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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

The bleak shores unprogressive—Now as at the beginning—York Factory—Description of Ballantyne—The weather—Summer comes with a rush—Picking up subsistence—The Indian trade— Inhospitable Labrador—Establishment of Ungava Bay—McLean at Fort Chimo—Herds of cariboo—Eskimo crafts—"Shadowy Tartarus"—The king's domains—Mingan—Mackenzie—The Gulf settlements—The Moravians—Their four missions—Rigolette, the chief trading post—A school for developing character—Chief Factor Donald A. Smith—Journeys along the coast—A barren shore.

Life on the shores of Hudson Bay is as unchangeable as the shores and scenery of the coast are monotonous. The swampy, treeless flats that surround the Bay simply change from the frozen, snow-clad expanse which stretches as far as the eye can see in winter, to the summer green of the unending grey willows and stunted shrubs that cover the swampy shores. For a few open months the green prevails, and then nature for eight months assumes her winding sheet of icy snow.

For two hundred and fifty years life has been as unvarying on these wastes as travellers tell us are the manners and customs of living of the Bedouins on their rocky Araby. No log shanties give way in a generation to the settler's house, and then to the comfortable, well-built stone or brick dwelling, which the fertile parts of America so readily permit. The accounts of McLean, Rae, Ryerson, and Ballantyne of the middle of the nineteenth century are precisely those of Robson, Ellis, or Hearne of the eighteenth century, or indeed practically those of the early years of the Company in the seventeenth century.

The ships sail from Gravesend on the Thames with the same ceremonies, with the visit and dinner of the committee of the directors, the "great guns," as the sailors call them, as they have done for two centuries and a quarter, from the days of Zachariah Gillam and Pierre Esprit Radisson. No more settlement is now seen on Hudson Bay than in the early time, unless it be in the dwellings of the Christianized and civilized swampy Crees and in the mission houses around which the Indians have gathered.

York Factory, up to the middle of the nineteenth century, retained its supremacy. However, at times, Fort Churchill, with its well-built walls and formidable bastions, may have disputed this primacy, yet York Factory was the depot for the interior almost uninterruptedly. To it came the goods for the northern department, by way in a single season of the vessel the Prince Rupert, the successor of a long line of Prince Ruperts, from the first one of 1680, or of its companions, the Prince Albert or the Prince of Wales. By these, the furs from the Far North found their way, as at the first, to the Company's house in London.

York Factory is a large square of some six acres, lying along Hayes River, and shut in by high stockades. The houses are all wooden, and on account of the swampy soil are raised up to escape the water of the spring-time floods. At a point of advantage, a lofty platform was erected to serve as a "lookout" to watch for the coming ship, the great annual event of , the slow-passing lives of the occupants of the post. The flag-staff, on which, as is the custom at all Hudson's Bay Company posts, the ensign with the magic letters H. B. C. floats, speaks at once of many an old tradition and of great achievements. Ballantyne in his lively style speaks of his two years at the post, and describes the life of a young Hudson's Bay Company officer. The chief factor, to the eye of the young clerk, represents success achieved and is the embodiment of authority, which, on account of the isolation of the posts and the absence of all law, is absolute and unquestioned. York Factory, being a depot, has a considerable staff, chiefly young men, who live in the bachelors' hall. Here dwell the surgeon, accountant, postmaster, half a dozen clerks, and others.

In winter, Ballantyne says, days, if not weeks, passed without the arrival of a visitor, unless it were a post from the interior, or some Cree trader of the neighbourhood, or some hungry Indian seeking food. The cold was the chief feature of remark and consideration. At times the spirit thermometer indicated 65 deg. below zero, and the uselessness of the mercury thermometer was then shown by a pot of quicksilver being made into bullets and remaining solid. Every precaution was taken to erect strong buildings, which had double windows and double doors, and yet in the very severe weather, water contained in a vessel has been known to freeze in a room where a stove red hot was doing its best. It is worthy of notice, however, that even in Arctic regions, a week or ten days is as long as such severe weather continues, and mild intervals come regularly.

On the Bay the coming of spring is looked for with great expectation, and when it does come, about the middle of May, it sets in with a "rush;" the sap rises in the shrubs and bushes, the buds burst out, the rivers are freed from ice, and indeed, so rapid and complete is the change, that it may be said there are only two seasons—summer and winter—in these latitudes.

Map of Labrador and the King's Domain

As summer progresses the fare of dried geese, thousands of which are stored away for winter use, of dried fish and the white ptarmigan and wood partridge that linger about the bushes and are shot for food, is superseded by the arrival of myriads of ducks and geese and the use of the fresh fish of the Bay. In many of the posts the food throughout the whole year is entirely flesh diet, and not a pound of farinaceous food is obtainable. This leads to an enormous consumption of the meat diet in order to supply a sufficient amount of nourishment. An employe will sometimes eat two whole geese at a meal.
In Dr. Rae's celebrated expedition from Fort Churchill, north along the shore of Hudson Bay, on his search for Sir John Franklin, the amount of supplies taken was entirely inadequate for his party for the long period of twenty-seven months, being indeed only enough for four months' full rations. In Rae's instructions from Sir George Simpson it is said, "For the remaining part of your men you cannot fail to find subsistence, animated as you are and they are by a determination to fulfil your mission at the cost of danger, fatigue, and privation. Whenever the natives can live, I can have no fears with respect to you, more particularly as you will have the advantage of the Eskimos, not merely in your actual supplies, but also in the means of recruiting and renewing them."

The old forts still remained in addition to the two depot posts, York and Moose Factory, there being Churchill, Severn, Rupert's House, Fort George, and Albany—and the life in then all of the stereotyped description which we have pictured. Besides the preparation in summer of supplies for the long winter, the only variety was the arrival of Indians with furs from the interior. The trade is carried on by means of well-known standards called the "castor" or "beaver." The Indian hands his furs over to the trader, who sorts them into different lots. The value is counted up at so many—say fifty—castors. The Indian then receives fifty small bits of wood, and with these proceeds to buy guns, knives, blankets, cloth, beads, or trinkets, never stopping till his castors are all exhausted. The castor rarely exceeds two shillings in value.

While resembling in its general features the life on the Bay, the conduct of the fur trader on the shore of Labrador and throughout the Labrador Peninsula is much more trying and laborious than around the Bay. The inhospitable climate, the heavy snows, the rocky, dangerous shore, and the scarcity in some parts of animal life, long prevented the fur companies from venturing upon this forbidding coast.

The northern part of Labrador is inhabited by Eskimos ; further south are tribes of swampy Crees. Between the Eskimos and Indians deadly feuds long prevailed. The most cruel and bloody raids were made upon the timid Eskimos, as was done on the Coppermine when Hearne went on his famous | expedition.

McLean states that it was through the publication of a pamphlet by the Moravian missionaries of Labrador, which I declared that "the country produced excellent furs," that the Hudson's Bay Company was led to establish trading posts in Northern Labrador. The stirring story of "Ungava," written by Ballantyne, gives what is no doubt in the main a correct account of the establishment of the far northern post called "Fort Chimo," on Ungava Bay.

The expedition left Moose Factory in 1831, and after escaping the dangers of floating ice, fierce storms, and an unknown coast, erected the fort several miles up the river running into Ungava Bay. The story recalls the finding out, no doubt somewhat after the manner of the famous boys' book, "The Swiss Family Robinson," the trout and salmon of the waters, the walrus of the sea, and the deer of the mountain valleys, but the picture is not probably overdrawn. The building of Fort Chimo is plainly described by one who was familiar with the exploration and life of the fur country; the picture of the tremendous snowstorm and its overwhelming drifts is not an unlikely one for this coast, which, since the day of Cortcreal, has been the terror of navigators.

McLean, a somewhat fretful and biassed writer, though certainly not lacking in a clear and lively style, gives an account of his being sent, in 1837, to take charge of the district of North Labrador for the Company. On leaving York Factory in August the brig encountered much ice, although it escaped the mishaps which overtook almost all small vessels on the Bay. The steep cliffs of the island of Akpatok, which stands before Ungava Bay, were very nearly run upon in the dark, and much difficulty was experienced in ascending the Ungava, or South River, to Fort Chimo.

The trader's orders from Governor Simpson were to push outposts into the interior of Labrador, to support his men on the resources of the country, and to open communication with Esquimaux Bay, on the Labrador coast, and thus, by means of the rivers, to establish an inland route of intercommunication between the two inlets. McLean made a most determined attempt to establish the desired route, but after innumerable hardships to himself and his company, retired, after nearly four months' efforts, to Fort Chimo, and sent a message to his superior officer that the proposed line of communication was impracticable.

McLean gives an account of the arrival of a herd of three hundred reindeer or cariboo, and of the whole of them being captured in a "pound," as is done in the case of the buffalo. The trader was also visited by Eskimos from the north side of Hudson Strait, who had crossed the rough and dangerous passage on "a raft formed of pieces of driftwood picked up along the shore." The object of their visit was to obtain wood for making canoes. The trader states that the fact of these people having crossed "Hudson's Strait on so rude and frail a conveyance " strongly corroborates the opinion that America was originally peopled from Asia by way of Behring's Strait.

It became more and more evident, however, that the Ungava trade could not be profitably continued. Great expense was incurred in supplying Ungava Bay by sea; the country was poor and barren, and the pertinacity of the Eskimos in adhering to their sealskin dresses made the trade in fabrics, which was profitable among the Indians, an impossibility at Ungava. McLean continued his explorations and was somewhat successful in opening the sought-for route by way of the Grand River, and, returning to Fort Chimo, wintered there. Having been promoted by Sir George Simpson, McLean obtained leave to visit Britain, and before going received word from the directors of the Company that his recommendation to abandon Ungava Bay had been accepted, and that the ship would call at that point and remove the people and property to Esquimaux Bay. McLean, in speaking of the weather of Hudson Straits during the month of January (1842), gives expression to his strong dislike by saying, "At this period I have neither seen, read, nor heard of any locality under heaven that can offer a more cheerless abode to civilized man than Ungava."

Referring also to the fog that so abounds at this point as well as at the posts around Hudson Bay, the discontented trader says: "If Pluto should leave his own gloomy mansion in tene-bris Tartari, he might take up his abode here, and gain or lose but little by the exchange."

But the enterprising fur-traders were not to be deterred by the iron-bound coast, or foggy shores, or dangerous life of any part of the peninsula of Labrador. Early in the century, while the Hudson's Bay Company were penetrating southward from the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, which had by a kind of anomaly been called the "East Main," the North-West Company were occupying the north shore of the St. Lawrence and met their rivals at the head waters of the Saguenay.

The district of which Tadousac was the centre had from the earliest coming of the French been noted for its furs. That district all the way down to the west end of the island of Anti-costi was known as the "King's Domains." The last parish was called Murray Bay, from General Murray, the first British governor of Quebec, who had disposed of the district, which furnished beef and butter for the King, to two of his officers, Captains Nairn and Fraser.

The North-West Company, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, had leased this district, which along with the Seigniory of Mingan that lay still further down the Gulf of St. Lawrence, was long known as the "King's Posts." Beyond the Seigniory of Mingan, a writer of the period mentioned states that the Labrador coast had been left unappropriated, and was a common to which all nations at peace with England might resort, unmolested, for furs, oil, cod-fish, and salmon.

A well-known trader, James McKenzie, after returning from the Athabasca region, made, in 1808, a canoe journey through the domains of the King, and left a journal, with his description of the rocky country and its inhabitants. He pictures strongly the one-eyed chief of Mingan and Father Labrosse, the Nestor for twenty-five years of the King's posts, who was priest, doctor, and poet for the region. McKenzie's voyage chiefly inclined him to speculate as to the origin and religion of the natives, while his description of the inland Indians and their social life is interesting. His account of the manners and customs of the Montagners or Shore Indians was more detailed than that of the Nascapees, or Indians of the interior, and he supplies us with an extensive vocabulary of their language.

McKenzie gives a good description of the Saguenay River, of Chicoutimi, and Lake St. John, and of the ruins of a Jesuit establishment which had flourished during the French regime. Whilst the bell and many implements had been dug up from the scene of desolation, the plum and apple trees of their garden were found bearing fruit. From the poor neglected fort of Assuapmousoin McKenzie returned, since the fort of Mistassini could only bo reached by a further journey of ninety leagues. This North-West post was built at the end of Lake Mistassini, while the Hudson's Bay Company Fort, called Birch Point, was erected four days' journey further on toward East Main House.

Leaving the Saguenay, McKenzie followed the coast of the St. Lawrence, passing by Portneuf, with its beautiful chapel, "good enough for His Holiness the Pope to occupy," after which—the best of the King's posts for furs—He Jérémie was reached, with its buildings and chapels on a high eminence. Irregularly built Godbout was soon in view, and the Seven Islands Fort was then come upon. Mingan was the post of which McKenzie was most enamoured. Its fine harbour and pretty chapel drew his special attention. The "Man River" was famous for its fisheries, while Masquaro, the next port, was celebrated for the supply of beavers and martins in its vicinity. The salmon entering the river in the district are stated to be worthy of note, and the traveller and his company returned to Quebec, the return voyage being two hundred leagues.

Since the time of McKenzie the fur trade has been pushed along the formerly unoccupied coast of Labrador. Even before that time the far northern coast had been taken up by a brave band of Moravians, who supported themselves by trade, and at the same time did Christian work among the Eskimos. Their movement merits notice. As early as 1749 a brave Hollander pilot named Erhardt, stimulated by reading the famous book of Henry Ellis on the North-West Passage, made an effort to form a settlement on the Labrador coast. He lost his life among the deceitful Eskimos.

Years afterward, Count Zinzendorf made application to the Hudson's Bay Company to be allowed to send Moravian missionaries to the different Hudson's Bay Company posts. The union of trader and missionary in the Moravian cult made the Company unwilling to grant this request. After various preparations the Moravians took up unoccupied ground on the Labrador coast, in 56 deg. 36' N., where they found plenty of wood, runlets of sparkling water and a good anchorage. They erected a stone marked G.R. III., 1770, for the King, and another with the inscription V.F. (Unitas fratrum), the name of their sect.

Their first settlement was called Nain, and it was soon followed by another thirty miles up the coast known as "Okkak," Thirty miles south of Nain they found remains of the unfortunate movement first made by the Society, and here they established a mission, calling it "Hopedale." When they had become accustomed to the coast, they showed still more of the adventurous spirit and founded their most northerly post of Hebron, well nigh up to the dreaded "Ungava Bay." A community of upwards of eleven hundred Christian Eskimos has resulted from the fervour and self-denial of these humble but faithful missionaries. Their courage and determination stand well beside that of the daring fur traders.

The Hudson's Bay Company was not satisfied with Mingan as their farthest outward point. In 1832 and 1834, Captain Bayfield, R.N., surveyed the Labrador coast. In due time the Company pushed on to the inlet known as Hamilton Inlet or Esquimaux Bay, on the north side of which the fort grew up, know as Rigolette. Hero a farm is maintained stocked with "Cattle, sheep, pigs and hens," and the place is the depot of the Hudson's Bay Company and of the general trade of the coast. Farther up two other sub-posts are found, viz., Aillik, and on the opposite side of the Inlet Kaipokok. The St. Lawrence and Labrador posts of the Hudson's Bay Company have been among the most difficult and trying of those in any part where the Company carries on its vast operations from Atlantic to Pacific. This Labrador region has been a noble school for the development of the firmness, determination, skill, and faithfulness characteristic of both the officers and men of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Most notable of the officers of the first rank who have conducted the fur trade in Labrador is Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, the present Governor of the Company. Coming out at eighteen, Donald Alexander Smith, a well-educated Scottish lad, related to Peter and Cuthbert Grant, and the brothers John and James Stuart, prominent officers, whose deeds in the North-West Company are still remembered, the future Governor began his career. Young Smith, on arriving at Montreal (1838), was despatched to Moose Factory, and for more than thirty years was in the service, in the region of Hudson Bay and Labrador. Rising to the rank of chief trader, after fourteen years of laborious service he reached in ten years more the acme of desire of every aspirant in the Company, the rank of chief factor. His years on the coast of Labrador, at Rigolette, and its subordinate stations were most laborious. The writer has had the privilege from time to time of hearing his tales, of the long journey along the frozen coast, of camping on frozen islands, without shelter, of storm-staid journeys rivalling the recitals of Ballantyne at Fort Chimo, of cold receptions by the Moravians, and of the doubtful hospitalities of both Indians and Eskimos. Every statement of Cortereal, Gilbert, or Cabot of the inhospitable shore is corroborated by this successful officer, who has lived for thirty years since leaving Labrador to fill a high place in the affairs both of Canada and the Empire. One of his faithful subordinates on this barren coast was Chief Factor P. W. Bell, who gained a good reputation for courage and faithfulness, not only in Labrador, but on the barren shore of Lake Superior. The latter returned to Labrador after his western experience, and retired from the charge of the Labrador posts a few years ago. It is to the credit of the Hudson's Bay Company that it has been able to secure men of such calibre and standing to man even its most difficult and unattractive stations.

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