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Memorable Manitobans: Archibald McDonald (1790-1853)

Fur trader.

Born in Glencoe, Scotland, he became a protege of the Earl of Selkirk, who sent him to study medicine in London before dispatching him to Red River with a party of Kildonan settlers under the command of Dr. Peter Laserre, who died during the voyage. McDonald took over command, wintered with the settlers at Fort Churchill and led them first to York Factory, and then to Red River in 1814.

Appointed by Selkirk to the Council of Assiniboia, he became a lieutenant of Miles Macdonell. In 1816 he published Narrative Respecting the Destruction of the Earl of Selkirk’s Settlement upon Red River, in the Year 1815 and a series of letters to the Montreal Herald answering a pamphlet by John Strachan highly critical of Selkirk. These letters became a pamphlet published that same year as Reply to the Letter, Lately Addressed to the Right Honorable the Earl of Selkirk, by the Hon. and Rev. John Strachan, D.D. McDonald accompanied Selkirk to Fort William in 1816, advocating the aggressive policy that Selkirk pursued at that point. In 1817 he brought a party of De Meuron soldiers west to Fort William, and in 1819 he was one of those indicted for conspiracy against the North West Company.

He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1820, and a year later was posted to the Columbia District, where he remained throughout his career in the fur trade. He became Chief Trader in 1828, accompanied George Simpson on his western inspection tour of that year, and was head at Fort Langley until 1833, when he established Fort Nisqually. He ran the agricultural Fort Colvile from 1835 to 1844, becoming Chief Factor in 1841. While in the West, he became an active correspondent of British scientific organizations and sent them many specimens. He also assisted several visiting botanists to collect specimens and information.

Twice married according to the “custom of the country,” he retired in 1844 and settled with his family on the Ottawa River in Lower Canada. See his Peace River, a Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific, by the Late Sir George Simpson (Governor, Hon. Hudson’s Bay Company) in 1828, edited by Malcolm McLeod (1872).

There are papers in the Selkirk Papers in Library and Archives Canada.

See also:

Exile in the Wilderness: The Biography of Chief Factor Archibald McDonald, 1790-1853 by Jean M. Cole, University of Washington Press, 1979.

Archibald McDonald, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VIII, 526-28.

Sources:

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

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 18 July 2014

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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

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