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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
Author: Letitia Hargrave
Title: The Letters of Letitia Hargrave
Publisher: The Champlain Society, Toronto
Year Published: 1947
Copyright Holder: Image courtesy of The Champlain Society
  -5- Letitia Hargrave: Dr. Tolmie

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.

10 September, 1841. To Dugald MacTavish. This description includes reference to working conditions in the HBC and early efforts at education in York Factory. P102, 2nd pgh: “There is a Dr Tolmie…doing his best.”

“There is a Dr. Tolmie a young man from the Columbia who has been here since July. His character is of the highest description and nothing could exceed his devotion to duties which must have required hard work of mind and body for he had the packing of all the furs to be shipped this year and had to keep the hours of the common men from ½ past 4 a.m. to 1/s past 6 p.m.

After that he had a class for teaching the people and children any thing they liked, and arithmetic and sacred music in particular. You will laugh at the singing but if you heard how striking it is to hear the Indians sing and how readily they do it at meeting while not a white man or woman among us could or would join the minister except Dr T. you would not wonder at his doing his best.”

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Did You Know?
Another young doctor, John Sebastian Helmcken, visited York Factory as a ship’s surgeon in 1847. In his Reminiscences, he described Letitia Hargrave as “one of those nice ladies, one occasionally meets with, kind and affable. Altho not handsome she had a decidedly nice face – and a very pleasing expression with a very good figure.”