Scottish-born, he was only thirty-three when the Hudson’s Bay Company sent him in 1821 to govern what is now western Canada. The Hudson’s Bay Company had just taken over its bitter rival, the Northwest Company, and a strong, wise leader was needed to blend the two together. Simpson virtually ruled western Canada for forty years.
Simpson was a fur-trader, not a farmer, but he tried to help the settlers in the Red River area by buying their surplus products. He even organized an experimental farm on the Assiniboine River and imported the best thoroughbred cattle and horses from Britain. Even so, late in his career, he told a special committee of the House of Commons in London that the soil in western Canada was useless for farming. He wanted to protect the area for fur trading.
Simpson made his trips across Canada by canoe. Travelling would begin every day at 3 a.m., after Simpson had had a swim, and continue almost without pause until dark. Colin Fraser, Simpson’s piper, was always a member of his party. On approaching a settlement, Fraser would stand in the stern and play his his bagpipes, while Simpson, wearing top had, cloak, and gaiters, would stand erect in the bow.
On one trip in 1828, Simpson travelled from Hudson Bay to the mouth of the Fraser River in ninety days. This included paddling down the Fraser River itself, which Simon Fraser had done only twenty years before. It was one of the most dangerous journeys ever undertaken by man.
Simpson was no a Pacific coast fan. He thought that living in what is now British Columbia was unhealthy and would only allow his traders to stay there for two years, after which they had to go to Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to “recuperate.”
Of course, all this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes. To read more about Sir George Simpson, some sites to visit are
There are also two books, The Little Emperor. Governor Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company. and George Simpson: Blaze of Glory (Quest Biography) that might be of interest, and available at Amazon.
- After Three Centuries, No More Furs! (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- And The Lion – See It Cowers (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- Today in History – March 3 (vancouverdesi.com)