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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 4

A Brief History of Lower Fort Garry

by Dale Miquelon

An Explorer and a Recorder

When the Simpsons moved to the Stone Fort, they were accompanied by George's cousin, Thomas, who acted as bookkeeper. He held the position during the 1833-34 season. His residency would be of little interest were it not that he shortly became a celebrated Arctic explorer. It is asserted by some that he remained at the lower fort during the fall and winter of 1836, and that he there studied astronomy and related subjects preparatory to his voyage of discovery with Peter Warren Dease. Simpson himself connected the work of Sir John Franklin and Lieutenant Back by tracing the Arctic coast from the mouth of the Mackenzie to Point Barrow. Never one for modesty, Thomas wrote his brother, "I and I alone have the well-earned honour of uniting the Arctic to the great Western Ocean, and of unfurling the British flag on Point Barrow." He was awarded the Queen's Arctic Medal and a life pension of £100 per annum. He did not live to receive these honours, dying of a gun shot wound under mysterious circumstances on the St. Paul trail in 1840.1

A decade of obscurity descended upon the fort. The sales shop remained open for the benefit of the lower settlement, but most business and all administration was carried on at the upper fort. The seed of discord was planted in this quiet soil in 1839 when Adam Thom clambered out of a York boat and established himself in the Big House of Lower Fort Garry as the first recorder of Rupert's Land. As recorder, he was the colony's judge and the Company's legal adviser. Thom had been a journalist while attending law school in Montreal, and his "Anti-Gallic Letters," published in the pro-English Montreal Herald had helped foment the rebellion of 1837. Lord Durham had taken him to England in 1839 to help in the preparation of his famous report. In London he met Simpson who hired him as recorder. His appearance at Lower Fort Garry was an altogether unfortunate one for Red River.2

In spite of his Gallophobia, Thom did not cause any great dissension until 1844. From that year his legal advice, which helped to bolster the Company in its suppression of free trade, aroused a storm of resentment. Bryce compared him to Charles I's Wentworth, a good man with a bad cause, being pitted against the "Village Hampton," free trader James Sinclair.3 The disaffection in the colony aroused by the free-trade controversy moved Simpson to begin negotiations with the British government for the establishment of troops in Red River. Their arrival in 1846 would again bring animation to the Stone Fort.

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