The Hudson's Bay Company! What a record this name represents of British pluck and daring, of patient industry and hardy endurance, of wild adventure among savage Indian tribes, and of exposure to danger by mountain, precipice, and seething torrent and wintry plain!
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In two full centuries the Hudson's Bay Company, under its original Charter, undertook financial enterprises of the greatest magnitude, promoted exploration and discovery, governed a vast domain in the northern part of the American Continent, and preserved to the British Empire the wide territory handed over to Canada in 1870. For nearly a generation since that time the veteran Company has carried on successful trade in competition with many rivals, and has shown the vigour of youth.
The present History includes not only the record of the remarkable exploits of this well-known Company, but also the accounts of the daring French soldiers and explorers who disputed the claim of the Company in the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth century actually surpassed the English adventurers in penetrating the vast interior of Rupert's Land.
Special attention is given in this work to the picturesque history of what was the greatest rival of the Hudson's Bay Company, viz. the North-West Fur Company of Montreal, as well as to the extraordinary spirit of the X Y Company and the Astor Fur Company of New York.
A leading feature of this book is the adequate treatment for the first time of the history of the well-nigh eighty years just closing, from the union of all the fur traders of British North America under the name of the Hudson's Bay Company. This period, beginning with the career of the Emperor-Governor. Sir George Simpson (1821), and covering the life, adventure, conflicts, trade, and development of the vast region stretching from Labrador to Vancouver Island, and north to the Mackenzie River and the Yukon, down to the present year, is the most important part of the Company's history.
For the task thus undertaken the author is well fitted. He has had special opportunities for becoming acquainted with the history, position, and inner life of the Hudson's Bay Company. He has lived for nearly thirty years in Winnipeg, for the whole of that time in sight of Fort Garry, the fur traders' capital, or what remains of it; he has visited many of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts from Fort William to Victoria, in the Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods region, in Manitoba, Assiniboia, Alberta, and British Columbia; in those districts he has run the rapids, crossed the portages, surveyed the ruins of old forts, and fixed the localities of long-forgotten posts; he is acquainted with a large number of the officers of the Company, has enjoyed their hospitality, read their journals, and listened with interest to their tales of adventure in many out-of-the-way posts; he is a lover of the romance, and story, and tradition of the fur traders' past.
The writer has had full means of examining documents, letters, journals, business records, heirlooms, and archives of the fur traders both in Great Britain and Canada. He returns thanks to the custodians of many valuable originals, which he has used, to the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1881, Right Hon. G. J. Goschen, who granted him the privilege of consulting all Hudson's Bay Company records up to the date of 1821, and he desires to still more warmly [Pg vii]acknowledge the permission given him by the distinguished patron of literature and education, the present Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, to read any documents of public importance in the Hudson's Bay House in London. This unusual opportunity granted the author was largely used by him in 1896 and again in 1899.
Taking the advice of his publishers, the author, instead of publishing several volumes of annals of the Company, has condensed the important features of the history into one fair-sized volume, but has given in an Appendix references and authorities which may afford the reader, who desires more detailed information on special periods, the sources of knowledge for fuller research.