Image of a bronze commemorative plaque
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) trilingual commemorative plaque for Thanadelthur National Historic Person (died 1717): Dene, English, and French

Thanadelthur was designated a national historic person in 2000.

Historical importance: Indigenous woman created a bridge between two cultures; played an important role in the English fur trade in the Canadian north in early 18th-century.

Commemorative plaque: Churchill, ManitobaFootnote 1

This young Dene woman, a skilled interpreter and negotiator, played a crucial role in the expansion of the English fur trade in the Northwest. In 1715-1716, she guided Hudson’s Bay Company trader William Stuart and a contingent of Cree from York Factory into Dene territory. Thanadelthur’s diplomacy led to peace between her people and their traditional enemies, the Cree. The expedition’s success opened direct trade between the Dene and the Company, resulting in the building of a post at Churchill River in 1717. Thanadelthur’s story of courage is recorded in the Company’s journals and honoured in Dene oral tradition.

 

Photo of a person giving a speech
Speaker at the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) commemorative plaque unveiling ceremony for Thanadelthur National Historic Person (died 1717), 2017
© Parks Canada
Photo of a group of people at a plaque unveiling
Group of people at the plaque unveiling ceremony for Thanadelthur National Historic Person (died 1717), 2017
© Parks Canada
Photo of a group of people at a plaque unveiling
Group of people, 2017
© Parks Canada

Thanadelthur (died 1717)

Thanadelthur, a young Dene woman, played a crucial role in the expansion of the English fur trade during the early 1700s. She led an important expedition northwest of York Factory on Hudson Bay in 1715-16, which resulted in a peace accord between the Dene and the Cree. Fluent in Cree, English, and her own Athapaskan language, she was a skilled interpreter and negotiator who helped establish trade relations between the Dene and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Thanadelthur’s story sheds light upon the early years of the northern fur trade and speaks to the important contributions of women.

Thanadelthur lived in what is now northern Manitoba. Part of a transitional zone of boreal forest and tundra regions, here the Dene subsisted by hunting migratory herds of barren-ground caribou. European fur traders learned of the Dene through contact with the Cree at York Factory, a HBC post established on Cree lands along the Hayes River, circa 1684. Captain James Knight, who took command of the post in 1714, wanted to establish trade relations with the Dene, after hearing that they found “yellow mettle” and copper deposits northwest of York Factory. However, the Dene were reluctant to travel through lands held by their traditional enemies, the Cree. Trade required peace.

 

Photo of a group of people around a fire
People around a fire after the plaque unveiling ceremony for Thanadelthur National Historic Person (died 1717), 2017
© Parks Canada
Photo of a group of people around a fire
People around a fire. 2017
© Parks Canada

 

In 1714, Thanandelthur sought refuge at York Factory, having escaped the Cree who took her captive in a raid. Realizing her potential, Knight recruited her as a guide and interpreter for HBC trader William Stuart and a contingent of Cree, who left York Factory for Dene Territory in 1715-16. Sickness, starvation, and extreme cold plagued the group, which sought to establish lasting peace between the Dene and the Cree. When they could not go on, Thanadelthur completed the last leg of their journey on her own. Later returning with Dene emissaries, her diplomacy led to a peace agreement. The expedition’s success opened direct trade between the Dene and the HBC, resulting in the establishment of Churchill River Post in the summer of 1717. This marked the beginning of an association between the Dene and the HBC that would last for over two centuries.

Thanadelthur died in 1717, during a severe winter at York Factory. Her story survives in Dene oral tradition and the journals of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Backgrounder last update: 2017-07-21

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