Nanaimo Historical Society fonds
Series 2 Sound Recordings
Clarence Karr talks about the Hudson's Bay Company, ca. 1980
Clarence Karr: When I first talked to Claudia and suggested the Hudson's Bay Company on the Coast and as I thought about it more it struck me that people know a lot less about the pre-Hudson's Bay era than they know about the Hudson's Bay era. So I am going to spend probably more than half the time on that pre-era and sort of give a perspective of the development of the coast in the international scene.
This is, in fact, one of the last areas of the world, the settled world, to be discovered by Europe. And if you look at the geography, there are three ways of getting here. One is to walk across the continent from east to west, the other one is to sail down the Atlantic, around the Cape Horn, South American and back up this coast and the third way is to go right around the world.
The three ways happened almost at the same time but this was, from Europe, the most remote part of the coastal world that would be settled if you ignore the South American continent. And not only that but the interest came simultaneously from many areas at one time. The British, for instance, with their detailed charting of the coast with Captain George Vancouver were twenty-eight days earlier in landing up at Bella Coola then Alexander MacKenzie was coming by land from the other side. Remarkable when you think of it, that was in 1793.
Now there are a couple of primary, well one main primary interest and that was finding a short direct route to China. That was an absolute pre-occupation and if you look at the North West Passage and chart the voyages from Denmark and England and so on that attempted through there. There are dozens of them, people like Henry Hudson, of course, who got lost there.
But that was the great pre-occupation of that northern route which sort of freed up the southern powers in Europe to have a little more freedom of concentration on the other ways. Hence, Spain with its Empire in Latin and South America which would extend that empire up here. But Spain too was interested in a way to China. France was interested in a way to China. Jacques Cartier and Champlain when they sailed up the St. Lawrence River were looking for China. And somewhat later on, in fact, named the launching post for the Montreal Fur Trade West “Lachine” which is China in French and the south shore suburb is still called “Lachine”.
Of course, they didn't find China. You had very early developed a myth of that great western sea which wasn't the Pacific but it was a great body of water out here that if you just walked over the next hill it would be there, you could then you could sail on to the Pacific and into China. And it wasn't really until one has checked Captain George Vancouver's detailed charting of this coast that the myth of the Western Sea, in fact, disappeared about the same time as the overland people realized that “no” there was no western sea.
And it is the China trade in spices, silk, porcelain and so on where the money was and the great interest was. That is what they wanted to cash in on. If you get one ship of spices back from the east, you made a lifetime salary. The fur trade pales by comparison.
But even after that the interest was on the sea otter trade, from Russia, from Spain and from Britain after Cook. A sea otter pelt was worth seven times what a beaver pelt was. So again the beaver trade paled by comparison to that, in fact, to the extent that the sea otter is still a protected species and came very close to becoming extinct.
Now you get the attacks on this coast, the Russian Empire moving in the eighteenth century down from the North, 1728 is the first primary voyage of Vitus Bering after whom the strait between Alaska and Russia is named. And in the next fifty years, they began to dot the fur trading sea otter coast down the Aleutian Island chain and then down the Alaskan panhandle. Spain in that second half of the eighteenth century too moved up from the south. For instance, San Francisco was founded as a mission station in 1776, the year of the American Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the American nation on the other coast.
And in that same time, Spain was sending exploring missions up the coast as far as the Queen Charlotte Islands long before there was any Brits over here. In fact, Captain Cook came in large part because they knew that the Russians and Spaniards were over here and his penetration in 1778 comes pretty late in the game. Though he did the usual thing and landed and took possession in the name of the King of England. Now he missed most of the coast on the way up for one reason or the other, went back to the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii, and was, of course, killed there so that the western sea and all that wasn't solved by Cook at all.
In fact, the main effect of Cook on the coast would be to bring his sailors into the sea otter trade in the north coast. Significant numbers of the British, in fact, came as a result of that. And in particular, after the publication of Cook's voyages posthumously in 1784. Publication, the speed with which they came out with books two or three years after the voyage the book [came] out. Widely read and very, very influential but then as you see, we move into the last part of that century with the Captain George Vancouver era, the penetration from the land side, you also get the American involvement coming in because the Americas purchased the center of the United States from France in 1803.
And in 1805 sent Lewis and Clark out to see what they could find. Lewis and Clark, of course, continued right to the coast through the Columbia and you see Lewis and Clark names spread all through that period with highways and trails and so on.
And it wasn't long before Bostonian traders from the States, in fact, were around the coast cashing in on the sea otter trade, as independents.
At this time, the Hudson's Bay Company is asleep on Hudson Bay, literally. Their first inland post was 1774, with the company founded in 1608. Their first inland post they set up off the bay was 1774, well over a hundred years later. They depended on the Indians to bring the furs down to Hudson and James Bay. And they sent two or three exploring missions inland but they weren't that interested in the inland at that point, until they got some competition. So they may have been late in the game in terms of being found by Europe, but the interest was greater then almost any part of the world once they found us.
The Russians, the British, the Spaniards, dozens, Perez, Hezeta, Quadra, Martina, Alberni and working for Spain, Malaspina. Wide ranging too, not just trade, but scientific expeditions. For instance, Alberni was a scientific explorer.
The real significant group, however, was not of these, it was the Montreal traders. And after the conquest, one had a group of people in part from Scotland and England but largely from the thirteen colonies that became the United States came up to take over the trade from the French after 1760. And some of Canada's most famous families, the McGill family for instance, was one of those groups which left their fur trade fortune to found McGill University. The Molson family, which needs no introduction to Canada, it continues unlike the McGills. The McGillivray, three brothers, Duncan, Simon, William. Simon McTavish who was the big boss for most of this period.
Some of their names sort of carry through but when the Hudson's Bay Company took over from them, they cancelled most of the names so that there are no McGillivray rivers or mountains, although Fort William was named after William McGillivray who was first in charge of Fort William.
But if you follow that through, you see you got Alexander MacKenzie, David Thompson and Simon Fraser who are in this North West Company from Montreal. It is different from the Hudson Bay Company, which was a joint chartered company. The Montreal North West Group was simply a series of agreements that usually renewed every ten years, un-chartered. Which had certain advantages but certain weakness in terms of financing and borrowing in particular.
They were in fact a remarkable group of Canadians, self-assured, aggressive, proud, bigoted, sometimes obnoxious. They centered around the Beaver Club in Montreal, which was created in 1787. And if any of you have been to Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, the main restaurant in there is still called the Beaver Club and all the accruements of the fur trade are hanging around the walls. It is a very expensive restaurant but a very interesting place.
To belong to the club, one had to have wintered in the west in the business of the fur trade and the camaraderie was absolutely fantastic. There were five toasts to start every meal, the President, Vice-President, and Cork Master, the later being the most important post. The Toast to the Mother of Saints, The King, the Fur Trade, Wives and Children and to absent members but you didn't need toasts to drink. They ate sturgeon and pemmican and beaver tails, a real feast. Sang voyageur songs, which have their roots from the Indian through the French Canadian voyageurs in the French fur trade. Pretended they were paddling canoes, they would get two rows on the floor and going like this, singing and ending in war whoops and often staying until dawn until everyone was sort of laying on the floor blotto.
But this was the group that ran Montreal; you didn't do anything in Montreal without them. Montreal having been the headquarters of the French trade before this. Now they took over from the French, they took a lot the French Canadians in their employ and the Indian alliances that the French had made, the trading patterns and gradually moved west for a number of reasons, one is that the depletion of the species of fur in the east. And in the fur trade the beavers highlighted but they took everything down to the muskrat. The only thing they left of known fur was the prairie gopher, which took too many to make anything. But muskrat and in fact, lynx was much more sought for instance then beaver was because of the price that lynx gained. Of course, there wasn't as many lynxes as there were beaver. In part because of the settlement of the American boundary pushed them out of the States from 1783 to 1796 and they had to move further north, in fact, transfer the headquarters from the American side to Fort William.
And in part, a desire to cash in on the China trade and to find the western sea. It is a very strong motivation in them and a as key chain, Peter Pond was one of the Americans who came up, the most lively guy in the Beaver Club and, in fact, he killed two rival white traders in the west. He never got convicted but the second murder destroyed his career in the fur trade but he was 47 then and worn out anyway. [chuckles from the audience] He came back from New York with a volume of Cooks voyages in his hand and started piecing together and that desire to go out. And the French before that with La Verendrye had a desire again to find that western sea. Pond's junior colleague was Alexander MacKenzie and when Pond was brought back on a second murder charge to Montreal. MacKenzie took over from him but Pond had instilled that great dream in Alexander MacKenzie and when Pond then retires from the trade it is then up to MacKenzie.
Of course, he starts in 1789 with the trip up the, what he thought was the outlet which turned out to be the MacKenzie River which he named the River of Disappointment. He didn't carry over into the trade, MacKenzie didn't name the Mackenzie River MacKenzie, neither did Simon Fraser, in fact, Thompson named the Fraser River for Fraser and Fraser the Thompson River for Thompson. Tit for tat kind of thing. And then, of course, 1793 MacKenzie came largely overland from the Peace to Bella Coola area again not finding, he found the delineation of the coast but not a viable route to the west.
By that time, they also want a transport network. The Hudson's Bay Company denied the North West Company access through Hudson's Bay and the cost of shipping from Montreal as they moved further west was becoming greater and greater and they wanted another way again of transport in that was shorter.
Now in the same time, in the interval, you had the publication of Vancouver's voyages in 1801, which influenced, sort of the next round. And it comes through Duncan McGillivray, one of the three brothers, who is in the more southern area around present day Banff. His assistant was David Thompson. Thompson had been with the Hudson Bay Company and he had left the company after the first term of service because they wouldn't let him explore and map which he was a self-trained surveyor and good one. Remarkable man. Thompson traveled about 55,000 miles in western North America and mapped it all. He created in the wall in Fort William, headquarters of the fur trade, a great big wall map and every time he came back he would add a new section of detail to it. And if you look at map of his voyages, the red lines that criss cross the entire North West here and the prairie area, are just amazing.
So, Thompson then would in the early years of the nineteenth century finally after several delays get to the mouth of the Columbia to find the American flag flying. For which some people have never forgiven David Thompson, though I don't think it makes any difference at all. It was the Pacific Fur Company, a subsidiary of the American Fur Company of the Astor family that was there but it was only there for two and a half years.
Meanwhile, in the north things had gotten transferred to Simon Fraser also of the North West Company. Fraser would found the first post in British Columbia on that end as Thompson did the first fur trading post in the south of British Columbia and explored right over through the Kootenays into the Okanagan.
For instance, Fort George, now Prince George, set up in 1807. 1808 Fraser descended the river, which he though when he started out was the Columbia, and when he took a latitude reading he knew that it wasn't the Columbia but another river which would bear his name. But one trip down the Fraser is all anyone ever wanted in their live. And it again doesn't provide the access in fact, what the active accomplished was an access route and it has not been stressed enough in the history. It was the Columbia and what they would do, they would go up the Columbia to the Okanagan River, I don't have a map with me, I hope you have a good visual image of the west. Jump Okanagan lakes up to Kamloops and then in that area there is a bit of pack trailing with horses that is necessary to get to the upper reaches of the Fraser to Fort George and so on and carry the trade on through that way. And that was a supply route and it worked.
So it is the Montreal group that opens the whole northwest to the fur trade. That made the alliances with the Indians, brought in Iroquois from the east to work in the trade as Simon Fraser had both French Canadians and Iroquois with him on his trip.
And, also, that opened up from the 1790's the China trade. The only successful portion of the whole China trade in fact that it happened was the North West Company largely working out of Boston but for instance Alexander MacKenzie in one year himself chartered on behalf of the company two ships to China. Taking furs that way and bring back porcelain, silk and spices this way.
Now there was a big fur trade war between the North Wester's and Hudson Bay, which Hudson's Bay won. And there is a merger in 1821, which is really an absorption because the North West Company simply disappears, they keep an office in Montreal but for all intents and purposes they are running out of London, England with Hudson's Bay and the coast here with Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia being the headquarters of the trade on this particular coast.
But most of the coast, the trade routes and the whole thing had been handed sort of on a platter to the Hudson Bay Company by the North West Montreal traders. The competition sort of evaporates. Russia had some problems; they agreed not to go below 54-40 pretty much in the early 1820's. And 54-40 is the southern border of the Alaska Panhandle. But the Russians are still viewed with skeptical eyes. Spain withdrew not so much because of any kind of British navel or other pressure, they had problems at home, they had problems in Mexico and in California. They weren't getting support from Spain, financially or otherwise. And besides that they hated the climate. I think you can appreciate that living at Nootka as opposed to living in San Diego, I mean there is really no choice is there now. [chuckles from the audience]
Just the same way the British would complain bitterly about the post life on the North coast after the Hudson Bay Company set up post. It was hell, it was lonely, it was isolated and it rained always.
Now there is no era of monopoly trade of the Hudson's Bay Company, one gets conservation practices, no summer killing, letting the young survive with mothers, the only exception to that was a George Simpson decision south of the Columbia River and they razed that area, they took everything out in a deliberate policy. Simpson said it's going to go to the States anyway, we might as well leave them nothing. And that centered on Peter Ogden's work in the Snake River area. The Snake is not a very famous river, some of you may remember Evil Knievel didn't make it across a few years ago. [chuckles] Since the fur trade it is the most important thing that has happened to the Snake, although they run rafts groups down it now.
But you see in this era of the trade, most of the decisions are really made through the corporate structure of the company. Which means London, England with the board and the governor of the company in Canada. Which for most of this period is Sir George Simpson. Nicknamed by some “the Little Emperor”.
Now the names that kind of stick out on the coast are John McLoughlin, who was the first head of trade on the coast out of Fort George and the mouth of the Columbia. His successor in 1846 was James Douglas.
But there were many other people, like Roderick Finlayson and so on. Who were chief factors and chief traders up and down the coast. For instance, when Fort Langley was set up in 1827, it had a chief trader who basically developed it without reference to Fort George. Decision to relocate to Vancouver Island was not made at Fort George, it was made in London. The Hudson's Bay's presence and profit in the coastal section and you have two sections. The South is the Columbian Department and the North Interior is the Caledonian Department, centered around Prince George. It wasn't making a great deal of money, after the merger in 1821, it was over staffed, miss-managed, the food columns were immense. The traders had not acquired a great like for salmon and there wasn't much else. So people actually literally almost starved to death in the Caledonian Department of the trade in the nineteenth century.
On the coast here, because they had ship access, they were totally dependent pretty well on the European food. Simpson came for the first time, McLoughlin was sent 1823 to head up the ship, Simpson came in 1824 and couldn't believe much of what he saw. He cut the manpower in half, for instance, after he was here in both Departments. Cleaned out the miss-management and probably sent better people. This had sort of been the Siberia of the fur trade, if you got in trouble with the boss you were sent here because it was out of the way and you were out of one's hair. Well, Simpson did a bit of that on the coast here.
Simpson had great hopes, in fact, there was more room for expansion here then anywhere else in the whole trade. The bulk, the lion's share, three quarters of the profit came from Athabasca; that northern Alberta into northern BC above the Peace, northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba area. Basically, you see the colder the climate the richer, the thicker the fur but also that you need a certain kind of wooded area for animals to be in great quantity and that was the key area, in fact, in Canada.
The potential was really in many ways never fulfilled here in part because of geography and in part because of inaccessibility. You couldn't get into all the waterway areas easily and hence there were many areas the Hudson's Bay Company simply couldn't get into in present day B.C. And also because of management decisions in some ways, one decision on his 1824 trip was to create another post, which would be Fort Langley. The site was selected in 1824 by Simpson but not set up until 1827.
Simpson wanted to integrate the Caledonia and the Columbia Department. They were but the access was again through the Columbia and Fort George. That Fort Langley really languished a bit and was not a fur trading, important fur trading, what saved Langley was the salmon trade. Largely developed for the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii and that was not by design but by default. They tried shiploads of salmon to England but they spoiled before they got there. Sandwich Islands were as far away as you could take with out spoiling them so the trade developed there. But it sort of, that kind of trade and plus a little bit of timber and so on keeps Langley going from 1827 to 1840's and 1850's.
Now there are a number of, (hesitates and restarts his thought) McLaughlin didn't like the creation of Langley. There are three areas of dispute between McLaughlin who was chief trader on the coast here and Simpson who was the top executive in Canada for the company.
The main one is probably the coastal trade. McLaughlin wanted to establish posts up the coast and work through the normal postal thing. Simpson always favored simply always going out of Fort George with ships and stopping a couple of times a year to pick up the trade goods. The route had never had enough ships or supplies but there is expansion by McLaughlin in the 1830's. Fort Simpson for instance is created and then moved to it's current site on the North coast. A post called Fort McLaughlin in the Bella Bella area and another depot post at the mouth of Puget Sound on the American side on in what is the tip of Washington today.
But at the same time the number of coastal vessels increased, you are up to six by the early 1840's and in the off-season they were to be in the Sandwich Islands trade. Then Simpson was here in 1828 and again in 1841. When he came in 1841, having signed an agreement with Russia. Russia no longer a threat, they said that danger is out; we'd better cancel the post, as we don't have to show our flag to Russia anymore. Close all the posts down and go to ships.
McLaughlin screamed but the order was carried out and the SS Beaver is sort of the concentration of that trade from that time on. And again, there is some profit in it but in terms of volume; it is not high volume trade necessary. And the sea otters are still more important than the land species. There is not much expansion after the 1830's in the Hawaiian trade either. It never took off, it's regular, steady but again it is not seen as a growth factor in profit margin area for the company.
The second area of dispute was the inland route. Simpson thought there was something besides the Columbia. And in fact in 1828 he tried the Fraser and once was enough. Besides that it wasn't a possibility but then you see in the 1840's when you are deciding on the Oregon boundary which was decided in 1846 as the 49th parallel you had to find another route because there was a danger of the Columbia being closed even though the treaty agreement suggested that the Hudson Bay Company had access through the Columbia.
In the 1840's as they searched for one, they tried one up through Yale first of all which wasn't a success. And in the end it is the Hope one that they in fact create Hope as touch off point in the Hope Trail east of that as the supply trail through to the Okanagan and in the usual path they took before that from the Okanagan on. But it was never used that much because the gold came and disruptions and so on. And then, of course, with the Cariboo road being built during the gold rush it supplanted the Hope one.
The third area of controversy between McLaughlin and Simpson was over the removal from Fort George to Fort Victoria. This decision was the result of a combination of the London officials of the Company and the foreign department of the British Cabinet along with the Admiral of the Navy.In 1841, Simpson had a look and said great, the colonization and so on.
James Douglas was sent in March of 1843 to select a precise site and to begin the construction of the fort. It was a strategic move, Simpson believed that the south of the Columbia could never be retained by Britain and through the 1830's began to feel that north of the Columbia couldn't be either. The British wanted to secure a foothold in this coast because if you look at the coast of North and South America this is the only British spot. It becomes of great strategic importance and if you think about it, it was probably very wise that Vancouver Island sticks out way down there and the 49th parallel comes through about Ladysmith.
Now there was never a question in the boundary decision in 1846 negotiations that Vancouver Island wouldn't remain British. Even though so far south of the 49th because Fort Victoria was established in and sitting there where as the Gulf Islands would be in much greater dispute. So they built the post in 1843, actually sowed five acres of wheat that year and Charles Ross in charge. McLaughlin resigns at this point, he won't relocate. Douglas is chief factor but he is stationed in Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia until 1849.
Victoria was seen by Simpson and others in the company as a provisioning center for the trade and for the British Navy and for the coastal whaling shipping and other shipping but also as a bulwark, sort of to protect the inland trade. The relocation of the headquarters from Fort George to Fort Victoria does not happen until 1849 so that they stay in American territory for three years after the treaty. The farming is expanded too now with the lost of Oregon at Fort Langley to provide for the food for the trade.
Now one of the things also in terms of the company and the Russian agreement of 1839 has not been stressed enough. What the agreement of 1839 mainly was that the Hudson Bay Company was to be the provider of supplies for the Russians. The Americans had been doing that previously with independent American traders. Now the monopoly was given to the company to do that, and they had to create this subsidiary the Puget Sound Agricultural Company in Oregon to grow the food for the Russians. And that began to change the nature of what the company was on the coast here. In fact, some snide old traders referred to it as the “Mutton Company” in total disrespect in saying that fur trading was our business not farming - I mean forget it boys.
Now, McLaughlin has been controversial, I think is not so much a personality clash between he and Simpson that is the center of things. I think it is philosophical differences. McLaughlin became too much of a North American or too much of a liberal for the Hudson Bay Company. The company was organized on a monopoly, military class structure. Discipline, command, for instance, Fort George and Fort Victoria, the officers ate by themselves in an officers mess. Just as the army does and the junior officers retired before brandy and cigars, leaving only the senior officers with that privilege. If you have military experience, you realize that it is exactly the way the military works.
McLaughlin wasn't that kind of a guy. He had a humanitarian heart, he liked the under dog. He also didn't buy the discipline or the monopoly to the extent the others did and his position in the company became untenable, for those kinds of reasons. He could become Father of Oregon, as James Douglas, for instance, or George Simpson never could have because they simply would never become American enough to acquire the name.
Now I would suggest that Vancouver Island became of great strategic importance and this increases in 1849, this decision made again in London to make this a colony. The company was given land rights, development rights, to the colony of Vancouver Island to settle it. And again you've strayed a long ways from the fur trade. You've now got the Indian salmon trade, you've now got beginnings of a timber trade, a food provisioning trade to the Russians, to the Gold Rush in San Francisco from 1849 on and the beginnings in the early 1850's of coal, well on the north coast in the 1840's and the early 1850's here.
Now that doesn't mean that the Hudson Bay Company owned the land, it means that they got the development rights to that land. Those rights reverted to the Crown in 1859, in effect, what the Company is left with is a parcel of land around the post in Victoria which they got around every post in Canada that would be 3,040 acres or six square miles or less than six squares miles. The only other piece of land that they remained with is land that they purchased here. And they purchased 6,200 acres in the Nanaimo area in the early days of coal production. But everything else reverts to the British Crown in 1859.
Now, Douglas himself was far more interested in trade, I mean that was his job that was his business; then the colony settlement or people during his tenure here. And if you were a settler who had been brought out, you didn't like Douglas very much because you felt that you were not only ignored but as non-company person you were persecuted. You had to buy stuff from the company store for instance and the company personnel got a cut-rate deal and the extra charges were levied against the non-company people. Quarrels over the Indian trade, for instance, you were not allowed to trade with the Indians or to buy goods from anybody else but the company. There were a lot of quarrels over that.
What ends the great presence of the Company on the coast is the gold rush. The competition was coming in before that, there were a lot of independent American traders. The development of California and north of California with their own fish, timber and other trade cut in. Douglas attempted to maintain, in the first year of the fur trade, the company's trading monopoly on this coast and was told very bluntly, once London was informed and reacted, the monopoly of the Hudson Bay Company on the coast is cancelled and, in fact, west of the Rockies it was cancelled at that time.
And it is a different ball game from that time on. It doesn't mean that the fur trade ends, though the coastal trade pretty well ends. The interior trade keeps on going with open competition pretty much in the 1860's and 1870's and on. So there were other people to whom the natives could sell their furs. The transition of the company, in fact, was fairly remarkable. The Hudson Bay Company was sold to other interests in 1863 with a view to settlement in progress. The prime interest was not anymore the fur trade although it was an important part of the company's operation.
When they made the deal with Canada in 1869 they got the land around the fur trading post, which was downtown real estate land for the large part, or land in National Provincial Parks for which they were compensated. Which put them into land sales because they got 1/20th of the good land in the prairies by that deal. They became land sellers and very quickly became retail mercantile people. Donald Smith who was the head by the 1860's of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada is one of three guys on the triumvir of the original Canadian Pacific Railway Board. No surprise that often the first store that popped up on the CPR was the Hudson Bay Company store.
So it made that transition in the end very easy from what it had been to what it's present still really is in the country. And, of course, it got into mining and other things in the twentieth century.
If you have to be back to work at one, you probably will have to leave but I am quite prepared to stay and answer questions, if you come up or whatever. I am not rushing through it but trying to set the perspective of the total development.
Question from the audience: I would like to ask one question that has puzzled me for quite a while, in view of the publication of Captain Cook's books which earlier almost 100 years before the serious increase in development. He would know that latitude and longitude of the area and surely someone from Hudson Bay could have realized the vast distances between Winnipeg and out here and the difficulties they would have had and what it means to that trade. I wonder why they didn't reconsider just carrying on with the shipping trade.
Clarence Karr: Well, latitude was easy and they had perfected that many years before. Longitude was not as easy because you need an accurate timepiece and an accurate system to do longitude. The establishing of Greenwich Mean Time, for starters, and then the kind of thing you can carry along with you that you knew you could count the hours and maintain the accuracy. That wasn't developed until the very late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, it wasn't there for Cook for instance. And you could be as much as, say, a hundred miles out and realize that these guys came from around the around the world route. Cook from the Sandwich Islands so that you're starting from the other direction. But you see Cook got a lot of fog and he also got fogged in on the north and he didn't complete, so the myth was that Cook's Inlet in the sea was in that north section and he never got back to investigate because he got killed.
The exact longitude does not come until Vancouver's time. And the other one that came before that was a land one that Peter Fidler did for the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca, I think I am right. And again, the Hudson Bay Company, Fidler was their main surveyor exploring with Thompson and part of that fiction that Thompson left. He was again in the time period of MacKenzie and MacKenzie knew his reading and I wouldn't even guess what he read at Fort Chipewyan but it was realized at that time that there wasn't that much distance from there to the sea. And that is when the myth begins to evaporate pretty quickly.
Question from the audience: The colonization of Vancouver Island and the colonization of the prairies from Manitoba and so on pretty well about the same time?
Clarence Karr: Well, the Selkirk's colony, or not a colony, settlement, it never became a colony goes back to the early 1820's, no sorry, 1810, 1811 with the main group coming in. The actual similar kind of settlement on this coast does not happen until after 1839 with Russian deal and they brought in some people from Red River, in fact, to man the farms in what is the farming was done in that tip of Washington where the fur trade posts and provision post were set up. And they did relocate some of the people from the Red River to start the operations there.
So it is only in 1840, 1841 that you actual start here so you have a century after [interruption from the audience with an inaudible remark or question].
No because that was… [Interruption again with an inaudible remark] Selkirk settlement was in part the whim of Selkirk with the humanitarian band to relocating the downtrodden of Scotland but it is also, [pauses] um - the company reshaped itself in the first decade of the 19th century. They were losing out very badly to the North West Company in their own charter territory. And they had to start creating inland posts by the dozens and competing or they were, for year after year they didn't pay dividends for instance. The shareholders were not pleased.
So the Selkirk colony was a grant given to Lord Selkirk, not to the company, 116,000 square miles, half of it got lost to the States in 1818. But it's dual purpose - one is to provide food for this trade because of the cost of imported goods, secondly it is a place they thought for retired personnel of the company to retire to in North America.
The Company had great problems with its help; they concentrated with the Orkney Islanders first of all in the North of Scotland. But most of them did one term of service and went back. The company then began to develop a policy of taking kids out of orphanages; Grey Coat School in London was where David Thompson came from, for instance, where many of them did. But they were only eleven or twelve and you got them company men before they grow up and they won't leave. And then they give them a place to retire here. You know it is like the British Foreign Service, you can spend a life time in foreign service in India and you go to retire and don't want to stay in India necessarily, the climate and so on you go back to England and it had changed, so end up at the Empress in Victoria, that kind of thing.
But the unsung reason for the Selkirk, and realize that Colvile who was the new president or chairman of the company at this point in England, Selkirk was his brother-in-law. If you look at where the Selkirk Grant was, and they didn't tell any of the British Government this before making the grant, it blocked off all access routes from Montreal to the prairies. It was designed primarily to stop the North West Company in its tracks. And in the end it was successful.
[Audience comment or question, which is inaudible]
It wasn't supposed to be a company thing but after Selkirk's death eventually in the 30's the Red River settlement reverted to company management, the Assiniboia Department. But it never got self-government, it never got a colony or colonial status or government of any kind prior to it's becoming Manitoba. It is the only Canadian province that became a province without having had been a colony.
Question from the audience: When did those Overlanders come?
Clarence Karr: The Overlanders were the early 60's.
[Inaudible comment from the audience]
Clarence Karr: It is in the second stage of the gold rush.
Question from the audience: On the coast, was the Hudson Bay Company given a ten year tenure out here for colonizing [inaudible section] Was that the agreement?
Clarence Karr: That's not so much an agreement from the grant in '49 as much a pre-determined date. In 1818 the North West Company had a deal with the States got trading rights on the coast for a ten-year period. When the Hudson Bay Company took over the North West Company they had to re-charter itself and to define the Pacific area, which is not drainage basin of Hudson's Bay as part of their mandate. But there was always a time factor on them after 1821 and it just happens that 1859 was one of the renewal dates prior to even to 1849.
Question from the audience: I wonder as they moved out from here in 1860, I wonder whether that was coincidental or whether that was actual end of the tenure.
Clarence Karr: No, the British Government in fact set up a whole series of public hearings in the late 1850's in an attempt to decide whether or not the charter should be renewed and if it was renewed in what fashion should it be renewed. This area would not have changed had it not been for the gold rush.
But the southern prairies would have changed. The transferal to the international finance company in 1863, they moved immediately into plans for telegraph, railway, and settlement. They actually purchased telegram poles for telegram from what is now Ontario. And then the deal with the Canadian Government came in the offing and they simply held off construction but the Canadian Government bought the telegram supplies in 1869.
But it was a new ownership with a whole new era that was opening up for the company because they realized that the prairie section which was never that important in terms of the fur trade they couldn't hold it closed from settlement. A far cry from the days when a missionary built a bridge over the river at Fort Edmonton and the company tore it out because the bridge suggested colonization and that wasn't the business they were in.
They actually also were very secretive about the agricultural potential, they were growing wheat, they were growing cabbage and potatoes and vegetables and so on at Fort Edmonton, even Fort Chipewyan. But they didn't tell anybody that you could grow such fine things in Custer county somebody else might want them. [Laughter]
Remark from the audience: They were only too happy to sell the idea later on when they wanted to sell the land tho'.
Clarence Karr: Yes, and they sold their land at a higher cost then anybody else in Western Canada. They knew all the tricks and they had, with 1/20th, it was a section and a half or a section and three quarters of every square mile and so they could wait until every lot was sold all around it and then put it on the auction block.
Remark from the audience: They were even bringing settlers from Great Britain in the 30's, in the 1930's, they were still bringing settlers out to the Lloydminister area and so on. Alberta and Saskatchewan to settle on their quarter sections scattered around.
Clarence Karr: And they got some sweet deals, some of their land you see around the post which they were granted in 1869 were later found to be in Waterton Park, Banff, Jasper, Rocky Mountain and they traded that for good agricultural land so that they actually, you know, as those parks were set out and you had to get rid of a post there that they kept getting more.
The company has had for the most part quite good management at least since 1800 but as historians we have immeasurable respect more so than any other corporation have made their papers available to the historians and the general public. And when the headquarters of the company were transferred in the ‘60's from London England to Winnipeg, they transferred the archives with them.
There isn't another corporation in the world that has treated historians and researchers with the respect that the company has. Even to the point now that post 1870 files are open and there will be a lot of research on mining and land the other activities that will be coming out in the next years.
Now you can compare that to the CPR who have never let anyone see anything. There is a vast difference.
Question from the audience: [inaudible]
Clarence Karr: No, the Champlain Records Society was in fact a private society. The Company supported it financially and so on but it wasn't initiated by the, [inaudible comment by the audience] no, it was a group of people in Toronto that set that one up in the early 20th century.
This one is available in paper back if you can find a bookstore that sells it, in these days of chain book stores it is almost impossible. This is Marjorie Wilkins-Campbell “The North West Company”, she also has a biography of Duncan or William McGillivray. And this is the only full length study in the English language of the Northwesters', the has been a couple in the French language.
Question from the audience: Would they have to be ordered?
Clarence Karr: If it does, the Bastion Store would order it for you. It is published by Macmillan but I think if you go into the Bastion Store you might find it there.
Remark from the audience: You might find it in the library probably.
Clarence Karr: Yeah. Not only does it give you the story of the North West Company but it gives you a better feel I think for the trade then any other source on either the North West Company or the Hudson Bay Company, what it was like to be a trader, the old standby again which covers both companies misses the fur trade in Canada if you want to, the business operation this is still the place to go in other ways. In other ways he is a bit controversial today but in terms of the business operation of the fur trade, how many pelts one traded for what, basically one pelt per foot of Brazilian tobacco. In one of the most ironical stories of the trade, tobacco as you well know was a North American product, which we gave to Europe but the Indians found very quickly, they were very astute traders, that the world's top quality tobacco was Brazilian tobacco.
So that you actually had tobacco grown in Brazil, for Portuguese coin, going to Portugal being traded to England and being traded back here in the fur trade. You couldn't dupe the Indians in the trade, they knew what quality goods were and the quality of, they sometimes tried to dupe the traders in terms of stashing some second rate furs in a bundle or improperly dried furs, cured furs in bundles. But they were very astute traders.
There is not a good single volume history of the Hudson Bay Company in print; unfortunately history is so long that you have got a lot of multi volume histories, which, of course, are too expensive. There is not, “Douglas McKay, The Honorable Company”, was put in paper back but I don't think it is now available in paper back unless they have come out with a new edition in the last couple of years.
The rest can be found in bits and pieces, and you get specialized things like Gilbrath's one of the Hudson Bay Company as an Imperial Factor. But I think it would be nice to have a, I guess the closest would be E. E Riche - “The Fur Trade, The North West 1857: published by McCleeland and Stewart. But it covers a pretty wide spectrum and more than the Hudson Bay Company.
Most of the current researchers show the social history of the company, the wives, trade and that kind of thing. A couple of these studies of women in the trade and treatment in the last couple of years.
Anything else, I've rambled on enough.
Audience: Okay thank you very much, Clarence, I am sure we all appreciate your coming in down here today.
Clarence Karr: I am very happy too.
Followed by a discussion of what was coming up at the next meeting. [Applause]
Transcribed by Lois Park, February 2008