John M. McLeod arrived in Montreal in March 1816, having signed a six-year contract with the North West Company. He first served as a clerk on the Churchill River and was probably the one who hailed Governor George Simpson* of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Grand Rapids (Man.) in June 1821 with news of their companies’ coalition. Joining the HBC, McLeod was appointed clerk at Île-à-la-Crosse (Sask.). Frequently referred to in company records as John McLeod Jr, to distinguish him from Chief Trader John McLeod, he was transferred in 1822 to the Athabasca district and accompanied Simpson that autumn from York Factory (Man.) to Fort Chipewyan (Alta). The governor appraised him as a “decent young man but not such a sharp fellow as I took him for, he is thoughtless and requires to be kept at a distance which is done.” By the time they had reached Fort Chipewyan in late December, Simpson had to surrender him unexpectedly to the needs of the Mackenzie River district. He then recommended McLeod to Chief Trader Alexander Roderick McLeod in January as a “young Gentleman of much promise . . . and I am much mistaken if he does not turn out a valuable acquisition to your staff.”
McLeod arrived in the district in March 1823 and would remain there for 12 years, excelling in “voyages of discovery.” Simpson had specified that its trade be expanded westward and that Indian tribes be contacted to check the flow of furs to the Russians on the northwest Pacific coast. McLeod spent the summers of 1823 and 1824 exploring nine mountain ranges adjacent to the South Nahanni River (N.W.T.). He encountered the Nahanis, agreed on a rendezvous with them, and was praised for his “indefatigable exertions” in this initiative. McLeod served primarily at Fort Simpson (N.W.T.) until 1832, often as sole manager and with the full confidence of the frequently absent chief factor, Edward Smith. In the summer of 1831 he set out to find the source of the Liard River’s west branch (Dease River, B.C.), note a possible location for a post, and identify the source of any river running to the coast. On this successful journey he covered about 500 miles and met for the first time five Indian tribes.
That summer Simpson decided to transfer McLeod to the king’s posts in the Montreal department because of his “steady habits of business and correct conduct.” Although displeased, McLeod dutifully left with the spring express in 1832. Simpson described him then in his famous “Character book” as an “active well behaved Man of tolerable Education. Speaks Cree, understands a little Chipewyan is an excellent Trader and has of late been employed on Severe exploring Service.” Edward Smith and Alexander Roderick McLeod interceded on his behalf and persuaded Simpson to order him back to “where he can be more useful at present than any where else.”
By the summer of 1833 McLeod had returned to the Mackenzie River district and was assigned to move Fort Halkett to a new location (near Coal River, B.C.), on the west branch of the Liard. From that post in 1834, the year in which he was promoted chief trader, he undertook a more difficult expedition up the west branch, covering 311 miles of “hitherto unknown country” to Dease Lake. From there he travelled to the Stikine River, where he found evidence of trading by coastal Indians. However, Simpson had decided that exploration in this region should cease because it was too expensive and too slow. Furthermore, he instructed the district to reduce its employees. Stationed at Rivière-au-Liard (Fort Liard, N.W.T.) in 1835, McLeod did not expect to be transferred but in June he left for the Columbia district.
John McLoughlin*, the chief factor at Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash.), chose McLeod in 1836 to lead a trading outfit southwest into the Snake River country and to head the delicate operation of meeting American traders there in order to sell them HBC supplies. He was treated “coolly” by them, but achieved “every object” McLoughlin had in mind, particularly the maintenance of the HBC’s control of trade, and was sent back to the American rendezvous, near Green River (Wyo.), in 1837. The following year he boarded the HBC schooner Cadboro to search for the company’s trappers lost near the Sacramento River valley (Calif.); assisted by the Russians at Bodega Bay and Mexican officials, he found them. While at Bodega Bay, he informally discussed with the Russian American Company’s chief manager, Ivan Antonovich Kupreianov, the affairs of their two companies.
McLeod had no permanent position in the Columbia district and he left on furlough in 1840. He took a leave of absence the following year, retired from HBC service in 1842 at 47 years of age, and appears to have returned to Great Britain. McLeod’s 26 years as a fur trader were highlighted by his zeal and success in exploring the territory adjacent to the Liard River and its tributaries. Mount McLeod, west of Dease Lake, was named after him.
PAM, HBCA, B.39/b/6: 44, 62; B.85/a/4; B.85/a/6: ff.1–10; B.200/a/2: ff.1–12; B.200/a/5: ff.62–75; B.200/a/14: ff.2–17; B.200/b/7: 1–2, 13–15, 21, 26–27, 49; B.200/d/51: f.45; B.200/e/1: f.6; B.200/e/3: ff.2–3; B.200/e/5: f.l; B.200/e/10: f.3; B.200/e/11: 1–3; B.200/e/17: ff.6–7; B.239/g/1: f.63; B.239/g/2: f.8; B.239/g/3: f.11; B.239/g/69: f.28; B.239/k; B.239/x/5a: f.732; D.4/2: ff.19–20; D.4/20: ff.15–16; D.4/21: f.50; D.4/98: f.39; D.4/117: f.55; D.4/127: ff.50, 81; F.5/3, no.55. Canadian north-west (Oliver), 1: 660; 2: 799, 816. HBRS, 1 (Rich); 3 (Fleming); 4 (Rich); 6 (Rich); 30 (Williams). Morton, Hist. of Canadian west (1939). R. M. Patterson, “The Nahany lands; J.M. McLeod’s exploration in 1823 and 1824 of the South Nahanni River country,” Beaver, outfit 292 (summer 1961): 40–47.