The Yellowknife Journal

The Yellowknife Journal



About the book

  • Finalist for the Manitoba Book Design of the Year Award
The only journal recorded on birchbark ever discovered, this unique Canadian artifact is reproduced in full-colour facsimile, with a French transcription, an English translation, and an introduction by Harry Duckworth. “Jean Steinbruck, at a North West Company post in the Great Slave Lake area, wrote his 1802-03 notes on birchbark after he ran out of paper. The Yellowknife Journal is an extraordinary volume, of interest both as an artifact and as a record of the particulars of one man’s winter.” —The Beaver

About the author

Jean Steinbruck died in the autumn of 1804, the victim of a gunshot wound inflicted by a rival from the so-called XY Company. Although the North West Company and the XY Company had made their peace in Montreal, unfortunately, the news had not yet reached the traders in the northern territories.


from Introduction by Harry Duckworth

For a European in the winter of 1802-3, a fur trading post on the Mackenzie River was the uttermost end of the world. A varied and adventuresome life had brought Jean Steinbruck to this place, and it is a pity that the only part of it that he recorded himself was this one winter trading season—the record that survives, written on birchbark, the subject of this book. Steinbruck's name marks him as a German. Practically the only German surnames to be found in the colony of Canada before the year 1800 belonged to the so-called Hessians, mercenary soldiers from Hesse and other parts of Protestant Germany who had fought for the British during the American War of Independence, and remained in Canada after the peace of 1783. John Steinbruck was one of these mercenaries.

According to the Hessian muster rolls, Heinrich or Christian Steinbruck (his full name was probably Johann Heinrich Christian Steinbruck) was born about January 1760 at Ermanstedt in Thuringia, and enlisted in a battalion of mercenaries that left Germany in April, 1778, reaching Canada in September. He served in Captain Hambach's company of Captain von Barner's battalion. The army heard of him last on July 19, 1783, when he deserted—the war had been over in all but name for more than a year, and Steinbruck must have seen opportunities in the New World that did not await him back in Germany. For the next six years his career is a blank, but evidently he worked in a French-speaking environment, for the birchbark journal is written in French, a language that he must have learned in the New World. During these silent years, Steinbruck found his way into the greatest business activity of early Canada, the fur trade.


Fur traders were required to keep journals of their daily lives, their encounters with nature, their trafficking with natives. Jean Steinbruck, at a North West Company post in the Great Slave Lake area, wrote his 1802-1803 notes on birchbark after… >>

The Beaver

The Yellowknife Journal is a slim, unusual book and a revealing document. Reproduced, page by page, it is an amazing find: a 200-year-old diary written by a fur trader in an elegant hand on fragile birchbark.

Risk,… >>

The Hamilton Spectator

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