Samuel Black (ca. 1780 –
February 8, 1840) was a Canadian fur
trader and explorer noted for his
exploration of the Finlay River and its
tributaries in present-day north-central British
helped to open up the Muskwa, Omineca, and Stikine areas to the
fur trade; as well for his role as Chief
Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company for the Columbia District.
Early life and career
born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and went to work for the North West Company, headquartered in
1803. Assigned to work in the Athabasca Department (mostly in present-day
Alberta) in 1805, Black served as a clerk there for fifteen
For much of this time, he took an active role in the
sometimes violent competition between the North West Company and
the Hudson's Bay Company
Black's violent activities against Hudson's Bay Company employees
had so imperilled his safety that he withdrew across the Rockies to the North West Company fort at
Lake in New
Caledonia. With the merger of the two fur trading
companies the following year, Black was appointed to the post at
John as Chief Trader.
summer of 1824, at the behest of Sir George Simpson, governor
of the Hudson's Bay Company, Black was assigned to set out with a
crew of ten from Rocky Mountain Portage (now Hudson's
Hope) "to the Sources of Finlay's Branch [the Finlay River] and Northwest Ward".
purpose of the expedition was to assess the region's suitability
for extension of the fur trade, and to check the advance of the
Russian fur trade
from the west.
The river had been partially explored by John Finlay
, a colleague of
in 1797. In 1793, Mackenzie had ascended the Peace River to the point where it is
formed by the Finlay flowing from the north, and the Parsnip River from the south.
Mackenzie had taken the
Parsnip, and from there completed a complicated route to the
Pacific Ocean. It is thought that Finlay may have decided to probe
the northern branch of the Peace in order to determine if it
afforded a better route to the Pacific than the one taken by
Mackenzie. Nonetheless, it would appear from the information Black
had that Finlay had only made it as far as the Ingenika River
, about 130 km north of the
Finlay River's confluence with the Parsnip (where the Peace
journey up the Finlay River's 450 km length and up its tributaries,
River and the Firesteel River, took Black and his men to what is considered the
ultimate source of the Mackenzie River at Thutade
Lake (at the head of the Firesteel). Proceeding sometimes
on foot, sometimes by raft, Black and a smaller crew explored the
region of the Spatsizi
Plateau, there finding one of the sources of the Stikine River and so reaching the boundary between the Arctic and Pacific drainages. Journeying
north-eastward, Black crossed another divide — this time between
the Stikine and Liard Rivers — and
rafted some way down the Kechika by way of its tributary, the Turnagain
River, before returning again down the Finlay.
addition to the makeshift rafts, Black's expedition was completed
in a single canoe and a crew of ten over a period of four
Black's vivid journal account of the expedition conveys the extreme
hardships faced by the crew, and what Black believed was the
general privation of the country — both as a source of food and of
of his men deserted in the course of the expedition, giving
Canyon its name.
The river proved to be a rough and
difficult traverse, and Black's assessment was that this fact —
coupled with what he perceived to be the general absence of
marketable furs or a healthy First
population — made the territory impracticable for the
extension of the fur trade or as a northern route to the Pacific.
Nonetheless, Black and his crew had completed an extraordinarily
extensive survey of what is now north-central British Columbia.
They had not only journeyed to the source of the Mackenzie River,
but had travelled over the Arctic-Pacific divide, and to the
sources of two major watershed
Stikine and Liard.
interval at Fort Dunvegan and York Factory, Black was appointed Chief Factor of Fort Nez Perces (at present day Walla
Walla, Washington) in 1825.
This posting allowed Black to
exercise his renowned vigour in opposing competition, in this
instance from American traders. His difficulties in maintaining a good
relationship with the local Nez Perce
clients led to Black's transfer to the company's Thompson's River Post (now Kamloops) in 1830.
In 1837, Black was appointed as
Chief Factor in charge of the inland posts of the Columbia
As he lived an often violent life, so Black met a violent end. On
February 8, 1841, Black was shot dead by a nephew of Chief Tranquille
of the local group of
(Shuswap) following a minor
quarrel. He is interred near Kamloops.
Places Named for Black
- The Finlay River was locally called
Black's River by early fur traders, but the Hudson's Bay Company
had inadvertently filed Black's journals under John Finlay's name, fixing his name
as the name of the river Black traversed.
fur trader and explorer John
McLeod re-located the river that Black discovered (the Kechika) and named it Black's River however the Canadian
government officially recorded the name as the Kechika.
- The Samuel Black Range lies
between the Toodoggone and Firesteel Rivers.
- Black Lake is a small lake on the south-western side of the
Samuel Black Range.
- Samuel Black wrote a vivid account of his expedition, A
Journal of a Voyage from Rocky Mountain Portage in Peace River to
the Sources of Finlays Branch and North West Ward in Summer
1824, edited by E.E. Rich and A.M. Johnson (London, HBRS,
- A tremendous account of Black's expedition and a modern partial
re-tracing of his route is to be found in R.M. Patterson's
Finlay's River, originally published in 1968. A new
edition has been published by TouchWood Editions (ISBN