Radisson and des Groseilliers
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Radisson and des Groseilliers

The Hudson's Bay Company played a leading role in the European expansion into the Canadian West.
Pierre-Esprit Radisson was a flamboyant fur trader whose daring idea prompted the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. (As portrayed by Gaetan Dumont in Canada: A People's History)
Pierre-Esprit Radisson was a flamboyant fur trader whose daring idea prompted the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. (As portrayed by Gaetan Dumont in Canada: A People's History)
The British fur trading giant began with a most unlikely pair of French fur traders - Mdard Chouart des Groseilliers and his more flamboyant brother-in-law, Pierre Esprit Radisson.

Radisson was a free spirit who wrote in his journal, "It was my destiny to discover many wild nations, I would not strive against that destiny... For my own part, I will venture, choosing to die like a man than live like a beggar."

Born in Provence, the teenaged Radisson arrived in New France in 1651 when it was a fragile fur-trading colony that was vulnerable to Indian raids. Not long after arriving, Radisson was captured by Iroquois during a raid. He was adopted by a prominent Iroquois family and quickly learned the language and customs and accompanied them on hunting expeditions.

Radisson eventually escaped but was recaptured before he could get back to Trois-Rivires.
His punishment was a slow torture, and he was saved from death only by the intervention of his adoptive Indian family and given the name, Ovinha. When he visited Fort Orange (the site of present day Albany), the governor offered to ransom Radisson, but he declined, surprisingly, instead returning with the Iroquois. His perverse ambivalence led to another escape though, this one successful.

Radisson's brother-in-law, Mdard Chouart des Groseilliers was a fur trader who had journeyed into the western country as far as Lake Huron.

The two men were free spirits with a thirst for adventure.
In 1659, they teamed up to explore beyond the trading territories known to Europeans and seek out new sources of fur.

"We made our proposition to the Governor of Quebec that we were willing to venture our lives for the good of the country and go to the remotest countries with two Hurons." Radisson wrote.

The Governor did not trust Radisson and imposed his own terms; they would take along two government overseers and hand over half of their profits.

"My brother was vexed at such an unreasonable demand to take Inexperted men to their ruine; ... besides, that the governor should compare two of his servants to us... We made the Governor a slight answer and told him for our part we knewed what we were; Discoverers before governors...
the Governor was much displeased at this, and commanded us not to go without his leave," Radisson wrote.

To Radisson such a command had the ring of a dare... in the dead of the night and without the Governor's permission, he and des Groseilliers headed out. Their journey would lay the groundwork for the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company.

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