History

Explore presents the Hudson’s Bay Company - BONUS EPISODE: Life at Fort Simpson

Episode 16

In a 1938 radio recording, Charles Camsell, the founding president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, details what it was like growing up at an HBC fur trading post

  • Jun 04, 2020
Charles Camsell, second from right, leading a 1914 mapping expedition of the Tazin and Talston Rivers in the Northwest Territories.
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What was it like to live in a remote Hudson’s Bay trading post in the 1880s in Canada’s north?

In this bonus episode of the Explore series marking the 350th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company, we hear a rare, first-person audio account of life at Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories. The storyteller is Charles Camsell, founding president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, talking about his childhood as the son of an HBC fur trader, in an old Canadian radio recording taped in 1938. Camsell recalls working trap lines, paddling with voyageurs, watching the local bishop amputate a man’s leg with a knife and saw, and the general ebb and flow of life at one of the remotest HBC posts.

Camsell was born in 1876 in the Northwest Territories, at the HBC trading post at Fort Liard. He grew up some 300 kilometres away, at Fort Simpson, where his father Julian Camsell was the HBC Chief Factor for the MacKenzie district, administering an area about the size of western Europe. Charles went on to become one of Canada’s leading northern explorers, mapping hundreds of thousands of square kilometres for the Geological Survey of Canada in the early 1900s, most of it done by canoe. 
 
In 2018, Camsell’s great-grandson, David McGuffin — also the host of our Explore podcast — retraced his journey through the Peel watershed of the Yukon on an RCGS-funded expedition. 

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