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Peter Fidler

artist's conception of a fur trader and canoe

Peter Fidler was born on 16 August 1769, in Bolsover (England), to James and Mary Fidler. It was in London, during April of 1788, that Peter joined the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). He was soon dispatched overseas to York Factory (Manitoba), to work as a labourer.

By all accounts Fidler was an exceptionally bright and motivated individual, who became a valued employee of the Company. The HBC demonstrated its confidence in Fidler by quickly promoting him to the position of post journal writer - a position he held, first at York Factory, then moving to Manchester House and South Branch House, respectively.

In the spring of 1790, Peter Fidler moved to Cumberland House, where he trained as a surveyor under Philip Turnor. In the summer of that year he was taken on an expedition to locate a new water route linking Hudson Bay to the Great Slave and Athabasca lakes. The HBC hoped that the location of such a route would give them an advantage in their battle against the North West Company's (NWC) increasing business in the region. Although the expedition was not a success the two-year trek helped Fidler to hone his skills as a surveyor and develop cordial relations with the local First Nations peoples. During this time Fidler wintered with the Chipewyan for two seasons, where he studied not only their culture but also their language.

In 1792 Fidler returned to the north west to help the HBC strengthen its holdings along the Saskatchewan River. Making Buckingham House his base, Fidler began to survey the region, travelling as far as the Rocky Mountains and exploring the North Saskatchewan River region. On his journeys not only did he develop good relations with the local Peigan people but he also became the first European to record interactions with the Kootenay.

View of the Athabasca River, from Athabasca LandingIn 1793 he returned to York Factory where he spent the next two years and where he married his wife Mary, a local Cree woman. Enthused over the new maps Fidler had provided, Hudson's Bay Company officials in London ordered that Fidler continue his map-making and be sent on new expeditions. From the autumn of 1795 Fidler spent the next seven years engaged in trading while surveying the northwest. He spent time at Cumberland House, on the Assiniboine River, and constructed new posts, including Carlton, Bolsover and Chesterfield Houses in Saskatchewan, as well as Greenwich House, at Lac la Biche, which was in direct competition with the Nor'Wester David Thompson. It was also during this period that Fidler, with the help of Akka Makkoye, a Siksika, created his famous map of southern Alberta, the Rocky Mountains, and the Missouri River drainage system.

The posts that Fidler had established (along with those built further north by William Auld) were intended to help bolster the HBC's influence over northwestern trade. The competition between the HBC and the NWC was fierce and often the two companies would build rival posts adjacent to one another which only intensified matters. When Fidler constructed Nottingham House in 1802, on Lake Athabasca's English Island, it proved to be too close to the HBC Fort Chipewyan. In 1805, Samuel Black the chief trader at Fort Chipewyan, began using ruthless tactics against his neighbor including scuttling HBC canoes, sabotaging the game hunt and destroying produce, even attempting to burn-down Nottingham House itself. When efforts to bring about a truce between the two sides failed Fidler and his men abandoned the post and returned to Hudson Bay in 1806.

Over the next four years Peter Fidler spent the bulk of his time in less hostile surroundings serving as postmaster at Cumberland House for about a year and then returning to surveying and map making - first, in northern Saskatchewan (Reindeer and Wollaston lakes), then throughout the Lake Winnipeg - Red River region of Manitoba. By 1810, Fidler's latest series of maps had earned him renewed praise and he was officially promoted to the position of surveyor.

In the fall of 1812 Fidler became the postmaster at Brandon House, (Manitoba) and was soon helping to bring in homesteaders and survey river lots for settlement in Lord Selkirk's doomed Red River colony. By the fall of 1817, the struggles which had marked so much of Peter Fidler's professional life finally came to an end. He spent four years as chief trader at Brandon and Dauphin Lake Houses (Manitoba) but by the summer of 1821, greying and with deteriorating health, Fidler was demoted to Clerk. He remained in this position until he passed away at Dauphin Lake House, on 17 December 1822.

Peter Fidler's life was, by any measure, successful. A fiercely loyal, long-term employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, he was acknowledged as a man of keen intellect. While Fidler's efforts as a fur trader were less than remarkable, he was praised as an accomplished explorer, surveyor and cartographer. To this day Peter Fidler is recognized as one of the greatest mapmakers of the fur trade era in the northwest. His journeys took him as far west as the foot of Alberta's Rocky Mountains and helped him to compile and create maps that would have incredible impact upon the future exploration and settlement of the west.

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380 - Akka Makkoye, Indian Mapmaker: Part Two

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380 - Akka Makkoye, Indian Mapmaker: Part Two

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