Grand Portage:
A History of The Sites, People, and Fur Trade
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The Last Years

Henry Munro was in charge of Grand Portage during the winter months of 1799-1800. Early in January 1800, William McGillivray wrote him from Montreal describing the Company's plans for the coming summer. McGillivray realized that this letter probably would not reach Grand Portage until spring. He wrote at this time to insure that his letter would be at Sault Ste. Marie when the Otter made its first visit to Grand Portage—probably in May.

Among the sundry matters McGillivray mentioned was the shortage of bags for shipping corn. He directed Munro to collect all the empty bags at Grand Portage and to send them back on the Otter's first trip.

With regard to the perennial problem of the opposition, he directed Munro to adopt tactics that would make matters as difficult as possible for them at Grand Portage. In musing on this subject, McGillivray did little for the future historian's understanding of the area. He decided that the opposition would "try to build somewhere on the point, where the Montreal canoes usually pass the Summer, or about the premier's scaffold."

McGillivray's reference to the "point" is not thought to mean either Raspberry or Hat Points that form Grand Portage Bay, but a small unnamed point directly across Grand Portage Creek from the North West Company's stockade. Later, considerable evidence will be introduced that it was along this beach that the Montreal canoes landed. Also important, this beach was closest to the eastern portal of the portage itself, thus keeping at a minimum the distance the porters had to carry their heavy packs. The documents lack any in formation concerning the intriguing "premier's scaffold." The only other use of this term known is that "premier" sometimes was a nickname for Simon McTavish. The agent's idea was for Munro to take possession of these likely spots "by erecting a couple of Tents on the proper places & getting out the Montreal Canoes (that are remaining there from last Summer) on the point."

The XY Company already had structures at both ends of the portage; thus it would seem that McGillivray's concern was directed toward the XY's expansion or improvement of its facilities, especially at the landings. In his instructions, he implies that the North West Company had already started the practice of erecting fences close to the opposition's structures, thus denying the latter the adjacent ground. He advised Munro to repair these fences at the western end of the portage (Fort Charlotte) and to plow the ground and plant crops. While Munro was at it, he should also repair "the Picketting and Fences at this end, particularly those adjoining their buildings." [1]

In another letter from Montreal that winter, we learn that Grand Portage possessed the services of a cooper. At this particular time he had insufficient materials from which to make barrels to be used for transporting grease and alcohol. However, the Otter would bring him "a considerable quantity of Staves and Hoops." [2]

By the end of May 1880, William McGillivray had reached Ste. Marie's, enroute to Grand Portage. While awaiting transportation, he wrote back to McTavish, Frobisher & Co. giving the winter's news from the West. His letter contains two items of interest concerning Grand Portage. Besides its role as a rendezvous, Grand Portage served as headquarters for a number of small posts in its vicinity. These tiny establishments trapped beaver and in this particular spring had brought in no fewer than 20 packs.

More important to the present, McGillivray learned of a great storm that had hit Grand Portage in the fall of 1799: "A Tempest last Fall carried & broke to Pieces our two Quays at the Grand Portage—with 4 boats—but Mr. Munro has in some measure repaired the Damage." This is one of the few references to wharves at Grand Portage, and the only one to two. Unfortunately, their locations cannot be determined by documentary evidence. [3]

Among the new employees to arrive at Grand Portage in 1800 was young Daniel William Harmon, a most literate clerk. An avid diary keeper with a flair for description, Harmon caught the flavor of the fur trade when Grand Portage was at the apex of its activities. So acute were his observations that extracts from his account will begin with his departure from Montreal on April 28:

I yesterday in company with several other Clerks left Montreal...and am thus far [at Lachine] on my way to the Indian Countries, there to remain at least Seven Years...Here is where the Goods intended for the Interior or Indian Country are put aboard Canoes . . .which will carry about five Tuns burden each, and manned by eight or nine Men, who are mostly Canadians, and are said to answer the purpose better than People of any other Nation.

The whole squadron is divided into three Brigades, and in each Brigade there is one or two Guides or Pilots who serve in a double capacity of pointing out the best way to steer, and have also...the charge of the Canoes & Property...and...command the men...Those voyageurs I am told have many of the Sailors' customs, and the following is one of them:—from all who have not passed certain places they expect a treat or something to drink, and should you not comply with their whims, you might be sure of getting a Ducking which they call baptizing....

[May 21] The Canadian Voyagers when they leave one stream to follow another have a custom of pulling off their Hats and making a sign of the Cross, and one in each Brigade if not in every Canoe repeats a short Prayer. The same ceremonies are also observed by them whenever they pass a place where any one has been buried or a cross almost every Rapid... we have seen a number of Crosses erected, and at one I counted no less than thirty! It is truly melancholy... .

[May 28] St. Josephs or the New Fort, & where the British came and built when the Americans took possession of Mackanu. Here there is one Captain, one Lieutenant, an Ensign & thirty nine Privates.

The N.W. Coy. have a House & Store here [St. Joseph's], in the latter they make Canoes for sending into the Interior or down to Montreal. Vessels also of about Sixty Tons burthen come here from Detroit, Mackanu & Sault St. Maries.

[May 30] Sault St. Maries...the N.W. Coy. have another Establishment on the North side of the Rapid, and on the opposite shore there are a few Americans, Scotch & Canadians, who carry on a small traffic with the Natives. . . .here the N. W. Coy. have built Locks for taking up loaded Canoes.

[June 1] Pointe au Pin, in Lake Superior, and here we find the Vessel that voyages between this & the Grand Portage. I went on board & the Captain told me she would carry about ninety five Tons & generally makes four trips every Season to the Grand Portage.

The brigades of Montreal canoes slipped into Grand Portage Bay on Friday, June 13. Harmon learned that he was now about 1800 miles from Montreal. He examined the fabled establishment with curiosity:

The Fort which is twenty four Rods by thirty [i.e. 396' by 495', whereas the measurements determined by archeology are about 320' by 360'] is built in a Bay at the foot of a considerable Hill or Mountain—within the Fort there are a number of Dwelling Houses, Shops & Stores etc. all of which appear to be Temporary buildings, just to serve for this moment. The Bay is so shoal that the vessel must be almost light before she can approach the shore, and, directly opposite the Fort there is a considerable Island, which shelters the vessel...There also is another Fort which stands within two hundred Rods [3300' or about 0.6 miles] of this belonging to Parker, Gerard, Forsyth, Richardson, Ogilvy & Coy., but who have been in this Country only three years & have not as yet met with much success....

As this is the Headquarters or General Rendezvous for all who commerce in this part of the World, therefore every Summer the Proprietors and many of the Clerks who Winter in the Interior come here with the Furs...and I am told this is the time when they generally arrive but some of them are already here. Those who bring the Goods from Montreal go no farther than this, except a few who take goods to the Rainy Lake, intended for Athabasca, as that place lies at too great a distance from this, for the People of that quarter to come this far & return before the Winter sets in....

Harmon's time for sight-seeing came to an abrupt end, for it was time for the clerks to distribute the next year's goods to the various outfits. Nevertheless he found time to record his daily activities, thus preserving a view of this busy time:

June 14th Saturday. Mr. J. Clarke & I are placed in the General Shop where we deal out to the People Dry Goods, Rum, Flour, Sugar, Butter & Meat etc. etc. [Apparently a general store for those at the rendezvous.]

June 15 Sunday. I have another fit of the Ague & Fever. The People here pass the Sundays much like the Natives, with this only difference, we change our Cloathes but they do not—the labouring People have all Day been employed in Making and pressing Packs of Furs to be sent to Canada—to me who has never been accustomed to see People labour on the Sabbath it appears very wrong....

24th Tuesday, I along with several other Clerks am busily employed in making Packs—and almost every Day form some time past People have been flocking in from the Interior with the Returns of the Season.

28th Saturday. Last Night while drunk a Squaw stabbed her Husband, who afterwards expired—and this afternoon I went to their Tent, where a number of Indians...were drinking and crying over the Corpse, to whom they would often offer Rum and try to turn it down his throat....

July 4th - In the Daytime the Natives were allowed to Dance in the Port, and to whom the Coy. made a present of thirty six Gallons of Shrub [a drink made with orange or lemon juice, sugar, and rum], etc. and this evening the Gentlemen of the place dressed & we had a famous Ball in the Dining Room, and for musick we had the Bag-Pipe, the violin, the Flute & the Fife, which enabled us to spend the evening agreeably—at the Ball there were a number of this Countries Ladies, whom I was surprised to find could behave themselves so well, and who danced not amiss.

July 6th Sunday . . . where I shall pass the ensuing Winter is not yet known—however as I am now in the shop where the Fort des Prairies People are equiped [sic] I expect to go to that quarter. [Harmon suggests here that the separate outfits each had their own shop in which to prepare their goods.]

July 13th Sunday, Yesteryday...went to Fort Charlotte, which is at the other end of this Portage and is nine miles over. I went there to send off a number of Canoes bound for Fort des Prairies. . . .

Two days later, Harmon set out to spend the winter, as he had guessed, at Fort des Prairies. Five years would pass before he came back down to a rendezvous. By then, Grand Portage would be abandoned and, as far as it is known, he never again saw the handsome bay that had so fascinated him on first sight. [4]

Another gentleman to pen his impressions this year was Alexander Henry. This Alexander was the nephew of the famed Henry who appeared early in this narrative. On his way to the Grand Portage this summer, David Harmon mentioned meeting this fellow clerk, whom history has designated Alexander Henry the Younger or, sometimes, Jr. Like so many of his associates, young Henry saw no need to describe Grand Portage: "The track from the Grand Portage to Lake Winnipeg being already so well known, requires no further description." He did however describe his departure for the interior:

Haskel, for no known reason, had Harmon describe the Company's post at Grand Portage as: "the houses are surrounded by palisades, which are about eighteen inches in diameter, and are sunk nearly three feet in the ground, and rise about fifteen feet above it." Despite one's desire for more details about Grand Portage, Haskel's version must remain suspect.

Also to be noted with suspicion is a quotation from an anonymous journal (which has remarkable similarities in other aspects to Harmon's) that was cited by James H. Baker, "History of Transportation in Minnesota," Minn. Hist. Collections, 9 (1928), 9-10: "On that night of the 3d of July, 1800, according to the diary, the factors gave a 'great ball'. The large dining room, with its puncheon floor sixty feet long, was cleared, and inspiring music was furnished by the bagpipe, violin, and flute." This writer has made an exhaustive investigation of the known sources, but has not located any reference to a puncheon floor or to its length.

Saturday. July 19, 1800. Our Baggage and other Necessaries being previously carried over the Portage, which is about 9 Miles, our men also, being fully equipped for the year, and their accounts settled, at 3 o'clock I set off for Fort Charlotte, where I arrived at 5. The road through the Portage was very bad in some places, knee deep in mud and clay, and so slippery, as to make walking tedious.

Sunday. July 20 [at Fort Charlotte]. The Canoes having been previously given out to the Men, to gum and prepare, I found every thing in readiness for our departure, and early this morning, gave out to each Canoe their respective loading, which consisted of Twenty-Eight packages per Canoe . . .namely

5Bales Merchandize — 90 pounds each
1Bale Canal Tobacco
1Bale Kettles
1Case Guns
1Case Iron works
2Rolls New Twist Tobacco
2Bags Leaden Balls
1Bag Leaden Shot
1Bag Flour
1Keg Sugar
2Kegs Gunpowder
10Kegs of High Wines, 9 Gallons each

Pieces Total

Equippage for the Voyage: Provisions for 4 Men to Red River, 4 Bags Corn, 1-1/2 bushels in Each, 1/2 Keg Grease

Add to the above, about 4 packages of 90 lbs. each private property belonging to the men, consisting of Cloathing, Tobacco etc., for themselves and families for the year, so that, when all hands are embarked, the Canoes generally are sunk to the Gunnell. At 10 o'clock, the Brigade were all off, and at 3 o'clock I followed. [5]

Finally, the various outfits had departed for the interior. Less laughter and confusion marked the North West post at Grand Portage. Agent William McGillivray, still busy at seeing the Montreal canoes off on their return journey to the St. Lawrence, added up this year's returns: "I am about making up the last of the Packs. We Shall have in all about 1360 of 100 to. besides 470 of 120 to. by the Otter." He went on to state that there were only 200 buffalo robes this year and that he had to use them all "to pay bons and Billets." [6]

McGillivray too left Grand Portage in August. At Ste. Marie's, at the opposite end of Lake Superior, he wrote back to the post that the Otter would bring "the Plank and boards wanted to compleat the two Houses." He said also that the Otter would lay up at Grand Portage over the winter so that the vessel could return to Sault Ste. Marie as soon as the ice broke up the following spring. He told the bourgeois, now Kenneth McKenzie, to be particularly careful "in putting up the Books." He suggested that they be placed in the "large trunk in my room in which I have left the Key and put it when filled with them into the Powder House." In case the bourgeois had any doubts, he meant the "Petit Ledger Book resolves and Engagements with our outfit Books."

A few days later, McGillivray set down instructions for the captain of the Otter, directing him to pay particular attention to the crew's food supply for the winter. In addition to the food the Otter would carry up, the crew would depend on a share of the supplies at Grand Portage. The winter's menu would include corn, beef, baked biscuit, salt fish, sugar, butter, flour, rum, and potatoes. The letter indicates that the potatoes would be those grown the past summer at Grand Portage itself, "after laying a part of quantity necessary for seed and for the Table next Summer." As a special complement, "I ordered a large Hog at the Portage to be fattened." McGillivray told the captain to share it with Kenneth McKenzie. Finally, if the crew should manage to collect sufficient hay, they were to borrow one of McKenzie's milk cows. [7]

While McGillivray spent that busy summer of 1800 seeing to a thousand and one details, the opposition also pursued its goals. Alexander Mackenzie, who had gone to England the preceding autumn, had returned to Canada in the spring. Be fore the summer was over, he associated himself with the XY Company. Probably in this year the opposition adopted the formal, but rarely used, title of "The New North West Company" or "The New Company." The voyageurs of the North West Company had still another name for it. They called its members the "Potties," meaning either "les petits (the little ones) or the "potées" (those made of putty, softies).

The XY Company, as already noted, had small establishments at either end of the Grand Portage, but was still experiencing difficulty in challenging the North West Company throughout the Interior. The lieutenant governor of Lower Canada estimated that the XY Company's capital was equal to the North West Company's, but that its number of employees amounted to only one-third of the giant's. Mackenzie did not visit Grand Portage this year. Instead, he visited with his new associates in Montreal and together they refined the organization of their company. That fall, Mackenzie returned to England where he would write a book that would increase his fame and cause the king to make him a knight in 1802. [8]

Mackenzie made another trip to Canada in 1801, but again did not attend the XY's gathering at Grand Portage. However, Simon McTavish, the kingpin of the North West Company, did attend his organization's rendezvous. It had been his moving to London years earlier and continued absence that had given rise to criticism from Mackenzie and other junior members. An old friend, on learning that McTavish was once again traveling the waterways, wrote that "your old Acquaintance at the grand portage [will] much pleased to see you there, your presence will in my Opinion tend to be productive of making favorable impression for your & their own Interests on their minds which might otherwise be declining." [9]

Thirteen other partners attended this year's meeting. The roll call dramatized the Scottish preponderance in the Company: William McGillivray, Angus Shaw, Roderic McKenzie, Alexander McLeod, Daniel McKenzie, William MacKay, John McDonald, Donald McTavish, John McDonell, Archibald Norman McLeod, Peter Grant, John Sayer, and Charles Chaboiller. They admitted six new members, each with one share (out of 46), including Alexander Henry, Jr., and Simon Fraser.

The business meeting produced little drama in 1801. The partners passed a resolution that too much drunkenness existed among the wintering partners, their clerks, and their interpreters. In the future such conduct would meet with punishment. They also drew up a new list giving the priorities for trips out to Montreal. In coming years they would decide annually how many could be spared to go out, but at no time would the number exceed five. [10]

At the same time that McTavish met his associates, the XY Company held its much smaller rendezvous on the same shore. Although Mackenzie had not come up, his joining the company was very much felt. So extensive was his power that the company soon was to be reorganized under the title of Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Company—although the informal "XY" continued to be used by both friend and foe. As a part of the reorganization the partners took an inventory of their goods, tools, and structures. A record of this inventory, and of succeeding annual inventories, has survived.

The XY Company valued its "Forts & other buildings at both ends of the Portage" at £ 300. The list contains the tools of the carpenter and the blacksmith. Such lists are rare today and they give evidence of what the companies had with which to build:

Carpenter's tools

4gouges2saw sets
6chisels2crosscut saws
6hammers4pit saws
11augers6drawing knives
3spike gimlets2compasses
1/2dozen gimlets6pr. nippers
5handsaws15rasps & files
2small cooper's saws1iron square

1two-foot rule

Blacksmith's tools

1bellows4-1/2doz. files
1vice2cloutures (?)
1anvil120bu. charcoal
1verberquin (?)1grindstone
1pr. shears1cart and wheels
5hammers2pishons (?)
5pr. nippers (tenailles)2coutres (colters?)
1pr. small nippers1pr. 1g. stillyards
11chisels4pr. small "
2pr. train irons1pr. smaller scales
1pr. large scales, beams, weights1pr. brass scales
1pr. large cooper scales3bodettes (?)
4guns14oil cloths

The XY Company's 1803 inventory at Grand Portage showed the following items: 23 panel doors, 30 window sashes, 10 bed steads, 24 chairs, 3 japanned candlesticks, and 1/3 box window glass. [11]

Alexander Mackenzie had finished Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Lawrence by 1801. In it he described the Grand Portage he had known as a partner of the North West Company. He mentioned the bay and the island, saying that the shallowness of the water rendered "it necessary for the vessel to anchor near a mile from the shore, where there is not more than fourteen feet of water." This fails to support the statement of others that the Company had one or two wharfs.

The North West fort, he wrote, was "picketed in with cedar pallisadoes, and inclosing houses built with wood and covered with shingles." He felt that the structures were "calculated for every convenience of trade, as well as to accommodate the proprietors and clerks during their short residence there. The North men live under tents: but the more frugal pork-eater lodges beneath his canoe." He reported that the only crop planted was potatoes; however, "there are meadows in the vicinity that yield abundance of hay for the cattle."

The portage itself he described only in general terms. He noted that the voyageurs from Montreal had the job of transporting the supplies over it: "each of them has to carry eight packages.... This is a labour which cattle cannot conveniently perform in summer, as both horses and oxen were tried...without success. They are only useful for light, bulky articles; or for transporting upon sledges, during the winter, whatever goods may remain there, especially provision of which it is usual to have a year's stock on hand."

Mackenzie outlined "the mode of living" at the Fort. "The proprietors, clerks, guides, and interpreters, mess together, to the number of sometimes an hundred, at several tables, in one large hall." The menu was considerable: bread, salt pork, beef, hams, fish, venison, butter, peas, Indian corn, potatoes, tea, spirits, wine, "and plenty of milk, for which purpose several milch cows are constantly kept." The mechanics had similar food, "but the canoe-men, both from the North and Montreal, have no other allowance here, or in the voyage, than Indian corn and melted fat."

If the voyageurs got a limited variety, their food must have been nutritious. Mackenzie told of having "know some of them to set off with two packages of ninety pounds each, and in return with two others of the same weight, in the course of six hours." He admitted that the north men did receive a little extra on their arrival at Grand Portage. They were "regaled with bread, pork, butter, liquor, and tobacco," for another year's work well done.

He found discipline among the voyageurs to be remarkably good: "It is, indeed, very creditable to them as servants, that though they are sometimes assembled to the number of twelve hundred men; indulging themselves in the free use of liquor, and quarrelling with each other, they always shew the greatest respect to their employers." He might have added that, legally or not, the proprietors had no hesitancy about imposing punishments for breaches in discipline. [12]

Mackenzie published his book just as Grand Portage's role as the greatest of the fur trade's rendezvous sites was coming to a close. Five years had passed since Roderic McKenzie had rediscovered the old Kaministikwia route and McTavish had said that the North West Company should move to the mouth of that river. The record of this move, once undertaken, is like so many things about Grand Portage not rich in details. It is possible that the actual decision to move was made in 1801 when McTavish arrived at the rendezvous, and that construction of the new fort began that summer. Whatever the circumstances, the North West partners met at Grand Portage for the last time in 1802. The next year would find them at the new port, eventually to be named Fort William in honor of McGillivray.

The partners, now numbering over thirty, signed a new agreement in the summer of 1802. This agreement, setting the number of shares at 96, was to last for twenty years beginning with the outfit of 1803—a mark of the stability which the organization had reached. Simon McTavish's name continued to head the list. Although now an elderly gentleman, he was not yet prepared to surrender any power. Just that spring he had purchased the Seigniory of Terrebonne, outside Montreal, for £ 25,000, and was looking forward to his pleasures of fame, power, and wealth. [13]

Although 1802 marked the end of the North West Company's occupancy of Grand Portage, it did not signify an end to the XY Company's activities there. Sir Alexander Mackenzie, knighted that year, would continue his activities at the historic site. However, it was his cousin Roderic's opinion that the XY Company was "doing worse than ever." [14]

It was a new man in the XY Company, George Nelson, who described Grand Portage this year. He had a favorable recollection of the old company's layout: "The establishment of the N. W. Co., tho' there was nothing superfluous or unnecessary, but was of an extent to prove at once the great trade they carried on, their judgement & taste in the regularity & position of their numerous buildings. The neatness & order of things was not [the] least part of it."

As for his own company, his account is the only source to state that Mackenzie's people were that year erecting a new fort: "Our company had a few buildings, a few hundred yards to the East of the N.W. below the hill; but were busy building a very fine 'fort' upon the hill." One may but guess at "the hill," although it seems apparent he was not referring to Mount Rose. Nelson's description of the rendezvous illustrates the XY's adoption of the operational techniques of the North West Company:

I was placed in one of the Stores to Serve the people. At last they began to come in, all was business. Receiving Goods, corn, flour, pork etc. etc. from Montreal & Mackinac, & furs from the different wintering posts—Gambling, feasting, dancing, drinking, & fighting. After a coupl[e] of weeks to rest, for the Winterers to give in their returns & accounts, & to make up their outfits, they began to return again, to run over the same ground, toils, labors, and dangers.

Nelson recorded also the bitter rivalry that existed, competition that more than once led to violence. One of the XY's brigades, ready to return to the interior, had camped at Portage la Perdrix, "only a few hundred yards from our Stores at the north end of Grand portage where they feasted & got drunk upon the 'régale' that was always given them when they arrived from, or departed for, their winter quarters." When the hungover voyageurs woke the next morning, they discovered that "thirty Kegs of High Wines (containing 9 Galls. ea.) had all run out!" Upon closer examination, their bleary eyes found that the kegs "had been bored with two gimlet holes each! The consternation & injury this occasioned may be imagined." The rumor quickly spread that the North West men had done the mischief. "It created an excessive bad feeling," Nelson wrote, "& led to retaliations some of which would have ended tragically but for providence, but nothing further ever followed." [15]

Sir Alexander, "Mons. Le Chevalier" as the French Canadians called him, was at Grand Portage in the summer of 1802, his first visit since quitting the North West Company. On the whole he was satisfied with the returns of his relatively small company. Also, he had a new ship, the Perseverance, on Lake Superior. From the company's letter books, we find that the XY Company had established well its sources for trade goods. Daniel Sutherland, in Montreal, carried on correspondence with companies in the United States (including John Jacob Astor) and Great Britain (principally Phyn, Inglis & Co.). In one of his letters is a reference to a farmer and a barn at Grand Portage. In 1802 he sent a number of tools to Grand Portage so that the barn might be repaired "in the Summer after the Trade is over." [16]

When it was time for the North West Company's annual meeting in 1803, the Montreal canoes and the schooner cut their swaths across Lake Superior and the winterers sped their canoes down the rivers and lakes toward a new destination. No more would Grand Portage witness the exultant celebrations of the Company's more than 1,000 partners, clerks, guides, interpreters, and voyageurs. This magnet, known in the market places of London, Berlin, Moscow, and Canton, was slipping quietly from the events of the day, but not from memory.

Although the North West Company had left, a court case in 1803 brought the history of the Great Carrying Place very much to attention in Montreal. The testimony resulting from the case of Dominique Rousseau and Joseph Bailly v. Duncan McGillivray brought out several details of the appearance and manner of things at Grand Portage that otherwise would have remained unrecorded. [17]

In 1802, Rousseau and Bailly, living then at Mackinac, secured an American license to trade at Grand Portage. This was but proper for the Jay Treaty, ratified in 1795, had called again for British withdrawal from American territory in the "Northwest." The two partners sent one canoe (under Paul Hervieux) to Grand Portage. Possibly the North West Company would not have objected to Hervieux's presence had he not pitched his tent in the midst of the voyageurs and begun to sell them liquor. Duncan McGillivray, in charge of the North West post, could not contain his anger. While he had no objection to the men's drinking, the Company had always controlled the supply, usually through a subsidiary. McGillivray promptly had Hervieux's tent torn down and forced the interloper to move his operations to a more distant site. He also forbade his men to trade with Hervieux. As a result, Rousseau and Bailly sued and eventually recovered £ 500 for damages.

Hervieux, in his testimony, admitted that his goods were "partly dry and partly liquid." He described his first location of three tents as being close to the tents of the North West men and about 50 feet away from the Montreal canoes on the beach. Under duress, he moved his establishment "about a gunshot" to a location near the trading establishment of one Boucher, "about ten feet from the edge of the water on a level with the house of the said Boucher," and from 950 to 1,140 feet away from another trading establishment operated by one Mailloux.

One of Hervieux's voyageurs, Michel Robichaux, testified that his boss had but two tents and that they were not surrounded by North West tents, "but that there were several of them about fifty feet behind." He said that the Montreal canoes on the beach were about twenty feet from Hervieux's establishment and that his boss had to pass between these canoes in order to reach the spot where he camped. In describing the second location, Robichaux said that it was about 60 feet from Boucher's establishment. Although the testimony made very little reference to the XY Company and its post, Robichaux said that after they were prohibited from trading with the North West's men, they did carry out some trade with the men of the XY Company.

The statements of several of the North West Company's men showed that they had long exercised the privilege of bringing buffalo and elk skins out from the interior to trade on their own at Grand Portage. A typical description of this fringe benefit was made by Charles Leger, a North West guide, who said that engagés could "trade buffalo robes and elk skins and other coarse skins, but not fine furs."

One of the XY Company's employees, Joseph Poissant, testified that Hervieux was "camped upon the shore between the fort of the Big Company and that of Mr. Boucher, in an unoccupied space." Unfortunately, Poissant did not volunteer any information concerning the location of his own fort in relation to these. On being cross-examined, Poissant said that the North West tents were from twenty to fifty feet from the Hervieux's first location, and that Hervieux moved about 285 feet to his second location.

Thomas Forsyth of the XY Company implied that the North West men pitched their tents in the general area between the North West fort and Boucher's establishment. During his time at Grand Portage he had learned that this area had been cleared for the past fifty years (since 1753, in the French régime). Although North West tents were located on this stretch of ground, Forsyth was of the opinion that "he would have a right to erect a tent there." He recalled that Hervieux's second location was "near to Boucher's fort and not more than half an acre from a little River" (Grand Portage Creek).

The most historic testimony given at the trial came from Maurice Blondeau who had first visited Grand Portage in 1766, immediately after the British had captured Canada. Blondeau said that on his first visit, the shore had not yet been cleared of trees. However, as he remembered it, a man named Erskine cleared the land two or three years later. Grace Lee Nute believed that this was John Askin, an early associate of the North West Company who appeared earlier in this report. Blondeau went on to say that he had never known "of any hindrance to putting tents at the Grand Portage outside the fort" and, as far as he knew, it had always been the custom that anyone could place a tent anywhere he wished, outside a stockade of course.

A voyageur, Hyacinthe Marcot, when cross-examined, said that he "did not see the second tent of the said Hervieux, but that he saw a little cabin covered with bark, where his goods were stored, and a little tent where his men lived at a distance of thirty feet from Boucher's fort," and about 190 to 275 feet from the place where Hervieux had first erected his tent.

Daniel Sutherland, who had once worked for the North West Company but who now was a leading light in the XY Company, also testified. He stated that he knew well the locations of the North West fort and Boucher's fort. It was his opinion that any traveler had the right to pitch a tent in the cleared space between the two forts, since it was not enclosed. When cross-examined, Sutherland further defined the cleared space, saying that it was "bounded in front by the lake, on the south West side by the old fort [North West Company's], on the North East by Fort Boucher belonging to the North West Company as he believes] and in the rear by the woods." It is regrettable that Sutherland too did not pinpoint the XY Company's fort, but his description of the area suggests that it lay outside this cleared area. Before leaving the stand, Sutherland added the information that a public road passed through this open space, between the North West palisades and Boucher's fort, "and that a Cart may pass in the said Road from the Beach to the little River [Grand Portage Creek]."

A North West Company clerk, John Charles Stewart, confirmed that Boucher acquired his trade goods from McTavish, Frobisher and Co. and that both Boucher and Mailloux had operated their trading establishments since about 1798. Before this Joseph Lecuyer had operated a similar establishment from 1794 to 1798, he too acquiring his goods from McTavish, Frobisher & Co.—according to the books of this firm. Stewart added a note that besides the engagés selling some skins to Boucher, freemen, or fur traders not associated with any company, came to the rendezvous each summer to sell their furs.

Joseph Lecuyer, identified above as a trader at Grand Portage from 1794 to 1798, testified. He stated that he traded with the North West Company's engagés, accepting their buffalo robes, elk hides, and bons. He described bons as "notes of the bourgeois that he received from the men as money for goods and drinks that he sold. That these bons were paid like wages to the men." Lecuyer described his own establishment as being "a little house belonging to the Company . . . which was a little distance from the Big Fort." He had been told that his house was on the same site now occupied by Boucher.

Although the North West Company had moved all its operations to the new Kaministikwia post by 1803, the XY Company continued to hold forth at Grand Portage. Sir Alexander attended the rendezvous this year. He reported back to Montreal that his men had been better supplied than the Big Company's the past winter: "Some of their people had actually died" for want of provisions. An inventory of the XY Company's supplies at the portage, before the 1803 outfit goods had arrived, had shown over £ 7,000 worth on hand. Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Company were holding their own; but their operations were still much smaller than the North West Company's. [18]

Sir Alexander crossed Lake Superior this year aboard the company's new schooner, the Perseverance. [19] A fellow-passenger on board was a young French Canadian clerk, Thomas Vercheres de Boucherville, who was making his first trip to Grand Portage, "which I had so often heard mentioned when a boy by the voyageurs of the village." Although one might anticipate that the North West Company would have stripped its old fort of every possible item for its new establishment, it apparently left enough of the establishment standing for the XY Company to move into it by the time the Perseverance arrived. Boucherville wrote:

I set myself to the task at hand, got my box and bed of two blankets ashore, and carried them up to the fort. Situated on the brow of a sloping hill, over a mile from the landing, the view from here was very fine. It had been built by the North-west Company and consisted of palisades of tall cedar pickets with bastions at the four corners. Within the enclosure were several good buildings for the use of members of the Company, and towering over all was an immense flagstaff from which, on Sundays and when heralding the arrival of the principal bourgeois, floated a large and very handsome flag.

During the whole stay at Grand Portage... I was employed at the shed where our liquors were stored. I was told to repair to...[the west end of the portage]. My effects were carried on the backs of my men and at the far end of the Portage, which is nine miles long, I found others busy gumming the canoes preparatory to our departure. [20]

The year 1804 at Grand Portage belonged to the XY Company alone. Although some of the standard accounts seem to feel uncomfortable about identifying the XY's presence at Grand Portage this year, there is ample testimony to support the fact. During the winter of 1803-04, Michael Curot, in charge of the Pond du Lac Outfit, had an employee whom he considered impertinent. Curot wrote that he would punish "him for his impertinence, which will be reported at the Grand Portage." In June 1804, Curot returned to Grand Portage to attend the rendezvous. Presumably he carried out his threat. [21] A further witness to the XY's presence there that summer was François Victor Malhiot, an employee of the North West Company. Traveling from Kaministikwia he passed Grand Portage where he saw the "XY's schooner weighing anchor." [22]

Even though the XY Company held out on the ground at Grand Portage, other events were leading to a dramatic change. At age 54, Simon McTavish, who as much as anyone had built the North West Company, died. An admirer wrote that this giant of a man, who had fought "a heroic fight for a fortune, honours, and future ease," died just when these goals seemed within his grasp. In Montreal he had begun the construction of a mansion on the brow of Mount Royal, known in later years as the uncompleted "McTavish Haunted House." [23]

McTavish's death seems to have been the catalyst for Sir Alexander Mackenzie to seek accommodation with the North West Company. Although some historians have decided that Mackenzie had left the North West Company because of his dislike for William McGillivray, it would seem that McTavish was the real antagonist, whereas he resented only McGillivray's rapid rise to power rather than the man himself. At any rate, by October 1804, Daniel Sutherland was to write: "An accommodation having taken place between the NW Co. and this Concern, we refer you to their Agents for particulars & for the Orders for the ensuing Season." [24]

Mackenzie did not have everything his way. His company, now called "The New Company," was to receive one-quarter of the shares in the unified concern; but Mackenzie himself had to agree not to interfere with the business from this time on. He was now but a coupon-clipper. McGillivray was the new king.

The North West Company finally had a true monopoly of the fur trade out from Montreal. Only the Hudson's Bay Company remained a serious rival throughout the Northwest. Although the record is unclear as to the last date of the activities of the XY Company at Grand Portage, one may assume that 1804 marked the final curtain of a long era of discovery, hardship, economic growth, turmoil, and romance at the historic site. Grand Portage's future would indeed represent a different world—an out-of-the-way, northern corner of the United States. No longer would the fires of the great rendezvous brighten the short summer nights. The lonely shore would share silence with the lapping waves and the northwest wind. Men would come here; things would happen; but the drums of empire would beat no more. Only rarely would the dew-laden grass of the portage bend to the moccasins of the generations. [25]

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Last Updated: 15-Jul-2009