The Spirit of Resistance

On November 16, 1885, a lone figure stood silently on the gallows waiting to meet his destiny.  His name was Louis David Riel and he was my cousin 4 times removed. Below, a clip from Ancestry linking my father to the Lagimodiere family from whom Riel`s mother, Julie sprang. Julie`s brother Romain was my  3rd great grandfather.

Riel Connection snip

You can see in the chart the names that were well known in the Red River Settlement, Lagimodiere, Diagneault, Cyr, Thibault. Other names in the family were Jennie Cameron, Mary Inkster, Catherine Martineau and of course, Marie Anne Gaboury. Further back in the family one finds the more obscure appellations, Marie…..(Lesperance), Charlotte….., Josette….(Indienne) and Suzanne Sauteuse. On the 1901 Census of Canada, my great grandfather, William Daigneault declared  himself and his family as being French Metis (M.F.) and Red in skin colour.

The settlement was established at the confluence of the northern Red and Assiniboine rivers which is in modern day Winnipeg, Manitoba. It had been a prominent trading place for the aboriginal people of the area, the Cree and Ojibwa among them.  Before that prehistoric peoples had camped and traded there. These two rivers were part of a canoe route that joined with the Mississippi and Missouri rivers on the southern trade route.

in 1783, the first trading post was built by Pierre Gualtier de la Verendrye. He named it Forte Rouge or Red River.  Many of the French trappers who traded there married First Nations women which eventually led to the creation of a new culture, the Metis.  Initially, there was a society dominated by the First Nations people of the area with whom the French were on amicable terms .

For the main part, the French traders and their offspring blended with the First Nations culture . The buffalo hunt remained one of the main features of life among the people.  Sedentary farming did not come naturally to them. It didn’t even make sense. The winters were long and freezing, in the spring the Red River would storm its banks and flood the area. The summers were hot and humid and the tall prairie grasses provided ideal forage for the hundreds of buffalo which roamed through the land.

A stalwart young Scot, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, had visions of solving the problem of the Highland Clearances in northern Scotland. He inherited his brother’s fortune and decided to purchase land from the then beleaguered Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1811, he purchased 116,000 square miles of land, a good portion of Rupert’s Land which made him the major shareholder in the company. Two new forts had been built, Fort Gibraltar by the North West Company out of Montreal and Fort Douglas by the British run Hudson’s Bay Company carrying the fur trade battle into the area. A year later the Scots started to pour in and the canvas of the colony began to change.

The Battle of Seven Oaks

After the Seven Years War ended with the Royal Proclamation of 1763,  all land west of the Appalachian Mountains was closed to settlement and designated an Indian Reserve. This the Metis and their aboriginal brothers took to heart. In 1814, the governor of the colony, Miles McDonnell, issued the “Pemmican Proclamation” which forbade the export of pemmican from the colony for the next year. It was needed to support the new settlers who were experiencing crop failure. This though, would leave the Metis and the NWC without their means of support besides fracturing the non-settlement proclamation.

The Metis, under Cuthbert Grant,  refused to recognize the authority of the HBC and were soon involved in a skirmish with the new governor Robert Semple at Seven Oaks further along the Red River. Semple attempted to arrest Francois Boucher when he was sent to parlay.  Shots were fired and Semple as well as 21 of his men were killed. The Metis formed part of the colony’s militia and were crack shots, only 1 man was lost. The settlers lost heart and sailed north away from the settlement. Later, the Metis were exonerated by the Royal Commissioner. Lord Selkirk after being counter sued by the North West Company for unlawful seizure of Fort William,  lost his health and left for France where he died in 1820 just prior to the amalgamation of the two fur trade companies. The two would operate under the HBC flag. Cuthbert Grant was appointed “warden of the plains of the Red River” in 1828.





Time and Circumstance

Interestingly, I have found myself at a point where the lives of 4 different men intersect, two of them my ancestors.  They would be Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, John McLoughlin, (chief factor of Fort Vancouver, Washington), my 4th great-grandfather, John Dugald Cameron and Joseph Beauchamp, blacksmith at Fort Vancouver and later Fort Victoria.

Simpson was not born under auspicious circumstances, he was the illegitimate son of George Simpson Sr. and an unknown woman in Lochbroom, Scotland.  He was raised by his aunt, Mary Simpson and attended the parish school until he went to London in 1800 around the age of 14. There his uncle Geddes Simpson, who was a partner in a sugar brokerage firm, gave him work. When the company merged with Wedderburn and Company in 1812, Simpson met a man who would greatly influence his future.  Andrew Wedderburn was brother-in-law to Lord Selkirk who established the Red River colony in Manitoba, Canada.

In the early 1800’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was in a bitter struggle for the fur trade with the North West Company (NWC), the original company based in Montreal.  Any means, fair or foul were used to gain or block access to furs;  price manipulation, selling liquor to the natives, even stealing the other’s furs and trade goods. When the officer in charge of the Athabasca country was about to be charged with murder and the governor in chief in danger of arrest,  the young Simpson’s brother-in-law, then known as Andrew Colville, ushered him into an appointment as locum governor-in-chief. When the NWC offered to buy the HBC out, the company took it as a sign of weakness and made a bid to merge the two companies. The “amalgamation” took place in March 1821.

Once appointed, Simpson travelled tirelessly across the country,  a whirlwind of closures and dismissals following him. The speed he moved at is aptly described in the book “Adventurers”.
“Around the point, two canoes come racing, flying across the water at a killing pace. Nine paddlers in matching dress, singing at the top of their lungs, bring the larger one surging up to the dock. They fall silent and a bagpiper leaps ashore. Behind him strides a man in a magnificent, tartan cloak with a tall beaver hat on his head. ……. In moments the two canoes have vanished up river. Only the echoes of the paddlers’ song remains to convince the bewildered men that the governor’s visit had really happened.”

Simpson was friendly enough but would not tolerate insubordination. No advancement was given to those who did not obey. Still, the officers in the company seldom experienced any economic downturns. That was reserved for the lower ranks. In 1821, he ordered John Lee Lewes and John Dugald Cameron to inspect the old NWC posts west of the Rocky Mountains. They reported back that profit would increase if personnel was reduced.  The only benefit in keeping the Columbia River area open was to provide a buffer zone between the Americans and the rich fur area to the North.

Simpson left York Factory for Fort George in Astoria out flanking John McLoughlin, chief factor of Fort Vancouver (Washington), who had left 20 days previous. The two met in Fort George and together formulated plans to counter the Russian American trade. One of the counter measures was the trapping expedition that we previously found Jean Baptiste Beauchamp on with Peter Skene Ogden. The other plan was to open Fort Langley on the Fraser River. Fort Langley however, was not a good place to ship furs to by water. The flow of the river was just too erratic, furs would have to be traded overland.

After postponing a trip to London for years, Simpson decided he would return to see his  uncle. While he was there he decided to marry Geddes daughter, Frances, in spite of the fact that he was 38 years her senior. Unsurprisingly, Frances found life in Canada next to intolerable and though she had 5 children with Simpson she was very frail. When they returned to England for a visit, she stayed behind for 5 years until finally returning  in 1838.  By that time he had established a residence in Lachine, Quebec.

The violent competition between the HBC and the NWC did not abate in spite of proclamations and warnings from London. In May of 1820, Simpson decided to deliver the Governors proclamation personally to the NWC at Fort William himself instead of the agents in Montreal. The chief factor there was John McLoughlin, later to become known as “the father of Oregon” and this would be their first meeting.

McLoughlin was born in 1784 at Riviere du Loup, Quebec. His father was a farmer and his mother the sister of  Dr. Simon Fraser. John started an apprenticeship under his uncle at the age of 14 and by the time he was 19 he was granted a license to practise.  Instead, he decided in 1803,  to sign on with the NWC for five years as a physician and apprentice clerk.  You can see the transcript of his contract with McTavish, Frobisher and Company here.  Later that year, we see one of my distant cousins, Michel Beauchamp,  contracted to travel to the same place, Kaministiquia (now Thunder Bay, Ontario).

John McLoughlin was a man of ” formidable appearance” and though he did practice medicine at the Fort , he turned out to be a very shrewd trader and bargainer. To that end he rose from £200 a term to a partnership in 1814. In 1816, he traveled to the Red River settlement just after the colony was caught in the Seven Oaks Massacre.  McLoughlin was arrested (being with the NWC) and charged as being a part of the attack on the colony. Once he was cleared of charges, he realized that the future looked bleak for the NWC and encouraged a merger between the two rivals.

At this point, George Simpson arrived at Fort William with the proclamation. As was his way,  McLoughlin endeavored to keep the peace, much to the chagrin of his men. This along with his natural abilities brought him the position of Chief Factor at Rainy Lake . Later he was sent to Fort George in Astoria and was replaced by Dugald Cameron. Soon he became the only chief factor in the Columbia District. The area had been largely unproductive by Simpson’s standards. Personnel was slashed and home grown produce was to replace costly provisions.

The war of 1812 had left the northern boundary undecided which meant that Fort George might very well end up inside American territory.  Fort Vancouver in Washington was soon built and Simpson then ordered the Columbia area hunted dry.  For the next 20 years McLoughlin would become in effect, the superintendent of the entire Columbia River district and controlled the reorganization of the Snake River expeditions, the freemen and Iroqouis were now minor in number and HBC servants used.

When Simpson decided to close Forts Taku and McLoughlin in 1843, we see the arrival of Joseph Ovide Beauchamp in Fort Vancouver. He is found listed in Bruce Watson’s book Lives Lived West of the Divide.

Joseph Beauchamp Lives Lived WEst

I have a great great grandfather named  Joseph Beauchamp who lived during that time but he died in Quebec. He had a son Joseph my great grandfather. I suspect that this Joseph was again a removed cousin.

By all accounts and especially those of Roderick Finlayson who kept the  Fort Victoria Journals, Joseph was a handful.  His native wife, Marguerite died in 1847 after the birth of a daughter, Caroline, in Fort Vancouver. The following year he transferred to Fort Victoria where he promptly lost one of his fingers which continued to pain him for some time.  He remarried in 1848 to an unknown woman and was noted as being sick and insolent most of the time. Then in 1850, he lost his daughter Caroline. He died at Fort Victoria in 1887.  His HBC records have him listed as being in Oregon in 1853-4, his position listed as “sundries”.  That piques my interest.  I would conjecture that Joseph drank a bit.  The entire Fort was dependent on him to make and repair the tools needed to keep things running and he is mentioned very frequently throughout Finlayson’s journals.

Among the many differences between John McLoughlin and George Simpson, the final rivet was the death of John McLoughlin Jr. at Fort Stikine, Alaska in April of 1842. Fort Stikine had a singular reputation for violence. John had been left in charge of the Fort when he was murdered by Urbain Héroux during a confrontation. Charges of self defense were never brought to trial because the incident took place in Russian territory.  Simpson did not proceed on the matter but instead wrote a very terse letter to the father informing him of the matter, using the boy’s reputation as a precedent. McLoughlin wrote letter after letter to London claiming the injustice of the situation and his son’s name was eventually cleared.  However, they were not about to let the indispensable Simpson go. It was decided that the lowering profits and McLoughlin’s charity towards the new settlers in the Willamette were sufficient reason to retire him. He died September 3, 1857 in Oregon City.

John S. Galbraith, “SIMPSON, Sir GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 8, 2018,

W. Kaye Lamb, “McLOUGHLIN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 8, 2018,

Sylvia Van Kirk, “CAMERON, JOHN DUGALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 8, 2018,

U.S. National Park Service Website: The Fort Vancouver Community

Watson, Bruce McIntyre. Lives Lived West of the Divide. Kelowna: Centre for Social, Spatial, and Economic Justice, University of British Columbia, 2010.

Christopher Moore, Adventurers Hudson’s Bay Company The Epic Story, 2000, Madison Press Books

“Fort Victoria Journal”, Beauchamp, Joseph Ovide, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, B.226/ a/1, edited and transcribed by Graham Brazier et al, eds. (March 9, 2018)


A Free Man Part 3

In my previous post, “A Free Man”,  I mentioned that 23 men had left Ogden’s venture for the American Company. As it happens, 12 men had left Ross’s expedition of 1824 and commenced trapping with the American’s. Later they joined up with the famed , Jedediah Smith . Smith and his party accompanied Ogden out on his first Snake Country expedition to Flathead Post. Ogden suspected him of trying to gain information for his American employer, William Ashley.  So, our ancestor Baptiste Beauchamp who was a trapper for the party,  would have known Smith or at least have been in contact with him.

At the end of the War of 1812, the British (including Canada) and the Americans were to jointly share occupation of the Columbia River region for a period of 10 years while the northern border was settled.  Ogden, who had accidentally traveled south of the 42nd parallel found his tent invaded by Johnson Gardner, leader of an American trapping party, asking him if he knew what country he was in.  Ogden insisted it was Oregon territory to which Gardener told him the area had been ceded to the United States. Neither was right and at the time, there were no territorial maps of the area.

Below a map of the Oregon Country/Columbia District during this period and the Forts.


By Kmusser [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Then a heated discussion of  HBC policy ensued. Simpson’s policy was to overprice the supplies and equipment which each man went into debt for. Then, when the debt was being paid, he undervalued the furs given in payment.  The Freemen, many of them Métis,  like the Americans, were quick to “fly the flag”. They needed little provocation to fight and felt little allegiance to anyone . Twelve of the Freemen took their horses and furs and left. I did not see Baptiste on the list of defecting men in William Kittsons journals. Kittson was Ogden’s second in command and kept a more particular journal than Ogden.

It did not take long however, for the HBC men to return back with their tails between their legs. The American system of free enterprise was a little too rough for them. Soon after,  Simpson admitted his mistake with some prompting from John McLoughlan, the factor at Fort Vancouver.  The HBC also disallowed liquor which ensured fair dealing with the natives who could be easily parted from their furs under its influence

By March 1827, the policy to “hunt the country dry” was still in place. As Ogden moved further afield to do just that, he left the eastern Snake country unprotected, allowing the Americans to move in.  Jedediah Smith had crossed into  California and north into Oregon  for the first time which was a major threat to the HBC.  Along the way they were attacked by the Umpqua Indians.  Smith had escaped and made it to Fort Vancouver. Governor George Simpson offered him $2600 for his horses and fur. In exchange Smith agreed to stay out of territory west of the Divide.³

During the expedition of 1826, the men began to show signs of food poisoning though the form it took did not make it readily apparent. Symptoms began with severe headaches and pain in their “loins” and extremities. This they thought was from the beaver meat they ate. Ogden not being ill himself decided to eat some. He did not taste any difference in the beaver meat from that area and gloated that it didn’t have any effect on him. Five days later,  he was crawling on the ground. It turns out that the beavers were gnawing on hemlock root and that passed down to the meat. Most of the men survived. The cure? A mixture of pepper and gun powder in water as an emetic!

Baptiste Beauchamp is also mentioned by Alexander Henry who travelled with David Thompson, as having been “Thompson’s man” .

JB Thompsons Man

If you are interested in Thompson’s expedition to the Columbia River you can follow this link.



A Free Man Part 2

In his book, Fur Hunters of the Far West, Alexander Ross ( one of the first explorers of the Columbia and later sheriff of the Red River Colony), very aptly describes the different classes one would find at a fur trade post.  He describes the fur trader himself as being caught between two worlds. Because he lived removed from society for lengths of time, he was easily parted from his money and would lose it readily. If he did save money and went into society he became disgusted with the greed he saw there.  In the end his wealth seldom did him any good and he did not live into old age.

The virtue of the Canadien is extolled, for no one was better suited to the labour of voyaging than he and he deserved “the highest praise”.

There was a difference however, between the “Freeman” and the “half-breed”. The Freemen were generally Canadiens who were no longer under contract to the Hudsons Bay Company and had been improvident with their money. Not wanting to return home in their old age, they would  spend the rest of their days with the natives, there to be joined by wild young men who had “ all of their faults but none of their good qualities“.   That description reminds me of the “coureurs des bois” who left Montreal 100 years before and never returned except to turn the city into a debacle of drinking and violence. Ross goes on to state that “there cannot be a better test for knowing a worthless and bad character in this country than his wishing to become a Freeman”.

The inter-racial marriages between the traders and aboriginal women so fondly looked upon by current society had one major fall-out, the abandonment of male children when the father returned to Quebec.  Yes, the wife could return to her own people but as he grew the boy was caught between the two cultures, often ending up with the bad traits of both. This made worse by the fact that the wealthier were not allowed to work.  The half-breed,  “grows up in every respect the pure Indian; with this difference, he is more designing, more daring and more dissolute.”   After this description, Ross goes on to talk about how the boy cannot find a place in either world. He is too educated for the native way of life and too restless and wild for the white way of life.  He has spent his life with little control and cannot settle. His behavior alienates both sides of his family and he ends up in bad company, his inheritance trickled away. His prospects are actually better if he is from a lower class because he will find some kind of employment and be healthier in general.  Ross implores the establishment to take a hand in the lives of these boys, likely for naught. I pity the hard-working mother who was also a victim in this.

Source Material: Pages 296-301 of Fur Hunters of the Far Northwest; A Narrative of Adventures in the Oregon and Rocky Mountains. Published in 1855, Smith, Elder and Company. Accessed 15-01-2018, Google Books

A Free Man

In 1824, Alexander Ross was assigned by HBC Governor George Simpson to head an expedition into “Snake Country” . The Snake River runs off of the Columbia River in Washington State and travels south and eastward.

Snake River Map Wikimedia Commons

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp or “Baptiste” as he was known, joined the expedition as a trapper. While the main party gathered at Flathead Post (near present day Sanders, Montana), he was at “Prairie de Cheveaux, the council ground of the Salish Nation. (Journal of Alexander Ross, Snake Country Expedition, Feb 10, 1824). He is noted in Bruce Watson’s “Lives Lived West of the Divide”.

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp-Lives Lived West of the Divide Bruce Watson

Ross speaks about the incident with the Peigan Indians (Blackfoot)  in his Journal of the Snake Country Expedition,

JB Beauchamp meets the Piegans Alex Ross Snake Country Ex. 1824

Reminds one of a western movie doesn’t it? Who this particular Jean Baptiste is I cannot say for certain. There are several voyageur records for Jean Baptiste Beauchamp for the years between 1794 and 1817 some for the HBC and there is a record for that name born in Pointe aux Trembles, Quebec in 1771 and dying in Louisiana in 1815 . That person married in Missouri in 1795, making him a strong possibility.

Baptiste crops up again in Alexander Henry’s book “The Saskatchewan and Columbia Rivers”. Henry had traveled with Thompson from Lake Winnipeg to Vermilion Alberta.

JB Thompsons Man

We next find Baptiste joining up with  Peter Skene Ogden after Simpson became disgusted with Ross’s outcome in Snake Country.

Baptiste in Ogdens Exped

Ogden descended from a British loyalist family of good repute but had a violent temper himself.  He joined the North West Company in 1809, his first post at Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan then an important supply depot on the fur trade route. This interests me because my grandmother’s family, the Daigneault’s were trappers in the area.  Watson states that he thinks Baptiste was from Saskatchewan.  He then states that Baptiste was in Spokane (1823) at the time Ogden was made Chief Trader by the HBC in spite of the fact that he had bloodily murdered an Indian for trading with them. Simpson felt he was just the man to accomplish the goals of the company now merged with the Northwest Company in an attempt to end the deadly competition between the two. Simpson initiated a “scorched earth policy” whereby Ogden was to bring back as many furs as possible, leaving none for the Americans. The rationale was that this would also deter settlement of the area.  During the expedition Baptiste was on, 23 freemen defected to the Americans who promised a more fair return.

In the late 1840’s Ogden was in charge of Fort Vancouver where ironically, another ancestor of mine, Joseph Ovide Beauchamp was working as a blacksmith. What are the odds?


Following Mackenzie

Let us see how close we can come to pinning down the said Jacques Beauchamp who traveled to the Pacific with Alexander Mackenzie. What do we know?

Firstly, we know that all Beauchamps from North America derive from the pioneers, Jacques and Jean Beauchamp. In my case, Jean Beauchamp. We follow the family down from Jean, using the PRDH records for each child to 1800 which is when they stop.  We need a Jacques who would be of age to be experienced and working as a voyageur at the time of Mackenzie’s hiring for the trip. The trip was in 1793 and the average age to start voyaging was 22 years.  Most voyageurs retired, many due to ill health, in their 60’s.

We know that Jacques gained a reputation when he refused to embark when ordered to by Mackenzie (the canoe had pretty much fallen apart by this time, causing mutinous murmurs among the men). From Mackenzie’s journal, “The next morning, Friday, while the work of repairing the canoe was in progress, the two Canadian scouts came in, hungry, cold, and ragged, with a report substantially the same as that of the Indian. They had seen the larger river, however, but were of the opinion it would be necessary to carry everything to it, owing to the obstacles to navigation in the stream they had embarked on. The canoe was patched up and on Saturday the journey was continued, four men in the canoe, the others carrying on shore part of the freight. That morning Mackenzie experienced the first instance of disobedience to mar the journey. Beauchamp flatly refused to embark in the canoe when ordered.” (1)  I suspect that Jacques was one of the scouts and realized what peril the men would be in.

The closest record I have so far of a family member who might have been on Mackenzie’s expedition is below. Again from the Voyageur Database at the SHSB.

Joseph Beauchamp contract with McTavish Frobisher (Mackenzies Voyage)The forename is different but name interchanges were common during that period.  Joseph Beauchamp is the name that figures most prominently among the family voyageurs in Montreal and the Northwest.  I saw no suitable candidates among Jacques Beauchamp’s descendants.  The whole family of this Joseph was from Lachine, Quebec, the start point of all expeditions. There is a brother Jacques at the bottom but no contract for him.

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp and Marie Josephe Filion family

Here is a map of the area and Mackenzie’s two voyages. undertaken to find a new trade route for the country.  The northern route to the Arctic covered 4800 kilometres (3000 miles), the route to the Pacific, 3700 kilometres or 2300 miles all with 8 other men in a birch bark canoe 25 feet long.  Mackenzie had been greatly influenced and inspired by Peter Pond‘s travels to the west.

Sir Alex MacK. Explorations

It is hard to describe the vastness of Canada and the thought of crossing thousands of miles over any part of it in a canoe is well… rather incredulous. Never the less, the man was found in Mackenzie who lead his men on to the end, not without strong resistance. In Volume 2 of his book “Voyages from Montreal…” he records one of many incidents which tested the endurance of every man there, recorded June 13, 1793.

” Thursday, 13. —At an early hour of this morning the men began to cut a road, in order to carry the canoe and lading beyond the rapid; and by seven they were ready. That business was soon effected, and the canoe reladen, to proceed with the current which ran with great rapidity. In order to lighten her, it was my intention to walk with some of the people; but those in the boat with great earnestness requested me to embark, declaring, at the same time, that, if they perished, I should perish with them. I did not then imagine in how short a period their apprehension would be justified. We accordingly pushed off, and had proceeded but a very short way when the canoe struck, and notwithstanding all our exertions, the violence of the current was so great as to drive her sideways down the river, and break her by the first bar, when I instantly jumped into the water, and the men followed my example; but before we could set her straight, or stop her, we came to deeper water, so that we were obliged to re-embark with the utmost precipitation. One of the men who was not sufficiently active, was left to get on shore in the best manner in his power. We had hardly regained our situations when we drove against a rock which shattered the stern of the canoe in such a manner, that it held only by the gunwales, so that the steersman could no longer keep his place. The violence of this stroke drove us to the opposite side of the river, which is but narrow, when the bow met with the same fate as the stern. At this moment the foreman seized on some branches of a small tree in the hope of bringing up the canoe, but such was their elasticity that, in a manner not easily described, he was jerked on shore in an instant, and with a degree of violence that threatened his destruction. But we had no time to turn from our own situation to enquire what had befallen him; for, in a few moments, we came across a cascade which broke several large holes in the bottom of the canoe, and started all the bars, except one behind the scooping seat. If this accident, however, had not happened, the vessel must have been irretrievably overset. The wreck becoming flat on the water, we all jumped out, while the steersman, who had been compelled to abandon his place, and had not recovered from his fright, called out to his companions to save themselves. My peremptory commands superseded the effects of his fear, and they all held fast to the wreck; to which fortunate resolution we owed our safety, as we should otherwise have been dashed against the rocks by the force of the water, or driven over the cascades. In this condition we were forced several hundred yards, and every yard on the verge of destruction; but, at length, we most fortunately arrived in shallow water and a small eddy, where we were enabled to make a stand, from the weight of the canoe resting on the stones, rather than from any exertions of our exhausted strength. For though our efforts were short, they were pushed to the utmost, as life or death depended on them.

This alarming scene, with all its terrors and dangers, occupied only a few minutes; and in the present suspension of it, we called to the people on shore to come to our assistance, and they immediately obeyed the summons. The foreman, however, was the first with us; he had escaped unhurt from the extraordinary jerk with which he was thrown out of the boat, and just as we were beginning to take our effects out of the water, he appeared to give his assistance. The Indians, when they saw our deplorable situation, instead of making the least effort to help us, sat down and gave vent to their tears. “

Later, as I previously mentioned, in 1804, Jacques as steersman for explorer, Duncan Livingston was killed by the Esquimaux along with the rest of the party. If he was steersman for Mackenzie, he would have been in the seat when the bottom was smashed out of the canoe. Throughout Mackenzie’s book, we hear repeatedly of the fears of the native people; fear of the environment, fear of attack and fear of starvation, problems they still face today.

  1. Mark S. Wade, Mackenzie of Canada p.133


Scales or Fur

The actual start of the fur trade was of course, with the natives themselves. By the end of the 16th century, around 500 Basque ships were fishing in Canadian waters. Basque country straddled north-western Spain and south-western France at the western end of the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe.  A whale fishery had been established at Tadoussac where the Saquenay River meets the St. Lawrence. The French had found the main route to the interior of the continent and French names were given to the rivers and islands along this route.  Along the way though they had alienated the Iroquois who occupied the area and controlled the neighboring tribes. If the Iroquois opposed them, the French had no hope of occupying the St. Lawrence or any area beyond it.

Cod from the Atlantic coast became an economic mainstay of northwestern France. The fishermen began to compete and moved further down the St. Lawrence.  The small trade of goods for furs was already going on but it did not take long until the fishermen realized it was a much easier way to make money.  Competition soon rose as the men competed to reach the tribes first. At the crux of this commerce was the economic partnership between the Europeans and the First Nations.

The fur of the Canadian beaver, useful in the creation of felt, was a superior pelt to the Russian or Scandinavian. It was first softened by being used as robes and coverings for the natives.  Then the swindle began, a few cheap goods, such as an axe or knife worth 1 livre might be traded for a pelt worth 20 livres.  Felts hats sold in Paris for 30 livres. The natives themselves saw little value in a sweaty fur.  Tadoussac, now became a summer meeting place for over a thousand Algonquin, Etchimin and Montagnais every summer. They learned to barter and wait until several ships arrived to drive competition up between the French.

Tadoussac Map

Site of Tadoussac, Quebec

When the Iroquois were finally “brought to terms” by the sending of French troops to Canada, the fur trade boomed at the expense of the colony. It would be some time before the King and his minister Colbert, would see anything like the centralized colony they had envisioned. The First Nations were bound to the French by commercial and military alliances, alliances that were formed to counter the competition of unlicensed traders at Tadoussac. The unlicensed traders were The Dutch and English who had now entered into the fur trade. These military alliances kept them contained along the Atlantic seaboard and the shores of Hudson Bay. In the early years of  the struggles between the French and English, the First Nations held the greater part of control because of their vast numbers.

During the time of negotiation with the Iroquois, in 1665, 400 Ottawa arrived at Trois-Rivieres with 150,000 livres worth of fur. The next year, 100,000 livres worth reached La Rochelle. In 1667, 550,000 livres worth of furs was sent to France. (1)  However, even with a 50% reduction in price, vast wealth was still to be gained. With peace, traders and natives could travel back and forth in safety, and even further into the west to avoid the native middlemen.  The call of wealth and adventure lured the Canadiens further and further into the wilderness.

  1. W.J. Eccles, The Canadian Frontier 1534-1760, 1969, Holt, Rinehart and Winston , New York