Memorable Manitobans: Joseph James Hargrave (1841-1891)
Fur trader, historian.
The son of James Hargrave and Letitia Mactavish and nephew of William MacTavish, he was born at York Factory on 1 April 1841. Little “Beppo”—as he was affectionately known—was sent to school in Scotland at an early age, not returning to the West until 1861, when he entered Hudson’s Bay Company service.
In 1869-70 he was private secretary to Governor William McTavish and was thus perfectly placed to produce a pseudonymous series of letters on the Red River Rebellion, published in the Montreal Herald under the name “Red River.” These letters were critical of Louis Riel but generally supported the Métis in their efforts to negotiate terms with Canada, thus reflecting the position of HBC officials at the time. Walter Traill wrote of Hargrave in 1866 that he walked two miles around Fort Garry every evening. According to A. C. Garrioch, Hargrave was one of three or four Winnipeggers present who cheered when the Wolseley Expedition raised the flag at Fort Garry in 1870.
In 1871 Hargrave published Red River—A History of the Red River Settlement, based on his father’s papers and his own recollections of the 1860s, but this work did not include the Rebellion letters, which he intended to publish as a separate supplement. He never did. Red River was a gossipy book, full of juicy scandal. Its major thesis was the breakdown of authority in the settlement, which made the Rebellion of 1869-70 (never mentioned) perfectly comprehensible.
He was a founding member of the Manitoba Historical Society.
Hargrave was promoted to Chief Trader in 1879, and he retired to Montreal 10 years later, where he died in 1891. He is commemorated by Hargrave Street in Winnipeg.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 21 July 2010