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Angus Brabant – HBC Fur Trade Commissioner, Chief Factor and Canadian Arctic Commerce Pioneer
by John M. MacFarlane 2012
Angus Brabant (1866–1928) Brabant Collection Image AB0149
Angus Brabant was the son of F.X. Brabant and Mary (MacDonald) Brabant. He was born May 31st, 1866 in Clayton NY USA. He married Josephine DuChambeau, the daughter of the Hon. George DuChambeau. He was of Belgian descent, his grandfather came to Canada from Belgium and settled in Quebec. His mother was Scottish although a number of authorities report her as being a Metis.
Angus Brabant in moose skins adorned with bead work, looking every inch the Fur Trade Inspector. Brabant Collection Image AB0388
Brabant joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as an Apprentice Clerk in 1886 and after serving at Manitoba House in 1886, and being advanced to Post Manager there in 1890. He was appointed as Post Manager at Cumberland House in 1896 and at Fort Smith 1902. He became Inspector of the Athabaska District in 1905. In 1908 he was serving as the District Manager of Mackenzie River District. From 1908–1920 he established several new HBC fur trade posts on the Arctic Coast. In 1920 he was appointed as Fur Trade Commissioner. He received the Chief Factors' Commission on January 15th, 1927. The HBC awarded him a gold medal and two bars for honorable and long service. In the performance of his duties he visited the Company Post in the Western Arctic in 1925, traveling in the Company Schooner, Fort MacPherson. Mr. Brabant celebrated his 40th anniversary with the Hudson’s Bay Co., on May 31, 1926 and retired in 1927.
A brief sketch, from The Beaver, The Hudson’s Bay Co. Journal, November, 1920 states:
"In the Mackenzie basin, the name of Angus Brabant is synonymous with bull–dog tenacity of purpose. Many hold him to be the greatest buyer of furs who ever went into the far north country above Edmonton. In addition to speaking English, Mr. Brabant speaks French, Cree, Ojibway and Chipewayan. A keen trader, aggressive merchant, captain of men, Mr. Brabant has reached the Fur Commissionership after thirty–five years of arduous duty with the company, Cumberland House and other posts. He served as Post Manager at Fort Chipewayan in 1898; to get to this post necessitated a 500 mile dog mush across a blizzard-swept country, this he covered following the creeks, rivers and chain of lakes, reached Lac la Hatchet on December 25th, and had their Christmas dinner of frozen fish and tea on the ice at midlake. Early in January after more than a month of perilous travelling Mr. Brabant reached his new post at Chipewayan, where his family joined him in the spring by way of Edmonton and Athabasca. From Chipewayan two years later he went to Fort Smith, Slave River, north of its junction with the Peace. Here he rejuvenated the post from the lowest on the list of H.B.Co. posts to one that was alive and in many instances the returns trebled. It was a saying around Fort Smith, that ‘No furs ever got away from Angus Brabant.’
His keen devotion to duty, his business ability and organizing energy won for him the post of District Inspector for Athabasca in 1904, headquarters at Edmonton. Here he served for three years, when he was appointed District Manager for Mackenzie (1908). In 1916 he moved his headquarters south to McMurray where he served until his appointment as Commissioner. Mr. Brabant’s remarkable control of men is widely reputed at posts and outposts throughout the great territory in which he has served the Company. Bullying tactics have never been a part of his method. His men have never feared him. Indeed the Company’s servants, the Indians, trappers, traders and boat men all along the Athabasca, the Slave and the Mackenzie, clear down to Eskimo land know him, respect and love him for his directness, simplicity and quiet power."
Brabant defended the interests of the HBC aggressively. In 1922 he travelled to the Canadian Arctic coast in the Lady Kindersley. He travelled north again in 1925. In 1925 he challenged the RCMP when he wrote to Inspector Thomas B. Caulkin about the incursion of American fur traders Christian Klengenberg and Christian Pederson into the Canadian Arctic. Inspector Caulkin permitted them to move east in 1925. Brabant claimed that the Inspector was taking advantage of his powers as Collector of Customs to permit RCMP officers to trap white foxes, sell them to the Americans, thus eliminating any records of the trade in Canada.
After his appointment as Fur Trade Commissioner, Brabant also pursued HBC competitors Lamson and Hubbard. This resulted in Lamson and Hubbard going out of operation in March 1923. The HBC acquired their assets in 1924. This included a subsidiary of Lamson and Hubbard, Alberta and Arctic Transportation Co. Ltd. (established in 1921) of which Brabant became Managing Director. This company was operated as part of the HBC’s Mackenzie River Transportation and continued as a separate company until 1941.
In his obituary in The Beaver the editor noted:
"Mr. Brabant’s reputation as a fur trader was an enviable one, for while he was keen and aggressive in business he always retained the respect and friendship of those with whom he came in contact, and he has left behind him a record in the North that any fur trader might well be proud of."
Brabant kept meticulously detailed journals and notebooks of memos and information collected on his inspection trips to be used later to direct business or to report on to the senior management of the Hudson's Bay Company in Winnipeg or London. His attention included ships and boats as often as fur posts and fur prices. Brabant Collection Notebook
He was active in the commercial life of Winnipeg and was a member of the Manitoba Club, the Country Motor Club, and the Southwood Golf Club (all in Winnipeg Manitoba). He died in Vancouver BC on November 8th, 1928.
Author’s Note: I am grateful to the descendants of Angus Brabant for permission to reproduce photographs from their collection of Angus Brabant’s photograph albums and from his notebook in their collection.
To quote from this article please cite:
MacFarlane, John M. (2012) Angus Brabant – HBC Fur Trade Commissioner, Chief Factor and Canadian Arctic Commerce Pioneer. Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Brabant_Angus.php