We first saw “Edgar Place,” the residence of Hon. W. J. Christie, in the month of March, 1879. Deep snow still covered the ground, and the trees, with the exception of ever greens, were destitute of leaves; but it hardly required a poet’s eye, “in a fine frenzy rolling,” to picture the beauties of the spot, when clothed in all the pomp of mid summer. An artist had just been there, sketching “Edgar Place” and other beautiful points of scenery with which Brockville abounds, and the Canadian Illustrated News of May 17, 1879, contained views of “Villas at River’s Cliff” (Brockville), “Edgar Place,” a portrait of Mr. Christie, and a sketch of his life. Most of the sketch we reproduce, it being a good picture of his experience in “roughing it” in hyperborean regions, he being long connected with the Hudson Bay Company, and perfectly familiar with the vast country composing the ” great North West.”
“The father of our subject entered the Hudson Bay Company’s service in 1809, and rose rapidly, being a Chief Factor in 1821, when the Hudson Bay and Northwest Companies amalgamated. He was subsequently in charge of York Factory, Moose and Fort Garry, and for many years Governor of the Assiniboine District, now Manitoba. He retired in 1849 and died in his native country, Scotland, aged eighty-nine, leaving a reputation and name honored to this day throughout the Northwest.
“His son, whose eventful life I purpose to briefly sketch, was born at Fort Albany, East Hudson Bay, January 19, 1824. He was sent to Aberdeen, Scotland, to be educated, and returned to this continent with Sir George Simpson, in 1841, almost immediately entering the service at Lake Superior; in 1843 he went to the Northern Department and was one year at Rocky Mountain House trading with Blackfeet Indians. He was next stationed at York Factory where he stayed four years, being thence promoted to Fort Churchill, H. B., where he remained four years and was transferred to the Swan River District, Fort Pelly; after six years he was promoted to the charge of the Saskatchewan District, which he retained fourteen years, when in 1872, upon the re-organization of the Hudson Bay Company’s business, he was made Inspecting Chief Factor and Supervisor of the country from Fort Garry to the Arctic Regions, comprising Swan river, the Saskatchewan, English river, Athabaska and the McKenzie river Districts. On returning from his tour of inspection Mr. Christie resigned and settled at Brockville, in 1873, after thirty-one years’ active service.
“During the Biel insurrection, Mr. Christie was in charge of the Saskatchewan District, and his tact, management and great popularity with the half breeds and natives undoubtedly saved the Hudson Bay Company from immense loss. It would have been easy for the disaffected to have cut off the northern posts, which at the outbreak of the disturbances were almost entirely without supplies, but Mr. Christie managed to avoid a blockade and early got out a supply of provisions to Norway House depot for the summer’s transport business.
“In the spring of 1874, the Dominion Government being about to make a treaty with the Plain District Crees, Mr. Christie was appointed one of the Commissioners for that purpose, and when a Council was appointed to aid the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the North West he was requested to form one of that body. Throughout the administrations of Governors Simpson, Dallas and McTavish, he’s a commissioned officer and member of council, and in various ways rendered conspicuous services. His name is mentioned in very flattering terms in Captain Palliser’s report of the expedition of 1858-59, and the same may be said of all Parliamentary papers referring to the Northwest.
“A brief account of some of Mr. Christie’s journeyings may prove interesting to those only accustomed to Palace cars. In 1861, having with difficulty obtained leave of absence for six months for the purpose of visiting Scotland, Mr. Christie set out from York Factory, on the 19th September, in the Hudson Bay Company’s sailing vessel Prince of Wales, 550 tons, Captain D. J. Herd. The Bay was crossed in three days, and the Straits cleared in a week. It took only ten days to run from Resolution to the Lizard, and but for a thick fog in the English Channel, which detained the vessel several days, the passage from York Factory to the East India Docks, London, would have been made in twenty days. This achievement will be interesting to the advocates of the scheme for shipping the grain of the West to Europe via Hudson’s Bay. The route is undoubtedly short, but the early close of navigation is a formidable obstacle. However, to resume, on the 4th January, 1862, Mr. Christie embarked on a Cunard steamer for New York, thence took train for Lacrosse, thence by four horse coach to St. Paul, from whence the journey to George Town, Red river, occupied eight days. Here dog trains were ready to make the run to Pembina, five days, where a horse cariole was brought into requisition for the 70 miles to Fort Garry. He was thus enabled to report on the 20th February the very day on which his leave expired. After a week’s rest he started for Fort Edmonton, 1,000 miles distant, and accomplished the trip in twenty-eight days, with dog sleds. Staying here a month he left for Carleton, 600 miles down the Saskatchewan river by boat, and returned to Fort Garry, 500 miles, on horseback. Remaining a few days, he started with Messrs. Dallas, McTavish and Graham, for Norway House, north end of Lake Winnipeg, to hold the North-West Fur Council, after which, having been appointed to take charge of an expedition of two North canoes to convey Governor Dallas on a tour of inspection, he set out, 28th June, via Cumberland House, Isle Lacrosse, to Portage Laloche, 1,600 miles, accomplished in sixteen days. Portage Laloche is nine miles long. One of the canoes was carried across and the other sent back to Montreal. Continuing their journey Messrs. Dallas and Christie went down Clear Water and Athabaska rivers to Fort Chipewyan, thence up Peace river to Dunvegan, seventeen days paddling against the stream. Returning to Heart River, a clerk, men and twenty pack horses assisted them across the portage to Lesser Slave Lake, three days journey, where the party exchanged the canoe for a boat manned by eight men and were rowed via Lesser Slave Lake and River and Athabasca River to Post Assiniboine, where thirty pack horses were ready to transport the expedition across the eighty miles to. Fort Edmonton. After a week at the Fort, they set out with a light boat and eight men for Carleton House, six days journey. Here Governor Dallas started for Fort Garry across the Plains, and Mr. Christie returned to Edmonton to winter, having been traveling in all sorts of ways from September, 1861, to October, 1862, during which period he must have covered over fourteen thousand miles.
“Another time he made a tour of inspection from Fort Garry to Fort Simpson, about 2,000 miles, which is accomplished with the aid of horses, boats and canoes, in forty-one days. The return journey’s made in winter, leaving Fort Simpson, Dec. 5, with a cariole, two dog trains, a clerk, interpreter and two men. It occupied fifty-four days. Not a mishap occurred either way.
“In Mr. Christie’s journal I find the following rather dismal entry under the heading Christmas Day in Camp, Athabaska’s river, 1872, Bitter cold. Short commons; dinner, small allowance of poor black dried cariboo; no pudding, no dessert or anything of that sort. Tea without sugar; no bread; supper the same. Smoked our pipes; talked of absent friends and what their Christmas dinner might be. Hard is the life of a fur trader at times.”
With all his hardships, however, Mr. Christie left the service with a rare stock of robust health, and he is today as hearty a specimen of humanity as you will meet in a day’s journey.