Recently, in response to a patron request, a new item became available on UBC Open Collections: UBC Library Digitization Centre Special Projects. “House book of the wife of Archibald McDonald, Chief Factor, Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Qu’Apelle” was stored on a microfilm reel at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. Initially, the microfilm proved difficult to scan, and required the work of UBC Conservator Anne Lama, to make it possible to run the film through our microfilm scanner. The digital object can be viewed at this link https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0395850
Immediately the item presents historical mysteries. As the title of the book indicates, Archibald McDonald was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Chief Factor at Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan from 1879 until his retirement in 1911. He was married to Helen (Ellen) Inkster with whom he had four sons (John, Donald, Edward, and Harold) and two daughters (Eleanor, and Mary)(Archives of Manitoba, n.d.)(MacDonald & McDonald, 1981). The opening page, however, contains a dedication to Mary, not Helen or Ellen. Was the book actually the property of Archibald and Helen’s daughter Mary, rather than Helen (Ellen) as the title suggests? A further dedication suggests this may be the case:
As stated above, John McDonald was the name of one of Mary McDonald’s brothers, suggesting this dedication may have been intended for her. While the inscriptions in the book are often difficult to read, there do not appear to be any dedications made out to Helen. Archibald and Helen married in 1863; indicating that by Christmas of 1884 (the date of the inscription in the opening dedication), Mary would likely have been an adolescent or young adult, a conceivable age to have collected signatures from guests who intrigued her. A statement of ownership of the original book not included with the digital object suggests the book may have been made available to UBC by a descendant of Mary McDonald, providing another tantalizing historical thread.
Regardless of ownership, the book may offer several avenues of historical investigation. Perhaps the most significant of these are the signatures related to the Northwest Resistance of 1885, led by Louis Riel. Particularly noteworthy are the numerous signatures of soldiers and officers of the Canadian army, often identified by their rank and the regiment they served in. Amongst all of these is the signature of Major-General Frederick Middleton, commander of the the Canadian government’s forces during the Northwest Resistance (Beal and Macleod, 2019).While many of these military signatures are brief and to the point, others are more colourful and descriptive. For example, the inscription on the page preceding the one just discussed, apart from being more expressive, gives important information such as the names of regiments, the date of the inscription, and the destination they are marching to.
Another inscription, directly related to Louis Riel, appears later in the book. This one consists of a short poem, followed by the signature Louis “David” Riel, and a date that appears to read August 19, 1885. While it is difficult to explain the circumstances surrounding this inscription, the date and signature suggest that it could be a genuine inscription by Louis Riel himself.
Of course such a claim warrants some comparison to ascertain its validity. A visual comparison of a fragment by Riel, written while he was in prison in Regina, appears to have very similar handwriting. The fragment can be viewed on page 145 of the 11th issue of Archivaria, available here (Flanagan and Rocan, 1980-81, 145).
We hope these highlights have piqued your interest in this item and that it proves to be a valuable resource for researchers visiting UBC Open Collections. We have shown only a small sample of what it has to offer and believe that it will prove useful to researchers interested in Canadian history, genealogy, and other fields.
Archives of Manitoba. n.d. “Personal name authority: McDonald, Archibald Jr, 1836-1915”. http://pam.minisisinc.com/scripts/mwimain.dll/144/PAM_AUTHORITY/AUTH_DESC_DET_REP/SISN%201616?sessionsearch
Beal, B.,, & Macleod, R. 2019. “North-West Rebellion” . The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/north-west-rebellion
Flanagan, T. and Rocan, C.M. 1980-81. “A Guide to the Louis Riel Papers”. Archivaria. No. 11. Retrieved from https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/10844/11760
MacDonald, N. H. and McDonald, E. 1981. “Archibald McDonald, a Hudson’s Bay Pioneer”. Clan Donald Magazine Online, No. 9. Edinburgh : Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh. https://www.clandonald.org.uk/cdm09/cdm09a18.htm. Accessed 13 April 2021.
2 responses to “New Item on Open Collections: House book of the wife of Archibald McDonald, Chief Factor, Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Qu’Apelle”
It was me who requested this book. I live in Archibald, HBC Factor and Ellen McDonald’s house in Fort Qu’Appelle.
I also believe that Archibald and Ellen’s daughter, Mary was the keeper of this book. She was the right age to be given this sort of social responsibility and to test her skills as a proper young lady.
Regarding Louis Riel’s note and signature – I have also compared the book’s signature with verified signatures and this one appears to be real.
If you read further into the book, there is a page with signatures of all the members of the jury who served at Riel’s trial. With some research I learned that Archibald McDonald attended Riel’s trial and would most likely have taken this book with him to visit Riel who was a prisoner at the NWMP barracks in Regina.
During Riel’s time in prison there was a Catholic mass held for him and the other prisoners. It is believed that his note in this book was comparing the evening prayer at the private mass, with the NWMP and their military bands.
Also note that most of the soldiers listed in this book reported to General Middleton, the officer who planned and led forces to the Battle of Fish Creek and the Battle of Batoche during the North West Rebellion. Middleton planned the attacks from Archibald McDonald’s HBC store, located next door to Archie’s family home within the stockade of what was Fort Qu’Appelle. During that period, Mary would have seen troops of soldiers on a daily basis.
Thanks so much for the extra effort it took to digitize this very special book.
Hi Jo Anne,
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and for the additional information!
Digitization Centre Team