, , , , , , ,


Hudson’s Bay Company Ships
Prince of Wales and Eddystone bartering with the Inuit off the Upper Savage Islands, Hudson Strait, NWT. Watercolour by Robert Hood (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-40364) (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The Hudson’s Bay Company ships Prince of Wales and Eddystone bartering with the Inuit off the Upper Savage Islands, Hudson Strait by Robert Hood (1819) (Hudson Strait, Wikipedia)

The French Régime

During the French régime, the voyageurs or canoemen who travelled to the heart of the continent to collect beaver pelts were hired by a “bourgeois” who used the selection criteria I listed in my last blog:

  • short legs,
  • a powerful upper body, and
  • a good singing voice.

The Hudson’s Bay Company

Matters changed when Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636–1710) and his brother-in-law, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers (1618–1696), discovered what we now know as the Hudson’s Bay. They collected enough beaver pelts to fill a hundred canoes. Having done so, they travelled to Canada which, at that point in history, was the western part of Nouvelle-France. The eastern part was l’Acadie, comprising Maine, part of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Radisson and Groseilliers thought that officials in Canada would be interested in their discovery: one could harvest the coveted pelts travelling by boat, large boats. Officials confiscated the fur Radisson and Des Groseilliers had brought back. It was proof of their discovery. They were treated like coureurs des bois, mere adventurers, not to say criminals.

Rupert of the Rhine

Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Radisson being very shrewd, he and Des Groseilliers went to Boston to seek the help they required to travel to England. The Bostonians agreed to take them to England where a member of the royal family, Prince Rupert of the Rhine (17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682), took an interest in the findings of the two explorers. He financed a trip to the Hudson’s Bay. The first ships to venture to what would be Rupert’s Land were the Eaglet and the Nonsuch that left England on June 3, 1668. The Company was chartered on May 2, 1670. That is how the Hudson’s Bay Company was established.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC)

is the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world.[I]

Rupert's Land showing York Factory

Rupert’s Land showing York Factory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British Régime

Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed on February 10, 1763 by France, Britain and Spain, France relinquished its claim on its two provinces of New France. The Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War, an international conflict.

The North West Company

After New France became a British Colony, a second Fur Company was founded, the North West Company, and it established its headquarters in Montreal. The most prominent figures in the newly-founded company were Benjamin Frobisher, his brother Joseph, and Simon McTavish.

The Fight at Seven Oaks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(please click on the picture to enlarge it)

The North West Company competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1779 to 1821, when a merger was negotiated. The conflict between the two companies reached an apex on June 19, 1816 when Robert Semple, Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land challenged a party of Métis at Seven Oaks. The Métis were allies of the North West Company. Semple and 20 of his men were killed.

The Merger

This event served as a catalyst in the merger of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. After the merger, the man in charge, was the immensely capable and pleasant Sir George Simpson (1787 – September 7,  1860), a Scots-Quebecer. Sir George Simpson was Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land and administrator over the Northwest Territories and in British North America (now Canada) from 1821 to 1860. He was knighted by Queen Victoria.

To sum up, let us simply say that we had voyageurs working for

  • a “bourgeois,”
  • The Hudson’s Bay Company (1670 – ),
  • The North West Company, revived in 1990, but not a fur-trading company,
  • a merger (1821-1860; end of the fur trade).

However, by 1821, only one company remained: the Hudson’s Bay Company.

York boats were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to transport furs in the Northwest. The sails could be used in open water. (Canadian Encyclopedia)


[i] written by ARTHUR J. RAY, reviewed by SASHA YUSUFALI , accessed on January 12, 2012.  <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/hudsons-bay-company>

[ii] written by CORNELIUS J. JAENEN, accessed on January 12, 2012. < http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/treaty-of-paris-1763>


Arne Dørumsgaard, arr.
Frederica von Stade (1945- ) sings early French songs (3), (Edinburgh, 1976)

© Micheline Walker
13 January 2012