Brothers in "Arms"

Harold Written by 

(12 votes)
Great Bear Lake Great Bear Lake

Do you happen to know what Peter Warren Dease, Edward Smith, Robert McVicar, John George McTavish, and George Keith all have in common?

To begin with, they were all Chief Factors with the Hudson’s Bay Company during the 1800’s, and a couple of them even worked for the HBC’s hated rival, the Northwest Company, before it was forced to merge with the HBC in 1821.

In addition, they all assisted Sir John Franklin in one way or another during one, and in some cases, both of his overland expeditions.

Is there anything else that comes to mind?

Let me give you a hint - focus on their last names only:

  • Dease
  • Smith
  • Keith
  • McVicar
  • McTavish

Well, if it hasn’t rung a bell as yet, have a closer look at the map at the top of the page, and hopefully it has now dawned on you that these are the gentlemen whose names grace the five distinct arms of Great Bear Lake.

While Sir John Franklin, and John Richardson conferred the names in the early to mid 1800’s, they did not start to appear on the official topographical maps of Canada until they were officially approved, beginning in 1910.

So without further adieu, let me introduce you to these brothers in “arms.”

Keith Arm

Named after Chief Factor, George Keith. He was in charge of Fort Chipewyan during Sir John Franklin's first expedition, 1819-1822. Franklin named the arm after Keith on his Second Overland Expedition, 1825-1827.

For an excellent biographical sketch of George, and his many accomplishments, click on:

Dease Arm

Named by Sir John, after Chief Factor, Peter Warren Dease, who accompanied him on his second overland expedition, from 1825 to 1827. Dease was also the senior officer on the Dease/Simpson expedition, 1837-1839.

A biographical sketch of Peter can be found at:

McTavish Arm

Named after John George McTavish, by John Richardson, who surveyed Great Bear Lake in 1826, in conjunction with Franklin’s second overland expedition. Both McTavish and Richardson were Chief Factors who assisted Franklin during both of his overland expeditions.

An excellent account of John Georges’ many contributions to the fur trade in Canada, is available at:

McVicar Arm

John Richardson named this arm after Chief Factor, Robert McVicar. Like George McTavish, he assisted Franklin during both of his overland expeditions.

Unlike the others, this arm has a traditional Dene name – Turíli.

To review John’s biography, click on:

Smith Arm

Named after Chief Factor, Edward Smith, by Franklin during his second overland expedition. In 1924, Dominion Land Surveyor, H.E. Pearson proposed that the arm be renamed, “Good Hope Arm,” but his proposal was not accepted.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find much in the way of biographical information about Edward, but it’s clear from what little is available, he was well thought of by his employer, and was a major player in the fur trade within the Mackenzie District.

Last modified onThursday, 10 September 2020 12:59
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