He was not born in Prince Albert, but he did live in the early community for the last two decades of his life. During those 20 years, he would have an immense impact not only on Prince Albert, but on Canadian history as well.
Born on June 26, 1832 in Ireland, he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in Montreal in 1851 after spending several years in the West Indies. Upon joining, he was sent to Fort McPherson on the Peel River where he was quickly promoted to clerk. In 1863, he was transferred to Fort-a-la-Corne in Saskatchewan, which was a HBC headquarters. Four years later, he was at Fort Carlton as chief trader, and then factor in 1868. In 1875, he was chief factor and by 1878, he was the chief factor for the entire Saskatchewan District, a post he would hold for the rest of his life.
As a senior HBC individual, he saw himself as the most important person in the Saskatchewan District, whose responsibilities went beyond the fur trade and into cultural and commercial affairs. He gathered support for Bishop John McLean to establish Emmanuel College in Prince Albert, which he hoped would become the University of Saskatchewan. He even donated money to construction and scholarships. He also supported getting steamboat traffic on the river, and provided financial assistance to get the telegraph and railroad to Prince Albert. His brother-in-law, Thomas McKay, was the first mayor of Prince Albert as well.
In 1881, he became the first man from the North-West Territories to be elected to a legislative post and his sole action was a resolution to have the federal government to extinguish Metis land claims. Considered arrogant, many felt he was not the person to work with the Metis in the area and he was apparently actively disliked by many. Some even felt he was hoping to speculate from the land scrip of the Metis if the government extinguished their claims. It was Clarke who fined Gabriel Dumont for hunting bison before the official hunt in 1875.
In 1875, when Gabriel Dumont hoped to establish an informal Metis government, Clarke had 50 NWMP sent to Fort Carlton and Dumont was called to the magistrate, which Clarke was a part of, to explain his actions.
Over the next 10 years, Clarke’s relations with the Metis continued to deteriorate and his rash behaviour was believed to be partly responsible for the outbreak of rebellion in 1885. The first rumor was that the Metis’ letters to the government would be answered with a larger NWMP detachment, but this rumor was probably not true. The second rumor was that due to his urgings, Superintendent Leif Newry Fitzroy Crozier marched on Duck Lake on March 26 without waiting for Colonel Irvine with reinforcements.
When fighting officially broke out in the 1885 Rebellion, Clarke left the area. His health collapsed soon after and he was appointed supply officer of the Canadian expedition during the rebellion but was unable to fulfill his duties.
After the rebellion, he served as the President of the Prince Albert Board of Trade from 1887 to 1889 and in 1890, he died at the age of 58.