Portrait of John McNab

This unsigned watercolour miniature of John McNab dates to approximately 1780, but there are few clues to who painted it. Perhaps it was given by McNab to his relatives in Scotland as a parting gift before he left for Canada for a lengthy career in the fur trade. He was a young man when this likeness was created, and he made very few visits home, but the portrait has long been treasured by his family, who have passed it onto successive generations.

In 1998, John McNab’s great-great-great-nephew, David Elder, found a note on the reverse of the portrait in his father’s handwriting: “Dr. McNab. Doctor in Canada. Hudson’s Bay Company. Our Great-Grandmother’s Uncle”. This led Mr Elder to research his family history, and he has since made connections with several relatives in Canada who are descended from John McNab’s ‘country marriage’ to Jane Cook.

Roberta Simpson, a direct descendent of John McNab, has many prominent fur traders in her family history, though she is most interested in her female ancestors. She is especially keen to learn about the experiences of her great-great-grandmother, Sarah McNab, John McNab’s granddaughter, who lived at Berens River until 1821, when she moved with Andrew McDermot, her fur trader and businessman husband, to the Red River Settlement. The portrait has renewed her interest in her family’s history and John McNab now seems to be more to her than just a name.

Click the images to zoom in for a more detailed view.

© Courtesy of David Elder