Indigenous cast shifts perspective from the male focus in fur trade to women’s power

Thursday, March 28th, 2024 3:21pm


Image Caption

Women of the Fur Trade will run at the Aki Studio from April 9 to April 21. Photo by Fred Cattroll
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A play with a comedic look at the Canadian fur trade of yesteryear has come full circle.

Playwright Frances Koncan, a member of Couchiching First Nation in northern Ontario, wrote Women of the Fur Trade and initially mounted a production of it at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. It won the festival’s Best New Play contest.

Since then the play has had successful runs in Winnipeg (2020), Stratford, Ont. (2023) and Ottawa earlier this year.

Women of the Fur Trade is now gearing up for a run at Toronto’s Aki Studio from April 9 to April 21.

“It’s really exciting,” said Koncan. “I think of Toronto as the biggest theatre city in Canada. It’s really nerve-wracking but exciting.”

The Toronto production will feature an all-Indigenous cast.

In its promotional material, Women of the Fur Trade is described as “a lively historical satire of survival and cultural inheritance that shifts perspectives from the male gaze onto women’s power in the past and present through the lens of the rapidly changing world of the Canadian fur trade.”

The play takes place in “eighteen hundred and something, something, somewhere upon the banks of a Reddish River in Treaty One Territory.”

Kelsey Wavey (Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba), Cheri Maracle (Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario) and Lisa Nasson (Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia) are the three women in the play.

The trio sit in a fort discussing life, love and Métis leader Louis Riel, who was once much maligned but in February recognized as Manitoba’s first premier having led a provisional government that led the province to join Confederation in 1870.

Riel is played by Jonathan Fisher (Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Ontario). Jesse Gervais (Métis) is the other male in the play and portrays Thomas Scott, a Riel opponent who is executed.

“It’s quite different from the Fringe production,” Koncan said of the upcoming Toronto show. “The Fringe production was 60 minutes long. But now it is 90 minutes.”

Also, in the inaugural production, the two male characters were portrayed by dolls, one dressed as Batman and the other as G.I. Joe.

Since then productions of Women of the Fur Trade have included a pair of live male actors.

The Toronto production is directed by Renae Morriseau, a member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba.

Koncan had been living in Winnipeg for a number of years. But since this past September Koncan has been an associate professor of playwriting at the University of British Columbia and living in Vancouver.

Koncan was been writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba from 2021 to 2022 and also writer-in-residence at the Winnipeg Public Library from 2022 to 2023.

Koncan explained why Women of the Fur Trade has been a hit.

“I think a bit of it is the timing,” Koncan said. “The play really fits into the conversation of truth and reconciliation. And people are talking about the history of the country.”

But Koncan added the play’s success in various cities has been a bit of a surprise.

“It’s just a Fringe new play contest that I entered to see what happens,” Koncan said. “It’s interesting to see people take an interest in it and respond to it.”

For those who will be seeing Women of the Fur Trade for the first time, Koncan expressed hope that audiences will take away a “new understanding of a part of Canadian history, but also in the grand scheme of things that history can be really fun,” Koncan said.

Tickets for the Toronto performances are available at:

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.