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.