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Anticipation - Expectations for the New Land

Fur Trade

Despite its royal charter, the Hudson's Bay Company did not enjoy unrestricted trading rights over the lands under its domain. Prior to 1763, the company's struggle with the French for control of the trade along the Hudson Bay and James Bay coasts resulted in a series of naval and land engagements. After the fall of New France (1759) and the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), the French challenge was eliminated but replaced by the more formidable, Montreal-based, North West Company.

The two trading companies aggressively extended their trading empires beyond Rupert's Land to the Pacific slope and to the Athabasca and Mackenzie watersheds. At times, their intense economic rivalry led to violence, such as the bloody incident at Seven Oaks. With both trading companies near economic collapse, a merger in 1821 brought a small measure of peace to the western fur trade.

In the midst of this bitterness, Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, obtained a land grant from the Hudson's Bay Company consisting of 116,000 square miles (300,400 square kilometres, or five times the size of Scotland) centred at the junction of the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers (present-day downtown Winnipeg). Selkirk wanted to build a self-sufficient farming community and proceeded to settle his grant with displaced families from Scotland and Switzerland. Unfortunately, grasshoppers, floods, winters, and ineffective management by the Hudson's Bay Company limited the colony's usefulness and often pitted the Selkirk colonists against the long-established Red River residents, in particular the Métis free traders and employees of the North West Company.

Coming under increasing criticism for its ineffective administration of Rupert's Land, the Hudson's Bay Company agreed to a visit to the Northwest by Toronto painter Paul Kane. Touring Rupert's Land as the company's guest, Kane sketched the landscape and its indigenous inhabitants. His paintings celebrated the concept of the "noble savage" and provided a visual confirmation of the land as inhospitable to European settlement.

The discovery of gold on British Columbia's lower mainland and the growing realization that the Hudson's Bay Company was not interested in seeing its territories incorporated into the British Empire, prompted the British House of Commons, in 1857, to create a Select Committee to investigate the company's trading privileges. The company's assertion to the committee that "no part of the well adapted for settlement" came at a time when British-backed and Canadian-backed expeditions to Rupert's Land were saying the opposite. The committee recommended that at least part of the territory should be ceded to Canada. The stage was now set for the transfer of Rupert's Land and Canada's westward expansion.

Further Readings

See also

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Instructions for Messrs. McLeod  and McGillis, 1798
Instructions for Messrs.
McLeod and McGillis,
1798, by William McGillivray
and Alexander Mackenzie

Indian hunters pursuing buffalo in the early spring, ca. 1822
Indian hunters pursuing
buffalo in the early spring,
ca. 1822,
by Peter Rindisbacher

Extremely wearisome journeys at the portages, 1821, by Peter Rindisbacher
Extremely wearisome journeys
at the portages,
1821, by Peter Rindisbacher


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