The bourgeois

The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site

Exhibit about the Bourgeois Exhibit about the Bourgeois
© Parks Canada / 182/PE/PR7/SPO-00002

They went by the name of McTavish, Frobisher, McGillivray, McGill, Todd, Mackenzie, or Richardson. They were known as the "bourgeois". Mostly of Scottish origin, they settled in Montréal. These merchants hired the voyageurs and provided them with canoes and equipment. They also bought the goods required for trading and sold the pelts on the London market through British brokerage firms.

Simon McTavish
Simon McTavishSimon McTavish
© National Archives of Canada / Anonymous / C-164, circa 1800

Born in Scotland in 1750, Simon McTavish disembarked in New York in 1764 and worked at a merchant's establishment. In 1773 he was living in Détroit and started trading in the Niagara region. He settled in Montréal at the end of the 1770s.

After meeting three brothers named Joseph, Benjamin and Thomas Frobisher, McTavish headed for the Northwest. When Benjamin Frobisher died in 1787, he was promoted to the head of the North West Company. In the Montréal area, he also owned a sawmill, a cookie factory (cookies for voyageurs) and a coopery. He also set up his own company in London: McTavish, Fraser and Company, which handled resupplying, credit and insurance.

His contemporaries nicknamed him "the marquis" because of his elegance and refined personality. In 1793 Simon McTavish married Marie-Marguerite Chaboillez, the daughter of a fur merchant named Charles-Jean-Baptiste Chaboillez. They would leave no heirs since all of their children died in their twenties. The marquis passed away on July 6, 1804 in Montréal.

Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander MackenzieAlexander Mackenzie
© National Gallery of Canada / T. Lawrence / #8000, around 1800

Alexander Mackenzie was born in Scotland in 1764. A fur trader and explorer, he was a shareholder in the North West Company and later in the new North West Company (also known as XY).

His first voyage of discovery took him to the Arctic Ocean in 1789. Mackenzie was trying to reach the Pacific. Unsuccessful, he went back up the river that today bears his name. This would only be a temporary setback however, since he took another route across the Rockies in May 1793. He finally reached the Pacific near Bella Coola.

Mackenzie went back to Grand Portage in 1794. He lived in Montréal until 1799. Two years later he published a volume on his travels. Knighted by King George III in 1802, he died in Scotland in 1820.

William McGillivray
William McGillivrayWilliam McGillivray
© Musée Château Ramezay / CRX 979.34.1

Born in Scotland in 1764, William McGillivray was the nephew of Simon McTavish. His uncle, who had paid for his education, brought him to Montréal in 1784. William worked as a clerk at various trading posts.

In 1790, McGillivray became an associate in the North West Company by buying Peter Pond's share. He was then called a bourgeois and became involved in all of the company's important affairs. Following the death of McTavish in 1804, he succeeded him at the head of the company.

Around 1790, William McGillivray had a "fur-country marriage" to a Métis named "Susan". The four children born of this marriage inherited lands and money. In 1800 in London, McGillivray married Magdalen McDonald who bore him six children, four of whom died in infancy. He died in London on October 16, 1825.

James McGill
James McGillJames McGill
© McCord Museum / Anonymous / M 10284, c.1810

Born in Scotland in 1744, James McGill arrived in Canada around 1760. Immediately on his arrival he started to travel in the Northwest. In the end he became an associate of the North West Company. After 1800, he diversified his commercial activities, becoming interested in banking, timber and land. At the time, he was known as the richest man in Montréal.

McGill died in 1813. He bequeathed his summer home and the sum of 10 000 £ to set up a college that would open its doors in 1829. This institution later became the university that bears his name.

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