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.

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