06 December 2008

My Famous Canadian Ancestor (Not)

The most recent Canadian Genealogy Carnival ( is for “My Famous Canadian Ancestor.” I hope Kathryn doesn’t mind if I mention the one who isn’t ... isn’t my ancestor. He’s famous, but I assert he’s not mine.

This post also comes under the category of a prophet is not without honour save in his own country and similar sentiments. Family historians admire each others' work but sometimes it’s a different matter with family members who cling like limpets to treasured myths. Simon Fraser is one of the barnacles I’ve been trying to excise from the family chronicles.

Simon Fraser was a fur trader and one of Canada’s best-known explorers. A famous river and a famous university in British Columbia are named after him, and no doubt many other things. Simon was born on the eve of the Revolutionary War in New York state in what would become Vermont. His father, also called Simon, died a year later in an American prison for supporting the British forces. The family fled to Canada where in due time Simon joined the North West (Fur Trade) Company, becoming a partner in 1801. In 1805 he was sent west to explore new territory for trading posts and a navigable river to the Pacific coast. It was 1808 when he reached the mouth of the river that bears his name—not without a great deal of adventure and hardship, recorded in his journals.

Map of Fraser river from Vancouver Sun newspaper,, accessed 5 December 2008.
Clashes between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company led to the disgraceful Seven Oaks massacre in 1816 where the governor of the Red River settlement (Manitoba) and 19 of his men were killed. As representatives of the Nor’Westers in the vicinity, Simon and five other partners were arrested and tried, but acquitted of treason, conspiracy and accessories to murder. Eventually he retired to farm in Cornwall Township among other Highland Loyalist families. The details in Dictionary of Canadian Biography ( are much more edifying than my cursory words.

The family debate? One of my cousins claims Simon as our worthy ancestor. After all, it's good enough for him that we share the same surname and Simon did settle in Canada. Now, I like to think of myself as broad-minded, allowing points for the opposing side. It’s true that Simon’s origins, like ours, were in Inverness-shire, Scotland. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if every Fraser family in the world originated in Inverness-shire. Therefore we could all be related hundreds of year ago to umpteen degrees of kinship.

On the other hand. Simon’s family had arrived in colonial America in 1773. His lineage has been quite well-documented over the years by clan historians and other scholars. They didn’t leave room for a stray John Fraser who was born at about the same time in Scotland and only came to North America in 1807. That was my Inverness-shire John Fraser (my Perthshire John Fraser is so out of this discussion). Also, the name Simon is strewn like confetti throughout the generations of his family’s ancestors and descendants. Names among Simon’s children like Isabella, Catherine, Harriet, William and Simon were not used in my Inverness Fraser line.

But those items are merely a warm-up for my best winning points: Simon Fraser’s family, unlike mine, were consistent Roman Catholics and they were in America as Loyalists during the Revolution. None of that holds water for my cousin. Being a myth buster is a hard row to hoe.


Anonymous said...

Try "James" for a last name and think of the mid-west states and the end of the civil war.
Take a look at


Kathryn Lake Hogan said...

Greetings Brenda,
I guess you'll have to tell your cousin "close" only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades, not genealogy. I enjoyed your post about both Simons. Thanks for participating in this edition of the CGC.