William Joseph Christie
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