John Rowand was born in Montreal, but came West to Rupert’s Land as a young man in the 18th Century and made a name for himself with the North West, and later Hudson’s Bay Companies. He commanded the HBC trading post of Edmonton for nearly thirty years, married (in the custom of the country) and raised a Métis family and developed solid trading relationships with the many different plains and parkland Aboriginal nations, who respected his fearlessness.
And for Fort Edmonton’s motley crew of fierce Scots, Canadien and Métis voyageurs, one needed a leader who could out-eat, out-drink, out-curse, and out-fight them. John Rowand was tough as nails and larger than life (almost literally, as he tipped the scales at over 300lbs). Boatbuilder William Gladstone described Rowand thusly: “Our boss was an incarnate fiend, the harshest man, at that time, in the whole Service. He was a Mr. Rowand¦and would curse you blind if you looked sideways.”
For four years, Will Mitchell has sauntered, bellowed, and guffawed his way through the role of John Rowand. Will, a professional local actor, has owned the role so well that there are likely many visitors who think of Will’s face instead of John’s when they hear ‘Rowand.’
Will is still with us, but is moving into a role on our 1920s Midway as a Carnival barker and actor, bringing his trademark vocal cords and dynamic presence to the front of the park instead of the back. He’s as excited as we are about the new challenge, but there is no question that 1846 will miss his presence.
So how do we fill that gap? Well, Rowand was often away during the summer, meeting with other Chief Factors to discuss Company business at Norway House or Red River. While he was away, another man stepped in to take charge of Edmonton House and the district.
Chief Trader John Edward Harriott was Rowand’s right-hand man. He distinguished himself early on in the trade through dangerous and daunting assignments like the Bow River Expedition, the Columbia District, and the Peigan Post experiment, and his skill with aboriginal languages including that of the Blackfoot, said to be difficult to learn.
He was also a consummate gentleman; well-read and polite. The missionary Robert Rundle sang his praises. Boatbuilder William Gladstone (the same one who hated Rowand) said of Harriott that he always tipped his hat to the lowest labourer and won their loyalty through his kind words. Governor George Simpson said that Harriott bore “an excellent private character” and was loved by Aboriginal leaders for the respect he showed them and his facility with their languages.
We have this year two men who will play the role on alternate days. Neil Keufler, who has an acting background and Conor Trageser, with an education based resume. Both have been with the park for years.
With two men of such opposite characters, Rowand and Harriott, you might imagine they wouldn’t get along, but in fact they were close as they could be. After his first wife died, Harriott married Rowand’s daughter Nancy. In turn, Rowand’s son married Harriott’s daughter by his first wife.
Machiavelli was of the opinion that if one could not be both feared and loved, one should choose to be feared. Rowand seems to have taken him to heart. Harriott seemed to disagree.
I hope you’ll come down this summer and meet ‘Ted’ Harriott, Edmonton’s fur trade gentleman. You might find a more fearsome image, but I doubt you’ll find one more loveable!