The Great Hall

"The dining-hall is a noble apartment, and sufficiently capacious to entertain two hundred. A finely executed bust of late Simon McTavish is placed in it, with portraits of various proprietors. A full length likeness of Nelson, together with a splendid painting of the battle of the Nile, also decorate the walls, and were presented by the Hon. William McGillivray to the Company. At the upper end of the hall there is a very large map of the Indian country, drawn with great accuracy by Mr. David Thompson, astronomer to the Company, and comprising all their trading posts, from Hudson's Bay to the Pacific Ocean, and from Lake Superior to the Athabasca and Great Slave Lake."  - (Ross Cox, The Columbia River, p. 330).

Here the Company proprietary-agents, partners and clerks-dined together. Joining them were the guides and interpreters, the only personnel below the rank of "gentleman" allowed to eat in the hall. Seating arrangements reflected the hierarchical structure within the Company.

The inventories give some idea of the foods served in the Great Hall-fresh beef, veal, mutton and butter (from Fort William's farm), double "Gloster" cheese and American cheese, ham, raisins, brown sugar and loaf sugar. Beverages included Hyson and green tea, port wine, Madeira and Tenerife wine and brandy.

Feeding the North West Company owners and employees gathered for the Rendezvous involved importing foods on a massive scale. For winterers, especially after a long, hard journey to Fort William, the food available in the Great Hall must have been a great boost to morale.

The hall was also the location for special occasions and celebrations. Balls in which the gentlemen danced with the "ladies of the country" to the tune of bag-pipe, violin, flute and the fife took place in the Great Hall, as did ceremonies where presents were exchanged between Natives and company directors.

The Great Hall contained four bedrooms, two on either side of the dining room, which served as quarters for the Montreal agents during the Rendezvous. A small room off the wall facing the front door of the Great Hall served as the dépense or pantry, a "room where bread and other provisions or plate, table linen etc. are kept". An inventory of the dépense for 1821 lists table cloths, earthenware plates, earthenware blue bowls, tin plates, soup ladles, tin quart pots, glass tumblers, and cut glass salt cellars.

In charge of the pantry and all the arrangements for serving food was a butler or maître d'hôtel who came from Montreal each season. When one considers that the butler was paid fifty to sixty pounds for the summer (compared to twenty pounds for an apprentice clerk for a whole year), one can appreciate the emphasis given to properly served meals in a properly appointed dining room.

Inside the Gray Hall Bedroom