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Home >> From 1600 to 1867 >> Identity, Culture & Communities >> Articles/Diaries/Ephemera/Journals

Daily life and challenges for the various groups involved in the fur trade.

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Author: James Isham
Title: Isham's Observations and Notes, 1743-49
Publisher: The Hudson's Bay Record Society
Year Published: 1949
Copyright Holder: Expired; no restrictions on use. Please credit The Hudson's Bay Record Society.
  -51- James Isham: York Fort

James Isham (c. 1716-1761) joined the HBC as a "writer" in 1732 and later commanded the factories of York and Churchill before his death at York in 1761. He was also an amateur naturalist, sending home specimens of several North American birds that had never before been described by British ornithologists.

His "Observations on Hudson's Bay," written in 1743 to fill the long winter nights at Churchill, also included his descriptions of HBC forts, thoughts on the fur trade (including plans for combatting French traders inland), and vocabularies of several Aboriginal languages.

"A discription of York Fort Hays's River Vizt" is the heading before this entry, followed by two-and-a-half page space on page 172-73 of the publication: "The wall's... full of water &c."

"The Wall’s of our housses we here Live in are 2 foot thick of Stone, - the windows small with 3 inch wooden shetter’s , which is Close shutt 18 hour’s Every Day, in the winter,

- four Large fires are made in Large Brick stoves (Build for that purpose) Every Day, which as soon as the wood is Burn’t Downe to a coal, the top of the chimnley is close stop’t with an Iron Cover, this Keeps the heat within the houses, tho at the same time the smoa’k makes our heads to ac’h, and Very offencive and unholesome,

- Notwithstanding of which in 4 or 5 hour’s after the fire is out and the chimnly still close stop’t, the inside of the wall of our housses are 6 or 8 inches thick of Ice, which is Every Day cutt away with Hatchetts, - three or 4 times of a Day we make Iron shott of 24 lb. weight hott in the fire, and hang up at the window’s of our appartments, yet will not hinder a 2 Gallon Botle of water freezing by the fire side as already observ’d.

– Cellors we have in the Said housses under the stoves 10 & 12 foot Deep, wherein we Keep wine Beer &c. [etc.]: tho not clear from the frozt, - and in the wett Seasons full of Water &c [etc.]."

Other Related Material
Read another excerpt from Isham's notes - enter 'Isham' in the search box to your left.

Check the Beaver Index - type 'Isham' in the title box.

Visit York Factory and discover the secret in the frost.

See also the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Did You Know?
The chilly living conditions at HBC forts in the wintertime were also commented upon by explorer David Thompson, who later recalled pacing back and forth for hours on end, just trying to keep warm.

The smoke from the fireplaces also made it impossible to keep clean: one of Isham's fellow traders once apologised for the dirtiness of the pages in his journal, and explained that his hands were as black as a chimney-sweep's.