Friday, 11 October 2013

HIStory & HERitage: Henry John Moberly

HIStory & HERitage

The Culture Blog is excited to introduce a new project: HIStory & HERitage. This project will  highlight a person or event from the rich history of our region.

For the founding entry, I thought it would be fitting to honour the founder of Fort McMurray:  Henry John Moberly. 
Henry was born on August 2, 1835  to Mary and John Moberly, a captain in the Royal Navy. The Moberly's were a wealthy and distinguished family who had recently immigrated from England. At the time of Henry's birth, they were stationed in Penetanguishene, Ontario at the Penetanguishene Naval Yard.

It appears Henry was the black sheep of his family for while he craved a life of excitement and adventure, his brothers each pursued respectable careers in law, engineering and medicine. 

When Henry was 16 years old, he dropped out of his studies at Upper Canada College and escaped to Russia.  While abroad, Henry worked for an insurance firm for two years.However, the thrill of living in a new city eventually wore off and life in St. Petersburg became dull and familiar. So Henry began searching for his next adventure. 

Henry had heard daring tales of life as a fur trader: the vast landscapes, the herds of wild animals, the freedom from the law, and of course, the danger. Henry returned to Canada in 1853 and immediately applied to work with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Henry worked for the HBC for nearly 40 years travelling all across Canada's north-west. It was in 1870 that Henry founded a HBC post at Fort McMurray to serve as a steamboat landing. The area at that time was referred to as “The Forks” but Henry decided to officially name the fort in honour his friend, William McMurray, who was the Inspecting Chief Factor for the northern district of the HBC at the time.

Henry finally retired from the HBC in 1894. True to his restless spirit, he had “resigned” at least twice during his lengthy career to pursue other interests. He panned for gold, worked as an office clerk and even married and had children. In fact, some sources claim Henry married  three different women and fathered a possible 16 children during his lifetime!

Never one to settle down, Henry shared his early travels in his autobiography “When Fur Was King”. After living a long and fulfilled life, Henry passed away in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan at the age of 96. 

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