“… there were many feasts”

Anthony Henday drive
Anthony Henday drive (Photo credit: jasonwoodhead23)

Perhaps the most successful St. George’s Day dinner ever given was by Anthony Henday on April 23, 1755. At that time the Hudson’s Bay Company had its trading posts around the bay itself. Business was getting worse because the French were establishing posts farther and farther west and the Native Indians could deal with them.

In June 1754, the governor of York Factory decided to send a trouble-shooter west to see what could be done. Anthony Henday, a former smuggler from the Isle of Wight, volunteered for the job, and set off with a band of Native Indians.

Henday was told to live like an Indian, which he did with much enjoyment, keeping a diary which was both informative and amusing. The hunting was marvellous and there were many feasts along the way. Commenting that, “You can never fill an Indian,” Henday wrote, “I am not behind, thank God, a good stomach, and as I am looked upon as a Leader, I have Ladies of different ranks to attend me; please to observe the men do nothing but hunt, and we Leaders hath a Lady to hold the thogin with water to our heads when we drink.”

St. George's Day
St. George’s Day (Photo credit: Cristiano Maia)

By October, Henday’s party had reached what is known as the Red Deer River today, and Henday could see the Rocky Mountains. He met the Blackfoot Indians who lived in a village of 200 teepees in parallel rows. He sat on a sacred white buffalo robe while he conferred with the chief, whom he tried to persuade to send braves with furs to Hudson Bay. The chief pointed out that his tribe did not know how to paddle canoes but travelled on horses. They lived on meat, not fish, and would starve.

Henday then travelled north and spent the winter at what may have been the Thickwood Hills. On April 23, 1755, he gave a great St. George’s Day feast at which he displayed the flag and spoke about the patron saint. He knew that the Indians could not have cared less about St. George, but they loved a feast! There was drumming, dancing and especially eating! When he was ready to go back to Hudson Bay, he had sixty canoes laden with furs!

To learn more about Anthony Henday, visit the University of Calgary, an interesting and well-written document from the University of Manitoba is A Puzzle Revisited that revolves around his diary… just be ready to have time to read because it’s 113 pages.

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