Abolition of the Fur Companies

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The cession of the interests of the Hudson Bay Company in the vast tract of country known as Rupert's Land set at rest the long-vexed question of the right of that corporation to the lordship of the region known as the Hudson Bay Territories. It set at rest, also, not only the validity of the company's title to the territory, but the equally delicate question of the area over which the company was supposed to rule. Both questions often disturbed the councils of the company, and at successive periods were the subjects of contemplated Parliamentary inquiry.

Not only was it held that the company, in the course of time, had extended its territorial claims much further than the charter or any sound construction of it would warrant, but the charter itself was repeatedly called in question. In 1670, when the company was founded, it seems clear that the English sovereign, Charles II, had no legal right to the country, for it was then and long afterward the possession of France. By the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye (1632) the English had resigned to the French Crown all interest in New France. The Treaty of Ryswick (1697), moreover, confirmed French right to the country. Hence Charles's gift to his cousin, Prince Rupert, and to those associated with him in the organization of the Hudson Bay Company, was gratuitous, if not illegal. The subsequent retransfer of the country to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) may be said, however, to have given the company a right to its possessions, a right that was practically confirmed by the Conquest, and by the Treaty of Paris, in 1763. But, conceding this, there arose the other question, namely, To what extent of territory, by the terms of the original charter, was the company entitled? The text of the charter conveys only those lands whose waters drain into Hudson Bay, or, more specifically, "all the lands and territories upon the countries, coasts, and confines of the seas, etc that lie within Hudson Straits." This very materially limited the area of the company's sway in the Northwest, and nullified its claim over the country that drains into the St. Lawrence, into the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic oceans. The company, of course, never acknowledged this view of the matter; but had its title been tested in a court of law, its territorial assumptions would doubtless have been greatly abridged.

In 1666 two French Huguenots made their way round Lake Superior, ascended the Kaministiquia River, and following the water-way, subsequently known as the Dawson route, reached Winnipeg River and Lake, and probed a route for themselves down the Nelson to the sea discovered by Henry Hudson. In process of time they returned to Quebec, and proceeded to France, where they endeavored to interest capitalists in opening up the fur-bearing regions of Hudson Bay to commerce. But French enterprise was then looking to the East rather than to the West, to the extension of trade in the rich archipelago of the East Indies, rather than to that in the frozen seas of the North. Silks and spices and the diamonds of the Orient were more attractive just then to the Gallic sense than the skins of wild beasts. The two French explorers we have referred to were thus foiled in the attempt to enlist French capital in their enterprise. But one of them, M. de Grosseliez, was not to be balked. He went to England, and there met with the retired student-soldier Prince Rupert, whose head was filled with curious schemes of enterprise; and his imagination was readily fired with the story that M. de Grosseliez had to tell.

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