WHOLESALE TRADE ON THE
CANADIAN PLAINS IN THE LATE
NINETEENTH CENTURY:
WINNIPEG AND ITS
COMPETITION

Donald Kerr

As settlement slowly spread across the Canadian plains after Confederation, and an agrarian economy gradually emerged and took shape, towns with facilities for collecting grain and selling provisions grew up. From the outset the trade was organized by a group of merchant wholesalers in Winnipeg whose hegemony over the West was not seriously challenged until the 1880's, when competition from eastern Canadian traders began. This chapter will examine the growth of wholesaling in Winnipeg, 1 and especially the attitudes and policies of entrepreneurs who controlled it and the relationship to strategies employed by eastern Canadians to tap the western market. The theme is an important one in Canadian studies: the struggle among commercial interests for control of resource frontiers. 2 Although what follows is essentially a descriptive overview of the wholesale trade, 3 an attempt has been made to suggest interpretations which may have relevance to an understanding of developing East-West relationships and differential urban growth in the late nineteenth century.


I

The origins of a trading community in the Red River Valley, independent of and in competition with the Hudson's Bay Company, may be traced back to the early 1840's, when James Sinclair, Andrew McDermott, and a few others began buying furs and buffalo robes from Indians and Metis. 4 Known as "free traders",

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