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Sketches Illustrating the Early Settlement and History of Glengarry in Canada
Chapter 29


The Old Northwest Company.—Partners who Subsequently Resided in Glengarry.—Mr. Duncan Cameron, the Honourable John MacGillivray, Mr. John Macdonald, Mr. Angus Macdonell, Mr. Alexander Macdonell, Laird McGillis.

I had hoped that the space at my command would have enabled me to notice at some length the Northwest Company, its objects and history, its partners and their services in connection with the fur trade and partial opening up of the illimitable country, which, after the absorption of the Company by or amalgamation with the Hudson Bay Company, was practically monopolized by that Company until the enlightened statesmanship of Sir John Macdonald and his colleagues in the Government of Canada threw it open to the people of Canada and the emigrants from the Old Country, and which is now traversed by that gieat highway to the Pacific Coast, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the most important, probably, of ail the great works originated and consummated by that ablest of the Colonial statesmen of Britain. I am warned, however, that I have already exceeded the limits laid down with the printer of these sketches, and I can but refer to it incidentally. This is to be regretted, as many of those most intimately connected with that great pioneer enterprise were also closely associated by birth, family connection and residence with the County of Glengarry. The Company appears to have been formed almost immediately after the close of the Revolutionary War; additional partners were from time to time admitted, and agreements as to shares, governance, etc., entered into between them in 1802 and 1804, which are set out at length by the Honourable L. R. Masson, formerly Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec, in his interesting work,"Les Bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord Ouest." The officers or partners of the Company were almost entirely Scotchmen, as their names would indicate. Those in 1804 were John Gregory, William MacGillivray, Dunian MacGillivray, William Hallowell and Roderick Mackenzie, composing the house of McTavish, Frobisher & Co., of Montreal; Angus Shaw, Daniel Mackenzie, William McKay. John McDonald, Donald McTavish, John McDonell, Archibald Norman McLeod, Alexander McDougall, Charles Charboillez, John Sayer, Peter Grant, Alexander Fraser, .Æneas Cameron, John Finlay, Duncan Cameron, James Hughes, Alexander McKay, Hugh McGillis, Alexander Henry, John McGillivray, James McKenzie, Simon Fraser, John Duncan Campbell, David Thompson, John Thompson (composing the company or concern known as the Old Company); Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Thomas Forsyth, John Richardson and John Forsyth (composing the great Montreal house of Forsyth, Richardson & Co.); Alexander Ellice, John Inglis and James Forsyth, of London, Eng. (forming the firm of Phyn, Inglis & Co.); John Ogilvie, John Muir, Pierre Rocheblave, Alexander Mackenzie, John McDonald. James Leith, John Haidane and John Wills, wintering partners and the trustees of the estate of the firm of Leith, Jamieson & Co. and Thomas Tain. The voyageurs and other employees of the Company, of whom there were hundreds, were principally French-Canadians, and during the War of 1812-14 were formed into the Corps so distinguished during that war known as the Corps des Voyageurs Canadien, a list of the officers of which is given at page 185. It was largely those men who so gallantly defended Fort Michihmacmmac and captured the post of Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi, about 450 miles distant, and took the enemy's war vessels "Scorpion" and "Tigress" in the closing days of that War. The name of this Corps and its distinguished services will be found constantly referred to by all the historians who treat of the subject of the War. Great trouble eventually arose between this Company and Lord Selkirk's, which led to violence, illegal arrests, confiscations and robbery, and culminated in the total destruction of Fort Gibraltar, the headquarters of the Northwest Company, at the forks of the Red River, and in the tragedy of the 19th June, 1816, by which Governor Semple, of Lord Selkirk's Company, lost his life, Fort Douglas was destroyed and Lord Selkirk's Company were dispersed. One of the principal partners, Mr. Duncan Cameron, afterwards member for Glengarry, was arrested in consequence of these occurrences, detained for more than a year at York Factory, and taken prisoner to England, for which high handed arrest and illegal detention he obtained damages to the extent of £3,000 sterling. Mr. Cameron remained but a short time in England, where he was immediately set at liberty without even being brought to trial, and on his return to Canada he retired from the Northwest Company and settled at Williamstown, in this County, where he led a quiet life in the genial company of several other old Nor'-Westers who had made Glengarry their home. One of his sons, Sir Roderick Cameron, is now residing in New York, and engaged in the Australian trade. He retains a warm affection for Glengarry, as those who have been so fortunate as to partake of his princely hospitality are aware.

Another of the partners was the Honourable John MacGillivray, who also resided in the neighbourhood of Williamstown, and became a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. He was the father of the late Neil MacGillivray, who succeeded to the estate of Dunmaglass in Scotland and the chieftainship of his clan, and of Mr George H. MacGillivray, so well known to us in Glengarry, who occupies the homestead of this highly respected family.

John Macdonald of Gart, after retiring from the Company in which he had long been partner, settled on the property of the late Major Gray of the King's Royal Regiment of New York, known as the Gray's Creek estate on the River St. Lawrence. His father was a captain in the 84th Regiment, and after his death his grand-uncle, General Small, who had commanded one of the Battalions of the Highland Emigrant Regiment during the Revolutionary War, and an elder brother, bound Mr. Macdonald to Mr. Simon MacTavish as an apprenticed clerk in the Company, which he thus joined in 1791. A short but interesting account of his life, with his notes relating to his experience in the Northwest, is given in Mr. Masson's book, volume 2, page 3 et seq. Mr. Masson describes him as being like most of his comrades in that adventuresome undertaking, brave, rash, reckless and domineering. Mr. Macdonald's arm was slightly deformed in consequence of an accident in childhood, and the old Canadian voyageurs, in order to distinguish him from the numerous other Macdonalds and Macdonells in the Company, called him Monsieur Macdonald le bras croche. On Scotch people, whose French was not quite perfect, rendered it Brock-rosh, and by the latter designation he is well and affectionately remembered. He was the father of the late Judge Holland Macdonald, of Welland, and of Mr De Beqefeuille Macdonald, of Montreal.

Angus Macdonell (Greenfield), a brother of Colonels John, Duncan and Donald Greenfield Macdonell, was also is the Company, and was murdered in the Northwest in one of the many convicts there. His murderer was tried in Montreal but acquitted. His fate, however, after leaving the Court House, is unknown.

Alexander Greenfield Macdonell, another brother of the latter, was also a partner in the later years of the Company's existence. He returned to Glengarry subsequently, and represented the County in the Legislature, as also Prescott and Russell. He was Sheriff of the Ottawa District. He did good service for the Company in its controversy with that of Lord Selkirk, and appears to have been the chief literary partisan of the former. His "Narrative of the transactions in the Red River country, from the commencement of the operations of the Earl of Selkirk till the summer of the year 1816," published in London, England, in 1819, is an exceedingly able presentation of his Company's case. He died in Toronto while attending to his legislative duties before the Union of the Provinces in 1841.

Mr. Hugh McGillis, another partner, also settled at Williamstown on his retirement from the company, and acquired a great deal of property in the neighborhood. None of his family are now living there, and his property has now passed into other hands. In fact, with the solitary exception of Mr. G. H, Macgillivray, not a descendant or representative of any of the above named gentlemen is now in the County to my knowledge.

Another resident of Williamstown, a former partner in the Northwest Company, and who had served as an Astronomer Royal on the Pacific Coast, was Mr. David Thompson. Mr. Thompson resided in the house (originally built by the Rev. Mr. Bethune), now occupied by Mr. Murdoch Farquhar McLennan.


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