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Beaver Club Fonds (P305)

Excerpt from the Beaver Club minute book (detail). November 14, 1814. Gift of David Ross McCord, Beaver Club Fonds P305, M14449 © McCord Museum

Resilience in the face of peril

"Ye wanderers o'er Canada's wide domain,
What pleasure here to meet you once again!
Here, to recount the toils and perils past;
Perils and toils still longer doom'd to last.
For soon again the base insidious foe
With rage inspired, will strike a second blow;
Renew the scene of pillage, or of fire,
As av'rice, envy, or revenge inspire.
Ours then the task, a gen'rous aid to lend,
To those that now our Beaver Lodge defend; [...]"

On November 14, 1814, John Johnston (1762-1828) delivered an address to the other members of the Beaver Club that clearly illustrated the tension created by the intensely competitive fur trade and the war with the United States. Eleven months earlier, Miles Macdonell (about 1767-1828), the governor of the Red River Colony, had banned the export of provisions from the region, thus cutting off a vital supply source for the North West Company (NWC) trading network. The Colony had been established with the support of the NWC's primary rival, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), which had been working for years to conquer the market. Most of the merchants in attendance were members of the NWC. They had invested a lot in the business, both financially and personally. Another factor was the instability caused by the British-American War, which had begun in 1812 and affected the company directly. An experienced fur trader and a man of letters, Johnston sought to rally his peers in the face of this threat.

His speech offers a rare look at what was actually discussed at Beaver Club meetings. It is flamboyant and colourful, just like this dining club's get-togethers, which featured plenty of alcohol. "Ye wanderers o'er Canada's wide domain" represent the club's members, resourceful voyageurs ready to face a greedy, envious, enraged enemy. The economic and legal conflict between the NWC and the HBC foreshadowed the former's weakening hold on the fur trade. The two companies merged in 1821 and the Beaver Club, after an unsuccessful attempt to start up again in 1827, ceased its activities, having lost its characteristic spirit.

David A. Armour, "Johnston, John," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003.
John E. Foster, "Pemmican Proclamation," The Canadian Encyclopedia, July 24, 2015.

P305 Beaver Club Fonds. - January 26, 1807-March 5, 1827. - 6 cm of textual records.

Administrative History

Founded in Montreal in February 1785 by 19 wealthy merchants, the Beaver Club was a social club for fur traders who had spent at least one winter in Indigenous territory. Its mottoes were "Fortitude in Distress" and "Industry and Perseverance," phrases that were inscribed on the medals worn by club members. Its primary goal was to bring together men "highly respectable in Society" from the commercial and colonial elite in a friendly atmosphere to share their experiences. The club also enabled well-heeled merchants who no longer led the life of the voyageur to be introduced into Montreal society.

Although membership was originally offered only to those who had wintered in the Northwest, the club eventually loosened this rule by stipulating that any new members had to be accepted unanimously. Over the course of its existence, the Beaver Club welcomed over one hundred influential Montreal figures as members, including Simon McTavish, William McGillivray and James McGill. For many years, it was composed of partners or close associates of the North West Company (NWC). It also had a dozen or so honorary members, most of them soldiers and ship captains. Each member could invite several guests to the meetings, but the club only admitted men and guests were usually officers, administrators and luminaries, like Isaac Brock and Gordon Drummond.

The group's meetings took the form of a meal accompanied by plenty of alcohol, during which members would pass the calumet (peace pipe), make toasts, sing old voyageur songs, vote on admitting new members and club rules, tell stories and talk business. These evenings were generally held every two weeks, from December to April, with rare exceptions. In 1804, the year of Simon McTavish's death and the reorganization of the NWC, the club's activities were suspended for nearly three years. The Club started up again on January 26, 1807, and met regularly until at least January 21, 1817. The 1921 merger of the NWC and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in all likelihood sealed the Club's fate. Its last known meeting was held on March 5, 1827, after a three-month long attempt to revive the club.

Scope and Content
The fonds focusses on the activities of Montreal's Beaver Club from January 26, 1807, to March 5, 1827. It is composed primarily of a minute book recording the club's meetings, and the names of members present or absent. This document chronicles the club's finances, detailing the costs associated with the food, alcohol and tobacco consumed during these meetings. It notes some of the locations used by the Club: the City Tavern (in 1807), the Montreal Hotel (from 1807 to 1817) and the Masonic Hall (in 1827). The minute book also contains the rules of the club, the decision made following a January 1807 discussion about changing the name to the "Voyageurs Club" and the text of a speech by John Johnston dated November 14, 1814. It notes the suspension of the Club's activities from September 1804 to January 26, 1807, as well as an unsuccessful attempt to revive the Club in 1827 after it was dissolved sometime after January 1817. In addition, the fonds includes two handwritten transcriptions of the minute book, one of which was extensively annotated by David Ross McCord. Finally, the fonds contains a booklet printed in 1819 entitled, "Rules and Regulations of the Beaver Club." Designed for its members, this document presents the club's rules, a short description of its goals, the regulations governing its meetings, and a list of its members. There is a handwritten transcription of this booklet as well.

Source of title proper: Based on the content of the fonds.

Immediate source of acquisition: The documents that make up this fonds were collected by David Ross McCord.

Arrangement: Documents dating from before the founding of the Beaver Club that were not produced or received by its members were removed from the fonds in 2019 and added to the Canadiana Collection (C002).

Language: The documents are in English.

Other formats: The minute book is also available as a PDF. It was digitized in 2019. A digitized version of the "Rules and Regulations of the Beaver Club" is available online via the Canadiana collection of the Canadian Research and Knowledge Network (CRKN):

Related groups of records: The McCord Museum's holdings include several groups of documents associated with the Beaver Club and its members, and to the fur trade: The North West Company Collection (C104), Hudson's Bay Company Collection (C099), David Thompson Fonds (P306), Simon McTavish Fonds (P102), McGillivray Family Fonds (P100), John MacDonald of Garth Fonds (P655), Maurice-Régis Blondeau Fonds (P098), De Rocheblave, Bouthillier, Routh Collection (C019) and William McKay Fonds (P178).

General note: The McCord Museum's Photography and Documentary Art collection include several iconographic archives associated with Beaver Club members. The Material Culture collection contains the medals of Nicholas Montour, James McGill and Duncan McGillivray.

This fonds includes the following document:

  • M14449 Beaver Club minute book. - 1807-1827. - 1 textual record ; 33 x 20 cm.
  • Digitized document: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Beaver Club medal, about 1785. Purchased from Mr. McGillivray Dawkins, M20987 © McCord Museum

Last update : April 9, 2020