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The Journal of Daily Occurrences at Hudson's Bay Co. Forts

by Isaac Cowie

Manitoba Pageant, January 1963, Volume 8, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

An excerpt from The Company of Adventurers by Isaac Cowie:

This was, like the log of a ship, supposed to contain a complete record of everything taking place at the post. The weather occupied the first place as upon it depended the general business which was all done out in the open by the hunters and travellers of the establishment. Notable weather often had an important bearing in fixing dates on which particular events had occurred at places far apart and at a period when the natives generally reckoned time vaguely by moons. Arrivals and departures of all corners and goers; the employment of the men; the state of the crops; the receipt of furs and provisions; and births and deaths, also marriages, were all fully noted with occasional grave or gay comments on them.

Many of these journals were kept by a summer master who was quite often a very illiterate labourer, who could hardly scrawl phonetics, in the time during the real masters absence on the annual voyage to or from headquarters with the furs and for the outfit.

Occasionally a journal afforded the only outlet its keeper could find for feelings which it might not have been to his advantage to give vent to in any other manner. For instance his private opinion of some unbearable Indian on whom it would be bad policy for the Company to use the rod; or maybe of the master of another post who had encroached on his rights to furs and hunters. The comment might even throw out hints against the high potentate, the chief Factor of the district himself, yea, even cast doubts upon the supreme wisdom of the infallible council, the august governor and the committee at home.

Even the unspoken enmity between officers living at the same board and under the same roof burst out now and again in the form of derogatory and belligerent remarks written in turn by each party to the quarrel in the other's absence, both having access to the book.

I am sure that many an old journal which contained other most valuable records, having been disfigured by such spiteful entries, was purposely destroyed by individuals from motives of concealment.

Occasionally between the lines in the Indian Debt book, uninviting as its name may appear, might be found elements of history and romance.

Each individual Indian or family had a page allotted to him or them; the man may have been shown to be a mighty hunter by the number of furs he had given in, or a man of many wives by the amount of pemmican and dry meat, buffalo robes and dressed leather, which was the result of their labours, for their lord and master stooped not to such laborious industries. Most of the accounts showed a debit, the Indian's idea was to procure supplies before going out to hunt.

Page revised: 1 July 2009

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