I cried when I landed here,
at York Factory,
This is my home; this my husband.
I shall write letters, and all will be well.
We walked up the hill from the boat,
leaving behind that wretched small room
smelling of sickness and the sea,
careful to stay on the wooden path,
clouds of mosquitoes
surround us, the air so cold
it catches in my chest.
Margaret steps off the boardwalk
to slip ankle-deep in the marshy mud,
her white stockings stained.
The piano will be uncrated later.
I look out the tiny window
of my new quarters, four rooms,
and know that beyond the palisades
for miles and miles, past the rolling hills
of the marsh, past that row of tall pines
on the horizon, there is nothing.
Letitia Hargrave (1813-1854) is honored today as the first woman to write of her experiences living in Upper Manitoba as the wife of Chief Factor James Hargrave, at York Factory, just off Hudson's Bay, a key post of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Her letters, available online, are a treasure of detail. Isolated, alone, yet with a finishing school mentality, Letitia wrote to her family in a close hand, cross-written with thin ink that froze in the winter, yet tell us much of life in mid-19th Century frontier Canada.
Read more of Letitia's life on Wikipedia.
Read her letters here at the Library of the University of Toronto.