Tag Archives: Hudson Bay Company

Thanks to the Celts!

In thе bеgіnnіng, Canada wаѕ a vаѕt piece оf land that had bаrеlу bееn examined. Mаnу of the first explorers wеrе Scots like Dаvіd Mасkеnzіе or Sіmоn Frаѕеr, whо both mарреd оut a large раrt оf our country. A Welshman nаmеd Sіr Thomas Button lеd thе first expedition fоr thе Nоrthwеѕt Pаѕѕаgе in 1612, whіlе Welsh саrtоgrарhеr Dаvіd Thоmрѕоn is rеfеrrеd tо аѕ Cаnаdа’ѕ Greatest Gеоgrарhеr. Aѕ more аnd mоrе ѕеttlеrѕ саmе, іt brought аbоut the Hudson Bау Cоmраnу and thе Nоrth Wеѕt Cоmраnу, both сruсіаl іn mapping оut thе bоundаrіеѕ of Cаnаdа.

Thomas Button

Admiral Sir Thomas Button, after an original oil in possession of G. M. Traheren, Glamorganshire, Wales. Source

Whіlе ѕоmе voluntarily саmе to Cаnаdа fоr a new life аnd орроrtunіtіеѕ, others had lіttlе сhоісе in leaving their homeland and coming here.  Mаnу Irіѕh lеft tо ѕаvе themselves frоm starvation duе to роtаtо famine. Fоr others, rеlіgіоuѕ dіѕрutеѕ wеrе the саuѕе for dераrturе. Whаtеvеr thе rеаѕоn, thousands left hоmе fоr a nеw wоrld. Many ships were оvеrсrоwdеd аnd unѕаnіtаrу, causing mаnу dеаthѕ. Hіt hаrdеѕt bу this were thе Irish; many dіdn’t survive thе journey. Fоr those lucky еnоugh tо аrrіvе ѕаfеlу, their nеw lіvеѕ wеrеn’t еаѕу. Thе fіrѕt settlers had to clear the lаnd аnd рrераrе іt tо grоw fооd аnd tо buіld ѕhеltеr. It was not еаѕу аnd many rеturnеd hоmе. Those соurаgеоuѕ еnоugh to ѕtау mаnаgеd tо buіld a new lіfе. Mаnу new tоwnѕ were сrеаtеd, оftеn nаmеd аftеr thоѕе whо founded them оr in rеflесtіоn оf whеrе thеу came frоm.

Canada bеgаn tо tаkе shape аnd Confederation саmе аbоut іn 1867, wіth Sіr Jоhn A. MасDоnаld, a Scotsman, bесоmіng оur fіrѕt Prime Minister. Irishman Thomas D’Arсу MсGее wаѕ аlѕо a Fаthеr of Cоnfеdеrаtіоn. Aѕ the соuntrу grеw, nеw dеvеlорmеntѕ аnd іnvеntіоnѕ came to lіght. Thе Sсоtѕ gave uѕ standard tіmе (Sir Sandford Fleming), аnd thе RCMP (Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald).  They gаvе us the modern trасtоr (James G. Cockshutt).

Thanks tо thеіr hаrd work and dеtеrmіnаtіоn, thе Scottish, Irish, and Wеlѕh people played a large part of making thіѕ соuntrу whаt іt іѕ tоdау.


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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.


Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Longer Entries, October, On This Day, postaday, September


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Scurvy? Not a Problem!

English: The Pelican

The Pelican (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

France won her greatest naval victory against Britain on September 5, 1697, in an action fought off Hayes River, Hudson Bay.

At dawn of September 5, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who had been ordered by Louis XIV to clear the English out of Hudson Bay, saw three British ships tacking towards his anchorage in Hayes River.  He had no wish to be left without room to manoeuvre so he put out to sea at once, leaving some of his men on shore.  Many of his crew were ill below decks, suffering from scurvy.  Only 150 men were left to man the Pelican‘s guns and sails.  The three British ships, Hampshire, Deering and Hudson’s Bay, had 124 guns and 600 men between them.  Iberville had only 44 guns and 150 men.  The odds seemed hopeless, but Iberville decided to fight.

The three British ships sailed towards him in battle formation, with the mighty Hampshire in the lead.  Iberville pretended that he was trying to board the Hampshire, which veered off.  Then he blasted the Deering and shot off her mainsails.  Another fast manoeuvre enabled him to hit the Hudson’s Bay.

The Hampshire, commanded by Captain Fletcher, poured heavy fire into the Pelican.  There were many casualties on board.  The battle continued for three hours, with Iberville preventing Fletcher from getting within range to take advantage of superior gun and manpower.  Fletcher became impatient, and sailed close enough to shout to Iberville to surrender.  In the way of the time, Fletcher called for wine and held up a glass in a toast to his valiant enemy.  Iberville did the same on the bridge of the Pelican.  As the Hampshire came round for the kill, it heeled over in a sudden gust of wind.  Iberville then poured in a broadside that gashed the Hampshire‘s side, and it sank quickly, with Captain Fletcher going down with his ships.   The Hudson’s Bay and Deering, both damaged, got away.  The Pelican, also badly damaged, went aground on a shoal.  Nevertheless, it was a great naval victory for Iberville.

To read some more about today’s post, I would suggest visiting the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and then after that the Catholic Encyclopedia, and the Canadian Encyclopedia. If you still want to read more, then I would further recommend the Chaffe/Chaffey/Chafe/Chaffee Family Home Website.


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a.k.a. Radishes & Gooseberry

Français : Arrivée de Pierre-Esprit Radisson d...

Français : Arrivée de Pierre-Esprit Radisson dans un camp amérindien en 1660. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an opportunity to describe something of Pierre Radisson‘s career, because it was on August 28, 1661, that he and his brother-in-law Chourart des Groseilliers began their great partnership that led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Pierre Radisson’s adventures began as a young boy at Trois Rivières, Quebec.  He was captured by a band of Iroquois while hunting ducks and taken to their village in the State of New York.  Somehow he managed to attract the attention of an Indian woman who had lost a son of about the same age and she adopted him.  Radisson gained some knowledge of the language and customs of the Iroquois which helped him save a Jesuit mission after he escaped (see my March 19 – After Dinner We Escaped post).

Radisson and Groseilliers formed a fur-trading partnership.  They went as far west as Lake Superior, where they were very successful.  There is some possibility that they were the first white men to see the Mississippi River.

Soon after, Radisson and Groseilliers were fined for  fur-trading infractions and decided to offer their services to the British.  They met Sir George Carteret, a good friend of King Charles II.  Carteret took Radisson and Groseilliers to England to tell their stories to Charles.  The king, and especially his cousin, Prince Rupert, were greatly impressed by Radisson and Groseilliers, although they could not pronounce their names.  They were usually called “Radishes and Gooseberry.”

They fitted out an expedition to Hudson Bay to bring back furs.  Groseilliers so impressed King Charles with his fur-laden cargo that Charles formed the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay on May 2, 1670.

Even so, Radisson and Groseilliers were displeased because King Charles only gave them a “gold chain and medal.”  They returned to Canada and, working for both the French and Dutch, later led an expedition to drive the English out of Hudson’s Bay.  The story of Radisson’s life becomes complicated and is difficult to follow, especially as most of it was written by Radisson himself.  In any event, he returned to England in 1684, and was given shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company.  When he died the company gave his widow £6 in recognition of his work!

To learn more about this, I highly recommend Micheline’s Blog – a place where Micheline tackles so many history topics! If you have the time, I also suggest reading The Discovery of Lake Superior – you can read it online, or download for later reading.


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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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His Maps … Were Accurate!

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central ...

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central Canada by David Thompson. The Kootenay River is shown near the bottom left as McGillivray’s River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 15, 1811, David Thompson reached the mouth of the Columbia River only to find that John Jacob Astor‘s fur company had established a post there late in March.  This was a great disappointment to Thompson, who had hoped to claim the territory for Britain.  Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to present a  few highlights in the life of the man who was probably the greatest geographer in the world.

David Thompson was of Welsh extraction and came from a poor family.  He was only fourteen years of age when he was apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company and sent to Fort Churchill, Hudson Bay, in 1784.  He spent thirteen years there and at other company posts in Saskatchewan, and also a winter with Natives at the present site of Calgary.  Surveying, which he studied with Philip Turner, became his favourite hobby.

In 1797 he transferred to the Northwest Company and made a 4,000 mile journey of exploration that included the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Later he was made a partner in the company.  Years were spent tracing the crazy course of the Columbia River, which curves back and forth between Canada and the United States, almost entwining itself with the Kootenay.  Thompson was the first man to travel the full length of the Columbia and back again.  He began his final assault on the Columbia in 1810.  He manufactured snowshoes and sleds and started from the Athabaska River on December 29 in weather 32 ° F ( 0 º C) below zero!  He travelled through the Rockies under these conditions to the junction of the Canoe and Columbia Rivers.

After Thompson finished his work in the West, he went to live at Terrebonne, near Montreal, where he prepared a map of Western Canada which is now in the Ontario Archives.  His maps were not like those of the early explorers.  They were accurate.

When Thompson arrived at Churchill in 1784, the map of Canada was blank from Lake Winnipeg to the west coast of Vancouver Island.  When he departed from the West in 1812, he had mapped the main travel routes through 1,700,000 square miles of Canadian and American territory!  It is tragic to remember that David Thompson died in 1857, in poverty and nearly blind.

To learn more of David Thompson and his work, I can direct you to a few sites to get you started. To begin, I suggest a new-to-me website, for an interesting video about today’s post – really interesting! And then there’s his Biography – I’m not sure who the author is, though. Another place to go is the David Thompson Columbia Brigade. And lastly, I suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia – you can never go wrong there!


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Pushing His Luck …

The Red River drainage basin, with the Souris ...

The Red River drainage basin, with the Souris River highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lord Selkirk’s decision to colonize the area near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers was not received warmly by either the North West Company or the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Both Companies hunted and traded in the Assiniboia region.  They feared that a farming settlement would surely interfere with their business.

Friction between the settlers and fur traders soon erupted.  Miles Macdonnell, appointed Governor of Assiniboia by Selkirk, was angry to see the Nor’Westers transporting bales of pemmican through his territory while many of his own settlers were starving.

Pemmican was made by pounding strips of dried buffalo meat into powder.  Wild berries and melted buffalo fat were then mixed with the powder and compressed into bales weighing as much as ninety pounds.  Pemmican was the most important food on the Prairies at that time.

In January, 1814, Macdonnell posted his “Pemmican Proclamation,” forbidding the export of food supplies from Assiniboia.  From the standpoint of the colony, his decision was beneficial, but how were the Métis and the trading companies to survive without their supplies?

Macdonnell was still not satisfied.  He sent an armed party to Souris, a North West Company trading post on the Assiniboine River.  There, they confiscated about 6000 bales of pemmican.  Macdonnell was “pushing his luck.”  He boasted that he would “crush all the Nor’Westers on the river, should they be so handy as to resist my authority.”

The partners of the North West Company, meeting at Fort William, decided to destroy the Selkirk at Fort William.  A temporary compromise was reached on June 28, 1814, but Miles Macdonnell was nevertheless terribly shaken by the enmity he had aroused.  Even the Hudson’s Bay Company men turned against him.  Macdonnell,  a discouraged, beaten man, wrote to Selkirk and asked to be relieved of his command.

Macdonnell spent his later years at his farm in Upper Canada.  He died at the home of his brother in Point Fortune, Lower Canada, on June 28, 1828.

To read more about today’s post, I have a few notable sites for you to visit. There is the Lord Selkirk Association of Rupert Land, and the Electric Canadian .com, and the Roots Web. The always dependable Canadian Encyclopedia. And lastly, if you have the time a 272-page document, I really do recommend the The Assiniboine Basin by Martin Kavanagh.


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