John McLean’s Notes of a Twenty-Five Years’ Service in the Hudson’s Bay Territory.

Clearly an unhappy camper though apparently a faithful member of the HBC, disillusioned by its commercial purposes at the exclusion of anything else, and also by his disappointment in promotion within the company.

p. 82: Two itinerant missionaries called at the Lake of Two Mountains and distributed a number of religious tracts among the natives, together with a few copies of the Gospel according to St. John, in the Indian language. My Algonquin interpreter happened to get one of the latter, and took much pleasure in reading it. Towards the latter end of the season I received a packet from my superior at the Lake, and, to my surprise, found in it a letter with the seal of the Church affixed, addressed to my interpreter, which I put into his hands, and observed him perusing very attentively. Soon after he called me aside, and told me that the letter in question conveyed a peremptory command from the priest to destroy the bad book he had in his possession, or else his child that died in autumn would be denied the rites of Christian sepulture.

We are told that the age of bigotry is past: facts like this prove the contrary. I asked him if he intended to obey the commands of his ghostly father. ‘Not exactly,’ said he; ‘I shall send the book to him, and let him do with it what he pleases; for my part, I have read it over and over again, and find it all good very good; why the ‘black coat’ should call it bad is a mystery to me.

p. 223: In the early part of winter [1837]…I amused myself by shooting partridges…; but the cold became so excessive as the winter advanced, that I was compelled to forego that amusement, and confine myself to the four walls of my prison, with the few books I possessed as my only companions.

p. 285, re a half-breed Esquimaux in Ungavan Labrador: I was surprised to find them all able to read and write, although without schools of schoolmasters.

p. 315-16, McLean’s attack on the HBC re instruction of natives: As to the instruction the natives receive from us, I am at a loss to know what it is, where imparted, and by whom given…. The native interpreters even grow old in our service as ignorant of Christianity as the rudest savages who have never seen the face of a white man…. It is quite true there are thirteen schools at Red River; there are also eighteen windmills, and the Company furnishes just as much wind for the mills as funds for the support of the schools or teachers. (see p. 379-80 on schools)

p. 327: The Company also make it appear by their standing rules, that we are directed to instruct the children, to teach the servants, &c.; but where are the means of doing so? A few books, I have been told, were sent out for this purpose, after the coalition [with NW Company in 1821]; what became of them I know not. I never saw any. The history of commercial rule is well known to the world; the object of that rule, wherever established, or by whomsoever exercised, is gain. In our intercourse with the natives of America no other object is discernible, no other object is thought of, no other object is allowed.

p. 348, on wintering with the Chippewayans at Great Slave Lake: The Chippewayans in this quarter are a shrewd and sensible people, and evince an eager readiness to imitate the whites. Some years ago a Methodist Missionary visited Athabasca; and although he remained but a short time, his instructions seemed to have made a deep impression. They observe the Sabbath with great strictness, never stirring from their lodges to hunt, nor even to fetch home the game when killed, on that day; and they carefully abstain from all the grosser vices to which they formerly were addicted. What might not be expected of a people so docile, if they possessed the advantages of regular instruction!

Having fortunately a supply of books with me and other means of amusement, I found the winter glide away without suffering much from ennui; my health, however, proved very indifferent; and that circumstance alone would have been sufficient to induce me to quit this wretched country, even if my earlier prospects had been realized, as they have not been…. I therefore transmitted my resignation to headquarters.

p. 363-6, an account of Rev James Evans, a Methodist minister who signed an agreement with Governor Simpson which provided for the missionary needs on stipulation “they should say or do nothing prejudicial to the Company’s interests among the natives….”

For some time matters went on smoothly: by the indefatigable exertions of Mr. E. and his fellow-workers, aided also by Mrs. E., who devoted much of her time and labour to the instruction of the females, a great reformation was effected in the habits and morals of the Indians. But Mr. Evans soon perceived that without books printed in the Indian language, little permanent good would be realized: he therefore wrote to the London Conference to send him a printing press and types, with characters of a simple phonetic kind, which he himself had invented, and of which he gave them a copy. The press was procured without delay, but was detailed in London by the Governor and Committee; and though they were again and again petitioned to forward it, they flatly refused. Mr. E., however, was not a man to be turned aside from his purpose. With his characteristic energy he set to work, and having invented an alphabet of a more simple kind, he with his penknife cut the types, and formed the letters from musket bullets; he constructed a rude sort of press; and aided by Mrs. E. as compositor, he at length succeeded in printing prayers, and hymns, and passages of Scripture for the use of the Indians. [The Company, having failed at this, wanted to act as censor over all publications for Indians. This and many other problems eventually led to McLean’s resignation from the company.]