Author Tags: 1800-1850, Early B.C., Forts and Fur
Few fur traders better symbolized the increased efficiency of the Hudson’s Bay Company in British Columbia than Archibald McDonald. His unprecedented map of the B.C. interior in Thompson River District Report, 1827 was beyond rudimentary. “McDonald unquestionably made use of information from other traders,” wrote A.L. Farley in his Historical Cartography of British Columbia. “Unlike others, however, he was apparently interested in mapping and possessed no mean ability as a draughtsman.”
With similar zeal, McDonald compiled the first census of the Fraser Canyon, by questioning Aboriginals he met in 1830. He also became the first person to export fish from British Columbia.
Placed in charge of Fort Langley, McDonald had written to HBC Governor George Simpson in 1831, reporting on his initial attempts to preserve salmon for shipping to foreign markets. Simpson was sufficiently impressed that he complied with McDonald’s request for the services of “a good Cooper, that will know something of Fish curing.”
The commercial fishing industry existed in British Columbia waters before McDonald’s arrival, but he instigated the first commercial shipments abroad, a cargo of salted salmon sent to Hawaii. By 1838, James Douglas optimistically predicted Fort Langley would soon supply all the salted fish required along the Pacific Coast.
Archibald McDonald, one of the most successful frontiersmen of his era, was born in Scotland in 1790 as the thirteenth and youngest child of an Episcopalian Highlander. At age twenty-one he was hired as a clerk for the Earl of Selkirk and two years later he first arrived in Canada as the leader of Selkirk settlers to the Red River colony in 1813. Seven years later, after Lord Selkirk’s death, he took employment as a clerk with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the spring of 1820.
Just prior to the merger of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company in 1821, McDonald had the good fortune to meet and befriend George Simpson during the latter’s visit to the Athabasca Territory. Consequently Simpson sent McDonald as an emissary and accountant to accompany Chief Factor John Dugald Cameron to his new posting at Fort George near the mouth of the Columbia River in 1821.
Upon his arrival on the West Coast, McDonald’s main task was to prepare an inventory of the North West Company forts that the HBC had acquired in the Columbia District, such as Spokane House, Nez Percés (Walla Walla) and Okanagan (Thompson River).
In 1823, McDonald met Princess Sunday (Princess Raven, Kaole’xoa), the youngest daughter of the foremost Chinook chief Comcomly. She became his wife, but she died soon after giving birth to their only child, Ranald, early in 1824. As an infant, Ranald was temporarily sent to Comcomly’s lodge to be raised by his Chinook aunts. That same year McDonald fell in love with Jane Klyne—the daughter of the French-Canadian postmaster at Jasper House, Michel Klyne, and a Métis mother—and she became his second country wife when he took command of the Thompson River District (Kamloops and Okanagan) in February of 1826.
Happily relocated to Kamloops, McDonald renewed his acquaintance with the botanist David Douglas and raised a family that soon included Ranald, Jane’s first-born son Angus, and Archibald Jr., born in 1828.
While on a furlough to London, McDonald’s affiliation with David Douglas enabled him to introduce himself to Sir William Hooker, the famous horticulturalist who oversaw Kew Gardens. McDonald subsequently sent plant and animal specimens to the British Museum, Kew Gardens and to John Halkett, a HBC stockholder and naturalist.
Although he was staunchly pro-British, McDonald was ambivalent about the encroachments of Europeans. In 1840 he wrote to James Douglas expressing his concerns about land appropriations by the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Society at Nisqually. He proposed a nature reserve, west of Puget Sound, to revive the beaver population (“the poor expiring Beaver race”), but his suggestion was not implemented.
Prior to the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the fur trading region had been jointly claimed by American and British interests, but afterwards new settlers began to dominate the Pacific Slope. McDonald wrote, “I am much bothered with a new race of men come on my hands. They are come across to settle.... But among their besoins [needs] not one has mentioned the words ‘Beaver Trap.’ What a change in the world.”
McDonald also oversaw operations at Fort Colvile on the Columbia River, where he received his promotion to Chief Factor. Jean Murray Cole’s book of McDonald’s correspondence includes letters from the 1822–1828 period when McDonald was at Fort George and Kamloops, providing descriptions of family life with Jane Klyne, who had 13 of his 14 children. In 1834, McDonald formally married Jane at Red River. By this time they had at least six children that survived.
“Rather than abandon her for a more suitable wife when his career warranted it,” wrote J.E. Foster in BC Studies, “a practice not uncommon among his colleagues, McDonald saw to her education, apparently sufficient for their purposes and those of the children until they were old enough to be sent away to school. Jane Klyne McDonald appears to have made the transition from a daughter in a post master’s family to the wife of a Chief Factor with no difficulty.”
The largest section of Cole’s collection of McDonald’s letters covers 1834–1844, when he was in charge of Fort Colvile among the Spokane and Kettle Falls Indians. In 1844, the McDonalds lost three little boys to scarlet fever. Soon thereafter the McDonalds retired to Montreal, prior to moving to a property on the Ottawa River that he called Glencoe, near Carillon, in Lower Canada (Québec), in 1847. There he lived as a gentleman farmer until his death on January 15, 1853. Jane McDonald died in 1879.
In August of 2002 approximately 50 people gathered at Fort Langley for a two-day “Outpost of Empire” symposium on the Northwest Coast fur trade. Earlier conferences had been held at Fort Vancouver in Washington State and at Sidney, B.C.
At the Fort Langley event, editor and biographer Jean Murray Cole signed copies of This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald’s Letters from the Columbia, 1822–44, her collection of letters by her ancestor Archibald McDonald who had been placed in charge of Fort Langley from 1828 to 1833, taking over from James
McDonald, Archibald. Peace River. A Canoe Voyage from Hudson's Bay to the Pacific by the Late George Simpson; in 1828. Journal of the Chief Factor, Archibald McDonald, Who Accompanied Him (Ottawa: Durie and Son, 1872. Edited by Malcolm McLeod. Reprinted, Toronto: Coles Canadian Collection, 1970; Edmonton: Hurtig, 1971).
McDonald, Archibald. The Fort Langley Journals 1827-30 (UBC Press, 1998). Morag Maclachlan, ed.
McDonald, Archibald. This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald's Letters from the Columbia, 1822-44 (UBC Press, 2001). Jean Murray Cole, ed.
Cole, Jean Murray. Exile in the Wilderness: the Life of Chief Factor Archibald McDonald, 1790-1853 (Don Mills: Burns & MacEachern; University of Washington Press, 1979).
[BCBW 2006] "Early B.C." "Forts and Fur"
For Langley Records of Men in Charge, 1827-1895
James McMillan, Chief Trader (June 1827 - October 1828)
Archibald McDonald, Chief Trader (October 1828 - February 1833)
James Murray Yale, Clerk (February 1833 - 1844)
James Murray Yale, Chief Trader (1844 - May 1859)
William H. Newton, Clerk (May 1859 - January 1860)
George Blenkinsop, Chief Trader (February 1860 - August 1860)
William H. Newton, Clerk (August 1860 - October 1864)
Ovid Allard, Clerk (October 1864 - August 1874)
William H. Newton (August 1874 - December 1874)
Henry Wark, Postmaster (January 1875 - October 1886)
William Sinclair, Postmaster (November 1886 - August 1887)
James M. Drummond, Clerk (August 1887 - May 1892)
Walter Wilkie (June 1892 - January 1893)
Frank Powell (January 1893 - June 26, 1895).