PETER FIDLER by Billie Milholland
As the 19th century dawned, no other Hudson Bay employee had as much experience in the way of the people of the plains and woodlands as Peter Fidler. He was a resourceful explorer eagerly embracing the lifestyle of the indigenous people he met. He could shoot buffalo from horseback, he knew how to live on fish and roots. Dressed in buckskin, carrying a flintlock and travelling most of his adult life by horseback or by canoe, Peter Fidler was a curious combination of cultured Englishman and versatile frontiersman. He was an inveterate reader, writer and exemplary surveyor.
Peter Fidler lived his life as a dedicated family man. His Cree wife, Mary, his lifelong companion, travelled with him and their children during his most of his explorations. He supported his many children and provided amply for them in his will.
There are no pictures of Peter Fidler, but we know that he was about 5 feet 10 inches and of 'vigorous' stature. He may have dressed as an Englishman during his first year in Rupert's Land, but it's doubtful he would have bothered after hios English clothes wore out. Clothing made by indigenous people was much more practical.
During his first journey into what is now Alberta, before the construction of Buckingham House, Fidler found his European clothing inadequate for the severe winter. He made a pair of trousers out of buffalo hide, a jacket out of deer hide, and a coat out of a trade blanket. When he married Mary, several years later, he had a skilled companion who kept him dressed properly, in the manner of the country.
When Peter Fidler was in charge of Buckingham House in 1796 he initiated building of the first river boats in Alberta. For many years there had been a need for river transportation with more capacity to carry furs and supplies than the birch bark canoes, but crusty old William Tornison refused to consider it. When Tomison went back to England on furlough, Fidler was quick to direct a young boat builder, Nicholas Spence, to construct two 'fine batteau'.
That fall, when Fidler received a letter from George Sutherland, the chief factor at Edmonton House, instructing him to build two boats to send up to Edmonton House in the spring, Fidler replied that one had already been built and another would be started before Christmas.
Peter Fidler had an easy going, philosophical nature which stood him well in an industry where the principal players were in fierce competition with each other. Where many other Bay men were confrontational, Fidler travelled in his rival's territory with little antagonism.