The Ermatingers: A 19th-Century Ojibwa-Canadian Family.
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
John Stanley is a policy advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and
This book is a response to historian Jennifer H. Brown’s call for the writing of more Métis family histories, which heretofore have been a neglected form of social history. W. Brian Stewart, a native New Zealander and writer/researcher for the CBC, directs his focus in this book mainly on three generations of the Ermatinger family, from the Swiss-German/English grandfather Lawrence Ermatinger (1736–89) and his Saulteux counterpart, Katawabidai, to their children Charles Oakes Ermatinger (1766–1833) and his Saulteaux wife, Mananowe (Charlotte; c1785–1850), and their children, primarily the sons Charles Jr., William, and James, and to a lesser extent their daughters Frances, Jemima, and Anna Marie, as they negotiate the often-rocky course of their lives both in urban Montreal and in the region of Sault Ste. Marie. The result is a detailed study that contributes significantly to any reader’s awareness of the much-neglected Aboriginal heritage of Montreal in the 19th century, as well as the social challenges facing the mixed-blood children and grandchildren of the fur trade in the Canadian West. It makes you wonder why this hasn’t been done more extensively before. Stewart is to be commended for the thoroughgoing way in which he approaches his subject.
The style and particularly the content are reminiscent of biographical narratives of an earlier, less critical academic time. In part this approach gives the work some of its not-inconsiderable charm, but it also leads to some of its weaknesses. The writer needed to more critically contextualize and assess his 18th- and 19th-century sources, more frequently addressing the question of why someone in a given position would say what he or she did. Further, he needed to avoid such disrespectful gaffes as referring to the 1816 Seven Oaks conflict as a “massacre.” Métis readers would cringe. As well, the writer needed to consult more thoroughly the rich literature of late-20th- and early 21st-century anthropologists and Indigenous studies scholars concerning the traditional culture of the Anishinabe peoples. Still, the book is a necessary read for those intending to study the fur trade in the 19th century, and those intending to write a similar work themselves.