When gathering thoughts on the 200th Anniversary of the establishment of Hudson Bay Fort Colvile I wrote about the many groups of people who were involved and the effects of that event that echo to this day (Preliminary Thoughts). Since then a great number of people have contributed thoughts, stories, links and suggestions for commemorating the event.
Among the materials that were contributed or suggested is a lot of material from Tom Holloway. It, along with others is now available on our website, http://theheritagenetwork.org/ in the Library section. Another new section is a Forum. It is built with an accordion technique that lets you expand and collapse discussions on different topics. The first part, participants, lists some people who are already involved in this project. Another fold is on music, which bridges cultural divides and has a lot of room for expansion. There are more topics to come in the forum and more sections slated for the website. One is now a gallery of photos and other images from that era.
Having read some material stemming from that time, I have begun to think of history differently. In school history comes at us in condensed descriptions of time, place, event and some perspective. It is important to get the facts accurately and have them reviewed by historians. But when you try to view those events today, it is through your own eyes and often the personal memories of others either written or oral. Like ancestry, the further you go back or forward from a particular person at a particular time, the more complex it becomes.
One book I read was Angus McDonald of the Great Divide, the uncommon life of a Fur Trader, 1816-1889, by Steve A. Anderson. In it, you can find stories of Angus McDonald, the last chief trader at HBC Fort Colvile, but also his uncle, Archibald McDonald, a previous chief trader at Fort Colvile, his wife Catherine, a Métis woman, parts French, Iroquois and Nez Perce, and Isaac Stevens, Washington Territory’s first governor. Each of them had distinct personalities and those personalities changed as events unfolded in their lives. (I highly recommend that people read this book, particularly chapter 6, Catherine’s story of a trading expedition to the Southwest in 1840 to 1841.) Trying to frame these people and their interactions in a paragraph or two, as they would appear in a history book, is a task fraught with difficulty and distortion.
Reflecting on what can be achieved trying to condense the events surrounding the establishment and management of the fort into accounts from the different perspectives of “Indigenous, Métis, Scottish, English, French, Japanese, Catholic, Protestant and the environment” as I did in my preliminary thoughts appears to me now to be a little like political correctness in a can. Any person in any of these groups can have ancestors from the other groups which may have had different values, perspectives and loyalties. The descendants today may have conflicting feelings about them. Communicating those feelings is probably a more interesting and achievable goal than determining the best way to represent the view of a whole group of people or the ecology itself about the era.
To that end I want to encourage people to exchange stories on this website and eventually in the commemoration itself about traditions they are carrying on in their own lives. Those could be skills like boat building, tanning, weaving, making music, raising livestock or views of the world, celebrations, memorials… whatever ties each of us today to that time in the past.
Still, working with historians who spend time and energy verifying time, place and events, I know their frustration with anecdotes and written histories which don’t stand up to examination of original documents and artifacts. So I am going to take a lesson from another book recently read, A River Captured by Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, who allows people to recount their memories but takes the time to research and correct details. I also hope that dedicated historians and researchers will review stories and start discussions about what can be verified or the context that brings out a more complete account. We can all teach and learn from each other.