by Adam Sherriff Scott, 1948

Trading Ceremony at York Factory, 1780s by Adam Sherriff Scott, 1948

Trading Ceremony at York Factory, 1780s by Adam Sherriff Scott, 1948

About the Subject
While native traders might arrive at the posts on the Bay at any time during the spring and summer months, June and July saw the majority of activity. Their arrival was one of the high points of the year and, as such, was met with a great deal of pomp and circumstance. Several eye-witness accounts exist describing the sequence of events, the most important being those of Andrew Graham, Chief Factor at Fort Severn, from 1768 and that of Thomas Hutchins of York Factory some time prior to 1782. It is evident that the nature of the ceremony was fairly standard from post to post.

The flotilla of canoes, adorned by flags, fired a rifle in salute and was welcomed in return by a volley from the fort's guns. The leaders of each expedition, who would have been elected earlier that spring to lead the voyage down to the Bay, would be received by the Governor in the factory while their men and women unloaded the year's furs and set up their encampment. The Chief Trader would introduce the leaders, or "Captains" as the sources call them, to the Governor and all would share the ceremonial smoking of a pipe. The "most venerable" native leader would finally speak. Relating the story of their journey, he would tell how many furs he had with him, how many men, how many canoes. He would then ask after the Englishmen and declare himself glad to see them. The Governor would respond, saying that he had plenty of trade goods and was happy to see the natives and eager to trade with them. The pipe would be shared round once more.

York Factory

Detail showing York Factory, map by Jack McMaster, 2004

The Captains would then be dressed in European clothes: a coat of red or blue baize with regimental collar and cuffs, baize breeches and waistcoat, all trimmed with lace; a white or checked shirt with lace at the cuffs; woollen stockings, one each of red and blue, tied below the knee with garters; a hat with three coloured feathers and a sash around the crown. The seconds-in-command, or "Lieutenants", would be similarly, but less extravagantly decked out. Bread, prunes, brandy and tobacco were then presented to the natives, whereupon a grand procession escorted the natives back to their encampment.

Afterwards the trading room was opened and trading for brandy took place. The Captains would present the Governor with a gift of pelts, and more drinking, smoking and feasting would occur. Serious trading commenced after this and would typically last for several days. Captains and their selected comrades would handle all trading on behalf of their people. Finally, parting gifts would be exchanged and the natives would head back inland.

About the Painting
First published for the HBC calendar in 1956, the painting depicts the procession portion of the annual trading ceremony. A small colour guard in military dress leads the procession from the main gate of the fort towards the native encampment. Four men carry halberds, ceremonial axes, and are followed by a drummer escorted by two flag bearers, one of whom carries the Union Jack, the other an early version of the HBC flag, displaying the coat of arms on the fly. Servants of the Company follow with brandy kegs and other goods, including the Captain's own clothing. The Governor of the Factory is next, accompanied by the visiting Captain in his brand new European finery; they, in turn are followed by their respective seconds-in-command. The entire procession is watched by a large group of natives and, from the palisade and walls of the fort, HBC men. The bright colour and motion of the painting captures the excitement and pageantry of the occasion.

There is much extant correspondence about the development of the painting. The subject was suggested for the calendar series in the spring of 1947 and was initially offered to Henry Simpkins for execution. Simpkins was too busy to accept the commission that year, as were C.W. Jefferys and Franklin Arbuckle. Sherriff Scott also originally declined but was finally able to accept the job the following year. During the intervening months Beaver editor Clifford Wilson, assisted by the Hudson's Bay Company archives staff in England, conducted extensive research into various topics related to the picture. Great efforts were taken to ensure that the painting would be as historically accurate as possible, particularly as regards the clothing of the natives; the design and plan of York Factory; and the nature and date of the uniforms depicted. Finishing touches suggested by Wilson and apparent in the final version include the dog following the drummer, the coat of arms on the HBC ensign, and the dandelions blooming along the path.