FINLAYSON, NICOL, HBC chief factor; b. c. 1795 at Loch Alsh, Ross-shire, Scotland; d. at Nairn, Scotland, 17 May 1877.
Nicol Finlayson and a younger brother, Duncan*, joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as writers in 1815. Nicol’s early experience was gained at Albany Factory on James Bay and at subordinate inland posts as far west as Lac Seul in present day northwestern Ontario. Although he was first considered frivolous and inattentive to business, he became efficient both as a trader and as an accountant. Being a good-natured man, he was liked by his Cree customers and in time acquired an exceptional knowledge of their language and customs.
On 10 June 1830 Finlayson left Moose Factory for Ungava Bay to execute Governor George Simpson*’s plans for trading with the Eskimos of Hudson Strait, who usually visited the Moravian missions on the northern part of the Labrador coast, and with the wandering Indians of the interior, who obtained their few necessities either from opposition traders on Esquimaux Bay (Hamilton Inlet) or from traders, HBC and others, on the Gulf of St Lawrence. Formerly the Ungava Bay area had been known to the HBC only from the journeys of the Moravians, Benjamin Gottlieb Kohlmeister* and George Kmoch, and its own employees, James Clouston and William Hendry.
Finlayson followed Hendry’s overland route of 1828 and built Fort Chimo on the east bank of the South (Koksoak) River about 27 miles from its mouth. The site was almost destitute of wood and clay for building purposes but it provided a convenient berth for the vessel which was expected to keep Fort Chimo regularly supplied with trading goods and provisions from York Factory on the west coast of Hudson Bay. Because of its extreme isolation, both from York Factory and from the posts on James Bay, it proved impossible to maintain regular communication with Fort Chimo. Consequently Finlayson faced not only danger from the age-old enmity between Eskimos and Indians but also the problem of survival in a grim, barren land. In spite of all his efforts and those of his “second,” Erland Erlandson, business was unprofitable, the Eskimos having but little to spare and the Indians being more concerned with following the herds of caribou which supplied food and clothing (as well as the means for trading guns, ammunition, and tobacco) than with trapping furs, which were much more profitable for the company. John McLean*, who succeeded Finlayson, suffered less patiently the frustrations endured in trying to carry out Governor Simpson’s over-optimistic plans for exploiting the trade of a region he (McLean) described as presenting “as complete a picture of desolation as can be imagined.”
Finlayson, who had been a chief trader since 1833, left Fort Chimo for Moose Factory in July 1836. He was granted extended furlough and visited Scotland in 1837–38 before returning to duty. For the remainder of his career he was employed at Michipicoten and York Factory, and in the HBC districts of Rainy Lake, Saskatchewan, Swan River, Île-à-la-Crosse, and Cumberland. His promotion in 1846 to the rank of chief factor entitled him to a seat on the Council of the Northern Department of Rupert’s Land. His health, impaired in Ungava, never fully recovered, and in 1855, at the end of his fourth visit to Scotland, he was retired by the company. He moved to Nairn, where he died in 1877.
Finlayson had four sons and a daughter by an unidentified “native woman,” and two sons and a daughter who survived childhood by Elizabeth, a daughter of chief factor Alexander Kennedy, to whom he was married by Governor Simpson at Moose Factory on 10 Aug. 1829.
HBRS, III (Fleming); XIX (Rich and Johnson); XXIV (Davies and Johnson). R. M. Ballantyne, Ungava, a tale of Esquimaux-land (London, 1857).