Metis Pioneers

Marie Rose Delorme Smith and
Isabella Clark Hardisty Lougheed
Two Remarkable Metis Women’s Lives
During the Prairie West’s Transition
From the Fur Tradeby Doris Jeanne MacKinnon,
University of Alberta Press, Mar. 2018
2018. 556 pages. Paper. $40.00 CAD.
ISBN #978-1-77212-271-8


Publisher’s Promo:


In Metis Pioneers, Doris Jeanne MacKinnon
compares the survival strategies of two Metis
women born during the fur trade—one from the
French-speaking free trade tradition and one
from the  English-speaking Hudson’s Bay
Company tradition—who settled in southern
Alberta as the Canadian West transitioned
to as sedentary agricultural and industrial

MacKinnon provides rare insight into their lives,
demonstrating the contributions Metis women
made to to the building of the Prairie West.

This is a compelling tale of two women’s acts of
quiet resistance in the final days of the British Empire.


Backstory on Metis in Canada


About the Author  – Doris Jeanne MacKinnon

Doris Jeanne MacKinnon was born on a farm in
northeastern Alberta and attended school in the
historic town of St-Paul-des-Métis. She has a PhD
in Indigenous and post-Confederation Canadian
history. An independent researcher and post-
secondary instructor, she lives in Red Deer, Alberta.

Author’s Words:

Marie Rose Dorme Smith was born in the Red River colony in 1864 (in what is today Manitoba). Isbella Clark Hardisty Lougheed was born in 1861 to Metis parents. She spent most of her younger years in the Northern Mackenzie district (NWT/Upper Alberta). Because of her marriage to James Lougheed, she settled in Southern Alberta (Calgary). Both women, in public at least, attempted to subsume their Metis ethnicity into a larger European community.

The comparison of these women may, at the beginning, seem illogical because the first was of French Metis, and the second of Anglo Metis ancestry; but it is now agreed by scholars that Metis identity should not be narrowly defined. It was diverse but inclusive. With this modern understanding, both women qualify as Metis, in other words.

Indeed, both women were linked to indigenous people, and both showed themselves to be intelligent, resourceful and strong women whose lives are living testaments to the role of Metis women to the construction of the Prairie West.
The changing social landscape (of) the fur trade was coming to a close at the end of the nineteenth century. When Alberta became a province in 1905, all Indigenous people, including Metis, would eventually be relegated to occupying small tracts of land. All Indigenous people, including Metis, were increasingly seen as uncivilized, and unsuited for success as farmers and business people in the emerging capitalist society.Questions about Metis identity created challenges. Were they mixed blood, were they Indigenous, to which community did they belong, did they belong to all or were they forever to reside between other peoples, and would subsequent generations be less Metis and more Euro-North American?
(Few scholars have ventured to more closely describe the differences between various kinds of Metis groups. For the two Metis women in this study, identity was much more complex than the place (e.g. Red River or Alberta) from which they emerged. The fact is, there was a silence about Metis identity in their own lives and how they defined themselves. It is difficult to research Metis backgrounds in comparison to those of various European cultures. Still, biography is important in the study of all women’s history, and – increasingly – for less well-known women for whom written documentation is hard to find. Biography is an important way to define women of that era. It tends to be much easier to write biographies of the men of the time. So, a study like this attempts to go beyond the traditional biographies of that period. Biography of “great women” does not tend to exist; but stories of the lives of women of that century are certainly accessible.)
Many Metis women were forced to define their identities in environments that were increasingly Anglocentric. Their work involved raising their children, and the unpaid service work they undertook; work that is so critical in organizing and maintaining social institutions as new societies emerge. They formed business partnerships that helped their families negotiate and succeed in the changing economy.

In the end, both women in this study felt the need to suppress or repackage the Metis identity and culture that had sustained both of their fur trade families (with whom they maintained ties) and that, in many ways, continued to sustain them.

– from the Introduction

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst
My Thoughts:
What Doris Jeanne Mackinnon, the author of this book does not say specifically above, but which I find most valuable, is that the two Metis women she writes about were playing a major role in a process of cultural evolution that is still unfolding in Canada today. Indigenous people of all kinds – First Nations, Inuit and Metis – are finally having their human rights recognized in Canadian society. This is happening through such developments as the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. The cultural bridging demonstrated by the two women subjects of this book is both evident and significant.
While “cultural assimilation” may be a term used by some to describe their contribution, I would prefer to call it “multi-cultural progress” where individual cultures can retain distinct characteristics, yet become part of the unique and larger societal experiment that is Canada today.
Recognising the special role that the Indigenous people have to contribute to the making of Canadian history and society is only beginning to dawn on many of us.
This book helps to fill a significant gap in the process of understanding that history.
It is now more than twenty years that I first became aware of the existence of Metis people in the cultural mix that is Canada. Many of us had for years been concerned about the human rights of First Nations and Inuit peoples. The Metis were off the radar screen for many of us. Gradually, however, I became aware of them, as several Metis church leaders began to speak out at conferences and in the media. It comes as a great personal satisfaction to hear their story being told through efforts such as this book represents.
The voices for justice that first began to be heard in the churches as far back as the 1980’s seem now to be proclaimed in society as a whole.
I must admit to some surprise when I read in Metis Pioneers that James Lougheed’s wife was Isbella Clark Hardisty Lougheed, a Metis. She would have been the grandmother of Peter Lougheed, a pillar of Alberta politics. While Isabella may have “subsumed” her Metis ethnicity in her day, that same Metis ethnicity is becoming a matter of growing pride in modern Canadian society – along with all the other Indigenous ethnicities.
Given the social stigma accorded mixed race people all over the world, I am proud that, in Canada, that “stigma” has been evolving as an asset.
Granted, we still have a long way to go, but we are at least on the way to a new period of enlightened Canadian society.
Thanks to the unsung contributions of women like Marie Rose and Isabella and many others, we have the opportunity to engage a new history in the making. If you have an interest in this exciting chapter of Canadian progress, I encourage you to secure this book.
Buy the book from

From the University of Alberta Press:


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinate Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

Colleagues List, Vol XIII. No.41. April 22, 2018

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