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Anticipation - Expectations for the New Land
Anticipation - Expectations for the New Land

Before Confederation in 1867, early explorers portrayed the West as a barren and inhospitable landscape, even though its rich natural resources had been used for centuries by First Nations.

Before European settlement could proceed, this negative image had to be reshaped into a more welcoming environment.

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 North-West 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 unlimited promise.



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