/Cool air and a warm blanket

Cool air and a warm blanket

By Jim Poling Sr.
I stand on tiptoes this week I can see August. That makes me happy
because I’ve never been a fan of July. Too much heat. Too many people.
is a much better month, with thinning summer crowds and the first hints
of cool fall air. And, of course, the further August progresses, the
cooler the temperatures become.
My Northwestern Ontario blood likes
coolness, which gets me thinking about pulling out the Hudson’s Bay
Company (HBC) point blanket. That blanket on my bed is a sign that the
hot, muggy nights of summer are being pushed aside by temperatures more
to my liking.
This year, however, I’ll pull out the HBC blanket with
some discomfort. These blankets are a significant part of history, and
history and the objects that it reflects, are under attack.
statues and other memorials are being torn down or defaced in many
parts of the world. It all seems to have started with the U.S.
Confederacy and slavery, but has spread to other historical issues and
historically prominent persons.
The HBC blanket could be easily identified as an item with some history that no one should glorify.
Hudson’s Bay Company introduced the wool point blanket with its
coloured stripes and points (black markers) in 1779. It got the idea for
the blanket from French weavers who developed a point system as a way
to specify a blanket’s finished size.
The points were simple black
lines on a corner of the blanket. One black line or point indicated a
small blanket; five indicated a large one.
Blankets became a currency during the fur trade, with merchants pricing them according to their number of points.
blankets were taken in trade by Indigenous people for furs. They became
valuable household items used as sleeping covers, robes and for gift
giving. But for some Indigenous people the HBC point blanket represents
colonialization and the dispossession of their land and culture.
British infected trade blankets with smallpox as a chemical warfare
means to eradicate Indigenous populations. Jeffery Amherst, commander of
British forces in North America, suggested this during the 1763 Pontiac
Uprising in Pennsylvania.
“You will Do well to try to Innoculate
[sic] the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other
method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race,” Amherst wrote
in a letter to a subordinate.
Amherst is considered the architect of the British campaign to take what is now Canada from the French.
name is honoured in Canadian streets and towns – Amherst, Nova Scotia,
Amherstburg, Ontario – but those namings are being reconsidered. The
city of Montreal last year renamed Amherst Street Rue Atatekan, a Mohawk
word denoting equality among people.
Although Amherst was prominent
in military campaigns in Canada, there is no evidence of infecting
blankets, or of even suggesting the idea, in Canada. Some writers have
said there was but that is pure speculation based on what happened in
Such a monstrous action certainly would not have benefitted the Hudson’s Bay Company. Killing customers is not smart business.
to topple historic monuments and cancel tributes given to some
prominent historic figures is understandable, especially when you
consider cruel racists like Amherst.  
However, despite knowing the
history of trade blankets, I plan to keep and cherish my HBC point
blanket. To me it is an important reminder of past wrongs and the racism
that continues today against Indigenous peoples.
It is a reminder
that the times and the people were different back then, and many thought
and acted in ways that most of us now find repulsive.
I wrote “most
of us” because it is evident that despite the passage of time allowing
us to create a more diverse and better educated society, intolerance and
racism remain a problem.
The Bolsonaro administration in Brazil and
the U.S. Trump administration both are attacking Indigenous lands and
rights in favour of special interests. Here’s one Bolsonaro quote from
the past:
“It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry hasn’t been as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.”
to home we have Prime Minister Trudeau and RCMP Commissioners Brenda
Lucki both admitting systemic racism exists in the national police