Manitoba History: Diverging Identities and Converging Interests: Corporate Competition, Desertion, and Voyageur Agency, 1815-1818

by Robert Englebert
Department of History, University of Ottawa

Number 55, June 2007

This article was published originally in Manitoba History 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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I would warmly recommend to your notice the Canadians; these people I believe, are the best voyageurs in the world; they are spirited, enterprising, & extremely fond of the Country; they are easily commanded; never will you have any difficulty in setting a place with them Men; however dismal the prospect is for subsistence, they follow their Master wherever he goes. [1]

Colin Robertson

On 10 January 1810, Colin Robertson wrote to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s (HBC) London Committee in an effort to convince them to hire French-Canadian voyageurs for a fur-trading expedition to the Athabasca region. [2] So glowing was his portrayal of these voyageurs that he argued that they would “sing while surrounded with misery, the toil of the day is entirely forgot in the encampment; they think themselves the happiest people in existence; & I do believe that they are not far mistaken.” [3] Dominated initially by the Montreal-based traders of the North West Company (NWC), the Athabasca had become one of the most coveted and profitable fur-trading regions in North America. [4] Depleted beaver stock in the east prompted the NWC to push further westward in search of furs, and the natives who trapped and traded them. The HBC had traditionally remained close to their trading posts on the Bay. The extension of corporate competition into the northwest by the NWC meant that the HBC could no longer continue to depend on the natives to bring furs to the posts. In 1815, five years after Colin Robertson’s initial recommendation, the HBC began to hire French-Canadian voyageurs out of Montreal for expeditions to the Athabasca region. [5]

This was not the first time that French-Canadian voyageurs had been hired by the HBC, but the size and scope of the expedition did mark a departure from the company’s regular hiring practices. The 1815 expedition starkly contrasted with the HBC’s trend of hiring Scottish Orkneymen as their primary labour source, and it pitted the voyageurs of the Honourable Company against those of the Montreal Merchants. [6] Most importantly, it prompted a radical change in the geographical nature of fur-trade competition, extending it not only westward, but also eastward to the island of Montreal.

While the XY Company and the NWC had engaged in fierce competition out of Montreal from 1798 to 1804, both companies belonged to a common fur-trading tradition. [7] Conversely, the competition in Montreal between the HBC and NWC intensified a struggle for dominance of the fur trade by companies that belonged to two distinct fur-trading traditions. [8] Competition between the HBC and NWC in the northwest was particularly violent, characterized by assaults, the taking of prisoners, and the use of starvation tactics. The battles and deaths that occurred as a result of this violent corporate competition have been described collectively as the Fur Trade Wars. [9]

George Simpson on a tour of inspection

HBC Governor Sir George Simpson on a tour of inspection, complete with bagpiper.
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, FT2.1-28

Voyageur identity became fragmented and disjointed as a result of this corporate competition. Voyageur identity was made up of a set of criteria strong enough to embrace those elements that characterized voyageurs as a distinct group, such as culture and hierarchy, but loose enough to allow crossover into other identities. [10] By this definition, a voyageur could identify as a voyageur, a Catholic, and a French-Canadian, all simultaneously. This lack of mutual exclusivity among identities makes the process of defining voyageur identity challenging, but not impossible. Voyageur culture was a complex mix of work, geography and religion. [11] These three elements fused together to make a distinct voyageur culture and identity, with multiple hierarchies and rights of passage that distinguished voyageurs not only from others in the fur trade, but also from their French-Canadian cousins in Lower Canada. Integral to voyageur culture were two highly integrated hierarchies based on work and geography in the fur trade.

Fur trade servants were highly aware of the short ice-free canoeing season, the dangers they faced, and the escape routes and rescue strategies that were available. Fur trade companies established forts near points of no return, which represented the furthest west that a canoe brigade could travel, and still make a return voyage before winter set in. The NWC freight canoes could not reasonably complete a return voyage from beyond Fort William and Lac la Pluie in one season, as the requirement of supplies from Montreal determined the separation of seasonal and year-round fur trading. The HBC was able to push farther inland to Lake Winnipeg using lighter express canoes precisely because they could rendezvous with brigades and supplies from York Factory. [12] Transportation routes were often divided into two segments. In the first segment, voyageurs transported supplies to posts at, or near, the points of no return, and then departed for home with furs that had been collected in the interior. In the second segment, wintering voyageurs exchanged their furs for the newly arrived goods, before returning to the interior to continue trapping. For voyageurs, the points of no return represented one last opportunity to escape one’s brigade and head for home, thus avoiding the harsh conditions of the interior. The HBC voyageur points of no return in one canoeing season at Norway House, Grand Rapids, and the Red River Settlement became a “Great Divide” that was both imagined and real. [13] It divided the seasonal and year-round fur trade, and the identities of those who worked in the trade.

During the Fur Trade Wars, increased corporate competition became a defining element of voyageur identity on either side of the “Great Divide”, loosening the bonds of indentured servitude for some, and reinforcing them for others. The results were twofold. First, corporate competition served to increase voyageur agency east of the “Great Divide.” It weakened the traditional voyageur identity criteria based on one’s occupation in the fur trade, as voyageurs began to assert their entrepreneurial agency. [14] Second, corporate competition served to reinforce voyageur identity west of the points of no return, where geographical isolation limited voyageurs’ options. [15]

This study focuses on corporate competition east of the “Great Divide”; the repercussions of the HBC’s decision to hire voyageurs en masse out of Montreal; the ways in which this decision increased competition for voyageur labour in Montreal; and the new voyageur that emerged from the crucible of that competition between 1815 and 1818. The findings are primarily, although not exclusively, taken from Colin Robertson’s diary and correspondence, the financial ledgers of the HBC, and notarized voyageur contracts.

The Difficulty of Hiring

Hiring voyageurs out of the traditional NWC stronghold of Montreal was a monumental task for the HBC, even with a former NWC man like Colin Robertson leading the charge. The NWC petitioned the highest levels of government, circulated rumours, and spied around every corner, all part of an effort to dissuade voyageurs from signing with the Honourable Company. At least this is the impression given by Robertson in his diary, where almost every log entry from 1814 until the expedition’s departure in 1815 focused on the NWC conspiracy to thwart the success of the expedition. Robertson concealed the true purpose of the expedition, telling the NWC instead that he was simply taking a number of free men and their families to the Red River colony, and that the seemingly excessive number of canoes were intended for the families and their supplies. [16]

The extent to which this deception worked is questionable, given the HBC encampment of several hundred men. Despite these numbers, the recruitment of voyageurs continued to be a problem of the utmost concern for Robertson. On Saturday, 1 October 1814, he wrote, “I find some difficulty in procuring men to accompany my Mr. Pritchard; and those who do offer, the distance appears so great, that they feel a reluctance to engage in it.” [17] If voyageurs were indeed reluctant to sign up for the expedition, it was in part due to the propaganda campaign waged by the NWC. In one of his many comments regarding NWC propaganda, Robertson noted, “The North West Company and their agents are circulating reports that the Colony at Red River is in the most imminent danger from the natives.” [18] These reports were seen as a deterrent for local voyageurs and prompted Robertson to extend his search to the outlying Montreal parishes of Terrebonne, Lachine, l’Assomption, Berthier, and St. François. However, he was unable to escape the NWC’s hold on the region. In his journal entry for Saturday, 10 December 1814, an exasperated Robertson reported:

In all these places the North West Company have circulated reports extremely prejudicial to my plans; and among others, that I am raising men for the government, which is going to War with the Indians in Red River; at other times that it was a voyage of discovery by Mr. Clark and myself. [19]

Robertson was able to recruit forty men on his trip through the various parishes, but continued to have difficulty in attracting some of the more experienced voyageurs. [20]

Adding to Robertson’s frustration were the efforts of the NWC to obtain the favour of the colonial government, and more specifically Governor George Prévost. Prévost appears to have steered clear of overt favouritism towards either of the two companies. However, Robertson’s accounts of frequent soirées, dining with the governor, often in the presence of his NWC rival, Mr. McGillivray, points to just how far up the political ladder this corporate competition ran. [21] Every move was calculated based on competition with the NWC, right down to who was hired to build the canoes and supply the tobacco. Even the location from which to launch the expedition was decided in reference to NWC competition. Terrebonne, facing Ile Jésus and Montreal on the north side of the St. Lawrence river, was chosen over the traditional voyageur launching point of Lachine as the location for the HBC encampment, due to Robertson’s hope of “keeping the men from the intrigues of the North West Company.” [22] The encampment of several hundred voyageurs at Terrebonne did not go unnoticed by the NWC. NWC employee, John McDonald of Garth noted that Robertson had “brought his men in too close intercourse with the North-West Company,” and that they “became very troublesome, dangerous, and insulting in the village, making it dangerous to any one connected with the North-West Company to pass the streets.” [23] Both companies battled relentlessly to secure labourers in the traditional NWC stronghold, and it was under these conditions of intense corporate competition in Montreal that HBC voyageurs deserted the 1815 expedition.

Desertion [24]

British North American and Anglo-American indentured servitude was derived from the British legal tradition of contract law. [25] In the fur trade, a voyageur’s contract was an exchange between master and servant, whereby obedience and labour were given in return for board and wages. [26] Indentures created a form of unfree labour, where servants became little more than property, and “workers could not legally interrupt or leave their work without first securing their master’s license.” [27] Desertion was not simply an abandonment of one’s brigade, but a formal breach of one’s work contract. [28]

The HBC’s financial ledger provided detailed financial information, as well as invaluable notes concerning the desertion of voyageurs. Of the two hundred and twenty- four voyageur accounts for the 1815 expedition, there were thirty-eight notes specifically detailing desertion. The sources indicated that thirty-three voyageurs deserted prior to the expedition. There were also three voyageur accounts with notes: “can find no statement of this man’s account, most likely deserted at Montreal.” [29] An additional fifteen voyageur accounts with less detailed notations read: “Can find no statement of this man’s account,” pointing to potential desertions, and illustrating the difficulty that the HBC had in keeping track of its voyageurs. [30] From these notes in the financial ledger it can be estimated that between thirty-six and fifty-one out of two hundred and twenty-four voyageurs deserted the HBC prior to the departure of the 1815 expedition. These numbers represent roughly twenty percent desertion, and show that approximately one in every five voyageurs hired for the HBC in 1815, deserted before departure. [31]

These figures are supported by Colin Robertson’s diary and correspondence, which detailed the problem of keeping track of voyageurs and their desertions. On Friday, 5 May 1815, Robertson noted, “Two of these I engaged the other day have deserted. There was never such desertion as there is this year.” [32] Five days later, he wrote, “Mr. Clark has much difficulty in keeping the men together. What expense a few bouts put us to. Went last night about twelve O’clock, and took up two deserters from their concealment.” [33]

The expeditions that followed in 1816 and 1817 did not produce similar notes in the financial ledger regarding desertion. In fact, only one out of one hundred and thirty-three voyageur accounts during the two subsequent expeditions specifically mentioned that desertion had taken place. It is possible, however, that widespread desertion was still taking place, but was simply being documented differently. In her study of the servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Edith Burley argued that fur trade servants often engaged in unauthorized absences. [34] This could be done by leaving to become a free man at the Red River colony, joining aboriginal communities, or simply returning to Lower Canada. [35] A disagreement over the terms of contracts between voyageurs and their fur trade masters resulted in many of the 1815 expedition group cutting their work short. Most of these voyageurs simply returned to Montreal in the summer of 1818, refusing to honour the last few weeks of their contracts. [36] Technically, this was a breach of the contract, and would qualify as desertion. Yet it was noted in the financial ledger as “gone to Montreal.” [37]

The 1816 and 1817 Athabasca expeditions were smaller than that of 1815, with only sixty-nine and sixty-four voyageur accounts respectively. The vast majority of the voyageur accounts specified three-year contracts as the terms of service, yet thirty percent in 1816, and twenty-eight percent in 1817, did not make it through the first year. These men were indentured servants, under contract, and were not simply allowed to leave whenever they pleased. It is therefore difficult to imagine their fur trade masters allowing nearly one third of each of those expeditions to simply return to Montreal or go absent. Given the number of those who left, it seems more likely that they deserted. The vast majority of the notes detailed that voyageurs were returning to Montreal, or simply stated that they had gone to Montreal, and overwhelmingly these notes appeared during the first year of each expedition. This meant that voyageurs were leaving during the first leg of the expedition, prior to the points of no return at Norway House, Grand Rapids, or the Red River Settlement; that is, the rendezvous points with the Athabasca brigades and supplies from the Bay. Therefore, the 1815 Athabasca expedition was the first of a series of three expeditions that experienced high levels of desertion east of the points of no return. This pattern would be cut short in 1818, when the Hudson’s Bay Company hired mostly Iroquois for that year’s expedition. [38] While the HBC’s financial ledger did not detail desertion amongst these voyageurs, the Montreal account book of the hiring firm Maitland, Garden & Auldjo, listed the desertion of fifteen of the seventy-seven winterers hired for the expedition. [39] Unfortunately, the account book did not indicate the time or the location of these desertions. HBC desertion has been depicted as a somewhat limited event before 1821. [40] The Hudson’s Bay Company’s expeditions from 1815 to 1818, show that during one of the most competitive periods in the fur trade, desertion was a significant problem.

Fur trade transportation routes of the Hudson's Bay Company

Fur trade transportation routes of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Dilemma of Motivation [41]

For Colin Robertson, all desertion was the result of NWC meddling. At times this was true. For example, the NWC tried to convince the HBC expedition guide Louis Bouché to leave the HBC for the sum of three thousand livres. [42] However, a comparison of the HBC and NWC financial ledgers revealed that there were few voyageurs listed on both ledgers at the same time. According to official company records, voyageurs were not generally working for both companies at the same time, or deserting one company for the other. [43] Desertion has also been depicted as both the final tactic in negotiating for better working conditions and wages, and a form of resistance built into the servant-master relationship. [44] Despite this assertion, it appears unlikely that HBC voyageurs used desertion purely as a negotiation tactic before departure. The threat of desertion would have been a more effective bargaining tool than the act itself, since voyageurs stood to gain very little once they had actually deserted. It is more likely that by deserting, voyageurs were taking advantage of HBC advances, which had spiralled out of control.

HBC voyageurs were given advances when they signed their contracts, and deserters would have left with their advances in hand. [45] The wintering contracts located for the 1815 expedition showed advances ranging from a low of forty-eight livres to a high of four hundred livres. According to the ledger books, by the time the winterers departed Montreal their advances averaged two hundred and ninety-three livres. [46] These were unprecedented amounts clearly resulting from the pressures of increased corporate competition and the challenges faced by the Hudson’s Bay Company in luring and retaining competent men. Colin Robertson complained in his diary about being harassed by the arriving voyageurs asking for advances, suggesting that voyageurs had a solid grasp of their financial worth. [47] This also suggests that voyageurs had an understanding of the somewhat precarious position of the HBC in their attempt to launch an expedition from the traditional NWC stronghold of Montreal. By comparison, once in the northwest, HBC voyageurs were more limited in their ability to take advantage of corporate competition. James Bird wrote to Lord Selkirk from Cumberland House in December 1817, explaining that many of the voyageurs sent in 1815 intended to return to Canada at the end of their contracts, or to demand unreasonably high salaries if the contracts were renewed in the interior. [48] Refusing to be extorted, the HBC response was to prepare a new expedition from Montreal in the spring of 1818. [49]

Voyageur advances increased significantly after the 1815 expedition, averaging six hundred and fifty-two livres and five hundred and sixty-seven livres respectively over the next two expeditions. By comparison, the average annual wage for a NWC employee was four hundred and sixty-seven livres in 1815, rising to only five hundred and two livres by 1821. [50] Therefore, a HBC voyageur who deserted in Montreal could have potentially walked off with the equivalent of an entire year’s wage under the NWC. The high level of HBC voyageur desertion at Montreal indicates that this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

The Lower Canadian Economy

Corporate competition in 1815 created a demand for voyageur labour not seen in Montreal since the XY Company and the NWC had been in direct competition, prior their amalgamation in 1804. Yet one significant difference between these two periods of competition was the state of the Lower Canadian economy. Lower Canada was experiencing a demographic explosion by 1815. [51] The fur trade, which had been the cornerstone of the Montreal economy, was rapidly being replaced by the timber trade. [52] By 1812, fur exports had shrunk to less than ten percent of Lower Canada’s total exports. [53] More importantly, the timber trade was producing a significant demand for labour, and depending on the season, required hundreds and even thousands of men. [54] Given that voyageurs were deserting en masse, one has to wonder whether voyageurs were making an economic choice, abandoning work in the fur trade in favour of something more beneficial. [55] The desertion of voyageurs took place in the context of a diversifying economy that offered new economic opportunities to those willing to take them.

The Legality of Desertion in Montreal

Both the employer and the employee could feel the repercussions of desertion. Expeditions could fail, a company’s finances could suffer, and deserters could be taken to court or be punished privately by the company. As Carolyn Podruchny has explained, “it was a very serious matter when voyageurs decided to quit. Bourgeois and clerks made efforts to recoup deserters, and could punish them with confinement.” [56] As early as 1796, fur trade contracts were legally recognized as binding in Lower Canada and desertion was made illegal. [57] Given the seriousness of this crime, one would expect to see little or no desertion among voyageurs. However, of all the HBC voyageur desertions between 1815 and 1817, only the account of Charles Bottineau had a note with reference to being caught and put in jail. [58] Moreover, this study did not find a record of cases brought against voyageurs deserting the HBC during this period.

Several reasons may account for this. The rush and disorganization involved in putting together expeditions in a city where the NWC was dominant made keeping track of deserters difficult for the HBC. Just prior to the launching of the 1815 expedition, Robertson noted, “Two of the men whom I thought had deserted arrived this evening.” [59] Second, the number of deserters may not have been known until the information in the original Montreal ledger reached York Factory or London, by which time, legal action would have been made increasingly difficult. Robertson contacted the hiring firm Maitland, Garden and Auldjo in 1815, and asked them to compile a list of deserting voyageurs. [60] The somewhat strained relationship of Robertson and Auldjo, combined with the hiring firms’ lack of familiarity with the fur trade appears to have impeded the creation of such a list. [61] It is also probable that a certain amount of desertion was expected. [62] This is the impression given by Colin Robertson in his diary, where he noted, “Men willing to engage are arriving fast. I have engaged a few more than I want to fill up, in case of desertion.” [63] He also left instructions with John Clarke to hire ten to fifteen extra men to compensate for expected desertions. [64] Desertion became an expected occurrence in the minds of the employers as the hiring process moved forward, and this expectation was also reasonably held by the voyageurs, who were more than aware of what they could get away with.

Perhaps the greatest indication that voyageurs were taking advantage of the precarious position of the HBC can be seen in the changes in HBC voyageur contracts during this period. Not only did advances and wages increase dramatically as already discussed, but voyageurs were also able to obtain other perks. By 1817, some of the expedition contracts began to list handwritten notes indicating special conditions, such as providing extra money for voyageurs’ wives or parents. [65] By 1818, Iroquois voyageurs had negotiated in their contracts for the HBC to put a man on their land to work the harvest in their absence. [66] These were unprecedented concessions on the part of the HBC. The combination of contractual concessions, rising wages and advances, and mass desertion, suggests that voyageurs had a great deal of power in negotiating their terms of service. The result was a loosening of the traditional servant-master relationship and the bonds of indentured servitude.

In the new economic environment of corporate competition for control of voyageur labour and dominance of the fur trade, a new voyageur appears to have emerged. This voyageur should not be viewed as an oppressed worker struggling simply to negotiate better working conditions, but rather as a highly entrepreneurial agent who was business savvy, understood his worth, and was willing and able to take advantage of opportunities arising from corporate competition. While it is difficult to determine the extent to which voyageurs were able to play this economic game prior to 1815, the excessive number of desertions starting in 1815 point to a changing economic environment, one which favoured the voyageurs’ willingness and ability to act in an entrepreneurial fashion. The HBC’s decision to hire French-Canadian voyageurs out of Montreal resulted in increased corporate competition for voyageur labour. In the context of a diversifying economy, this corporate competition allowed voyageurs to develop a new set of economic relationships. These could have put voyageurs in a position to benefit from corporate competition until the amalgamation of the HBC and NWC in 1821, which effectively marked the end of the fur trade as a large-scale enterprise out of Montreal.


This article has examined the repercussions of the decision by the HBC to hire French-Canadian voyageurs out of Montreal in 1815. An investigation of corporate competition between the HBC and the NWC in Montreal, voyageur desertion, the legality of desertion, voyageur contracts, and the context of a diversifying economy, suggests that between 1815 and 1818, HBC voyageurs in Montreal were at the apex of the fur trade labour structure, enjoying a level of autonomy that allowed them to act as entrepreneurial agents. The results were increased voyageur agency, a weakened servant-master relationship, and an increase in the mutability of the voyageur identity. [67] This was in contrast to the conditions faced by voyageurs in the northwest, where corporate competition and geographical isolation served to limit opportunities and restrict voyageurs in their choices. [68] Therefore, not only does this study begin to underscore the importance of the eastward expansion of corporate fur trade competition during this period, but more importantly, it illustrates how corporate competition in different geographical and economic milieus, could, and did, have very different repercussions.

"Voyageurs in camp for the night"

“Voyageurs in camp for the night” by Frederic Remington, from Harper’s Magazine Vol. 85, p. 503, March 1892.
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, FT 3.1-4


1. Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA), A10/1, Governor and Committee General Inward Correspondence, Colin Robertson to London Committee, 17 January 1810, Microfilm 55.

2. The term “French Canadian” will be used to describe the French-speaking Catholics of Lower Canada, and the term “voyageur” will be used to describe only those French-Canadian engagés (servants) who were hired and put under contract with fur trading companies.

3. Colin Robertson to London Committee, 17 January 1810.

4. Giraud, Marcel, Le métis canadien: son role dans l’histoire des provinces de l’ouest. Paris: Institut d’Ethnologie, 1945, p. 279.

5. Carlos, Ann M., “The Causes and Origins of the North American Fur Trade Rivalry: 1804 - 1810,” Journal of Economic History 1981, vol. 41, no. 4 pp. 788 - 792.

6. Fur trade contracts often referred to the HBC as the Honourable Hudson’s Bay Company.

7. Commonly referred to as the XY Company, the New North West Company was created when a group of NWC employees split off to form the company. The two Montreal trading outfits competed against each other until their eventual merger in 1804.

8. Companies such as the Michilimackinac Company and the American Fur Company, represented a vibrant southern fur trade that shipped furs via Montreal in exchange for goods. However, most of the members of these companies had previous connections with the NWC, and their interest lay primarily in the American fur trade by 1815. Frits Pannekoek has argued that HBC and NWC represented two different fur-trading traditions based on trade with aboriginals. Pannekoek, The Fur Trade and Western Canadian Society 1670-1870. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1987, p. 6.

9. Bumsted, J. M., Fur Trade Wars: The Founding of Western Canada. Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications, 1999, p. 11.

10. Colley, Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992, p. 6.

11. Podruchny, Carolyn, “Baptizing Novices: Ritual Moments among French-Canadian Voyageurs in the Montreal Fur Trade, 1780 - 1821,” Canadian Historical Review 2002, vol. 83, pp. 175 - 181.

12. Rich, E. E. and R. Harvey Fleming, eds., Colin Robertson’s Correspondence Book, September 1817 to September 1822. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1939, lxiii, lxxiv, p. 150.

13. These points created a North-South axis along the Lake Winnipeg corridor, separating the eastern and western fur trade of the HBC from 1815 to 1818.

14. Carolyn Podruchny’s study of voyageur mock baptisms, as a ritualized reaffirmation of voyageur hierarchical structures, appears to confirm the importance of occupation as a distinguishing element of both voyageur culture and identity prior to 1815. Podruchny, “Baptizing Novices,” pp. 175 - 181; Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade. 2006, p. 304.

15. Carolyn Podruchny has stressed the importance of the fear of starvation and the harsh conditions of the northwest as a strong deterrent to desertion. Podruchny, “Unfair Masters and Rascally Servants? Labour Relations among Bourgeois Clerks and Voyageurs in the Montreal Fur Trade, 1780-21,” Labour 1999, vol. 43, p. 68.

16. LAC, HBCA, E10/1-2, Colin Robertson Diary 1814-1817, Montreal, Tuesday 4 October 1814, Microfilm 4M17.

17. Ibid., Montreal, Saturday 1 October 1814.

18. Ibid., Montreal, Saturday 22 October 1814.

19. Ibid., Montreal, Saturday 10 December 1814.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., Montreal, Thursday 22 December 1814.

23. John McDonald of Garth, “Autobiographical Notes 1791 - 1816,” (1815), in L. R. Masson, Les Bourgeois de la Companie du Nord-Ouest: Récits de voyages, lettres et rapports inédits relatifs au Nord-Ouest Canadien, vol.2, New York: Antiquarian Press Ltd., 1960, pp. 56 - 57.

24. All statistics in this section were compiled from LAC, HBCA A16/52, Canadian Officers & Servants prepared at York Factory 1815-1819, Microfilm 316-317.

25. Steinfeld, Robert J., The Invention of Free Labour: The Employment Relation in English and American Law and Culture, 1350-1870. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991, p. 3.

26. Podruchny, “Unfair Masters,” p. 47.

27. Steinfeld, p. 60.

28. The servant-master relationship was never as cut and dry as set out in voyageur contracts. There were forms of resistance, including desertion, which was also the legal term used during this period.

29. LAC, HBCA, A16/52, Canadian Officers & Servants prepared at York Factory 1815-1819, Microfilm 316-317.

30. Ibid.

31. Since statistics are variable depending on the parameters used to produce them, this study used high and low figures to create a range and determine approximate desertion percentages.

32. Robertson certainly would have dealt with some desertion during his time working for the NWC. However, the NWC financial ledger 1811-1821, did not contain notes regarding desertion. Colin Robertson Diary 1814-1817, Montreal, Friday 5 May 1815.

33. Ibid, Montreal, Wednesday 10 May 1815.

34. Burley, Edith I., Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline, and Conflict in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1770-1870. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 88-89, 153-154.

35. Podruchny, “Unfair Masters,” p. 63; Podruchny makes reference to Orkneymen, however French-Canadian voyageurs also engaged in these forms of unauthorized absences.

36. Canadian Officers & Servants prepared at York Factory 1815-1819; Rich and Fleming, eds., p. 41.

37. Canadian Officers & Servants prepared at York Factory 1815-1819.

38. Ibid.; Jan Grabowski and Nicole St-Onge, “Montreal Iroquois Engagés in the Western Fur Trade, 1800-1821,” in From Rupert’s Land to Canada, ed. Theodore Binnema, Gerhard J. Ens, and R. C. Macleod. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001, pp. 23 - 58.

39. LAC, HBCA, B134/d/15,d, Account Books, Montreal, Maitland Garden & Auldjo Account Book 1818, Microfilm 1M526.

40. Edith Burley argued that desertion was the third most common type of servant misbehaviour, but reported little desertion before 1821. She argued that this was due to the lack of desirable places to go. Her study used samples done every ten years starting in 1770-1. While this provides an excellent macro-historical analysis, it means that the HBC Athabasca voyageurs hired 1815-1818 were located between sampling periods. Burley, 153 - 154.

41. All statistics for this section were compiled from LAC, HBCA A16/52, Canadian Officers & Servants prepared at York Factory 1815-1819, Microfilm 316-317; Nicole St-Onge, Combined Voyageur Database [in coll. with La Societe Historique de Saint-Boniface] 2003.

42. Colin Robertson Diary 1814-1817, Terrebonne, Friday 12 May 1815; The 3000 livres offered as a bribe was equivalent to Bouché’s three-year contract as a guide. Bouché remained loyal to the HBC and did not desert the expedition.

43. LAC, HBCA, F4/32, North West Company Financial Ledger 1811 - 1821.

44. Podruchny, “Unfair Masters,” p. 67.

45. The 1818 account book of Maitland, Garden and Auldjo reveals that deserters took with them their advances, and that recovery of those funds was “doubtful”. Unfortunately, the company’s 1815-1817 account books do not appear. It is possible that the company’s careful listing of desertion in 1818 was born of the need to track deserters more accurately following the 1815-1817 expeditions. Maitland Garden & Auldjo account book 1818.

46. Voyageur contracts specified how advances were to be given out. Advances were usually paid when the contract was signed, when the expedition departed, or both.

47. Colin Robertson Diary 1814-1817, Terrebonne, 17 April 1815.

48. Rich and Fleming, eds., p. 42.

49. Ibid.

50. Wages as stated in contracts are indicators at best. Goods in kind (tobacco, blankets, tea, moccasins, shirts, etc.) of varying worth were also listed in the contracts as part of payment. Also, the NWC had a tradition of feeding the native families of veteran winterers when necessary and also of offering them free passage on their canoes when needed. Mongrain, Elizabeth, “Les salaires des engagés canadiens-français de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest de 1811 à 1821: Leur variation en regard des facteurs d’influence potentiels”. M.A. Memoir: University of Ottawa, 2000, p. 27

51. Ouellet, Fernand, Le Bas Canada 1791-1849. Changements Structuraux et Crise. Ottawa: Les Editions de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1980, p. 214.

52. Paquet, Gilles and Jean-Pierre Wallot, Lower Canada at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century: Restructuring and Modernization. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1988, p. 3.

53. Norrie, Kenneth and Douglas Owram, A History of the Canadian Economy. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 103.

54. Ibid., 106-107; Charron, Isabelle and Nicole St-Onge, “Aux Origines De L’industrie Forestière En Outaouais: L’Example Des Travailleurs Embauchés Par Robert Fletcher En 1809 Pour Travailler Dans La Petite Nation,” in Ottawa: Making a Capital, ed. Jeffrey Keshen and Nicole St-Onge. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2001, pp. 46-47.

55. Although it is beyond the scope of this study, a comparative analysis of the fur trade and timber trade in the early nineteenth century would provide great insight into the distribution of labour out of Montreal.

56. Podruchny, “Unfair Masters,” p. 64.

57. Ibid., p. 51.

58. Canadian Officers & Servants prepared at York Factory 1815-1819.

59. Colin Robertson Diary 1814-1817, Terrebonne, 18 May 1815.

60. LAC, HBCA, E10/3, Colin Robertson to George Auldjo, Terrebonne, 23 May 1815, Microfilm 4M18.

61. Ibid.

62. Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World, p. 34.

63. Colin Robertson Diary 1814-1817, Terrebonne, 14 April 1815. Robertson had been trying to recruit men for some months by the time he wrote this, and had already encountered difficulties due to NWC interference.

64. LAC, HBCA, Colin Robertson to John Clarke, Montreal, 26 February 1815, Microfilm 4M18.

65. St-Onge, Nicole, Combined Voyageur Database [in coll. with La Societe Historique de Saint-Boniface] 2003.

66. Ibid.

67. This study acts as an example of what Thomas Hyland Eriksen refers to as the negotiation, fluidity and relativity of identity. Eriksen, Ethnicity and Nationalism, 2nd ed. London: Pluto Press, 2002, p. 31.

68. Englebert, Robert, The Storm before the Calm: Corporate Competition and Voyageur Identity during the Fur Trade Wars, 1814-1822. M.A. Memoir, University of Ottawa, 2004.

Page revised: 7 September 2013