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Sinclair (Christie), Mary (c.

1833-1900)
Mary Sinclair Christie was one of the prominent Metis First Ladies of the fur trade. Mary was born
circa 1833 in the Rainy Lake region of northern Ontario, most likely at the Dalles where her father,
William Sinclair II, was in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company post. Her mother, Mary McKay Sinclair,
was a Mtis woman of Anishinaabe descent, thus Mary Sinclair spent most of her childhood in what is
present day northwest Ontario.

Mary Sinclair married William Joseph Christie (also Metis) in 1849 at York Factory. William Joseph
was the Metis son of Alexander Christie Sr. and Ann Thomas the Metis daughter of HBC officer Thomas
Thomas (Sr.). William Joseph was educated at Marischal College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland and
graduated in 1838. On his return to Ruperts Land he entered the service of the HBC.
He was so highly thought of, that the company put him in charge of the Swan River District in 1852,
even though he was only a clerk. However, in 1854 he was promoted to Chief Trader and served at Fort
Pelly until 1858. In 1860, after being two years at Fort Edmonton, he was made Chief Factor of the
Saskatchewan District. He spent 14 years at Edmonton. He became inspecting chief factor, second in
command to Donald Smith in 1872, however he fell out of favour when the winter packet failed to arrive
and subsequently retired to Brockville, Ontario.
Christie had been appointed to the Provisional Council of the North-West Territories in 1872 and
had pressed for treaty settlements with the Indians of the Saskatchewan district. After retirement he
served as a Commissioner for the Treaty Four and Treaty Six negotiations in 1876.
Children of William Christie and Mary Sinclair:

Anne Margaret (Marguerite), born March 14, 1851 at St. Andrews, married Malcolm
Alexander Groat.
Lydia Catherine, born 1853 at St. Johns, married Donald G. McTavish.
William Joseph Christie Jr. , born 1856. He was hired as a doctor and clerk for three years in
a contract dated 7 April 1886. At the time he was residing in Brockville, Ontario, as was his
father, William Joseph Christie Senior, who signed his contract (HBC Archives
a.32/23,fo.374).
John George, born June 27, 1857 at Fort Edmonton. John entered HBC service on September
8, 1874. He worked at various posts as an accountant and postmaster, then was chief clerk at
Winnipeg when he retired in 1920.
James Grant, born September 12, 1863, died 1919.
Mary Anne, born 1859 and died in 1865 at St. Andrews.
Charles Thomas, born December 4, 1865, died February 25, 1944.

Mary Christie is believed to have given the Earl of Southesk and elegantly beaded firebag (with
initials WJC) during his visit to Edmonton. This artifact is presently in the Southesk Collection at the
Royal Alberta Museum. Most Mtis girls began to sew at an early age, and Mary Sinclair's earliest
needlework lessons likely came from her mother or another female relative. From them, she would have
absorbed design ideas and techniques consistent with Mtis and Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) aesthetic
traditions. The purchases of silk thread, seed beads, and printed cottons recorded against William
Christies account in the Fort Edmonton account books indicate that Mary was an experienced
needleworker. (Royal Alberta Museum)
By the time she was a teen-ager, the Sinclairs were members of Red Rivers social scene. Uncles,
James and Thomas Sinclair, were prominent merchants in the community, and Marys fathers promotion
to Chief Trader in 1844 would have secured her entre into the upper echelons of Red River society. Mary
Sinclair became engaged to William Christie during a visit to York Factory. William Christie had
excellent family fur trade connectionshis father, Alexander Christie, served both as Chief Factor in
charge at Fort Garry and Governor of Assiniboia - and promising career prospects. Indeed, he would
reach the status of chief trader in charge of the Saskatchewan district within ten years' time.
The Christies seem to have enjoyed a whirlwind courtship. Letitia Hargrave, the York Factory
factor's wife, wrote to her mother in August 1848 that, "[Mrs. Sinclair] with the other members of the
family came here a month ago ... They arrived on a Thursday and on the following Sunday Mr. Wm
Christie asked the eldest unmarried daughter to marry him and she and her mother consented." The couple
was married a year later at York Factory. The newly-appointed Anglican Bishop of Rupert's Land presided
over the ceremony, and champagne was served amidst "rare merrymakings."
The Christies served at Fort Edmonton for fifteen years, from 1858 until Christie's retirement in
1873. By that time, he had reached the rank of Chief Inspecting Factor. The couple moved to Brockville,
Ontario, home to a number of retired fur trade officers and their families, before settling in Seeley's Bay,
Ontario, where their son William J. Christie II had a medical practice. Mary Christie died in Seeley's Bay
in February 1900.1
Mary was also a consummate hostess. The Christies entertained visitors to Fort Edmonton in great
style. On Christmas 1858, Mary Christie co-hosted a ball with John Palliser. "The room was splendidly
decorated," Palliser wrote, with swords, bayonets, flags ... [and] a splendid wooden Lustre to hang from
the ceiling [that] lighted the whole place up with candles and reflectors it was a brilliant sight. 2
Mary died in 1940.

Metis Scrip:

Scrip affidavit for Christie, John George; born: 27 June, 1857; father: Hon. William Joseph Christie,
Scot; mother: Mary Sinclair.

Groat, Marguerite - Concerning his claim as a child - Address, Edmonton - Born, March 14, 1851 at
St. Andrews - Father, William J. Christie, (Scot) - Mother, Mary Sinclair, (Mtis) - Married, June 26,
1871 at Edmonton to Malcolm Groat - Children living, seven (names on declaration) - Scrip for $240
- Claim 431.

Groat, Malcolm; heir to his deceased son, William Charles; claim no. 2998; Groat; born: 4 Jan., 1876
at Edmonton; died: 25 April, 1897 at Golden, B.C; address: Edmonton; father: Malcolm Groat
(Whiteman & deponent); mother: Margaret Christie (Mtis) scrip cert.: form F, no. 1118.

Reference

Anonymous. The Christie Family and the HBC: Builder of Two Fort Garrys and His Seven Descendants
Gave a Total of 238 Years Service to the Company. The Beaver, Vol. 3, No. 11, 1923: 417-419.
Spry, Irene M. William Joseph Christie. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XII. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1990: 194-195.
Photograph from the Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A9854.

1
Royal Alberta Museum; http://www.royalalbertamuseum.ca/virtualExhibit/southesk/fortEdmonton_hospitality.cfm
2
Op. cit. http://www.royalalbertamuseum.ca/virtualExhibit/southesk/fortEdmonton_hospitality.cfm
Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell
Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research
Louis Riel Institute