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WADDENS (also Vuadens, Wadins), JEAN-ÉTIENNE, sometimes known as the Dutchman, northwest fur-trader; baptized 23 April 1738 at La Tour-de-Peilz, canton of Vaud, Switzerland, son of Adam Samuel Vuadens and Marie-Bernardine Ormond (Ermon); d. March 1782 at Lac La Ronge (Sask.).

Jean-Étienne Waddens lived in Switzerland until at least 1755. By 1757 he was serving in New France with the colonial regular troops, and in May of that year at Montreal he renounced “the Calvinist heresy.” He remained in Montreal or the neighbourhood after the capitulation of the city in 1760, and although technically a deserter he felt so secure that he married Marie-Josephte Deguire at Saint-Laurent on 23 Nov. 1761. In 1763 he became a property holder in Montreal.

Waddens first appears in the records of the fur trade as a small independent trader. As early as 1772 he was at Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.) with a party of eight traders. The next year he had a licence for two canoes, and the value of the outfit was £750, a considerable sum in the trade. Waddens appears to have accompanied his traders, and between 1773 and 1778 he moved from Lake Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan valley; by 1779 he was on the southern edge of the Athabasca country. He had the financial backing of Richard Dobie* and John McKindlay of Montreal for part or all of this time.

In 1779, to offset “the Separate Interests . . . the Bane of that Trade,” the firms trading into the far northwest joined into one association [see William Holmes]. Waddens became a member of this “nine parties’ agreement,” a temporary combination usually regarded as the forerunner of the North West Company. At Lac La Rouge Waddens carried on a lucrative trade with “the Northward Indians” from Lake Athabasca. Late in 1781 he was joined by Peter Pond*, bound for Athabasca itself. Although both men represented the company’s interests, they were on bad terms. In February 1782 they quarrelled and in March Waddens was fatally wounded in another fracas. This incident has been described as murder. In 1783 Mme Waddens petitioned Governor Haldimand for Pond’s apprehension, submitting an affidavit of one of Waddens’ men. When in 1785 Pond was in Montreal he was examined but apparently was not brought to trial, probably because Lac La Ronge lay in the territories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, beyond the legal jurisdiction of the province of Quebec.

Little is known of Waddens’ character, and Alexander Mackenzie*’s description of him as a man of “strict probity and known sobriety” is perhaps a formal phrase. Whatever the case, Waddens did succeed in moving up the social ladder from the private soldier of 1757 to the bourgeois of 1782. He never rose, however, to the ranks of the trader-capitalists as did James McGill*.

Few personal details survive. The children by his marriage to Marie-Josephte Deguire were all baptized at Saint-Laurent or nearby Montreal, three according to the Anglican form of the sacrament. His eldest daughter Véronique became the wife of John Bethune*, Montreal’s first Presbyterian minister. Another daughter, Marguerite, whose mother was Indian, married successively Alexander MacKay* and Dr John McLoughlin*.

J. I. Cooper

[I wish to acknowledge the assistance I have received from J.-J. Lefebvre and G. F. G. Stanley.  j.i.c.] Archives cantonales vaudoises (Lausanne, Suisse), Eb 129/2, p.178; 129/5, p.12. ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 1er mai 1757. Archives paroissiales, Saint-Laurent (Montréal), Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures; 23 nov. 1761. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). HBRS, XIV (Rich and Johnson); XV (Rich and Johnson). PAC Report, 1885, note A. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Davidson, NWC. Morton, History of Canadian west. H. R. Wagner, Peter Pond, fur trader & explorer ([New Haven, Conn.], 1955). CHR, XIII (1932), 205–7. T. C. Elliott, “Marguerite Wadin-McKay-McLaughlin,” Oreg. Hist. Soc., Quarterly (Eugene), XXXVI (1935), 338–47.

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Cite This Article

J. I. Cooper, “WADDENS, JEAN-ÉTIENNE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/waddens_jean_etienne_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/waddens_jean_etienne_4E.html
Author of Article:   J. I. Cooper
Title of Article:   WADDENS, JEAN-ÉTIENNE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   April 16, 2024