Movin On

December 6, 2009

With their trade monopoly secure, the men of the Hudson’s Bay Company maintained a cautious eye on the American’s who shared the low lands of the Columbia River as they started to flex their political muscle with slogans the likes of; “68 or die”.

The more aggressive were sending petitions off to Washington, egging on a war which once and for all would set in stone the northern boundary of the land they fondly referred to as the Oregon Territories.

About this same time the Baymen lost two of their trading ships on the sandbars situated at the mouth of the Columbia, and this latter event only amplified their need to look further north for a new west coast depot.

In 1842 George Simpson, Governor of the HBC in British North America ordered the establishment of a new fort, anxious to ensure their presence on Vancouver’s Island. There was a rumour drifting about that the 49th parallel would become the eventual international boundary, leaving Fort Vancouver a matter of history. It was the HBC belief that the San Juan Islands should form part of the British territories, regardless of the fact that they lay well below the 49th. Wishing to press the issue towards such a conclusion, focus was maintained on the southern tip of Vancouver’s Island.

At this time James Douglas was posted at Fort Vancouver so the directive fell on his shoulders to enforce. In March of 1842 Douglas followed his orders and made his way to the  norther shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, more specifically the southern extremedy of Vancouver’s Island.

You may note that the Island was referred to in the possessive. This is not in error, but rather the way it was spoken of in that day.

Douglas first stopped at Sooke Harbour but found it all but impossible to enter unless one had the benefit of a southwesterly wind at high tide. The entrance was not only enough to challenge the most seasoned sailor, but held little to no water at low tide.

Douglas next looked at what we now refer to as Esquimalt Harbour. While it offered excellent deep morage, ships were forced to anchor 130 ft off shore and it lacked the level arable land he deemed necessary for the longevity of a good depot.

Lastly he steered his ship through the dogs-leg of an entrance into what was refered to as Camosack (Victoria Harbour). The following is an exert from his report to head office:

July 1842 “According to your instructions, I embarked with a party of 5 men, in the Schooner Cadboro, at Fort Nisqually and proceeded with her, to the south end of ‘Vancouver’s Island’, visited the most promising points of the coast, and after a careful survey of its several ports and harbours, I made choice of a site for the proposed new establishment in the port of Camosack which appears to me decidedly the most advantageous situation for the purpose, within the Straits of Juan de Fuca. As a harbour it is equally safe and accessible and abundance of timber grows near it for home construction and exploration.”

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The Final Two

December 4, 2009

As many nations pulled anchor for the last time, two trading companies remained and shortly thereafter began a war of economic strategy to see who would dominate the Pacific Northwest.

The two immediately locked horns and stood determined to go to any means necessary to reinforce their bid for a monopoly. They went as far as to destroy each other’s boats and forts. They tried to bribe the other company’s traders and if that didn’t work, they would out maneuver the other by offering above market value to the natives for their furs. Some of the men even resorted to violence which included murder to secure more furs.

The two companies remaining were the North West Trading Company (known as the Nor’wester’s) and our own Hudson’s Bay Company (known as the Baymen), the latter of which were actually newcomers to the Pacific Northwest.

The Hudson’s Bay Company had been entrenched in the region of Ontario that to this day supports their name since 1669. Not recognizing the potential of the west coast, they ignored the North West Trading Company as they set up posts throughout the Pacific Northwest and held the monopoly.

Having seen its beginning until 1783, the Nor’westers were a group of independent fur traders out of Montreal. Many were former coureurs de bois, unemployed after the seven-year war between the French and British, others were young men who came out from Scotland to join the fur trade. These men saw an opportunity to prosper and came together with a common interest to optimise the yet unsettled Pacific Northwest.

One of their earliest outposts was just upstream of the Pacific Ocean, in the location of Astoria, Washington, today, adjacent to and driven into the shores of the south bank of the Columbia River.

As time past, the Hudson’s Bay Company came to their senses and followed suit, establishing Fort Vancouver on the north bank of the Columbia some hundred miles upstream of the Pacific. This became the terminus for all trade that transpired west of the Rockies and from there, furs, salted venison and salmon and at times, gold, was shipped off to Britain or the Orient if deemed beneficial.

Fearing the ongoing struggle between the British and the Americans to call the region their own, the HBC took aggressive measures for all lands north of the Columbia River and wasted little time in establishing trading posts throughout what we now recognize as British Columbia and the Puget Sound.

Fort Nisqually was located deep in the San Juan Islands, Fort Langley, just upstream of the mouth of the mighty Fraser River, further upstream followed by Fort George, Fort Simpson, and numerous others.

By 1820 the officials of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Trading Company, came to the grim reality that all their profits and energies were being consumed fighting the other. The war was literally spiraling both companies into financial ruin, so in 1821 the HBC presented an offer to the men of the North West Trading Company at which time the two companies merged into the present-day HBC.

For the HBC, they had finally attained the monopoly they had long sought, that is until 1849.