Tag Archives: 1749

Little Giant

English: 'Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Pra...

‘Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies’, oil on canvas painting by John Mix Stanley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was not until 1926 that historians could be certain that Henry Kelsey really did reach as far west as Saskatchewan in 1691.  He was an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company and his career was distorted by witnesses who criticized the company during a parliamentary investigation in 1749.  The story of his journey to Western Canada came to light in 1926 when his diary was found in the library of Castle Dodds, at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was granted its charter in 1670 on the understanding that it would explore the enormous territory under its control, and try to find the Northwest Passage.  Kelsey, although only twenty years old, was working at the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Nelson, Hudson Bay.  He volunteered to go with a party of Stone Indians to their hunting grounds, and left with them on June 12, 1690.

Many of the great explorers, Cartier, Champlain, Mackenzie, Fraser, and Thompson kept diaries.  Fortunately Kelsey did too, but  much of his writing was in poor verse.  He described his departure:

Then up ye River I with heavy heart
Did Take my way & from all English part
To live among ye natives of this place
If God permits me for one two years space.

Kelsey’s writings are entertaining but do not give a clear account of where he went.  It is known now that he reached The Pas, which he named Deering’s Point after a director of the company.  He was the first white man to see the Prairies, musk oxen, and a buffalo hunt; he actually took part in a buffalo hunt on August 23, 1691.

Kelsey was given the name Mis Top Ashish by the Indians.  It meant Little Giant because he saved an Assiniboine Indian in a fight with two fierce grizzly bears.

Before any other white man penetrated the Prairies (La Vérendrye and his sons did so in 1738), Kelsey had spent nearly forty years on Hudson Bay, including the two years exploring the interior.  He was captured by Iberville in 1694 when the great French-Canadian military leader attacked York Factory.

For more about today’s post, I suggest going to Dictionary of Canadian Biography to learn about the man, and the Manitoba Historical History with more of his diary is revealed. And lastly, a site I just found, the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.



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Playing Cards Become Money?!

English: Playing Crapó - card game.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the most successful money-reformer in Canada was the first Intendant, Jacques de Meulles.

The intendants acted as business managers for the governors of French Canada.  One of their problems was to keep enough currency in circulation.  Coins were sent to Quebec to pay the members of the garrison, but they were returned to France to pay for the purchases.  Most trade among the inhabitants had to be carried on by barter.  Merchants  were legally bound to accept wheat and moose skins as payment for goods, while other pelts, like beaver and wildcat were equally acceptable.  One blanket could be bought for eight wildcat skins.

In 1670, France minted special silver and copper coins for use in Canada, but they disappeared quickly and none arrived at all in the spring of 1685.  A large number of soldiers who were billeted with private families were De Meulles’ responsibility.  They were not hunters capable of trapping their own pelts, but they still needed coins to pay for their board and lodging.  De Meulles, in desperation, hit on the idea of issuing paper money that would be redeemed when the coins arrived.

There was a good deal of card playing in Quebec, especially among the soldiers.  The most popular game was called “maw” and the lucky cards to turn up were, Tiddy, Gleek, Tup-tup and Towser!  There was probably a good deal of grousing when De Meulles gathered up the playing cards and cut them into four pieces.  He marked them as being worth various amounts of money and stamped them with the word “bon”, meaning “good”.  Each piece of paper money also carried his signature and seal.

The system worked so well that it was used again many times.  On April 18, 1749, the King authorized an issue of card money to be increased from 720,000 to one million livres!  It was the forerunner of the Canadian paper money in use today.

The Château de Ramezay Museum in Montreal has a collection of the coins used in those days and even some of the card money, although it is only exhibited by special request.

If you would like to learn more about this intriguing currency, and to see what they looked like, you don’t have to wait for the museum — just go to the Bank of Canada and the National Bank of Belgium.


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