The Fur Kings





It was to the French explorers whose names stand "conspicuous on the

pages of half-savage romance," and to their successors the Scotch

fur-kings, that we owe much of the geographical knowledge of the

northern part of the Continent. There is some uncertainty as to who was

the discoverer of the Mackenzie River, which carries its waters to the

ice-fields of Polar seas, but it bears the name of one claimant to the

distinction, Sir Alexander Mackenzie.



Of the other waterways of the region much valuable information was

obtained by Alexander Henry in his intercourse with the native tribes.

To Sir William Alexander was given the honour of being the first

Scotchman to cross the Rocky Mountains. Like his fellow countrymen, he

was distinguished by the same characteristics which made their fathers

in tartan and kilt foemen "worthy of any man's steel," and themselves

fit successors of the bearers of such honourable names as duLuth, Joliet

and de La Verandrye. A few rods from the gate of the Chateau de Ramezay

is a tall warehouse which bears on its peaked gable the date 1793. It

was in this old building that the early business years of John Jacob

Astor, the New York millionaire, were spent. It was the property of the

North-West Fur Company, which was the centre of so much that was

romantic and captivating. This Company was an association of Scottish

and Canadian merchants, who, in the political changes which had taken

place, had supplanted those purely French. In energy and enterprise they

did not exceed their predecessors, but had more capital and influence at

their command.



In consequence of their more lavish measures, they were called the

"Lordly Nor' Westers." Full justice has been done them by the pen of

Washington Irving, who, in writing the tale of "Astoria," that

Northwestern "Utopia," so splendid in its conception, but so lamentable

in its failure, became familiar with their life in all its phases. He

says:--"To behold the North-West Company in all its grandeur it was

necessary to witness the annual gathering at Fort William. On these

occasions might be seen the change since the unceremonious time of the

old French traders, with their roystering coureurs des bois and

voyageurs gaily returning from their adventurous trading in the

pathless regions of the West. Then the aristocratic character of the

Briton, or rather the feudal spirit of the Highlander, shone out

magnificently. Every partner who had charge of an inferior post felt

like the chieftain of a Highland clan. To him a visit to the grand

conference at Fort William was a most important event, and he repaired

thither as to a meeting of Parliament. They were wrapped in rich furs,

their huge canoes being freighted with every luxury and convenience. The

partners at Montreal were the lords of these occasions, as they ascended

the river, like sovereigns making a progress. At Fort William an immense

wooden building was the council chamber and also the banqueting hall,

decorated with Indian arms and accoutrements, and with trophies of the

fur trade. The great and mighty councils alternated with feasts and

revels." These old days of primitive bartering are gone forever from the

St. Lawrence, but to-day as it flows in majesty to the ocean, carrying

with it one-third of the fresh water of the world, it is a great highway

for the commerce of the globe.



The University of McGill stands on what was once, in part, the ancient

village of Hochelaga, which was visited by Jacques Cartier, and was

later the domain belonging to old "Burnside Hall." Its cheerful fire

many a time shone out under the shadow of Mount Royal, when were

gathered around its board Simon McTavish, Duncan McGillivray, Sir John

Franklin and Joseph Frobisher. With them was frequently seen Thomas

Douglas, Earl of Selkirk, who formulated the scheme of populating the

prairies of the North-West with poverty-stricken and down-trodden

tenants from older lands, many of whom lie in the old grave-yard of the

Kildonan settlement on the Red River of the North, a few miles from the

City of Winnipeg. Their descendants with their Scotch thrift form the

backbone of that progressive province of such magnificent possibilities.

Their weary journeys overland, toilsome portages and struggles with

want and isolation are now mere matters of history, for the overflow

population of the crowded centres of Europe are carried in a few days

from sea to sea with every possible convenience and even luxury. The

great Canadian transcontinental line has spanned the valleys and crossed

the mountains, literally opening up a highway for the thousands who from

the ends of the earth are yearly crowding into these vast fertile plains

and sub-arctic gold fields.



Franklin lies in an unknown grave among Northern snows, lost in his

attempt, at the age of sixty, to find the North Pole. He was last seen

moored to an iceberg in Baffin's Bay, apparently waiting for a

favourable opportunity to begin work in what is known as the Middle Sea.

The problem of his fate long baffled discovery, although many an earnest

searching party, in the Polar twilight, has sought him in that region of

ice and snow, in a silence broken only by the howl of the arctic blast,

the scream of sea-fowl or the thundering report of an ice-floe breaking

away from the mainland.



One party sent out by the Hudson Bay Co. in 1853 found traces of the

expedition in some bits of metal and a silver plate engraved with the

name Franklin. Another, fitted out partly by Lady Franklin, and partly

by public subscription, and commanded by McClintock, afterwards Sir

Leopold McClintock, learned from an Eskimo woman that she had heard of a

party of men, whom it was said "fell down and died as they walked." With

the exception of these faint traces, their fate is still wrapped in

obscurity.





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