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CLARKE, LAWRENCE, HBC fur-trader and office-holder; b. 26 June 1832 in Fermoy (Republic of Ireland); m. first in 1859 Jane (d. 1870), daughter of John Bell*, and they had five children; m. secondly in 1874 Catherine (Katherine) McKay, and they had nine children; d. 5 Oct. 1890 in Prince Albert (Sask.).

Lawrence Clarke joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in Montreal in 1851, after spending several years in the West Indies. He was immediately sent to Fort McPherson (N. W. T.) on the Peel River, and there was promoted to clerk. In 1863 Clarke was transferred to Fort-à-la-Corne (Sask.), then HBC headquarters on the lower Saskatchewan River. Four years later he went to Fort Carlton as chief trader; he was made factor in 1868 and chief factor in 1875. Three years later, as chief factor of the Saskatchewan District, he moved to Prince Albert where he served until his death. While at Fort Carlton he became an honorary member of the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C., to which he shipped large quantities of Indian artifacts. He is mentioned by such travellers as Sir William Francis Butler*, the Earl of Southesk [Carnegie], Sir Sandford Fleming*, and the Marquess of Lorne [Campbell*] as having been a generous host during their tours of the North-West Territories. In 1875 he provided crucial assistance to the North-West Mounted Police during their first winter on the North Saskatchewan.

Holding a senior HBC position, Clarke regarded himself as the most important man in the Saskatchewan District, with responsibilities extending beyond the fur trade, and was active in cultural and commercial affairs. He worked to gather support for Bishop John McLean’s efforts in 1879 to establish Emmanuel College in Prince Albert, which it was hoped would develop into a university of Saskatchewan. Clarke himself donated money for its construction and for scholarships. He also supported the development of steamboat traffic on the North Saskatchewan River and provided financial assistance with the bringing of telegraph and railway services to Prince Albert. In 1881 his public career reached a climax when he became the first man from the North-West Territories to be elected to a legislative post, taking his place on the Council of the North-West Territories for the new District of Lorne. The council sat only 17 days during Clarke’s two-year term, and although he was an active member his sole contribution of importance was a resolution calling on the federal government to extinguish Métis land claims. The establishment of a land office in Prince Albert shortly afterward is usually seen as a consequence of his work.

Clarke’s interest in the land titles question had been of long standing, and until the outbreak of the rebellion in 1885 [see Louis Riel] he continued his attempts to resolve a problem that caused dissatisfaction among white settlers and Métis alike. Arrogant and peremptory, however, he was considered by some of his contemporaries to be temperamentally unsuited for dealing with the large and restive Indian and Métis population of his district. He was actively disliked by many, and was even suspected of hoping to speculate profitably in the Métis land scrip which would be distributed by the government if his efforts were successful. The suspicion seems unfounded. Yet clearly his sympathy did not extend beyond those Indians and Métis who had abandoned their nomadic habits for farms and the white man’s way of life. Clarke was always intensely suspicious of any attempt by the Métis to organize themselves and over-reacted to efforts such as that of Gabriel Dumont* in 1875 to establish an informal Métis “government.” Because of Clarke’s alarms on this occasion, 50 North-West Mounted Police had been sent to Fort Carlton and Dumont was called before the magistrates there, one of whom was Clarke, to explain his actions. As the relations between whites and Métis deteriorated over the next ten years, so did Clarke’s with Métis activists. Indeed, it was widely held in the territories that his rash behaviour was partly responsible for the outbreak of rebellion in 1885. Two particularly damaging rumours were attached to Clarke’s name. The first, current among the Métis, reported a provocative warning by him that their petitions to the government were to be answered not by redress but by the strengthening of the NWMP detachment. Although Clarke consistently denied this charge, modern historians agree that it was probably well founded. The second rumour suggested that it was largely due to his urgings that Superintendent Lief Newry Fitzroy Crozier* marched on Duck Lake on 26 March without awaiting the arrival of Colonel Acheson Gosford Irvine with NWMP reinforcements. Clarke never commented on this charge. He was present during the first stages of the ensuing confrontation, but fled precipitately when the fighting broke out. His health collapsed immediately thereafter, and though he was appointed a supply officer of the Canadian expedition to suppress the rebellion, he was unable to fulfil his duties.

Clarke had not stood for re-election to the Council of the North-West Territories in 1883. His connection with the HBC had been an issue in 1881, and in 1883 there were strong suspicions that he was using his political influence to persuade the government to locate the new land office and telegraph office on HBC property and not in Prince Albert itself. In November the issue of the location of the telegraph office actually burst into a riot. Although he served as president of the Prince Albert Board of Trade between 1887 and 1889, his health remained poor until he died in 1890 at the age of 58.

Stanley Gordon

Glenbow-Alberta Institute, C. D. Denney papers (mfm.). PAC, MG 26, A; MG 27, I, C4. PAM, HBCA, D.20/35. Saskatchewan Arch. Board (Regina), Campbell Innes papers. Prince Albert Times and Saskatchewan Rev. (Prince Albert), 1882–90. Saskatchewan Herald (Battleford, [Sask.]), 1878–90. McPhillips’ alphabetical and business directory of the district of Saskatchewan, N.W.T. . . . , [comp. H. T. McPhillips] (Qu’Appelle, [Sask.]), 1888. G. W. D. Abrams, Prince Albert: the first century, 1866–1966 (Saskatoon, Sask., 1966). N. F. Black, History of Saskatchewan and the North West territories (2v., Regina, 1913; 2nd ed., 1v., 1913). J. K. Howard, Strange empire; a narrative of the northwest (New York, 1952). D. G. Lent, West of the mountains: James Sinclair and the Hudson’s Bay Company (Seattle, Wash., 1963). Stanley, Birth of western Canada. George Woodcock, Gabriel Dumont: the Métis chief and his lost world (Edmonton, 1975).

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Cite This Article

Stanley Gordon, “CLARKE, LAWRENCE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/clarke_lawrence_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/clarke_lawrence_11E.html
Author of Article:   Stanley Gordon
Title of Article:   CLARKE, LAWRENCE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   October 1, 2023