Academic journal article Alberta History

Isabella Clarke Hardisty Lougheed: First Lady of the North-West

Academic journal article Alberta History

Isabella Clarke Hardisty Lougheed: First Lady of the North-West

Article excerpt

Isabella Clarke Hardisty Lougheed was born at Fort Resolution in 1861, the daughter of William Lucas Hardisty and Mary Ann Allen. (1) Her uncles, Richard Hardisty and Donald A. Smith (Lord Strathcona), went on to become two of the wealthiest men in the North-West when the fur trade gave way to a sedentary commercial and agricultural economy. Isabella married James Alexander Lougheed on 16 September 1884, (2) and not long after their marriage, James stepped into the Senate seat of Richard Hardisty to become the youngest man to serve in the Senate. Isabella and James had six children, and their grandson, Peter Edgar Lougheed, became Alberta's tenth premier.

Isabella Hardisty Lougheed's father spent his entire career in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in the Mackenzie District, holding the position of Chief Factor from 1869 until his retirement in 1878. Her mother, Mary Ann Allen, was born in the Columbia District but was raised in northern fur trade country after she was orphaned as a young girl. Both of Isabella's parents were of mixed European and Aboriginal ancestry.

As a child, Isabella lived in northern fur trade country until she was approximately 6 years old, when she was enrolled at Miss Davis's school in Red River, (3) as were so many of the children of Hudson's Bay Company men. After a brief time at the school, Isabella became ill and went to live with her grandparents, Richard and Marguerite Hardisty, in Lachine, Quebec while she recovered. (4) She was later enrolled in Wesleyan Ladies College in Hamilton, Ontario. Isabella was at Wesleyan from 1868 to 1875, (5) when she returned to live with her family in the North-West.

The goal of many of these ladies' colleges was to train girls to be gracious ladies. To that end, they received instruction in secondary and fine arts in a Christian environment. In Isabella's case, there is some indication that she struggled at the eastern school where most of the attendees were not from fur trade country. On one occasion, William Hardisty wrote of his concern that Isabella may become a "woman of the world," noting that:

   You did not say much about my little girl.
   It is a theme I never hear of poor child
   they are knocking her about very much
   and I fear will become worldly minded
   and superficial, a kind of cosmopolitan
   lady of the world, with hosts of
   acquaintances, but few real friends in the
   proper sense of the term. She was very
   attentive to her religious duties when she
   left Miss Davis [sic] school but I was
   sorry to observe that she became less so
   after she went to Canada. (6)

Perhaps part of William Hardisty's concern for Isabella arose from his knowledge that many of Isabella's school friends were not from fur trade country as they had been at the Red River school. Indeed, it seems that Isabella was recognized as "different" by her classmates. Years later, the daughter of a former classmate at Wesleyan noted that "Lady Lougheed, wife of Senator Lougheed, was [the] daughter of an Indian chief. Her name was Bella Hardisty. She attended in Mother's time." (7) Where the girls at Wesleyan got the idea that Isabella was the daughter of an "Indian chief' is not clear, but they were clearly aware that she was Aboriginal.

After spending seven years at Wesleyan, Isabella returned to fur trade country to be with her family. Although her father had been concerned for Isabella, at least one family member felt that Isabella should have spent more time at Wesleyan. The author of this letter to Isabella's uncle, Richard Hardisty, is not clear, but the sentiment is evident:

   Miss Bella Hardisty is passing the winter
   at this place-it is to be regretted that she
   was removed so soon from the Canadian
   Institution where she was being
   educated-2 or 3 years longer would have
   turned out a highly accomplished and
   charming young lady. (8)

Despite the concerns of some about the chances of Isabella becoming a lady, she spent another three years in fur trade country living what was the traditional lifestyle for HBC men posted in the Mackenzie District with their Aboriginal partners. …

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