Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Métis in the 19th Century


268 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7822-2
DDC 971.2700497




Reviewed by Joseph Leydon

Joseph Leydon teaches geography at the University of Toronto.


In this book, G.J. Ens argues that much academic writing on the Métis
inadequately explains their social and economic origins, in many
instances presenting them as a primitive people who were unable or
unwilling to adjust to capitalist society. Ens contends that Métis
identity is defined not by biology or blood but by the economic and
social niche they carved out for themselves within the context of the
fur trade. Concentrating on the parishes of St. Franзois Xavier
(chiefly Catholic French Métis) and St. Andrew (chiefly Anglican
English Métis) in the Red River Settlement, Ens demonstrates how the
rise of the buffalo-robe trade in the 1840s was accompanied by a
proto-industrialization that altered the social and economic life of the
parishes; marriages occurred at an earlier age, family size increased,
and geographic mobility was enhanced.

This book has many strengths. Unlike previous work on the Métis, it
uses parish registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths to construct
detailed evidence of family formation. It also integrates discussion of
proto-industrialization with the relevant literature on this phase of
capitalist development in Western Europe. However, in attempting to
explain the different participation rates of the two parishes in the
buffalo-robe trade and agriculture, Ens reverts to the cultural argument
he previously criticized: he blames the Métis migration in the 1870s on
the religious and racial intolerance of the Protestant settlers arriving
from Ontario. While this intolerance was certainly a contributing factor
in the migration, so was the government’s failure to confirm Métis
land rights and its reinstatement of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s
monopoly through trade regulations. That caveat aside, this excellent
local economic and social history, should receive serious consideration
in academic circles.


Ens, Gerhard J., “Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Métis in the 19th Century,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30093.