The Career of William Maclean

We’ve mentioned before the story of William “Big Bear” Maclean, who was born in Scaliscro in 1837 and, after his family moved to Gisla, went on to an eventful career with the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada.  His HBC record has recently come to light (thanks to Donald Macaulay, Stornoway) and it gives much more detail of his positions and stations.

1859        Sailed for York Factory on the Prince of Wales
1859-61  Apprentice Clerk, York Factory, York District
1861-63  Apprentice Clerk, Lower Fort Garry, Red River
1863-64  Apprentice Clerk, Fort Norman, Mackenzie River
1864-73  Clerk in Charge, Fort aux Liards, Mackenzie River
1873-77  Clerk in Charge, Fort Qu’ Appelle, Swan River
1877-80  Junior Chief Trader, Fort Qu’ Appelle, Swan River
1880-82  Chief Trader, Fort Qu’ Appelle, Swan River
1882-83  Chief Trader, Fort Ellice, Swan River
1883-84  Chief Trader Ile-a-la-Crosse, English River
1884-85  Chief Trader, Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan
1885-86  Chief Trader, Fort Alexander, Lake Winnipeg
1886-92  Chief Trader in Charge of District, Lower Fort Garry, Lake Winnipeg
1892        Retired
1929        Died in Winnipeg

View Big Bear Maclean’s Posts in a larger map

William married Helen Hunter Murray about 1866 and they had 11 children: Amelia, Eliza, Kitty, John (DY?), William, John, Duncan, Helen, Freda, Lillian, and Hunter Murray. It was in 1885, during the North West Rebellion and while serving at Fort Pitt, that William and his family were taken captive by Big Bear (pictures), into the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan, and held for 63 days, accounts of which were written by himself (“Reminiscences of the Tragic Events at Frog Lake and in Fort Pitt”) and his daughter Kitty, who was about 14 at the time. An Uig story relates that his brother Duncan in Gisla had sent the family a copy of Treasure Island, and when they were taken prisoner, William tore a leaf from the book and stuck it on a branch, with an arrow pointing the way they were going and the words “And may God help us.” Evidently it was William who sent the Mounted Police away from the fort to avoid a general massacre; the historical record confirms they did leave, and only one policeman was killed.

William was known after the episode as Big Bear, and by the Cree as Straight Tongue, and apparently was well respected by the native population for his direct manner.  After his retirement, he lived in Winnipeg and was active in the Department of Indian Affairs, and is described in the HBC papers as “the epitome of the old school of Hudson’s Bay officer… straight as a ramrod, faultlessly groomed and with a stride and smile of a youth.”

Another Hudson’s Bay man from Uig was Farquhar Macdonald, who went out to an Talamh Fuar thirty years earlier.  We’re on the trail of another and will report on him in due course.

Extras: Eliza’s account of the siege and capture was published in two parts (here and here) in The Beaver, around the time of her death in 1947. The articles include pictures of William and Helen and other principal figures. William’s own obituary in The Beaver in 1929 gives further detail.

And here’s an article also from The Beaver with journal entries from HBC employees from 1714 onward, describing how they celebrated Christmas.