AULD, WILLIAM, surgeon, fur trader, and jp; b. c. 1770, possibly in Edinburgh, Scotland; d. some time after November 1830, probably in Leith or Edinburgh.
William Auld may have studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1785 to 1788, but he did not graduate. He began his career with the Hudson’s Bay Company as a surgeon according to a contract signed in London on 27 May 1790, and he shipped for Fort Churchill (Churchill, Man.). Two years later Chief Factor Thomas Stayner described him as “not only skillful in his profession, but industrious, sober and of an amiable disposition.” Like other surgeons hired by the HBC, he probably had more occasions to deal with furs than to call on his medical knowledge. His appointment as second at Fort Churchill in May 1793 recognized his contributions as a fur trader. On the conclusion of his first contract in 1795 the London committee of the HBC recalled him to England. The HBC re-engaged him as second, appointed him “Inland Trader,” and dispatched him to Fort Churchill.
The shortage of personnel together with an inadequate amount of trade goods frustrated the attempts of traders such as Auld to mount an effective opposition to the North West Company, particularly in the Athabasca country. In 1797, during Stayner’s absence in London for consultation with the company, Auld served as locum tenens. On Stayner’s return the following year, the two visited the chief factor at York Factory (Man.), John Ballenden, in an unsuccessful effort to avoid competition between the two factories in pushing their respective enterprises into the interior. In the summer of 1799 Auld journeyed inland with instructions to establish new trading posts. Leaving William Linklater to build at Île-à-là-Crosse (Sask.), he travelled up the Beaver River to build at Green Lake. En route he encountered HBC surveyor Peter Fidler, who was working under similar orders from York Factory, and insisted that Fidler continue up the Beaver River to locate at Lac la Biche (Alta). Aware of the importance of securing provisions from the Saskatchewan country for the HBC’s penetration into the Athabasca, Auld journeyed overland to Edmonton House (near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta), arriving in January 1800, to consult with James Bird*. That summer he was back at Fort Churchill. He remained there, being promoted chief factor and surgeon in May 1802.
An injury Auld suffered in a fall led to a trip to England in 1804. The next year, however, he returned to Fort Churchill. Still frustrated in his continuing attempts to oppose the Nor’Westers, he left Thomas Topping in charge at the fort while he led an expedition, which included Fidler, to winter in 1808–9 at Clapham House on Reindeer Lake. There they met with determined opposition from Robert Henry* of the NWC. Convinced that more energetic and resolute measures would meet with success, Auld went to London in 1809 to persuade the HBC’s governing committee to adopt his point of view and to make representations to the British government. Auld’s personal quest was caught up in the “retrenching system” adopted in 1810 by the committee, whose membership had been altered significantly with the intervention of the Earl of Selkirk [Douglas*] and his brother-in-law, Andrew Wedderburn, in the company’s affairs. The new scheme emphasized the reduction of expenses, the introduction of a profit-sharing program, and the reorganization of the fur trade into two departments, Northern and Southern. Auld returned to Rupert’s Land as the superintendent of the Northern Department, which included the posts at York Factory and Fort Churchill as well as the Saskatchewan and Winnipeg districts. He would divide his time between Fork Factory and Fort Churchill. On 28 Nov. 1811 he was appointed justice of the peace for the Indian Territory.
Auld’s closing years with the HBC emphasized his incompatibility with the “modern” management espoused by the committee. In addition to implementing the London committee’s retrenching system Auld had to deal with the opposition it induced among long-serving employees. The mutiny at Brandon House (Man.) in February 1811 was the most noteworthy of a number of protests. Problems arising from the arrival of the first settlers for the Red River colony, the creation of which he had strongly opposed, further exacerbated his difficulties. Increasingly, Auld felt that the committee’s policies and directives reflected ignorance of local circumstances and did not take into account the advice of knowledgeable experienced officers such as himself. The committee’s “interference” undermined the challenge he could make to the NWC’s hegemony.
In any characterization of Auld’s administrative style, images of the Nor’Westers come to mind. Like them he was energetic, resolute, and to a degree impulsive, emphasizing individual responses to issues rather than sound structures and effective systems to achieve objectives. The problems attending the opposition of disgruntled employees and the advent of the Selkirk settlers accentuated the differences between the new corporate managerial style of the committee and the traditional individualism exhibited in Auld’s administration. Each side was disappointed with the other. It was no surprise when the committee accepted his resignation on 9 April 1814. Yet the value of his long experience was recognized when, on his return to London in the autumn of 1814, his services were contracted there for another year. Auld apparently gave written expression to his frustration with the committee in such a manner that a most acrimonious separation took place in December 1815. It would appear that he retired to Leith, Scotland.
Little is known of Auld’s “country wife or wives.” He had possibly as many as five children. Robert, Jane, and Mary appear in the parish records of the Anglican mission at the Red River settlement (Man.). William and Wilberforce have been identified as sons who left for England in 1820. The last letter to him from the company was addressed in care of an Edinburgh resident in November 1830.
Edinburgh Univ. Library, Special Coll. Dept., Medical matriculation records, 1785–88. PAC, MG 24, L3, 15; no.7217: 8980–82; no.7218: 9003–7; MG 25, G62. PAM, HBCA, A.5/9: 193; A.11/118; A.30/10; MG 7, B7, marriages, nos.65, 292. HBRS, 2 (Rich and Fleming); 26 (Johnson). Quebec Gazette, 19 Dec. 1811. Rich, Hist. of HBC (1958–59), vol.2.