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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Company Employment (Wage Labour)

St Annes ChruchOver time, employment patterns had been transformed. Formerly traders would sign contracts to work for three to five years, in return for transportation to trading posts and home again, as well as a yearly wage. In 1800, a new labourer for the HBC would receive £10 per year for five years, and then £12 per year for three more years. An interpreter with 18 years experience received £26 per year.

After the amalgamation of HBC and NWC, the number of employees was trimmed severely. Not only were there less than half as many posts to be manned, but also the work force in the post was trimmed back to essential manpower. Any tasks not part of the regular routine were contracted out or paid at a piece rate. This meant that instead of being paid for a full year of work, a person might instead be contracted only for the length of a necessary trip, to take mail between posts, or to purchase loads of firewood only when the supply ran low.

Certain positions were maintained. Of necessity, the manager of the post and the clerk were full time employees. They also employed chief traders, traders, apprentice clerks, and a certain number of labourers or general employees. Each post was staffed according to its size and importance in the company plan and hierarchy. The HBC in particular had a complex hierarchy but competition with the NWC forced them to make changes.

Before re-organization of the trade after 1820, some of the labourers or engagees were hired from the communities surrounding departure depots. The usual HBC policy was that the Chief Factor at the Bay organized the crew. By 1790, the Factors were hiring from the Bay community as well as Orcadians and British off the boats. For the North West Company, the partner going inland would choose his crew from those seeking employment in Montreal or at Grand Portage. It was generally easy to find a whole crew from the one community or family. Both companies had methods of promoting company loyalty and solidarity. The HBC conducted itself as a complete closed institution, expecting complete loyalty and dedication to company ideals from employees and management alike. For the engagees, there was a shared culture and system of little rituals developed in the years of the French trade.

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Company Men

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