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Memorable Manitobans: Peter Fidler (1769-1822)

Fur trader, surveyor.

Born at Bolsover, Derbyshire, England on 16 August 1769. He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1788. As someone with both education and steadiness, he soon advanced in the Company service. He was sent inland, and in 1790 was taught surveying and astronomy by Philip Turnor, whom he was probably intended to succeed. Fidler accompanied Turnor to the Athabasca region in 1790-92, and did well. He subsequently went on a number of surveying and trading expeditions, constantly experiencing trouble with the North West Company but providing the HBC with much useful information. After David Thompson left the HBC in 1797, Fidler was the only map-maker with the Company until it united with the NWC.

By 1810 the intimidation led Fidler to request a year’s furlough in England, and he returned in 1812 to be transferred to Red River. When Miles Macdonell became incapacitated in 1815, Fidler was in command when a capitulation had to be signed, and he led the loyal settlers north to be met by Colin Robertson. In 1816 he was in Brandon House when the post was plundered. He returned to the fur trade in 1817.

By 1821 he had suffered a stroke, and he died at Norway House on 17 December 1822, leaving behind 11 children. He is commemorated by Fidler Avenue in Winnipeg. He is a member of the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Fidler was simultaneously pedantic and diffident. He was not regarded as a great leader, although he was a highly competent surveyor. Fidler kept accurate records of weather and climate, and daily journals of the explorations but unfortunately only a portion of the volumes have ever been found. These were discovered by J. B. Tyrrell at York Factory in 1912. A map of the North-West Territories made by George Taylor for J. G. McTavish and incorporating much of Fidler’s survey work is to be found in Ottawa. He is believed to have surveyed the boundary for the District of Assiniboia and also to have made the plan for the Red River Settlement. His most important explorations covered the district between Hudson Bay and Lake Athabaska, including the lower part of the Churchill River. He also surveyed the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers.

See also:

Peter Fidler, 1769-1822 by Ross Mitchell
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 8, Number 3, April 1963

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Peter Fidler Grave (RM of Dauphin)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Fort Dauphin Museum (140 Jackson Street, Dauphin)

Peter Fidler: Canada’s Forgotten Surveyor, 1769-1822 by J. G. MacGregor (1966).

Peter Fidler, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VI, 249-52.

Sources:

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 16 September 2012

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