Pierre-Esprit Radisson, published by The Ryerson Press in 1930, was written by Katherine Hale for the Canadian History Readers Series. Radisson and his brother-in-law Medard des Groseillers, were adventurers, couriers du bois, and explorers and are credited with laying the groundwork for the formation of the Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay or what would later become The Hudson’s Bay Company.
Pierre-Esprit Radisson was born in Paris, France in 1636 and came to New France with his family at the age of 16. They settled in Trois-Rivieres, a major fur-trading centre. By the time Radisson was twenty, he had spent several years living with and among the native peoples of North America. He learned their languages, their customs and their superstitions. He also learned from them of the vast tracts of land untraveled by white men.
From 1660-1666, Radisson and Groseillers explored the territories north and west of Quebec where they encountered native peoples and were intrigued by their descriptions of large rivers and open bodies of water.
Returning to Montreal Radisson found himself out of favour with the local authorities and was fined and censured for trading without consent. Out of the large fortune of furs he had returned with he was left with little to show for his expeditions.
By 1666 Radisson was in London at the height of the Great Plague but, fortunately, in the company of Prince Rupert, first cousin of Charles II. Prince Rupert was an adventurer himself and by 1668, lured by the promise of a fortune in furs, Radisson had obtained the funds to mount an expedition to Hudson Bay. With Radisson in the Eagle and Groseillers in the Nonsuch, they left for North America. The Eagle was forced to turn back due to terrible weather in the North Atlantic. Back in London, Radisson turned to writing about his adventures.
When Groseillers returned the following spring laden with rich furs, it was not difficult to garner enthusiasm for a trading company. In May 1670, The Company of Gentlemen Adventurers trading into Hudson Bay was formed, with Prince Rupert its first President.
The record of Radisson’s adventures is captured in part due to Samuel Pepys, renowned British diarist. Radisson’s notes from his many adventures came into the hands of Pepys whose executors sold the writings as waste paper. Fortunately, a great English collector, Rawlinson, managed to recover what he could and the papers were given to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. And in a strange twist of Canadian history the documents were rediscovered in 1885 and were first published by the Prince Society of Boston. Pierre-Esprit Radisson died in London, 1710.
The CBC produced a 39-episode series, Radisson, which first aired February 1957. Shot in and around Montreal, the St. Lawrence River and Ile Perrot, and produced in both English and French, the series portrayed the many adventures of Radisson and Groseillers. It was among the first significant television dramas produced in Canada at a cost of $26 000 per episode.
Katherine Hale was a Canadian journalist, writer and poet. She was born Amelia Beers Warnock in Galt, Ontario in 1878. She became a journalist and was literary editor of the Toronto Mail and Empire until her marriage in 1912 to John W. Garvin, an editor in his own right. Using the pseudonym Katherine Hale, she published several volumes of poetry published by the Ryerson Press including Grey Knitting and other Poems, 1914, Morning in the West; a book of verse, 1923, Isabella Valancy Crawford, poems, 1923, two books in the Canadian History Readers series Jeanne Mance, 1930, and Pierre-Esprit Radisson, 1930, as well as This is Ontario, 1937, This is Ontario (revised following WWII), 1946, The Flute and other poems, 1950, and Historic Houses of Canada, 1952. Katherine Hale died in 1955.