The Yellowknife Journal

The Yellowknife Journal

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About the book

  • Finalist for the Manitoba Book Design of the Year Award

Finding a fur trader's journal is unusual. Finding a trader's journal in French is even rarer. Finding a journal in French and written on birchbark is unprecedented. The Yellowknife Journal was kept by Jean Steinbruck, a soldier of German descent who was likely sent to the colonies by a prince as part payment of a debt. Steinbruck accompanied Alexander McKenzie to the Arctic ocean before working as a fur trader for the North West Company in the Great Slave Lake area. As required by the Company, he kept a journal of his daily trafficking with the natives around his post. In the hard winter of 1802-03, he ran out of paper and was forced to use the birchbark sheets used for patching canoes to keep his daily entries. Historians and collectors have heard of traders resorting to birchbark sheets when they had no paper at their post, but as it was customary for traders to keep a rough journal and then rewrite a fair copy to send in to the company, no other examples of these birchbark journals have survived.

In private hands for almost two hundred years, the journal has surfaced thanks to Henry de Lotbiniere Harwood's passion for Canadiana and his own family's history. A descendant of the Seigneurs of Vaudreuil and Rigaud, de Lotbiniere Harwood uncovered, preserved and passed on the journal to his children. This unique Canadian artifact has been published as a full-colour facsimile, with accompanying transcription and English translation and a lively and accessible introduction by Harry Duckworth, a noted expert in this field.

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.

Excerpt

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.

Reviews

The Yellowknife Journal is a slim, unusual book and a revealing document. Reproduced, page by page, it is an amazing find: a 200-year-ol diary written by a fur trader in an... >>

The Hamilton Spectator

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... >>

The Beaver


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