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Peter Warren Dease fonds (P241)

1836-1839. - 3 cm of textual records.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

Peter Warren Dease, explorer and fur trader, was born 1 January 1788 at Mackinac (Mackinac Island, Michigan). He was the son of Dr. John B. Dease, captain and deputy agent of Indian Affairs, and Jane French, believed to be a Catholic Mohawk from Caughnawaga (today, Kanawake). He was named Peter in honour of the English admiral Peter Warren, a relative of John Dease who captured Louisbourg in 1745.

Raised in Montréal, Dease left for the North West Territories at the age of 13 to work for the XY Company, a job he held for six years. He was then appointed clerk for the North West Company and stationed at different fur-trading posts in the Mackenzie River and Great Slave Lake districts. After the union in 1821 of the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, Dease and his brother John Warren were appointed chief traders in the Athabaska District.

Peter Warren Dease was involved in the Arctic explorations of John Franklin (1824-25, 1825-26, 1826-27). He provided information about the local aboriginals to Franklin and arranged for them to supply Franklin's party. In 1825 he also supervised the construction of Fort Franklin at Great Bear Lake. From 1827 to 1830, Dease was headquartered at Fort Good Hope. Appointed chief factor for the HBC in 1828, he was appointed to Fraser Lake in New Caledonia (British Columbia) in 1830.

In June 1836 Dease was chosen by the Hudson's Bay Company to explore the Arctic regions of the continent to fill in the information gaps left by Franklin, Beechey and Back in their search for the northwest passage. Dease's second-in-command was Thomas Simpson, a cousin of George Simpson. Their 12-man team was instructed to explore westward from the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and eastward from Turnagain Point on the Kent Peninsula.

The party left on 1 June 1837 and arrived at Point Barrow on 4 August. After wintering at Fort Confidence, on Great Bear Lake, they set out the next spring but made little progress because of the cold and "extraordinary duration of the ice." They nonetheless surveyed 100 miles of coastline, naming Victoria Land (Island) and Cape Pelly. After a second winter at Fort Confidence, Dease and Simpson once again tried to explore the coast eastward. On 16 August, they arrived at Montreal Island where they discovered a cache left by George Back. In their travels, they had succeeded in mapping new sections of the Arctic and fulfilling their mandate.

Dease was accorded sick leave in 1840-1841. In June 1840, Queen Victoria awarded Dease and Simpson (who committed suicide shortly after), an annual pension of £100 for past services. It was rumoured that Dease would also be knighted, but he turned down the honour. He finally retired in 1843 after having moved to a farm on Côte Sainte-Catherine, near Montréal, in 1841.

On 3 August 1840 Dease married Élizabeth Chouinard, the Métis woman who had been his companion for many years and had borne him four sons and as many daughters. Dease was greatly admired by his colleagues; he was known for his friendliness, warmth and sociability. George Simpson described him as "very steady in business, an excellent Indian Trader, speakes several of the Languages well and is a man of very correct conduct and character," but also noted that Dease was somewhat lazy and lacking in ambition. Dease lived for 20 years comfortably retired and widely respected in Côte Sainte-Catherine before passing away there on 17 January 1863.

(Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

Scope and Content:

This fonds pertains to the activities of the explorer Peter Warren Dease in the Canadian Arctic. The fonds consists of a journal describing his travels in the region of the northwest passage accompanied by Thomas Simpson from 1826 to 1829. The journal itself contains two letters, one written by Dease to Dr. John Richardson in 1840 in which he discusses his voyages, and the other written in 1910 by Margaret Hingston, addressed to David Ross McCord, in which she offers the latter Peter Warren Dease's journal.

The journal begins with a copy of the letter that George Simpson sent on 2 July 1836 to Peter Warren Dease and Thomas Simpson directing them to undertake the expedition. This is followed by the almost daily description of what went on during it.