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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter II. The Hudson Bay Company


The story of this gigantic organization reads like a fairy tale. In 1720, Charles II, King of England, gave to Prince Rupert and his associates, 18 in all, the charter which gave them control of the greater. portion of British North America. The privileges thus obtained were of the most sweeping character. Canada was then regarded as nothing more than a vast stretch of wild country, the home of wandering Indians, and only valuable for its wealth of fur and fish. It was the great hunting ground for the venturesome and sporting spirits of the Old Land. had those in power ever dreamed that these wild lands would become the home of a great people, the granary of Europe, a land of beautiful homes, great cities and thriving industries, it is doubtful if they would have been so generous in their gift. They did not know what they were giving, and the recipients did not know what they were receiving.

According to this charter, the Company secured control of "the whole trade of all those seas, straits, and bays, rivers, lakes, creeks and sounds, in whatsoever latitude they shall be, that lie within the entrance of the straits commonly called Mid- son's Straits, together with all the lands, countries and territories upon the coasts and confines of the seas, straits, bays, lakes, rivers, creeks and sounds aforesaid, which are not now actually possessed by any of our subjects, or by the subjects of any other King, prince or state."

Such a gift, by its magnitude, fairly takes one's breath away. The water system thus donated was, perhaps, the largest in the world. Of course, the King of England had no conception of what he was doing, but the fact remains that "the Company" so lightly formed, claimed, under the provisions of their charter, a territory extending from the shores of Lake superior north to Hudson's Bay, and west to the Rocky Mountains. They became absolute proprietors of one-quarter or one-third of the whole of North America. It was theirs to hold or sell. They had power to make laws and administer justice. They were authorized to engage in military expeditions," to send ships of war, men, or ammunition into their plantations, to choose and appoint commanders and officers, and to issue their commissions." In addition to all these powers, and privileges, they were granted the absolute monopoly of the "whole, entire and only liberty of trade and traffic." It is doubtful if, in the history of nations, there could be found a parallel to this extraordinary transaction, by which 18 men were made for all time absolute owners of a country half the size of Europe.

It is a pleasure to state that, in the main, they have not abused their trust. When one considers the extent of their operations, the character of the people with whom they had to deal, the unrestricted opportunities and unrestrained authority which they possessed, the record of their administration for more than two centuries is an honorable one. They won the confidence of the Indians, and to the last exercised over them a wholesome and restraining influence. The Company was organized in an age when the tyrannical and intolerant spirit prevailed. In its earlier history we find evidence of that spirit in the administration of its affairs, but, as the years pass on, the kinder and more reasonable spirit which was growing in the older lands, found its way into this institution and modified the harsher modes which characterized its dealings in the first quarter of a century of its existence. It is true that it was a money-making concern, but it is also true that it carried on its business by honorable methods, that it was not indifferent to the mental and moral welfare of the people, that it maintained the traditions of the Old Land, that it was loyal to the old flag, and that, when the time came for it to relinquish its claim, it was able to hand over to the Government of Canada an enormous tract of country, bearing through all its wide extent the marks, in churches, schools and trading posts, of its beneficial control.


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