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Radishes and Gooseberries – A Book Review

October 7, 2020

Meet some of the people who are missing from your high school history textbook

Scott P. Stephen, Masters and Servants: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Its North American Workforce, 1668-1786(Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2019), 440 pages, $44.99 (paper).

“Radishes and Gooseberries!” Our high school social studies teacher would drill the names into us so we would better remember them for next week’s quiz. Who were they and who were the countless nameless “servants” hired to unlock the abundant wealth of Canada’s Northwest Territory for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), the famed Company of Adventurers? A new book offers some complex answers.

Parks Canada historian Scott Stephen reminds us that Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart des Groseillers, my teacher’s radishes and gooseberries, were among the earliest fur traders working for the Company during its humble first decade after 1670. That was the year the British government granted a royal charter licensing it to plunder the vast Canadian northwest.

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