The Laird of Fort William

The Laird of Fort William

William McGillivray and the North West Company

By Irene Ternier Gordon

Published by Heritage House, Victoria, B.C, 2013 

The fur trade dominated the history of Canada for two centuries following 1670.  Head of the North West Company between 1804 and 1821, William McGillivray was arguably the wealthiest and most powerful business man in British North America at that time two hundred years ago. This is his story.

The following excerpt from The Laird of Fort William: William McGillivray and the North West Company describes McGillivray’s first arrival at Grand Portage on Lake Superior in 1784 – at that time the western headquarters of the NWC. 19 years later, the NWC with McGillivray now in charge, would move into new headquarters nearby, named Fort William in his honour.

After more than a month of unremitting labour, the brigade finally reached Lake Superior. Just before arriving at Grand Portage at the far end of the lake, they paused long enough for the men to shave and don their best clothes…When they were within sight of Grand Portage, the voyageurs paddled madly up to the  shore “as if they meant to dash the canoe to splinters,” singing lustily all the while. Just when McGillivray thought they could not possibly avoid hitting the shore, the men back-paddled. The avant then sprang onshore and stopped the canoe dead by seizing the bow. The whole population of Grand Portage rushed to greet the canoes, some firing guns…Everyone  shook hands.  [page 45]

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© Copyright 2022 Irene Ternier Gordon All rights reserved.