In the late nineteenth century, the Canadian government aggressively sought to strengthen its authority over the North-West as American interests and Aboriginal claims to the land threatened the unity of the newly-established Dominion. Of particular interest was Rupert's Land, a region west of Manitoba previously owned by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) and primarily populated by Aboriginal groups. Fundamental to settling the North-West was controlling the indigenous populations, and it was believed that one means of suppressing this group was by introducing non-Aboriginals to the area. To this end, the government encouraged non-Aboriginals to re-locate and settle in this area through lucrative programs.
Hard-line policies for "managing" Aboriginal groups, rendering the region safe for "civilized" white settlers, were justified through captivity narratives. Captivity narratives, sensationalized tales of Indian kidnappings of white (frontier) settlers, enjoyed a wide circulation and long print runs in early Canada. Thus, the captivity narrative served as an effective medium to indoctrinate the public with justifications of colonial suppression of Aboriginals whenever Canada encountered hostile resistance to its efforts to "civilize" the Prairies, with the most poignant example the Frog Lake Massacre in 1885.
In this paper, I will investigate the significance of captivity narratives in early Canada through a close examination of the first captivity narrative based in western Canada: Two Months in the Camp of Big Bear: The Life and Adventures of Theresa Gowanlock and Theresa Delaney (1885). Each woman recounts her experience in a separate section in Two Months, including the circumstances leading up to their settlement at Frog Lake with their husbands. Mrs. Gowanlock and Mrs. Delaney recount the killing of their husbands along with six other men on April 2, 1885 in Frog Lake by Big Bear's camp, immediately after which the two women were kidnapped and held captive in Big Bear's camp for two months. At the time of its publication, Two Months was marketed as an eye-witness account by government officials although it differed significantly from Gowanlock and Delaney's initial reporting of their two-month ordeal. Despite its unique position in literary history, Two Months has remained essentially vacant from discussions of book history in early Canada. This absence is largely due to the lack of scholars who have analyzed and published critical work on Two Months; this scholarly deficiency reflects the general lack of scholarship on early Canadian book history in the Prairies. This paper is an exploration of the shifting narratives surrounding this text; I will also discuss the didacticism of the images inserted throughout the text.