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Memorable Manitobans: James Leith (1777-1838)

Fur trader.

Born in Scotland to wealthy parents, he was a North West Company wintering partner by 1799. He spent one winter at Red River and three at Rainy Lake. Leith was one of the NWC partners who went to Red River in 1816 to hand out presents to the Métis who had been involved in the Battle of Seven Oaks, and he was present in the colony again in 1817 when William Coltman was there to conduct his investigation into the fur trade war.

He became a chief factor after the merger of the NWC and Hudson's Bay Company, spending most of the remainder of his career in the Athabasca country and at Cumberland House. He gave his half of Colquoich, a 1,000-acre landed property, to his brother in 1830. He left half his estate in trust for “establishing propagating and extending the Christian protestant Religion in, & amongst the native aboriginal Indians in ... the Hudson’s Bay Territory.” There is no corroboration of the story, later known as “Leith’s noble revenge,” that he so acted because Indians had murdered his family at The Pas.

The estate spent several years in the Court of Chancery, but the Diocese of Rupert’s Land received £15,000 in 1848, and the estate became properly administered in 1849.

There is a portrait at the Archives of Manitoba.

More information:

“James Leith Takes His Revenge” by E. R. Bagley, The Beaver (June 1943): 36-37.

James Leith, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VII, 498-99.


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

Page revised: 24 March 2008

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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