McLEOD, DONALD, fur trader and businessman; b. 1846 in Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, Scotland; d. unmarried 27 Nov. 1894 in Edmonton.
Donald McLeod entered the British naval reserve about 1857, and spent some four years in its service. After signing on with the Hudson’s Bay Company, he sailed from the Scottish port of Stromness, probably in the summer of 1861, and arrived at Fort Carlton (Sask.) early the following year. He was stationed there until 1869, except for two years, 1865–67, spent at Fort Edmonton (Edmonton) and at the summer outpost of Rocky Mountain House. He appears to have been particularly adept at handling freight brigades, and was evidently befriended by Richard Charles Hardisty*, then the company’s chief trader in charge of the Saskatchewan district, as well as by other HBC officers along the North Saskatchewan River, where he himself traded.
In 1869 McLeod became a free trader, and supplemented that business with various contracts for cutting lumber and freighting. His relations with officers of the HBC continued to be friendly. In 1871 he took up a river lot on the north shore near the HBC reserve which was intended for the settlement emerging at Fort Edmonton and he built a house, but he did not reside in it until the following spring. It was also in 1871 that he began to organize freighting and transportation services between Edmonton and the Red River and between Edmonton and Fort Benton (Mont.). Freighting proved to be a lucrative business, and he continued to be involved in it until his death.
McLeod used the knowledge he acquired in the transportation industry to develop other business interests. Observing the success of John Norris in importing beef cattle from the United States, he established his own ranch. In 1878, to benefit from the development of settlement throughout the northwest, he formed a lumber-milling company with Hardisty, Norris, and Percy Belcher, an inspector in the North-West Mounted Police. The firm was in direct competition with a similar HBC venture, and so Hardisty’s conflict of interest was disguised by using the name of the mill’s manager, Daniel R. Fraser, as an owner. The mill was late in starting operation, owing to misadventures with shipments of machinery by riverboat, but once the equipment finally arrived in 1881, the company began to prosper. It wound up its affairs in the mid 1950s.
Probably in the summer of 1880 McLeod formed a partnership with Alexander Macdonald and Company, a Winnipeg firm that foresaw an increase in land speculation at Edmonton. He sold alternate blocks of his claim to the Macdonald firm, which handled most matters involving the successful development of the town site, while McLeod turned to the operation of a coal-mine in the Whitemud Creek valley. The mine was Edmonton’s least expensive source of domestic coal for some years; McLeod was also successful in shipping coal to Calgary.
Aside from obtaining contracts for construction of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway between 1889 and 1891, McLeod did not expand his business interests further. He had thrived during the boom of 1880–82 and had adapted well to the period of slow growth which followed. His investments had been carefully timed, and most of them were designed to succeed once the railway’s arrival was certain. He fought to preserve the older town site against a new site being promoted by the railway owners on the south shore and thus assured the value of his own property.
In the 1880s McLeod was much troubled by the activities of William Humberstone, who operated a coal-mine underneath his river lot. Humberstone attempted to justify his position by reviving a homestead claim made some years before by Edward McGillivray. When McGillivray had refused to take up the claim in 1872, the land had been divided between McLeod and Hardisty. The matter was resolved in 1889 by assigning the surface rights of ownership to McLeod and the mineral rights to Humberstone. The decision of the superintendent of mines for Manitoba and the North-West Territories, William Pearce*, that mineral rights were separate from surface rights of ownership and were reserved to the crown, was subsequently applied to all land titles under the administration of the dominion lands branch of the Department of the Interior.
In 1894 an untreated intestinal abscess caused McLeod ill health for several weeks, but he was active until about five days before his death, which occurred when the abscess ruptured an artery. His funeral was the largest held in Edmonton up to that time, and an obituary in verse, written by James Reilly, still has some currency. A moderate Presbyterian, McLeod was widely considered to be generous and kindly. He was learned both in Scots-Gaelic tradition and Scots-English literature. He was an example of the able and tenacious entrepreneurs who dominated early Edmonton.
City of Edmonton Arch., Assessment rolls, Public School District No.7, 1886–91; town of Edmonton, 1891–95; Donald McLeod information files. Glenbow Arch., M477, 1861–94. NA, RG 15, B3, 1757–58; DII, 1, 251, file 31140; 273, file 42767, pts.i–ii; 293, file 58998; 315, file 70440, pt.v; 336, file 84659; 640, file 250498; 717, file 377772. PAM, MG 1, D7; HBCA, B.60/a/29–42; B.60/f/1; B.60/z/1; D.20; E.23/1–2. Can., Dept. of the Interior, Orders-in-council relating to the Department of the Interior (Ottawa), 1889. Edmonton Bulletin, 1880–95.