Edmonton homeowner's curiosity helps descendants of fur traders find each other

In July of this year, Carol Snyder and her husband Bob drove two hours north of their Edmonton home to attend a family reunion at the Athabasca Agriplex.

Though not related to any member of the Gullion family, Snyder played a role in bringing them all together.

Research on her 92-year-old clinker brick home and surrounding Highlands neighbourhood led her to write about James and George Gullion, Scottish brothers who came to Edmonton in the late 1800s to work as fur traders for the Hudson's Bay Company.

A few years ago, some of the Gullions' descendants discovered Snyder writing online. They got in touch, and before long, Snyder found herself befriending more family members and facilitating introductions between people who had never met.

Submitted by Andy Gullion

After years of being out of touch, a pair of cousins realized they lived a block apart on the same street in St. Albert.

'It's changed my life'

Thanks in part to Snyder's help, more than 80 people from Alberta and nearby provinces showed up to the summer reunion — the family's first since the early 2000s.

Snyder still can't believe so many friendships have sprung from a little historical research.

"Whoever would have thought that would come out of it?" Snyder told CBC.

"It's changed my life."

Listen to Carol Snyder talk about the Gullions on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active:

Who were the Gullions?

The Gullions who settled in what became the Highlands neighbourhood hailed from Scotland's Orkney Islands.

Documents from the HBC archives show a third brother, William, was the first to sign on with the company in the mid-1830s.

George followed in 1850 and James in 1855. 

Madeleine Cummings/CBC

George and James both married and had families, living close to each other on River Lot 32 (the area where Snyder now lives) and River Lot 34.

James stayed in Edmonton until his death in 1902, but George and his wife Marguerite spent their last years living at Athabasca Landing, now the town of Athabasca.

According to an obituary in the Calgary Herald, George died in 1905 after falling from the steamboat Midnight Sun. He worked as a watchman on the vessel.

Discovering family history

For Andrew (Andy) Gullion, learning about his ancestors has been an eye-opening experience. 

Having grown up in Slave Lake with siblings who spoke Cree, he was surprised to learn later in life that his great-great-grandfather, George, came from Scotland.

"That really blew our minds," he said.

While in Edmonton on days off between camp shifts, the oilpatch worker pored over historical records at the Provincial Archives.

When he came across one of Snyder's articles online, he contacted her to learn more. They started exchanging information about the family and met in person for the first time in 2016.

Submitted by Andy Gullion

Andy Gullion's research helped Snyder write about the Gullion brothers for her book, After the Fur Trade: Living on the Land.

His research also gave him a greater understanding of the hardships his ancestors must have felt in northern Alberta.

"Europeans would have had a really difficult time settling without their Métis wives to help them manage," he said. 

The family reunion was so successful, he is already planning another one for 2021.

In the meantime, Snyder hopes to see a historical lookout installed to mark the place where George Gullion's home sat in Highlands.