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Memorable Manitobans: John “Le Prêtre” MacDonell (1768-1850)

Fur trader.

Born in Scotland, he was a brother of Miles Macdonell, and came to America with his family in 1773, resettling in Canada. He held a militia commission in 1788 and entered North West Company service in 1793, initially in the Qu’Appelle Valley. From 1806 to 1809 he was head of the Upper Red River Department. He helped create the corps of Canadian Voyageurs, in which he held the rank of captain there. This unit captured Mackinac Island from the Americans in 1812, although he arrived too late to be involved in the victory, and was quickly captured by the enemy. In 1814 he considered settling in Red River, but instead he retired to Pointe Fortune, Upper Canada, where he kept a store and became a leading businessman and local political leader.

Journals of his Red River service were published as “Mr. John MacDonell: some account of the Red River (about 1797),” in Les Bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest, edited by L. Masson, I, 265-95, and “The diary of John MacDonell,” Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, edited by C. M. Gates (1965), 61-119.

See also:

John MacDonell, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VII, 552-54.


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 22 September 2014

Memorable Manitobans

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