Anyone who has delved into the history of the Red River Settlement will have come across the name Sarah Ballenden. Her 1850 trial is one of the most famous in Manitoba legal history. The fact that her name isn't officially attached to the trial - we know it as Foss v. Pelly - is a reflection of the laws of the day, not of her commitment to the proceedings. "I was the first person to get this business investigated," Sarah testified in court. "I had determined to proceed in it." "This business" was defamation. Sarah's character and reputation were under attack. She was the wife of a Hudson's Bay Company Chief Factor, a position which in fur trade society traditionally commanded respect. One contemporary observed that the wives of Chief Factors, most of whom were "mixed-blood", were treated like queens. Sarah, though also of British/Indigenous descent, was not. Why? Was it her personality, her behaviour? Did she bring condemnation upon herself? Or were there other forces at work? This play explores Sarah's struggle for respect in a world of shifting values, as the great fur trade empire that had ruled the Northwest for two centuries and had shaped her life and the lives of thousands like her limped to a close. Caught in a tidal wave of change whose ramifications are still being felt, Sarah Ballenden is truly an original Canadian heroine.
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