DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

JARVIS, EDWARD, HBC chief factor; d. c. 1800.

Edward Jarvis was initially employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1771 to serve as surgeon to Fort Albany (Ont.) for three years at £40 per annum. Within two years he had mastered the Home Guard (Cree) language, and this achievement, along with his youthful energy, made him the logical and willing choice as leader of a proposed survey of the company’s territories bounded by the Moose and Albany rivers, James Bay, and Lake Superior. The company considered the survey vital to its fortunes. In order to counter the increasing competition of the Canadian pedlars, whose trade was making serious inroads into company fur returns, it was necessary to map strategic points for the establishment of posts on the yet unknown rivers of the interior. Jarvis’ work, along with that of Philip Turnor, was intended to locate those points.

Jarvis’ first expedition, which left Albany on 29 March 1775, ended abortively at Henley House (at the junction of the Albany and Kenogami rivers), when the Indians there refused to provide guides. He returned to Albany and on 3 October set out for the Chepysippy (Kabinekagami) River, in company with Questach, the captain of the Albany goose hunters. He crossed over to the Missinaibi River and on 19 Nov. 1775 reached Moose Factory (Ont.). Back at Henley in February 1776, he set out that May to survey the Canadian establishments on Lake Superior at Michipicoten (Michipicoten River, Ont.). He arrived there on 19 June and made detailed observations of the two groups of Canadians, one of them composed of servants of Alexander Henry* the elder. He then left on his return journey, reaching Albany on 5 July. Jarvis’ explorations gave the company considerable insight into the geography of the Albany-Moose area and an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian opposition.

Jarvis’ journals indicate that he was particularly ill suited to face the problems that plagued most early explorers. He suffered from extreme temperatures, diarrhoea, black flies and mosquitoes, and starvation; at the end of his last trip he was so thin that he had to wear a “bandage” over his shoulder to keep his “trouzers” up. Unaccustomed to the Indians’ habit of feast or famine, he balked when they expected him to eat 15 pounds of cooked beaver at one meal. Jarvis was also totally dependent on the Indians of the interior for guides; the HBC servants might desire a clearer knowledge of company territory, but the Indians were not always willing to grant it to them. According to Thomas Hutchins, chief at Albany, the Indians had refused to guide Jarvis on his first journey because they were opposed to company exploration, finding “it more beneficial to have two places of opposite Interests to resort to, where each by presents endeavours to gain them for the other.”

The remainder of Jarvis’ career was neither remarkable nor exciting. Having refused to go inland again after the 1776 expedition, he spent the years 1776–78 shuttling between Albany and Henley. In September 1778 he went to England; he re-enlisted with the company the next year as chief at Moose for five years at £130 per annum. In 1781 the command at Albany fell vacant and he requested and was granted a transfer to that post.

As chief Jarvis advocated a policy of inland expansion, supporting the establishment of posts in order to “distress the North West Company and cut their Communication with the Interior Country where their whole trade is Carried on.” Like Hutchins and Humphrey Marten, his predecessors at Albany, he encouraged the hiring of Canadians to man these posts, although by 1791 both he and the London committee had cooled to the idea. In 1792 the precarious state of his health forced his retirement to England.

Jarvis was re-engaged by the company in 1796 and appointed chief inspector and supervisor of the posts on Hudson and James bays. The appointment was an effort on the part of the London committee to reconcile the sometimes conflicting aspirations of its chief factors in Rupert’s Land. Jarvis, a noted advocate of Albany’s interests, was given a cool reception at York Factory (Man.) on his arrival in August. His ill health prevented the completion of his overhaul of the company’s posts, and in 1797 he retired on an annual pension of 50 guineas. He probably died some time after March 1800, the date of the last payment to him.

Little is known of Jarvis’ personal life, except that he had a brother in desperate financial straits and an aged relative, both of whom he supported. The mixed-blood mother of his son was “the daughter of an Englishman” with “few or no Indian friends.” Fearing for his son in case of his wife’s death, Jarvis had thought it best to send the boy to England in 1784 to be educated.

F. Pannekoek

HBC Arch. A.1/43, f.116; A.1/47, ff.75, 108d; A.1/140, f.79; A.6/16, f.34; A.11/3, ff.197, 199; A.11/4, ff.23d, 162, 210; A.11/5, ff.102, 189d; A.11/55, p.123; A.19/2, f.87; B.3/a/71–74; B.86/a/29, ff.2–14, 29; B.86/a/30–32. Moose Fort journals, 1783–85, ed. E. E. Rich and A. M. Johnson, intro. G. P. de T. Glazebrook (London, 1954). Morton, History of Canadian west. Rich, History of HBC.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

F. Pannekoek, “JARVIS, EDWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jarvis_edward_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jarvis_edward_4E.html
Author of Article:   F. Pannekoek
Title of Article:   JARVIS, EDWARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   October 2, 2023