A reflection on the man who named Fort McMurray – Henry John Moberly
A builder, hunter, post manager, and, in his later years, a book author, Henry John Moberly
is the man responsible for naming Fort McMurray. Today, his name remains in the community on Moberly Crescent, which is downtown
, off of Centennial Drive. The Crescent is a short walk away from the Fort McMurray Heritage Village.
Moberly was born a Post Captain’s son in Penetanguishene, Ontario, on August 8, 1835. His father, John Moberly, was a Royal Navy officer from Russia, who was appointed to be Commandant in control at Penetanguishene Naval Yard on Georgian Bay.
As for Moberly’s mother Mary Fock, she was the daughter of General Fock of the Russian Imperial Service. Together, John and Mary had nine children, six sons and three daughters. Moberly was a younger son.
When Moberly turned 19, his father got him a position working for Lloyd’s of London, an insurance and reinsurance market. He left Canada to work in Russia, but quit after two years and returned home in 1853.
The Fur Trade King
In Moberly’s autobiography, When Fur Was King,
published in 1929 in Great Britain, he writes about his pioneer days in the fur trade industry and roles at the Hudson Bay Company (HBC).
“After two years with Lloyd’s in St. Petersburg, Russia, tiring of the country, I returned at the age of eighteen to Ontario in 1853, and soon afterwards met a member of the party sent by the overland route via the Mackenzie to the Arctic in search of Sir John Franklin,” it states.
“His account of the Saskatchewan country, the immense herds of buffalo, the droves of deer, freedom from restrictive laws, Indians on the warpath and dearth of police, fired my youthful soul. Here, I felt, was the land of all the world after my own heart. As I was a happy knack of getting out of one scrape only to fall into another my friends were of the same mind.”
Through his position as an HBC post manager, Moberly traveled to several fur trading posts
across the province; including the Jasper House, Fort Assiniboine, Edmonton, Fort Vermillion, Peace River Crossing, Fort McKay and Fort McMurray to name a few.
In his autobiography, he further wrote about his venture to The Athabasca District in a chapter titled, I Establish Fort McMurray.
He described the location of Fort McMurray as being “one hundred and eighty miles up the Athabasca River still another, established for the Hudson’s Bay Company by myself. This, I named Fort McMurray after a chief factor who was one of my oldest friends.”
Moberly first arrived in Fort McMurray in the fall of 1869. At this time, he had already left his position for the HBC twice to be a free agent in the fur trade. However, he was persuaded to rejoin by his good friend, and Chief Factor of Fort Chipewyan, William McMurray.
In 1870, he built Fort McMurray’s trading post on the Athabasca River, at the forks where the Athabasca, Clearwater and Snye rivers converge.
A year following the Roman Catholic missionaries at Lac la Biche started to make a cart road to Fort McMurray but after spending $1,100 abandoned the project because it became an unattainable task.
And, by 1873, HBC sent an officer to examine the road and reported it would be an impossible task to build.
Shortly after, HBC approached Moberly to look over the project, and he agreed the road could not go forward. However, he had an alternative solution to build a portage, which is known today as one of the most important portages in Canada's fur trade history – the Methy Portage.
To learn more about the life of fur trade pioneer Henry Moberly, his autobiography When fur was king can be found online on the University of Alberta Libraries website.
Beyond Franklin: The Street Names of Fort McMurray is a written online series profiling the people of local history compiled and written by Dawn Booth of Media Booth in partnership with Tom Albrecht of The A-Team at RE/MAX Fort McMurray. Series resources will include The Fort McMurray Heritage Society, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and files from Mrs. Frances Jean.
Corrections/Comments: For corrections, comments or suggestions on Fort McMurray street names to explore, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Updates will be published on www.ateamymm.ca.