Monday, 6 June 2011

Canadian Studies Essay On the Rival Fur Trading Companies

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Q Compare the advantages and disadvantages of the rival fur trade systems used the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company by 180.

In developing an answer to this question firstly it must be asked as to why there were two companies in the first instance. If any one company such as the Hudson’s Bay Company was in fact the most effective and had the most efficient methods then there would have been little room for the creation of another, rival company. The main reason for the hunting of the beavers was the demand back in Europe for Felt for the fashion industry. The first of the two companies was the Hudson’s Bay company which was created in 1670. One of the major advantages which this company faced over its rival the North West company which was set up later was the fact that, it had claim to a large area of territory due to a charter, passed under the Great Seal of England in 1670, which stated that all land from which water drains into the Hudson Bay was their territory (Rich, 167). This should have been a great advantage for the company but they did not exploit the vastness of the territory instead staying along the coast of Hudson Bay. This was until 1774 when their falling profits, due to competition from rival fur traders, forced them to explore new territories and open inland trading posts, the first being Cumberland House.

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The Hudson’s Bay Company used the knowledge of the native people to carry out the hunting for them and had a hand full of factory posts on the cost where the skins were picked up in the spring when the conditions were suitable for the ships to arrive. This system was a defensive trade with neither party ever actually trusting the other fully. The two communities were segregated from one another and interaction was limited to the extent t of actually trading. Also trading is and important term as moneys were not (at the start any way) used, instead bartering was the sole means to trading, metal goods such as pans, knifes etc carried far more value to the native people than that of the value of money.

However the charter was of no real advantage to the Hudson’s Bay Company as it was ineffective in preventing the North West Company from discovering and exploring a third of the continent (Campbell, 157), they even set up their fur trade within the territory that the charter stated belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company

Conversely the emergence of the North West Company had the opposite approach to dealing with the native people. They became a much more integral part of the operation and the relations were much closer. They were not seen as being potential enemies but as allies learning skills of one another such as survival and local techniques in hunting. There was so much interactions between the French explores and fur traders whom went to Canada that a new type of race soon emerge called the ‘Meti’ a blend of the French and local population. This approach was to prove much more successful in the long run as soon the exploration and opening up of the inland of the Canadian country was require in order to search for new source of beavers as the coastal regions were becoming exhausted.

Each company had different method of extracting these furs from the inland sites. For example the North West company used much larger canoes, “canots de maitre” which were capable of holding up to twenty tons of equipment on the way inland (up to the head of lake superior) and skins on the way out to the ports. They created a efficient and effective system of the use of large and small canoes “canots du nord”. Where the, “canots de maitre” could not penetrate the “canots du nord” were used to ferry skins to these big canoes as they were able to infiltrate much deeper inland by using the Saskatchewan river system.

This system was evidently very successful as was seen in the figures for that time. The North West Company was responsible for eleven fourteenths of the export of beaver fur, their rivals the Hudson’s Bay Company for only two fourteenths and other minor companies for one fourteenth (Rich, 167).

One other disadvantage which the Hudson’s Bay company faced in its rivalry with the North West Company was its policy on alcohol. The North West Company freely traded alcohol with the locals but it was deemed immoral by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a result when the drunk the native people or chiefs would trade just about anything for rum so business went in favour of the North West Company

To summarise the North West Company were the more ruthless in going about business. They were prepared to do whatever it took to make their company a success. With the help of the locals they had a better hunting system and although it took a long time to transport the fur to Europe, they traded much more fur than the Hudson’s Bay Company. However the rivalry of the two companies came to and end in the early 1th century due to a combination of factors such as the diminishing beaver population and their scarcity made hunting beavers less and less economical. Also with fashions changing, fur not being as fashionable as it once was due to the development of synthetics and imports from Asia and the Far East. Thus in 181 the two companies were ordered to become one and operated under one name in order to stop the rivalry which in some instances was getting out of control. The name stayed as the Hudson’s Bay Company but the methods implemented were that of the French North West Company. For this reason it could be argued from just this action that it was in fact the North West Company which had the best system over their rival that of the Hudson’s Bay company as it was their methodology which survived the test of time.


• Rich, E, E. 167. The Fur Trade and the North West to 1857. Oxford University Press..

• Rich, E, E. 158. Hudson’s Bay Record Society XXI. University Press, Glasgow.

• Innes, H. 1. The Fur Trade in Canada. University of Toronto Press

• Campbell, M. 157. The North West Company. The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited

• http//www.albertaheritage.net

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