The Abolition of the Fur Companies
G. MERCER ADAM
The fur-trade of Canada, once large and lucrative, has of recent years been much diminished by colonization and the opening up of the country by the railways. In its prime, vast was the industry at the great entrepots of the Hudson Bay Company, at the Moose River and York factories, on the shores of the great inland sea discovered by Henry Hudson, as well as at Fort William, on Lake Superior, the headquarters of its chief rival, the Northwest Company. Today the peltry trade is greatly reduced, and what remains is mainly shipped by the railway companies at Montreal, Winnipeg, and Victoria, B. C., instead of by the sailing-vessels that used to come annually to the exporting-posts on Hudson Bay. The value of the season's catch is estimated at about two and a half million dollars; while its bulk is still large and varied, though consisting chiefly now of beaver, mink, musquash and marten. In the early days of Canada, the fur-trade was obviously very helpful in opening up the country for settlement and civilization, especially along the great waterways; though that was not to its advantage, nor was it the ostensible purpose of the fur companies, in their trade relations with the Indian and white trappers of the region, or with the French voyageurs and coureurs de bois. Their interest manifestly lay in keeping the country a vast, silent, and unsettled preserve of game.
Long and keen, as will be seen from the following article, was the rivalry that existed between the two chief fur-trading companies engaged in the industry, though the adventurous life their employees led was fascinating in spite of the loneliness and the isolation from their kin and kind in the far-off and widely scattered posts of the companies. Each at length was the gainer by the amalgamation that ensued in 1821: while the British Government was the gainer, on the expiration of the trading charters, by the purchase and taking over of the joint companies' rights and privileges in 1869, and their transfer, for the compensation of one million five hundred thousand dollars, to the Canadian Dominion. Nor have the joint companies been much the losers by the transaction, since, besides the money payment, they received a grant of three and a half million acres of land in the fertile belt of the great Canadian Northwest, which, in the altered economic conditions of the region, must be of vast and increasing value in the era of settlement and enormous wheat-raising that has now in great measure displaced the old and profitable fur-trade.
WE should be glad if we could say that the world has outgrown monopolies. One monopoly on this continent, however, it has outgrown. A great fur-trading corporation that had seen ten British sovereigns come and go while it held sway over the territories once ceded to his Serene Highness Rupert, Prince Palatine of the Rhine, yielded up its proprietary interests to the Government of a young and lusty nation. In 1869 the rule over the "Great Lone Land" of the Honorable Company of Merchant Adventurers trading to Hudson Bay ceased, and the Dominion of Canada took over almost its entire interests. With the relinquishment of its rights and privileges, though it stipulated for the retention of some of its trading-posts and a certain portion of land, the company parted with not a few of the factors, trappers, voyageurs, and laborers that had grown gray in its service. It parted with its millions of acres of territory, some of its isolated posts, and their treasuries of fox-skin, marten, mink, musk-rat, and otter. It parted with the traditions and associations of centuries of traffic, and all the pretensions that adhere to absolute power in the hands of an old and wealthy corporation and a long-established monopoly. So scattered and distant were the possessions of the company that many moons rose and waned ere the news reached the secluded inmates of its lonely stockaded posts that the great trading company had transferred its interests to the British Government, and from that to the Canadian people. The price of the transfer was a million and a half of dollars.
“Our duty as Christians is always to keep heaven in our eye and the earth under our feet.”
–Matthew Henry, Commentary, Genesis 1