A good woman is hard to find, especially if she’s wearing camouflage gear. More about that later.
We’ve just returned from a great visit to Fort Langley, that unassuming little place that was the site of the first European settlement in British Columbia. What’s most interesting was that the settlement was established and run by the Hudson Bay Trading Company, and not some brilliant strategist reporting back to Whitehall. Yep, it was all about trade and making money – sort of equivalent to one of today’s big multi-nationals setting up a base on Mars so they can get hold of cheap teleporters. It’s also a bit ironic to learn that the trading post cornered the fur market at the time by consistently underselling their US competitors (my, how things have changed).
So, where do the good women come in? Well, the Company employed lots of men as fur trappers (you see where this is going don’t you). Boys being boys, these men needed wives, and marriages to women from the local native peoples were not only encouraged, but essential to the survival of the outpost. Here’s my translation of a conversation a young native girl may well have had with her father back in the day. It’s cobbled together from a bunch of random facts picked up from the friendly Parks Canada staff who are stationed at the site, wearing authentic looking period costumes and demonstrating how things were (sort of) done.
“So, father, you want me to marry one of these foreign men?” – “Yes daughter.” – “And I must bear around eleven children, learn their language, act as translator, manage affairs while my husband is away trapping, grow the vegetables, hunt animals with one of those unreliable flintlock muskets, and do all the other jobs around the fort?” – “Yes daughter.” – “But father, that’s so easy – what will I do for the rest of the week?”
To quote the oft used phrase “they don’t make them like that anymore” – or so I thought.
… It’s the next day and we’re driving towards Tsawwassen. The ladies have been itching to visit the big Tsawwassen Mills shopping mall, and Wayne and I have somehow been conned into coming along for the ride. “You’ll just love the big camping store.” Yeah right, there’ll be a few tents and maybe a couple of fishing flies. That should be fun for about five minutes.
To my great surprise, I was, well I was, um, not fully correct. The store is huge! The fishing section alone is so big that they have a rack of modified fish finders near the entrance to help lost anglers find their way back to the checkouts. If only they could find something other than “Old Time Country Favourites – Volume 12” to play over the sound system, this could be a fun place to spend an hour or two, as long as your wallet holds out.
We wander past the fishing tackle, through the aisles of kayaks and campers, and then we see it – the biggest selection of hunting gear in the world (ok, maybe in Canada, or at least in BC). There’s guns. There’s knives and cross-bows. There’s ammo. There’s a whole aisle dedicated to duck decoys. I turn to Kirsty. “I can’t see any hunting clothing.” As ever, she’s quick on the uptake. “Funny, neither can I.”
If you haven’t guessed already, there’s a huge selection of camouflage gear (camo for short) for every occasion. As they say, the well-dressed hunter just wouldn’t be seen wearing the full set from camo shoes and laces, through trousers and belts, shirts, jackets, gloves and hats. To my surprise, there’s a big section dedicated to women hunters, and, what’s more, a section for kiddies where you can buy toy guns and cute little outfits with “My first hunting shirt”, or “my first camo” emblazoned on the front.
Wow. Who buys all this stuff? There’s obviously a big market, or they wouldn’t have built this modern version of the trading post. When I think about it, we’ve gone full circle with lots of other things like growing your own vegetables and making your own clothes, so hunting your own food is sort of logical. I just wonder if the “eleven children” trend will ever take off again?