Buffalo Meat Drying, White Horse Plains, Red River[1] copy

“Buffalo Meat Drying, White Horse Plains, Red River,” painted by William Armstrong fonds, 1899. Library and Archives Canada

Beastly Histories

George Colpitts:  A sumptuous and movable feast: Bison, pemmican and the sating of society in the Northern Great Plains, 1780-1870

November 7, 2014 Humanities Lecture Theatre, 303 Paterson Hall, from 1:00-2:30 pm.

Food mattered in the fur trade. It fueled the heavy labour of canoe and York boat brigades. As the fur trade expanded, traders regularly ran out of food.  In the boreal forest and subarctic they frequently starved. By the 1780s, companies switched to the high fats and proteins offered in pemmican derived from the massive bison herds roaming the western plains. Establishing new food systems based on the bison to deliver food to brigades, plains posts themselves became transformed by the massive quantities of food on hand. Bison food and its exchange helped establish a distinctive plains fur trade society,  laying the basis of an emerging trope of plenty. This lecture explores the place of bison in the food history of these posts where aboriginals and newcomers established distinctive traditions in food exchange, regales, feasts and feasting.


George Colpitts is an associate professor of history at the University of Calgary, teaching environmental history. His book, North America’s Indian Trade in European Commerce and Imagination, 1580-1850 was published in 2014 by Brill, Leiden. His book, Pemmican Empire: Food, Trade and the Last Bison Hunts on the Northwestern Plains, 1780-1870, will be published by Cambridge University Press in Fall 2014. He is the author of Game in the Garden: A Human History of Wildlife in Western Canada to 1940 (UBC Press, 2002)

The Shannon Lectures in History is a series of thematically linked public lectures offered annually at Carleton University made possible through the Shannon Donation, a major anonymous gift from a friend of the Department of History