McDONELL, ALLAN, fur trader and politician; b. c. 1776 probably in Glen Garry (Highland), Scotland, son of Donald MacDonell, seventh of Lundie, and his third wife, a Miss MacDonald of Islay; d. 16 June 1859 in Montreal.
Having lost his ancestral lands through impoverishment, Donald MacDonell immigrated to British North America with his family and settled at Martintown, Upper Canada. In February 1799 Allan, who signed his name McDonell, joined the Montreal fur-trading firm of Forsyth, Richardson and Company [see John Forsyth*; John Richardson*] as an apprentice clerk and was sent to the northwest. This firm was one of the partners in the New North West Company (sometimes called the XY Company), which was competing with the North West Company. After the union of these two companies in 1804 [see Sir Alexander Mackenzie*], McDonell served as clerk in the expanded NWC at Fort Dauphin (Man.) on Lake Dauphin, and two years later he accompanied the Nor’Westers Alexander Henry* the younger and Charles Chaboillez* on their expedition to the Mandan villages on the upper Missouri River. During the years of conflict between the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company, he remained in the Fort Dauphin and Red River departments, becoming an NWC partner in 1816. In June of that year he was in the Red River area and was listed by HBC officer Peter Fidler* as one of the NWC men “looking on” while the group of Métis led by Cuthbert Grant ransacked the HBC’s Brandon House. Later that summer he was one of the NWC partners arrested by Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] at Fort William (Thunder Bay, Ont.) as accessories to the murder of Governor Robert Semple*, who had been killed with about 20 Red River colonists in a battle with Grant’s men at Seven Oaks (Winnipeg) on 19 June. On 22 Oct. 1818, with 13 others, he was indicted by the grand jury at York (Toronto), but he and several others were never tried, apparently not being in custody. He does not seem to have been actively involved in the events at Seven Oaks, although the testimony of one witness, John Palmer Bourke, implied that he had a reputation for violence.
When the HBC absorbed the NWC in 1821 [see Simon McGillivray*], McDonell was made chief trader and placed in charge of the Swan River district at Fort Dauphin. One of the principal functions of this district was the collection and transport of provisions such as salt, sugar, and pemmican for the more remote northwestern posts. Each spring McDonell conducted these supplies down the Assiniboine River and up to Norway House (Man.). He did not take advantage of the furlough granted to him in 1823 and stayed in the Swan River district until 1826, when the Council of the Northern Department posted him to the Timiskaming district. Initially he shared the management of this district with Chief Trader Angus Cameron*; in 1827 he became sole commander and a year later he was promoted chief factor.
By 1834 HBC governor George Simpson was dissatisfied with McDonell’s handling of his men and the Indians, and his methods for dealing with the independent traders who were moving into the area. McDonell was therefore granted a year’s furlough and was replaced by Cameron. In 1835 he was appointed to the Rainy Lake district; he stayed there until 1841 when he was allowed two years’ furlough before officially retiring in 1843. While at Rainy Lake he had been appointed to the Council of Assiniboia on 20 March 1839.
After retirement from the HBC, McDonell settled on the mountain in Montreal with his wife and family. McDonell’s wife, who was baptized Margaret at Red River in 1833, was the daughter of Æneas Cameron* of Timiskaming. Their house, Lundy Cottage, which overlooked the ruins of Simon McTavish*’s unfinished residence, was described by another retired fur trader, George Keith, as “a splendid mansion, with a valuable altho small lot of land attached” and with “elegant accomodations and furniture.” With Peter Warren Dease*, John Clarke, and others, McDonell was among those retired ex-Nor’Westers whom Simpson deplored as “sauntering through the streets of Montreal & smoking away the remainder of the day in Sword’s Barroom.” Yet, although Angus Cameron’s nephew Angus Cameron, a banker, did not consider McDonell’s means well invested, being mostly in railway stock, he told his uncle that McDonell managed his affairs very economically. By 1848 McDonell was almost blind from cataracts, and two operations, in Montreal in 1851 and in London in 1852, did little to help. Nevertheless, in 1855 the younger Angus Cameron noted that he was still able to “see and tell the colours of brandy & Water from pure water.” He died in Montreal at the age of 83 and was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery Notre-Dame-des-Neiges on 18 June 1859.
The McDonells had at least seven children and Mrs McDonell was still living in Montreal in 1876. Governor Simpson characterized McDonell in 1832 as “a good rather than a clever fellow” and this opinion seems to have been shared by his other friends who, again like Simpson, also appreciated his kindness, generosity, and wit. He acquitted himself creditably in the Northern Department, where he spent most of his career, but had less success in Timiskaming with its largely Canadian servants and rapidly increasing opposition from Canada. Although deficient in education himself, he did his best for his children, one of whom, Angus, was educated to be a doctor, and another, John, became a Jesuit. Former colleagues as well as young Angus Cameron all spoke of him with affection, and Chief Factor Cameron nicknamed him “Sir Allan,” perhaps a compliment to his Highland lineage.
Æneas and Angus Cameron papers are in the possession of E. A. Mitchell of Toronto (mfm. at AO). ANQ-M, CN1-29, 5 févr. 1799. Glengarry Geneal. Soc. (Lancaster, Ont.), E. A. Mitchell, “An aspect of one branch line of the Macdonells of Lundie.” Les bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest (Masson), vol.1. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Hargrave, Hargrave corr. (Glazebrook). HBRS, 2 (Rich and Fleming); 3 (Fleming). Report of the proceedings connected with the disputes between the Earl of Selkirk and the North-West Company at the assizes, held at York, in Upper Canada, October 1818, from minutes taken in court (Montreal, 1819). Report of trials in the courts of Canada, relative to the destruction of the Earl of Selkirk’s settlement on the Red River; with observations, ed. Andrew Amos (London, 1820). Simpson, “Character book,” HBRS, 30 (Williams), 151–236. J. A. Macdonell, Sketches illustrating the early settlement and history of Glengarry in Canada, relating principally to the Revolutionary War of 1775–83, the War of 1812–14 and the rebellion of 1837–8 . . . (Montreal, 1893). E. A. Mitchell, Fort Timiskaming and the fur trade (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1977).