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Robert McVicar fonds (P103)

1815-1844. - 5 cm of textual records.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

Robert McVicar (ca. 1799-1864) was born in Scotland, probably in Bowmore on Islay Island. From 1812 to 1814, he was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company at York Factory. He then spent 14 years in the Saskatchewan River and Athabaska Lake districts, where he took part in the fight between the Hudson's Bay and North West companies for control of the fur trade. McVicar gradually moved up the ranks and, in 1819 and 1823, he was in command of the HBC post at Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake.

Robert McVicar had a hand in Sir John Franklin's 1819-22 and 1825-27 Arctic expeditions. Put in charge of purchasing and assembling provisions and equipment, McVicar lived at Islay Island for a time. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography states that Franklin acted as justice of the peace when McVicar married Christina McBeath in Fort Chipewyan, probably in May 1827, though correspondence sent to McVicar seems to indicate the wedding was in 1824.

In 1827 McVicar was transferred to the Montréal Department of the Hudson's Bay Company and put in charge of the Saint-Maurice District, with a mission to quell rivalries in the fur trade there. He had only limited success. After resigning from the HBC in 1830, McVicar built a house near Deux-Montagnes, living and farming there for a decade. He also joined the St. Andrew's Rifle Company, serving as a captain in this volunteer force that took part in the suppression of the Rebellion of 1837.

After several unsuccessful attempts to find employment, notably as a Crown land agent, in 1844 he was appointed inspector of clergy reserves for the Western District. The work was uncongenial and arduous, but it did pay 15 shillings a day. Now living in Saugeen County, on the shores of Lake Huron, he wrote numerous letters to government officials and newspapers recommending the acceleration of immigration, especially of Scottish settlers, to Upper Canada. Some of these letters were published in 1853 under the title Letters on emigration from the British Isles, and settlement of the waste lands in the Province of Canada.

In 1859 McVicar cleared a small parcel of land several kilometres north of Fort William (Thunder Bay), a Hudson's Bay Company trading post. Then, in 1860, McVicar was finally appointed as land agent and postmaster in the Lake Superior region. But, only three years later, the commissioner of Crown land decided that McVicar was too old to act as the land agent. McVicar died the following year at about 65 years of age. A bay on Great Bear Lake (NWT) and a creek nearby Thunder Bay now bear his name.

(Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

Scope and Content:

The Robert McVicar fonds covers McVicar's activities as a chief trader for the Hudson's Bay Company,a militia officer, and Crown land agent and a prospector. The fonds also has information on Sir John Franklin's Arctic expeditions, aboriginals, and their role in the fur trade. Finally, the fonds deals with certain aspects of Robert McVicar's personal life such as his marriage, friends and health.

The fonds consists mainly of correspondence that Robert McVicar received over the years: letters written by John Richardson, John Franklin, Peter Warren Dease, Robert Miles, George Simpson and James Keith about the Arctic expeditions and the fur trade; letters written by Major John Mayne about McVicar's role in the militia during the rebellions; and letters by Colonel Alexander Fraser and others about the colonization of land in the Owen Sound region of Upper Canada. Finally, the fonds has a receipt and an invitation addressed to Robert McVicar.