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North West Company
More than a century after the Hudson's Bay Company was founded, another great Canadian fur-trading company was born.
The North West Company took its trade to the Indians by establishing a network of inland trading posts in the western territory.   (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The North West Company took its trade to the Indians by establishing a network of inland trading posts in the western territory. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Competition between the two powerhouses would help open up the west.

The groundwork was laid for the creation of the North West Company by the defeat of New France in 1759. The French lost the northern half of the continent, along with their part of the fur trade. This vacuum was filled by English pedlars (as the HBC dismissively called them) from Quebec who went west to trade, either individually or in small groups.

The Indians had been allies of the French and they didn't embrace the English traders, who didn't understand the trading protocol, the exchange of gifts, the subtle responsibilities that came with commerce. But the pedlars were able to use the trading network the French had abandoned, and eventually they learned and adapted.
Most voyageurs were strong, young French Canadians who were no taller than 5'6", to leave room in their canoes for cargo. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Most voyageurs were strong, young French Canadians who were no taller than 5'6", to leave room in their canoes for cargo. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Trading came with great risks and attracted a rough crowd; Peter Pond, one of the early traders, was accused of killing two fellow traders.

The traders began to winter with the natives and eventually a rapport was established. The English pedlars were mostly enterprising Scots and adventurers from the Thirteen Colonies. By the 1760's the HBC noticed a drastic decline in both the quality and number of furs coming to their posts. The pedlars were exploring rich new fur territories while the HBC was trapping the nearly exhausted territories near Hudson Bay.

The pedlars cut into HBC profits, but they also undercut each another in desperate, sometimes violent competition. They realized finally that it would make more sense to ally than continue this destructive competition.
Benjamin Frobisher, who along with his brother Joseph, had a small fur trading company, learned "by experience that separate interests were the bane of the trade, we lost no time to form... a company."

In 1774 the North West Company was born, made up of Montreal businessmen Simon McTavish, Isaac Todd, the Frobishers and James McGill. The North West Company trade continued north as far as Lake Athabasca and west to the Peace River Country.

McGillivray, McTavish, Mackenzie, Frobisher. These men were the adventurers - travelling the fur trade routes themselves from Montreal - meeting with the wintering partners and clerks who manned the trading posts deep into the north west. They met at the gateway between the east and the west - Grand Portage.
Every year the North West Company partners hosted a rendezvous at Grand Portage before their annual meeting. A highland dance where everyone celebrated the year's work.

The NWC partners, veterans of trading, understood the business at its most essential level. On the other hand, the Hudson's Bay Company was run by London businessmen who were unfamiliar with the country and its customs and still ran their business with the blithe confidence of a monopoly. The key advantage for the North Westers was that they took their trade to the Indians who no longer had to make the trek to Hudson Bay with their furs. The Nor'Westers weren't bound by rules and conventions established in England; they fraternized freely with the Indians, and cemented their commercial ties through strategic marriages.
They were also prepared to use threats and intimidation when it served their purpose.

The tactics reaped rewards. In one year, the North West Company brought in 160,000 beaver pelts, 17,000 muskrat, 5,500 fox, and 2,100 bear skins, nearly four times what their rival had done. The company reported earnings of 3,000 pounds per share, making the partners very wealthy. Within 25 years of its foundation, the NWC would capture 78 per cent of the Canadian fur trade.

These Montreal merchants and backwoods traders would spoil the Hudson's Bay Company's century-old monopoly.

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