19760213005 | Group of Blackfoot sit near the Royal North West Mounted Police barracks in Fort Macleod, 1894
Group of Blackfoot sit near the Royal North West Mounted Police barracks in Fort Macleod, 1894
1894, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
20.2 x 25.2 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
Keys to History
When whiskey traders from Montana entered what is now southern Alberta in the late 1860s via the Whoop Up Trail, they set in motion a chain of events that planted the seeds for one way of life and nearly destroyed an ancient culture.
In 1869 John J. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton built a trading fort at the confluence of the Belly and St. Mary's rivers. Fort Whoop Up became the anchor of some forty-four whiskey trading posts established throughout southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The trade, conducted primarily with the Blackfoot Confederacy, involved exchanging buffalo robes for concoctions made of raw alcohol and other noxious ingredients. Although the whiskey trade lasted only five years, it caused immense harm to the Blackfoot people.
The year 1869 also saw the sale of the Hudson's Bay Company lands to the Government of Canada. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald now had the task of asserting Canadian sovereignty in the West. The formation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) and their arrival at Fort Whoop Up in the fall of 1874 finally put an end to the whiskey trade.
A group of Blackfoot Indians are seen sitting near the Royal North West Mounted Police barracks in Fort Macleod in 1894.
The development of the Canadian west involved less physical violence than on the American frontier, but the effects on Native people were, in many ways, just as devastating.
By the 1890s the Blackfoot people and culture were reeling from the impact of the whiskey trade, the transcontinental railway and settlers flooding onto the Canadian prairies.
After 1874 the Mounted Police had a role as a buffer between the Blackfoot and the changes that threatened them. Unfortunately, however, the Mounties were not very effective in this capacity, as they themselves were in the vanguard of change on the Canadian plains.