Many Canadian places and regions have a historical significance which can be traced back to the fur trade and the Métis Nation. Geography also exerted its influence on how fur trade operations were built.
Letitia Hargrave nee Mactavish (1813-1854) was the daughter of Sheriff Dugald MacTavish and Letitia Lockhart. In 1840, she married James Hargrave, Chief Trader for the HBC, and left Scotland for York Factory.
The letters Letitia wrote to family and friends provide us with observations of daily life that differ from the typical post journals of that time which were written by men. Her correspondence is also recognized for its importance as being one of the earliest for pioneer women in the fur trade in Western Canada. Through her letters, we can see her mature from a gawking and sea-sick newcomer to a shrewd and experienced observer of fur trade life.
This is Letitia’s description of York Factory in her first letter to her mother after her arrival as a newly-wed in September 1840. This particular excerpt appears on page 62, 2nd pgh: “I was much surprized… and the wood beautifully marked.”
“I was much surprized at the “great swell” the Factory is. It looks beautiful. The houses are painted pale yellow. The windows and some particular parts white. Some have green gauze mosquito curtains outside and altogether the effect is very good.
Our house is a good size, 1 bedroom off each sitting room and men servants rooms off the kitchen a very large closet off the dining room I had nearly forgot my piano. It is a very fine one and the handsomest I ever saw. The wood is beautiful and Mr Finlay[son] is croaking for one the same. Mrs F does not play except to accompany herself.
I was astonished at its appearance as I did not expect the case to be any great thing. The hinge of the lid, and the lock have created a sensation among the geniuses here from the uncommon elegance of their contrivance and mechanism. There was not a scratch upon it nor a note out of rune. The form of the pedal is magnificent and the wood beautifully marked.”
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Letitia Hargrave's family had several fur trade connections before she married. Her uncle, John George MacTavish, joined the Northwest Company in 1798 thanks to one of that company's partners, Simon McTavish (a distant relative); three of Letitia's brothers -- William, Dugald, and Hector -- served the HBC.