My Canadian studies class recently watched Women in the Shadows, a documentary by feminist filmmaker and professor, Christine Welsh. Not long after we had watched her film Welsh agreed to visit our class for a question and answer period. Below I’ve included a little of what I learned from her film and her visit.
In an article detailing her documentary experience, Welsh explains that her interest had been sparked when her mother recovered a copy of The Last Buffalo Hunter, an oral history by her great grandfather, Norbert Welsh. In the film, however, Welsh attempts to recover more information about her great grandmothers, figures who were much harder to trace.
Along her search, Welsh discovers the name of her great grandmother, Margaret Taylor, and Margaret’s mother, Jane. Welsh surmises that Jane was most likely Cree. Jane’s union with George Taylor meant that Margaret was one of the first generations of Metis women. While documentation about women was lacking during early colonization, Welsh was able to uncover some details about her foremothers because of Margaret Taylor’s connection to Hudson’s Bay Company Governor George Simpson.
In the early period of Canadian colonization, Hudson’s Bay employees often took “country wives”. These women, of First Nations or Metis heritage, would create family ties between the explorers and the local community and were often the reason their husbands survived their first few Canadian winters. In Women in the Shadows, Welsh discovers that Taylor had been Simpson’s “country wife” for many years, only to be cast aside by Simpson when he returned from a trip to England with a new white wife.