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Notes of a Twenty-Five Years' Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory Volume I online

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Publisher in Ordinary to her Majesty.



The writer's main object in first committing to writing the following
Notes was to while away the many lonely and wearisome hours which are
the lot of the Indian trader; - a wish to gratify his friends by the
narrative of his adventures had also some share in inducing him to
take up the pen.

While he might justly plead the hacknied excuse of being urged by not
a few of those friends to publish these Notes, in extenuation of the
folly or presumption, or whatever else it may be termed, of obtruding
them on the world, in these days of "making many books;" he feels that
he can rest his vindication on higher grounds. Although several works
of some merit have appeared in connexion with the subject, the
Hudson's Bay territory is yet, comparatively speaking, but little
known; no faithful representation has yet been given of the situation
of the Company's servants - the Indian traders; the degradation and
misery of the many Indian tribes, or rather remnants of tribes,
scattered throughout this vast territory, is in a great measure
unknown; erroneous statements have gone abroad in regard to the
Company's treatment of these Indians; as also in regard to the
government, policy, and management of the Company's affairs; - on these
points, he conceives that his plain, unvarnished tale may throw some
new light.

Some of the details may seem trivial, and some of the incidents to be
without much interest to the general reader; still as it was one chief
design of the writer to draw a faithful picture of the Indian trader's
life, - its toils, annoyances, privations, and perils, when on actual
service, or on a trading or exploring expedition; its loneliness,
cheerlessness, and ennui, when not on actual service; together with
the shifts to which he is reduced in order to combat that ennui; - such
incidents, trifling though they may appear to be, he conceives may yet
convey to the reader a livelier idea of life in the Hudson's Bay
Company's territories than a more ambitious or laboured description
could have done. No one, indeed, who has passed his life amid the busy
haunts of men, can form any just idea of the interest attached by the
lonely trader to the most trifling events, such as the arrival of a
stranger Indian, - the coming of a new clerk, - a scuffle among the
Indians, - or a sudden change of weather. No one, unaccustomed to their
"short commons," can conceive the intense, it may be said fearful,
interest and excitement with which the issue of a fishing or hunting
expedition is anticipated.

Should his work contribute, in any degree, to awaken the sympathy of
the Christian world in behalf of the wretched and degraded Aborigines
of this vast territory; should it tend in any way to expose, or to
reform the abuses in the management of the Hudson's Bay Company, or to
render its monopoly less injurious to the natives than hitherto it has
been; the writer's labour will have been amply compensated. Interested
as he still is in that Company, with a considerable stake depending on
its returns, it can scarcely be supposed that he has any intention,
wantonly or unnecessarily, to injure its interests.

_1st March, 1849._





The Hudson's Bay Company and Territories


I enter the Hudson's Bay Company's Service - Padre Gibert


On Service - Lake of Two Mountains - Opposition - Indians - Amusements at
the Posts


Portage des Chats - Tactics of our Opponents - Treachery of an
Iroquois - Fierce yet ludicrous nature of the Opposition


Arrival at the Chats - Installed as Bourgeois - First Trading
Excursion - Bivouac in the Woods - Indian Barbarity


Trip to Fort Coulonge - Mr. Godin - Natives


Superseded - Feelings on the Occasion - More Opposition - Æ.
Macdonell - Tactics - Melancholy Death of an Indian


Activity of our Opponents - Violent Conduct of an Indian - Narrow
Escape - Artifice - Trip to Indian's Lodge - Stupidity of Interpreter


Expedition to the Bear's Den - Passage through the Swamp - Cunning of
the Indians - A Scuffle - Its Results


Père Duchamp - Mr. S.'s Instructions - Unsuccessful - Trading
Excursion - Difficulties of the Journey - Lose our way - Provisions
fail - Reach the Post - Visit to an Algonquin Chief - His abusive
Treatment - Success


Success of the Iroquois Traders - Appointed to the Charge of the
Chats - Canadian disputes Possession - Bivouac without a Fire - Ruse to
baffle my Opponents - Roman Catholic Bigotry


Journey to Montreal - Appointment to Lac de Sable - Advantages of this
Post - Its Difficulties - Governor's flattering Letter - Return from
Montreal - Lost in the Woods - Sufferings - Escape


Narrowly escape Drowning - Accident to Indian Guide - Am nearly Frozen
to Death - Misunderstanding between Algonquins and Iroquois - Massacre
at Hannah Bay


Fall through the Ice - Dangerous Adventure at a Rapid - Opponents give
in - Ordered to Lachine - Treatment on my Arrival - Manners, Habits, and
Superstitions of the Indians - Ferocious Revenge of a supposed
Injury - Different Methods of the Roman Catholic and Protestant
Missionary - Indian Councils - Tradition of the Flood - Beaver
Hunting - Language


Embark for the Interior - Mode of Travelling by Canoes - Little
River - Lake Nipissing - French River - Old Station of Indian
Robbers - Fort Mississaga - Indians - Light Canoe-Men - Sault Ste.
Marie - Lake Superior - Canoe-men desert - Re-taken - Fort William - M.
Thibaud - Lac la Pluie and River - Indians - White River - Narrow
Escape - Conversation with an Indian about Baptism


Continuation of the Voyage - Run short of Provisions - Dogs
Flesh - Norway House - Indian Voyageurs - Ordered to New Caledonia - Lake
Winnipeg - McIntosh's Island submerged - Cumberland House - Chippewayan
and Cree Indians - Portage La Loche - Scenery - Athabasca - Healthiness of
the Climate


Arrival of Mr. F. from Caledonia - Scenery - Land-slip - Massacre at Fort
St. John's - Rocky Mountain Portage - Rocky Mountains - Magnificent
Scenery - McLeod's Lake - Reception of its Commander by the Indians


Arrival at New Caledonia - Beautiful Scenery - Indian Houses - Amusements
at the Fort - Threatened Attack of Indians - Expedition against
them - Beefsteaks - New Caledonian Fare - Mode of catching
Salmon - Singular Death of native Interpreter - Indian Funeral
Rites - Barbarous Treatment of Widows


Indian Feast - Attempt at Dramatic Representation - Religion - Ordered to
Fort Alexandria - Advantages of the Situation - Sent back to Fort St.
James - Solitude - Punishment of Indian Murderer - Its Consequences - Heroic
Adventure of Interpreter


Appointed to the Charge of Fort George - Murder of Mr. Yale's
Men - Mysterious Loss of Mr. Linton and Family - Adventures of Leather
Party - Failure of Crops - Influenza


Climate of New Caledonia - Scenery - Natural
Productions - Animals - Fishes - Natives - Their Manners and
Customs - Duelling - Gambling - Licentiousness - Language








That part of British North America known by the name of the Hudson's
Bay territory extends from the eastern coast in about 60° W. long. to
the Russian boundary in 142° W.; and from the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
along the Ottawa River and the northern shores of Lakes Huron and
Superior, and thence to the boundary line of the United States;
extending in latitude thence to the northern limit of America; being
in length about 2,600 miles, and in breadth about 1,400 miles. This
extensive space may be divided into three portions, each differing
most materially in aspect and surface. The first and most extensive is
that which is on the east, from the Labrador coast, round Hudson's
Bay, northward to the Arctic region, and westward to the Rocky
Mountains. This is entirely a wooded district, affording that
plentiful supply of timber which forms so large a branch of the
Canadian export trade. These interminable forests are principally
composed of pines of large size, but which towards the northern
boundary are of a very stinted growth. Another portion is the prairie
country, reaching from Canada westward to the Rocky Mountains, and
intersected by the boundary line of the United States. In general, the
soil is rich alluvial, which being covered with luxuriant herbage,
affords pasturage for the vast herds of wild buffaloes which roam over
these extensive plains. The western part is that which lies between
the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, including the Oregon
territory, which was likely to have led to a serious misunderstanding
between Great Britain and the United States.

These extensive portions are divided by the Hudson's Bay Company into
four departments, and these departments are again subdivided into
districts. At the head of each department and district a chief factor
or chief trader generally presides, to whom all the officers within
their respective jurisdictions are amenable. Those in charge of posts,
whatever may be their rank, are subject to the authority of the person
at the head of the district; and that person receives his instructions
from the superintendent of the department. The whole affairs of the
country at large are regulated by the Governor and Council, and their
decisions again are referred, for final adjustment, to the Governor
and Committee in London.

The Montreal department comprehends all the districts and posts along
the Gulf and River St. Lawrence; also the different posts along the
banks of the Ottawa and the interior country. The depôt of the
department is at Lachine, where all the returns are collected, and the
outfits prepared.

The southern department has its depôt at Moose Factory, in James's
Bay; it includes the districts of Albany, Rupert's House,
Temiscamingue, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior, together with several
isolated posts along the shores of the Bay.

The northern department is very extensive, having for its southern
boundary the line which divides the British from the American
territories, sweeping east and west from Lac La Pluie, in 95° W. long,
and 49° N. lat. to the Rocky Mountains in 115° W. long.; then, with
the Rocky Mountains for its western boundary, it extends northward to
the Arctic Sea. The whole of this vast country is divided into the
following districts: Norway House, Rainy Lake, Red River,
Saskatchewan, English River, Athabasca, and McKenzie's River. The
depôt of this department is York Factory, in Hudson's Bay, and is
considered the grand emporium; here the grand Council is held, which
is formed of the Governor and such chief factors and chief traders as
may be present. The duty of the latter is to sit and listen to
whatever measures the Governor may have determined on, and give their
assent thereto, no debating or vetoing being ever thought of; the
Governor being absolute, his measures therefore more require obedience
than assent. Chief traders are also permitted to sit in council as
auditors, but have not the privilege of being considered members.

The Columbia department is bounded on the east by the Rocky Mountains,
and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. An ideal line divides it on the
south from the province of California, in lat. 41° 30'; and it joins
the Russian boundary in lat. 55°. This, although a very extensive
department, does not consist of many districts; New Caledonia is the
principal, situated among the Rocky Mountains, and having several of
its posts established along the banks of the Fraser River, which
disembogues itself into the Gulf of Georgia in nearly 49° lat. and
122° W. long. The next is Colville, on the Columbia River, along with
some isolated posts near the confluence of the same river. The
_forts_, or trading posts, along the north-west coast, have each their
respective commander. The shipping business is conducted by a person
appointed for that purpose, who is styled, _par excellence_, the head
of the "Naval department." The Company have a steamboat and several
sailing vessels, for the purpose chiefly of trading with the natives
along the coast. The primary object, however, is not so much the
trade, as to keep brother Jonathan in check, (whose propensity for
encroaching has of late been "pretty much" exhibited,) and to deter
him from forming any establishments on the coasts; there being a just
apprehension that if once a footing were obtained on the coast, an
equal eagerness might be manifested for extending their locations into
the interior. Strong parties of hunters are also constantly employed
along the southern frontier for the purpose of destroying the
fur-bearing animals in that quarter; the end in view being to secure
the interior from the encroachments of foreign interlopers. The depôt
of this department is at Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River.

The Hudson's Bay Company, as it at present exists, was incorporated in
the winter of 1820-21, a coalition having been then formed with the
North-West Company. Upon this taking place, an Act of Parliament was
obtained which gave them not only the possession of the territory they
had originally held by virtue of their royal charter, but also
investing them with the same rights and privileges conferred by that
charter in and over all the territories that had been settled by the
North-West Company for a term of twenty-one years.

The Governor, Deputy-Governor, and managing Committee, are, properly
speaking, the only capitalists. The stock is divided into one hundred
shares; sixty of which their Honours retain for themselves; and the
remaining forty are divided among the chief traders and chief factors,
who manage the affairs in the Indian country. A chief factor holds two
of these shares, and a chief trader one; of which they retain the full
interest for one year after they retire, and half interest for the six
following years. These cannot be said to be stock-holders, for they
are not admitted to any share in the executive management; but
according to the present system they are termed Commissioned Officers,
and receive merely the proceeds of the share allotted to them. They
enjoy, however, one very superior advantage, - they are not subjected
to bear their share in any losses which the Company may sustain. It is
generally reckoned that the value of one share is on an average about
350l. sterling a-year. By the resignation of two chief traders, one
share is at the Company's disposal the year after, which is then
bestowed on a clerk. When two chief factors retire, a chief trader is
promoted in like manner. Promotion also take place when the shares of
the retired partners fall in.



I entered the service of the Company in the winter of 1820-21, and
after passing my contract at Montreal in the month of January, I took
up my residence for the remainder of the season with a French priest,
in the parish of Petit le Maska, for the purpose of studying the
French language. The Padre was a most affable, liberal-minded man, a
warm friend of England and Englishmen, and a staunch adherent to their
government, which he considered as the most perfect under the sun. The
fact is, that the old gentleman, along with many others of his
countrymen who had escaped from the horrors of the French Revolution,
had found an asylum in our land of freedom, which they could find
nowhere else; and the personal advantages that had accrued to him from
that circumstance, naturally induced a favourable disposition towards
his benefactors, their laws, and their institutions. Though the Padre
was extremely liberal in his political opinions, his management of his
worldly affairs bore the stamp of the most sordid parsimony. He
worshipped the golden calf, and his adoration of the image was
manifest in everything around him. He wore a cassock of cloth which
had in former times been of a black colour, but was now of a dusky
grey, the woollen material being so completely incorporated with dust
as to give it that colour. His table was furnished with such fare as
his farm produced, with the addition, on particular occasions, of a
bottle of _black strap_. A charming nymph, of some fifty years of age
or so, had the management of the household, and discharged all her
duties with strict decorum and care. I have the beauties of her person
in my mind's eye to this day. She was hump-backed, short-necked, and
one-eyed, and squinted bewitchingly with the remaining one: she had a
short leg and a long one, a high shoulder and a low. In short, the
dear creature seemed to be formed, or rather deformed, by the hand of
nature on purpose to fill the situation of housekeeper for a
priest, - so that whatever might be his age, no scandal could possibly
attach itself to him from such a housekeeper. The man-servant was
directly the counterpart of the charming Marguerite; he also was far
advanced in the vale of years, and was of a most irascible temper. To
stir up Joseph to the _grinning point_ was a very easy matter; and his
frantic gesticulations, when thus goaded to wrath by our teasing
pleasantries, (there were two other young gentlemen beside myself,)
were of the most extraordinary description, and afforded infinite
amusement. We never failed to amuse ourselves at Joseph's expense,
when the Padre's absence permitted our doing so with impunity, - especially
as a small present of tobacco, which was always kept at hand for such
occasions, soon made us friends again. But it sometimes happened that
such jokes were carried too far, so as to render the offering of
_incense_ quite unacceptable, when the touch of _metal_ could alone
produce the desired effect.

I remained with Father Gibert until spring, and shall take leave of
him by relating an anecdote or two illustrative of his loyalty and
benevolence. Some time during Madison's unprovoked war with Great
Britain, an alarm came from the upper part of the parish of which
Father Gibert was _curé_, that a party of Americans had been seen
marching down the country. The _Capitaine_ of militia, who was the
_curé's_ next door neighbour, was immediately sent for, and by their
joint influence and authority a considerable number of _habitans_ were
soon assembled under arms, such as they were. The Father then
shouldering his musket, and placing himself at the head of his
parishioners, led them into his garden, which was enclosed by a picket
fence, and bordered on the highway. Here the loyal band took their
stand under cover of the fence, waiting to give Jonathan a warm
reception the moment he came within reach. The supposed Americans
proved to be a small detachment of British troops, and thus the affair

On another occasion during the same period the Padre's loyalty and
good humour were manifested, though in a different manner. While
amusing himself in the garden one day, he overheard two Irish soldiers
engaged in conversation to this effect: -

"You know that the ould boy asks every body afore he gives any
praties, if they belong to St. Patrick; well, is it a hard matter to
tell him we do, agrah?"

"Sure you'd be telling a lie, Paddy!"

"Never mind that," said Paddy, "I'll spake."

The old gentleman immediately returned to the house, and entering by a
back door, was snugly seated in his arm-chair, book in hand, when the
two Hibernians were admitted.

"Well, my boys, what is your business with me?"

"We would be wanting a few praties, if your Riverence could spare

"Aha! you are from Ireland, I perceive. Irishmen very fond of
potatoes! Well, my boys, I have a few remaining, and you shall have
some if you belong to St. Patrick."

"Faith, and it is all as your honour says; we are Irishmen, and we
belong to St. Patrick."

The old gentleman ordered Joseph to supply them with the "blessed
root," without any further parley. Then addressing the speaker in a
voice of assumed choler, exclaimed: -

"You are a great raskail! does your religion teach you to tell lies?
You are Protestant both of you. However, if you do not belong to St.
Patrick, you belong to the King of England, and I give my potatoes for
his sake. But you must never try to impose upon an old priest again,
or you may not come so well off."



I arrived at Montreal about the beginning of May, and soon learnt that
I was appointed to the post at Lake of Two Mountains. The Montreal
department was headed at that time by Mr. Thane, a man of rather
eccentric character, but possessed of a heart that glowed with the
best feelings of humanity. I was allowed to amuse myself a few days in
town, having directions however to call at the office every day, in
case my services should be required. The period of departure at length
arrived. I was one evening accosted by Mr. Thane in these terms: - "I
say, youngster, you have been trifling away your time long enough
here; you must hold yourself ready to embark for your destination
to-morrow morning at five o'clock precisely. If you delay one moment,
you shall have cause to remember it." Such positive injunctions were
not disregarded by me. I was of course ready at the time appointed,
and after all the hurry, had the honour of breakfasting with my
commander before departing; but the woful and disheartening accounts
of the hardships and privations I was to suffer in the country to
which I was to proceed, fairly spoiled my appetite. I was told that my
only lodging was to be a tent, my only food Indian corn, _when I could
get it_; and many other _comforts_ were enumerated with the view of
producing a certain effect, which my countenance no doubt betrayed,
whilst he chuckled with the greatest delight at the success of his
jokes. I took leave, and found myself that evening at the Lake of Two
Mountains. On my arrival, a large building was pointed out to me as
the Company's establishment, to which I soon found admittance, and
was, to my great surprise, ushered into a large well furnished
apartment. Tea had just been served, with a variety of substantial
accompaniments, to which I felt heartily disposed to do ample justice,
after my day's abstinence. This was very different entertainment from
what I had been led to expect in the morning; would it had been my lot
to be always so agreeably deceived!

The village of the Lake of Two Mountains is inhabited by two distinct
tribes of the aborigines - viz. the Iroquois and the Algonquins; the
latter are a tribe of the Sauteux nation, or Ojibbeway, and live
principally by the chase. The former cultivate the soil, and engage as
voyageurs, or in any other capacity that may yield them the means of
subsistence. They are a very hardy industrious race; but neither the
habits of civilized life, nor the influence of the Christian religion,
appear to have mitigated, in any material degree, the ferocity that
characterized their pagan ancestors. Although they do not pay great
deference to the laws of God, they are sufficiently aware of the
consequences of violating the laws of man, and comport themselves

The Catholic seminary and church, along with the gardens of the
establishment, almost divide the village into two equal parts; yet
this close proximity does not appear to encourage any friendly
intercourse between the two tribes. They in fact seldom pass their
respective limits, and, with few exceptions, cannot converse together,
the language of the one being unintelligible to the other.

The Company established a post here in the spring of 1819, and when I
arrived it was in charge of Mr. Fisher, then a senior clerk. He had
two other clerks under him, besides myself, a like number of
_attachés_, two interpreters, two servants, and a horse to ride upon.
With such an establishment to rule over, need it be matter of surprise
that our _bourgeois_ was in his own estimation a magnate of the first
order? _N'importe_, - whatever might be his vanity, he possessed those

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Online LibraryJohn M'leanNotes of a Twenty-Five Years' Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory Volume I → online text (page 1 of 13)