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HARGRAVE, JOSEPH JAMES, fur trader, journalist, historian, and businessman; b. 1 April 1841 in York Factory (Man.), eldest son of Chief Trader James Hargrave* and Letitia Mactavish*; d. 22 Feb. 1894 in Edinburgh.
Joseph James Hargrave was born into the upper class of fur trade society. During his early years his parents provided him with a moral and religious upbringing. In 1846 he accompanied them to Scotland and was left there to receive “a good Scottish education.” At Madras College, St Andrews, he developed into a generous, honest, and methodical young man. He completed his studies as a surveyor in 1859 and later returned to British North America as an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Hargrave arrived in the Red River settlement (Man.) on 4 Aug. 1861 and became an apprentice clerk under his uncle, William Mactavish*, governor of Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land. Two years later he was promoted clerk and secretary to his uncle. His career as a journalist began in October 1869 when he contacted the Montreal Herald about writing a series of articles on the northwest and the anticipated transfer of Rupert’s Land from the HBC to Canada. His weekly articles dealt with a host of topics, including the suitability of land for settlement, the importance of a good communication link with Canada, the economic conditions of the Red River community, and even a labourers’ dispute which had occurred during the construction of the road from Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to the Lake of the Woods [see John Allan Snow*]. On 22 Nov. 1869 he began to report on the Métis resistance [see Louis Riel*], which he believed was a futile effort.
Using his experiences as clerk and secretary to Mactavish and his access to fur trade and colonial documents, Hargrave produced in 1871 his major contribution to western Canadian history, Red River. The book is a combination of history and personal observation of the economic, social, political, judicial, and religious institutions of the settlement prior to the 1869–70 uprising. Hargrave’s thesis is that the settlement and its institutions owed their existence to the vitality of the fur trade. The work, published in Montreal by John Lovell, has had a lasting importance; William Lewis Morton* has referred to its author as one of Manitoba’s better historians.
Upward mobility in the HBC was slow and Hargrave completed a 15-year contract as a clerk before qualifying for advancement. In the season of 1877–78 he was granted a temporary position as cashier before finally being commissioned, on 1 July 1878, a chief trader in the Red River district. On 1 June 1884 he was transferred to Edmonton, where he served until his retirement five years later. During his employment with the HBC, he had often complained about poor working conditions, lack of advancement, and “wretched wages.” A number of his fellow officers shared similar grievances. In 1878 they formed the “fur trade party” in order to obtain improvements in wages and working conditions. Hargrave was elected secretary and was sent to Chicago and Montreal to negotiate an improved contract with the company’s chief commissioner, Donald Alexander Smith*. After consultation with the London committee of the HBC, Smith made an offer which included a minimum increase in pay for the period 1878 to 1881 and the restoration of rights formerly exercised by commissioned officers. The party accepted.
Hargrave pursued a number of business interests while in Winnipeg, one of which was a partnership in the early 1880s to build a Canadian Pacific hotel there. Another was his ownership and presidency of the Assiniboine Brewing and Distilling Company. Despite these interests he “always regarded [the HBC service] as a life employment.” Even the notification from an Edinburgh law firm in March 1888 of the receipt of a legacy did not entice him to resign before “the completion of our current year’s accounts.” After retiring on 1 June of the following year, Hargrave moved to Montreal, to be with his family and friends and to oversee some private investments. In 1894 he returned to Scotland and died while in Edinburgh, leaving an estate valued at more than £5,050.
Joseph James Hargrave is the author of Red River (Montreal, 1871; repr. Altona, Man., 1977) and of articles published in the Montreal Herald from 21 Oct. 1869 to 25 Feb. 1870.
Glenbow Arch., Richard Hardisty papers, 1861–94. NA, MG 19, A21, ser.1. PAM, HBCA, A.44/9: 192–93;13.235/ g/12–26; B.235/k/1–2; B.239/g/41–114; B.239/k/24–28; E.21/2–4. Begg, Red River journal (Morton). Letitia [Mactavish] Hargrave, The letters of Letitia Hargrave, ed. Margaret Arnett MacLeod (Toronto, 1947). Pioneers of Man. (Morley et al.). Isaac Cowie, The company of adventurers: a narrative of seven years in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company during 1867–1874 . . . (Toronto, 1913). Morton, Manitoba (1957).