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Maurice-Régis Blondeau Fonds (P098)

Excerpt from the account book of Maurice-Régis Blondeau (1734-1809) (detail), 1777-1787. Gift of David Ross McCord, Maurice-Régis Blondeau Fonds P098, M13027 © McCord Museum

Off to the "Upper Country"

"Mr. J. Bte Cadot...........Dt [Debtor?]
Equipment for Bte Parisien, Guide
4 au [aunes?] of cotton at 5 [pounds?]...20 [pounds?]
9 au of Russian canvas at 3 [pounds?]...27 [pounds?]
1 blanket of 3 pts [points] - 12 [pounds?]
1 pr [pair] of leggings....4 [pounds?] 10 [shillings?]
1 pr of breeches..."

In May 1780, a fur-trading expedition prepared to leave Montreal for the "Upper Country" (the basin of the Great Lakes). The organizer was none other than Jean-Baptiste Cadot, the experienced fur trader immortalized in the poem Le drapeau fantôme by author Louis Fréchette. Although the expedition's final destination was not indicated, it was likely one of the strategically located trading posts around the Great Lakes, such as Grand Portage or Fort Michilimakinac. The goods brought by the expedition would supply the trading post and be used to trade with Aboriginal trappers. The furs obtained in exchange would be brought back to Montreal the following autumn.

The job of guide Baptiste Parisien would be to direct, both on the water and during portages, a crew composed of a "gouvernail" (helmsman) and three "seconds," job titles that referred to the paddlers' location in the canoe. Two "winterers" -- unlike the other crew members, they would not return home for the winter -- completed the list of hired men.

This episode is just one of many in the complex, fascinating history of the fur trade that can be reconstructed using the account book of Montreal fur trader Maurice-Régis Blondeau. Although the document's viewpoint is that of a Euro-Canadian entrepreneur, it is still a remarkable chronicle of this major economic, political, social and cultural phenomenon.


P098 Maurice-Régis Blondeau Fonds. - 1777-1787. - 4 cm of textual records.

Biographical Sketch

Born in Montreal, Maurice-Régis Blondeau (1734-1809) was the son of Jean-Baptiste Blondeau (1700-1787) and Marie Geneviève Lefebvre Angers (1713-1787). The Blondeau family settled in New France in the mid-17th century and included several fur traders. Jean-Baptiste Blondeau, the father of Maurice-Régis, specialized in the trade in the "Illinois Country" (area in the Mississippi Valley colonized by the French in what is now the states of Illinois and Missouri). From 1757 to 1767, Maurice-Régis took part, probably as a "hired man" (a labourer hired on contract, usually as a paddler), in fur-trading expeditions to Fort Saint-Frédéric (New York), Fort Dauphin and Fort La Reine (Manitoba), Michilimakinac (Michigan) and Grand Portage (Minnesota).

Upon his return to Montreal, Maurice-Régis Blondeau married Marie Josephe Le Pellé Lahaye (1736?-1809) in 1767. He immediately left again for the "Upper Country" (Great Lakes region) and points further west, in present-day Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where he conducted several fur-trading expeditions. Montreal was, however, the administrative centre of this commercial activity, and in the 1770s, he purchased two houses (one with a storehouse) on St. Paul Street, another on St. François, and a fourth on De l'Hôpital.

Beginning in 1774, Maurice-Régis Blondeau collaborated with other traders, including Jean Baptiste Amable Adhémar, James McGill, Isaac Todd, and Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher, to trade furs in the Lake Superior region. A short time later, he joined the North West Company (NWC), a coalition of Montreal fur traders founded in 1779 following fur trader Peter Pond's discovery of a particularly rich trapping area in the area of Lake Athabasca (northern Saskatchewan). The company's goal was to pool the efforts and resources of Montreal fur merchants, who were being affected by the growing costs of doing business in the Northwest and competition amongst themselves. The other NWC objectives were to oppose the monopoly enjoyed by the Hudson's Bay Company and pressure the colonial government to limit any regulations affecting trade. The NWC included influential business leaders like Simon McTavish, Isaac Todd, James McGill and the Frobisher brothers, Benjamin, Joseph and Thomas. Headquartered in Montreal, the company set up numerous trading posts in the northern Plains and the Subarctic. The company's success over its 42 or so years of existence was due largely to its proactive business practices. NWC merchants went further inland, following the main waterways, seeking out Aboriginal trappers, who were key to the fur trade, and establishing a veritable system of economic and cultural exchange with them.

In the years that followed, Maurice-Régis Blondeau partnered with John Grant, Gabriel Cotté and Jean-Baptiste Cadot to conduct fur-trading expeditions around the Great Lakes. In 1785, he was also a founding member of Montreal's Beaver Club. This club, made up exclusively of fur traders working in the "Upper Country," was closely associated with the activities of the NWC. It was dissolved in 1827.

In addition to his business activities, Maurice-Régis Blondeau was involved in the political, legal and military affairs of Montreal and the colony. For example, in 1785 he was part of the reform movement advocating the adoption of a British-style constitution, and in 1794 he was a member of the Association loyale de Montreal. He helped administer Jesuit landholdings in the seigneury of Prairie-de-la-Madeleine and in Montreal. He was also a justice of the peace in Montreal from 1795 to 1799, and an officer in Montreal's 1st Militia Battalion between 1791 and 1802.

Maurice-Régis Blondeau died in Montreal in 1809.

Scope and Content

The Maurice-Régis Blondeau Fonds focusses on the business activities of this individual, specifically fur trading in the Great Lakes region, with specific mention of the trading posts of Grand Portage and Michilimakinac. It documents the equipment used by fur-trading expeditions, the supplies of trading posts, the equipment and wages of various hired men (guides, helmsmen, bowsmen, seconds, middles and winterers), as well as the goods traded during these expeditions. It also chronicles the partnerships Blondeau formed with other merchants like Alexis Lahaye, Gabriel Cotté and, above all, Jean-Baptiste Cadot.

A remarkable record of Canada's economic, social and cultural development, this fonds contains extensive detailed information and mentions key actors in the fur trade, a major economic activity in the late 18th century. Furthermore, it chronicles Montreal's central role in operating vast trade networks in the Northwest regions of the country. It also reveals the role, usually downplayed in historical accounts, of the French-speaking merchant class in the creation of the North West Company.

The fonds contains an account book kept in Montreal from the year 1777 to the year 1787. This document records the delivery of supplies purchased to outfit expeditions and trading posts in the Great Lakes, the types and quantities of furs obtained during these expeditions, and the buyers of these furs. The Maurice-Régis Blondeau partners mentioned most frequently are Alexander Henry, Jean-Baptiste Adhémar, Joseph Perinault, Alexis Lahaye and Gabriel Cotté.

The last section of the account book documents Maurice-Régis Blondeau's association with Jean-Baptiste Cadot, whose fur-trading expeditions he supported in the Great Lakes. This partnership seems to have been particularly active during the years 1780 to 1787.

Several of the transactions recorded in the book appear to have nothing to do with the fur trade. This is the case, for example, of transactions involving Mrs. Macdonald.

Source of title proper: Title based on the creator of the fonds.

Physical condition: The cover and several pages of account book are loose and some pages have been cut out and removed.

Immediate source of acquisition: Acquired by David Ross McCord in 1930.

Language: The document is in French.

Associated material:

BAnQ (Quebec City): Fonds Ministère des Terres et Forêts (E21)

BAnQ (Old Montreal): Collection Compagnie du Nord-Ouest (P255) and Fonds Procédures en matières non contentieuses. District judiciaire de Montréal (CP601)

LAC: North West Company Fonds (R7904-0-1-E; formerly MG19-B1)

Related groups of records: The McCord Museum's Textual Archives collection contains archives of individuals, families and organizations whose activities are related to those of Maurice-Régis Blondeau. For example, it contains the Simon McTavish (P102), James McGill Desrivières (P733), McGillivray Family (P100) and Beaver Club (P305) fonds, as well as the North West Company (C104) and Hudson's Bay Company (C099) collections. Alexander Mackenzie's book Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the frozen and Pacific oceans (M2006.73.5) is also preserved in the Museum's rare book collection.


This fonds contains the following document:

  • M13027 Account book of Maurice-Régis Blondeau. - 1777-1787. - 1 textual record ; 38 x 25.5 cm.

  • Digitized document: Part 1 - Part 2

 

Last update: August 30, 2017