Collections and Research
Three archival collections associated with the fur trade now online
From the early days of New France to the mid-19th century and beyond, the fur trade helped shape Montreal’s economic and social landscape. The McCord Museum’s collections contain numerous traces of this trade and its participants. Over the past year, three sets of documents in the Archives collection associated with this aspect of Montreal’s history were digitized and uploaded to the Museum’s Website. Now researchers from both here and elsewhere can explore these pages chronicling Montreal’s—and Canada’s—past.
The North West Company Collection contains thirty or so documents dating primarily from the early 19th century. It draws a fascinating, albeit fragmented, portrait of a legendary company that transformed fur trade practices and marked the country’s history in many ways. The North West Company continued to operate until it was taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company after decades of fierce commercial competition.
The Beaver Club Fonds chronicles the social aspect of Montreal’s fur trade during this era. It is composed primarily of a minute book kept from 1807 and 1827. This book records the social activities of the club’s members, a group of North West Company fur merchants who regularly organized elaborate meals with notable British military guests, such as Isaac Brock and Gordon Drummond. In addition to the lists of guests are detailed records of the food and beverages consumed, which provides an excellent idea of what the Montreal bourgeois of the time considered necessary for a successful party!
The William McKay Collection traces the history of a Beaver Club member known mainly for his military career. During the War of 1812, many North West Company fur traders, most of them of Scottish origin, enlisted in the British army. This collection of documents traces the military career of one of them—William McKay. Having acquired extensive knowledge of the Great Lakes area and Indigenous cultures during his travels as a fur trader, McKay used this experience to get the better of American troops on numerous occasions. In particular, these documents chronicle relations between British officers and Indigenous peoples during and after the War of 1812, a time of increasing colonial domination.
The Museum is pleased to make these documents more accessible. We hope that they will deepen and enrich the understanding of the role played by the fur trade in Montreal and Canadian society, as well as the relations between First Nations and Canadians of European descent.
Philippe-Olivier Boulay Scott, Junior Archivist
Mathieu Lapointe, Curator, Archives
The digitization of the North West Company Collection, supported by the National Heritage Digitization Strategy, was carried out as part of a collaborative project to make the Company archives held by the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City, McGill University, and the McCord Museum available online.
The digitization of the William McKay Collection and the Beaver Club Fonds was made possible thanks to the generous support of Mr. Mark Gallop.