Before European settlement could
proceed, this negative image had to
be reshaped into a more welcoming
Early attempts by Europe to understand
Canada's vast western landscape were
often ill-conceived and disorganized.
The region's isolation from Europe,
and problems reaching it from across
the Canadian shield, slowed its integration
with Europe for several centuries.
The first European venturers to the
western interior approached it from
the north, through Hudson Bay. Their
quest at first centred on the elusive
Passage, the fabled water route
which they hoped would lead to the
riches of the Orient.
Instead, the European intruders happened
upon a lucrative fur trade,
and on May 2, 1670, King Charles II
granted the "Governor and Company
of Adventurers of England tradeing [sic]
into Hudson's Bay" (now the Hudson's
Bay Company) exclusive rights to this
natural resource. The King's cousin,
Prince Rupert, became the company's
governor and the 7.7 million
square kilometres over which he and
his friends were named the "true
and absolute Lordes and Proprietors"
was called Rupert's Land.
For nearly two centuries, the fur
trade between First Nations and Europeans
dominated Rupert's Land and shaped
much of the outside world's perception
of the region as an inhospitable wilderness.
"These great Plains," wrote
fur trader David Thompson, "appear
to be given by Providence to the Red
Men for ever, as the wild sands of
Africa are given to the Arabians."
This image served the Hudson's Bay
Company well. It helped to limit settlement
and allowed the traders to pursue
their business interests free from
the influences of "civilization."
Such narrow interests, and a diminishing
resource base, eventually brought
the diverse cultures
of Rupert's Land into conflict.
Alarmed by the rapid expansion of
American authority across the continent
in the mid-nineteenth century, Canada
West (now Ontario) began to look to
Rupert's Land as a way of securing
links with the British colonies on
the West Coast and building its own
economic empire. Having little detailed
information on the western landscape,
the Canadian expansionists began scientific
expeditions to inventory the anticipated
vast natural wealth that seemingly
awaited European exploitation. Not
surprisingly, the results of these
explorations painted a frontier of