Fort George 1794


During the fur trade era every fur trading post was required to keep a daily journal. This journal was usually written up by the chief clerk who was second in command at the fort. All these daily journals eventually ended up at the headquarters of their respective companies. Although Fort George was a North West Trading Co. post during 1794-95 its journals ended up in the Hudson's Bay Co. archives after the two companies joined forces shortly after 1820.

During the late 1920s, Dr. A.S. Morton, a professor of history of the University of Saskatchewan received permission from the Royal Colonial Institute at London, England to review these Fort George Journals. He also received a lot of useful information from the Public Archives in Ottawa. From this information he gathered from these two sources he was able to write a historical book about the happenings at nearby Fort George.  His book was called the Journals of Duncan M’Gillivray 1794-95.

This book was a limited edition printing of which only 359 were ever printed. They were numbered from one to 350 and were made available to a number of historical societies through out Canada as well as to a few major museums. Because of the small number printed this edition is considered a very rare edition. One which is almost impossible to buy today; at any price. In 1954 I became interested in acquiring this book and after a two year search by a book firm in Toronto, one turned up, book No.317. Realizing that they were extremely scarce, I didn't hesitate to purchase it.

During  the  period  of 1794-95 Duncan M'Gillivray was the head clerk of nearby Fort George and Angus Shaw was the Chief Factor. In this book many interesting happenings are described in Duncan M’Gillivray’s own words. Although in this column I have selected only a small segment of his Journals of Fort George, it will give you some idea of what took place at this fort during the period of 1794-95.

Duncan M'Gillivray quotes the following in his journals:

When a band of Indians approach the fort it is customary for the chiefs to send a few men before them to announce their arrival, and to procure a few articles which they are accustomed to receive on these occasions - such as gun powder, a piece of tobacco and a little paint to besmear their faces, an operation which they seldom fail to perform, previous to their presenting themselves before the white people. At a few yards distance from the gate they salute us with several discharges of their guns, which is answered by hoisting a flag and firing a few guns. On entering the house they are disarmed, treated with a few drams and a bit of tobacco, and after the pipe has been plied about for some time, they relate the news with great deliberation and ceremony, relaxing from their usual taciturnity in proportion to the rum they have swallowed, till at length their voices are drowned in a general clamour. When their lodges are erected by the women, they receive a present of rum proportioned to the nation and quality of the chiefs, and the whole band drinks during 24 hours and Sometimes much longer for nothing - a privilege of which they take every advantage  for in the seat of an opposition, profusion is absolutely necessary to secure the trade of the Indians. When the drinking match has subsided they begin to trade - they obtain a large keg of rum for 30 beaver pelts, a long gun for 14 beaver, a 3 point blanket for 6 beaver, an axe for two beaver, one fathom of Brazil tobacco for 3 beaver pelts,  etc. etc. (The beaver pelt was the unit of value during bartering.)

M'Gillivray continues:

The neighboring Indians are pouring in continuously from all quarters and the fort since that time has been a scene of drunkenness and brutality. This day in a quarrel betwixt two factions of the Crees, an Indian was butchered in a cruel manner - another young man was Stabbed in the neck, but it is hoped he will recover. The drinking match is therefore stopped to prevent more mischief at this time.

This gives you some idea of how the fur trading post operated during that period. Many other interesting happenings at nearby Fort George are recorded in this book, some will be selected in some future column.