My Story About Canada

By: Sean Steeves

The Fur Trade


There was a lots of confrontation between the Hudson Bay Company and North West Company over the availability of furs in Canada. The result of this confrontation was the changing of aboriginal peoples lives and the population of fur bearing animals to be hunted near extinction.

A new group of aboriginal peoples had arisen from the French moving into native lands, looking for furs to trade, and ending up taking native wives. Gradually, this mix between the French and Aboriginal came the Metis. In the early 1800`s, this joining of Aboriginal and European was important because it introduced trading to them, and the Europeans noticed that the Aboriginals had unique skills that could benefit themselves. They would hunt animals on their own land and usually trade it to people whom they had agreements with. Soon, the Native Peoples had become dependant on trading posts for firearms, ammunition and European food. Because they devoted so much time to the Fur Trade, they didn't have time to hunt for their own food as they had in the past. Now, they no longer had an economy on shared food, it turned into an economy based on individual profits from furs.

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Conservation was abandoned, Natives used to hunt only what they needed, now they hunted as much as they could because that meant more money. Eventually, this led to the decimation of the beaver population, because they were one of the most desirably furs, and almost pushed them to extinction. Hunting without conservation also meant that the supply of furs from around the Great Lakes and other regions had been exhaust. Although, the Natives were not the only ones of course. The HBC had exclusive trading rights in all lands drained by rivers flowing into the Hudson Bay. This area, at the time, had been called Rupert's land. They only added to the depletion of furs all around the Hudson Bay. Europeans were setting up new trading posts all throughout Rupert's land trying to expand their coverage which only changed the land further.
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North West from 1800-1860

Changing Life

In the early 1800`s, the competition between the HBC and NWC became very intense. Fur trader spread out all across the Rocky Mountains and deeper into the North. They were both trying to win the war of the fur trade, get more furs than the other guy, that's all that mattered at the time. By 1820, both the HBC and NWC were nearly bankrupt. They had nearly depleted their source of furs and did not have the rights to more land. Eventually, in trying to gain more land, traders began marrying the daughters of local first nations (These practices were encouraged and accepted). These marriages confirmed loyalty and economic ties between the traders and the First Nations with whom they worked. First Nations women became involved with the fur trade because they offered valuable skills and knowledge that became vital to the traders. But this had a downside, the Native women would receive a higher standard of living, although, most of the time they had to be away from their families.

By 1810, those of European and First Nations were calling themselves Metis (The French word for "Mixed") By 1810, a large number of Metis had settled in the Red River Valley. Here they developed a way of life that was a unique combination of First Nations and European traditions. They established farms along both banks along the sides of the rivers. The Metis also hunted Bison and by 1820, the bison hunt had become a central part of the Metis life. Out of these bison, the Metis made pemmican and robes which they would sell to the NWC. This was very important because soon the Metis way of life would become very dependant on the pemmican trade. Pemmican was high in calories and protein, it was also portable and could be stored in leather bags for years, much like protein bars today. These hunts were very important because it included the entire community working together to hunt them. Woman and children drove Red river carts, pulled by either horses or oxen, and they were used to transport meat. Men rode buffalo runners, which were horses with high speed and agility specially trained for the hunt.

In about 1821, the British feared that they would lose all of the land in the North West. So, the British Government forced the NWC and HBC to merge companies. This new company, that kept the HBC name, gained over 7 million square kilometres of land of which is now Canada

The Selkirk Settlement

Colonists moving to the Red River Valley

The Selkirk Settlement was originally a colonization project set up in 1811 by Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk and a Liberal Democrat, on 300 000 square kilometres of land. This land was granted to him by the HBC. When Europeans came, in 1812, they arrived where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet. European tenant farmers had a choice. They could either migrate to cities like Glasgow and become factory workers, or they could emigrate to British North America and become farmers. Lord Selkirk was the one that helped bring these people wanting to emigrate to British North America by paying for their travels. He had learned that soil in the Red River Valley was very fertile. With this, he knew that he could help both the NWC and the tenant farmers by creating a farming colony, The Selkirk Settlement in Red River Valley.

Around October, 1812, more than 100 men, women, and children had arrived. They seemed to be doing very well, with the exception of crops. They had already failed once and in fear of them failing again, Miles Macdonnel issued the Pemmican Proclamation in January 1814, effectively banning the sale and export of pemmican from the Red River Valley for 1 year. This was meant to protect the colonists from starvation, but it was a blow to the Metis of the area, who made a living from pemmican trade. This lead to a very important battle between the Metis with the NWC, and the people living in the Selkirk Settlement. This was called the battle of Seven Oaks. The Metis eventually won, killing Robert Semple, a new governor for the colony, and 20 of his men. The result of this battle, was Selkirk negotiating a treaty with the First Nations in 1817, and them being able to live in peace.