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Notes of a Twenty-Five years Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory
By John McLean in two volumes (1849)


The writer’s main object in first committing to writing the following Notes was to while away the many lonely and wearisome hours which are the lot of the Indian trader;— a wish to gratify his friends by the narrative of his adventures had also some share in introducing him to take up the pen.

While he might justly plead the hackneyd excuse of being urged by not a few of those friends to publish these Notes, in extenuation of the folly or presumption, or whatever else it may be termed, of obtruding them on the world, in these days of “making many books” he feels that he can rest his own vindication on higher grounds. Although several works of much merit have appeared in connexion with the subject, the Hudson’s Bay territory is yet, comparatively speaking, but little known; no faithful representation has yet been given of the situation of the Company’s servants — the Indian traders; with the degradation and misery of the many Indian tribes, or rather remnants of tribes, scattered throughout this vast territory, the public are little acquainted; erroneous statements have gone abroad in regard to the Company’s treatment of these Indians; as also in regard to the government, policy, and management of the Company’s affairs. On these points, he conceives that his plain, unvarnished talc may throw some new light.

Some of the details may seem trivial, and some of the incidents to be without much interest to the general reader still as it was one chief design of the writer to draw a faithful picture of the Indian trader’s life, — its toils, annoyances, privations, and perils, when on actual service, or on a trading or exploring expedition; its loneliness, cheerlessness, and ennui, when not on actual service; together with the shifts to which he is reduced in order to combat that ennui;—such incidents, trifling though they may appear to be, he conceives may yet convey to the reader a livelier idea of life in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories than a more ambitious or laboured description could have done. No one, indeed, who has passed his life amid the busy haunts of men, can form any just idea of the interest attached by the lonely trader to the most trifling events, such as the arrival of a stranger Indian,—the coming of a new clerk,—a scuffle among the Indians,—or a sudden change of weather. No one, unaccustomed to their “short commons,” can conceive the intense, it may be said fearful, interest and excitement with which the issue of a fishing or hunting expedition is anticipated.

Should his work contribute, in any degree, to awaken the sympathy of the Christian world in behalf of the wretched and degraded Aborigines of this vast territory; should it tend in any way to expose, or to reform the abuses in the management of the Hudson’s Bay Company, or to render its monopoly less injurious to the natives than hitherto it has been; the writer’s labour will have been amply compensated. Interested as he still is in that Company, with a considerable stake depending on its returns, it can scarcely be supposed that he has any intention, wantonly or unnecessarily, to injure its interests.

Guelph, Canada West,
1st March, 1849.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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