HALDANE, JOHN, fur trader; b. c. 1775 in Scotland, son of George Haldane, manufacturer, and Katharine Murray; d. 11 Oct. 1857 in Haddington, Scotland.
John Haldane’s fur-trade career would appear to have started on the Saskatchewan River in 1798. He was probably in the employ of the New North West Company (sometimes called the XY Company) for four years and then in 1802 he joined the firm as a wintering partner. That year he was at the New North West Company post on Lake Athabasca, in competition with Peter Fidler* of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Nottingham House (Alta) and James MacKenzie* of the “old” North West Company at Fort Chipewyan. When the two North West companies amalgamated in 1804, John Forsyth* signed the agreement on behalf of Haldane, who entered the NWC as a winterer with one share. He was present at the annual meeting of wintering partners and Montreal agents at Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.) that year, and at the meeting of 1808 he was appointed to a committee with, among others, Roderick McKenzie and Donald McTavish*, to investigate the financial arrangements of the company. From 1805 to 1811 he was in charge of the Monontagué department, to the west of Lake Nipigon, where he conducted the NWC’s trade campaign against the HBC. This competition was at times particularly violent and in one incident, in 1809, a Nor’Wester, Aeneas Macdonell, was killed in a clash with HBC men at Eagle Lake.
Haldane replaced Pierre Rastel* de Rocheblave as proprietor at Pic (Ont.) in 1812, and then took charge of the Athabasca River department in 1813 and the Saskatchewan River department in 1814. He spent 1815–16 in Great Britain on a long-deferred leave and then, in 1819, with Peter Skene Ogden, he made his first trip beyond the Rocky Mountains. When the HBC and the NWC merged in 1821, he became a chief factor and, with John Dugald Cameron, assumed command of the Columbia district.
Haldane’s career with the HBC was highlighted by a power struggle over the administration of the North American fur trade, and he soon became involved in a dispute with George Simpson, the newly appointed governor of the HBC’s Northern Department. The two men met for the first time at Norway House (Man.) in 1822. At the Northern Department council meetings of that year, there and at York Factory, Haldane and James Bird were seen as the leaders of a group of traders who attempted to block Simpson’s plans for company management which included a reduction in salaries and allowances. Haldane was granted leave for 1822 and it was clear that Simpson wanted to be rid of him permanently from the councils of the Northern Department, where “he devotes himself more to Legislating than to business and he has the entire lead of [John McDonald*, George Keith, and James Leith*], his old XY partisans.” After his furlough Haldane was appointed to the Lake Superior district of the Southern Department and Governor William Williams* was delighted to get a man of “known abilities.” There does not appear to have been any difficulty between Williams and Haldane such as had developed with Simpson, who noted that this was because Haldane ruled “both Williams and the southern department.”
In 1826 Simpson was appointed governor of both departments, and it was perhaps not surprising that in August 1826 Haldane tendered his resignation, ostensibly for health reasons, to be effective in 1827. When the two men met at Michipicoten (Michipicoten River, Ont.) in September 1826, Simpson was pushing to reduce expenses and to institute new transport arrangements which Haldane opposed. But, now that he had decided to resign, Haldane chose to be “smooth as oil,” and Simpson reported privately to John George McTavish* that “from the teeth outward we were excellent friends.” Haldane retired to Scotland, taking up residence in Haddington, and in 1827 received £2,665 9s. 0d. from the HBC for his interest in the company.
Early in his career Haldane had taken as his country wife Josette Latour, when she was “turned off” by William McKay* on his retirement in 1808. For nearly twenty years she was recognized as Haldane’s wife à la façon du pays and on one occasion was credited with saving his life. Before leaving Michipicoten in 1827 Haldane had, according to Keith, promised to provide his wife with an annuity of £60. Over the years, however, he chose to forget this responsibility and Josette, who survived into the 1850s, suffered real hardship. Other old fur traders, such as Keith and Charles McKenzie, were enraged by his callousness and recounted exaggerated stories of his wealth and style of living. Protests on her behalf seem to have resulted in the severing of long-time contacts. By the end of his life Haldane’s links with his associates from the North American fur trade had virtually ended. On 11 Oct. 1857 he died of jaundice in Haddington.
Haldane’s fur-trade career was marked in particular by his conflict with Simpson, and at the height of his influence he became known for self-indulgence and a propensity for intrigue. The manner in which he turned his back on his country wife at his retirement stands as an unfortunate example of the fate of Indian and Métis women. Both of these circumstances have combined to create for Haldane an unenviable place in the history of the North American fur trade.
GRO (Edinburgh), Haddington, reg. of deaths, 11 Oct. 1857. PAC, MG 19, A21, ser.1, 17. PAM, HBCA, A.44/3: f.116; B.107/a/2; B.135/k/1; B.231/e/3; B.239/c/1: ff.292, 330–30d; D.1/5: f.5d; D.2/1; D.4/8: ff.27–28; D.4/82: f.46d; D.4/86: f.27d; D.4/89: ff.22–22d, 69d, 105–5d; D.4/92: ff.1–57; D.5/1: f.219; D.5/6: f.85; D.5/8: f.142; D.5/13: f.71; D.5/20: f.307d; D.5/43: f.225. Andrew Amos, Report of trials in the courts of Canada, relative to the destruction of the Earl of Selkirk’s settlement on the Red River; with observations (London, 1820). Cox, Adventures on the Columbia. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Harmon, Sixteen years in the Indian country (Lamb). HBRS, 2 (Rich and Fleming); 3 (Fleming); 26 (Johnson). Mactavish, Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod). R. A. Pendergast, “The XY Company, 1798–1804”