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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

Both Companies in danger—Edward Ellice, a mediator—George Simpson, the man of destiny—Old feuds buried—Gatherings at Norway House—Governor Simpson's skill—His marvellous energy—Reform in trade—Morality low—A famous canoe voyage —Salutes fired—Pompous ceremony at Norway House—Strains of the bagpipe—Across the Rocky Mountains—Fort Vancouver visited—Great executive ability—The governor knighted—Sir George goes around the world—Troubles of a book—Meets the Russians—Estimate of Sir George.

Affairs in Rupert's Land had now reached their worst and had begun to mend, the strong hand of British law had made itself felt, and hostilities had ceased from Fort William to far-off Qu'Appelle and to the farther distant Mackenzie River. The feeling of antagonism was, however, stirring in the bosoms of both parties. The death of Lord Selkirk in France brought the opposing fur traders closer together, and largely through the influence of Hon. Edward Ellice, a prominent Nor'-Wester, a reconciliation between the hostile Companies took place and a union was formed on March 26th, 1821, under the name of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The affairs of both Companies had been brought to the verge of destruction by the conflicts, and the greatest satisfaction prevailed both in England and Canada at the union. The prospect now was that the stability of the English Company and the energy of the Canadian combination would result in a great development of the fur trade.

As is so often the case, the man for the occasion also appeared. This was not an experienced man, not a man long trained in the fur trade, not oven a man who had done more than spend the winter in the fur country at Lake Athabasca. He was simply a young clerk, who had approved himself in the London Hudson's Bay Company office to Andrew Colville, a relation of the Earl of Selkirk. He was thus free from the prejudices of either party and young enough to be adaptable in the new state of things. This man was George Simpson, a native of Ross-shire, in Scotland. He was short of stature, but strong, vigorous, and observing. He was noted for an ease and affability of manner that stood him in good stead all through his forty years of experience as chief officer of the Hudson's Bay Company. He became a noted traveller, and made the canoe voyage from Montreal to the interior many times. For many years the Nor'-Westers, as we have seen, held their annual gathering at Grand Portage on Lake Superior, and it was to this place that the chief officers had annually resorted. The new element of the English Company coming in from Hudson Bay now made a change necessary. Accordingly, Norway House on Lake Winnipeg became the new centre, and for many years the annual gathering of the Company leaders in the active trade took place here. The writer has had the privilege of perusing the minutes of some of these gatherings, which were held shortly after Governor Simpson was appointed. These are valuable as showing the work done by the young Governor and his method of dealing with difficulties.

While it has always been said that Governor Simpson was dictatorial and overbearing, it will be seen that at this stage he was conciliatory and considerate. He acted like the chairman of a representative body of men called together to consult over their affairs, the members having equal rights. On June 23rd, 1823, one of his first meetings was held at Norway House. Reports were given in detail from the various posts and districts in turn. Bow River, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, was reported as abandoned; from the Upper Red River, it was stated that on account of prairie fires the buffalo were few, and that the wild Assiniboines had betaken themselves to the Saskatchewan to enjoy its plenty.

From Lower Red River came the news that the attempt to prevent the natives trading in furs had been carried rather too far. Furs belonging to a petty trader, Laronde, had been seized, confiscated, and sent to Hudson Bay- It was learned that Laronde had not been duly aware of the new regulations, and it was ordered that compensation be made to him. This was done, and he and his family were fully satisfied. The Catholic Mission at Pembina had been moved down to the Forks, where now St. Boniface stands, and the desire was expressed that the traders should withdraw their trade as much as possible from the south side of the United States' boundary line.

The reports from the Selkirk settlement were of a favourable kind. The Sioux, who had come from their land of the Dakotas to meet Lord Selkirk, were not encouraged to make any further visits. The Selkirk colony was said to be very prosperous, and it is stated that it was the intention of the new Company soon to take over the property belonging to Lord Selkirk in the colony.

Some conflicts had arisen in the Lac La Pluie (Rainy Lake) district, and these were soothed and settled. Reference is made to the fact that Grand Portage having been found to be on United States' territory, new arrangements had been made for avoiding collision with the Americans.

Reports were even given in of prosperous trade in the far-distant Columbia, and steps were taken at various points to reduce the number of posts, the union of the Companies having made this possible.

In all these proceedings, there may be seen the influence of the diplomatic and shrewd young Governor doing away with difficulties and making plans for the extension of a successful trade in the future. It was not surprising that the Council invested Governor Simpson with power to act during the adjournment.

Fort William, Lake Superior

Sometimes at Moose Factory, now at York, then at Norway House, and again at Red River, the energetic Governor paid his visits. He was noted for the imperious and impetuous haste with which he drove his voyageurs through the lonely wilds. For years a story was prevalent in the Red River country that a stalwart French voyageur, who was a favourite with the Governor, was once, in crossing the Lake of the Woods, so irritated by the Governor's unreasonable urging, that he seized his tormentor, who was small in stature, by the shoulders, and dipped him into the lake, giving vent to his feelings in an emphatic French oath.

The Governor knew how to attach his people to himself, and he gathered around him in the course of his career of forty years a large number of men most devoted to the interests of the Company. His visits to Fort Garry on the Red River were always notable. He was approachable to the humblest, and listened to many a complaint and grievance with apparent sympathy and great patience. He had many of the arts of the courtier along with his indomitable will.

At another of his gatherings at Norway House with the traders in 1823 we have records of the greatest interest. The canoe had been the favourite craft of the Nor'-Westers, but he now introduced boats and effected a saving of one-third in wages, and he himself superintended the sending of an expedition of four boats with twenty men by way of Nelson River from York Factory to far distant Athabasca. He was quick to see those who were the most profitable as workmen for the Company. On one occasion he gives his estimate as follows: "Canadians (i.e., French Canadians) preferable to Orkneymen. Orkneymen less expensive, but slow. Less physical strength and spirits. Obstinate if brought young into the service. Scotch and Irish, when numerous, quarrelsome, independent, and mutinous."

At this time it was determined to give up the practice of bestowing presents upon the Indians. It was found better to pay them liberally for their pelts, making them some advances for clothing.

The minutes state at this time that there was little progress in the moral and religious instruction of the Indians. The excessive use of spirits, which still continued, was now checked; the quantity given in 1822 and 1823 was reduced one-half and the strength of the spirits lowered. Missionaries could not be employed with success, on account of the small number of Indians at any one point. The only hope seemed to be to have schools at Red River and to remove the children from their parents to these. Many difficulties, arising from the objections of the parents, were, however, sure to come in the way.

Evidences were not wanting of chief factors being somewhat alienated from the Governor, but those dissatisfied were promptly invited to the Council and their coolness removed. In carrying out discipline among the men some difficulty was experienced, as the long conflicts between the Companies had greatly demoralized the employes. One plan suggested was that offenders should be fined and the fines vested in a charitable fund. It was found that this would only do for Europeans. "A blow was better for a Canadian," and though this was highly reprobated, it was justified by experience.

At a meeting at York Factory instructions were given to Chief Factor Stuart on Lake Superior to complete and launch a new vessel much larger than the Discovery, then afloat. Captain Bayfield, R.N., the British officer surveying the lakes, wintered at this time with his crew at Fort William, and the work of surveying the lakes promised to take him three summers.

The following entry, September 5th, 1823, shows the considerate way in which the Governor sought the advice of his Council:—"Governor Simpson requested permission to visit England. If granted, will hold himself ready to return to Canada in 1825 and proceed by express canoe in time to make arrangements for the season." At the same date, 1823, a step in advance was taken in having a permanent and representative council to regulate the affairs of Red River Settlement. The entry reads, "Captain Robert Parker Pelly, Governor of Assiniboia, Rev. Mr. West, Rev. Mr. Jones, Mr. Logan added to the council. Jacob Corrigal, chief trader, appointed sheriff, vice Andrew Stewart, deceased. Rev. Mr. Jones appointed chaplain at a salary of 100l. during absence of Mr. West. He will officiate at Red River."

There lies before the writer a work entitled "Peace River; a Canoe Voyage from the Hudson Bay to the Pacific." It was written by Archibald Macdonald and annotated between forty and fifty years after by Malcolm McLeod, of Ottawa. It gives a graphic account of the state maintained by Governor Simpson and his method of appealing to the imagination of the Indians and Company servants alike. The journey was made from ocean to ocean, the point of departure being York Factory, on Hudson Bay, and the destination Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River. In addition to Macdonald, Governor Simpson took with him Dr. Hamlyn as medical adviser, and in two light canoes, provided with nine men each, the party went with extraordinary speed along the waterways which had already been the scenes of many a picturesque and even sanguinary spectacle.

Fourteen chief officers—factors and traders—and as many more clerks were summoned on July 12th, 1828, to give a send-off to the important party. As the pageant passed up Hayes River, loud cheers were given and a salute of seven guns by the garrison. The voyageurs then struck up one of the famous chansons by which they beguiled the lonely waterways, and with their dashing paddles, hastened away to the interior.

So well provided an expedition, with its tents for camping, suitable utensils for the camp fire, arms to meet any danger, provisions including wine for the gentlemen, and spirits for the voyageurs, was not long in ascending the watercourses to Norway House, where the outlet of Lake Winnipeg was reached.
The arrival at Norway House was signalized by much pomp. The residents of the fort were on the qui vive for the important visitor. The Union Jack, with its magic letters "H. B. C," floated from the tall flagstaff of Norway pine, erected on Signal Hill. Indians from their neighbouring haunts were present in large numbers, and the lordly Red men, at their best when "en fete," were accompanied by bevies of their dusky mates, who looked with admiring gaze on the "Kitche Okema" who was arriving.

The party had prepared for the occasion. They had, before reaching the fort, landed and put themselves in proper trim and paid as much attention to their toilets as circumstances would permit. Fully ready, they resumed their journey, and with flashing paddles speeded through the deep rocky gorge, quickly turned the point, and from the gaudily painted canoe of the Governor with high prow, where sat the French Canadian guide, who for the time commanded, there pealed forth the strains of the bagpipes, while from the second canoe was heard the sound of the chief factor's bugle. As the canoes came near the shore, the soft and lively notes fell on the ear of "La Claire Fontaine" from the lively voyageurs. Altogether, it was a scene very impressive to the quiet residents of the post.

The time of the Governor was very fully occupied at each stopping-place. A personal examination and inspection of each post, of its officers and employes, buildings, books, trade, and prospects was made with "greatest thoroughness." Fond as the Governor was of pomp, when the pageant was passed, then he was a man of iron will and keenest observation. His correspondence at each resting-place was great, and he was said to be able to do the work of three men, though twelve years after the date of the present Journey he became affected with partial blindness.

Fort Chipewyan had always maintained its pre-eminence as an important depot of the fur trade. The travelling emperor of the fur traders was captured by its picturesque position as well as by its historic memories. Here he found William McGillivray, with whose name the fur traders conjured, and under invitation from the Governor the former Nor'-Wester and his family joined the party in crossing the Rockies. The waving of flags, firing of guns, shouting of the Indians and employes, and the sound of singing and bagpipe made the arrival and departure as notable as it had been at Norway House.

A little more than a month after they had left York Factory the indomitable travellers entered Peace River, in order to cross the Rocky Mountains. Fort Vermilion, Fort Dunvegan, St. John, all had their objects of interest for the party, but one of the chief was that it was a scarce year, and at Dunvegan, as well as at Fort McLeod across the mountains, there was not enough of food at hand to supply the visitors. Cases of dispute were settled by the Governor, who presided with the air of a chief justice. Caution and advice were given in the most impressive fashion, after the manner of a father confessor, to the Indians, fault being found with their revelries and the scenes of violence which naturallv followed from these.

From McLeod to Fort St. James the journey was made by land. Thus the crest of the Rocky Mountains was crossed, the voyageurs packing on their shoulders the impedimenta, and horses being provided for the gentlemen of the party. This was the difficult portage which so often tried the traders. Fort St. James, it will be remembered, was at Lake Stuart, where Fraser started on his notable Journey down the Fraser River. It was the chief place and emporium of New Caledonia. The entry is thus described: "Unfurling the British ensign, it was given to the guide, who marched first. After him came the band, consisting of buglers and bagpipers. Next came the Governor, mounted, and behind him Hamlyn and Macdonald also on horses. Twenty men loaded like beasts of burden, formed the line; after them a loaded horse ; and finally, McGillivray with his wife and family brought up the rear."

Thus arranged, the imposing body was put in motion. Passing over a gentle elevation, they came in full view of the fort, when the bugle sounded, a gun was fired, and the bagpipes struck up the famous march of the clans, "Si coma leum codagh na sha" ("If you will it, war"). Trader Douglas, who was in charge of the fort, replied with small ordnance and guns, after which he advanced and received the distinguished visitors in front of the fort.

Passing on, by September 24th the party came to Fort Alexandria, four days down the Fraser, and reached Kamloops, the junction of the North and South Thompson. At every point of importance, the Governor took occasion to assemble the natives and employes, and gave them good advice, "exhorting them to honesty, frugality, temperance," finishing his prelections with a gift of tobacco or some commodity appreciated by them. Running rapids, exposed to continual danger, but fortunate in their many escapes, they reached Fort Langley, near the mouth of the Fraser River, two days less than three months from the time of their starting from York Factory. From this point, Governor Simpson made his way to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia, then the chief post on the Pacific Coast, and in the following year returned over the mountains, satisfied that he had gained much knowledge and that he had impressed himself on trader, engagé, and Indian chief alike.

With marvellous energy, the Governor-in-Chief, as he was called, covered the vast territory committed to his care. Establishments in unnecessary and unremunerative places were cut down or closed. Governor Simpson, while in some respects fond of the "show and circumstance" which an old and honourable Company could afford, was nevertheless a keen business man, and never forgot that he was the head of a Company whose object was trade. It cannot be denied that the personal element entered largely into his administration. He had his favourites among the traders, ho was not above petty revenges upon those who thwarted his plans, and his decisions were sometimes harsh and tyrannical, but his long experience, extending over forty years, was marked on the whole by most successful administration and by a restoration of the prestige of the Company, so nearly destroyed at the time of the union.

In the year 1839, when the Colonial Office was engaged in settling up the Canadian rebellion which a blundering colonial system had brought upon both Lower and Upper Canada, the British Government sought to strengthen itself among those who had loyally stood by British influence. Governor Simpson and the whole staff of the Hudson's Bay Company had been intensely loyal, and it was most natural and right that the young Queen Victoria, who had lately assumed the reins of power, should dispense such a favour as that of knighthood on the doughty leader of the fur traders. Sir George Simpson worthily bore the honours bestowed upon him by his Sovereign, and in 1841 undertook a voyage round the world, crossing, as he did so, Rupert's Land and the territories in his rapid march. Two portly volumes containing an itinerary of the voyage, filling nine hundred pages, appeared some five years after this journey was completed. This work is given in the first person as a recital by the Governor of what he saw and passed through. Internal evidence, however, as well as local tradition on the Red River, shows another hand to have been concerned in giving it a literary form. It is reported that the moulding agent in style and arrangement was Judge Thom, the industrious and strong-minded recorder of the Red River Settlement.

The work is dedicated to the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company. These were nine in number, and their names are nearly all well known in connection with the trade of this period. Sir John Henry Pelly, long famous for his leadership; Andrew Colville, Deputy-Governor, who, by family connection with Lord Selkirk, long held an important place; Benjamin Harrison; John Halkett, another kinsman of Lord Selkirk; H. H. Berens; A. Chapman, M.P.; Edward Ellice, M.P., a chief agent in the Union and a most famous trader; the Earl of Selkirk, the son of the founder; and R. Weynton. The names of almost all these traders will be found commemorated in forts and trading-posts throughout Rupert's Land.

Leaving London, March 3rd, 1841, the Governor called at Halifax, but disembarked at Boston, went by land to Montreal, and navigation being open on May 4th on the St. Lawrence, he and his party started and soon reached Ste. Anne, on Montreal Island. The evidence of the humour of Sir George's editor, who knew Montreal well, is seen in his referring to Moore's "Canadian Boat Song," in saying, "At Ste. Anne's Rapid, on the Ottawa, we neither sang our evening hymn nor bribed the Lady Patroness with shirts, caps, &c, for a propitious journey; but proceeded." Following the old canoe route, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior were soon passed over, though on the latter lake the expedition was delayed about a week by the ice, and here too Sir George met the sad news of the unfortunate death of his kinsman, Thomas Simpson, of whom we shall speak more fully in connection with Arctic exploration. Taking the route from Fort William by Kaministiquia, the travellers hastened over the course by way of Rainy Lake and River and Lake of the Woods. In referring to Rainy River the somewhat inflated style of the editor makes Sir George speak without the caution which every fur trader was directed to cultivate in revealing the resources of the fur country. A decade afterwards Mr. Roebuck, before the Committee of the House of Commons, "heckled" Sir George over this fulsome passage. The passage is: "From the very brink of the river (Rainy River) there rises a gentle slope of greenwood, crowned in many places with a plentiful growth of birch, poplar, beech, elm, and oak. Is it too much for the eye of philanthropy to discern, through the vista of futurity, this noble stream, connecting, as it does, the fertile shores of two spacious lakes, with crowded steamboats on its bosom and populous towns on its borders?"

Following the usual route by River Winnipeg, Lake Winnipeg, and Red River, Fort Garry was soon reached, and here the Governor somewhat changed his plans. He determined to cross the prairies by light conveyances, and accordingly on July 3rd, at five in the morning, with his fellow-travellers, with only six men, three horses, and one light cart, the Emperor of the Plains left Fort Garry under a salute and with the shouting of the spectators, as he started on his journey to skirt the winding Assiniboine River.

A thousand miles over the prairie in July is one of the most cheery and delightsome Journeys that can be made. The prairie flowers abound, their colours have not yet taken on the full blaze of yellow to bo seen a month later, and the mosquitoes have largely passed away on the prairies. The weather, though somewhat warm, is very rarely oppressive on the plains, where a breeze may always be felt. This long journey the party made with most reckless speed—doing it in three weeks, and arriving at Edmonton House, to be received by the firing of guns and the presence of nine native chiefs of the Blackfeet, Piegans, Sarcees, and Bloods, dressed in their grandest clothes and decorated with scalp locks. "They implored me," says the Governor, "to grant their horses might always be swift, that the buffalo might instantly abound, and that their wives might live long and look young."

Four days sufficed at Edmonton on the North Saskatchewan to provide the travellers with forty-five fresh horses. They speedily passed up the Saskatchewan River, meeting bands of hostile Sarcees, using supplies of pemmican, and soon catching their first view of the white peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Deep muskegs and dense jungles were often encountered, but all were overcome by the skill and energy of the expert fur trader Row and their guide. Through clouds of mosquitoes they advanced until the sublime mountain scenery was beheld whenever it was not obscured with the smoke arising from the fires through this region, which was suffering from a very dry season. At length Fort Colville, on the Columbia River, was gained after nearly one thousand miles from Edmonton ; and this journey, much of it mountain travelling, had averaged forty miles a day. The party from Fort Garry had been travelling constantly for six weeks and five days, and they had averaged eleven and a half hours a day in the saddle. The weather had been charming, with a steady cloudless sky, the winds were light, the nights cool, and the only thing to be lamented was the appearance of the whole party, who, with tattered garments and crownless hats, entered the fort.

Embarking below the Chaudiere Falls of the Columbia, the company took boats, worked by six oars each, and the Mater being high they were able to make one hundred, and even more miles a day, in due course reaching Fort Vancouver.

At Fort Vancouver Governor Simpson met Trader Douglas —afterward Sir James Douglas. He accompanied the party, which now took horses and crossed country by a four days' journey to Fort Nisqually. Here on the shore of Puget Sound lay the ship Beaver, and embarking on her the party went on their journey to Sitka, the chief place in Alaska, whence the Governor exchanged dignified courtesies with the Russian Governor Etholin, and enjoyed the hospitality of his "pretty and lady-like" wife. In addition, Governor Simpson examined into the Company's operations (the Hudson's Bay Company had obtained exclusive licence of this sleepy Alaska for twenty years longer), and found the trade to be 10,000 fur seals, 1000 sea otters, 12,000 beaver, 2500 land otters,------foxes and martins, 20,000 sea-horse teeth.

The return journey was made, the Beaver calling, as she came down the coast, at Forts Stikine, Simpson, and McLoughlin. In due course Fort Vancouver was reached again. Sir George's journey to San Francisco, thence to Sandwich Islands, again direct to Alaska, and then westward to Siberia, and over the long journey through Siberia on to St. Petersburg, we have no special need to describe in connection with our subject. The great traveller reached Britain, having journeyed round the globe in the manner we have seen, in nineteen months and twenty-six days.

Enough has been shown of Sir George's career, his administration, method of travel, and management, to bring before us the character of the man. At times he was accompanied on his voyages to more accessible points by Lady Simpson, and her name is seen in the post of Fort Frances on Rainy River and in Lake Frances on the upper waters of the Liard River, discovered and named by Chief Factor Robert Campbell. Sir George lived at Lachine, near Montreal, where so many retired Hudson's Bay Company men have spent the sunset of their days. He took an interest in business projects in Montreal, held stock at one time in the Allan Line of steamships, and was regarded as a leader in business and affairs in Montreal. He passed away in 1860. Sir E. W. Watkin, in his work, "Recollections of Canada and the States," gives a letter from Governor Dallas, who succeeded Sir George, in which reference is made to "the late Sir George Simpson, who for a number of years past lived at his ease at Lachine, and attended more apparently to his own affairs than to those of the Company." Whether this is a true statement, or simply the biassed view of Dallas, who was rather rash and inconsiderate, it is hard for us to decide.

Governor Simpson lifted the fur trade out of the depth into which it had fallen, harmonised the hostile elements of the two Companies, reduced order out of chaos in the interior, helped, as we shall see, various expeditions for the exploration of Rupert's Land, and though, as tradition goes and as his journey around the world shows, he never escaped from the witchery of a pretty face, yet the business concerns of the Company were certainly such as to gain the approbation of the financial world.

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