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MacKenzie, Selkirk, Simpson
Sir George Simpson


CANADA'S DEBT TO THE FUR COMPANIES

THE infant life of Canada was nourished by the fur traders. The new impulse given to France in the last year of the sixteenth century by Chauvin's charter to trade for furs held within it untold possibilities for the development of Canada. French gentlemen and soldiers came forth to the New World seeking excitement in the western wilds, and hoping also to mend their broken fortunes. There were scores of such at Quebec and Montreal, but especially at Three Rivers on the St. Lawrence. Nicolet led the way to the fur country; Joliet gave up the church for furs; Duluth was a freebooter, and the charge against him was that he systematically broke the king's ordinance as to the fur trade; La Salle sent the first vessel—the Griffin—laden with furs down the lakes, where she was lost; the iron-handed Tonty deserted the whites and threw in his lot with the Indians as a fur trafficker; and La Verendrye, one of the greatest of the early Frenchmen charged with making great wealth by the fur trade, says in his heart-broken reply to his persecutors: " If more than 40,000 livres of debt which I have on my shoulders are an advantage, then I can flatter myself that I am very rich."

Shortly after French Canada became British, it was seen that so lucrative a traffic as that in pelts should not be given lip. Curry, Finlay and Henry, sen., pluckily pushed their way beyond Lake Superior iii search of wealth, and found it. The Montreal merchants trade the trade up the lakes the foundation of Montreal's commercial supremacy in Canada; and the North-West Company, which they founded, only did what the great English company had been doing with their motto, "Pro pelle cutem " for a hundred years on the shores of Hudson Bay.

It is evident to the most casual observer that the fur trade was an important element in the building up of Canada, not only in wealth but also in some of our higher national characteristics. The coureurs de bois and the canoemen stood for much in the days of our infancy as a new nation.

While we delight to see the sonorous Indian words chosen as the names for our New World rivers and lakes, counties and towns, yet we rejoice too that our pioneers are thus commemorated. The naives of all the French pioneers mentioned are to be found fastened on the region which they explored. Fraser, Thompson, Stuart, Quesnel, Douglas, Finlayson, and Dease have retained their hold even in the face of such musical terns as Chipewyaan, Metlakalitla, Assiniboine, and Muskegon. Winnipegosis and Manitoba forts have borne the names of our three traders, Mackenzie, Lord Selkirk, and Simpson, and Fort Alexandria also commemorates the first of these. Rivers and islands, counties, towns, mountains and vast regions of territory are all known by the names of the trio whose fortunes we have been following.

The great explorer leads the way for the development of his country, stimulates inquiry as to the resources of the land lie finds, and awakens the desire in other breasts to follow if not excel him in his discoveries. The map maker, the mineral prospector, the lumberer, and the tourist are all dependent on him as their guide. What Columbus is to the New World as a whole, the explorer is to the special field he discovers, and his fame, if not so great, must yet be akin to that of the man who ploughed the first furrow across the Atlantic.

The fur trader is also the pioneer of settlement. It is quite true that there is an antagonism between the fur trader and the settler. The fur trader seeks to keep the beaver, the mink, and the fox alive that he may take toll of them year after year; when the settler comes the beaver dam is a thing of the past, and the fox flees far away to his forest lair. Yet inasmuch as the settler is permanent, and the trader transient, the meeting of the two has the inevitable result of driving off the trader. This cannot be helped, it is the trader's misfortune; he must find "fresh woods and pastures new," and then when his fur-trading days are done he must resort to the life of the settler and spend the sunset of his days in village or clearance.
It was'the old Hudson's Bay Company led by Lord Selkirk that introduced the Highland settlers on Red River, and decreed that Fort Garry should be the centre around which gathered the Red River Settlement, which in time became the city of Winnipeg. Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island, chosen by Trader James Douglas as the depot of the fur trade, has become the capital of British Columbia and the gem of the Pacific coast. All over Rupert's Land the places chosen by the fur traders have become the centres where has grown tip the trade of to-day. Portage la Prairie was a fort, so was Brandon, so was Qu'Appelle, so was Edmonton, so was Fort William, and many others. In hundreds of cities on the American continent the old fur traders' fort was the first post driven down to mark the establishment of the commerce of the future day.

Sir George Simpson fought a losing battle when he sought to keep a Chinese wall round his fur preserve. It was impossible to maintain this splendid isolation. Prejudice, misrepresentation i, charter rights, and rocky barriers could not stop the inevitable movement. The sleepy fur trader in his dream hears approaching the sound of the bee—"a more adventurous colonist than man"—and mutters in his sleep:—

"I listen long
To his domestic hum, and I think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts."

It must be so!

No country was ever iii the position to need the fur trade in its early history as much as old Canada. Early Canada was covered with heavy forests. The St. Lawrence, its chief artery, was difficult to navigate. Its first colonists were all poor—fleeing away from the despotic persecution of victorious American revolutionists, leaving everything behind them, or crossing the Atlantic because of hard financial conditions in the motherland. Moreover, Canada is northern and nature is not so prolific as she is further south. Hence long years elapsed before poverty was driven out, and peaceful plenty came.

Now the northerly situation of Canada was very favourable for the production of fur-bearing animals. Furs are very valuable, and are so light and may be contained in such small space that the trapper may carry a fortune in one single pack upon his back. This made trade possible over thousands of miles to the interior, through the agency of the birch-bark canoe, which the redman so valued as to call it the gift of the maniton. So while fifty years were passing in Little York (Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada, with the most painful and slow steps of improvement, Montreal was the mart of a most valuable trade. The fur-trading merchants became nabobs. Forsyth, Richardson, McTavish, Frobisher and many others became wealthy, bought seigniories, became prominent figures in public life, were looked up to as their natural leaders by their French-Canadian voyageurs, and retired from business to live in their palatial abodes---the "lords of the north"—or to retire as did Sir Alexander Mackenzie and others to the motherland and spend their remaining days as country gentlemen.

The same thing has continued from the earliest days till now. Not only can a an of fair education, who rises with reasonable rapidity in his forty years or more of service for the company, have at the end of his time -say from six to eight thousand pounds sterling, but clerks, post-masters, and labouring-men may all leave the service with proportionate savings. True the life may be long, hard, and unattractive, but expenses are small and savings large. The Red River Settlement grew to twelve thousand people in 1870, five-sixths of its people having come through the channel of the fur trade.

No doubt in the present condition of Canada the fur trade does not occupy so important a place. The farmer tends to overtake the hunter in fortune, just as the settler must in time drive out the trader. But the very greatest service was rendered the country by the fur traders in early Canada supplying a class of capitalists who spent their money in giving employment to others, organized first lines of transport by boat, filled the sea with their sailing vessels to carry freight and passengers, and afterwards introduced steamships to thread the rivers, cross the lakes and even the Atlantic Ocean.

Montreal became a centre for wholesale trade. Goods could be supplied to the settlers in Western Canada; then when transport of a better kind was needed, the capital and energy of Montreal merchants became the basis for building lines of railway, and for giving the farmer with his products access to the great markets of the world. The chain of connection is complete in Canada between the fur trader's pioneer work and the present state of Canadian trade and commerce.

The fur trade was also a school for the development of such high moral qualities as courage and tact. In no other circumstances does so much depend upon the personal qualities of the man. The fur trade is carried on in the solitudes, far from organized society. The dealings are with savages who are kept down by no visible authority, who are ignorant and may be appealed to by greed, jealousy, or superstition to turn against the trader and injure him. Thus it was often dangerous to go far from the base of supplies and venture almost single-handed among untutored tribes.

The experiences of the fur companies in such circumstances have been very remarkable. At first there may have been violence done by the natives to the traders. The brothers Frobisher on their first visits to Rainy Lake were robbed, the ship Tonquill on the Pacific coast was attacked and many employes killed, massacres of the traders took place at Fort St. .John and Kamloops in British Columbia, and Chief Factor Campbell was attacked in his occupation of the head waters of the Stikine and on the Upper Yukon. Yet it is marvellous that for more than two centuries, or including the French regime, three centuries, the traders have freely mingled with the savage tribes and have been objects of envy from their possession of valuable goods, but have succeeded by sturdiness and good management in getting control of the wildest Indians.

Now this was chiefly accomplished by the good character of the traders. The men of the Hudson's Bay Company especially, but to a certain extent also all the fur traders of British America have been men of probity and fairness. Just and honest treatment of an Indian snakes him your friend. The terrible scenes of bloodshed enacted by the Indians among the Americans in the \'Western States can, in almost every instance, be traced to dishonesty and wrong on the part of the traders and Indian agents of that country. British fur companies have been, on the whole, dominated by a wise desire to retain the confidence of the Indian, and have proved the statement true that Britain alone has shown an ability to deal justly with and to gain the confidence of inferior races.

In reaching this end great determination, watchfulness, and caution are developed in the trader. He must be firm, must never let an Indian imagine he can master him, and many a time must be ready to use the "knock-down" argument in the case of the impudent or the intractable. Physically and mentally the successful trader requires to be a man among men. Thus the fur trade has cultivated a manliness, straightforwardness, and decision of character which has proved a heritage of greatest value to the Canadian people.

Wherever the Hudson's Bay Company fort is established there flies the Union Jack. On Sundays and holidays it was always unfurled, and the lesson that there was something higher thane trade was thereby taught, for on those days traffic ceased. The companies were always on the side of law and order. The loyal sentiment was their only way of governing the Indians, and it became a part of their settled policy to "honour the king." In the War of the Revolution the traders along the frontier were true to Britain, and the celebrated capture of Michilimackinae in 1812 was accomplished by a British force of less than two hundred men---one hundred and sixty of them Nor'-Wester voyageurs under Captain Roberts. In the struggle of the Canadian rebellion we have seen that from Governor Simpson down all the fur traders were against rebellion and in favour of law.

Undoubtedly hand-in-hand with the United Empire Loyalists, the Nor'-Wester influence did much to keep Canada true to British institutions, while the presence of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Selkirk colony in Rupert's Land, and the traders led by Chief Factor James Douglas on the coast, were the means of preserving to the British Crown the greater Canada which was an object of desire for half a century to the Americans. The traders did their full share in maintaining and perpetuating the loyalty which to-day is so strong a sentiment in the breasts of Canadians.


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