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Daniel Harmon, The Winterer
By 1800, trade and exploration in North America had forged ahead thanks to the singular efforts of adventurers like David Thompson and Alexander Mackenzie.
Daniel Harmon was an educated young man from Vermont who became a fur trader with the North West Company and married a Métis woman in the early 1800s. (As portrayed by Geordie Johnson in Canada: A People's History)
Daniel Harmon was an educated young man from Vermont who became a fur trader with the North West Company and married a Métis woman in the early 1800s. (As portrayed by Geordie Johnson in Canada: A People's History)
In their wake, a new society slowly formed on the Canadian prairie. As trading posts were established, more traders wintered with the natives. The men took native wives, and a rough culture formed around them. A new people - the Métis - arose.

One of the traders was Daniel Harmon, an educated young man from Vermont who was looking for adventure. He signed on with the North West Company as a clerk at the age of 21. A month after Harmon arrived in Grand Portage, he and his travelling party headed west - deep into the heart of Cree and Assiniboine country.

"When we got within a mile of the native's camp, 10 or a dozen of the chiefs and most respected men came on horseback to meet and conduct us to their dwellings..." wrote Harmon.

If Harmon had been apprehensive about living among the natives - he was now surprised.

"During several days that we remained with those people we met with more real politeness than is often shown to strangers in the civilized part of the world, and much more than I had expected to meet with from savages, as the Indians are generally called, but I think wrongfully," Harmon wrote.

The man with the roving disposition was a fur trader 1000 miles northwest of Grand Portage - leading a life at times exciting - but also isolating and lonely.

Most winterers found companionship with the local native women.
David Harmon entered into a "country" marriage with a Métis woman and had 12 children while working as a fur trader in the western territories. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
David Harmon entered into a "country" marriage with a Métis woman and had 12 children while working as a fur trader in the western territories. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
"Country marriages," as they were called, cemented trading alliances. Two years into his stay, a Cree Chief offered Daniel Harmon one of his daughters.

"He pressed me to keep her... he said he was fond of me, and he wished to have his daughter with the white people. And he almost persuaded me to accept of her, for I was sure that while I had the daughter, I should not only have the father's hunts, but those of his relations also... But thanks be to God alone, if I have not been brought into a snare laid no doubt by the Devil himself."

Without a wife or companions, he spent his time reading books, his "dead friends" as he called them.

But Harmon was unbearably lonely. When he received another offer three years later he accepted - and entered into a country marriage with the 14-year-old daughter of a French-Canadian voyageur and a native mother - Lizette Duval.

At the time, Harmon saw this as a temporary arrangement.


Métis buffalo hunters were descendants of marriages between fur traders and natives. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Métis buffalo hunters were descendants of marriages between fur traders and natives. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
"...my intentions now are to keep her as long as I remain in this uncivilized part of the world, but when I return to my native land, I shall endeavor to place her into the hands of some good honest man, with whom she can pass the remainder of her days in this country..."

With Lizette, he had a son and nine daughters and the household was a mixture of Cree, French and English. His young wife turned out to be more than a companion who facilitated trade and helped him on his travels.

Harmon spent 19 winters in trading posts across the west before moving east to educate his children in a "civilized and Christian manner." Harmon toyed with the idea of leaving his "country wife" as he had originally planned.
Most of the North Westers did, but Harmon felt he couldn't.

"We have wept together over the early departure of several children, and especially, over the death of a beloved son. We have children still living, who are equally dear to us both. How could I spend my days in the civilized world, and leave my beloved children in the wilderness? The thought has in it the bitterness of death," Harmon wrote.

Harmon and his family went to Montreal, where he married Lizette in a church and had their children baptized. But he eventually returned to the fur trade, managing a trading post near Fort Frances.
He worked in modest capacities throughout his trading career, but in middle-age he tried to leave his mark, founding a settlement named for himself. Harmonsville didn't prosper though, and Harmon died in 1843, poor and unrecognized.

The mixed-blood children of Harmon's marriage and of many other fur traders - part European and Cree - would become part of a new Canadian people - the Métis.

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