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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
Background, People, Culture, Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource and Alberta Lottery Fund


Francophone Edukit

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The Hudson's Bay Company
The North West

Painting by Lieutenant Robert Hood, member of the first Franklin Expedition. July 31, 1819.In 1659-1660, Médart Chouard Des Groseillers and Pierre Radisson, both of whom had been trading illegally in the Great Lakes region, attempted to introduce the French court to their discovery of an alternative to packing out furs from the interior through the long and costly Saint Lawrence route, instead going via Hudson Bay. Their failure at the royal court caused them to seek out the English, who gladly put their knowledge to use. This led to the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1670, which had dominion over the territory known as Rupert’s Land, in homage to the royal patron of the company, Prince Rupert.

The presence of the English in the Hudson Bay basin was not well received by the French in New France, and they long fought for control of the region. In 1713, following the Spanish War of Succession (which since 1703 had led to a number of battles in French and British territory in North America), French rights to the Bay were handed over to the English with the Treaty of Utrecht. For over 100 years, the HBC remained close to the coast of the bay, content to wait for the indigenous peoples to come to trade furs for goods, and establishing Henley House only 200 kilometres from the bay on the Albany River. The company fared reasonably well as the enterprising Cree had become their middlemen for the entire Northwestern trade. The Canadians, however, did business in a completely different way, supplying individuals with trade goods and allowing them to go further inland with their canoes, on trading trips which they called "en dérouine." This system gave severe competition to the HBC.

Samuel HearneIn the meantime, the HBC had financed some explorations to the West and the North. Between 1690 to 1692, Henry Kelsey travelled to the Saskatchewan River and crossed parts of the prairies, but in spite of this the Company’s first inland and furthest trading post, Cumberland House, just north of the Saskatchewan river, was only established in 1774.

Four years earlier Peter Pond had discovered the existence of Portage-la-Loche, which gave access to the superb furs of the Athabasca basin. Kelsey’s discovery of Saskatchewan remained unknown for a long time, and the company made no use of the knowledge. In fact, when Louis-Joseph de La Vérendrye reached it in 1739, he was considered its discoverer.


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