Women's agency in the development of hybrid social spaces: The trials of Sarah Ballenden and Maria Thomas in Canada's Red River colony, 1850 and 1863 (Manitoba)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Geography & Environmental Studies
Faculty of Arts
Jean Kay Guelke
In 1850 and 1863, the British Hudson's Bay Company's Red River colony (current day Winnipeg) witnessed two sensationalized lawsuits. These lawsuits focused on two women of mixed First Nations and British extraction, namely Sarah Ballenden and Maria Thomas. Using these legal cases as a backdrop, this study aims to destabilize the notion that British claims to power and authority in the "contact zones" in the Red River colony were "fixed" and that women were the passive victims of history. I argue that British women developed defensive strategies based on their situated knowledges of social and spatial relations in that place. They used this knowledge to achieve agency and voice in the patriarchal British fur trade. Operating from within Victorian interpretations of the ideology of the doctrine of separate spheres, British women deployed the spatial expressions of middle class discourses on gender, class, race, and sexuality to influence social and power relations in public and private places. British women's enforcement of socially constructed notions about immoral sexual and spatial behaviours marked certain women of colour as "out of place." This research project revealed that Countryborn individuals used similar defensive strategies to reject the imposition of British stereotypes on their identities. Their refusal to accept these identities allowed them to engage in a process of identity formation. Focusing on the testimonies of a variety of witnesses during both trials, I analyzed how narrative accounts of events indicated human behaviour did not always proceed from expected class or racial positions. Incorporating hybridity theory into this study, it became possible to unpack the ways in which certain Countryborn women and some men took advantage of Britons' ambivalent "aversion" and "desire" for the "other" to engage in mimetic behaviour and subvert power relations. Such conscious engagement with British power structures allowed Countryborn men and women to influence, but not internalise, British codes of conduct. Thus, mimicry facilitated resistance and agency for people of colour and suggests that the Red River colony was a hybrid place.
FitzGerald, Sharron A., "Women's agency in the development of hybrid social spaces: The trials of Sarah Ballenden and Maria Thomas in Canada's Red River colony, 1850 and 1863 (Manitoba)" (2004). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 493.