Manitoba History: Review: Henry Epp (editor), Three Hundred Prairie Years: Henry Kelsey’s “Inland Country of Good Report”

by Michael Payne
Historic Sites and Archive Services, Alberta Community Development

Number 27, Spring 1994

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Please direct all inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

Henry Epp (editor), Three Hundred Prairie Years: Henry Kelsey’s “Inland Country of Good Report”, Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, 1993, xi, 238 pp. ISBN 0-88977-0A0-8, ISSN 155NO317-6401; 26.00, $28.00 cloth.

This publication is based on the edited proceedings of the Kelsey Tri-Centennial Conference held in November 1991 at Saskatoon, although it does contain some other material including two introductory chapters by Henry Epp and Malcolm Ross and a republication of most of Arthur Doughty and Chester Martin’s 1929 edition of The Kelsey Papers. The latter is a particularly welcome addition to the volume as the Doughty and Martin book has long been out-of-print, and Kelsey’s journal remains one of the most interesting, if occasionally cryptic, examples of fur trade writing. In addition to being one of the few early sources of first-hand information on the western interior of Canada, it has the quirky charm of being written partially in rhyming couplets, making Kelsey one of Canada’s first known poets.

Most reviews of conference proceedings seem to begin with a comment about the uneven quality of the papers and the tenuous links between submissions. For those who like clarity and a consistent point of view this is a weakness, but scholarly discourse is seldom like that and one of the attractions of this book is the range of submissions and the fact that they do not all agree. For example, despite Allen Ronaghan’s contention that many of Kelsey’s descriptions of the landscape are “so detailed that we can practically see the country” (p. 89), confusion still remains over where exactly Deering’s Point might be. Similarly, Ronaghan suggests that Kelsey’s “slate mines” should still be found on the lower Etomami River (p. 94), while John McConnell is confident that these mines are found in roughly the same area but on the Red Deer River near the present town of Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan (p. 8). As Henry Epp indicates in his editorial introduction, no attempt was made to eliminate “disagreements among authors, as that leads only to a false impression about the present state of knowledge” (p. 3), and the result is a more forthright and interesting book.

There is also something rather intriguing about a book, ostensibly about Henry Kelsey and his legacy, that has the reach to include a chapter by Randy Widdis on the present “cultural” landscape of Saskatchewan discussing the significance of Moose Jaw’s Mac the Moose and Gopher’s Gas Station (pp. 142-57). In fact Part VI of this book consists of five chapters by Tim Jones, Don Gayton, Linda Pelly-Landrie, Sid Fiddler and Henry Epp that set out to explore not the past but the possible future of Kelsey’s “Inland Country.” You know you have an interdisciplinary volume when futurology gets to take its place beside history, anthropology, archaeology and ecology.

Of course there is also a good collection of discipline-based studies by scholars like Arthur Ray, David Meyer and others. Arthur Ray’s chapter on “spatial dynamism” in the early fur trade (pp. 113-23) is particularly noteworthy as a vigorous defence and refinement of several of the main contentions in his earlier Indians in the Fur Trade. It acts as a rebuttal to some of the criticisms offered by Dale Russell, who is also represented in this book, and others who have argued that the fur trade prompted little change in territories or band organization in the early contact period.

Overall most readers will find something of interest and value in this collection whatever their research interest or discipline.

A page from the journal of Henry Kelsey, published in The Kelsey Papers by Arthur Doughty and Chester Martin, 1929.

Page revised: 11 April 2010