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BACK ROADS BILL: Geneology discovered in remote cemetery

This week, Bill takes us back to a cemetery with a story about people and the places they once lived on the back roads

Found it! It is one of the most remote cemeteries in Northern Ontario, not so abandoned and with a far-reaching story tracing back family roots and overlapping a number of cultural lines.

That was part of an original storyline in 2015 but since then there is so much more to share especially when a reader contacts you about unknown genealogy. It becomes more than a place.

Cemetery context

The first things you notice as you climb the beyond the large chunks of rocks purposely placed to stop river erosion are the rhubarb, lilac bushes, and forget-me-not plants – not native to the boreal forest.

The original landing is now obliterated by the berm. The first time I was there it was a clay bank and if you looked you would find pieces of discarded existence going back more than 150 years.

Unlike much of the land in Northeastern Ontario, someone once lived here and planted these things. You walk through the clearing of what was a small Hudson Bay Company (HBC) trading post and a Native reserve community, the meandering trail leads you to the cemetery. Overgrown all around the border, it has seen maintenance and there is a drooping chain between more contemporary posts that are starting to teeter. It is a cemetery not forgotten, particularly by one family.

There is the one outstanding metal plaque among teetering headstones and the depressions of telltale graves, the wooden crosses, no longer standing, deteriorated by time.

Genealogy is a curiosity for most, a hobby for many, and an obsession for some.

There is the practical side of genealogy such as tracing ownership or cultural identification. There are also the philosophical aspects of human curiosity; the desire to carve out a place for one's family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.

The almost abandoned graveyard at the former Hudson's Bay Company outpost is situated in a wilderness setting but it wasn’t always this way. Through the tall grass and dense new growth, there it is – a cemetery holding clues to the past.

Historic context

Canada seems to have more geography than history but the Hudson's Bay Company is a huge part of what we know about our heritage. For generations, fur traders scratched out a living in the North American wilderness. Here in northeastern Ontario, the company dominated the landscape through a commercial empire and a network of outposts. It was the point of contact with indigenous peoples.

At one time the Hudson's Bay Company encompassed an area ten times that of the Holy Roman Empire.

The employees of the companies lived with indigenous people of the area and the impact of their wrongdoings is well documented.

As Peter C. Newman wrote in his 1985 book, Company of Adventurers, it included accepting the fact that “liquor was part of their necessary operations,” becoming “citizens of the new land, in the early years mating with the Indian tribes with whom they traded,” and “more serious medical complaints [such as] ‘county disorder’ (a form of fever combined with catarrh) and syphilis.”

The Canadian author said, “The Hudson Bay Company is probably the best-documented institution in the world next to the Vatican.” It is true that they kept meticulous records, almost obsessive with accounting details.

Google searches often lead only to generalities, but good library and journalism skills are far more satisfying and generally result in more and deeper information.

In this case, I found the information I was looking for in the Hudson's Bay Company Archives from the Provincial Archives of Manitoba. Marie Reidke in Winnipeg put me on to a scanned copy of HBCA PP5288 – New Post History: Hudson's Bay Company Post on the Abitibi River, Ontario. Many thanks to her opening my eyes to the discoveries that followed.

The New Post site was operational from 1857 until 1924, halfway between Moose Factory and Abitibi Lake.

This post possessed four buildings: a factor’s (manager) residence, a second house occupied by a Native family, a general trading store, and a storehouse. “A dozen tents or teepees indicated that about twelve hunters were dependent on the post,” as per the cited reference.

You begin to get historically stuck within the world of words.

From the turn of the last century, visiting geologist to New Post, William Arthur Parks, writes, “New Post is the only trading station of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Abitibi and is the only place where supplies of any kind can be obtained from Fort Abitibi and Moose Factory. Mr. Jobson’s son, the factor in charge, has a flourishing garden in which are turnips, onions, potatoes, corn, cabbage, lettuce, and radishes, all doing well. Early red potatoes were rotting on the ground, but white varieties do well; 300 bushels were grown here last year. Corn will ripen some years, but it fails on other occasions.

“Mr. Jobson has several head of cattle, the winter fodder for which is gathered by the Indians, and consists of the marsh grass abundant along the river. The soil is fine, argillaceous (Definition—Consisting of or containing clay) in places. As an example of the vagaries of the rivers, Mr. Jobson informed me that in the spring of 1897 the water rose to the foundation of his house, a distance of 29 feet. The Indians attached to the post are rapidly succumbing to the attacks of consumption and scrofulous (Definition—having a rundown appearance or morally contaminated) disease and owing to the decrease of partridge and rabbit are sometimes at sore straights for food. As the rabbit fails the lynx also disappears for want of prey, while the beaver is almost hunted out in this district.”

A 1970s excerpt from a report by Woodland Heritage archaeologist, John Pollock (a Temiskaming Shores) states, “Indians (sic) who traded at New Post had a large system of family hunting territories that covered the east of the Abitibi River.”

You now have historic impressions and interpretations, by visitors and professionals, and snapshots or tidbits of life there for both the Hudson's Bay Company post and the Native reserve community.

McLeod research

There are a number of compelling headstones and unmarked graves at the New Post site, but there is one – and only one iron fence and iron marker at the site; it is a headstone with the following: “Sacred to the memory of Alexander McLeod - a native of Caithness Scotland - who died at New Post Hudson’s Bay – 3rd September 1885 –aged 60 years- and Jane Turnor – his wife – who this life at New Post Hudson’s Bay – 19th January 1886 – aged 50 years – blessed by the name of the Lord – erected by their surviving children – who deeply deplore their loss.”

Who is Alexander McLeod – someone special? It turns out that there is more to the name.

Caithness is one of the Orkney Islands where most of the Hudson's Bay Company (called “Bay men") originated from. Their new existence was fairly bearable when compared to their homeland and besides that, they now had jobs.

The pursuit to find out begins. It takes a while and the hunt for information is only sustainable by interest. The surname McLeod is as common to Cree First Nations in the north as is Turner and Linklater, stemming from company employees. The real problem was to sort out the masses of names.

After finding, joining, and researching Red River on I learned that Alexander McLeod (and there were many to sift through) was the factor from 1870 until his death.

He began to work for the Hudson's Bay Company at age 17 as a clerk in Turner Valley, Alberta. He married Jane Turner and they had 13 children.

In 1849 he was put in charge of the Abitibi House Post on Lake Abitibi and then to New Post, completing 43 years of service.

Anecdotally, within the New Post archival document, it is known that supplies were brought to the post by York boats and freighter canoes. McLeod's son, George, born at Abitibi, (Oct. 16, 1891) moved with his family to New Post at age 11. At age 15 he was sent to Moose Factory to become an apprentice. (Also of note is the interchangeability of “Mac” and “Mc” in McLeod/MacLeod and the “e” and “o” in Turner/Turnor.)


Enter Mark Bolton, of Metis heritage, from Nova Scotia. By his own volition, he is “obsessed with my family history.” He read my first story on New Post in 2015. His great-grandfather is George McLeod, born at New Post in 1861, one of the 12 children of Alexander and Jane. George married Isabella McBean and they had 16 children.

“That plaque at the cemetery for his parents came from a ship from England and was canoed up the Abitibi River from Moose Factory by my great grandfather. He was Factor there during that video, also born there. He was also in charge of New Post during James Bay Treaty - No. 9 signed in Moose Factory in 1906. He was a witness and acted as an interpreter,” Bolton said.

“The plaque at New Post mentions Alexander McLeod was married to Jane Turnor. Her grandfather was Phillip Turnor. He was responsible for mapping much of inland Canada. There’s a new book about him on Amazon," he added.

“Done tons of research since reading your story and have found a whole lot of relatives," Bolton said. "We had a family reunion for a decedent of George and Isabella McLeod from New Post and it was so large that we had to rent Georgian College in Barrie. We have a McLeod clan group on Facebook with 400 members.”

The extended family name includes Chief Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation, located between North Bay and West Nipissing, along the north shore of Lake Nipissing.

“Some McLeod’s identify as First Nation and some as Metis,” Bolton said.

Back to George. He eventually became a carpenter and assumed a variety of company positions.

When his father died he returned to New Post to pick up his siblings. His home, known as the “McLeod House” is an Ontario Heritage Site (1982) on the east side of Museum Street within the Centennial Park Museum, a designated Canadian Heritage Site at Moose Factory.

A must-view is a vintage silent film (Hudson's Bay Company) of 1919 showing the outpost, New Post Falls and some lifestyle shots. “George McLeod was Factor at the post with his wife Isabella. The two daughters at the falls were Florence McLeod and Georgina McLeod, Georgina was my grandmother.”

Mark describes what he calls the ‘back story.’

“It definitely has a long line of Metis people but also has some fascinating people in it, people who did amazing things. (George McLeod, eldest son, George Junior, my grandma’s brother was amazing," Bolton said. "He is in two movies, the one you saw, poling the canoe and cooking the supper and a National Film Board from the ‘40s plus he was involved in saving the US Navy balloon pilots in 1921, who were testing new equipment leaving from New Jersey, crashed near Moose Factory). All of these people are from New Post.”

He explained,

“To work for HBC you had to be 'white' or 'half-breed' so during the treaty he identified as half-breed," Bolton explained. "After the treaty reserve lines were drawn up I guess it started to sink in that when his job ran out they could not live there anymore. Some of his children identified as Cree and were accepted.

"He and a few other families petitioned the government about how they couldn't move to civilization as this was the only lifestyle they knew for generations. The government came back and listened to their concerns and agreed with them and they should be given land.

"This is well documented, last time it was in court was in the 1980s. After the treaty signing, Hudson's Bay Company gave George New Post to run. He and Isabella moved back with the youngest children and ran it till 1920 until he retired with 48 years of service. (New Post, through the Treaty, became a reserve (New Post 69A is a First Nations reserve in Cochrane District, Ontario. It is one of two reserves for the Taykwa Tagamou Nation.) And they had to leave because of Treaty rules.”

George left the long-lasting commemorative plaque to his mother and father and completed 47 years of service with the Hudson's Bay Company. He retired to a farm near Huntsville in 1923 and died in 1925. Bolton feels “in those times of multi-generations they were all a community of one people and it changed when the government labelled the difference between First Nation and Metis.”


Although this cemetery was abandoned, it is now “disused,” a heritage cemetery classification. In the pursuit to learn more about their culture, the Cree First Nation, Taykwa Tagamou (pronounced tay-kwa tag-a-moe) and proponents of the new generating station recently cleared the brush away from the plots and it is within the care of Abitibi Provincial Park.

For the past few years Northern Spirit Adventures, in costume, bring visitors, many of whom are internationals, on day trips in voyageur canoes.

“We have already made twelve trips this year and I think this trip is popular because we really make a point that Northern Ontario is a real gem,” said outfitter and owner Andre Bernier. “This trip is full of history with the Aboriginal people and the fur trade. We touch all areas of heritage and nature interpretation making sure our clients live an adventure that they won’t forget. The highlights are the HBC cemetery and New Post Falls.”

You will want to see the cemetery and the falls a past Back Roads Bill story is updated from 2015 when I first journeyed to the falls and then the cemetery.

New Post Falls can be reached by water and land with some preparation but the Hudson's Bay Company site is water access only.

Take Highway 11 North from Cochrane towards the northwest and nearby Smooth Rock Falls. Take Highway 634 northbound 74.3 km to Fraserdale and then continue for 4 km to the Abitibi Canyon Generating Station.

At the dam, there are a couple of monuments, a Rudyard Kipling poem embossed on bronze plaques, and a dynamic view. You may not be a fan of dams but at certain times of the year, the volume of water is comparable to Niagara Falls on a more horizontal plane than a vertical drop.

It is impressive; the rock walls are 46 m (150’) above the riverbed. There is a small boat launch here and you could travel 13 km to New Post Falls and visit the former Hudson’s Bay Company outpost; WGS 84 17 U E462036 N5535851 or N49° 58.428’ W081° 31.767’. Here is the map.

Found it alright, and a great deal more. Cemeteries are for the living. You develop an appreciation for genealogy and the complex family heritage initiated by the times they lived within. As you turn away from the headstone you wonder about one’s life and the multitude of peoples’ different journeys.

Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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