The Most Respectable Place in the Territory: Everyday Life in Hudson’s Bay Company Service, York Factory, 1788 to 1870.

Section on ‘Leisure’ has a lengthy section on books and reading in the camp.

p. 73: Reading, conversation, debate, and in some cases writing were regular parts of fur trade life and came to be shared by all levels of company employees, though not all subjects were discussed with equal eagerness. The Reverend J. P. Gardiner noted in 1861 that the men at York Factory were ‘willing to talk on any subject—science, politics—anything rather than practical Christianity.’

p. 74: Like newspapers and magazines, books were widely available at York Factory and many residents were avid readers and collectors. The company itself sent books to its posts as part of its long-held desire ‘to promote Virtue and discourage Vice.’ In the 18th century this generally meant prayer books, Bibles, collections of sermons, technical treatises on navigation, and in 1794, ‘Primers and Spelling Books’ to teach employee’s children. Small collections of books were carried on post inventories as company property, but the sorts of books provided suggest they were sent to York with practical and moral purposes in mind rather than as a recreational resource.

Private collections were more common and included more diverse materials. These collections varied in size from a few volumes to Joseph Colen’s large personal library of 1400 volumes….

p. 76-7: Of greater significance in bringing reading material to all sections of post society was the development of subscription libraries. The first organized collection of books in the North-West for which the title library is warranted was probably the library established at Red River about 1816. It consisted of 200 volumes in 1822, to which Peter Fidler’s collection of some 500 volumes was added when he died in December 1822. This library was largely based on company and individual philanthropy, but most post libraries followed a different pattern.

The model for these libraries was the library at Fort Vancouver where ‘a circulating library of papers, magazines and some books’ was established in 1836.

The library was kept at a central location, Fort Vancouver, but included subscribers from small subsidiary posts who sent for material they wanted and returned it when convenient. Once a year subscribers met to order books, magazines, and newspapers for the following year. The order was sent by canoe to York and then on to London, where the company secretary placed the order with London book dealers. The following year the material was shipped back to Fort Vancouver, and the account of the ‘Columbia [District] Library’ was debited. The idea proved to be popular. It spread first to the Mackenzie District in the 1840s and then in the 1850s to York and Moose Factories.

The York Factory library was founded 18 Feb 1856: York factory officers were the library’s first supporters, but it was intended to serve the entire community. Mason felt it would be ‘a great blessing to the Establishment when carried out upon sound principles and I sincerely hope it will succeed and prosper—The present inmates are much given to reading & I only wish I had my books which were left at Red River Settlement to lend to them.’ The library opened on 1 November 1856 ‘for the benefit of all classes.’ Mason, for one, ‘was pleased to see many of the servants enter their names as annual subscribers of 5s/- & some 10s-. May it be the means of creating a thirst for knowledge of eternal things.’ Knowledge of eternal things was certainly procurable in the library, which consisted of 133 volumes in addition to a number of publications from the Religious Tract Society. [For more on the York Library see George Simpson McTavish.]