Canada

PrintPrintEmailEmail
THE EMPIRE OF THE FUR

In the early development of the Canadian Northwest, fur was everything. Until the end of the American Revolution the vast primeval forests were the domain of the Indians and of “The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay”—the famed Hudson’s Bay Company—which got its original charter from Charles II in 1670. Meanwhile the thriving fur traders of Montreal exploited the region of the Great Lakes, the Ohio, and the upper Mississippi; but with American independence these mid-continental regions were won by the new republic. In 1787 the North West Company was founded in Montreal, and its name indicated the new direction of its interest. Probing into the unknown wilderness west of the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay, its agents became discoverers whose names will never die in the history of western exploration: Alexander Mackenzie (who reached both the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific); Simon Fraser (who followed the river that would bear his name along the future route of the Canadian transcontinental railroads); David Thompson (who opened up the great Columbia water system in what is now the American Northwest). The audacious expeditions of these leaders and the voyageurs who paddled and portaged their great canoes resulted in formidable competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and lor over thirty years a titanic struggle went on for the furry wealth of the great Canadian West. But there was more at stake than fur. Lord Selkirk, of Scotland, dreamed of a settlement for Scottish emigrants in the fertile plains of the Red River area (near present-day Winnipeg), and in 1811–12, having bought a controlling interest in the Hudson’s Bay Company, he founded the Red River colony. Seeing this as a challenge, the North West Company harassed the new settlement mercilessly, leading Selkirk to import Swiss ex-soldiers to defend his colonists. Fights and law suits weakened both companies, but in 1821 it all ended with a merger: the Nor’Wcsters were absorbed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Selkirk’s community of settlers survived and grew, and their descendants were among the first citizens of Manitoba.

ONE COUNTRY—TWO SOLITUDES

A pervasive theme in Hugh MacLennan’s novel, Two Solitudes , is the uneasy coexistence of English-speaking and French-speaking Canada throughout the country’s history. The difference in language is of course only a symbolic index of two quite different cultures that nevertheless were the embryo of a single nationality. From the great wave of British immigration between 1815 and 1850, Lower Canada (or Quebec) was very largely exempted, and New World French influences in architecture, dress, religion, and public cereinonv grew ever stronger there. Unlike the United States, where the fact of revolution and independence fostered a native tradition different from and often antagonistic toward British ways, Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces became—as nearly as their inhabitants could make them so—replicas of the Old Country. Usually the leaders in this tendency were United Empire Loyalists, whose ancestors had fled the United States after the Revolution. To French Canadians (who call themselves simply Canadiens ), their English-speaking countrymen have always been known as les Anglais .