Ballenden, John
b. 1812
d. 1856-07-12
HBC officer John Ballenden was chief factor of the Columbia District from 1851-1853.1 Pelly mentions him in this letter, which describes great excitement among the American population of that quarter at the discovery of gold in Haida Gwaii.
Born in Stromness, Scotland, Ballenden was recruited by the HBC in 1829 and, after serving at York Factory and Red River, he was promoted to accountant at Upper Fort Garry in 1836.2 That December he married Sarah McLeod, the part-Indigenous daughter of Chief Trader Alexander Roderick McLeod, which was seen as a significant social event given the recent arrival of British wives in fur-trade settlements.3
In 1840, Ballenden moved his family to Sault Ste. Marie and took charge of its HBC depot, assuming additional responsibility for the Lake Huron district in 1844.4 Ballenden helped develop Sault Ste. Marie, serving as its first postmaster from 1846 to 1848, and justice of the peace for the Western District of Upper Canada from April 1844.5 He also invested in the Montreal Mining Company, and the Montreal and Lachine Railroad.6
He was promoted to chief factor in 1848 and placed in charge of the Lower Red River District, but during the move he suffered a stroke that lead to partial paralysis.7 In his weakened condition he struggled to control the HBC trade monopoly, along with the social scandal that engulfed his marriage when malicious settlers circulated rumours about his wife.8 Although she was cleared in a trial, the rumours persisted, and Ballenden was transferred to Fort Vancouver without his family, where his health continued to deteriorate.9
The family was reunited briefly in Scotland in the fall of 1853, before Sarah's death in December.10 After a failed placement back in Red River, Ballenden retired on June 1, 1856, and died in Edinburgh on December 7, leaving the five youngest children in their aunt's care.11
  • 1. Sylvia van Kirk Ballenden, John, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Sylvia van Kirk McLeod, Sarah, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  • 9. Sylvia van Kirk Ballenden, John, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid.
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