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Ravenscrag, built for Sir Hugh Allan in 1863 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Saga continues…

Although France and Scotland had joined forces under the Auld Alliance, the relationship between the French in Canada and Canadians of Scottish descent could not be as cordial as the bonds uniting France and Scotland. The French in Canada were a conquered nation. They had lost the battle. But let us look at the Scots.

The Fur Trade

  • Scots as Fur Traders
  • the North West Company
  • Montreal as centre of the fur trade in Canada

It is as fur traders that the Scots in Canada gained prominence.

The North West Company, founded in 1779, was a Montreal-based Company that competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company, chartered in 1670. Most partners, or shareholders, were Scots. They had mansions built in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. Sir Hugh Allan, a shipping magnate, whose mansion is shown at the top of this post, was not associated with the North West Company. He brought immigrants to Canada and lived at Ravenscrag, located in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. Ravenscrag was donated to McGill University in 1940. In fact, James McGill endowed McGill University in his will. Nor’Westers later moved to Westmount, in Montreal. They socialized at the Beaver Club, a Gentleman’s Club, founded in 1785. French-Canadians who had remained in the fur trade after New France fell to England were senior members at the Beaver Club (see Beaver Club, Wikipedia).

The most prosperous shareholders of the North West Company were not French-speaking Canadians. In the first half of the 19th century, very few, if any, French-speaking Canadians lived in the Golden Square Mile or Westmount, except the French-Canadian wives of fur traders. James McGill (1744-1813) married Charlotte Trottier Desrivières, née Guillimin, a widow, and Simon McTavish (1750-1804) married Marguerite Chaboillez, but these marriages did not reflect a political choice. Partners were Englishmen and English Canadians. Benjamin Frobisher (1742-1787) was English and Joseph Frobisher (1748-1810) was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was an English Canadian. The main shareholders of the North West Company (la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest), were Scots.

The Château Clique

  • James McGill & the Quebec Act
  • Guy Carleton’s Quebec Act revisited
  • the assimilation of the French through Union Acts
  • the abolition of Seigneuries, achieved in 1854
  • responsible government
  • idéologie de la collaboration

Several North West Company shareholders or partners were members of Lower Canada’s Château Clique. La Clique du Château was un Parti bureaucrate, a bureaucracy, also known as the British Party or the Tory Party. The Château Clique had its counterpart in Upper Canada, called the Family Compact. A few Seigneurs and French-speaking Canadians were members of the Château Clique. Denis Monière refers to an idéologie de la collaboration. The French who were not returning to France were cutting their personal losses. So was the Clergy.

Il faut dire aussi que les rapports entre ces deux groupes sont facilités par une origine de classe identique.

Denis Monière [1]

[One must also say that the relationship between these two groups is made easier because they originate from identical classes.]

So, how could these threatened classes oppose strongly and visibly a group promoting the assimilation of French-speaking Canadians (union acts) and frowned upon a responsible government. One suspects that many saw clear and present danger, and went into hiding. In fact, James McGill (1744-1813) opposed the Quebec Act of 1774. (See James McGill, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.) The Quebec Act can be viewed as a wish to protect the British in Canada from an alliance between the defeated French and the rebellious colonies to the south. But it may also have earned Guy Carleton and the British in Canada decades of peaceful coexistence in the country Guy Carleton had governed. The Quebec Act was conciliatory. French-speaking Canadians were allowed to keep their language, their religion, their Seigneuries and their Code civil. Although the dreaded Act of Union was passed in 1840, it failed to assimilate French Canadians. There was compatibility between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians.

The North West Company consisted of a few privileged Englishmen and several privileged Scots. Benjamin Frobisher, Joseph Frobisher, James McGill, Simon McTavish, Robert GrantNicholas MontourPatrick SmallWilliam Holmes, George McBeath. Alexander Ross, would join North West Company and so would David Thompson, who was not a Scot and would not be a fur trader. David Thomson is one of the finest cartographers in history.

Other Scots, the landless crofters, found homes in Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk‘s Red River Settlement. Crofters also settled in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Canada. The Red River Settlement is inextricably linked to the fur trade. The competition between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company led to the Seven Oaks Massacre (1816) and to the merger of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company (1821).

Unknown Artist, Indien et Habitant avec Traîneau [Indian and Inhabitant with a Tobogan] (Quebec City) around 1840. (The Exodus: railroads, land, and factories, Related Articles, below)


  • successful Scots
  • Montreal as fur-trade capital in Canada
  • a conquered people
  • the Seigneurial system is abolished

In short, after the Conquest, Montreal became the centre of the fur trade in Canada. Scots were the main shareholders of the North West Company, but the fur trade declined for lack of beavers. Canada’s voyageurs and Amerindians would then become the explorers’ guides. These were mostly Scots. and all wanted to find a passage to the Pacific, by land.

The story of the fur trade chronicles an early chapter in Canadian history, the years following the defeat of France. Nouvelle-France was ceded to Britain in 1763. English-speaking immigrants were brought to Canada and United Empire Loyalists were given land in the Eastern Townships. Yet, in 1854, when the Seigneurial System was abolished, habitants who could not afford their thirty acres had to pay rente perpetually. The French had been conquered.

On 26 August 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville visited a tribunal and said afterwards:

Je n’ai jamais été plus convaincu qu’en sortant [de ce tribunal] que le plus grand et le plus irrémédiable malheur pour un peuple c’est d’être conquis.

See Alexis de Tocqueville on Lower Canada (1 January 2014 )

“I have never been more convinced than after I left the courthouse that the greatest and most irreversible tragedy for a people is to be conquered.” (See Alexis de Tocqueville on Lower Canada, 1 January 2014)


[1] Denis Monière, Le Développement des idéologies au Québec (Montréal: Québec / Amérique, 1977), p. 91.


Love to everyone 💕

Celtic Music from Brittany by Arany Zoltán
Alexis de Tocqueville, Portrait by Théodore Chassériau (1850), at the Palace of Versailles

© Micheline Walker
29 May 2021