GRANT, PETER, fur trader; b. c. 1764 in Scotland, probably in Glen Moriston; d. 20 July 1848 in Lachine, Lower Canada.
Peter Grant joined the North West Company as a clerk in 1784, probably through the influence of John Grant, a Lachine shipper and forwarder and apparently his brother. His earliest assignments were to the Lower Red River where, according to Alexander Henry* the younger, he established the first post at Pembina (N.Dak.). In 1789 the NWC sent him to Lac Rouge (probably Red Lake, Minn.) with a trader named Desmarais and the following year, when its trader at Rainy Lake post (near Fort Frances, Ont.) became ill, it placed the two men in temporary charge of that important depot.
Passed over for promotion, Grant joined an independent venture initiated in 1792 by David Grant, whose relationship to him has not been determined. In 1790 David had become an NWC clerk, his two-year contract giving him the option on its expiry of taking £200 in wages or taking “a canoe of Merchandize on his own Account” from Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.) to any vacant post. Unsatisfactory financial returns at the contract’s conclusion undoubtedly prompted the partnership in which he, Peter, and the Montreal house of Alexander and James Robertson each held a one-third interest.
In 1793 the two Grants began their adventure as free traders by staking out a site for their own depot at Grand Portage. No buildings had been erected, however, when they headed west, Peter making “his pitch” on the Qu’Appelle River some five leagues from John McDonell’s post. In 1794 Peter imprudently sent four canoes into the already over-crowded Red River region, where his posts, together with those of the Hudson’s Bay and the Michilimackinac companies, numbered 14 to the NWC’s 7. The Grants’ ill-conceived opposition soon fell apart, with the Robertsons garnering the total returns for 1795. But in a suit launched by the NWC, the Robertsons too were to meet defeat the following year. Subsequent transactions resulted in their acquisition of the Grants’ two-thirds interest but compelled them to transfer to the NWC the partnership’s assets. As part of this arrangement the NWC offered Peter Grant a place in the company and £200 a year until a share fell vacant, but to David it offered nothing. Why it forgave Peter and not David, who returned to, Montreal “a ruined man,” is not clear.
Re-entering the NWC with a half-share, Peter became a full partner in 1797 with proprietorship of the Lac La Pluie department, then threatened by encroachments from the HBC. Grant’s influence with the local Indians helped drive the intruders out of the region, into which, however, soon came another competitor, the New North West Company (sometimes called the XY Company). Departing the fray for his rotation to Montreal after the NWC’s 1801 rendezvous, Grant had his leave interrupted near the end of 1802 when the company dispatched him to Sault Ste Marie (Ont.) to replace its agent there, who had drowned. In 1803 he attended the first rendezvous held at Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.). The following year he produced a study of the Saulteaux Indians which, in the opinion of Louis-François-Rodrigue Masson*, was the “most complete and elaborate” of the accounts produced by NWC partners for Roderick Mackenzie’s intended publication on North American Indians. The study, Masson concluded, reveals Grant as “one of the keenest observers which the North-West Company had among its members.”
In 1805 Grant retired, settling at Sainte-Anne-de-Bout-de-Île (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue), Lower Canada, in a great stone house now known as the Thomas Moore House. He moved around 1820 to Lachine, where he died in 1848. During his long and apparently tranquil retirement, he seems to have indulged his interest in family affairs almost exclusively; although he joined the Beaver Club in 1807, he seldom attended. Grant was the father of at least three mixed-blood children – two daughters and a son. Sharing his last decades were his daughter Mary and another son or nephew, Peter. His other daughter and her Indian mother remained at Rainy Lake and pleaded for financial support in 1816. While still in the Indian country, Grant had received similar pleas from impoverished relatives in the Highlands, where most farmers “will soon be shepherds.” The sensitivity of his family correspondence and of his writings on Indians suggests his likely compliance with these appeals from his Scottish and Indian relatives.
[The author wishes to thank the following for their invaluable assistance: Raymond Dumais, W. Kaye Lamb, Hugh MacMillan, and Victoria Stewart. j.m.]
Peter Grant’s study of the Saulteaux Indians was published with numerous editorial changes under the title “The Sauteux Indians about 1804” in Les bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest (Masson), 2: 303–66. The original manuscript, entitled “An account of the Souteux Indians” ([1804?]), is at the MTRL.
ANQ-M, CE1-124, 22 juill. 1848; CN1-29, 29 janv. 1790, 5 mars 1796. AO, MU 572. PAC, MG 19, B1, 1: 21, 41, 115, 160; B3: 7, 76; E1, ser.1: 8612; RG 8, I (C ser.), 363: 18. Presbyterian Church in Canada Arch. (Toronto), St Gabriel Street Church (Montreal), reg. of baptisms, 1798, 1804–6 (mfm. at AO). UTFL,