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conscientiously entertained, by the Company's officers, that the unsettled part of British America is unfitted for civilised habitation, is, in part at least, erroneous; and the information of which we are now put in possession goes a long way towards enabling us to determine the question for ourselves, so far as regards the country lying immediately to the north of the British frontier. How to legislate for this district is a subject of immediate and practical importance; but its discussion will be found to involve so many collateral questions, that we shall make no apology for prefacing our remarks by a sketch of the past history and present condition of the whole territory.
What may be termed the modern history of the Hudson's Bay Company begins with the cession of Canada to Great Britain in 1763. The fur-trade had long been carried on with great vigour and enterprise by the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France,” founded by Cardinal Richelieu, at Quebec, in 1627. Its agents had established posts on the Lake of the Woods and Lake Winipeg, and even reached the upper waters of the Saskatchewan. In 1763 the French Company was broken up, and the Canadian fur-trade for a time suspended; but in the course of a few years single traders made their way beyond Lake Superior, revisited by degrees the deserted French posts, and soon began to open a market with the Indians north of the Saskatchewan. With the French merchants the Hudson's Bay Company had never come into direct collision. They collected their furs in different districts, and disposed of them in different markets. But the competition of British subjects was another matter, and the prospect of it imparted an unwonted vigour to the English Company's proceedings. In 1774 their first settlement in the interior was founded by Samuel Hearne, who had already explored the continent westwards as far as Lake Athabasca and northwards to the Coppermine River ; and the Cana. dian merchants, finding themselves unable to compete with one another and a third party at the same time, united, in 1783, under the title of the North-west Company of Montreal.” The new association at once took possession of all the French and Canadian stations; the discoveries of Sir Alexander Mackenzie opened to them the Mackenzie and Peace Rivers; and the purchase of the interest of the Pacific Fur Company, founded by Jacob Astor, enabled them to extend their operations completely across the continent.
A fierce and prolonged struggle ensued. Wherever the North-west Company planted its foot, the Hudson's Bay Company followed. Their posts stood side by side on every river and lake from Canada to the Rocky Mountains and the Arctic Circle. The weapons of the contest were brandy and intimida
tion;-brandy, because there was nothing for which the Indians would sell their furs so freely, and intimidation, because, if left to themselves, they would sell as readily to one company as to the other. In the more remote districts, indeed, where society was too precious to be sacrificed to business, the rival settlements kept up friendly relations, though even here the interchange of hospitalities would sometimes be made to serve a purpose; and at a dance or a drinking-bout a few of the hosts would slip away unnoticed, and ride for miles to intercept the Indians, of whose approach they had been warned; or else they would spill the contents of their glasses to get the start of their intoxicated guests at the next day's barter. But in the south, where the numbers of each party were greater, and the Indians in their pay belonged to warlike and often mutually hostile tribes, the contest was far more violent, and during the period from 1812 to 1816 it assumed all the characteristics of an unscrupulous and sanguinary civil war. The imminent bankruptcy of both the combatants at length forced them to consider whether it would not be better to share the monopoly between them than to prolong so disastrous and uncertain a struggle; and by the efforts of Mr. Ellice, then the guiding spirit of the Canadian as he has since been of the English company, a union was effected. The Hudson's Bay Company brought into the common stock its ancient foundation, its home influence, and its chartered rights; the North-west Company contributed a more extensive trade, a better organised machinery, and a practical acquaintance with regions into which their rivals had scarcely penetrated.
But though the existing strife was thus put an end to, the union of the Companies supplied no guarantee against the renewal of competition outside the territories comprised in the charter of Charles II. Mr. Ellice therefore induced the English Government to obtain an Act of Parliament empowering the Crown to confer the “exclusive privilege of trade with the Indians” in all the unsettled parts of British America beyond the limits of Rupert's Land, for any period not exceeding twenty. one years. The power thus created was immediately exercised in favour of Mr. Ellice's clients. From that time till the year 1857 the whole continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific was held by the Hudson's Bay Company under two different titles. In Rupert's Land, which is deemed to include the entire basin of Hudson's Bay, they claimed, by virtue of the charter of 1670, to be the owners of the soil itself; in the “ Indian territory," which comprised all the rest of the continent, the ownership of the soil remained in the Crown, but the Company were the actual possessors as the grantees of the license of exclusive trade. The territory on the further side of the Rocky Mountains was withdrawn from their jurisdiction on the erection of British Columbia into a Crown colony; in the rest of the Indian territory their authority expired, with their license, in 1859. The Government determined not to renew the grant, and an Act of Parliament was accordingly passed to make “ further provi. sion for the regulation of the trade with the Indians, and for the administration of justice, in the north-western territories of America.” As yet, however, no change has been effected in the interior. The magistrates appointed under the Act of 1859 are necessarily the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the justice they administer is the same which they have been accustomed to dispense in their former capacity.
The Hudson's Bay Company are therefore still the virtual masters of the Indian territory east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as the “ absolute lords and proprietors” of Rupert's Land. Excluding from our view the inhospitable peninsula of Labrador, the entire territory is broadly marked out into three divisions. From the base of the Rocky Mountains to the shores of Lake Winipeg stretch the great prairies. They narrow to the northwards, and come to an end altogether on the Peace River, in latitude 56o. Beyond the prairies, crossing the continent diagonally from the coast of Hudson's Bay and the frontier of Canada on the south-east, to the valley of the Mackenzie and the Arctic Circle on the north-west, lie the “ Thickwoods.” All beyond is known as the “ barren grounds." Here the soil is only able to support a useless vegetation, which covers the ground with a carpet of moss and lichens, and in the short arctic summer makes the moister hill-sides gay with saxifrage and primroses, and adorns the sea-shore with vetches and wormwood. In the forests the most generally distributed tree is the white spruce. South of the Saskatchewan are found the oak, the elm, the ash, and the maple; north of it occur the black spruce, the Banksian pine, the poplar, the willow, and the aspen. The prairies are characterised in parts by an almost tropical luxuriance of summer herbage. The grass often reaches to the traveller's knee, while it is sometimes almost hidden by roses, hyacinths, or tiger-lilies. Each district has its peculiar fauna. Over the prairie roam the buffalo, the antelope, the prairie-wolf, the gray fox, and towards the mountains the grisly bear; in the Thickwoods are found the black bear, the red, the black, and the silver fox, the beaver, the racoon, the various species of marten, in fact nearly all the fur-bearing animals. The barren ground supports the musk-ox, the rein-deer, the brown and the polar bear, and the arctic fox.
The population of the interior consists of the officers and servants of the Company, of the half-breeds, and of the native
tribes. The first of these classes is mostly recruited from the Highlands of Scotland and the Orkney Isles. The servants are either “labourers,” or “interpreters,” or “postmasters," who are the non-commissioned officers of the service, promoted from the ranks for good conduct, and often intrusted with the charge of outposts. The officers begin as “apprentice-clerks," from whence they rise, after five years' service, to be “clerks.” A clerk serves from thirteen to twenty years, and is then promoted, first to the rank of Chief Trader, and afterwards to that of Chief Factor. The present staff is composed of sixteen chief factors, twenty-nine chief traders, five surgeons, eighty-seven clerks, sixty-seven postmasters, and twelve hundred permanent servants. This little band of Europeans is scattered over the territory at intervals often of hundreds of miles. The “ forts," or “factories,” differ, of course, in size and strength according to their position, and the importance of the trade of which they are the centre; but in their general aspect and arrangement they closely resemble one another. They are clusters of log houses, surrounded with a wooden stockade, strengthened with bastions and battlemented gateways, and sometimes gaudily painted, to suit the taste of Indian visitors. Inside the stockade are the houses for the officers and servants, the workshop, the stores for furs and provisions, clothing, and ammunition. The depôt of the Northern Department is at Fort York. Here the supplies from England are landed, and hither are brought the furs from the inland posts, to be shipped for England in the returning vessels. It is the residence of a chief factor, with four or five clerks, and from thirty to forty servants. From this maximum of population there is every gradation, down to outposts where a single white man is in charge, with one or two half-breed servants under him.
The manner of life at the forts along the coast has not much to recommend it. In the summer, indeed, especially at Fort York and at Norway House, the great inland rendezvous of the traders, there is the excitement of a constant succession of brigades of canoes coming and going, some bringing furs to the depôt from the interior, others laden with return cargoes of supplies. But throughout the long winter, when the cold is so severe that a red-hot stove may be seen at one part of a room and a pitcher of solid ice at another, there is little inducement to travel beyond the limits of the stockade. The country round is marshy, covered with long lank grass, and thickly set with willows. At Fort York they grow a few potatoes, which, in favourable seasons, attain the size of walnuts. Wild fruits there are in plenty ; but the currants are bitter and the gooseberries small. With more substantial fare they are better provided. In the autumn the marshes are filled with wild-fowl, and the woods with gray grouse and wood-partridges; and on the success of the annual “ goose hunt” depends in a great measure the state of the larder for the next winter. On Christmas Day there is always a ball, at which the servants in their blue capotes, the Indians in their blankets, and the women in printed calicoes with balloon-sleeves and scanty skirts, dance Scotch reels from early in the afternoon until past midnight. There is more variety in the life at the posts on the great prairies. The climate is more genial, and the soil more productive; so that corn and vegetables enough for the use of the garrison can be raised in the field and garden attached to the forts. At Edmonton there is also an excellent dairy. Even in the winter there is no lack of employment; boats have to be built and repaired, and fire-wood to be brought home and cut up. The women busy themselves in making clothes and pemmican, while the long winter evenings are spent by all alike in gossip and smoking round huge wood-fires, or in dancing to the fiddle of some Canadian voyageur. Buffalo-hunting goes on during the greater part of the year; and at Edmonton there is a good level race-course, and horse-racing forms one of the chief summer amusements of the residents.
The long summer journeys—from the coast to the Red River or the Rocky Mountains, or from the Red River to Lake Alhabasca and the Mackenzie River-are all made by water. The cargo, whether of furs or stores, is packed, for the convenience of carriage over the numerous portages, in pieces of 90 lbs.; and a canoe from 25 to 36 feet long, and light enough to be carried by two men, will take twenty-five of these, besides a steersman and seven oarsmen, and a month's provisions. For land travelling and for hunting large numbers of horses are kept, which are left, even in winter, to graze round the forts, in herds often of seven or eight hundred, and to forage for themselves. In winter journeys dogs take the place of horses. They also are let shift for themselves outside the paling, each dog having a small log of wood tied to his leg, so that the squaws can catch them without difficulty when wanted for harness. They are then decked out with fringed and embroidered saddle-cloths, feathers, and bells; and, thus accoutred, three of them will draw a load of 300 lbs. a hundred miles in a day.
In so cold a climate the consumption of food is necessarily very great. A century ago, before the experience of arctic navigation had made this well understood, we meet with complaints that only three pounds of venison, or three partridges, were served out to each man, and that three geese were thought a meal for four persons. Now, however, the daily allowance is