SMITH, JOSEPH, HBC labourer, explorer; d. June 1765 en route to York Fort (York Factory, Man.) from the Saskatchewan country.
As Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, his family, and his successors developed French trade in the west, the Hudson’s Bay Company felt increasingly threatened by the “pedlars” in the interior. To meet the challenge, James Isham began sending men inland from York Fort. Anthony Henday in 1754 was the first to go. In 1756 Joseph Smith, who had come to the bay as a labourer three years before, and Joseph Waggoner, a halfbreed son of Rowland Waggoner*, received orders to accompany Washiabitt, a captain of the Sturgeon Indians (a Cree band), to his home grounds. On 23 Aug. 1756 “the two Josephs,” as Isham called them, left York with instructions to distribute presents to the Indians they met in order to encourage them to go down to York to trade. The travellers were to resist should any French traders oppose them, but they were not to seek trouble.
After following the Hayes and Fox rivers to Cross Lake and ascending the Nelson to Little Playgreen Lake and Lac Ouinipigon (Lake Winnipeg), on 31 October they reached Lac Bourbon (Cedar Lake), where they learned that the French post, Fort Bourbon, was unoccupied. Having adapted themselves perfectly to the Indian mode of travel and way of life, they drifted south, passing the Porcupine Hills and Duck Mountain and crossing the Assiniboine River into what is now southwestern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan, where they hunted buffalo. At different times during their winter on the prairies they encountered groups of French traders who were also wintering with the Indians.
In March 1757 Smith, Waggoner, and their companions went north to the Indians’ home grounds in the Swan River area. After building canoes they set out for Fort Bourbon, where they found the French in residence and trading. The explorers returned to York by way of Little Playgreen Lake, the Echimamish River, Oxford and Knee lakes, the first Englishmen to travel this route, which later became the standard one from York to the interior. They reported to Isham that they had encountered 20 French traders and that food had been plentiful on the prairies. After spending less than a week at York, they departed with the same Indians on 30 June 1757 and again wintered in the vicinity of the Assiniboine River. They came down to the bay the following spring with 57 canoes.
In 1759 Smith and Anthony Henday went into the Saskatchewan country and returned with a 61-canoe flotilla. Waggoner travelled there the following year, and in 1763 Smith made the journey with an Indian leader named Meesinkeeshick, going by way of the Grass River. He observed that the French posts had been abandoned and that Fort Saint-Louis (near Fort à La Corne, Sask.) had been burned. In 1764 he left for the Saskatchewan once more, accompanied for part of the journey by Isaac Batt*. Smith died on his return journey and the Indian woman with whom he had been travelling brought his personal effects and their child to Governor Ferdinand Jacobs* at York.
Altogether Smith made five inland journeys and Waggoner three. Smith kept journals on his 1756, 1757, and 1763 trips, but it is difficult to pinpoint his routes, for his entries are crude and laconic. The two explorers were certainly the first Englishmen to penetrate the Assiniboine River region, and the first to describe a buffalo pound. Unfortunately for the HBC, their discoveries were not at once followed by the development of a post at Little Playgreen Lake or on the Paskoya (Saskatchewan) River. The masters at York felt that the menace from Montreal was ended by the fall of New France and reasoned that there was no further need for the vigorous policy of inland travel they had promoted since 1754. The travels of Henday, Smith, Waggoner and Batt greatly increased the immediate fur returns at York, but English “pedlars” from Montreal were soon to mount a rivalry more severe and better organized than the French efforts had been. Had an inland post already existed the HBC would have been better prepared to face the fierce competition of its new English rivals.
HBC Arch. A.5/1, ff.57d, 65d, 73d; A.11/114, ff.109d, 149d, 156d, 159, 197d; A.11/115, ff.2–3d, 7–8, 16, 23d, 37, 52d, 61–61d, 67d, 85, 87d, 97d, 101d. Morton, History of the Canadian west. E. E. Rich, The fur trade and the northwest to 1857 (Toronto, 1967); History of the HBC, I.