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No. 38: Corporate Wars in the North: Hudson's Bay Company versus the North West Company

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The North West Company had monopolized the fur trade in the Peace Country since the 1780s.

But its rival, the Hudson's Bay Company, wanted a piece of the action. So in 1815, the Hudson's Bay Company opened a post called Fort Wedderburn on Lake Athabasca.

John Clarke was the man in charge of this new post. And as historian David Leonard relates, that winter Clarke led a contingent of men up the Peace River. Their intent was to trade with the indigenous Beaver people.

Well, at Fort Vermilion, the word was received by the North West Company there, and they went ahead of John Clarke's party, scared away all the big game animals, and warned the Indians not to trade with them.

So that by the time that the Hudson's Bay Company employees led by Clarke had made it about as far as the location of Keg River and Manning, they were almost at the point of starvation. There were no large game animals and the Indians wouldn't trade with them.

So the Clarke expedition headed back over the ice and snow to its post.

By the time they reached Fort Vermilion, a number of Clarke's men had defected to the North West Company.

When Clarke finally returned to his post on Lake Athabasca, 16 men had died.

But this was the opening salvo of a real fur trade war in the northwest. These people were kidnapping each other, they were shooting at each other, until finally, in 1820, they said, Look, we don't have to do this to ourselves. Why don't we find some kind of compromise?

So the following year, in 1821, the two companies merged under a single name.

The new Hudson's Bay Company quickly entrenched its monopoly over the fur trade in Canada's northwest. But the scars of war ran deep, and it was an uneasy peace in the land of the Beaver.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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