CAMERON, ANGUS, North West Company partner and HBC chief factor; b. in 1782 or 1783 in the parish of Kirkmichael, Banffshire, Scotland, elder son of James Cameron and Janet Farquharson; d. at Nairn, Scotland, 11 Aug. 1876.
Although his uncle, Æneas Cameron*, was a partner of the North West Company in command of the Timiskaming District, Angus Cameron came to Canada on his own in the spring of 1801, engaging as a clerk with the company on 2 June. He arrived at Fort Timiskaming with the June canoes, surprising his uncle, who sent him a few months later to Matawagamingue, a frontier post on present-day Mattagami Lake, Ont. Apart from his being “an indifferent schollar and not very eager to improve himself,” Æneas found him entirely satisfactory “in every other respect.” Angus soon became master of Matawagamingue, remaining there until he succeeded to Fort Timiskaming in 1822.
During these years Cameron acquired tremendous influence over the Indians, whom he ruled autocratically but with genuine sympathy and understanding. After 1813 the Hudson’s Bay Company had only one post in the Timiskaming District – Kenogamissi Lake, some 30 miles below Matawagamingue – and Cameron’s outstanding success in opposing them there was no doubt chiefly responsible for his becoming commander of the district when Alexander McDougall* retired from Fort Abitibi in 1816. A few years later William McGillivray* was to describe Cameron as “the best trader” in the Southern Department, asserting that even as late as 1821 the combined Timiskaming and Lake Superior returns were valued at £20,000. Unlike the English servants, the Timiskaming traders remained for long periods at the same posts, and the loyalty of the Indians to them contributed greatly to the defeat of the HBC in that district and also slowed Timiskaming’s orientation to Moose Factory after the union of 1821. The Indians’ personal attachment to Cameron himself – and later to his nephew James Cameron* – also largely accounts for the failure in the area of early independent traders from Canada.
Cameron became a partner in the NWC about 1816. His contempt for his English neighbours made it hard for him to accept the union in 1821; his resentment doubtless was increased by his restriction, as a recent partner, to a chief tradership, despite the Montreal agents’ preference for him over many of his seniors. Subsequently the agents’ failure to notify him of Timiskaming’s transfer from their control to the Southern Department led this proud, uncompromising man into a dispute with the governor and council at Moose Factory. He won his battle to retain command of Fort Timiskaming but, after inheriting a considerable fortune from Æneas in 1822, he apparently decided to retire on becoming eligible for a chief trader’s interest. With this in mind he bought the late Alexander McDougall’s farm at Lachine. Going to Montreal in the summer of 1826, however, he was faced with the bankruptcy of the agents with whom Æneas’ legacy and all his own savings were deposited. Governor George Simpson*, not yet personally acquainted with him but aware of his importance to Timiskaming, suggested that he cancel his resignation. This Cameron was not inclined to do but, at Simpson’s request, he did return to Fort Timiskaming for the 1826–27 season.
The following summer brought further troubles; the McDougall heirs, who had discovered they were not credited in the agents’ accounts with the money Cameron had paid them, sued him, and the affair dragged on until settled out of court in 1835. Allowed bail within Lower Canada, Cameron re-entered the company’s service and Simpson appointed him to Lac des Deux Montagnes, where trading opposition was rampant. His energy, skill, and amicable relationship with both the Iroquois and the Algonkin villages, as well as with the Roman Catholic clergy, soon led to improvement and by 1831 his principal competitors had given up. Three years later, after petty traders had settled on Lake Timagami, Simpson sent him back to Timiskaming, giving him “carte blanche” in its direction. Again he quickly disposed of opposition, and continued progress in the district spoke, in Simpson’s own word, “volumes” in his favour. Nevertheless since the preferment list was crowded with the overflow of the union he had to wait until 1838 to become chief factor.
By this time lumberers had reached Timiskaming’s borders and in 1840, in an effort to discourage them, Simpson and Cameron began lumbering for the company on Lake Timiskaming. This experiment terminated on Cameron’s retirement three years later, the losses having outstripped any possible value. Cameron himself now felt that the sooner the company exhausted Timiskaming the better, although in fact the post was to remain profitable longer than he seems to have anticipated.
Cameron returned to Scotland in the autumn of 1843; his three children preceded him but their mother, probably an Indian woman, of whom nothing is known, remained in Timiskaming. The following spring he bought the estate of Firhall, near Nairn, abandoning all thoughts of settling in Canada. In April 1845 he married Elizabeth Morison, who died in August 1846 after giving birth to a son. Like his uncle Æneas, Cameron suffered greatly from rheumatism, apparently a legacy of their years in “the wilds of Canada.” Despite the affliction he was the longest surviving of the NWC partners.
When Angus Cameron, the most important of the succession of Camerons to command Timiskaming, went to the fort at the turn of the 19th century, the district was isolated by its geographical situation and by the deliberate policy of the NWC agents even from the rest of the Montreal trade. When he retired 42 years later, the Canadian presence was making itself felt; Roman Catholic missionaries were visiting the posts and lumberers had pushed beyond Lake Timiskaming. Like the best fur trade officers, Cameron combined initiative, managerial ability, and understanding of the Indians with the virtues of economy, honesty, and sobriety, and he played a decisive role in Timiskaming’s most prosperous years, under both the NWC and the HBC. Even after he retired, his influence lingered on, to the company’s advantage, for a decade or more.
Cameron family papers, in possession of the author with restricted copies in PAO. HBC Arch. B.99/a/1–23 (Kenogamissi journals); B.99/e/1–8 (Reports); B.239/c/1 (York Factory correspondence); D.4/5–127 (George Simpson’s correspondence outward); D.5/2–52 (George Simpson’s correspondence inward).