Manitoba's Master Surveyor

by George Siamandas


Fidler is the man responsible for mapping much of the prairie west. He was born on Aug 16 1769 in Bolsover England, the son of James and Mary Fidler. In 1788 Fidler entered the service of the Hudson Bay Co as a labourer but because he was a good writer and accountant he was quickly promoted.

His job was to map out each new area the HBC would develop for its fur trade. Peter Fidler learned his surveying skills form Philip Turnor the HBC's first official surveyor. His first task was to find a shorter route from Hudson Bay to the Athabaska region. Fidler wintered with the Chipeweyan tribes. His job was to make sure they did not get too cozy with the NWC as they owed the HBC considerable moneys. Here Fidler learned to speak their language and he learned their customs. Fidler kept journals chronicling the terrain and wildlife, daily events, and weather.


He made the first mention of the Athabaska tar sands. He also made the first coal discovery near Drumhheler Alberta. Fidler was able to pinpoint the location of the Rocky Mountains and was the first person to meet the Snake and Kootenay Indians.

In 1794 Peter Fidler became the HBC's chief surveyor and was described as an excellent servant and a steady young man. Fidler's maps were incorporated into famous British map maker Aaron Arrowsmith's 1802 maps of North America. Fidler's notes further supported the idea of a continental divide, its western mountain range and the drainage network of the Missouri River. But it should be noted that Fidler's map of the Missouri was based on map he received from a Blackfoot chief named Acaoomahcaye.


Lord Selkirk used Fidler maps to select a site for his 1812 colony. At this time he was Master Trader and Postman at Brandon House and came to Red River to help the first colonists get established. He helped survey the first lots in Point Douglas, and was a friend and benefactor of the Selkirk settlers. Fidler was given the unpleasant task of announcing McDonnel's Pemmican proclamations. He also had to capitulate to the NWC takeover of Brandon House.


Fidler had married a Swampy Cree woman in the fashion of the country. She accompanied him on most of his journeys and postings. But unlike most fur traders who abandoned their Indian wives and children at the end of the service, Fidler solemnized his marriage. His career had lasted 33 years covering the peak of the fur trade. In 1821 he retired, the same year the North West Co and HBC merged.

On August 14 1821 Fidler and his wife Mary were married by John West. And on the same day his 10th child Peter received baptism. Fidler and Mary had 14 children, 11 of which were still living in 1821. Fidler died on December 17 1822 at age 53.

As well as the distinguished mapping and survey work Fidler left another important legacy. His books formed the nucleus of the Red River Library. Fifty four of his volumes are still available at eh Manitoba Legislative Library.

Fidler stipulated that the remainder of his assets were to be placed in trust until August 16, 1969 the 200 anniversary of his birth at which time they were to be given to the eldest male child directly descended from his son Peter. His will was not honoured and his estate was divided amongst his 10 children.


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