Secrets of Ruperts Land

Shirley and Vernon Wishart talk about what it was like to discover their Indigenous heritage.

Interview by Nelle Oosterom

Posted June 4, 2010

It wasn’t long ago when many Canadians hid the fact that they were part Indigenous.

It was not uncommon for parents to refuse to reveal their native heritage to their children, often out of concern that their offspring would be teased and discriminated against.

Many are the descendants of fur traders. It was, for instance, common for Scottish-born employees with the Hudson’s Bay Company to take Indigenous wives.

Shirley Wishart and her brother Vernon know this firsthand: They believed they had only European roots until they stumbled upon a secret that changed the course of their lives.

The Alberta-born Wisharts developed a passion for learning about their heritage. Shirley conducted extensive research on their ancestors, and Vernon wrote a family history book entitled What Lies Behind the Picture?

They have also been regular attendees of the Rupert’s Land Colloquium, a biannual event which draws people engaged in indigenous and fur trade research. In 2010, the Wisharts were among the presenters at the Colloquium at the University of Winnipeg, where they spoke with Canada’s History Senior Editor Nelle Oosterom about the impact of discovering their secret.

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