Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Tenderness of Wolves

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The Tenderness of Wolves

A Novel

by Stef Penney

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 384 pages

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One plot thread of The Tenderness of Wolves involves an artifact that may or may not have belonged to the Five Nations.

The Five Nations, collectively known to themselves as the Haudenosaunee (People of the Long House), but better known today by the derogatory term given to them by white settlers, Iroquois meaning rattlesnake, are a group of Native American tribes consisting of the Seneca (People of the Great Hill), Cayuga (People of the Great Swamp), Onondaga (People of the Hills), Mohawk (People of the Flint) and Oneida (People of Upright Stone). 

It is said that these five tribes formed a Union of Nations well before European contact (possibly as early as 1142), which included an oral constitution known as the Gayanashagowa (Great Law of Peace). The original five nations were joined by a sixth in 1820, the Tuscarora (Shirt-wearing People). At the time Europeans first arrived, the Nation was based in what is now the northeastern United States and southern Canada.

The Nation was at the height of its power in the 17th century with a population of about 12,000. During the French and Indian wars the "Iroquois" sided with the British against the French and their Algonquin allies. During the American Revolution the Nation was split, with some tribes siding with the Americans and some remaining loyal to Britain. In 1794, the Nation entered into the Treaty of Canandaigua with the US and were given a large land grant on the Grand River in Canada. Many Iroquois left to settle in the area. By 1847, European settlers began to settle nearby in what became Brantford, Ontario.


The Tenderness of Wolves is set in 1867, the year that the Canadian Constitution Act (formerly known as the British North America Act) was signed. This Act of the British Parliament created the country of Canada out of three separate provinces in British North America, and allowed for subsequent provinces and colonies to join. In Canada today, there are three territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon) and ten provinces. The key difference between a territory and a province is that the provinces have their own government with jurisdiction over issues such as education and the environment (much like a US state), whereas territories are created by Federal Law and do not have provincial governments; they also do not get a vote on changes to the constitution.


The activities of The Hudson's Bay Company are integral to The Tenderness of Wolves. "The Company" maintained control over large areas of Western Canada until 1870, when it turned over the land to the Canadian Government, forming part of the Northwest Territories. The Hudson's Bay Company was established in 1670 when King Charles II of Britain granted the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed to "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay". For more about Hudson's Bay Company see the "BookBrowse Says" attached to The Last Gentleman Adventurer (a delightful memoir written by an Englishman who served in The Company in the 1930s).

This article was originally published in July 2007, and has been updated for the March 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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