Cheese

Fur trade building at Fort Langley
Fur trade warehouse at Fort Langley, the same as found in any fur trade fort

Yes. Cheese. An odd subject, perhaps, for a fur trade blogpost, but I have found cheese mentioned at times in the list of provisions the HBC men carried across the country in the incoming York Factory Express — then called the Columbia Express. In Edward Ermatinger’s journal of 1827, he lists half a cheese in the list of provisions to go into New Caledonia with James McDougall, by the Rocky Mountain portage west from Jasper’s House. That almost certainly means that his incoming Express also carried cheese in its provisions as they crossed the Rockies via Athabasca Pass. It seems to me that Governor Simpson also carried cheese on his 1828 journey — and here it is, in blogpost http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/two-canoes-three/ http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/two-canoes-three/

On this occasion, however, I am not talking about Simpson’s journey, nor the York Factory Express. This story has more to do with the brigades, perhaps, and it is a story of cheese at Fort Colvile as told by Jason Allard, son of Ovide Allard of Fort Langley fame. This is NOT going to be a serious post, but it is history.

Mr. [Angus] McDonald used to let me do the ordering and he signed the orders. One day I was making out a requisition. I wrote down “2000 pounds of bacon, 2000 pounds of beans,” and the other requirements, and then thought that for a change the people buying at the store, as well as the officers and men, might like a little cheese, so I set down an order for cheese.

So, the HBC men who lived at worked at Fort Colvile, and other places distant from civilization, ate bacon and beans which are easily packed in by packhorse over the brigade trails. That tells us a little more about the provisioning of the HBC posts west of the Rocky Mountains, as this food must also have gone north to New Caledonia on the pack-horses. Let us continue:

When the pack train came in some weeks later it was a good deal larger than we had expected. The men got busy and started to unload.

“What’s all that you’ve got there, Jason?” asked Mr. McDonald.

“It must be bacon.”

“If it is you’ve got a thundering lot of it, because that’s bacon over there. Better open a bundle.” A package was opened and it proved to be cheese. Then another 100-pound bale was opened. It was cheese too. I began to get nervous. The third and the fourth and the fifth proved likewise to be cheese. “How much cheese did you order?” demanded McDonald in alarm.

“Two hundred pounds.”

“Are you sure?” and away he rushed for the order book. There was the duplicate, but instead of the 200 pounds I had intended to order, an extra cipher had been added, and we had been sent 2,000 pounds of it. McDonald became a little wrathy. He almost exploded, and fumed and stormed about until I reminded him that he had signed the order. “Get it out of my sight — cheese, cheese, imagine it, a whole ton of cheese,” he shouted.

I looked about for a place to stow the offending cheese, but the warehouse was pretty well filled. At last, over in one corner I spied a number of empty rum barrels, so I had the cheese all unpacked and put into the barrels, and I covered them over with sacking. Months went by and there was nothing said about the cheese, and you can depend on it, I was not going to be the first to mention it.

Then one day, McDonald complained that the fare was rather scanty. “Let’s see,” he mused, “Isn’t there some cheese about? Where is it, Jason?”

So I had a piece brought, and I can assure you that it was without doubt the best cheese that anyone ever tasted. The hot summer sun had melted and mellowed it and the flavour of the rum had impregnated it. “Goodness, man! What have you been hiding this for?” shouted McDonald. After that he wanted cheese for breakfast, lunch, and supper, and the odd midnight snack as well.

I took the improved cheese out of storage and had it transferred to the store. The officers of the United States army barracks, who used to dine with us frequently, got a taste of it and it recommenced itself so highly that soon posts 1000 miles away were sending in for “Allard’s cheese.”

The result was that without two months it was all gone, and then Mr. McDonald kicked again, this time because I had not saved it. But believe me, I worried more over that cheese, while it was maturing in the rum barrels, then I want to again, and the very mention of cheese for years after was enough to put me off my meals.

Poor Jason! This story is from Mss 001, Box 24, B.A. McKelvie fonds, British Columbia Archives. (Warning, I believe these are stored offsite, so if you want to see them, talk to the archives before arriving there!) Bruce McKelvie actually knew Jason Allard, and collected many of his stories. This is what he wrote about Jason in his article, “Jason Allard: Fur-Trader, Prince, and Gentleman,” published in British Columbia Historical Quarterly, vol. 9, 1945.

Jason Ovid Allard was born at Fort Langley, September 8, 1848, and died in New Westminster, December 16, 1931. His life encompassed the sweep of British Columbia history from the rude fur-trading days, when there was no form of government in the British west, to times and conditions with which we are familiar… He heard of the coming of Simon Fraser from natives who were present when that noted man visited the lower reaches of the river that bears his name; and he learned from a former Indians slave the details of the blowing-up of John Jacob Astor’s unlucky vessel, the Tonquin

On one occasion I questioned him as to the number of persons constituting a party with which he had wintered in the Rocky Mountains fifty years before. He replied that he would let me know the next day. When we met again he looked worried. In reply to my question as to his health he said: “Physically, I am feeling fine, but I am afraid that my memory is going I know that there were twenty-two of us in that party, bur for the life of me I can only remember the names and initials of twenty-one; there was an Indian there and I forget his name.”

Jason Allard also tells us about life at Fort Langley where he grew up. “There were gay times at Fort Langley, too, especially when the annual fur brigade would sweep down the river with the furs from New Caledonia.”

Then there would be high celebration: bagpipes and fiddles would be brought out, and reels and square dances — and the inevitable dram — would be the order of the day. The voyageurs would dance and fight all night and have a mighty good time of it. At the Big House, as the officers’ quarters were known, there would be feasting and merriment galore. Dangers and privations were forgotten when there was occasion for a celebration.

It is also Jason Allard who told Bruce McKelvie that Alexander Caulfield Anderson “would never stay at the Big House, but would pitch his tent outside of the fort.” And James Murray Yale he described as “a courageous, peppery little man… He was small in stature and very conscious of it. Governor Douglas, who towered above six feet, knew of Yale’s dislike to stand near him, emphasizing the difference in height between them. Douglas was amused at Yale’s efforts to avoid such a comparison and always contrived to get as close to the little man as possible.”

So there are lots of stories in Jason Allard’s writing, many of which are very enjoyable. I hope you enjoy this cheese story as much as I do. It makes me laugh.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2019. All rights reserved.

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