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Fur Trade Rivalries (1795-1821)

View of the Athabasca River

As competition grew in the fur trade, new posts were built throughout Alberta. The Hudson's Bay and North West Companies matched each other post for post along major waterways such as the Peace, Athabasca and Saskatchewan Rivers. Other firms such as the XY Company and independent traders also tried to rival the major firms. This competition encouraged fur trade explorers and map-makers, including Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson, Simon Fraser and Peter Fidler, to push the trade north and westwards to the Arctic Ocean and beyond the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast.

This expansion of the fur trade meant the construction of important new posts throughout Alberta, such as Fort Dunvegan on the Peace River (founded in 1805), Fort Edmonton on the North Saskatchewan (founded in 1795) and Rocky Mountain House on the North Saskatchewan (founded in 1799). All three of these posts are commemorated as national or provincial historic sites. A reconstruction of a later Fort Edmonton is the centrepiece of the City of Edmonton's Fort Edmonton historic park. This reconstruction of Fort Edmonton is located on a new site, but the original locations of four of the actual Forts Edmonton (the post was moved several times for different reasons), can all be visited in Edmonton and the nearby community of Fort Saskatchewan. The public can also visit Dunvegan and Rocky Mountain House.

Trade items at Fort VictoriaThis competition meant the price paid for furs went up and the cost of trade goods declined, but it had some negative consequences as well. The fur trade was usually very peaceable, but during this period some fur traders tried to bully Aboriginal trappers into trading with one company or the other. Traders also used threats and violence against each other. Historians have also noted that the use of alcohol in trade increased as well. Profits declined and then disappeared for fur trade companies, as their costs rose yearly. By the late 1810s both the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies were facing financial ruin as a result of their cut-throat rivalry. Overall this was a difficult, if rather colourful, period in the fur trade.

By 1820 representatives of the both the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies were trying to see if some agreement could be reached to save the trade. In one of the more remarkable turnabouts in the history of Canadian business, the once bitter rivals agreed to merge their operations in 1821. The new firm would retain the name of the Hudson's Bay Company, but many of the main shareholders and employees were drawn from the old North West Company.

The Hudson's Bay Company's Monopoly (1821-1850)

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