James McMillan was about 20 years old when he joined the North West Company as a clerk in 1803. He spent some time in Saskatchewan, and accompanied David Thompson on his first expedition across the Rocky Mountains in the upper Columbia River. He led a successful life as a fur trader in these years, travelling between Saskatchewan and the Columbia Departments on the Pacific Coast.

North America was at this time almost totally uninhabited by Europeans. The Hudson's Bay Co.'s Charter of 1670 gave it the right to trade in the area that drains into the Hudson Bay. The North West Co., on the other hand, dominated the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest (later, the "Columbia Department") from 1813 to 1820. During this period, there was bitter competition with the Hudson's Bay Co. In 1821, the two companies merged into one, becoming the most influential non-native power in North America through 1846. The painting to the left indicates (for me) the level of civilization enjoyed by the fur trade employees. But, a successful trade in fur depended upon maintaining wilderness throughout what is now north and western Canada.

When the Hudson's Bay Co merged with the North West Co, it acquired a monopoly over the raw materials of an area from the Arctic to the Pacific as far south as Spokane, and as far east as (what is now) Ontario. James McMillan joined the new Hudsons Bay Co in 1821 as a "Chief Trader". As such, he was in charge of an individual post and was entitled to one share of the profits of the company. Given that he had been employed by the NW Co since 1803, James McMillan must have been a likeable and competent fur trader to easily and successfully transfer his employment to the Hudson's Bay Co.

HBC Governor George Simpson was impressed with McMillan, describing him as a "Staunch and Manly Friend and Fellow Traveller," and entrusted him with the exploration of the lower part of the Fraser River and made him responsible for surveying the alternative route to the headwaters of the Fraser River by way of the Yellowhead Pass. In 1827, McMillan was promoted to the level of "Chief Factor". As such, he sat in council with the Governors, and was the head of a district, entitled to two shares of the company's profits or losses. He was sent to Columbia Department on the west coast, where he established Fort Langley at the mouth of the Fraser River. Simpson designed this fort to secure the company's share of the coastal fur trade from Americans and Russians.

After a year at Fort Langley, McMillan travelled inland with Simpson to the Red River Colony (Manitoba). From thence, he travelled to Scotland on a year's furlough. There, he married Eleanor McKinley. When he returned to Canada in 1830, he was put in charge of establishing an Experimental Farm at the Red River. This farming operation was not his 'cup of tea', and he transferred to the Lake of Two Mountains district near Montreal in 1834.

McMillan retired in 1839, and returned to Perth, Scotland, with his Scottish wife and 8 children. He made a series of unwise financial decisions resulting in poverty for his family. Upon his death (1858), his wife and family were in dire straits, and Governor Simpson arranged for the extension of his company pension.

Simpson described James McMillan in the following manner:

"A very steady, plain blunt man, shrewd and sensible of correct conduct and good character, but who has gone through a vast deal of severe duty and is fit for any Service requiring physical strength, firmness of mind and good management provided he has no occasion to meddle with Pen and Ink in the use of which he is deficient, his Education having been neglected. An excellent Trader, speaks several Indian languages and is very regular and Economical in all his arrangements; a good practical Man, better adapted for the executive than the Legislative departments of the business. His plain blunt manner however cannot conceal a vast deal of little highland pride, and his prejudices are exceedingly strong, but upon the whole he is among the most respectable of his class and a generally useful man."

To go back Lochaber McMillan emigration, go here

For James McMillan and the Yukon, go here

To go back to the MacMillan introductory page: go here

For a list of sources used for Clan McMillan, go here