenians and the Sioux.

[pullquote style=”right” quote=”light”]In the evenings after buffalo hunts, the Métis exercised their horses to music in the fashion of a square dance while the fiddler played quadrilles[/pullquote] The York boat was invented by the Métis for use on larger bodies of water and to carry more freight than the freighter canoes. It also required less maintenance and had a sail. The Métis were responsible for the development of the versatile Red River cart used to transport goods over both land and water.

The RCMP Musical Ride may have been inspired by the Métis practice of exercising their horses to the music of the jig and square dance. In the evenings after buffalo hunts, the Métis exercised their horses to music in the fashion of a square dance while the fiddler played quadrilles (a square dance still performed by Métis dancers).

The skilled horsemanship developed in the buffalo hunt was easily adapted for bronc busting, calf roping and range riding, skills put to use in the development of ranches in the west. Well known for their tracking, guiding, and interpretive skills, Métis were often employed by the Northwest Mounted Police, as they are today by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Métis have served their country in many wars: the first was with the battle of the Nile Expedition in 1884-85; the Boar War; the First and Second World Wars; and, the Korean conflict. Many were decorated for their bravery, and many also made the supreme sacrifice. Métis continue to serve with distinction in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Many Métis participated in industry, trade and commerce in various roles of responsibility. Many became involved with mainstream politics in numerous capacities, or entered the legal, medical and educational professions, due to the fact that from the birth of the Métis Nation, they were often formally educated through the encouragement and influence of their European fathers.

The Métis were instrumental in the entry of Manitoba into Confederation.

Reprinted with Permission of The Métis Nation of Ontario
Top image from Wikimedia Comons