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William Joseph Christie

Chief Factor W.J Christie’s House William Joseph Christie was born in 1824 in Fort Albany, Ontario, the son of a Hudson’s Bay Company chief factor. Christie was educated in Aberdeen, Scotland, and upon his returned to North America in 1841, he too entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. After a first posting in Lake Superior, he became apprentice clerk at Rocky Mountain House and was then transferred to York Factory. Made a clerk in 1847, Christie was sent to Fort Churchill, Manitoba in 1848. In 1849, Christie married Mary Sinclair.

Christie prospered at Fort Churchill and in 1852, though still only a clerk, he was put in charge of the Swan River district, with headquarters at Fort Pelly, in what is now Saskatchewan. Christie’s new post was troublesome because of the many American whisky traders, but Christie saw it as an opportunity to make a name for himself. His strategy was to keep the Aboriginal people “well cleaned of furs” so that they had none for the free traders, who would be discouraged and prevented from moving their trade further north.

Christie was promoted to chief trader in 1854, and in 1858 was sent to Fort Edmonton to take charge of the Saskatchewan district. He served at Edmonton for 14 years, becoming chief factor in 1860. Christie travelled extensively, including two journeys to Scotland to visit his family in 1861 and 1868. Well known for his hospitality, he entertained many notable visitors, including the members of the Palliser expedition of 1858–59.

The 1860s were a time of great change in the Saskatchewan River region. The supply route into the district, formerly through Hudson’s Bay, gradually shifted to the south, bringing in more and more settlers. Drunkenness, horse-stealing and raids among the Métis and Aboriginal people were cause for constant conflict. When smallpox ravaged the prairies, the Saskatchewan Board of Health, with Christie as its chair, was set up to prevent its spread. In April, 1871, Christie met with the Cree Chiefs Big Child and Star Blanket, who presented the grievances of their people. After this meeting, Christie recommended that the government send troops to maintain order and negotiate treaties with the prairie bands as soon as possible.

In 1872 Christie was appointed inspecting chief factor by the Hudson’s Bay Company, a new post that placed him second in command after Chief Commissioner Donald Alexander Smith. He made a tour of inspection of company posts, coming to the conclusion that Smith’s management was careless and ineffective. This was confirmed when the winter packet of provisions failed to arrive. Christie travelled to England and reported to the Hudson’s Bay Company London committee but, failing to influence their policy, he resigned from his position and retired to Brockville, Ontario. He was appointed a member of the provisional Council of the Northwest Territories in 1872.

As a man recognized for his “intimate acquaintance with the Indians of the Saskatchewan, their wants, habits and dialects,” Christie was named a commissioner for the Treaty 4 signing in 1874. When the Treaty 6 negotiations began in 1876, Christie joined the Treaty Commission at Fort Carlton. At the end of the singing, Christie distributed the treaty payments to the bands. Although he had resigned from the Hudson’s Bay Company, there remained resentment among the bands over his past company connection.

After working to secure treaty adhesions and doing some reporting on settlement on reserves, Christie retired and headed back east. Even in retirement he maintained contact with those in the west, with former colleagues, and his three sons in the Hudson’s Bay Company. Christie died in 1899 in Seeleys Bay, Ontario.

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