Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Prairie Provinces
Chapter II. The Founding of the Hudson's Bay Company


The French traders, who with great energy and courage were pressing westward, had by the middle of the seventeenth century penetrated the country beyond Lake Superior, and had there established several trading-posts. Two of these adventurous Frenchmen claim our attention, because through their influence was formed at a later date an English fur company which played a notable part in the work of securing Western Canada for the British Empire.

Medard Chouart (Groseilliers), the first of these adventurers, came out from France in 1641, and a few years later was actively engaged in fur trading among the Indians of the Huron district. While in Montreal 011 one of his annual trips, Groseilliers fell in with two members of an old Huguenot family, Pierre and Marguerite Radisson, who had cast in their lot with the young colony. A partnership, having for its aim fur trade with the western Indians, was formed between Groseilliers and Radisson, a bond made closer by the marriage of the former to Marguerite.

In 1659, Groseilliers and Radisson made an expedition into the country west of Lake Superior. During the course of their wanderings they fell in with an Indian tribe named the Assiniboines, from whom they learned of a great bay to the north. The trip was a great success, and in the following year the fortunate traders returned to Montreal accompanied by three hundred Indians and having in their possession sixty canoes laden with furs. Radisson, satisfied with his good fortune, settled down with his family at Three Rivers; but Groseilliers within the next three years made two more trips into the western country. On the second of these he received more definite news of the great bay lying to the north, and of the route leading thereto.

Henceforth this restless adventurer had but one ambition, namely, to reach Hudson Bay and establish upon its shores trading-posts to which the western Indians might bring their furs without making long journeys. To carry out such a plan the help of the French trading company was needed; but, unfortunately for France, all arguments failed to induce the governor to enter into the plan. And now Groseilliers, on the advice of Radisson, made a move which resulted in great advantage to British interests in North-Western Canada. He hastened to Boston, hoping to secure financial support for his enterprise.

The traders of Boston, although unable to lend aid, advised him to apply to England. Upon this advice he finally acted, after making a vain appeal to the court at Paris. A fortunate chance threw him into communication with Prince Rupert, a cousin of Charles II. This meeting resulted in the sending out of an expedition which realized the ambition of the persevering trader.

In June, 1668, two small ships were placed tit the disposal of Groseilliers and Radisson. The vessel carrying Groseilliers, after a two months voyage, sighted the entrance to the Hudson Strait; but her companion ship, being 1ess fortunate, gave up the voyage and returned to England, thus depriving Radisson of the credit of sharing in the undertaking. Passing through the strait, Groseilliers sailed south until he reached the lower end of the bay. Here a landing was made at the mouth of a stream called by the adventurers Rupert’s River, in honor of the patron of the expedition. Groseilliers at once set his men to work upon the construction of a log fort, which, as a safeguard against Indian attacks, was surrounded by a high stockade. This, the first fort in the newly discovered territory, was called Fort

Charles, in honor of the English sovereign. Scarcely was their work completed when a small band of Indians appeared, who were greatly astonished to see white men so far north. Groseilliers lost no time in making known to them his object, and succeeded in exchanging some trifling gifts for furs. These furs would otherwise have passed into the hands of the French traders farther south. The Indians departed well pleased, promising to spread the news and to return with more furs in the spring. The settlers now made all possible preparations for spending the long, cold winter. Glad were they to welcome the return of warmer weather. True to their promise, the Indians returned in the spring in greater number, bringing so many furs that it was necessary for Captain Gillam, one of the party, to return with them to England. Groseilliers remained in charge of the fort. Two months later a strange ship sailed up the river, and Groseilliers was overjoyed to recognize among those on board his brother-in-law, Radisson.

Meanwhile, Captain Gillam arrived in London, and so delighted the promoters -of the enterprise by his account of the successful trade in furs that Prince Rupert made application to the king for a royal charter. After some slight delay Charles II., in 1670, gave his assent to a document which incorporated “The Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay.”

The charter granted a monopoly of trade in Hudson Bay and the lands drained by the rivers flowing into the bay. On the strength of this grant, the “Company of Adventurers” was able to retain control, down to the date of the cession of its lands to Canada, of the vast extent of territory between Hudson Bay and the Rocky Mountains. To this territory was given the name of Rupert’s Land.

The French in Canada had not lost interest in western trade. In 1671, Talon, the intendant of New France, jealous of the success of the English on Hudson Bay, sent an expedition overland, which succeeded in establishing a settlement on Moose River, not far from Rupert’s River.

Groseilliers and Radisson were still at Fort Charles, along with Charles Bailey, who had been sent out by the Company as governor of Rupert’s Land. The surprise of the English on learning of the proximity of their French rivals may well be imagined. The two French adventurers had not been getting on well with the governor, and the latter now became suspicious of their loyalty. The outcome was that, first Radisson, and later Groseilliers, went over to the French and made their way back to Quebec. Rivalry, however, influenced Governor Baily to make an expedition to Moose River, when his trade with the Indians was so successful that he sailed on to the Chechouan (Albany) River, Although anxious to coast along the west shore of the bay to Port Nelson, where as yet there was no fort, he was prevented from so doing by an accident to his ship, which was caught in the floating ice.

But the Company was to hear more of the deserter, Radisson. After wavering for several years between England and France, during which time he made an unsuccessful application to the Company for employment, he at last gained support in Canada for another voyage to Hudson Bay. In 1682 he and his brother-in-law sailed for Hudson Bay, and reached the mouth of a small river near the Nelson. Here they were surprised to find that the English, under Governor Bridgar, had built a fort. There followed a winter of treachery on the part of Radisson, which resulted in the capture of the Company’s fort by the French. Early in the next spring, the successful traders sailed for Quebec, carrying with them a valuable collection of furs, Most of these were secretly landed at Three Rivers. So enraged was their Quebec partner at being cheated out of his share of the profits, that Radisson and Groseilliers were forced to leave the colony.

Radisson made his way to Paris, where he was met by a representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company and induced to return to England. In view of his previous career, therefore, it is not surprising that we find him, two years later, again on his way to Hudson Bay, this time in charge of the Happy Return.

Entering the mouth of the Nelson, he found his nephew in charge of the fort, the name of which had been changed to Bourbon. The latter, after some hesitation, was influenced by his crafty kinsman to surrender to the English. This was the last great achievement of Radisson, for, although he lived until 1702, he was never again entrusted by the Company with any important commission.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus