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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company
CHAPTER XXI. - THE IMPULSE OF UNION


North-West and X Y Companies unite—Recalls the Homeric period— Feuds forgotten—Men perform prodigies—The new fort re-christened—Vessel from Michilimackinac—-The old canal—Wills builds Fort Gibraltar—A lordly sway—The "Beaver Club"— Sumptuous table—Exclusive society—"Fortitude in Distress — Political leaders in Lower Canada.

To the termination of the great conflict between the North-West and the X Y Companies we have already referred. The death of Simon McTavish removed a difficulty and served to unite the traders. The experience and standing of the old Company and the zeal and vigour of the new combined to inspire new hope.

Great plans were matured for meeting the opposition of the Hudson's Bay Company and extending the trade of the Company. The explorations of David Thompson and Simon Fraser, which, as we have seen, produced such great results in New Caledonia, while planned before, were now carried forward with renewed vigour, the enterprise of the Nor'-Westers being the direct result of the union. The heroic deeds of these explorers recall to us the adventurous times of the Homeric period, when men performed prodigies and risked their lives for glory. The explanation of this hearty co-operation was that the old and new Companies were very closely allied. Brothers and cousins had been in opposite camps, not because they disliked each other, but because their leaders could not agree. Now the feuds were forgotten, and, with the enthusiasm of their Celtic natures, they would attempt great things.

The "New Fort," as it had been called, at the mouth of the Kaministiquia, was now re-christened, and the honoured name of the chieftain McGillivray was given to this great depot— Fort William.

It became a great trading centre, and the additions required to accommodate the increased volume of business and the greater number of employes, were cheerfully made by the united Company.

Standing within the great solitudes of Thunder Bay, Fort William became as celebrated in the annals of the North-West Company, as York or Albany had been in the history of the Hudson's Bay Company.

A vessel came up from Lake Erie, bringing supplies, and, calling at Michilimackinac, reached the Sault Ste. Marie. Boats which had come down the canal, built to avoid the St. Mary Rapids, here met this vessel. From the St. Mary River up to Fort William a schooner carried cargoes, and increased the profits of the trade, while it protected many from the dangers of the route. The whole trade was systematized, and the trading houses, duplicated as they had been at many points, were combined, and the expenses thus greatly reduced.

As soon as the Company could fully lay its plans, it determined to take hold in earnest of the Red River district. Accordingly we see that, under instructions from John McDonald, of Garth, a bourgeois named John Wills, who, we find, had been one of the partners of the X Y Company, erected at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, on the point of land, a fort called Fort Gibraltar. Wills was a year in building it, having under him twenty men. The stockade of this fort was made of "oak trees split in two." The wooden picketing was from twelve to fifteen feet high. The following is a list of buildings enclosed in it, with some of their dimensions. There were eight houses in all; the residence of the bourgeois, sixty-four feet in length; two houses for the servants, respectively thirty-six and twenty-eight feet long; one store thirty-two feet long; a blacksmith's shop, stable, kitchen, and an ice-house. On the top of the ice-house a watch-tower (guérite) was built. John Wills continued to live in this fort up to the time of his death a few years later. Such was the first building, so far as we know, erected on the site of the City of the Plains, and which was followed first by Fort Douglas and then by Fort Garry, the chief fort in the interior of Rupert's Land.

It was to this period in the history of the United Company that Washington Irving referred when he said: "The partners held a lordly sway over the wintry lakes and boundless forests of the Canadas almost equal to that of the East India Company over the voluptuous climes and magnificent realms of the Orient."

Some years before this, a very select organization had been formed among the fur traders in Montreal. It was known as the "Beaver Club." The conditions of the membership were very strict. They were that the candidate should have spent a period of service in the "upper country," and have obtained the unanimous vote of the members. The gatherings of the Club were very notable. At their meetings they assembled to recall the prowess of the old days, the dangers of the rapids, the miraculous deliverances accomplished by their canoe men, the disastrous accidents they had witnessed.

Their days of feasting were long remembered by the inhabitants of Montreal after the club had passed away. The sumptuous table of the Club was always open to those of rank or distinction who might visit Montreal, and the approval of the, Club gave the entry to the most exclusive society of Montreal.

Still may be met with in Montreal pieces of silverware and glassware which were formerly the property of the "Beaver Club," and even large gold medals bearing the motto, "Fortitude in Distress," used by the members of the Club on their days of celebration.

It was at this period that the power of the fur trading magnates seemed to culminate, and their natural leadership of the French Canadians being recognized in the fur trade, many of the partners became political leaders in the affairs of Lower Canada. The very success of the new Company, however, stirred up, as we shall see, opposition movements of a much more serious kind than they had ever had to meet before. Sir Alexander Mackenzie's book in 1801 had awakened much interest in Britain and now stimulated the movement by Lord Selkirk which led to the absorption of the North-West Company. The social and commercial standing of the partners started a movement in the United States which aimed at wresting from British hands the territory of New Caledonia, which the energy of the North-West Company of explorers had taken possession of for the British crown.

It will, however, be to the glory of the North-West Company that these powerful opposition movements were mostly rendered efficient by the employment of men whom the Nor'-Westers had trained; and the methods of trade, borrowed from them by these opponents, were those continued in the after conduct of the fur trade that grew up in Rupert's Land and the Indian territories beyond.


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