Robert Dawson Killin

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© Courtesy of Derek Killin


Robert Dawson Killin was born in Glasgow in 1940. After finishing school and college he worked in a fishing shop in Glasgow. Joining the Hudson's Bay Company in 1960 gave him opportunities to make the most of the outdoors, which he loved. Like many apprentice clerks at this time, he moved between HBC stores quite frequently, often spending only six months at a time in any one place. His first three years were spent in northern Manitoba, mainly at Nelson House, Cross Lake and Churchill, though he also worked very briefly at South Indian Lake. The training for clerks at this time consisted of outfitting trappers, checking stock in the HBC stores, and learning how to grade furs. In April 1963, Killin was transferred to the Northern Ontario District. He worked at Pikangikum and Osnaburgh House, before take up the post of Acting Manager at Severn on the shore of James Bay, the most northerly community in Ontario.

Fort Severn, 1963.
© Photograph by Robert Killin.

Living in the north was a great joy for Robert Killin. He wrote to his parents frequently and his letters are full of vivid details of his work and leisure time, his dogs, and his friendships and working relationships with the Cree people who worked at and visited the HBC stores. These letters and the photographs he took suggest that he embraced the freedom of a lifestyle which required a person to be adaptable and resourceful. They are also records of how people in the north were experiencing great transitions in their economic, social and cultural lives.

In September 1964, having been at Severn for only three months, Robert Killin and his HBC colleague, David Foster, drowned while attempting to recover a Company-owned boat that was drifting in the Hudson Bay. A memorial cairn to the men was erected shortly after at Severn and can still be seen today. Bob is remembered at Fort Severn as a friend to community members, who was always willing to lend a hand when it was needed.

Key Artefact - Jacket

© Photograph by John McIntosh

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