Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

belonged to the Northern Company of Canada. Bridgar, who seems to have been something of a diplomatist, listened courteously to Radisson's assertions, and apparently accepted his statement that he had constructed a fort and had two fine vessels under his command. But as soon as the Frenchman had departed he began to build a fort. The French party hiding in the woods spied on the movements of the Englishmen; and before rejoining their comrades at their own settlement they had the privilege of seeing the • erection of Fort Nelson, the fourth establishment of the Hudson's Bay territories, well under way.'

This quaint romance of the North-West continued till the middle of November 1782. It is more akin to a story than to real life. Radisson and Grosseilliers played the chief part with rare resource and confidence. Governor Bridgar, a stranger in these northern regions, speut more time in drinking than in exploration. Young Benjamin Gillam, knowing himself a trespasser, was a mere pawn in the hands of the Frenchman, who had the audacity to grant him permission to build a fort and to guarantee him against insults from the Indians. Then Radisson, as the stage villain, took the young man's fort and stock and made him prisoner. Next he captured Fort Nelson and carried off Bridgar to Fort Bourbon. The Prince *Rupert' had already been crushed by the ice, and in the early spring the two small French craft were almost wholly destroyed by the rising ice. The “Ste.-Anne, however, was practically rebuilt and made, if not seaworthy, at least capable of floating and sailing, and in her in the autumn of the year the two Frenchmen, with a cargo of fur and accompanied by Bridgar, arrived at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. The 'Susan,' too, presently reached Quebec with the rest of the English and young Gillam on board. The French governor returned her to her owner with a warning against illegal trading. French and English parted at Quebec, Bridgar to report to his employers, Radisson to make his peace with La Chesnaye, whose furs he had sold for himself, and with the governor for the disturbance of international relations. In this he was unsuccessful, for he was ordered to Paris, there to explain his conduct. Radisson and Grosseilliers sailed for Europe in a French frigate on November 11, 1683.

Radisson had gained nothing for himself and nothing for France by his boldness and duplicity. The Hudson's Bay Company, before the death of Prince Rupert in 1682,

had been making a profit of 200 per cent. on their capital, and had become a sound and recognised trading corporation. It was supported by the Court as well as by the City, it was systematically managed, and it had the Government behind it. In French Canada exploration was a mixture of romance, religion, and adventure, the traders were not associated, and were often antagonistic, and the importance of the fur trade, whether as a commercial undertaking or as an influence on the future of the vast regions of the North-West, was not appreciated by French statesmen, while Louis XIV. himself seems to have regarded the men who were trying to enlarge French influence in the North as troublers of international relations.

The result of Radisson's return to Europe was characteristic of the man. The Hudson's Bay Company, with no little sagacity, came to the conclusion that the best way to prevent Radisson from giving further trouble was to take hiin again into their service. He was not loth, nor had he any hesitation in returning to the Bay and taking possession on behalf of the company of the very post which he had created for the French Government-a post which was in charge of his own nephew. Nor-after the view which we have had of Radisson's volatile unsteadfast character-is it surprising that he should quickly disagree with the officials of the company, that he should return to London to explain his conduct, that he should be somewhat coldly received by the directors of the company, whose object was profit and not adventure, and that he should again return to America for a brief period. But his adventurous life presently came to an end, and for many years he lived quietly in London on a pension from the company. He died at Islington in 1710,* at least ten years after the death of Grosseilliers. Both men, brilliant, bold, courageous, wanted that levelheadedness which would make them successful as men of business. The harvest which they rightly foresaw lay ready on the shores of Hudson's Bay fell not to these two Frenchmen, but to English men of business.

The romance of the Hudson's Bay Company largely disappears with its two founders. Up to 1713 this northern territory to which the Adventurers laid claim formed a field of conflict between French and English, and of negotiation between the two Governments. Thus in 1685

* Mr. Willson gives the date as 1702, but this appears to be incorrect.

and 1686 we find the Chevalier de Troyes-old enough to give up freebooting adventures—with a select following of young Frenchmen and a body of Canadians, proceed in midwinter from Montreal to James Bay. There they arrived in April, and attacked and captured the company's fort at Moose Factory, taking possession of it in the name of Louis XIV. Quite a campaign of fort-capturing followed, the gallant cavalier returning in the autumn of 1686 to Quebec with 50,000 beaver skins as trophies of his victories, carried by servants of the company who had been captured in the forts and factories. At the very moment of this triumph the Kings of France and England had, on November 6, 1686, concluded a fruitless treaty; for in spite of it the French, under the Sieur d'Iberville, continued to carry on a species of warfare, plunder, and trade-sufficient not only to arouse those who managed the company at home to a pitch of extreme anger, but to cause the disturbances in the North-West to be stated by William III. as one cause of his declaration of war in 1689 against France. In this conflict fortune was more favourable to the French than the English. The former were then a military force, were comparatively near their base; the Hudson's Bay servants were far from home, were rather traders than soldiers. Thus the Peace of Ryswick placed France, for the time being, in the full possession of this contested northern region. Fort Albany alone remained in the actual possession of the English traders. It was the darkest day in the history of the Merchant Adventurers, but the directors by no means despaired of the future. It was one thing to take their forts and factories : it was another to prevent them from re-establishing themselves in other centres. In petitions to the Lords of Trade and Plantations they never relinquished their right to the whole streights

and bay,' but at the same time urged the Government to establish boundaries of territory and limits of trade which would enable them to proceed peacefully with their business. This period of anxiety, ill-fortune, and uncertainty was finally ended by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, by which, as already stated, the territory of the Hudson's Bay Company was ceded to England. The signing of that document was not only the final act in a long and protracted struggle for the sovereignty of this northern region, carried on rather by private persons than by either Government officially, it was the first step to the total possession of Canada by the English people. Without the sovereignty of this region

Canada itself would have seemed less important. It gave to Great Britain and to this great company a territory extending northwards along a line drawn roughly from the north of the St. Lawrence, Lakes Huron, Superior, and Winnipeg, past the sources of the Churchill River, indefinitely to the west. It placed France in the New World between English colonies in the north and east, the expansion of which would inevitably crush out the French, and would give the undiscovered West to the people whose capacity of colonisation and power of trade and manner of dealing with the aboriginal inhabitants were superior to that of the French. Nor can it for a moment be doubted that the cession of the Hudson's Bay Company's territory to England was chiefly owing to the continuous and patient perseverance of the Merchant Adventurers themselves. Year by year they placed their grievances and their petitions before the Government and the sovereign; stubbornly they had continued to send ships to Hudson's Bay, had obtained the services of courageous and hardy servants, and neither at home nor in the north had relinquished the enterprise begun by Prince Rupert and his contemporaries. Their patience and perseverance, as we see, were rewarded. From this time the company continued its career as a governing and trading corporation not in a debateable land, but in English territory.

Another period of nearly half a century carries us a long way in the history of the company. It was essentially one of trade developement; new and more substantial forts were built; the barter with the Indians was carefully and systematically carried on. At home a parliamentary inquiry, the result of a natural attempt to lessen or overthrow a remarkable monopoly, was successfully passed through. Thus from 1713 to the cession of Canada in 1760 by the Peace of Paris was a time of undoubted prosperity for the company. With the change of dominion there came again a period of conflict. With the departure of French sovereignty there departed also the French officials from Quebec and Montreal, the system of licences came to an end, the French voyageurs and coureurs de bois received no recruits from France and from French America, and they lost their French employers. The slight link which thus bound them to civilisation was broken. Children of the forest and the stream, at home among the wigwams of the Indians, it needed but the change of government to cause them to ally themselves to the aboriginal people of the land, and thus

create that half-caste population which is still so much in evidence to-day. In their place came a new and a stronger element. The Scotchmen arrived in Canada.

Not that Scotchmen had not already been servants of the company; but the strong Scotch influx, hostile to the original corporation, coming from Canada, and taking the place of the Frenchmen, was a new feature. The very vagueness of the boundaries of Rupert's Land made the antagonism of the new men more felt. When in 1750 the Lords of Trade and Plantations asked the company to define its boundaries, it claimed an unlimited extent of territory—'towards the

west all the lands that lie on the west side or coast of the said Bay and extending from the said Bay westward to the utmost limits of those lands : but where or how those lands terminate to the westward is also unknown, * though probably it will be found they terminate on the

Great South Sea. A vagueness of this kind not only permitted unbounded extensions : it admitted of rivals entering on the domains of the great monopolist company. Thus there grew up a strong trading competition in the NorthWest. The rivalry, though troublesome, was unsystematic and spasmodic—the wares supplied to the Indians by the company were of better quality. But in 1783-4 some of the hitherto unorganised traders formed themselves into the North-West Company. Three Scotchmen-Joseph and Benjamin Frobisher and Simon MỘTavish-were most prominent in its foundation,

Presently there joined them a young man, Alexander Mackenzie. Not content with mere trading travels, he set out to explore the continent. In 1786 he penetrated to the Arctic Sea by what is now known as the Mackenzie River: in 1793 he reached the Pacific Ocean. Mackenzie's famous explorations stimulated the company, somewhat unwillingly, it must be confessed, to undertake similar endeavours, and the travels of David Thompson, John Stewart, and Simon Fraser, two of whose names are written on the geographical nomenclature of the North-West, as servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, extended its influence. They founded posts beyond the Rocky Mountains, while from the Missouri to the Pacific and on the shores of that distant ocean the agents of John Jacob Astor were endeavouring to establish the trade of the United States. So that just about a century

* In 1809 Astor established the American Fur Company, and in 1810 the Pacific Fur Company; the story of these enterprises has

« ForrigeFortsett »