BEAULIEU, FRANÇOIS, chief of the Yellowknife tribe, Arctic guide, and interpreter; b. 1771, son of Jacques Beaulieu and an Indian woman of the Montagnais tribe; d. in November 1872 at Salt River, North-West Territories.
François Beaulieu, a Métis, grew up among the Indians of the far northwest. According to John Franklin* he was raised by the Dogribs, but this may be an error as Beaulieu was later the bitter enemy of that tribe. He was one of the party that accompanied Alexander Mackenzie* overland to the Pacific in 1793. He first met the noted Arctic explorer, John Franklin, at Fort Wedderburn in 1820, and advised him that what is now the Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake, which Beaulieu knew well, afforded the best base for his projected journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River. Problems of supply compelled Franklin to reject this advice, which, had it been adopted, might well have averted the hardship and loss of life which were to attend his first “journey to the shores of the polar sea” [see George Back].
On his second expedition (1825–27), by way of the Mackenzie River, Franklin employed Beaulieu as guide and interpreter, set up base at Fort Franklin on the west side of Great Bear Lake in the autumn of 1825, and the following summer sent Dr John Richardson* and the mate E. N. Kendall* down the Mackenzie to map the coast eastward to the mouth of the Coppermine by boat. Richardson completed this commission too late in the season to return the way he had come. He therefore travelled overland, as prearranged, to the Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake, where Beaulieu met him and took the whole party to Fort Franklin by boat. No writer, French or English, has properly stressed Beaulieu’s share in the planning and execution of this trip, the most successful boat journey made by naval personnel in the Canadian Arctic.
As a chief of the Yellowknife tribe, Beaulieu “became the terror” of Dogribs, Slaveys, and Sekanis; he is said to have killed 12 of the last group with his own hand. He lived the life of a “sultan” with three wives and other casual relationships. In his later years Beaulieu settled on the Salt River, a tributary of the Slave, with his family and some Indian followers. There he developed a trade in salt obtained from the river and was granted a monopoly by the Hudson’s Bay Company with which he enjoyed great prestige.
In 1848 he was baptized by Father Alexandre-Antonin Taché*, whereupon he dismissed (with adequate provision) two of his wives, and lived “ever faithful” with the third. He was nearly 80 when he made this act of renunciation. The energetic old man was no passive communicant: he was precise in religious observances, generous in aiding the church, and exerted himself “to open the eyes of those Indians who had been led astray by the Protestant minister.” He was still active as a hunter at the age of 85 and lived to be just over 100.
A son, Étienne Beaulieu, was guide to the American traveller, Warburton Pike, in 1889, and his descendants still live in the Great Slave Lake area.
John Franklin, Narrative of a journey to the shores of the polar sea in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 . . . (London, 1823); Narrative of a second expedition to the shores of the polar sea in the years 1825, 1826 and 1827: including an account of the progress of a detachment to the eastward, by John Richardson (London, 1828). [Alexander Mackenzie], First man west, Alexander Mackenzie’s journal of his voyage to the Pacific coast of Canada in 1793, ed. Walter Sheppe (Montreal, 1962). Morice, Dict. hist. Can. et Métis. Joseph Tassé, Les Canadiens de l’Ouest (2e éd., 2v., Montréal, 1878). Giraud, Le Métis canadien. É.-F.-S.-J. Petitot, En route pour la mer glaciale (Paris, 1887). Guy Blanchet, “Exploring with Sousi and Black Basile,” Beaver, outfit 295 (autumn 1964), 34-41.