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Memorable Manitobans: Letitia MacTavish Hargrave (1813-1854)

Letter writer.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1813, the eldest child of Dugald Mactavish, a lawyer, and Letitia Lockhart. In 1821-22 she moved with her family to Kilchrist House near Campbelltown, Argyllshire. Her education was completed at a ladies’ finishing school. she was courted in 1837by Chief Trader James Hargrave of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who eventually proposed to her by mail. The couple were married on 8 January 1840 and, complete with a piano, sailed for York Factory in June of that year.

Like many women in her position, her first reaction upon her arrival was “to turn my back to the company & cry myself sick.” But she soon recovered her natural ebullience and used letters to her family (edited by Margaret A. MacLeod and published by the Champlain Society in 1947 as The Letters of Letitia Hargrave) as therapy. The letters offer a unique European female perspective on life in the trading posts, and constitute her main claim to fame. At the same time, the letters demonstrate that Hargrave, the only white woman at York Factory for most of her stay there, was extremely privileged. She had a personal maid and was often indulged by her husband, who added a nursery to their house, for example.

She bore three children at York Factory, two of whom survived, including Joseph James Hargrave. In constant ill health, she returned to Scotland in 1846, then came back to York Factory in 1847. She gave birth to two more children before Hargrave was transferred to Sault Ste. Marie in 1851. She died of cholera at the Sault on 18 September 1854.

More information:

Letitia MacTavish, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VIII, 589-90.


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

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 13 March 2008

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