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 who eagerly embraced the lifestyle of the native 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, was his lifelong companion who travelled with him during 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 is doubtful that he would have bothered after that as native dress was much more practical and available.
We know that his first journey into Alberta before the contruction of Buckingham House, Fidler found his European clothing inadequate for the severe winter. He constructed a pair of trousers out of a piece of buffalo hide, a jacket out of deer hide, and a coat out of a trade blanket, then when he married Mary several years later, he had a skilled cornpanion who could keep him dressed properly, in the manner of the country. When Peter Fidler was in charge of Buckingham House in 1796 he irutiated the building of the first river boats in Alberta. There had been a need, for many years, 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 batteauâ. When Fidler received a letter from George Sutherland, thechief factor at Edmonton House in thefall, instructing him to have two boats bifilt to send up to Edmonton House in the spring, Fidler was able to reply that one was already 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 other Bay men were confrontational Nor'westers, Fidler travelled in his rival'sterritory with little antagonism.