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Les Canades, or the Canadians, are people who in the modern sense live in Canada. But Canada was not always called Canada and it Canadians were certainly not all called Canadians. “Canades” is a term created by Jacques Cartier, one of the earliest explorers of Canada, who learned of the Huron word kanata for village. Cartier used this term to refer to the area about the Hurons’ settlement, which at the time was somewhere near what is now Quebec City. A century later, this territory earned the name New France due to its predominantly French settlement patterns, most of which could be found along the St. Lawrence Seaway heading inland towards the Great Lakes.
As French explorers entered into North America, and made their way through the Canades settlements and from there over to the Great Lakes, the land they passed through also became a part of New France. Once the British regained control of these more inland parts of the continent, Quebec remained its own territory and the remaining lands referred to generally as Canada. This area known as Canada continued to increase in size as the explorers increased the size of this French claim, referring to lands west of the Great Lakes as Canada and lands extending southward from the Great Lakes along the Mississippi River towards Louisiana more sections of New France.
The Canades Cartier was referring to has more recently been referred to as Lower Crees. Some have been referred to them as Swampy Cree, a name suggesting many were residing in the lowlands. According to the philosophy of disease at the time of the Small Pox epidemic that made its way through this settlement and its neighbors from 1781 to 1785, the Lowlands was one of the least healthiest places to reside. The European philosophy for how such a disease could impact so many people as it did the Cree was based on impressions they had about the strength and stature of the Cree due to the way they lived. The disease could be brought in by weather, induced by climate, or caused by any of the many natural elements local to this environment felt to be coducive of disease. But the way in which this disease came into the region, the ability to trace its probable source and route, had many European and Euro-American physicians puzzled.
Tracing the Diffusion of Small Pox
This disease has two possible routes it could have taken to the Cree.
Route 1 (yellow, red options): Beginning as far south as Mexico in 1779, small pox could have made its way across the continental proper and northward by taking the typical trade routes northward (yellow route, most widely accepted), or by passing across the prairie to Saskatchewan River (Arthur Ray’s theory, the red route). These routes involve Shoshone and Snake River (Paul Hackett) onto the Western Canadian Plains, and the Missouri River northward onto the Eastern Canadian Plains.
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Route 2 (orange): This disease came in by way of the South Saskatchewan River, and a little more from the west. Evidence for this is the fact that Shoshones were taken ill in the Red Deer River Valley, an epidemic which some Northern Ojibway (aka Bunjee or Lake Indians) warriors witnessed during their trip back to Cumberland House west of Lake Winnepeg. The Ojibway briefly made contact with the Shoshones on their way back home, noting the Shoshone to be quite ill. These Ojibway shared this story after arriving at Cumberland House several weeks later, in winter of 1781-2. This appears to be the most credible way in which small pox could have came upon Cree settlements.
One could say that as this disease began its path of diffusion eastward along the overland routes, that it pretty much followed the river banks making its way towards Lake Winnepeg. To remain in an infectious state, it had to travel mostly from person to person, cabin to cabin, encampment to encampment, tipi to tipi. At the time there were a number of Mandan villages situated along the South Saskatchewan. These Mandans had trade relations with other Native American groups south of the Canadian Border down in the Dakotas. Most of the Mandans and their partners resided on the Missouri River or one of its tributaries, such as the Red River. This trade facilitated the diffusion of small pox along these trade routes, So in due time, as the disease made its way eastward towards more settled parts of Canada, the numerous business establishments where Native Americans tended to aggregate assisted it in making its way along the path leading to Hudson Bay. For now (as of 10/2011) there is very little if any evidence suggesting an initial introduction of measles by way of any south to southeastern routes; the population requirements were there, but no documented introduction of measles from Toronto, the Great Lakes, or any of the many former New France settlements could be found.
Once the final destination of this smoldering epidemic was reached, the shoreline of Hudson Bay, this disease stopped because it had reached the end of its routes geographically. Fortunately, the travel across Hudson Bay wasn’t able to spread the disease much beyond the immediate Cree settlements. Even the trip towards the relatively close Severn House, from both directions, seemed to be protected from this contagion.
From Victor P. Lytwyn. The Hurons referred to as Canades. see p. 169-170 for Lowland Cree discussion.
Arthur J. Ray. Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Role as Trappers, Hunters and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay. 1670-1870 . Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1974 . pp. 105-7.
E. J. Paul Hackett. A Very Remarkable Sickness: The Diffusion of Directly Transmitted, Acute Infections Diseases in the Petit Nord, 1670-1848. University of Manitoba. PhD Dissertation. 1999. p. 190.