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The North West Company

At its inception, the North West Company was a weak association of Montreal merchants of British origin who wanted to counter the monopoly over the fur trade enjoyed by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). In 1780, it brought together people such as James McGill, Simon McTavish, Isaac Todd, the Frobisher brothers and Peter Pond. A more enduring partnership was established in 1783-84 when the North West Company was officially created. Three years later, it joined with Gregory, McLeod and Co. and, with this association, new people such as Roderick Mackenzie and Alexander Mackenzie entered the scene. McTavish and Frobisher took care of business affairs in the Montreal headquarters, while Alexander Mackenzie saw to the exploration of the western territories.

The years from 1790 to 1800 were marked by important developments for the business: it failed to force an end to the HBC's monopoly and it managed to take control of two-thirds of the fur trade in Canada. An internal quarrel leading, in 1799, to the creation of a third company, the New North West Company (also called the XY Company), weakened its position. This latest company would not last long -- it was merged into the North West Company in 1804.

From 1800 to 1820 the North West Company operated over an increasingly larger territory. Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson and Simon Fraser set up several new posts, leading to greater conflict with the HBC. The creation of the Selkirk Concession and the events at Seven Oaks marked the beginning of the end for the North West Company. Wanting to quell these conflicts, Great Britain passed legislation granting the HBC exclusive rights to the fur trade.

The North West Company differed from the HBC in its dynamic exploration of the territory as well as in its systematic use of Canadian employees who knew the territory intimately.


Brown, Jennifer S. H. -- "NorthWest Company". -- The 1999 Canadian Encyclopedia: World Edition [CD-ROM]. -- Version 5. -- [S.l.]: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.