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HBC Archives: Post Journals Transcript
The company's governor committee in London required that the company servants keep a daily record of the activities at the post and this included the weather, the temperatures, the direction of the wind, whether it was sunny or rainy, solar eclipses, any activities of note, just so that they would know what was going on in the remote areas that they governed which were so far away from their London offices.
And so you get this marvelous record of daily activity that ranges so much. Sometimes there would be people coming into the post that were just passing through because they're part of an exploration party or there may be people around that were witnessing an accident, a drowning, or a birth, or a death, and so it ranges so greatly as to what might be recorded in those daily interactions.
Very much they centered around the business of the post and whether it be chopping wood, hunting, fishing, that sort of thing. Often they would talk about how they celebrated Christmas or Easter and various other kinds of celebrations.
Since they spanned such a long period of time, over 300 years, many of these communities didn't have a system for creating records or keeping records and this would be the only record that may survive for some of these communities.
The company was the governing body of Rupert's land, which included most of Western Canada and parts of the United States and the Northwest Territories today, and so basically the history of the company is synonymous with a history the development of Canada.
Francis Heron was a clerk at a Hudson's Bay Company post up at Upper Fort Garry. And he provides a very detailed, graphic description of the devastating flood of 1826.
“At about 2:00 p.m. the ice in the Red River at length broke up with an awful rush carrying away cattle, houses, trees and everything else that came in its way. The river overflowed its banks everywhere and carried the ice with great velocity to greater distance from its course than had ever been seen in the oldest inhabitants. The house of the settlers were in one instance seen standing and the next not a vestige was to be discovered to denote their situations. Forty-seven dwelling houses were thus carried off by the first rush in the short space of half an hour and many others afterwards from which to the wretched inhabitants barely escaped with their lives.”
If we want to know a little bit more about Francis Heron, there's a lot of different resources that we would look to. Someone starting to do research might look at some of the biographical sheets that the Hudson's Bay Company staff have put together that provide a thumbnail sketch of his employment with the Hudson's Bay Company and the original resources where that information was obtained.
A resource that we use quite a bit for assembling information about individuals that work for the company include the servants’ engagement register, which will list the servants, the position or capacity in which they worked, often their location, as well as the dates of their contracts.
For Francis Heron, he died on April the 10th, 1840 and we have a book of wills and administrations which note who his executors were and the date of his death. The executors that are listed in his will are Sir George Simpson, who was a governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, as well as Duncan Millison, who was a chief trader up at Upper Fort Garry at one time, and David Thomas Jones, who was the Anglican missionary at the upper Church in the Red River Settlement.
Post journals, just to give you an idea of the other kinds of records, other things that they tell us about is, they'll give you a daily record of the weather, who came in to trade, very often they would note explorers coming into a post and coming and going, as well as any significant events that might have happened, floods, famines, sometimes deaths, sometimes murders, and various other extraordinary events.
So they provide an amazing comprehensive legacy of information of the company's activities over a long period of time and document communities where no other written record might exist for that period of time.