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The fur trade influenced the historical development of Canada in a number of ways including: the development and expansion into western and northern Canada; the significance of Canadian place names; the origin and rise of the Métis Nation; the impact of interaction between the First Peoples and the Europeans-and these connections can be found in personal and commercial stories about the people and events of the fur trade.

Image 1
Speaker(s): Louis Bird
Year Recorded: March 5, 2003
Transcribers: Jennifer Orr; editing by Tanja Hutter. This audio clip originally appears on OurVoices.ca under the title 0138 - Fish Nets.

L'audio en français n'est pas disponible.
Location: Recorded in English, in Peawanuck, Ontario
Copyright Holder: Louis Bird & University of Winnipeg (OurVoices.ca).
Photo: George Fulford

Listen To Audio File: Part I
Listen To Audio File: Part II
Listen To Audio File: Part III

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  (L3) Tale of an HBC Mailman (Part 3): Nobody Knows His Name

[cont'd from Tales of an HBC Captain Part 2]

[audio 1 - fastforward to 2:48]

"There was such also that required a special skill, or durability, for the Hudson Bay Company — that was a mailman, a special person who delivered the mail, a special mail through the Hudson Bay. Between factors or managers if you wish, between York Factory and along the east coast of Hudson Bay and James Bay south to Moosonee. That is a district, that the mail service was required.

It is certain times of the year that the managers or company employees or factors needed to communicate, and they have to have this mail delivered to each post, regardless of the condition of the winter. It was at this time this man existed, who was then called by the Native people, “The Great Servant of the Hudson Bay Company.”

That’s all he was known. His name has never been mentioned, or who he was. Whether he was by himself, whether he was just only one man, or it could have been a sequence or series of men, or, one after the other, over time. [end of audio 1]

[audio 2]
But, this particular man stood out of all those, the same way as this Kahkechewish stood out as a sailor.

This mailman mystified other people because of his capability to deliver the mail, in that any weather at any, any time of the season. Whether if it’s middle of the winter, cold and no other beast nor human would travel — but he did. And he did it within short, short time. Nobody actually say exactly how many days that he travel from one point A to the point B.

So that’s the man that I’m talking about. That’s the man that has been talked about. Not quite being glorified but, sort of admired, and people wondered, “how does he manage to do that? Especially in the different season?”

There are two seasons in a year in the James Bay lowland that it is not possible or not desirable or even advisable to travel — that is between the middle of May to the first of June. That is a time when the spring thaw is happening. Spring thaw, when the snow is melting and the ice begin to drift. It’s the worst time for anyone to travel in that area, James Bay lowland.

The muskeg, it’s full of water. There’s hardly any dry ground when the snow is still there melting — it’s impossible to travel. The rivers are flooded, and rushing and dangerous and ice-breaking in that condition.

It was at these times that this person was required to take the mail from one post to the other. So it has been said, this man did manage to bring the mail across the country. He had established his own routes, he knows exactly where to walk, where he will be able to walk without much danger, and also he had a system of getting across the major rivers without much endangering his life.

But nobody actually sees him do that. They only know, he left one community, (one village, or a settlement of the Europeans, or a Hudson Bay Company settlement, because there were no villages with the Native people at this time).

He would leave, in the springtime when there’s lots of water. He only carries a small bag and a gun and an axe, that’s about it. And, within a given time, he would arrive at the York Factory, in the same season. How many days? How did he do it? How did he cross the rivers that are dangerous and wide and fast?

There is a mystery. But how many of those kind of people existed from 1682 through to 1800? During the two hundred year period? Not one man can do that; there has to be at least five different men. But this person was outstanding.

Those who have followed this trade were having a difficult time to make the same speed as he did, and to find the easier way to travel. But he found it, this one particular person. But we forgot, nobody knows his name. Nobody remembers his name, this person.

So how would we find a name for him? And he was sort of a person that, in the white man’s world, in the early days, that we hear about a pony express man (where people used to ride their horses - but the small ponies - and deliver the mail across the country in such a given time).

So this man practiced the same thing. Not because he wants to be a glorified man but simply to prove that he can do it. And also, perhaps he was enjoying it. And the Hudson Bay Company paid him, how much, and how? [end of audio 2]

[audio 3]
And that’s...is it the same person who delivered the mail from the James Bay into the York Factory? Is he carrying mail back or does he go home in his own time? That was the question.

And who is this person? Is there any record to know that? Who was the person who would be, who would be doing this? Because our people, the Omushkego, they don’t carry the name, they don’t remember the names. Unless they have a nickname or extraordinary name that they could remember, something like a Wiisaakechaahk.

So that’s a story about the mailman, the Hudson Bay mailman, and he was known only as the Great Servant of the Hudson Bay Company.

You don’t even have to say Hudson Bay Company; all that was said was the Great Servant, that’s it. Just Ki-chi-a-tos-ke-na-kan, that’s the name that was applied to him. So that’s as far as I’m gonna talk about this person. [end of audio 3]

Other Related Material
Learn more about the aboriginal people who helped establish the HBC - enter 'Louis Bird' in the search box to your left.

Who is Louis Bird?

Visit OurVoices.ca - for more stories (beyond the fur trade) by Louis Bird, available in Cree and English.

Did You Know?
Trading posts had a clever way of sorting the mail, which also served a welcome secondary purpose.