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Personal history with The Beaver

One of the things I have come to appreciate since I started working at Canada's History is the personal connection many people have with the magazine. Many readers remember seeing The Beaver in their family home as they were growing up. The magazine, which has been around since 1920, forms part of cherished childhood memory for a lot of people.

Among them are Sally Evans and Janis Freer, two sisters from British Columbia who treasure a 1927 copy of The Beaver that includes a short biography of William Sinclair (1766-1818), a Hudson's Bay Company chief factor at York Factory, accompanied by a photo of Thomas Sinclair, his great-grandson, visiting William's gravesite at York Factory.

Why was this article so carefully preserved by Sally and Janis's mother and passed down to them? Because William Sinclair is their great-great-great grandfather. And Thomas Sinclair is their great-uncle.
This article, along with an album of old photos of their Uncle Tom's journey to York Factory by canoe in 1927, and their late mother's stories about how they are descended from William and his Cree wife Nahoway, inspired the sisters to go on a once-in-a-liftetime trip to York Factory this past August.

I was lucky enough to be on that trip — part of an annual Manitoba Historical Fur Trade Tour organized by Winnipeg-based Heartland Travel that also took in Churchill and Norway House.

And so it was that Sally (below right) and Janis found themselves inside York Factory's depot building, with their copy of the magazine in hand.

Not only that, but they discovered that their fellow travellers, Nelson and Sharon Hogg of Medicine Hat, Alberta, were also distantly related to them through their common ancestor. For all four of them, arriving at William Sinclair's gravesite in York Factory was an emotionally charged experience.

York Factory is not an easy place to get to. Now an uninhabited National Historic Site, it is located at the mouth of the Hayes River on the shore of Hudson Bay and is accessible by float plane for just a few weeks of the year. Or you could paddle down the Hayes River for about a month.
We didn't have to paddle but it was quite an adventure just the same. Five of us ended up on an unscheduled overnight stop in York Factory when our float plane became fogbound.

While there, we were billetted in the Parks Canada staff house, where maintenance manager Mike Hawkins just happened to have his own special dog-eared issue of The Beaver lying around.
This one was from the winter of 1957. The entire issue was devoted to the closure of York Factory and it gives a detailed history of the fort.

This particular copy has probably been at the fort since the year it was published. For a long time its pages were pinned to the walls. 

I have to say it was touching for me, as the magazine's senior editor in 2013, to see how the work of my predecesssors continues to be valued and preserved by people today. And it causes me to wonder, what will we at Canada's History magazine write today that will still be cherised many decades into the future?
Watch for more about the Manitoba Historical Fur Trade Tour in the February-March 2014 issue of Canada's History.

Posted: 23/09/2013 10:58:49 AM by NELLE OOSTEROM | with 0 comments
Filed under: history travel, Manitoba, Mark Reid, Parks Canada, The Beaver, York Factory

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