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Women of the Fur Trade Digital Study Guide.



Women of the Fur Trade


Women of the Fur Trade
By Frances Koncan
Directed by Yvette Nolan

House Program for Women of the Fur Trade

Grade Recommendation 7+

Content Advisory

Please see the show page for a detailed audience advisory.


The time is eighteen hundred and something-something. The place, a fort somewhere along the banks of Reddish River in Treaty One Territory. Outside the fortified walls, men in military uniforms and Métis sashes are vying for power over the vast territory. Inside, three women work, gossip and argue about Métis leader Louis Riel. Will he establish an independent nation for the Métis people? Can he protect them from the encroaching colonial powers? And is he really the hottest guy in the territory?

Winnipeg playwright Frances Koncan's Women of the Fur Trade brings to life the vibrant, (extra)ordinary women of our shared history, represented by three unforgettable female protagonists: Marie-Angelique, a Métis Taurus, is such a Riel fangirl that she's been wooing him with coquettish letters while Ojibwe Sagittarius, Eugenia harbours doubts about the rebellion. Meanwhile, pregnant British Virgo, Cecilia is more worried about her missing husband-not so much that she can't pine for local heartthrob (and Irish Capricorn) Thomas Scott, who's secretly intercepting Marie-Angelique's letters to Riel.

Koncan's rollicking satire rescues these pioneering women from their inaccurate historical depictions as passive, stay-at-home wives and mothers. The real women of the fur trade were active participants in a rapidly changing economy and culture. They cooked, grew food, made clothing, and dressed and cured skins, skills that were vitally important to the survival of their families
and communities.

Koncan's play is more than a hilarious interrogation of "official" history as it is told in books and taught in classrooms. By weaving in contemporary slang and cultural references, Koncan reminds audiences that many historical Indigenous issues remain unresolved. It is also a moving testament to the power of female friendship. In a time of rapid change and upheaval, as men battle to redraw the lines on the map, these three women vow that "no man, no land, and no government shall ever come between us." Part rom-com, part Canadian Heritage Moment, pure comedy gold, Frances Koncan's Women of the Fur Trade is an uproarious satire of survival, the male gaze, and our shared cultural inheritance.


Curriculum Connections

  • Global Competencies:
    • Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Metacognition, Self-Awareness
  • Grade 7-8
    • The Arts (Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Arts)
    • Language
    • Social Studies, History and Geography
  • Grade 9-12
    • The Arts (Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Arts)
    • Canadian and World Studies
    • English
    • First Nations, Métis and Inuit Studies
  • Grades 11-12
    • Social Sciences and Humanities
  • Post-Secondary
    • Suitable for courses in disciplines such as Arts, Cultural Studies, Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, English, Fine
      Arts, Gender Studies, History, Human Rights, Music, Social Development Studies, Teacher Education and Theatre


  • The Art of Resilience
  • Collective Agency and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Activism
  • Colonialism and the War on Indigenous Peoples
  • Cultural Inheritance
  • Friendship
  • Historical Satire
  • The History of the Fur Trade, Louis Riel, and the Métis
  • Language as Culture, Identity and Power
  • The Power of Storytelling
  • Rebellion and Resistance
  • The Role of Humour in Navigating Racism, Trauma, and Systemic Oppression
  • Truth and Reconciliation


Offered by Jessica Rumboldt


  • What do you already know about the Canadian fur trade?
    • Where did you learn what you know? Could any of this information be inaccurate? Why or why not?
  • What is your understanding of the role of women in the fur trade? Share one example. If none come to mind, reflect on why that might be.
  • Have you ever heard of the Red River Resistance and Louis Riel? If so, what do you know, and where did you learn this?
  • What does "resilience" mean to you? What are some examples of resilience in history? What are examples of resilience in contemporary society?
  • Do you see language as being essential to culture, identity, and power? Why or why not?
  • What is the most important quality of a friend? Why?
  • Can friendships withstand politically polarizing events? Explain your thinking using a contemporary example.
  • What role does humour play in exploring difficult issues such as colonialism, racism, and discrimination?



  • What did you learn about the Canadian fur trade, the Red River Resistance and Louis Riel that you did not know before watching the play? How has your perspective on this history changed after watching the play?
  • How can this play help audiences understand historical narratives connected to the era of the fur trade and Treaty 1 territory?
  • Marie-Angelique, Eugenia and Cecilia represent three unique perspectives. If you could create a fourth character, what would they represent? What would their perspective be? How do you imagine they might change the dynamics of the relationships between the original three women?
  • How do the friendships of the three women represent love, kinship, and respect? As friends, what are their responsibilities to each other?
  • In what ways have women in the fur trade been represented by inaccurate historical depictions? How were the real women of the fur trade active participants in a rapidly changing culture and economy?
  • This play highlights many historical Indigenous issues that remain unresolved today. What are some of these issues? Why are these contemporary issues important to consider?
  • The story is purposefully anachronistic, incorporating current pop culture references and contemporary vernacular. In your opinion, why might the playwright have made this choice? What was its impact on you as an audience member?
  • If you were to reimagine a particular historical event from a different perspective, which event and perspective would you choose and why?


Offered by Jessica Rumboldt

Objective: Students will reflect on the continued impact of Louis Riel with a particular focus on the differences between resistance and rebellion, the role of artists in making change and the power of storytelling.

Materials: Access to computers and/or paper and writing utensils.


Part 1

  • Ask students to define "resist" and "rebel" in their own words.
  • Then, ask them to note the di¢erences between a "resistance" and a "rebellion".
  • Invite them to share why it might be important to highlight histories of rebellion and resistance.
Part 2
  • Thinking specifically of Louis Riel, ask students to discuss how this connects to what we know about him
  • Next, share the following quote from Louis Riel (4 July 1885) with your students: "My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back."
  • Ask students either in small groups or individually, to respond to the following:
    • What do you think Louis Riel meant by this?
    • What do you imagine he would think about Koncan's Women of the Fur Trade in relation to this quote?
    • Reflect on the power of storytelling. In what ways can storytelling shape histories?


Offered by Dr. Sorouja Moll

Objective: Students will analyze the men represented in the play and the relevance of their histories today. They will focus on the relationship between Louis Riel and Thomas Scott, exploring historical artifacts and historical fiction about representation.

Materials: Access to computers and/or paper and writing utensils.

For Part 1, access to:

For Part 2, access to:

  • Riel, Louis. 1886. The Queen vs. Louis Riel, accused and convicted of the crime of high treason : report of the trial at Regina, appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench, Manitoba, appeal to the Privy Council, England, petition for medical examination of the convict, list of petitions for commutation of sentence. London and Ottawa. EarIy Canadiana Online, CMH 30472.


Part 1

  • Remind students that the play's mise-en-scène opens with the setting described as follows: "There are walls, however, which are covered in portraits of men: famous men, infamous men, nobody men, somebody men, men without hats, men with brooms, men who sold the world, men who fell to Earth, Men of the Fur Trade, men of all kinds, men all over the place - just like in real life."
  • Working independently, in pairs or small groups, ask students to identify three of the men represented with a portrait and describe their connection to the play.
  • Invite students to reflect on the following for their chosen men:
    • Why might the playwright have selected these specific historical figures as one of the "men all over the place"?
    • Describe how their histories are still relevant in the present day.

Part 2

  • Next, ask students to consider the relationship between the two men we see in the play: Louis Riel and Thomas Scott.
  • Using the article by Lyle Dick to support their responses, invite students to write who Thomas Scott and Louis Riel were and to respond to the following questions:
    • What was Scott and Riel's "real-life" conflict?
    • How does the problematic media representation (in 1870) outlined in the article compare to misrepresentations that occur today? Provide at least one example.

Part 3

  • Let students know that in the 1885 transcripts of Louis Riel's trial, he states in his address:
    • "God cannot create a tribe without locating it, we are not birds, we have to walk on the ground, and that ground is enriched with many things which besides its own value increases its value in another manner, and when we cultivate it, we still increase that value […] They made a treaty with us. As they made the treaty, I say they had to observe it and did they observe the treaty? No […]" (Riel 1886, 159).
  • Ask students to respond to the following questions either in a group discussion, in pairs or individually:
    • What was Louis Riel's objective in this address? How does it connect to his greater objective as a leader?
    • Why do you believe he is a central figure in the play?
    • How does Riel's vision appear in the play?
    • Do the women in the play support his vision? Explain your thinking with evidence from the play.
    • Using the trial transcript (Riel's Address to the Jury and the Court), locate a passage that explains his objective and the issues in more detail.


Offered by Dr. Sorouja Moll

Objective: Students will learn more about the real women of the fur trade using a resource reference and will reflect on how their histories and legacies are connected to Koncan's play and the artists who created it.

Materials: Access to computers and/or paper and writing utensils.


  • Invite students to read this chapter on the experiences of Indigenous women under settler colonialism. After reading, ask them to note the following:
    • Who were the women of the fur trade? Choose one woman mentioned in the chapter and what you find most compelling about her story.
    • How did colonial values and thinking about gender, marriage and religion a¢ect Indigenous women's exclusion from this history?
    • Koncan's Women of the Fur Trade is historical fiction. How might the artists creating this production be connected to the real women of the fur trade? How might you begin to learn possible connections?
    • What is the relationship between Knowledge Keepers and scholarly historians? What might a Knowledge Keeper offer that a scholarly historian cannot?



The Stratford Festival's Archives maintains, conserves and protects records about the Festival and makes those materials available to people around the world. Their collection contains material ranging from 1952 right up to the present and includes administrative documents, production records, photographs, design artwork, scores, audio-visual recordings, promotional materials, costumes, props, set decorations and much more. These materials are collected and preserved with the aim of documenting the history of the Festival, preserving the page-to-stage process, and capturing the creative processes involved in numerous other activities that contribute to the Festival each season.



House Program - Women of the Fur Trade
Study Guide PDFWomen of the Fur Trade

Study Guides

View past Study Guides and Study Guides for all 2023 plays, available free of charge  on our website .



Extensive Bibliography by Dr. Sorouja Moll

Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture | Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research

Indigenous Saskatchewan Encyclopedia

Frances Koncan | Playwrights Canada Press

Frances Koncan on How Playwriting Gets Her "Closest to the Truth" | 2022 Interview with Open Book

New-found, intimate letters from Louis Riel's 'lost years' in exile featured at Calgary gallery | 2023 CBC news article by

Ozten Shebahkeget

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography | Birchbark Books

The Red River Métis - La Nouvelle Nation | Manitoba Métis Federation

Centre du patrimoine (Heritage Centre) | La Société Historique de Saint-Boniface

Riel House National Historic Site

Canadian Museum for Human Rights | Winnipeg, Manitoba



Elder Jean Becker

University of Waterloo, Associate Vice-President, Office of Indigenous Relations

Jean is Inuk and a member of the Nunatsiavut Territory of Labrador. As the Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Relations, Jean provides strategic leadership to articulate the University of Waterloo-specific response to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and identifies systemic and systematic changes that move beyond the Calls to Action by creating a long-term vision of decolonization and indigenization for the university.

Elder Elizabeth (Liz) Stevens

Liz Stevens is of Ojibwe and Potawatomi lineage residing in Kettle & Stony Point First Nation. She is an Ojibwe Language Instructor, Consulting Elder at the Stratford Festival, and was a Script Consultant for 1939 by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan (2022 Season).

Jay Havens

Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo, Department of Communication Arts

Jay Havens is a multi-media 2Spirit artist, educator, and collaborator of Kanien'keha:ka (Haudenosaunee) and Scottish Canadian ancestry. Havens was born on lands known as the Haldimand Tract and raised on Unceded Sto:lo and Musqueam lands close to Vancouver, Canada. They are a scenographer with experience in site-specific performance and installation, murals, projection and mixed media artworks for galleries, museums, and public spaces. Havens' practice embraces re-learning the ways of Onkwehon:we (original peoples) and their research has focused on Indigenous Methods of Knowledge-building applied to creative and logistical processes of scenography. Jay has a BFA from the University of British Columbia, Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing and MFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Over their 19-year career project highlights include projection mapping a Haudenosaunee longhouse on Stratford City Hall, a floating artwork in the Toronto harbour called The Peacemaker's Canoe and a mural on the windows of the Vancouver Opera house. Several of Jay's sculptural weavings can be found in the collections at the New York State Museum and he is currently designing public artworks for sites throughout Southern Ontario. Jay can also be found collaborating to design sets and costumes for professional stage companies such as Caravan Farm, Centaur or Axis Theatre and joined the University of Waterloo, Department of Communication Arts in January 2023 as an Assistant Professor teaching scenography and design thinking courses. Havens is a member of The Associated Designers of Canada (IATSE 659) and CARFAC. He is a proud citizen of the Mohawk, Bear Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River.

Dr. Sorouja Moll

Lecturer, University of Waterloo, Department of Communication Arts

Sorouja Moll has a PhD in Humanities and Interdisciplinary Studies (Concordia) specializing in the fields of Communication, English, and Art History.

She also holds a BA and MA in English from the University of Guelph, School of English and Theatre. As an interdisciplinary scholar, Sorouja's research-creation practice undertakes a multimodal critical discourse analysis of all forms of media including adaptations of Shakespeare in Canada, and an intersectional approach to nineteenth-century archival and narrative-based communication structures and applications, and their present-day manifestations in, among other areas, nation, memory, and identity in performance. Moll's areas of research include the oral histories of mixed-race identity; Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationship re-building practices and education as meaningful and sustainable; and exploring and creating incubatory spaces in which transgression, enunciation, ambiguity, and emancipation can be explored through performance, theatre, creative writing, and research practices.

Sorouja was the Research Dramaturge (2018-2022) for the play 1939 which was staged at the Stratford Festival in 2022. It was written by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riorden and was directed for Stratford by Jani Lauzon.

As an award-winning author, Sorouja's writing has been profiled on CBC Radio and published in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Canadian Theatre Review, as well as academic and literary journals, and books. As a playwright and performance artist, Sorouja's work has been presented across Canada.

Jessica Rumboldt (she/her)

University of Waterloo, Centre for Teaching Excellence, Educational Developer, Indigenous Knowledges

Award-winning researcher Jessica Rumboldt is a biracial woman with mixed Mi'kmaq and European settler ancestry. Jessica is an Educational Developer with the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo and supports research, pedagogy, and curriculum development focusing on Indigenous Knowledges. Jessica co-founded the Urban Art(z) Lab at the University of Waterloo and is in the final stages of completing a Ph.D. in Gender, Feminist, and Women's Studies at York University on the systemic sexism and racism present in criminal trials involving Indigenous women who are sex workers and victims of violence. Jessica has obtained a master's degree in criminology and criminal Justice Policy, a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Criminal Justice and Public Policy (with minors in Sociology and Family Studies), and a Diploma in Psychology. She has also completed post-doctoral level work, where she led story-gathering projects to research First Nations homelessness, service provision for Indigenous homeless youth, and the impacts of risk assessment. Jessica has received the Lieutenant Governor's Visionaries Prize for Reconciliation and has considerable experience in Indigenous advocacy work, policy, curriculum development, and community engagement.

Emma Rain Smith

Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre Programming Coordinator, United College, University of Waterloo

Emma is Aniishnaabe from Walpole Island First Nation. She graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Waterloo in 2018 and is finishing her Masters at the University of Waterloo working in Indigenous History. Their research is focused on Indigenous beadwork during the Fur Trade. Emma has worked with and been involved in the KW Indigenous community for almost a decade. She is a producer, curator, artist, and community organizer. They hope to use their passion for working with students and youth to create more leaders in the community.

Robin Stadelbauer

University of Waterloo, Associate Director, Office of Indigenous Relations

Robin is Anishinaabe from Neyaashiinigmiing (Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation) and has a long history at Waterloo. As the Associate Director, Robin supports the Associate Vice-President Indigenous Relations in their strategic vision and leadership, represents the AVP, takes leadership on key projects, and is responsible for the daily operations of the Indigenous Relations Office.

University of Waterloo Faculty of Arts      University of Waterloo Office of Indigenous Relations




Tools for Teachers include InterACTives, Study Guides and Stratford Shorts.       


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