British Columbia- Children of the North West Fur Company
The North West Company
The North West Company, HBC’s main competitor during the fur trade, was formed in 1779 by a group of Montreal-based traders. The history of conflict between the two companies, which erupted in violence, was finally resolved with a merger in 1821.
Not long after the founding of Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670, Rupert’s Land was penetrated by independent fur traders. In fact, Radisson and des Groseilliers were merely the first in a very long line of such men. For the independent traders, the existence of the Hudson’s Bay Company Charter was a minor annoyance rather than a real impediment to business. Realizing that no monopoly could be enforced where the Company had no presence, they staked their claims in the interior. Meanwhile, HBC established a small chain of forts along Hudson Bay, and waited patiently for trappers to arrive each spring with another season’s worth of furs.
The North West Company (NWC) was a partnership of nine different fur trading groups, and soon became HBC’s most powerful rival. It was founded in 1779, when the governor of Quebec’s support of a British embargo of the Great Lakes — intended to deny guns, ammunition, and goods to the rebel Americans — led him to refuse to issue trading licences to the Montreal traders. Although he was eventually persuaded to change his mind, the damage was done. It was too late in the year for goods to reach the farthest regions and many merchants suffered serious losses. It occurred to one of them, Simon McTavish, that the traders’ influence would be greater if they worked together. Not only would they have more clout, but they could pool resources, minimize risks, and share the profits. Thus the North West Company was born.
For the first few years, the company existed as a series of short-term partnerships which lasted for one trading cycle each. By 1783, the NWC was a permanent entity. Led by shrewd, courageous, and enterprising Scottish-Canadian traders from Montreal, the NWC quickly built a commercial structure which spanned the continent — the first North American company to operate on such a scale. In doing so, it openly defied the Royal Charter.
The first Hudson’s Bay post in the West was built in 1774 in northeast Saskatchewan and was called Cumberland house. Following that, both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company rapidly furthered their exploration of the west and north.
- In 1778 explorer Peter Pond traveled with a First Nations person into the Canadian North, opening up the Athabasca region.
- In 1788, he set up a new post called Fort Chipewyan for the North West Company on the south shore of Lake Athabasca.
- Competition between the Hudson’s Bay and North West Companies also led to expansion along the North Saskatchewan River.
- By the early 1790s there were posts bordering Alberta. In 1792 the North West Company built Fort George on the north bank of the river, a few kilometers east of the present-day town of Elk Point, Alberta.
- At the base of the North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan rivers, Carleton House was built in 1795.
- In 1789, bearing the flag of the North West Company, Alexander Mackenzie departed for the Arctic Ocean, and by going over-land, in 1793 he reached the Pacific Ocean. Soon after, explorers Simon Fraser and David Thompson crossed West of the Rocky Mountains, and in doing so opened up British Columbia to the fur traders.
- In 1795 Fort Edmonton and in 1799 Rocky Mountain House were built along the North Saskatchewan River, and in 1805 Fort Dunvegan was built on the Peace River.
- In 1806, Fort St. James was built in the interior of British Columbia.
North West Company Fur Post
Step into a reconstructed fur post from the winter of 1804. Meet a French voyageur, a British fur trade clerk and visit an Ojibwe encampment. The visitor center houses an expansive exhibit gallery with a 24-foot birch canoe, a 30-foot tall stone fireplace and a gift shop. The Snake River heritage trails are open year round for hiking, snowshoeing and skiing