A Hudson’s Bay Company Pioneer – Chief Factor Archibald McDonald of Fort Qu’Appelle by Norman H. MacDonald and Ellice McDonald Jr.

Archibald Macdonald was born in Glencoe, Scotland from which he was taken by his parents at a tender age when his father, also named Archibald, or Gilleasbuig in Gaelic, was appointed Head Forester to the Rt. Hon. Edward Ellice, MP; proprietor of the estate which had formerly formed the bulk of the ancestral lands of the MacDonells of Glengarry.

Young Archibald Macdonald was brought up at Invergarry, Inverness貞hire, beside the famous old Castle ruin perched on Creagan an Fhithich – The Raven’s Rock, which served a reminder of better days. There he learnt to shoot, fish, hunt and stalk the deer under the expert guidance of his father. All these skills were to stand him in good stead for the outstanding career he was ultimately to make for himself. He obtained a sound basic education at the local elementary school and it soon became apparent that the boy had ability well beyond that of the average pupil, a fact that did not go unnoticed by his father’s employer or by his son, Edward Ellice, Jr.

Edward Ellice, in addition to his business connection with the Hudson’s Bay Company, of which he was a former managing director, also had a vested interest in railways. He had founded the Highland Railway. When the time came for young Archibald to leave school, Ellice used his influence to secure a post for the boy with the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway Company. Archibald was employed in the Edinburgh booking office of the company where he remained until 1854 when he had reached the age of eighteen. While there he had occasion to book the soldiers of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders who were on their way to embark at Leith for the Crimea where they were soon to win everlasting glory at the Battle of Balaclava as The Thin Red Line.

When Edward Ellice appeared before a Select Committee on the Hudson’s Bay Company in London in June, 1857, he answered questions put to him regarding the selection of candidates for the company in the following manner.

I took great care … to send out the best men we could find, principally from the north of Scotland. … They went out first as apprentices, then were made clerks and then gradually advanced to the higher position in the service; …  four or five gentlemen sit round a table and I believe if anybody recommends a competent young man, there is never any division of opinion as to appointing him to that office. My son (Edward Ellice, Jr. soon to become Deputy-Governor of the Company) recommended a boy, the son of our Forester in Scotland, brought up at our own school, where he turned out a quick, clever boy: that boy had never seen a town, nor known anything of the vice and habits of towns: he has gone out as an apprentice and will rise, if his merits justify the Council in promoting him, to be one of our chief men.

Edward Ellice was satisfied that his judgment of the boy’s potential had not been misplaced and the youth’s future seemed, by the position offered him, to be secured. There must have been much rejoicing coupled with not a few tears in the Macdonald household at the prospect.

Archibald sailed for North America in the summer of 1854 on board The Prince of Wales; a sailing ship of 600 tons, on the annual voyage from London to York Factory by way of Hudson’s Straits and Bay. The influence of the fur traders at that time stretched from Labrador to the mouth of the Columbia river and but for the Red River Settlement, the territory was entirely populated by nomadic tribes of Indians which were frequently feuding with one another. The trading posts and forts which were positioned principally by Europeans or men of European descent were placed at intervals of two to three hundred miles distance on waterways navigable by canoes and rowing boats. In addition to these defenders large numbers of half-breeds and Indians were employed, mainly as voyageurs and hunters, who manned the boats carrying the furs to the coast and brought back supplies. Such people were not easy to handle and it required men of strong character, tact, good judgment and fair dealing to win the respect and exercise discipline over them. This was the test that awaited young recruit from Scotland.

Archibald left York Factory in the autumn of 1854 for Fort Garry where he spent part of the following winter before moving to Fort Pembina.

The years 1856 and 1857 were passed at the lakes posts of utoba and Shoal River where he gained experience of the wood Indians and in handling the boatmen. The next year was spent at Fort Pelly where he by good fortune came under the authority of two brilliant men, A.H. Murray and W.I. Christie, who were resectively in command of the district.

During the years that followed Archibald travelled all over the west, gaining experience and supervising “brigades” carrying furs and supplies to and from the coast.

He was first sent to Fort Qu’Appelle, a station situated at Long Lake, in 1859, after  five years service, by which time he was well prepared for the rough company with which he would have to contend.

Physically, Archibald was above the average stature for the time, lean, strong and sinewy and showing not the slightest symptom of uncertainty in the company of those before whom the revelation of such weakness might well have resulted in instant death. He was a strict disciplinarian, yet was able, by his own example, to kindle in those under his charge the same enthusiasm he bore for the prosperity of the company and the well being of the post. His fearlessness and honesty won him many friends among the brave Crees of the Qu’Appelle district.

During this first spell at Fort Qu’Appelle, Archibald, who had then begun to spell his surname “McDonald”, having formed the opinion that that form was more correct, met General Sibley of US Army, who had crossed the border in pursuit of hostile Sioux Indians who were on the warpath in Minnesota.

From 1836 to 1865 Archibald was at Manitoba House and in the latter year he married Ellen, daughter of John Inkster of Seven Oaks, a member of an Orcadian family. He and his young wife spent two years at Touchwood Hills and in 1870 returned once more to Fort Qu’Appelle. In that year, when the rebellion broke out at Fort Carry, the half-breeds posed a serious threat to the fur trade from the west. Archibald was instructed to take the “brigades” across the plains from Fort Qu’Appelle to St Cloud in Minnesota. Since he had served in all the trading posts in the district, all the local Indians were known to him and he lost no time in seeking to prevent them by persuasion and reassurance, from joining in the rebellion with the half-breeds.

He was the first commissioned officer appointed under the deed poll of 1871 when the company was reorganised after the surrender of Rupert’s Land to Canada.

In 1873 he was transferred from Fort Qu’Appelle to Fort Ellice where he was appointed as officer in charge of the Swan River district, a position which he had held until 1882. He had, in 1879, realised his greatest ambition by becoming a chief factor.

In 1874, he took part in the negotiations at Fort Qu’Appelle when the first treaty was made with the Indians of eastern Saskatchewan which covered the territory from the western boundary of Manitoba south to the border with the United States and west to the boundary of Saskatchewan. It was an impressive occasion with some 5,000 Indians arrayed on the plain at Fort Qu’Appelle.

While at Fort Ellice, Archibald met the Sioux Indians under Sitting Bull who, after their defeat of General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, sought asylum in Canada and he arranged for the return of those who wished to go back to the United States after their amnesty was declared, handing them over to a regiment of US cavalry at Pembina, on the border. Many of the Sioux, however, preferred to remain in Canada where reserves were provided for them.

General Sir Frederick Middleton, who commanded the force sent to quell the Louis Riel rebellion of 1885, made his headquarters at the chief factor’s residence. Archibald used his great influence with the Indians, in particular the Crees of Qu’Appelle, to prevent them from joining in hostilities with the half-breeds and his telegram message to Winnipeg – ”We can manage the Indians” was received with universal relief by the people and those in authority. He supervised the shipment by freighters from the railway at Qu’Appelle station to the front assisted by men who might otherwise have joined the rebels. While those sterling services were appreciated and acknowledged by General Middleton and his officers, the loyal pioneer was over衍ooked when the honours and rewards were being handed out to countless others engaged, even remotely, in the suppression of the rebellion.

Archibald bought from the Sioux, two US 7th Cavalry horses captured by them at the Little Bighorn. One, a bay with a white star, which he named Tommy, was given, in 1885 to General Middleton who, at the time, required a charger. Tommy was killed under Middleton at the Battle of Batoche in November of that year. The other horse, a grey, was named Fred and lived until around 1893. Fred was used latterly by Mrs McDonald for her buggy. On one occasion ”when he was old, over in the knees, long in the tooth, spavined and weak in the hind quarters; so that he would sometimes sit down in the shafts” he was taken to a Sunday school picnic. A brass band began to play, the first Fred had heard since the Little Bighorn and to the amazement of everyone, the old grey sprang to life and pranced, danced and cuvetted like a three year old.

The construction of the CPR main railway line necessitated the transfer of the Swan River district headquarters from Fort Ellice to Fort Qu’Appelle and in the autumn of 1882 Archibald returned to make his permanent home there. He became the most prominent figure in the district, taking part in everything connected with the public life and  advancement of the community. He founded the agricultural society of which he acted as president almost continually for twenty-five years and also served for a number of years as chairman of the Fort Qu’Appelle school board.

In 1898, the New Zealand Government invited the Canadian Government to assist in the introduction of a large moose herd into the country. The responsibility of acquiring the herd was given to the Hudson’s Bay Company and the task of procuring and transporting the moose to New Zealand was consigned to Archibald McDonald. Fourteen animals were secured in the spring and kept in captivity until the autumn by which time they were sufficiently domesticated to be shipped “down under” via Vancouver. Although several of the moose died en route on account of the rough voyage, the bulk of them thrived in their new homeland.

Archibald was the last chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in active service and with his retirement the office terminated. For over fifty years his life had been closely linked with the development of eastern Saskatchewan and particularly with the Qu’Appelle valley. During that period his word was trusted and his counsel sought and followed by Indians and whites alike. He enjoyed good health until the autumn of 1890 when he and his great friend, Senator Richard Hardisty met with a serious accident in the neighbourhood of Prince Albert when the back seat of the democrat in which they were riding sprang loose and they were thrown violently backwards on the trail. The result was that Senator Hardisty died soon after and Archibald received spine damage from which he suffered until his untimely death as a consequence thereof.

On the afternoon of 8th January, 1915, every man, woman and child in the village assembled to watch the funeral ceremony of the old man whose familiar figure had passed … day by day … who was patriarch and lawgiver in Fort Qu’Appelle … The great men of Winnipeg gathered to pay their last respects to the last chief factor “yet home folk and fellow craftsmen spoke the same words: Archibald McDonald-well done”. 

Archibald McDonald had by his wife, Ellen Inkster:

1.    John Archibald, who was associated with his brother Donald in banking, married Eleanora Campbell, daughter of a Hudson’s Bay chief factor, by whom he had: 

(a)    Archibald; 

(b)    Glenlyon Campbell; and 

(c)    Eleanora.

2.   Eleanora, who died unmarried.

3.    Donald Hogarth, an eminent banker, who married Frances Benson, by whom he had one daughter:

(a)     Frances.

4.    Mary, who married Robert Williams, with issue.

5.    Edward Ellice, born at Fort Ellice, Manitoba, on 27th October, 1876 and educated at St John’s College, Winnipeg and McGill University, Montreal. He became resident surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal in 1901 and thereafter settled in the United Sates where he had a distinguished career as a surgeon, gynaecologist and obstetrician. He served with the Canadian Army Medical Service during the First World War and became Director respectively of the Cancer Research Laboratories and the Biochemical Research Foundation of the Franklin Institute. Dr McDonald married on 15th October 1907, Ann Heeber of Philadelphia, by whom he had: 

(a) Diane, who married the Vicomte de Branges de Bourcia, Paris; and 

(b) Edward Ellice, Jr., “Invergarry”, Montchanin, Delaware, who married Rosa DuPont and is presently High Commissioner for Clan Donald, USA.

6.    Harold French, born at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, on 22nd November 1885 and educated at Upper Canada College and McGill University, from which he graduated as a civil engineer in 1907. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he was commissioned as Lieutenant in the Winnipeg Canadian Scottish and was sent on active service. He was wounded at the second battle or Ypres and returned to France in September, l915 on the staff of the 2nd Canadian Division. He lost his left arm at the Somme when serving as bridage major of the 1st Canadian Brigade. Thereafter he served in the UK in charge of the general staff of the Canadian forces there, returning to Canada in 1919 with the rank of Brigadier General, the youngest Canadian to hold such a rank. He was awarded the CMG and DSO, the Order of St Anne of Russia and was mentioned in despatches. After some years in private business he joined the public service and was for seven years chairman of the pensions commission. He was also chairman of the general advisory committee on demobilisation and rehabilitation of service personnel during the Second World War. He married Marjorie Gilmore with issue, one daughter:

(a)     Mary Marjorie, who married Flying Officer Gordon Bell-Irving. 

General McDonald died in August 1943.

Editor’s Footnote: 

The Editor is indebted to Mr Ellice McDonald Jr, High Commissioner, Clan Donald USA, for kindly supplying the sources and information from which the foregoing article has been compiled.

Footnote to the Online Edition:

I am indebted to Julia Adamson of the Saskatchewan Rootsweb project for the portrait photograph of Archibald McDonald. It is taken from their page dedicated to the book Wheat & Women by Georgina Binnie-Clark. Follow the link to see the passages relating to Archibald and his family. -R.K.W.M.