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The Laird of Fort William: William McGillivray and the North West Company

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High finance, wilderness adventures, violence, and questionable legal tactics all played important roles in the history of the North West Company. William McGillivray, head of the company from 1804 until 1821, was arguably the most powerful businessman in Canada in the early nineteenth century. William McGillivray emigrated from the Scottish Highlands to work for his uncle High finance, wilderness adventures, violence, and questionable legal tactics all played important roles in the history of the North West Company. William McGillivray, head of the company from 1804 until 1821, was arguably the most powerful businessman in Canada in the early nineteenth century. William McGillivray emigrated from the Scottish Highlands to work for his uncle Simon McTavish when he was twenty years old and became head of the NWC in 1804 upon McTavish’s death. The period from 1805 to 1814 was a time of quick expansion and great prosperity for the company; however, its decline was even more rapid. It could be argued that the NWC did not merge with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821 but rather was swallowed up by it. By the time William died in 1825, the McGillivray family had been forced into bankruptcy. Set against the background of the history and legacy of the NWC, this engaging biography tells McGillivray’s complete story, from his early years in Scotland, immigration to Canada, and fur-trading successes to his eventual downfall.


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High finance, wilderness adventures, violence, and questionable legal tactics all played important roles in the history of the North West Company. William McGillivray, head of the company from 1804 until 1821, was arguably the most powerful businessman in Canada in the early nineteenth century. William McGillivray emigrated from the Scottish Highlands to work for his uncle High finance, wilderness adventures, violence, and questionable legal tactics all played important roles in the history of the North West Company. William McGillivray, head of the company from 1804 until 1821, was arguably the most powerful businessman in Canada in the early nineteenth century. William McGillivray emigrated from the Scottish Highlands to work for his uncle Simon McTavish when he was twenty years old and became head of the NWC in 1804 upon McTavish’s death. The period from 1805 to 1814 was a time of quick expansion and great prosperity for the company; however, its decline was even more rapid. It could be argued that the NWC did not merge with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821 but rather was swallowed up by it. By the time William died in 1825, the McGillivray family had been forced into bankruptcy. Set against the background of the history and legacy of the NWC, this engaging biography tells McGillivray’s complete story, from his early years in Scotland, immigration to Canada, and fur-trading successes to his eventual downfall.

19 review for The Laird of Fort William: William McGillivray and the North West Company

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I live not far from the town of Fort William, Scotland. It used to be twinned with its namesake in Canada, before the latter amalgamated with other communities to form the city of Thunder Bay. I have to admit that it was the title of this book that first caught my eye, and that I couldn’t resist reading a book with the title “The Laird of Fort William”. In addition though, I was interested to read about the history of the North West Company (NWC), which I knew was dominated by people who had mov I live not far from the town of Fort William, Scotland. It used to be twinned with its namesake in Canada, before the latter amalgamated with other communities to form the city of Thunder Bay. I have to admit that it was the title of this book that first caught my eye, and that I couldn’t resist reading a book with the title “The Laird of Fort William”. In addition though, I was interested to read about the history of the North West Company (NWC), which I knew was dominated by people who had moved to Canada from the Scottish Highlands. As a biography of William McGillivray, I found this a bit thin. It outlines the bare facts of his life, but there’s a paucity of source material for the author to go on, especially for the early part of McGillivray’s life. This forces her into making speculative comments like “he might well have had an experience similar to the following…” or “His reaction was no doubt similar to that of…”. Another example comes when the book describes the outbreak of war between Britain and the United States in 1812, when the author suggests “It seems possible that McGillivray was not far from St. Joseph’s Island at the time.” But on the plus side, the book has left me with more of an interest in the history of the Canadian fur trade. I’d like to read more about the NWC’s relations with the indigenous peoples, and the ecological effect of the fur trade – these issues were touched on but weren’t the main purpose of the book. You do get a feel for just how ruthless the NWC were, and the same was true of their competitors of the Hudson Bay Company. The two companies didn’t just engage in boardroom warfare – on occasion these guys fought actual battles. I was particularly interested in the conflict that arose after 1814 between the NWC (and their Métis allies) and the Red River settlers, who themselves had been brought from the Scottish Highlands, and who found themselves in conflict with the earlier generation of emigrants who had chosen a different way of life in Canada. I had already known something of this from an excellent TV series on Highland emigration shown in Scotland about 15 years ago, but there was more detail in the book. A non-fiction book has to be considered a success if it leaves the reader with an increased interest in the subject matter.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Doreen Pendgracs

    This is a well-researched book about an interesting figure of Canadian history. Irene is meticulous in her research and gives the reader great insight into the life of William McGillivray.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robert Davidson

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Farnsworth

  6. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cecile Samson

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ms_married

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stewart

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Dambro

  12. 4 out of 5

    Leah Markum

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dana Welch

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sassa

  16. 5 out of 5

    Karen Alverson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Leonard

  19. 4 out of 5

    Baker

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