Hudson Bay Company

In 1670 Charles II gave a charter to the Hudson's Bay Company. The territory it was given encompasses some 40 per cent of modern Canada, from the Arctic to the Great Lakes. In return for settling and developing the colony, the charter granted the Hudson's Bay Company a monopoly on the region's natural resources. Its first governor was Charles Bayley, a Quaker, who was released from the Tower of London and deported to Canada. Over the next nine years Bayley established trading posts at the mouths of rivers. He also arranged trade with the local Cree tribe.

By the 18th century the Hudson Bay Company dominated the fur trade in Canada and Oregon. It obtained furs from local Native Americans in exchange for goods shipped from England. This was highly profitable and in 1784 the North West Company was formed in Montreal. This led to violence and open warfare between the two companies.

A third company the American Fur Companywas established by John Jacob Astor in 1808. He established Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon but this was eventually taken over by the North West Company and renamed Fort George.

In 1821 John McLoughlin was placed in charge of Fort William on Lake Superior. Three years later McLoughlin became chief factor for the Hudson Bay Company and supervisor of the Columbia District. He was originally based in Fort George but was later moved to Fort Vancouver. This now became the administrative headquarters and main supply depot for the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trading operations. McLoughlin was responsible for shipping our furs valued at up to $150,000 a year.

In the late 1830s Fort Vancouver became the terminus of the Oregon Trail. When American immigrants arrived in the Oregon Country during the 1830s and 1840s, and despite the instructions from the Hudson's Bay Company that the fort should not help Americans, he provided them with essential supplies to begin their new settlements. This included tools, seeds, wood, cattle and food. Much of this was on credit and by 1844 John McLoughlin had spent $31,000 of the company's money on 400 settlers. In 1846 the Hudson Bay Company lost Oregon to the United States.

In 1870 the Hudson Bay Company sold its rights in Canada for £300,000. The company retained its trading posts and continued in the fur trade.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) George Simpson, letter to J. H. Pelly (1st February, 1837)

The Hudson's Bay Company have likewise established missions and schools at several of their principal depots or posts on the Columbia river, west side of the Rocky Mountains, under the management of another of their chaplains, and at the Red River and Columbia schools, Indian children are educated belonging to many of the distant tribes, who, after attaining the age of manhood, are allowed the option of returning to their homes, becoming agriculturists at Red River Settlement, or entering into the Company's service. We are using our utmost endeavours in every other part of the country, where the climate and soil admit of it, to collect the Indians into villages, and direct their attention to agriculture, as the first step towards civilization. This operation is, however, attended with much difficulty, from their erratic habits, and the scanty and precarious subsistence afforded by the chase, which prevents their keeping together in considerable numbers, and applying themselves to husbandry and the pursuits of civilized life, and compels them to separate into small parties of single families, and to wander about in search of food, under circumstances where it is impossible for the missionary to follow them.

The fur trade is the principal branch of business at present in the country situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. On the banks of the Columbia river, however, where the soil and climate are favourable to cultivation, we are directing our attention to agriculture on a large scale, and there is every prospect that we shall soon be able to establish important branches of export trade from thence in the articles of wool, tallow, hides, tobacco, and grain of various kinds.

I have also the satisfaction to say, that the native population are beginning to profit by our example, as many, formerly dependent on hunting and fishing, now maintain themselves by the produce of the soil.