1700s Northern Métis

The Métis Heritage Association of the Northwest Territories defined ‘Northern Métis’ as people who early in the history of the Northwest Territories had family ties to Quebec or the Manitoba Red River Settlement or, in later years, anyone of mixed Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal background who chose to call themselves Métis.

The early history of the fur trade in the Northwest Territories and the early history of the Northern Métis are inseparable. The Métis were the coureurs de bois (runners of the wood) of the fur trade, an integral part of a water transportation system that stretched from the Great Lakes and the valley of the St. Lawrence River thousands of kilometres northwest to the Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers.

The first Métis to cross the height of land dividing waters flowing to Hudson Bay from those flowing to the Arctic Ocean are believed to have been coureurs de bois employed by the Company of the Sioux. This New France fur trade company established trading posts in present-day northern Saskatchewan in the mid-1700s. When these posts closed in 1760 these employees, instead of returning to Quebec, crossed the Methy Portage onto the Clearwater and Athabasca rivers and moved downstream as far as Great Slave Lake (map). These ‘free men’ carried the family names Beaulieu, Poitras, Cayen, Mandevile, Lafleur and Tourangeau, names that are still well known in today’s Northwest Territories.