CHRISTIE, ALEXANDER, HBC chief factor and administrator; b. 1792 in Scotland; d. 9 Dec. 1872 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Alexander Christie, said to be from Glasgow, joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1809 and was sent to Moose Factory to investigate the possibilities of the lumber trade. He returned to Britain in 1810 but was back in Moose Factory the following year to establish a sawmill. In 1817 he was in charge of the company’s Eastmain business and made his headquarters at Rupert’s House. One of his major duties at the time was the supervision of the company’s whale fishery business. At the time of the union of the HBC with the North West Company in 1821, he was listed in the Deed Poll as a chief factor. Christie was on furlough in 1824, and in charge of Moose Factory from 1826 until 1830 when he was transferred to York Factory. Three years later he was placed in charge of Red River and appointed governor of Assiniboia.
On 10 Feb. 1835, at Red River, Christie’s marriage with Anne Thomas, daughter of Thomas Thomas* Sr, was confirmed by the Church of England. Like many company employees, Christie had married according to “the custom of the country” since in remote areas of the HBC’s territory clergymen were seldom present to perform the ceremony. Formal marriage ceremonies and baptism of children took place when a missionary visited the area or when the couple reached a settlement where a church had been established. Two of Christie’s sons, Alexander and William Joseph, and a grandson, Alexander, entered the company’s service.
While he was in charge at Red River, Alexander Christie supervised the building of Lower Fort Garry, which had been begun about 1831 some 20 miles north of present-day Winnipeg; he also began construction of Upper Fort Garry on the site of an earlier company post of the same name at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Between 1839 and 1844 he was in England on furlough and at Moose Factory.
During his second term as governor of Assiniboia – from 1844 until his retirement in 1848 – Christie was forced to take strong measures against free traders in the Red River Settlement who challenged the HBC’s legal right to a fur trade monopoly. Individual traders and small merchants, led by Andrew McDermot* and James Sinclair*, sought an unrestricted trade with American settlements to the south. The problem became particularly acute after 1843 when Norman Wolfred Kittson*, an agent for Henry H. Sibley* of St Paul, established an American trading post at Pembina just across the international boundary. Christie attempted to limit such trading by threatening to inspect the mails and seize goods imported by merchants and traders engaging in illicit trade. He issued a proclamation on 7 Dec. 1844 stating that the company’s ships would not receive, at any port, goods addressed to anyone unless that person lodged at the company’s office at Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) a declaration to the effect that he had neither directly nor indirectly trafficked in furs. On 20 December he ordered that all letters be sent to Fort Garry for inspection.
Christie, however, had no adequate force to support his authority, and his efforts were unsuccessful. It was his opinion that only a military force could maintain law and order in the settlement. As a result of HBC requests to the imperial government (and the possibility of war with the United States over Oregon), a force of approximately 350 men of the 6th Royal Regiment of Foot was sent to Red River in 1846 under Colonel John Folliot Crofton*. These troops were replaced two years later by 56 army pensioners under Major William Bletterman Caldwell*. The latter group proved ineffective, and illegal trading continued. Following the trial of Pierre-Guillaume Sayer in 1849 on a charge of illicit trade, the company abandoned all legal means of enforcing its monopoly [see George-Antoine Bellecourt].
Alexander Christie was considered one of the most influential chief factors in the company during his career, and in recognition of his services was granted a half share in the company’s profits for two years beyond the normal retirement period.
Canadian North-West (Oliver). Hargrave correspondence (Glazebrook). HBRS, XXIV (Davies and Johnson). [Mactavish], Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod). J. S. Galbraith, The Hudson’s Bay Company as an imperial factor, 1821–1869 (Toronto, 1957). J. P. Pritchett, The Red River Valley, 1811–1849, a regional study (New Haven, Conn., and Toronto, 1942). “The Christie family and the HBC,” Beaver, III, no.11 (1923), 417–19.