McKENZIE, NANCY (McTavish; Le Blanc) (also known by the Indian name Matooskie), b. c. 1790, daughter of Roderick McKenzie*, NWC fur trader, and an unidentified Indian woman; d. 24 July 1851 at Fort Victoria (Victoria).
Nancy McKenzie was one of three children fathered by Roderick McKenzie during his service in the Athabasca country between 1789 and 1801. As was customary among Nor’Westers, McKenzie did not take his two daughters with him when he retired to Lower Canada in 1801, but entrusted them to the guardianship of fellow Nor’Wester John Stuart*. Matooskie, whose name would appear to mean “object of pity,” was with Stuart when he went to New Caledonia (B.C.) to take charge of the department for the North West Company in 1809. In 1813 Stuart joined NWC partner John George McTavish* on the Columbia River and it was probably in that year that Nancy was married to McTavish, by the custom of the country. After the union of the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, McTavish was appointed chief factor in charge of York Factory (Man.) and during the 1820s his wife shared his social prominence as the bourgeoise of the fort. During these years they had as many as seven children, all of whom were daughters.
By the customs of fur-trade society, Nancy McKenzie was acknowledged as McTavish’s legitimate wife. In 1830, however, while on furlough in Great Britain, McTavish, with the encouragement of HBC governor George Simpson, abruptly defied the norms of country marriage and legally married a Scottish woman. After travelling back to North America in company with Simpson and the governor’s new bride, Frances Ramsay Simpson, McTavish did not return to York Factory but went directly with his wife to his new post at Moose Factory (Ont.), leaving his colleagues to break the news to Nancy. “The first blow was dreadful to witness,” reported HBC clerk James Hargrave*, but “the poor girl is fast acquiring resignation.” Nancy and several of her children were taken in temporarily at the HBC post Fort Alexander (Man.) by Stuart, who, with the injured woman’s uncle Chief Factor Donald McKenzie, were particularly vocal in denouncing McTavish for his cruel deception and demanded substantial compensation for Nancy. Simpson, however, had decided that remarriage was the best means of providing for cast-off country wives and he had been delegated to settle McTavish’s affairs. Despite Nancy’s expressed wish that she not be forced to marry again, the dowry of £200 offered by McTavish soon enabled Simpson to arrange for her marriage to a respectable company employee, Pierre Le Blanc, then in charge of building Lower Fort Garry (Man.). Nancy McKenzie was baptized and the couple were married in the Roman Catholic church at the Red River settlement (Man.) on 7 Feb. 1831.
Nancy McKenzie’s life serves to illustrate the way in which native women were increasingly victimized by the changing mores of fur-trade society. The conduct of prominent officers such as McTavish and Simpson seriously undermined the legitimacy of marriage à la façon du pays, reducing the status of country wife to that of mistress. The arrival of British wives in Rupert’s Land fostered the growth of racial prejudice and efforts were made to exclude native wives from “respectable” society. Simpson’s young wife underlined Nancy’s considerable loss of social position by describing her as “a complete savage, with a coarse blue sort of woollen gown without shape & a blanket fastened round her neck.”
Nancy McKenzie’s second marriage brought her further sorrow. Three children were born of this union, but Le Blanc became increasingly resentful of his role as stepfather to his wife’s younger children by McTavish. In 1838 he was posted to the Columbia district on the Pacific northwest coast. The family crossed the Rockies with a party that included Catholic priests Modeste Demers* and François-Norbert Blanchet. Nancy McKenzie’s name frequently identifies her as witness or godmother for the numerous baptisms they performed on the trip. In September, during the journey west, the Le Blancs’ eldest daughter died. Then on 22 October a serious accident in the rapids at the Dalles on the Columbia River resulted in the drowning of Nancy’s husband and their two other children. Nancy and her youngest daughter by McTavish, Grace, were given a home at Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash.). In 1842 Grace married Charles Dodd, captain of the steamship Beaver, and Nancy McKenzie lived with the Dodds for the rest of her life. After her death at Fort Victoria in 1851, her small estate was divided among her three surviving daughters by McTavish.
PAC, MG 19, A21, ser.1, 21. PAM, HBCA, A.36/8; B.4/b/1; B.135/c/2–3; B.235/z/3: f.547a; E.4/1a; E.24/4. Catholic Church records of Pacific northwest (Munnick). Van Kirk, “Many tender ties.” J. A. Stevenson, “Disaster in the Dalles,” Beaver, outfit 273 (September 1942): 19–21.