Private Letters from the Fur Trade: A Selection from the Correspondence of William McMurray between 1845 and 1871

by Clifford Wilson

MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1948-49 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The following letters were written to William McMurray of the Hudson's Bay Company between 1845 and 1871. They form a small part of the personal correspondence preserved by him and by his family. For years they were kept by his daughter, the late Mrs. E. W. Mermagen, who most kindly gave me permission, last year, to read them to this society. As she was ill at the time, her daughter, Mrs. C. L. McGowan, undertook the laborious task of going through the letters, many of which are extremely difficult to read. Mrs. McGowan then sent me a few dozen of the more interesting ones, and from those I have chosen about twenty to read to you tonight.

Each of these letters would doubtless have a story of its own to tell, if we only knew by what devious routes it had reached its original destination. All or them travelled by the Company's packet by canoe, York boat, horseback or dog sled from one lonely fort to the next, until they were delivered into the hands of Mr. McMurray.

The McMurray correspondence may be said to form a sequel to the Hargrave correspondence, published by the Champlain Society in 1938. For while the Hargrave letters deal with the period 1821 to 43, those written to McMurray began in 1845.

The man to whom these letters were addressed, William McMurray, served the Company of Adventurers faithfully for some thirty-five years, and rose to the rank of inspecting chief factor - an office second only to that of chief commissioner.

He was born on March 4, 1824, a son of Chief Trader Thomas McMurray. Thomas had been born in Montreal about 1774, and had come west early in the nineteenth century. In 1803-4 he was in charge of Fort Dauphin, in what is now Manitoba, for the XY Co., which shortly afterwards merged with the North-West Company. He became a partner in the North-West Company and a member of the famous Beaver Club of Montreal, and Mrs. McGowan has the medal of the club which shows the year (1791) in which he first entered the Indian country, west of Lake Superior.

In 1820 he was at Ile a la Crosse, in opposition to John Clarke of the Hudson's Bay Company, by whom he was arrested. A description of this incident is to be found in Hargrave's Red River. [1] Upon the union of the two companies the following year, Thomas McMurray was made a chief trader. He retired from the service in 1843.

By that time, his son William was also in the service of the Company, a young man of nineteen, stationed at Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake. Chief Factor Roderick MacFarlane, who served under him as a young man, later wrote: "Among other good qualities in his make-up, Mr. Wm. McMurray was probably one of the best speakers - orators perhaps - in the Saulteaux and Chipewyan languages. He was also an excellent shot, and among the best winter travellers of his time."

William McMurray's own letters are most readable. One of them, written to Donald A. Smith in 1858, and printed in Beckles Willson's Life of Strathcona, [2] throws a new light on the Parliamentary Inquiry of 1857 into the affairs of the Company and shows that it was by no means the deadly serious affair that the official report would lead us to believe.

Mr. McMurray was married twice - once to a daughter of Chief Factor John Ballenden, and after her death to a sister of Sheriff Inkster, the second marriage taking place in 1868. He served the Company chiefly in the Mackenzie River basin and adjoining territory, but for some fifteen years was in charge of posts in the Lake Winnipeg watershed. In 1843-53 he was on Great Slave Lake, at Fort Resolution, and while there was promoted to chief trader. He was then transferred to Fort Ellice on the Assiniboine, and in 1858 we find him at Fort Alexander, near the present town of Pine Falls, where he stayed until 1867, in charge of the Lac la Pluie district. While there, he was made chief factor. From Fort Alexander he was moved to Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. In 1871 he was at Pembina, and three years later he was back in the west at Ile a la Crosse, where his father had been stationed for the North-West Company over half a century before. In 1875 he was promoted to the rank of inspecting chief factor; but held this distinguished position for only two years before his death in Winnipeg on March 7, 1877, just after his fifty-third birthday.

The first letter in this selection was written by a young army officer who was later known to fame as General Sir J. H. Lefroy, C.B., K.C.M.G., etc. As Lieutenant Lefroy he made a magnetic survey in the north-west in 1843-4, and the following letter was written after his return to Canada from that expedition. In his rare Autobiography, published in part by the Royal Society of Canada under the editorship of Mr. W. S. Wallace, Lefroy makes two references to Wm. McMurray. The first relates to New Year's festivities in 1844 at Fort Chipewyan : "New Year's Day," says Lefroy, "not Christmas Day, is everywhere the great holiday of the year. We were joined on this occasion by Mr. McMurray, who had walked on snowshoes about 200 miles for his holiday, thermometer 30 deg. F. part of the way." (By which he doubtless means thirty below zero.)

The second reference is of a more personal nature, and shows that the inexperienced young subaltern was no match for the hardy northerner when it came to dealing with the weather. "We encamped on a small naked island of rock in Gt. Slave Lake," writes Lefroy. "It was intensely cold and near full moon. McMurray was then travelling with me, and we lay down to sleep side by side. I slept at that time in a bag made of one blanket, and with a second over me. Again and again I woke half frozen to find that McMurray in his sleep, by persistent wriggling, had got all my blanket from me and wrapped well round himself. Then came a tug and a struggle until I repossessed myself of it, only to repeat the same process after and hour or two. [3]

Lefroy had great admiration for the officers of the Company whom he met, and at the Parliamentary Inquiry of 1857, he had this to say of them:

"I never mingled with a body of men whose general qualities seemed to me more entitled to respect. They are men of simple primitive habits, leading the most hardy lives; generally speaking, contented, doing their duty faithfully to their employers, and in many instances taking sincere interest in the welfare of the Indians around them, and doing all they can to benefit them ..." [4]

These officers whom Lefroy describes, and their predecessors, were the men who formed the spearhead of civilization into the North and West, accomplishing such a peaceful and bloodless penetration that Lieutenant-Governor Morris of Manitoba was moved to remark: "The Indians of Canada have, owing to the manner in which they were dealt with for generations by the Hudson's Bay Company, ... an abiding confidence in the Government of the Queen ... [5]

Many of the letters which follow were written by these officers - men whose names will go down in the early history of the West. But first we shall see what young Lefroy has to say to young McMurray.

From J. H. Lefroy

Montreal, 28th April, 1845.

Dear McMurray:

I very much regret that I am unable to fulfil my promise of sending you the books which you expressed a wish to obtain. I found on my arrival at Lachine this day that the Canoes have already left and that I can send you nothing more than can be transmitted by the mail as a letter. I have not yet been to England, and so have had no other opportunity of meeting your wishes than this one, which I have missed, but I beg your acceptance of one of the things which you named, a small Atlas, which is sufficiently portable to be included in the mail, and I have added a book to amuse you some evening at Slave Lake, the other things I hope to send you upon some other occasion or possibly to bring myself if I return to the North: but this is not certain.

I sincerely hope that you continue to acquire Chipewyan. I hardly know any way in which you could make so valuable and creditable a use of your leisure and advantages as by acquiring a mastery of that language. And although I frequently urged this upon you during our short intercourse, I cannot resist the inclination to do so again. Remember that we all have some way or other of doing good to others, and of turning to account the talents committed to us, and that we are not answerable for anything more than for the measure those talents attain to. To you, upon the spot, hearing it familiarly every day, the cultivation of Chipewyan may appear a very insignificant and unhopeful pursuit, but [to] others who know the great importance to philology, and the still greater value to the cause of humanity and religion f a knowledge of that language the case appears quite otherwise. Form a good, extensive, accurate vocabulary of Chipewyan words and phrases - study the peculiarities of the grammar: the idioms and turns of expression, and reduce to writing all that. Learn every new word, phrase, tense, person, and you will do more to facilitate the extension of the incalculable blessing of Christianity to the whole of the Northern Indians, than half a dozen Mr. Evan's. [6] But then remember that Rome was not built in a day if a dozen years hence you can produce a Chipewyan dictionary and grammar, you will have done much. The great point, as it appears to me, is, that you write every word, keep a book for the purpose, do not trust to memory: and that you adhere to some uniform system of orthography. I know the extreme difficulty of expressing the gutterals, but the degree of precision with which this is done is of much less consequence than that your system should be uniform, so that you yourself know from the spelling f each word how you mean it to be pronounced and always represent the same sound by the same letters. No doubt this will require some thought and reflection, but why should you not reflect upon the subject, and do for Chipewyan what others have done for less difficult languages. Mr. Maclean [7] or anyone acquainted with the mode of spelling Gaelic could give you valuable hints as to the representation of gutteral sounds, but no one can vie with you in quickness of car. or accuracy of pronunciation, and present acquaintance with the language. I shall be much interested in receiving the version of the Lord's prayer, and Creed which you promised to try and make, and if in the course of your study of the language you meet with difficulties, or become perplexed with questions upon which you would wish the opinion of some more learned person, if you will communicate the matter to me, I will endeavour to get you the information you may wish. The death of Hassel [8] adds another motive for your perseverance, I do not know now from what quarter any translations of scripture or of the Prayer book into Chipewyan can be expected.

You will perhaps like to hear my adventures after leaving Athabasca last July. I did not reach Norway House until the 5th September. We were no less than twenty-one days upon Lake Superior, of which ten were passed in one encampment, about nine miles below Pic at the Blanche so that I did not reach Sault St. Mary until the 4th November. The weather was cold and unpleasant, but we reached Penetanguishene in safety on the 14th November, and I took Cardan and the other men with me to Toronto, and thence sent them down to Lachine. At present I am unable to say with confidence whether I return to the North or no, but it is probable that next year may see me on my way to McKenzies R. again when I shall hope to find you still in the district.

Meanwhile believe me,
Yours very truly,
J. H. Lefroy.

There is a little piece of service for which I feel tempted to trouble you, as it wilt be very little trouble it is to get together the skulls of as many animals as you can conveniently collect for me - a specimen of each kind, especially of the smaller fur animals. If the flesh is boiled off in a little weak lye, it will be so much better, but this is not necessary but merely to put the heads aside in a corner of your store until I come. Dr. Richardson [9] requested me to get them, but I had so much else to attend to that I neglected it.

From Chief Factor James Anderson

James Anderson (a) - there were also James Andersons (b) and (c) who were officers of the Company - joined the service at Moose Factory in 1831 and served in the East for twenty years. He was then sent to take charge of Mackenzie River District at Fort Simpson with the rank of chief trader. In 1855 he was promoted to chief factor, and in the same year managed to get the exercise he craved (see below) when Sir George Simpson sent him on a two-thousand-mile trip to the mouth of Back's River and return, in charge of an expedition searching for Sir John Franklin. He retired about 1860 and died seven years later, at the age of fifty-five.

The Campbell he refers to in this letter was Robert Campbell, celebrated Yukon explorer, and later a chief factor of the Company. Campbell had established Frances Lake, Pelly Banks, and Fort Selkirk for the Company, and after discovering the Pelly River, had followed it down as far as the Company's Fort Yukon, thereby showing that the Pelly and the Yukon were the same stream. In 1852, while he was at Fort Selkirk, it was sacked by the Chilkat Indians, and Campbell with his assistant MacLeod (Mrs. A. N. MacLeod's father-in-law) barely escaped with their lives. Campbell reported to James Anderson at Fort Simpson, and was all for going back to take his revenge on the Chilkats, but neither Anderson nor Sir George Simpson would let him. Instead, he was put in charge of Fort Liard, as will be seen.


Fort Simpson, 28th Nov., 1854.

Mr. Wm. McMurray.

My Dear Sir:

Your favor of 6th June reached me at Portage La Loche - I hardly think I wrote to you thence, as during the Five clear Days I was there, I was so overwhelmed with business that I was obliged to throw my private correspondence aside and trust to the mercy of my friends. I arrived here on the 12th August and since the departure of the outfits, have been an absolute fixture at the desk from 12 to 15 hours per diem.

Everything is going on smoothly. Mr. Campbell did not go up to Frances Lake nor will he if I can prevent it enough life and money have been lost in that quarter Pruden made returns exceeding - 2300 last year - this is a pretty good advance in Four years from absolutely nothing, of course this is to be attributed to the abandonment of Frances Lake.

Mr. Campbell is at Liard, a person named Harrison from Red River, who was sent up here tho' unasked for and not required is with him - [Laurence] Clarke is now at Rae, by the bye he has walked into the affections of Miss Jane Bell - I believe she is to be Mrs. C. next summer [10] -[Roderick] MacFarlane has taken MacBeath's place [at Fort Good Hope], he will make an excellent officer as will Clarke. The other posts are in "statu quo."

[W. L.] Hardisty came here on a visit this fall, he has recovered his health - everything goes on well at the Youcon under his very able management - like yourself in respect to the Chipewyan tongue he has completely mastered the Youcon dialect - Guadette who is with him retires in '56 he is a useless fellow.

[A. R.] Mackenzie gets on well at Peels River [Fort McPherson], the McKenzie's River Esquimaux now begin to frequent that Post, and will probably eventually prove an acquisition to us in the meantime we are sadly at loss for an interpreter to communicate with them.

[B. R.] Ross did well at Resolution last year, but I suppose that he has given you an account of all his Sayings and Doings.

Fort Rae gave about £9000[?] worth of Furs besides provisions. I am in hopes that we shall get those Indians to become in the course of time as industrious as their Neighbors when it would be one of the most important posts in the District-a vast number of Indians are attached to it.

Forts Liard and Halkett never made such returns as last Year, this post did well - It was considerably above any in the District notwithstanding that Fort Rae takes a good deal from it.

We are well off for Provisions and our Crops were good Martins and Rabbits are very numerous - so I suppose that we shall do well.

Fort Simpson now makes a handsome show, it will be completed this spring, and will then be the handsomest and most convenient Establishment I have seen in the Country. The Old Store is no more the Boat Store will be removed to the end of the Cattle Road in the spring and all the Old buildings then swept away it is quite a pleasure to do business in our new store since the Outfits left I have lined the goods store throughout with planed boards, as well finished off as my house - as soon as the planks are sawed and dried, the same will be done to the Provision Store - the men are now busy squaring saw logs there will be a good deal of sawing as I intend to weather board all the buildings they will also be shingled as soon as possible.

I sent out my two eldest boys to the Red River school last summer. I trust that the character of that school has improved-My daughter gets on well with Mrs. Mills. [11]

I believe you are not acquainted with Mr. Ballenden [12] he is a most amiable person, and will, I am sure, do you justice.

We are quite alone this winter - Mrs. [A. R.] Peers [13] is passing the winter with her father, two sisters and brother. Mr. and Mrs. Christie and family are also there so that there will be quite a large mess, the Old Gentleman will grin at the expense.

I trust that you had good accounts from your friends in Canada. I am not at all well at present, but hope by means of a little exercise after this express is off to get round again. Mrs. A. and the boys are well - and unite with me in kindest regards.

Ever truly yours,
James Anderson (a).

I hope you will be able to peruse this - pray excuse everything - toothache and sore throat don't conduce to produce a good letter.

From Magnus Linklater

Magnus Linklater was born in the Orkneys, and joined the Company there in 1836. From 1841-6 he was storekeeper at Fort Garry; 1850-5, postmaster - i.e. one below the rank of clerk-in Lower Red River District; 1855, clerk; 1865, chief trader. He married Jane Flett, Rev. John Macallum officiating, at the Upper Church in July, 1845. Archbishop Matheson remembered him as "always alert, capable, and equal to the occasion. I never saw him call for assistance, unless a Kildonan farmer had a quarter of beef, a dressed pig, or a sack of flour to offer [in trade]. He then summoned Mr. James Anderson [c]." Linklater died in May, 1868. One of his two daughters, Bella, married John McKenny, son of Harry; the other married Captain Swinford, who came with the Wolseley troops.

Upper Fort Garry,
9th Mar., 1858.

Wm. McMurray, Esqre.

My Dear Sir:

I received your welcome letter of date 30th January and was glad to hear of your welfare, we are still jogging on in the old way, our troops [14] are very quiet and orderly so far. I am glad you are like to put a Stopper on the McGillie's - do sweat them up if possible. I should like to see them come back to the R.R.S. with a little less smoke and oakum about them than in days gone by. I have not much news to tell that you would be likely to take any interest in. Crops in R.R. were very good but people are afraid to sell their grain, there being a good many Grasshoppers about the Settlement last fall they are afraid of them having deposited their young in the ground last fall, and that spring will bring them to life to destroy Crops of next summer. However, I hope they will be more afraid than hurt.

The officers gave us a Grand Ball and the soldiers another, Mr. Dawson and Mr. Drever both gave each a Grand Ball, and Dr. Beddome [15] one so you see we have had plenty of Balling. I heard from Mrs. McMurray by Henry McDermot who saw her at Norway House. She was quite well.

Jane joins in kind regards.

Hoping this will find you well as it leaves us at present.

Yours truly,
Mags. Linklater.

P.S. Please remember us to Mr. [R.] Hardisty, Govr. of Carlton.


From Chief Factor J. E. Harriott

J. E. Harriott joined the Company in 1809 as a twelve-year-old apprentice and spent the following winter at York Factory. He worked in the Saskatchewan District from 1811 to 1828, when he left to spend four years in the Columbia District. While out there, he was appointed a chief trader. He then returned to the Saskatchewan District, of which he was put in charge for a year in 1841, and again in 1847, by which time he had been promoted to Chief Factor. In 1848-9 he was in charge of Pembina District. In 1855 he retired and built Hawthorn Lodge, down the Red River from Lower Fort Garry, where the River road turns west to the main highway.

Harriott was married three times. His second wife was Anne, daughter of old John Rowand of Fort Edmonton. His daughter by his first marriage became the wife of John Rowand Jr., so that Harriott married his son-in-law's sister. Harriott's second wife died in 1851, and he then married Frances Bunn, who was his wife when this letter was written.

Hawthorn Lodge, Red River Settlet.,
8th Decr., 1858.

Willm. McMurray, Esqr.

My Dear Sir:

I never had the pleasure of corresponding with you before but beg to offer these few lines as a tender of my respect. I received a Letter from Edward in which he conveys your kind compliments also a request that we should pay you a visit. We would most happily do so, but not just now. Mr. [A. R.] Lillie [16] is going next week with Capt. Hebert and some other of his friends and I think the visitation would be too great for us all to go at the same time if there is any chance of the road remaining good we will endeavour to pay you a visit after they come back. There has been a good deal of Stir in the Settlement since you left from the arrival of Lords Honorable [17] and all sorts of folks much to the annoyance of Mr. McTavish [18] and it was only a day or two ago that we found out the cause, on hearing that one cold morning he had gone across the River and got married to Miss McDermot. She (we are told) only made her formal entrance into the Fort last Wednesday. We have not been up since but intend to call upon them as soon as we can.

There was another grand Picnic got up by Professor Hynd [19] and Elisa, it was attended by some of the great nobs it came of in the St. Pauls School House it caused a good deal of talk and we are highly pleased with ourselves for not going. we saw the Doctor a few days ago but in case he may not write it may be gratifying to know that he is quite well.

With kindest regards to yourself and Mrs. McMurray in which Mrs. Harriott most cordially unites I remain

Most sincerely yours
J. E. Harriott.

From Richard Hardisty

Born in 1832 at the Sturgeon Falls post of the Company, near Lake Nipissing, the son of Chief Trader Richard and Margaret Hardisty from Scotland, Richard Hardisty Jr. had five brothers and four sisters. Three of the brothers rose to prominence in the service - William L., Henry, and Joseph. Richard was educated at the Red River Academy, like his brothers, and entered the Company in 1849. He was stationed successively at Fort Garry, Cumberland House, Fort Carlton, Victoria (Alberta) and Edmonton. In 1862 he was appointed chief trader, and in 1872, chief factor. In 1866 he married the daughter of Rev. George McDougall, celebrated missionary. In 1887 he contested the only constituency for the Canadian House of Commons in the District of Alberta, but was defeated. The same year he was appointed senator, and the Company promoted him to be inspecting chief factor. While driving near Qu'Appelle in 1889 he met with an accident that resulted in his death in Winnipeg on October 15 of that year. (See The Beaver. Feb., 1924, p. 174.)

Carlton House,
January 28th, 1859

Dear MacMurray,

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 4th December, which came duly to hand on the 27th Inst. I now sit down to address you a few lines regarding the affairs in this quarter. I am happy to inform you that the Buffaloe are quite near this winter and our hunters have already given us the quantity of meat we require for our Ice cellars. It is not all brought into the store, but we have only to fetch it from the Stage which is only 15 miles from here. The Buffaloe are not so close Fort Pitt as they were last year and at Edmonton there are none at all. By the last accounts, I heard there were only 15 animals on the stage and that they were living on dried provisions at the Fort. Captain Palliser and his party, with the exception of Blakiston, are all wintering at Edmonton.

It would appear that these Scientific Gents have something to do in preventing the Buffaloe from approaching near to whatever Fort they are stationed at; it cannot surely be our friend M. Bourgeau that is the cause of it. As far as I have heard, the affair between Blakston and Sullivan has not been settled, at least there was no Court Martial when Captain Palliser arrived last Spring. Blakiston was not much with the party during the whole summer. He started in Company with me up as far as Fort Pitt and from there he went on to Edmonton and only fell in with the Captain at the Red Deers River and after only remaining a few days together, they each took a separate pass over the mountains and did not meet again till they all arrived at Edmonton. Blakiston came down and remained here until the 27th December. He is now on his way to Red River, going down along by Cumberland. I believe he is now altogether unconnected with Captain Palliser's expedition and for what reasons, I cannot tell you. [20]

Dr. Hector again lost his grey horse with saddle and bridle and has net yet been found. MacGillivray is in charge of Lac la Biche with big head Macaully. Our friend Moberly [21] is at jasper's and I believe he is ordered out next spring to Norway House. There was no one appointed to Jackfish Lake and a free trader from R. R. has taken possession of your house for the winter. Mr. Assiniboine is kicked out of the Fort and now engaged to P. C. Pambrun at Lac la Biche. My man Isbister is married to Mr. Bunn's daughter. I did not receive any letters from Kie-shis-e-mow Old Barnston. I suppose the sudden loss in his family, has, of course, brought an absorbing pressure of other thoughts for a season. I am sure he will take it much to heart, for the late James was one he had great hopes of, and one that would certainly have been a credit to his family and Country, had he lived. I have just received a letter from my brother William, he writes me that Dunlope has been applying for Miss B and by all accounts has not succeeded better than myself. [22] I suppose I may now say as Burns said:

"Had we never loved so kindly,
Had we never loved so blindly,
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted."

You will think that I am turning too poetical, so I must conclude with kind respects to Mrs. MacMurray and Believe me to be,

My dear MacMurray,
Yours sincerely,
Richard Hardisty.

P.S. I never had the pleasure of Mrs. MacMurray's acquaintance, but as her late father [23] was my first Bourgeois in the Service and one for whom I had great regard, I cannot but You must finish the sentence? for I am stuck. Amen R.H.

William MacMurray Esgre.
Fort Alexander
Lac la Pluie Dist.

From Joseph Fortescue

Joseph Fortescue was a Londoner who joined the Company in 1852 and served it for forty years at York Factory, Island Lake, Norway House, Red River, Cumberland House, Swan River, and English River. As the letter from W. F. Gairdner shows, he was married at York Factory in 1864. He was appointed a chief trader in 1867, a factor in 1872, and a chief factor in 1879. He retired in 1892 and died in 1899.

Upper Fort Garry,
13th March, 1859.

My Dear MacMurray,

For the sake of Auld lang syne I have come to the conclusion, after four hours deliberation "on the broad of my back," that I ought to send you a line though for anything to write about I am at a loss beyond the fact that you will guess when you open this, that my existence has not yet been brought to a summary termination. Our Xmas revels having given place to our old plodding steady going habits - which means not getting drunk if possible more than seven times in the week - things are so much the same as usual that to have been a fortnight with us will give a very good idea of the whole year's proceedings.

As Onion however is going out I need not trouble myself with giving you anything in the shape of intelligence as he has crammed himself up the whole of last week with all the details of the births deaths and marriages arrivals and departures, Court Circulars and other interesting though unpublished details which form the subject of Red Rivers conversation and correspondence. There remains only foreign intelligence and to make yourself up in that I send you out the four last Albions which will give you a faint idea of how things are going on in the old world and that portion of the new one so nearly approaching our own part of the Continent in civilization and refinement.

Everything goes on here as usual and everybody is the same as usual. [A. R.] Lillie is as jolly as ever though we do not often see him up in this part of the settlement. Old [Dr. John] Bunn vegetates in the little room and reads his reviews with the same untiring diligence. The proceedings of our military acquaintances since you left are much the same as before. Busne [?] and Armstrong went to Pembina to see Jimmy who has had a severe attack of tic. Beddome also who has become steadier than usual went to see how he was getting on. Reesse got a touch of snow blindness coming down as also Blakiston who arrived from the North with Wm. Spencer about 10 days ago. The latter has returned to his hole for the rest of the winter. The only other piece of news is the end of the war with the Sioux. We are to have a party in, in a few days, being part of the number of negotiators who were present at the pipe smoking at Pembina. [24] Old Terre qui brule who was here when the murder of his companion took place, is to be one of the party. When shall we see you again before the York trip? We shall have a busy summer as the G. [25] is to come by St. Paul and his stay will consequently be longer as his arrival will be so much earlier. I fear also we shall be favoured with a short visit on his return. God send it may not be a long one. No peace for the wicked you know and I suppose I must include myself in that arrangement also.

Give my compts. to Mrs. MacMurray. I trust she has been in the full enjoyment of health since we had the pleasure of seeing her on the occasion of her short stay in the settlement. Should Sallie and I be here another year I hope we shall spend as merry a time again as we did during the Xmas week on which occasion I hope your affairs will not prevent your appearing to join us in our ollification.

Onion is nudging me to come over so I must conclude, the more so as he has been reading our "Facts and Fancies" from the Albion the last ten minutes and betrayed me into many of the orthographical errors that blot the sheet. So,

with kindest regards.
I remain now as ever
dear MacMurray
Your most sincere friend
J. Fortescue

Wm. MacMurray Esq.
Fort Alexander.

From Joseph Rolette

Joe Rolette was born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, on October 23, 1820, died in Pembina on May 16, 1871. He was educated in New York, and was employed by the American Fur Company at Pembina in 1840. He established a cart route from the Red River settlement to St. Paul, thus extending the fur trade of St. Paul to a large region in competition with Hudson's Bay Company. He was a representative in the Minnesota territorial legislature from 1853 to 1855, and a member of the territorial council in 1856 and 1857.

Pembina, 6th May, 1859.

Dear Mac

As I have received regular quit claim deeds, I have now filled one up and forwarded it to you-which I hope will suit you There is no news here, except one great circumstance and that is that poor Joe Rolette has eventually joined the Temperance Society for life - It happened about three months ago, just after he saw you, and the "poor devil" feels a great deal better for it - I will see you in June Did you receive the papers I sent you My wife joins me in our wishes to your Lady and yourself and hoping god will bless you both.

I remain Yours
Jos. Rolette.

From Antoine Blanc Gingras

Antoine Blanc Gingras, son of Antoine Gingras and Margaret Trottier, a Métis woman, was born in the Red River settlement in 1821. Gingras engaged in the Indian trade in the early 1840s in Pembina and St. Joseph, having a store or trading post at each place. Later he operated a Red River cart line between St. Joseph and St. Paul, and was associated with Norman W. Kittson in conducting a cart line between Winnipeg and St. Paul. He was described by historians of his day as fat and jolly, very shrewd and successful in business. Statisticians rated him the richest man in North Dakota - worth $60,000. He served as a representative in the Minnesota territorial legislature in the sessions of 1852 and 1853. He died in the Pembina Hills of Manitoba on September 26, 1877.

Saint Joseph Pembina March 3d/62.

Mr. W. McMurray

My Dear Sir

I take the greatest pleasure of writing you these few lines to let you know that I didn't forget le Petit Belettes [weasels] that you Promise me a few years ago. I would be very glad if you could get me a Couple Hundred or more. I intend to go this next fall towards Missouri to buy Horses, that is to say if nothing happens to me. I have no News very particular to inform you. The Trade is very dull here. Most of the people here are doing nothing at all but eat and drink, while they have it, there are so Laze that they can't even Trap anything, their business is to Call to Traders and ask for Credit & that is the way most of them lives here - my man arrived here last week from Souve [?] River & Brings very good News, he says that the free mens are making plenty Robes, & still they have plenty of Buffalous yet. No more at present.

Please to answer. I remain Your sincerely,
Antoine Gingras

From J. H. McTavish

John H. McTavish was chief accountant at Fort Garry. When the Province of Manitoba was formed, he was elected a member of the first legislature for St. Anne. In 1872 he was appointed a factor of the Company, and a chief factor in 1874. He retired from the service in 1881.


Fort Garry, R.R.S.
28th May, 1862.

My dear McMurray,

We are always in a hurry in RR particularly when we have to write letters, and just now it beats ordinary times so I have got hold of a pen that travels over the paper & will rattle off a few lines in return for your kind private letter: McDonald has just handed it in & wants to return in half an hour so I must hurry.

The GL26 a/cs for April were only handed into the Office this morning the 28th May, & I have been busy posting up your a/cs I'll have no time to check them so you must be lenient for once & take them as they go. K. [Lac la Pluie district?] Transfers Drs. & Crs. I send herewith as well as a quire of English Engagements & Statement of K officers & servants Book Debts in RR Ot. [Outfit] 1861.

The Govr. [27] has been with us since the 18th & appears to be everything we could desire, but you will see him yourself I suppose so I need say nothing about him. I don't think Mr. Mactavish is writing you today as he is so busy, we are making up the U.S. mails as the Steamboat is [28] to return tonight.

The Steamer brot down some 150 or 160 passengers, among others Mr. Black, formerly Bourgeois here, he is to be our Recorder, Bp Tache is also in.

The rest of the passengers are Canadians bound for Frasers River Gold Mines and are generally a fine set of men, all or nearly all gentlemen, a number of them brot letters of introduction from my acquaintance in Canada & I find them agreable chaps, what little I see of them They propose starting for the West next week I heard from [A. R.] Lillie today by Mr. C. F. Christie who has just got in Lillie expects to be in June or early July and says very little about how he has got on I heard from home last mail, my mother says the Cummings are all well, I see you have a couple of Letters from Edinburgh, so you will get news of your friends.

Hoping to see you soon when we will have a good long chat worth a dozen such scribbles as this with kind regards to Horace [Belanger?] & his better half, I remain

My dear McMurray
Ever yours very sincerely
J. H. McTavish.

From William Frederick Gairdner

W. F. Gairdner served as clerk until 1878 when he was appointed junior chief trader at Fort Chipewyan. There he remained until 1883. The following year he was at Fort Smith, and in 1886 he is listed as "on leave." Next year he was sent to Winnipeg where he attended the last meeting of Company commissioned officers, and in 1888 he was sent out to Lac la Biche, north of Edmonton, where he served at least until 1892, and perhaps longer. He retired still with the rank of junior chief trader in 1898.

York Factory
1st Decr., 1864

My dear Mr. McMurray,

The packet is to start on the 5th inst, so I will just take the opportunity afforded of giving you a few lines to let you know how we are getting on after the excitement of last Fall.

Of course you will have heard long ere this of the total loss of the "Prince Arthur" on Mansfield Island, and the damaged condition of the "Prince of Wales." The Royal Family seem to have got into a devil of a mess at last, and we may consider ourselves highly honoured in having one of them to pass the winter amongst us in this out-of-the-way place.

The "Ocean Nymph" - the other vessel which came out this year sailed about the 17th of September and fortunately was big enough to take all the furs, shipwrecked seamen and passengers home, but I am afraid that some of them were rather tightly packed. The Prince of Wales was examined before the "Nymph" sailed and was pronounced unseaworthy and is now lying high and dry on Point of Marsh. She is stripped of everything except her masts and presents altogether rather a melancholy spectacle. Both vessels came up the river and discharged their cargoes opposite the launch. In fact we had quite an exciting time of it and the Factory presented quite a nautical appearance with so many seamen wandering about. [29]

Mowat got married about the middle of last August and [Joseph] Fortescue about a month after. Mowats affair was a very quiet one of course and I was one of the few guests who were present at the Ceremony. Of the other one I can't say much as I was not present, I got an invitation however but did not accept it. I believe it was a very brilliant affair and certainly there was no want of music, fireworks & gun firing.

Mr. Wilson arrived here a day or two after the latter event, but I am Sorry to say that he was very unlucky after his arrival. His family caught the scarlet fever which was about at that time and he had the misfortune to lose one of his twin girls Miss Anne. I like Mr. Wilson very much. His style is very different from J. R.'s but at the same time much more agreeable. He makes very free and easy with us all and smokes his three pipes a day regularly in the Guardroom. [The clerk's quarters]. Our new Doctor McKay [30] is an edinburgh man and I think a very smart fellow in his profession. He is only out for a few years and intends going to Canada afterwards.

Captain Sennett of the "Prince of Wales" started last week for Red River with his two officers. He has had shocking bad weather since he started and I am afraid by this time has get a pretty good idea of what winter travelling in Hudsons Bay is.

I was sorry that I had to disappoint you and others in the matches which I promised to send in the Fall, but the truth was that Captain Herd did not send any out in the Ship, and the few that we have here this Winter are very inferior ones and were traded from the sailors.

How is Bellanger getting on at F.A. I suppose he is not breaking his heart to get back to Lac Salle [Seul]. Please remember me to him and also to John McDonald in case I should not write him. Hoping you may pass a pleasant Winter.

Believe Me
Yours Sincerely
William F. Gairdner.

From Chief Factor James Allan Grahame

J. A. Grahame was born in Edinburgh and joined the Company at the age of 17. His first post was Fort Garry, but in 1844 he was moved to Fort Vancouver. Three years later he was married to Susan Birnie at Fort George (Astoria). James Ogden Grahame, who became his father's secretary when the old man was Chief Commissioner, was the second son of this marriage. After his first wife died, J. A. Grahame married Mary, daughter of Chief Factor John Work, at Victoria. He was made a chief trader in 1854, and when the Company vacated Fort Vancouver in 1860 he turned the establishment over to the United States authorities and returned to Victoria. Next year he was promoted to chief factor. In 1866, when this letter was written, he was stationed at Norway House. Later he was at Fort Garry, then went back to British Columbia where he had charge of the Company's affairs on the Coast. In 1874 he was made Chief Commissioner of the Company in Canada, succeeding Donald A. Smith, with headquarters at Fort Garry. He retired about 1885, and after spending two years in Montreal, went back to Victoria, where he died in 1905. He was a prominent Freemason.


Norway House.
1st August 1866

My dear McMurray,

Your favor of 19th July reached me today and I answer it at once so as to be prepared for the arrival of your boats from below.

Nothing has been seen of your locket, but the attention of several has been directed to it, and if found it will be taken care of for you.

I looked upon the Schwiger operation as all bosh from the first, and think the old man supposes us all as rich Jews, while we are merely vegetating I may say. [31]

Any one from the Grand Trunk has an unfortunate proclivity of looking on other people's money as only fit to be spilt like water, and if such expensive works are gone into we will soon be gone in ourselves, after opening a Highway into the Preserves of the country for our opponents. Of course the old man is dreaming if he thinks any £9 or 10,000 pounds are going to be sunk by the Fur Trade at the Grand Rapid, but I presume we will be saddled with all the expenses of his trip as the Steamboat suggestion came from the country. I do not see that his report will be of any more practical use than that of Captain Silas Munn Esquire.

I cannot make out about the Mission case: confound them & their freight they are as bad as the Old man of the Mountain and having got astraddle of us will not let us off. Already half a boat load has reached this from York, and will have to winter here.

My family are off in Red River, and I am for the time being a Bachelor, a very poor way of living I must say.

It may be that we will meet again in the Red River next Spring "pour dine adieu" [pour diner a deux] if the inexorable Fates do not again dash the cup from my lips.

In the meantime good bye and believe me,
Yours ever faithfully
Ja. A. Grahame

P.S. I charged Lac La Pluie with the Provisions paid the Canoemen as requested by you and you can arrange the matter there yourself, as I do not quite understand it. Was it an oversight of yours that made you have a Packet at all?

From Chief Factor William Lucas Hardisty

W. L. Hardisty was the eldest son of Chief Trader Richard Hardisty, Sr., and a brother of Lady Strathcona. He joined the Company in 1842, and in 1846-9 was in charge of Frances Lake, one of the Yukon posts established by Robert Campbell. After that he was put in charge successively of Forts Norman, Yukon (1852-8), Resolution (1859), and Liard (1860-1), and in 1862 he was sent to Fort Simpson to take charge of the Mackenzie River district, a position which he held for fifteen years. While there he was commissioned chief factor. He retired in 1879. Mr. Hardisty was the father of Lady Lougheed.

Fort Simpson
Novr 30th 1867.

My dear Mr. MacMurray

I am sending £10 to Bishop Machray for the Macallum Scholarship will you join me?

The Bishop is raising funds to perpetuate the Memory of Mr. Corkran [32] by a scholarship, but Mr. Corkran was the peoples friend, he was emphatically the benefactor of the whole settlement a public subscription for a scholarship would therefore be a suitable testimonial to perpetuate his worth but Mr. Macallum [33] was more exclusively and peculiarly our benefactor and friend - he did more for us than I can tell, it is therefore right & proper that we should claim it as our exclusive privelege to form a scholarship to perpetuate his memory which is so dear to us.

I am the only one of his scholars now remaining in this District, but there are several in Athabasca - Yourself, the two Ross's & Pruden who I am sure will be glad to contribute according to their means, towards so praiseworthy an object ...

There is also Ferd. McKenzie in New Caledonia, my brothers Joe George & Henry in the Columbia, & Richd. in Saskn. Alex McKenzie & P.C. Pambrun & Peter Bell in the Montreal Dept. besides H. McKenzie, R.R. & Isbister - who if you, as the most influential now among them, would propose the subject, would I am certain willingly come forward, to do honour to their departed Teacher.

With best wishes
I remain
Yours faithfully
Wm. L. Hardisty.

From Joseph James Hargrave

J. J. Hargrave, eldest child of James and Letitia, was a "Company man" all his life. He was born into the fur trade at York Factory on April 1st, 1841, and started his service at Fort Garry twenty years later under the watchful eye of his mother's brother, William Mactavish. When Mactavish was appointed governor, he served as his secretary. Hargrave's journey to and arrival at Fort Garry are described in his valuable and often amusing book Red River, on which his fame chiefly rests, and which was written at the fort, and finished in March 1869. Publication was doubtless delayed by the Riel Insurrection, and it did not appear in print until 1871. Its author was commissioned a junior chief trader in 1878, and a chief trader the following year. He retired in 1889, and died while on a visit to Scotland, five years later.

Fort Garry, Red River,
2 December, 1867

My Dear Sir,

I have much pleasure in taking advantage of this opportunity of dropping you a few lines to let you know how we got along since you left us. The principal news of a local character is that Mr. Balsillie was on Thursday last, the 28th ultimo, married to Miss Rowand by Bishop Tache at St. Boniface, and a very nice ball was given on the occasion by Mrs. Rowand at Sturgeon Creek. The ball went off more quietly than usual and a good deal more so than might have been expected from the quantity of liquor got through. It was not, however, devoid of incident ...

Mr. Carter had driven up with another stranger of some note here, a Mr. Alexander Begg, [34] from Canada, who arrived on the scene of action very drunk. The first intimation of their arrival had been given by an awful row breaking out in the kitchen behind the house. McTavish, who had heard the noise, went in to see what was wrong and found Mr. Begg seated on a table with a big crabstick in his fist, squaring out at old Mitchell, the gardener, who was also very drunk, and both of them virulently debating which of the two was the best Scotchman! Mr. Begg was taken up to bed ...

The Mr. Begg above-mentioned came up from Hamilton C.W. [Canada West] this fall as agent for some wholesale houses there. He has established in McDermot's Block, Winnipeg. He is a remarkably intelligent, fine fellow and is said to have a very fine stock of goods. He has inaugurated a "Burns Club" here, to which course he was the more impelled in that he claims kindred with the poet. He himself is from Aberdeen originally. He has also inaugurated a theatre in what he calls the "Red River Hall" over his own chambers. The first performance netted £9.14 at 2 shillings per head. There has been no repetition of the entertainment as Mr. Begg, after a champagne supper given at the conclusion of the performance at Devlin's tavern, having occasion to return for something left on the stage, tripped up in the dark, and cut his leg so seriously with the tin part of one of the footlights that he is barely recovered even now, though it is about seven weeks since the accident. He had to get the doctor to sew his leg up. A performance is said to be about to come off this week but I fear that the spree at Sturgeon Creek will have thrown him back again ...

You will have heard of the death of Mrs. Alexander Christie which occurred before Alick arrived. He is very comfortably settled at the rapids where his daughter keeps house for him. Poor Alexander Pruden died the very day he arrived at his father's ... We have just heard of the death of Bishop Strachan of Toronto. I see Dr. MacMurray's name mentioned among those present at the funeral ceremony which was a very imposing one with military bands and muffled bells, soldiers and clergymen.

The Commercial Bank of Canada has failed, though I do not think the ultimate loss will be a heavy one ... Bishop Tache has returned from Rome to which place he went this summer, as you are doubtless aware. Mr. [Henry] McKenney has also returned from England. He did not make out a trip to Paris but has brought, it is said, a very large and fine outfit from England. Mrs. Bentley has returned to the settlement along with him. Mr. Grahame has been heard of en route to Victoria, V.I., but he doesn't intend to try to reach New Caledonia this season. Mr. Sinclair at Brockville is said to have between eighty and 100 shares in the Commercial Bank mentioned above. The shares originally cost $100 each so that even at the best I fear the old gentleman will lose heavily. Wemyss Simpson, after a tough contest, has been returned member for a place called Algoma in the House of Commons of the new Dominion of Canada. Archdeacon Hunter has settled down in a fashionable London parish ...

You will be put quite in possession of public news by your Scottish Am. journals so that I shall merely mention that the Italian question, and stagnation of trade in England, along with new and serious Fenian disturbances are at present the disturbing cause of the public mind. The social question of trades unions will probably call for legislation at the coming session.

Very sincerely yours
J. J. Hargrave [35]

William McMurray, Esqr.

From J. H. McTavish

Fort Garry
10th Decr. 1867

My dear McMurray,

I must not let the Packet start without giving you a few lines for the sake of "Auld Lang Sync" & to let you know that "tho' lost to sight you're to memory dear," I assure you, dear Mac, it is not in one season that I'll forget the many happy days we have spent together & we will miss your face in our meetings this Xmas, & your absence will make a blank which to your Fort Garry friends can not be filled, I intended to have given you a description of our first ball of the season, in honor of Balsillie's wedding, but I find that Hargrave & Balsillie have taken the wind out of my sails & left me nothing to add on that score, so I must try and spin you out something else, Balsillie & young bride are living with me just now & you have no idea what I have to go through, we can't keep them shut up out of sight all the time & the amount of "Honey Mooning" that is carried on is agonizing to the feelings of an old married man like me, however it's a blessing that sort of thing can't last for ever, such an excess of billing & cooing can't last long & they will no doubt at the end of the month settle down into a sensible married couple.

What sort of a winter are you passing in Athabasca? Miserable, I've no doubt, it's a great change even from here & I'm sure you are looking forward to that happy day when you can say Adieu to the blessed North, at all events you will be able to appreciate the pleasures of civilized life when you get out of the country, which I've no doubt will be before very long, the inducements of remaining in this country are not so great as to make a person wish to remain a day longer than he could help.

I heard from Home a few days ago, my mother sent her Kindest regards to you & asked me when that match (alludg. to yours) was coming off, it must be some Canadian affair that you have kept dark from us, I must write & find out what the old lady means. She writes me that your sister and family are very well but poor old Cumming is failing in health.

I have often wondered Mac, what was the matter with you here for some time before you left, it may have simply been the preoccupation occasioned by your starting for a lengthy absence but I thought (I trust wrongly) that your bearing towards us, or me rather, was changed & I could not in any way account for the change.

I suppose there is no chance of our meeting next summer, you might take a run into the Settlement, but if Council is to be held at YF [?] I presume you won't come farther than there.

Mrs. Grahame was at Colborne last summer & saw your friend there, She remained a month with my mother while Grahame was Home, & she enjoyed the life at Colborne very much, we have heard f their safe arrival at the other side.

Dutch George's [Emmerling's] Billiard Table is a great institution here, he keeps a very orderly place now, allows no drinking in the billiard Saloon & has everything tiptop style, Balsillie & I often go down & spend an hour there of an evening, Balsillie generally "wallops" me at the. game much to my disgust for I have to fork out the shilling, people in the Settlement have some queer notions about the game, they imagine it is for the purpose of gambling & that any one going there is on the safe road to ruin, I have never yet seen a game played for money, & in fact George allows no gambling of any sort in his house.

They have instituted a "Burns' Club" in Town, Bannatyne, president, all sorts of Scotchmen meet there, so none of us from the Fort have joined. The consumption of Scotch Whiskey is one of the duties of the members & we have all given up that sort of thing, with very rare exceptions, such as Balsillie's marriage for instance, I am sorry you could not have been here for the ball, & I've no doubt a few of the young ladies missed you even more than I did. I hear that Wm. Inkster is thinking f giving a ball & Ive no doubt Bannatyne will follow suit. I hear the latter is going to institute Charades this winter. We have not got Frank Johnson to act the baby this year, by the way we heard a report here that Frank was dead but as we could not trace the report to any reliable source I trust it is unfounded, the sudden death of a young healthy fellow like Frank would give his companions a start.

I see that Frank Gingras has written you, so between us all I hope you will have got all the news, you see I'm as careless as usual in the way I knock off my letters but I knew you will overlook it, "old fellow," as Hector says, Hector & his wife are O.K. no signs yet, poor fellow.

Hargrave has written you about our Theatricals, I send you the bill from tonight's play, we are all going.

Mrs. McT. joins with me in Kindest regards, Baby would too if she could express herself properly, & hoping for the pleasure of seeing you before many years.

I remain My dear Mac
Yours as Ever
J. H. McTavish

Wm. McMurray Esq

From Dr. William Cowan

Dr. William Cowan came out to Fort Garry with the pensioners in 1849. Later he joined the Hudson's Bay Company and was sent to Moose Factory in 1856. He was commissioned a chief trader in 1860 and came back to Red River two years later. About 1865 he went to Norway House, and next year returned once more to Fort Garry as second-in-command to Governor William MacTavish. He was in charge of the fort when Riel took it over, and imprisoned him, but he escaped to the Lower Fort and went back to England via York Factory. Later he came back to Winnipeg and was chairman of a meeting called in 1879 to organize the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba. He died in St. Paul in 1902.

A quotation from Isaac Cowie's Company of Adventurers will add more interest to the first paragraph of his letter to McMurray. Cowie relates how he came to Fort Garry in October 1867, a couple of months before this letter was written. "There were several clever and well-informed men at the table," he says, "and their conversation was brilliant and interesting. The rule that an apprentice clerk should not speak at mess unless spoken to, which was observed at York Factory, was not so much in evidence at Fort Garry, and I ventured to tell of certain negotiations going on for the transfer of Rupert's Land to the new Dominion of Canada, reported in the newspapers at home in June. Neither Judge Black nor Dr. Cowan had seen these reports, and they were quite interested."

Fort Garry
Decr. 10th 1867

My Dear Sir,

Although a good deal pressed for time at present, I cannot let the packet go without sending you a few lines There is nothing of any interest stirring in the Settlement at present no political movement of any sort of course the "NorWester" is always hammering away at us to the best of its ability but as it appears to be to very little effect it is losing its interest. It is reported that next spring the Territory of Ruperts Land is to be admitted into the Dominion of Canada I can not say what truth there may be in this - it does not appear to be known to the Settlers or if it is they are saying nothing about it - perhaps they are beginning to see that such a change may not be altogether for their interest. From the scarcity and high price of provisions there is every probability of a good deal of suffering in some of the Districts of the Settlement and the Companys liberality will be depended on as usual.

There has been a considerable increase to the population of the settlement by the coming in last fall of a large body of gold miners from Montana, and a number of deserters from the American troops stationed on the mail line between Montana and Abercrombie the miners came in with John Grant of whom you may have heard (son of the late Richard Grant C.T.) and are only here for the winter the deserters we may look upon as a permanent accession so far they have been all quiet good subjects.

You will be sorry to hear that Tom Taylor is going all wrong again - after making his round by Fort Francis & Lac Seul he came into the Settlement early in October - I happened to be at the Lower Fort on his arrival he came up with me that evening and remained here a couple of days while here he was perfectly steady he left this, on his way down, early on Saturday having several calls to make and to dine with the Bishop - I believe he made sundry calls about the town and by the time he got to William Inksters he was pretty far gone he dined with his Lordship nevertheless - he called at John Inksters that evening very drunk and the next day called on Alexander Christie in the same state he left the Lower Fort on Monday & camped that night on the bank below Mr. [Alexander Hunter] Murrays he called there & if Murrays story is correct must have been very drunk - I saw Murray a day or two after and he gave me quite a lecture about it although he appeared well on himself at the time he was speaking to me. Besides all this there are stories about his conduct while on his journey to Lac Seul. The Governor [Wm. Mactavish] started by open water for Ft. Alexander to inquire into the matter there but had to return from the mouth of the river by the setting in of the ice. If the stories about his drinking in his District prove true I am afraid poor Taylor will be superseded.

You will rather be surprised to hear that Dr. Bird is now married to Mrs. Charles M'Dermott. [36] The Doctor, Mrs. C. M'Dermott & Mr & Mrs W Rowand left this for a tour in the 'States' & Canada about the beginning of autumn the Doctor & Mrs C. were married in St. Paul and after spending some time in the 'States' returned about a month ago Old Mrs Ross was not at all pleased at first but is new reconciled - I think it was about the best thing Dr. Bird could do - Mr. Balsillie was married to Miss Adelaide Rowand on the 28th Ulto. by Bishop Tache at his palace they had a merry wedding party at Mrs Rowands in the evening. I must now close this hurried Scrawl with kind remembrances in which Mrs Cowan joins me.

I Remain My Dear Sir
Very Sincerely Yours
William Cowan

From Chief Trader Laurence Clarke

Laurence Clarke was born in County Cork, Ireland, and early in life went to the West Indies. He joined the Company in 1851, at which time he was stated to be of the parish of Chambly, not far from Montreal. His first job was that of postmaster at Norway House, but he soon left for MacKenzie River district, and then in 1852 for Fort Chipewyan, headquarters of Athabasca district, as clerk under John Bell. While there he became attracted to Bell's daughter Jane, and in 1855, while Clarke was stationed at Fort Rae on Great Slave Lake, they were married.

They remained at Fort Rae for nine years, and in 1863 were transferred to Fort a la Corne on the Saskatchewan River, where they remained for four years. Clarke was then appointed chief trader, and transferred to the charge of Carlton House, further up the Saskatchewan, with which his name is usually associated. There he remained for fifteen years. In 1870, as a subsequent letter shows, his wife died. Afterwards he married a sister of Thomas and James McKay of Prince Albert.

In 1875 he was promoted to chief trader, and in March 1881 was elected a member of the Council of the North West Territories for Lorne District. He died at Prince Albert in 1890.


Carlton House,
27th January 1868

Dear MacMurray

I have only found your private favor this moment it having got mixed up with some R.R. letters and it was only in the final assortment that it turned up. I doubly thank you for it, for I had wrongfully accused you of forgetting me, and have the gratification to find that I have been mistaken, and further that I have gained your applause for my doings here, your good opinion is really of value to me for you are a man of action yourself and has a fellow feeling for one who is trying, tho at a respectful distance to follow in your tracks. Your own doings at Athabasca has shown that when there is a will & energy there is no impossibilities, and this is no time to go to sleep. I am happy to say that the summer transport business was brought to a successful conclusion, every piece sent through to Carlton this summer was duly forwarded & safely reached their appointed destinations.

The cattle are also all well & thriving and will be all in good condition as early in the spring as necessary should they be required for early transport. Determined that I should not starve here if possible this year I sent every man & animal I could muster last Autumn & Fall to the plains the the people had to go far before they came up to Buffalo, we managed to make two trips, & were successful on both occasions, the first time bringing home heavy loads of dried provisions & the second brought the fresh meat of 117 cows since when we have not got an animal or seen a plain Indian. The Buffalo are nowhere, and the Indians are starving, our Returns are already £200 more than last year & we have 200 Bags pemican for General Service. You will learn from your letters of the death of retired Chief Factor Anderson. One of his sons James returned to the homestead from the Columbia penniless, just after the loss of his father, the eldest son Alick has passed his examinations with credit & is now a medical officer in the British army. James Anderson elk. at Norway House has also gone hence, he died suddenly from disease of the heart. Death is making sad havoc amongst our friends this last two years, should it not be a warning to us all.

Thank you old friend for your kind inquiries about my guidwife. She is well, also the last importation (a boy) - she desires to be kindly remembered to you, I wish I could see you once more domesticated, I dont think you are justified, do you know, in depriving yourself of so much happiness, I know that 'twill be your own fault if you defer it longer than next year ...

Lord March the eldest son of the Duke of Richmond & a Mr. Hill are located about 20 Miles east of this but they are under our protection and in fact live almost entirely with me here only going home for a day or two to their shanty. They are both fine unassuming fellows & make themselves quite at home, in fact my wife & self look upon them as members of the family & treat them as such which they like amazingly. You may fancy that the society of two thorough gentlemen makes it very pleasant & our evenings are really very enjoyable. They leave for home early in April.

I have now two squares of the fort stockades on the ground, trenches dug, Bastions thrown back 20 feet to enlarge the fort, 2 Contractors framing & in three weeks hope to see this much of this work completed. I am now about digging a well & have all the timber on the spot (4 inch sawn) to complete it. We are also bawling wood for a new store 36 x 25 feet long squaring for mens House 100 x 25, two sets f saws going to turn me out 5000 board & one shingle maker to make me 100,000 shingles, 50 of which are completed already. When I tell you that all this wood is being bawled a distance of 20 miles you wilt say we are not sleeping.

Accept dear Mac of the affectionate regards of wife & self with every good wish. Yours ever faithfully.

L. Clarke

W. McMurray, Esqr.

From W. L. Hardisty


Fort Providence
24 Decr. 1869

William McMurray Esq.
Fort Chipewyan

My dear Sir

On my arrival here two days ago I found Old Beaulieu here, he came down he tells me to attend midnight Mass on New Years [Xmas] eve, and also to visit Bishop Faraud A report had reached me that he came on a visit to his sons and sons in law with the hopes of inducing them to join him in collecting furs to take to Red River next summer but he assures me it was nothing of the kind, that he is quite satisfied with the pension allowed him by the Co. & that he neither has the power, nor the inclination to oppose them in any way etc. His son Francois has however been down about Fort Resolution and Hay River, tampering with our Indians in favor of the Free Traders - His brothers also whose contracts expire next spring are speaking of going to Lac La Biche in the interests of the opposition, so that they ought to be treated with the utmost rigour, and should not on any account be employed hereafter, either in McKenzies River or Athabasca. The old man is quite satisfied with his allowance and no trouble need be apprehended from him, but as he would be a mere puppet in the hands of the opposition who will undoubtedly take up their quarters at Salt River I think it expedient that the Post should be occupied & placed in charge of a young active officer from your District This is of course a mere suggestion. You of course know your own affairs best I merely make the remark from a conviction that Salt River will certainly be occupied by the free traders if not previously taken possession of by you.

I have had a long talk with Bishop Faraud regarding the Cartroad he intends cutting from Lac La Biche to the mouth of the Clear Water River - and certainly, from his knowledge of that part of the country, and the confident way in which he speaks, there appears to be every prospect of his success. As this road may eventually be used for bringing in the 'A' [Athabasca] Outfit and probably that of McKenzies River also, I intended to have accompanied the Bishop to Athabasca, in order to consult with you, as to the expediency of our assisting the Bishop in making this road, but we are very scarce of dogs and I must defer my visit until some more convenient opportunity, in the meantime I cannot help expressing my opinion that if some more advantageous route than the ruinous & expensive one by P.L.L. [Portage La Loche] he not soon discovered, some serious stoppage will occur that may be ruinous in its consequences. A reference to the Map will show that the distance from the Mouth of the Clear Water River to Lac La Biche by land, is not greater than from Lac La Biche to Carlton the cost of freight between these places is 10/- per 100 lb. so that the whole expense of the transport from Red River to the confluence of the Clear Water River would be £2. per piece of 100 lb. and the Goods would most probably be received in better condition than is usual by the present route. As to the Returns, which by the way are almost invariably left out in calculations f this kind, they would of course be taken on to Fort Pitt by the return of the Carts that bring the Goods and thence would be shipped on board the line of steamers which is to be established between the Sask. & Lake Winnipeg [37] - Forcier I believe accompanied Mr. [Roderick] McFarlane to Athabasca -& may be employed in assisting at this road, or as you may think proper.

I remain, Dear Sir,
Yours faithfully
W. L. Hardisty

From Dr. William Morrison Mackay

Dr. W. M. Mackay was the first doctor in the North West Territories, and the only one up to 1872. He was a graduate of Edinburgh, and arrived at York Factory as a Company surgeon in 1864. For thirty four years he travelled the North. About half of this time was spent in the Athabasca and Peace River districts. He was in charge of Fort Rae in 1870-3, and Resolution 1875-80. He was appointed in turn a junior Chief Trader (1879), chief trader (1884), and factor (1896), retired to Edmonton in 1898 and became first president of the Northern Alberta Medical Association. He died in 1916.

Fort Resolution
12th Jan. 1870

My dear Mr. McMurray,

After a cold & stormy trip, we arrived here on Monday evening about sunset, having got myself pretty well marked by the frost, my nose particularly being an object of amusement to our friends here.

You can fancy my astonishment when greeted by Mr. [W. L.] Hardisty on my arrival and found he intended to proceed to Chipewyan, however he has changed his mind, & returns with me to Simpson. His object in coming up this way was his concern about the Dutchman & others, but this fear is now somewhat allayed. He and the Bishop have had long and I think unnecessary dialogues regarding the projected route to Lac la Biche, which has ended, as these things often do, in throwing the burden on the shoulders of others, such as Oh Mr. McMurray, I am sure, will do everything necessary in the matter.

Allow me to thank you for sending Louis with me. I found him everything I could wish and I would consider it an addition to your other favors could you give him a fine cloth Capot or Trousers, or anything he most needs, & charge the same to my account.

I trust sincerely Mrs. McMurray is doing well & hope you will kindly remember me to her as well as to Mr. Ross & Moberly and I understand you sufficiently well to know that open and clamorous thankings are distasteful, I therefore simply but not the less sincerely thank you for your kindness & courtesy shown towards me during my visit to your fort.

With best regards & a wish for your improved health.

I remain
Yours ever sincerely,
William M. Mackay

William MacMurray, Esqre.

From Laurence Clarke

Carlton House
20 Jany 1870

Dear old friend

You will have heard with regret of my sad loss, [38] I am utterly forlorn and wretched, I shall leave here early in April with my little ones for RR. and shall have to be back about 1st. June You will have learnt from others the untoward state of affairs in the Settlement, [39] I fear twill unhinge all our business for next season, we are already taken precautionary measures here to carry through the transport business in the event of any hitch about the Portage Brigade - Your Pcs. new here will be all at G [Green] Lake before I leave in Spring.

Wilson at YF has gone to his long home and B [Bernard Rogan] Ross has been sent down to replace him Burney is a very lucky fellow he always falls on his feet. I am Glad to say that our Returns here will be excellent this year & I think in all between 4 & 5000 £s - hope yourself and Mrs. McMurray are well and enjoying a comfortable winter.

The Edmonton packet arrived only late this evening, and I am in haste to post off the Northern Express so you must excuse this scrawl.

With Kind regards
ever yours faithfully
L. Clarke

W. McMurray Esq

From Dr. W. M. Mackay

Fort Simpson
1st Feby, 1870

My dear Mr. McMurray

It is with the very greatest satisfaction that I can inform you that my long trip ended eight days ago. I assure you the cold was very intense, head winds every day, till we arrived here, & of course the winds changed, & the weather became milder the moment we got within doors, and has continued so ever since, till tonight, when it has begun to blow from the East, drifting & snowing, just as poor Swanson, [40] who came down with us, proposes to start in the morning, he calculated on a good track to the Rapid, and I can simpathise with his disappointment.

At Resolution and the other Posts on our way, furs seem to be numerous, particularly the Martins, two of the Posts having already collected several hundreds, Mr. [W. F.] Gairdner also tells me there is an equal increase up the West branch - Reports seem to indicate large as well as valuable returns in the Spring, which will, I have no doubt, be a source of satisfaction to all the Commissioned Gentlemen.

Mr. [W. L.] Hardisty is in a great excitement, anent the prospect of free traders coming this road next Summer, he seems anxious to establish a Post at Buffalo River in Slave Lake to be ready to oppose them.

The Dutchman or whoever he is, is also giving him some concern.

On my arrival here I found all in good health and apparently in spirits. Gairdner had just arrived from spending his Xmas & New Year with [W. J.] McLean You may remember my telling you of my anxiety to return on account f Mrs.Reeves, well she had a miscarriage just a week after I left Fort Simpson - so my services in that quarter were unnecessary.

I sincerely hope & trust Mrs. McMurray is improving & that by the Summer She may be able to join you in your journey to Red River.

Wishing you a pleasant trip to Council & back, & that your health may be improved by it.

I remain
ever Yours Sincerely
W. M. Mackay

From W. L. Hardisty

Fort Chipewyan
12 Jany 1870 [1871]


My dear Mr. McMurray,

I came up here with the intention of going up to see you to consult with you on various matters, but Mr. Swanston is short of dogs, & moreover has to send to Fort Simpson for certain supplies that he is short of-so that I must return, and I expect an Express from the Youcon by the time I get back.

I have to thank you for your two kind letters which I will reply to fully from Fort Simpson, and defer my visit to some other time for the present. I know I can depend upon your interest in favor of McKenzies River in regard to this road that the Bishop speaks of - for altho I advocate the Bherring Straits route I am not ignorant of the risk attending it and as you are aware the old route by PLL [Portage La Loche] is getting worse & worse every year-so that it is hopeless to attempt to carry on the business much longer unless some better & cheaper road be discovered for bringing in our supplies-if the Bishops read proves successful, it is the only way I can see f doing anything much longer Although even it will likely open the way into 'A' & 'R' [Athabasca & Mackenzie R. districts] for a large influx of freemen & traders from Lac La Biche.

With regard to the Cattle, I can dispense with a Bull, but I would be glad to get 9 or 10 Cows, or rather Heifers or even Cow Calves to supply the Posts, to lower the expense of bringing in Butter, I could send for them ft( m Hay River, if you will kindly let Mr. Pruden know how many we may have.

It was Mr. [Roderick] McFarlane, not I, who gave the 5 MBr [Made Beaver] for a Keg of Salt, and I was as much surprised as you are when I heard of it but I was told that was the price paid at Athabasca & thinking that as the bags of Salt were getting smaller & smaller every year, you had probably considered it better to pay a little more for a full Keg than the usual price for what was getting to be less than half a Bag I left it as it was and said nothing more about it but in future I shall take care that they do not get more than 3 MBr for the Bushel. As for Beaulieu & his sons I wish to have nothing to do with them & have always said so, altho I thought it would quiet the old man, & prevent him from doing mischief if he received a small pension, especially as he had been allowed good wages before by Christie & Campbell tho otherwise left free to do as they pleased-As to his being of any use to us in 'R' it is simply ridiculous my only object in keeping his sons in the service hitherto was to keep them out of mischief & to prevent their joining the opposition, but I always fully intended to dismiss them on the first symtoms of dishonesty or disloyalty to the Co. - & from the complaints of those immediately connected with them now there is very little hopes that any of them will be continued in 'R' after next spring.

With sincere regards & every good wish for the welfare of yourself & family.

I remain.
Yours very sincerely
W. L. Hardisty.


1 J. J. Hargrave, Red River (Montreal, 1871) p.491.

2 Beckles Wilson, Life of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal (Cassell, London, 1915) p.105.

3 Wallace, W.S. (Ed.) Sir Henry Lefroy's Journey to the North-West in 1883-84 (Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1938, pp. 83 and 86).

4 Select Committee on the Hudson's Bay Company, 1857 (London, 1857) pp.25-6.

5 Alexander Morris, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba, the North-West Territories and Kee-wa-tin (Briggs, Toronto, 1880) p.285.

6 Rev. James Evans, Methodist missionary of Norway House, inventor of the Cree syllabic system.

7 Probably John McLean, author of Twenty-five Years' Service. Etc., with whom Lefroy had traveled in 1843, and who was in charge of Mackenzie River District at Great Slave Lake in 1843-44.

8 Hassel was Rev. James Evans' interpreter, with whom Evans accidentally shot and killed.

9 The arctic explorer, later Sir John Richardson.

10 She was.

11 Headmistress of St. Cross Ladies' School, Red River Settlement.

12 His future father-in-law.

13 Christine, daughter of John Bell.

14 The Royal Canadian Rifles, who came to Fort Garry in 1857 and left in 1861. Lieutenant Julian Stewart Onion - later Julian Camsell and Chief Factor of Mackenzie River District - was one of them.

15 Dr. H. S. Beddome was a Guy's Hospital man, who came out to Rupert's Land as Company surgeon in 1852, and practiced at Red River till 1859. After six years at York Factory he returned and practiced at St. Andrews till his death in 1881. See papers of Manitoba Historical Society, IV, 1949.

16 A.R. Lillie originally came out to take charge of the farm at the Lower Fort, but changed to fur trading. He was made a junior chief trader in 1872, and a chief trader in 1873. He retired in 1889 and died in 1907.

17 Lord Richard Grosvenor, son of the Duke of Westminster, Lord Frederick Cavendish, Hon. Evelyn Ashley, and Henry Danby Seymour, M.P., who all went buffalo.

18 William Mactavish, later Governonr-in-chief of Rupert's Land. He married Sarah Mc Dermot, daughter of Andrew.

19 Henry Youle Hind of Toronto, leader of the Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857.

20 Lt. Thomas Blakiston planned an expedition to Bow River, but Palliser would not agree to it, and told him to consider himself under Palliser's command. He was with Palliser only two weeks, and complained that Palliser spoiled the careful maps he had drawn.

21 Walter J. Moberly, author of When Fur Was King.

22 Chief Factor George Barnston, celebrated as a naturalist, was then in charge at Norway House Kie-Shis-E-Mow means "commanding officer." His son James took his medical degree at Ediniburgh, and after a year on the Continent returned in 1853 to practice at Montreal. In 1857 he was appointed the first professor of Botany at McGill. His sister Janet married James Vetch Dunlop in 1863 at Stanley Sask. Much of the above information has been supplied by their son George, now of Havana, Cuba.

23 John Ballenden.

24 One of the many ineffective pipe smokings with the Sioux, not otherwise known, but the prelude of the visit of Sioux in 1860 to Fort Garry; see A.S. Morton, History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, (Toronto, n.d.) p.829.

25 The Governor of Rupert's Land, Sir Geo. Simpson, who made his last western trip that year at the age of 72.

26 Garry Lower - Lower Fort Garry.

27 Alexander Grant Dallas, Governor-in-chief of Rupert's Land 1862-4.

28 The International, making her maiden voyage, on which she arrived at Fort Garry on May 26.

29 The first two ships mentioned here struck on Mansfield Island - or Mansel Island as it is now called - on August 13, 1864. The Prince Arthur, which became a total loss, was built in 1854. The Prince of Wales, second ship of that name, had been built in 1850. The damage she suffered did not seem to do her any permanent injury, as she was broken up, in New Zealand; only eight years ago (1941). The Ocean Nymph was a new ship in the year this letter was written, and continued to ply to the Bay for another 20 years. Capt. Herd had been master of the Prince of Wales for the previous thirteen years.

30 See below.

31 See Hargrave, Red River, p. 396: 'Mr Schweiger (a civil engineer from Canada) left Norway House with a surveying party with which he proceeded across Lake Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan, with a view of getting a reliable opinion on the practicability of commencing steam navigation on that river. He spent the summer in the execution of his survey, and, on his return to the settlement in October, drew up a most luminous account of the result of his explorations. Its general purport was that, owing to a variety of drawbacks, including a few obstructions to the navigation of so serious a character as to necessitate the expenditure of large sums before they could be overcome, the project was yet of doubtful benefit to the parties interested.

32 Very Rev. Archdeacon Wm. Cochran.

33 Rev. John Macallum, headmaster of the Red River Academy, later St. John's College.

34 The historian, author of History of the North-West.

35 Historian of Red River and son of James and Lelitia Hargrave of the Hargrave correspondence.

36 Mrs. Charles McDermot was Annabelle Ross, daughter of Donald Ross of Norway House. Dr. Wm. Bird had married her sister Frances, as his first wife.

37 The first steamers began to operate on the Saskatchewan about three years later.

38 Evidently the death of his wife, the former Jane Bell.

39 The Riel Insurrection.

40 Thomas Swanson was in charge of Fort Resolution in 1865-74 and 1867. He was made Junior Chief Trader in 1879, Chief Trader in 1884, and Factor in 1897.

Page revised: 22 May 2010