Neil McLaren belonged to the ancient Clan McLaren, (MacLabhrainn), of Loch Earn, in Perthshire. In 1791 he immigrated to Lower Canada. On arriving at Quebec he was hired for a three-year period by Lymburner and Crawford, a company engaged in the seal and salmon fisheries in Labrador [see Adam Lymburner]. He entered the service of the North West Company around 1795 and in July 1799 was working as a clerk in the Tadoussac trading-post, at the mouth of the Saguenay.
In April 1800 McLaren was sent 90 miles up the Saguenay to Chicoutimi; this post, which was then the terminus for navigation on the river, served three others inland: Pointe-Bleue, on Lac Saint-Jean, Ashuapmouchouan, on the Rivière Ashuapmouchouan, and the post on Lac Mistassini, which was still farther away. McLaren ran the trading and social activities of this large factory until October 1805.
While he was at Chicoutimi McLaren kept a journal that sheds much light on daily life in the establishment. A man of order, discipline, and exceptional perseverance, every day he recorded in a big exercise book the temperature and the direction of the winds; he mentioned the visitors passing through, Indians as well as others; he described the work done by the men to maintain the buildings, the labours of the different seasons, the care of the garden and of domestic animals, not forgetting, of course, the hunt, which was carried on in autumn and winter. No detail escaped his keen eye. His particular concern was the meticulous attention required in preparing the goods to be sent to the inland posts. Everything was checked and weighed; choosing the Indians who were to transport these valuable goods was no haphazard affair. When the crews returned, he sorted out the furs they brought back and tied them up into bales ready for dispatch by the next ship chartered by the company.
On 4 Oct. 1805 Jean-Baptiste Taché was named to head the Chicoutimi post, and a few days later McLaren was transferred to Musquaro, at the mouth of the Rivière Romaine on the north shore of the St Lawrence. McLaren ceased keeping his journal on 26 November, an apparent indication that he was leaving this post for good. He has been traced to La Malbaie, where he was game-warden. It was there that in 1806 or 1807 he married Margaret Hewit, daughter of John Hewit, the manager of the seigneury of Murray Bay, which belonged to Christiana Emery, John Nairne*’s widow. Thanks to good relations between his father-in-law and the seigneur, McLaren received a grant en censive of two pieces of land in the Port-au-Persil concession, a few miles downstream from La Malbaie; he settled there with his family around 1815.
McLaren then devoted himself to agriculture, but engaged in the lumber business from time to time. In 1836, for example, he acted as official agent for Peter McLeod*, a lumberman who left his mark on the Saguenay region. That year the Hudson’s Bay Company received a three-year permit to cut wood on the territory of the king’s posts in Lower Canada. The HBC immediately entrusted McLeod with organizing lumbering operations around the Rivière Noire, near Saint-Siméon in the Charlevoix region. Responsibility for looking after McLeod’s interests fell to McLaren.
When the HBC’s cutting permit was sold to the Société des Entrepreneurs des Pinières du Saguenay in 1837 [see Alexis Tremblay*, dit Picoté], Neil McLaren went back to Port-au-Persil, where he busied himself developing his land and raising his family of four boys and five girls. He died in a mishap there, at the age of 78, on 25 Sept. 1844. His body rests in a burial vault at Port-au-Persil, close to his home, the cradle of the McLaren family in Canada.
ANQ-Q, CN1-197, 16 oct. 1837; CN4-9, 3 janv., 19 avril, 22 oct. 1836; 9, 19 oct. 1837. ANQ-SLSJ, P-2, dossier 66, pièces 1–3, 6, 10, 23, 25–27. Cadastres abrégés des seigneuries du district de Québec . . . (2v., Québec, 1863). Lorenzo Angers, Chicoutimi, poste de traite, 1676–1852 (Montréal, 1971). J.-P. Simard, “Biographie de Thomas Simard,” Saguenayensia (Chicoutimi, Qué.), 20 (1978): 4–6.