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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter I. The Lure of the West


The following pages are an attempt to present a word picture of the life of one of the greatest of the many great men who have lived and wrought during the Victorian age. His coming to Canada synchronizes with the elevation of Queen Victoria to the British throne. During her long and illustrious reign she had many famous and notable subjects. Among these, none filled a larger or more important place than the poor Scotch lad, who, the same age as herself, sailed for distant Canada in the year that saw her crowned Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.

Among the great men who took part in Canadian development during the Victorian age, who discovered its resources and shaped its political destiny, it is not too much to say that he was an outstanding figure. In the Selkirk range of the Rockies there towers over its fellows a lofty mountain called "Mount Donald." It was named after Donald Smith, and splendidly typifies his position among the men of his time. Very few of his cotemporaries occupied so prominent a position in the public eye.

He was born in Scotland. That little northern country—"]and of brown heath and shaggy wood"—has been the breeding place of strong men. They have gone out to the ends of the earth, have adapted themselves to all conditions, and have become leaders in every sphere of life— politics, commerce, war and literature. By their industry, shrewdness, perseverance, courage, self-restraint, and endurance, they have been carried through all difficulties, and over all obstacles, and have risen to the chief places. Nothing daunts one of that nationality. There is no situation he cannot meet. There is no set of circumstances into which he cannot fit. Adaptability describes the race.

Shakespeare, in "Macbeth," mentions Forres. It was near that place that the witches danced upon the moor and brewed their ''hell broth." It was at Forres that Macbeth murdered the King, and it was at Forres on Aug. 6th, 1820, that Donald Smith was born. It is a small and insignificant place. No one dreamed that the infant born -on that summer day in that little town would become financier, statesman, philanthropist, and one of the best known and most honored men in the British Empire.

He came of enterprising stock. His relations, Smiths, Stewarts and Grants, had wandered far afield in the world-wide Empire. Perhaps, from the standpoint of an imaginative youth, the career of none of them was so fascinating as that of his uncle, John Stewart, the bold and enterprising fur-trader of British North America. lie was so far away, and his life was so full of adventure, that it could not fail to catch the fancy of the lad. From him there came, across the sea, tales that must have quickened the pulses of the boy. For it was told how this uncle had traversed the continent, had crossed the Rocky Mountains, and had been the companion of Simon Fraser, who discovered the famous river called after his name. He had in time entered the service of the Hudson Bay Company, and was Chief Factor at Lesser Slave Lake. his romantic and adventurous life formed the subject of many discussions and conversations in the Scottish home, and the mind of the growing youth must have turned impatiently from the prosy existence in the little old town to contemplate that wild, free life of which he had heard so much, and of which his uncle wrote—in that land of boundless prairies and great mountains, mighty lakes and rivers—inhabited by roving tribes of Indians—where men ranged free, and hunted, and fished and sometimes fought, to their hearts' content. It was a life of action, of possibilities, and of achievement that must have held a powerful charm for the boy.

But his mother had no such feeling. She was not content that her clever son should be nothing more than a fur-trader. Her ambition was that he would enter into one of the professions and attain eminence in it. She wished Donald to be a lawyer, and, in due course, we find him in the office of the town clerk of Forres, trying to master the intricacies of the legal world.

But it was not to be. Fate, or Providence, had in store a greater destiny. Donald was not satisfied with his position. He had a chance to enter a business firm in Manchester, when he was eighteen years of age, and would, probably, have accepted the offer, had not an event occurred which changed the whole course of his life, and lifted him out of the narrow place and set him free to follow his inclination. This was the return of his uncle, John Stewart. That settled the question of his vocation for him. The actual presence of this man, the embodiment of his dreams, rekindled the flame of his ambitions and hardened his purpose to try his fortunes in the new world. His uncle's interest secured for him a position in the Hudson Bay Company, and he took his departure from his parents, whom he was never to see again, and front his native land, to which, after many years, he was to return, as an honored guest, one of the most famous men of the Empire.

Here, then, we have the picture of this Scotch lad, 18 years of age, standing on the threshold of his career, and venturing into the great unknown. He had crossed the Rubicon. lie had burnt his boats behind him. He had severed the ties which bound hint to the quiet and ordered life. For weal or woe he had joined his fortunes with those who, in a far-off wilderness, in hardship and danger, were blazing the trail, which others might follow; laying the foundation, on which others could build—pioneers indeed of that future Dominion, whose vast extent would be a home for millions of British subjects, and which would prove to be a mighty prop of the Imperial State.

The boy sailed away in a ship of 800 tons bun den, and the voyage across the Atlantic took 42 days. Now we can take the same journey in a week, travelling in a palatial steamer, with every comfort and luxury. This difference in travel is typical of the difference between those days and these, between the Canada of '37 and the Canada of to-day. It is difficult for its to conceive the conditions of this country when our hero landed on its shores. Its population was meagre, the only cities being Quebec and Montreal (35,000) and Toronto (13,000 or 15,000). There was then no United Canada. The immense territories west of Ontario were under the control of the Hudson Bay Co. The Provinces in the cast had no bond of union. Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, treated each other as independent communities.

In 1837 Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were seething with rebellion. The attempt to govern the people without giving them proper representation and control of the taxes, had failed. A feeling dangerous to British connection had gathered strength, and, in sonic quarters, had actually broken out in open resistance. Truly the Canada of 1914 is as different from that of 1837 as the great modern steamer is different from the 800 ton clipper of former days.

But Donald Smith had nothing to do with these stormy times. For 13 years his lot was to be cast in the remote and desolate region of Labrador and, after that, many more years on the dreary shores of Hudson's Bay. From 1838 until 1868 he gave all his talents and attention to the great commercial company, into whose services he had entered when a lad. This was the Hudson Bay Company.


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