The Canadian Committee had decreed that District Managers should call and check on the welfare of all pensioners in their districts.
There were only two in my area, both residing in Prince Albert and I had already written them, making appointments.
Mary J. Galbraith, the widow of post manager William Galbraith who died in 1925, was living en pension in the McKay Hotel. As this was also my stopping place in town, I had already noticed the tall, dignified old Lady on several occasions but I didn't know who she was. Very slim and erect with a pile of white hair done in a bygone fashion, she was always dressed in dark, ankle-length dresses and wore a white lace scarf around her shoulders. She received me graciously, almost regally, and during lunch assured me that she was in good financial circumstances. She asked me to thank the Company for their continuing interest in her well-being. Eventually, she moved to the west coast and died there at the ripe old age of 106.
That evening I called on Mr and Mrs Angus McKay (left in photo with John Diefenbaker in Prince Albert, 1951). Angus was the fourth generation McKay to work in the Company's service. The first was John McKay, who came out from Scotland as an apprentice in 1790. For many years he was in charge of Brandon House and died there in 1810.
His son, John Richards McKay, continued the tradition of working for the Company and married Harriet Ballenden, daughter of Chief Factor John Ballenden. Their son, William McKay, was born in 1818, either at Beaver Creek Post or at Brandon House. In 1837 at the age of 19, William entered the Company's ranks as a York boat middleman and later as a cooper in the Swan River district. For a time he was an interpreter (1846-50) at Fort Pelly and from 1850-54 was postmaster there. In the years 1854-58, he was in charge of Egg Lake, Touchwood Hills and Cree Camp; from 1858-79 he was at Fort Ellice where he was appointed Chief Trader in 1865; Fort Pitt in Saskatchewan district from 1873-1883 and in 1882 he took charge of Edmonton district during Chief Factor Richard Hardisty's leave of absence. This was truly a remarkable career for a man who started as a middleman in a York boat. He died in Edmonton on Christmas Day 1883, leaving a wife of 37 years, Mary Cook, eight sons and two daughters.
Angus McKay, the son of William and Mary was born at Fort Pelly in December, 1858. Educated at St. John's College, Winnipeg, he joined the Hudson's Bay Company as an apprentice clerk at Fort Carlton in 1877 and remained there until 1882 when he was transferred to Prince Albert. In 1885 he was sent to Fort Pitt to help re-establish it after the post had been plundered by Indians during the North West Rebellion. Promoted to clerk-in-charge, he operated Fort a la Corne, 1889-1899; Green Lake 1899-1907; Ile-A-La-Crosse 1907-1909 and was transferred to La Ronge in 1909. He was given the title 'Post Manager' in 1913 and finally retired from La Ronge in 1921 after 44 years service. During the North West Rebellion, Angus McKay joined the volunteers at Fort Carlton and was sworn in as a scout by Colonel Irving. He had many thrilling adventures and stories to tell of his experience.
When I met Angus, he was ninety years of age with a needle-sharp mind. We spent a grand evening discussing the Hudson's Bay Company and it's affairs. I was very interested in his past life but he wasn't. 'Forget it, boy. It all happened a long time ago. It's history now. Tell me what's happening at some of my old posts.' He was a proud old man and assured me that he was getting along fine financially but somehow I got the feeling that all was not well. Mrs. McKay showed me to the door and I quietly asked her to join me for tea the next morning at the hotel. 'I don't think your husband is telling me the whole truth, Mrs. McKay. How do things actually stand with you?' She put down her cup with trembling hands, and started to cry. 'Please understand,' I said, 'the Company wants to help you if it is necessary.'
'Angus will not like my telling you but our savings are practically all gone and I don't know how I'm going to meet next month's bills. We have a little money set aside to cover his funeral expenses but that's all.' She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and took a deep breath. 'I'm sorry to break down like this, Mr Ross, but I don't know where to turn.' She twisted her handkerchief in her hands helplessly. 'I just don't know what we are going to do. We may have to use part of the funeral money to pay our bills and then what will I do if Angus dies?' I let her talk until she had calmed down. Then I assured her that I would get in touch with Winnipeg immediately.
After she left, I telephoned Mort Malcolmson, personnel assistant in Winnipeg and told him the whole story. This all happened on a Tuesday. I subsequently learned that the matter was brought before the Canadian Committee on their regular Thursday morning meeting. A sum of money was wired immediately to Mr McKay's Prince Albert bank and an increase in his monthly pension was authorized. Angus McKay, the 'grand old man of Prince Albert' died in 1952 at the age of 93.
My next call was to Colonel Jones, superintendent of the Carlton Indian Agency. I had been unable to contact him all summer, as he was traveling with Treaty payment parties. He was responsible for all the Indian reservations in Saskatchewan, north and east of Prince Albert. A former military man, he was sure of his own position and authority but he was also most humane and took a great interest in the welfare of the native bands under his jurisdiction. Fortunately, he was also well disposed towards the Hudson's Bay Company and was always made welcome whenever he called at any of our posts. He gave complete authority to each post manager to supply food or clothing to any genuine request from an indigent Indian. 'Just send the accounts to me and I'll authorize them for payment,' he ordered. This was an almost unprecedented concession and I urged my managers to exercise it very carefully and not take advantage of it in any way.
When monthly family allowance cheques were issued to Indians, they were made out in the mother's name. In Saskatchewan, a previous District Manager had set up a separate credit account system in the name of each mother and she was allowed to charge up any food or clothing required for her family during the month. Her husband was not allowed to use this account at all, nor was she permitted to take up the whole of her cheque in credit. The mother must always have a small cash balance on hand after she received her monthly cheque and paid off her debt.
Colonel Jones had seen this system in action and thoroughly endorsed it, greatly to the chagrin of the provincial government who said it was another instance of the Company's 'debt policy'. The same system was applied to Indian recipients of the Old Age Pension. Now, instead of being a burden to their families, these old men and women were able to live decently and comfortably.
As December drew to a close it became increasingly evident that the appointment of Bob Urquhart as a manager of Patuanak was not a success. Approaching retirement age, his health was deteriorating and Patuanak was not an easy post to run, for the Chipewyans are a difficult people to deal with. Staff transfers and holidays are usually taken care of during the summer months and, in mid-winter, it was almost impossible to find a replacement. Fortunately, just after the New Year, a young man who had been home in Newfoundland on holidays from the Western Arctic showed up in Winnipeg with his new bride on his way back to his post at Holman Island. With the General Managers permission, I grabbed him and that was the beginning of a long friendship with Leonard Coates.
Len was a tall, red-headed Newfoundlander with a strong sense of humour. He had that indefinable quality necessary for our business: he was a 'good trader'. He was quick to gain the confidence of his native customers and soon had no trouble trading with the Chipewyans at Patuanak. By the following winter, when Waite Fisheries sent a Bombardier to Patuanak, Len soon had a profitable commercial fishing business running smoothly. In fact, he did such a good job that he didn't stay long at Patuanak. In the summer of 1950 he was promoted to the charge of Stanley when Jim Kirk resigned to take over his father's hardware business on the west coast. In 1952, he was further promoted to the charge of La Ronge when Bill McKinnie was transferred west to Fort Nelson Mile 300.