Labour of Love

English: Photograph of Robert Campbell
Photograph of Robert Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the little-known but amazing characters of Canadian history was Robert Campbell, a Hudson’s Bay Company factor.  Among many exploits, he travelled 15,610 km (9,700 miles) to get married, although he didn’t know who the girl would be.  4,828 km (3,000 miles) of the journey were on snowshoes!

Robert Campbell came from Perthshire, Scotland, and arrived at Red River in September 1830.  One of his first jobs was to try to get some sheep from Kentucky.  His party travelled more than 2,414 km (1,500 miles) before they were able to buy 1,370 sheep and lambs.  Then they had to drive them overland to the Red River.  It took four months to reach Red River and only 251 sheep survived the journey.

By 1850, Robert Campbell had become Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and had been in the Yukon for twenty-seven years.  There is a bit of confusion about who decided that he should get married.  One version is that the head office in London made the suggestion and offered to send him a bride.  The other is that Campbell said he wanted to come out to get married, and rejected the mail-order offer.

He set out from White River in the Yukon on September 6, 1852, ascended the Pelly River, crossed the mountains to the Liard, and arrived at Fort Simpson on October 21.  A typical entry from his diary says:

“Breakfasted on Little River.  Left our Indians far in the rear and came up to party that had preceded us.  Camped on a small river with a few willows to make a fire.  They had killed a deer of which we had the head for supper.”

Actually Campbell ate anything he could get, even squirrels and skunks.

From Fort Simpson he travelled on snowshoes over frozen Great Slave Lake, Lake Athabaska, and Ile à la Crosse to Carlton House.   Then he went on to Fort Pelly, Fort Garry, Pembina, Crow Wing, Minnesota, and Chicago.  When he arrived in Scotland he had travelled continuously for 15,610 km(9,700 miles).

After all this labour for love, the girl he chose as his bride was too young, and they had to wait for six years until she journeyed 9,656 km (6,000 miles) to meet him in Canada!

Update:  For those who have expressed curiosity, here are the details.  Elleonara C. Stirling was born on December 3, 1837.  On August 5, 1859, Stirling and Campbell married, at the Norway House in Manitoba.  She was 22 years young, and he was 51 years old!  They remained together until her death on February 22, 1899, at age 62, from chronic bronchitis.

There is an article about Robert Campbell at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.


  1. The reason Robert Campbell ate such strange items was that the alternative was death by starvation. The Hudson’s Bay Company was not renowned for its generosity and there was a time when Campbell and his crew had to boil the parchment from windows and webbing from snowshoes just to stay alive. On one occasion seven men had to share a squirrel for their day’s food. They weren’t sitting back writing negative comments for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography; they were on the move, exploring new territory with unknown potential hazards awaiting them. Campbell of the Yukon by Clifford Wilson provides an interesting account of his life.


  2. Your picture of Robert Campbell is not the same person as in the story. The picture is Robert Campbell the American Fur Trader. The 2 Robert’s were active around the same time. Robert Campbell the Canadian version was my Gr. gr. grandfather. Robert’s wife to be, Eleanor Stirling, whom he met and proposed marriage on this incredible journey. Made a similarly remarkable journey 6 years later to Canada. At that time they were married. Eleanora contracted Typhoid Fever on a visit back to Scotland and died at 34 years of age.


    • Thank you so much, Glen, for your comment. I have to say, “oops” right off the bat. I will do some more research to write a more accurate post. I thank you very much for letting me know.

      Quick question, though. What do you make of the Stirling I wrote about who died of bronchitis?


  3. Needless to say, they don’t make them like this any more! Or at least not down here in Pennsylvania… 27 years in the Yukon??? After my short week there in January (see “Wow!” at, I had a healthy respect for those who lived there; I can’t imagine 27 years. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but could be hard on a person (I think). Liked this post – thank you.


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