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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXXVIII—Rival Fur Companies—Red River Settlement


The Hudson's Bay Company Organized, 1670—Prolonged conflict with older French Fur Company—The North-west Company Organized, 1783—Its Enterprise and Success—Fort William Lord Selkirk Plants Red River Colony, 1812 - Conflict with North-west Company—Murder of Governor Semble, 1816—Hudson's Bay and North-west Companies Amalgamate, 1821—Council of Assini-boia Organized,1836—Patriarchal Government of the Hudson's Bay Company—Development of the North-west Territory.

The extension of the Dominion of Canada so as to embrace within its bounds the whole of the territory of British North America, was the strong desire of the leading Canadian statesmen. A necessary preliminary to this was the cession to Canada of the rights of the Hudson's Bay Company. This company had been created by royal charter in 1670. For nearly a hundred years it was a keen and eager rival with the Company of New France. In order to control the lucrative fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company planted forts and factories at the mouth of the Moose, Albany, Nelson, Churchill, and other rivers flowing into Hudson's Bay. Again and again adventurous bands of Frenchmen, like D'lberville and his companions, made bloody raids upon these posts, murdering their occupants, burning the stockades, and carrying off the rich stores of peltries.

Grown bolder with success, the French penetrated the vast interior as far as the head waters of the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Saskatchewan, and reached the Rocky Mountains long before any other white men had visited these regions. They planted trading posts and small palisaded forts at important river junctions and on far off lonely lakes, and wrote their names all over this great continent, in the designation of cape and lake and river, and other great features of nature. The voyageurs and coureurs de bois, to whom this wild, adventurous life was full of fascination, roamed through the forests and navigated the countless arrowy streams; and Montreal and Quebec snatched much of the spoil of this profitable trade from the hands of the English company. Every little far-off trading post and stockaded fort felt the reverberations of the English guns which won the victory of the Plains of Abraham, whereby the sovereignty of those vast regions passed away for ever from the possession of France.

After the conquest numerous independent fur traders engaged in this profitable traffic. In 1783, these formed a junction of interests and organized the North-west Company. For forty years this was one of the strongest combinations in Canada. Its energetic agents explored the vast North-west regions. Sir^Alexander Mackenzie, in 1789, traced the great river which bears his name, and first reached the North Pacific across the Rocky Mountains. In 1808 Simon Frazer descended the gold-bearing stream that perpetuates his memory; and shortly after Thompson explored and named another branch of the same great river. Keen was the rivalry with the older Hudson's Bay Company, and long and bitter was the feud between the twa great corporations, each of which coveted a broad continent as a hunting ground and preserve for game. The headquarters of the North-west Company were at Fort William, jon Lake Superior. Its clerks were mostly young Scotchmen of good families, whose characteristic thrift and fidelity were encouraged by a share in the profits of the Company. The senior partners travelled in feudal state, attended by a retinue of boatmen and servants, "obedient as Highland clansmen." The grand councils and banquets in the thick-walled state chamber at Fort William were occasions of lavish pomp and luxury. Sometimes as many as twelve hundred retainers, factors, clerks, voyageurs and trappers were assembled, and held for a time high festival, with a strange blending of civilized and savage life.

In the early years of the present century the feud between the rival companies was at its height. At this time Thomas Douglas, Earl of Selkirk, was the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, and proprietor of a large proportion of the stock. He perceived that by obtaining control of the Red River, and erecting a fort at its junction with the Assiniboine, he would have a strong base for future operations, and would possess an immense advantage over his opponents. For this purpose he resolved to establish a colony of his countrymen at that strategic position, the key of the mid-continent.

After incredible hardships, the colony struck its roots deep into the soil. It grew and flourished year by year. Recruits came from Scotland, from Germany, from Switzerland. Exhausted by forty years of conflict, in 1821 the Hudson's Bay and North-west Companies ceased their warfare and combined their forces, and were confirmed by the Imperial Parliament in the monopoly of trade through the wide region stretching from Labrador to the Pacific Ocean. The policy of the Company was adverse to the settlement of the country, and its agents endeavoured as far as possible to retain the fur trade and sale of goods and supplies—the profits of which were very great—exclusively in their own hands.

The Red River settlement in 1858 had increased to a population of about eight thousand, and during the next ten years to about twelve thousand. On the formation of the Dominion of Canada, however, it was felt to be highly desirable that it should be included in the new confederacy, and also that the Dominion should acquire jurisdiction over the vast regions under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company. Some years prior to this date, numerously-signed petitions from the inhabitants of the Red River settlement were presented to the Government of Canada, soliciting annexation to that country.


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