I could not be called either officer or spy, yet none the less I did not care to be recognized here in the capacity of one over-curious. I made up my costume as that of an innocent free trader from the Western fur country of the states, and was able, from my earlier experiences, to answer any questions as to beaver at Fort Hall or buffalo on the Yellowstone or the Red. Thus I passed freely in and about all the public places of the town, and inspected with a certain personal interest all its points of interest, from the Gray Nunneries to the new cathedrals, the Place d’Armes, the Champ de Mars, the barracks, the vaunted brewery, the historic mountain, and the village lying between the arms of the two rivers—a point where history for a great country had been made, and where history for our own now was planning.
As I moved about from day to day, making such acquaintance as I could, I found in the air a feeling of excitement and expectation. The hotels, bad as they were, were packed. The public places were noisy, the private houses crowded. Gradually the town became half-military and half-savage. Persons of importance arrived by steamers up the river, on whose expanse lay boats which might be bound for England—or for some of England’s colonies. The Government—not yet removed to Ottawa, later capital of Ontario—was then housed in the old Chateau Ramezay, built so long before for the French governor, Vaudreuil.
Here, I had reason to believe, was now established no less a personage than Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company. Rumor had it at the time that Lord Aberdeen of England himself was at Montreal. That was not true, but I established without doubt that his brother really was there, as well as Lieutenant William Peel of the Navy, son of Sir Robert Peel, England’s prime minister. The latter, with his companion, Captain Parke, was one time pointed out to me proudly by my inn-keeper—two young gentlemen, clad in the ultra fashion of their country, with very wide and tall bell beavers, narrow trousers, and strange long sack-coats unknown to us in the States—of little shape or elegance, it seemed to me.
There was expectancy in the air, that was sure. It was open secret enough in England, as well as in Montreal and in Washington, that a small army of American settlers had set out the foregoing summer for the valley of the Columbia, some said under leadership of the missionary Whitman. Britain was this year awakening to the truth that these men had gone thither for a purpose. Here now was a congress of Great Britain’s statesmen, leaders of Great Britain’s greatest monopoly, the Hudson Bay Company, to weigh this act of the audacious American Republic. I was not a week in Montreal before I learned that my master’s guess, or his information, had been correct. The race was on for Oregon!