Jacco Findlay

The 1804 Compagnie du Nord-Quest List of Voyageurs outlines proprietors, clerks and interpreters. It details that John Findlay was the proprietor in the Athabasca District. His half-brother Jacques (Jacco) was noted as one of the highest paid clerks or interpreters at Upper Fort de Prairie (Edmonton). These two men were the sons of James Findlay.

Scotsman James Findlay a North West Company man, was a pioneer explorer of Saskatchewan in the mid 1700s. He sired a mixed blood son Jacco, who made a mark in history when he, with his wife and children, followed the Blaeberry River. Jacco and his family were the first to reach the upper Columbia River on a round trip over the Rockies in 1806. Findlay’s party, accompanied by Kutenai Indians, traveled by way of what was later called Howse Pass in search of a route to the Pacific Ocean. Explorer David Thompson followed Findlay a year later in 1807. Joseph Howse, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader first traveled his namesake’s route in 1809—guided by Jacco. Jacco Findlay left the Kootenay Plains area and moved to the Athabasca Valley, where his descendants resided for a hundred years. Jacco and his band of Mountain Métis became some of the first businessmen in Alberta.

Sir George Simpson was Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land and Administrator over the Northwestern Territory and Columbia Department in British North America (now Canada) from 1821 to 1860. On Page 33 of “Overland by the Yellowhead” Author and Historian James McGreggor wrote, “At Jasper House (in 1824) what Simpson wrote in his journal provides the first glimpse ever penned of a prominent band of Métis which for decades was a dominant influence along the mountains from Peace River south to the Columbia and Fraser rivers and whose descendants still roam in the yet unspoiled wilderness of this area. In 1824, when Sir George Simpson was visiting Jasper House, he ran into Jacco and penned the following:

“Jacco Findlay and a band of followers (Freemen) were here watching the Shuswaps in order that they might trade their furs before they got to the Establishment and thereby make a profit on the jaunts of these poor Indians, but I gave them notice that the practice must be discontinued. We should not allow Freemen to interfere with and impose on Natives, and I addressed a circular letter to Messrs. Clarke, McIntosh, Rowand and Laroque begging they would narrowly watch the conduct of Findlay’s band.[1]

James MacGregor wrote, “Since all the traders from Sir George Simpson and Sir Alexander Mackenzie down to the humblest found the practice of celibacy incompatible with the freedom and rigours of a remote post, the Findlays, like everyone else, multiplied in the mountain air.” In fact, Jacco’s son James remained in the Athabasca Valley. Further evidence was penned by James MacGregor when he stated, “In Colin Fraser’s time, Eustace Decoigne, James Findlay, George Ward, Andre Chalifoux and several Desjarlais lived in the (Jasper) valley. All of them had moved west keeping pace with the extensions of the fur trade. The Desjarlais were close relatives to Antoine Desjarlais.” (Quote from “Overland by the Yellowhead”.)

Jacco’s descendants continued to reside near the present-day town of Jasper. They lived on the south side of the Athabasca River until 1909 when his progeny Isadore Findlay and his family were forced out of the Park. Isadore Findlay moved to Shining Bank near Edson. Many of his descendants reside in the Edson area to this day. His son Deome Findlay decided to move to the Grande Cache area as a young man and worked as a businessman, trapping, guiding and outfitting. Deome and his wife Rose took out international hunting parties in what is now known as Willmore Wilderness Park.

Isadore’s grandson Alvin Findlay still resides in Grande Cache and works full-time as the President of the Mountain Métis. Alvin works hard every year to ensure that Métis youth participate in horse pack trips into the mountain region. They are taught the traditional skills of trapping, edible and medicinal plants, horsemanship skills, trail skills and the special connection that the Métis have to the Earth.

Hudson Bay Company records, Church records, scrip, archival journals, and census records clearly show that the original voyageurs’ descendants lived in the Athabasca Valley until they were evicted in 1907. The 1906 Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta showed that the first Mountain Métis families to leave the Jasper area included John Findlay and family, Mary and her son Julian Gauchier, Elizabeth and Joseph Gauchier, Paul Gauchier and family, Baptist and Adelaide Gauchier, Albert Gauchier and family, Adam and Eliza Cardinal, Angelica Tappe, John Gregg and family, Vincent (Basa) Wanyandie and family, Kenny Kenny and family, Mary Cardinal, Henry (Ewan) Moberly and family, Martin Joachim and family, Lewis Swift and family, Albert Norris, Adam Joachim and family, Isadore Findlay and family, Louis Karakuntie. There were many other families in the Athabasca Valley as the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction began in 1905 and was completed by 1913.