Meet “Postmaster Gregoire” at Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Alberta. The person inside that authentic outfit is fur trade historian, public speaker, interpreter and re-enactor Greg Ingram. He spends his summer and fall interpreting at the replica Hudson Bay Fort representing Fort Rocky Mountain House. And he’s a wood carver.
Greg said, “I’ve interpreted here for the last 13 years, creating the character of Postmaster Gregoire, the individual responsible for managing the Fort. My mission is to bring to life the fur trade of North America and bring people’s attention to this fascinating history!”
He’s in his 25th-year study of the fur trade era, continuing to read and procure books, journals and newspapers from that time and perusing old maps.
Greg said, “I like to read the original documents (and copies of) because they tell the stories in the people’s own words at the time those events happened. I’m amazed at their eloquent mastery of the English language. Along with lithograph drawings, they shared a clear vision of what they experienced. It was, if you will, their TV of the time.”
Besides re-enacting at Heritage Park Historical Village, Greg carves busts of important people and scenes from fur trade history. He uses them in his presentations at schools, conventions, history groups and clubs.
“I’ve created about 45 carvings, three or four each year for the last 11 years. I tell detailed stories about all the people I’ve carved. Carving and historical research keep me busy through the winters. And their stories stay with me — I never need a script at presentations. After all this time, I’ve almost put together the entire ‘jigsaw puzzle’ of the history of all the fur trade companies of North America — although the more you read, sometimes it feels like the less you know.”
For example, he’s carved the 1670 scene of King Charles II granting a royal charter to give England a monopoly to the entire drainage basin of Hudson Bay. In his carving, the mustachioed King Charles II is on the right, holding the signed and rolled charter, in the presence of the king’s court. He offers it to Prince Rupert, his grateful cousin, who is bowing and holding his hand over his heart.
Rupert became Hudson’s Bay Company’s first governor, an excellent choice. A practical genius, he maintained a scientific lab at his home and had had already invented a ship’s diving bell, an improved quadrant and a better method of making spherical lead shot and balls. And he was a savvy entrepreneur, seeing a valuable opportunity in Radisson and Groseilliers (according to the book “When Skins were Money: A History of the Fur Trade” by James A. Hanson (Chapter 5: “The Company of Adventurers”).
In a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot, Greg recently carved the North canoe brigade in “Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall,” painted by Frances Anne Hopkins in 1869.
Notice the delightfully portrayed details: the HBC flag at the stern, the amazing prow decorations, the personality of each paddler, the milieu picking a water lily (possibly for the woman who might be Frances hidden behind her top-hatted husband Edward, the secretary to the Chief Factor at Lachine, near Montreal).
“This winter I’m working on the Frances Anne Hopkins painting “Shooting the Rapids” (1879). It shows a canôt de maître, or Montreal canoe. Because it’s a 36-foot birch bark canoe, my carving will be 36 inches long. The birch bark canoe was an amazing invention by our First Nations. I must have a model to show people!”
Greg also carves war clubs and canoe cups and ladles out of wood burls. Voyageurs routinely carved their own cups and ladles since tableware and utensils weren’t provided — only the twice-a-day pea porridge. His graces his cup handles with a seal or bear.
Greg said, “I’m not even descended from fur traders. I got hooked when I saw a set of ‘made beaver’ tokens from Hudson’s Bay Company, who basically coined their own money later on in the endeavor. That fascinated me. I read more and more, expanding to all facets of the fur trade.”
In a future post, I’ll share Greg’s carvings of some of the era’s famous characters: David Thompson, Peter Pond, the Lewis and Clark expedition, Madame Montour and more.
- Read about the fur trade through the eyes of a too-young voyageur — buy “Waters Like the Sky” or “Treacherous Waters.”Or the ebook.
- Request to be on the waiting list for Book 3: “Uncharted Waters.” Projected availability is spring 2023.
- Subscribe to this blog and get posts as soon as they’re completed.
- Visit me on Facebook to read about my occasional discoveries.
- Ask your library, local school or gift shop to buy copies “Waters Like the Sky” and “Treacherous Waters.”
“When Skins were Money: A History of the Fur Trade” by James A. Hanson. Museum of the Fur Trade (Chadron, Nebraska, 2005)
HBC Heritage: The Royal Charter
Subscribe ToNikki's Newsletter
Join Nikki's mailing list to receive the latest news and updates. It's free, and you can opt out anytime!