The Canadian Fur Trade and the Exploration of Western North America, 1797-1851
JOHN L. ALLEN
Westward and northward exploration in what is now Canada was inextricably linked with the twin desiderata of a profitable fur trade and an easy passage through North America to the Pacific and thus to the rich trade of the Orient. Voyaging into the Hudson Bay region, British explorers failed to locate the easy passage to the South Sea but did discover an abundant fur resource. Similarly, the French, from their colonial base of New France in the St. Lawrence Valley, searched westward for a passage to China and discovered instead a potential fur trade that would dominate the economy of their North American colony.
Just before the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company by the British in 1670, the geographical information obtained by explorers searching for the Pacific was joined with economic data on the fur trade. "Two Frenchmen [ Pierre Radisson and Sieur de Groseilliers ] who have lived long in Canada & have been up in ye great lakes that lye in the midst of that part of America" informed English merchants that they had discovered a plentiful fur resource in the Great Lakes region; they added, "There is great hope of finding some passage through those Lakes into the South Sea."1 On the strength of this information, the "Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay" was founded; for more than a century "the Company" dominated exploration and economic utilization of the drainage basin of Hudson Bay.2 At the same time that the company was expanding west and northwest from posts at the mouths of the major rivers flowing into Hudson Bay, the French in the St. Lawrence Valley explored westward from Montreal through the Great Lakes to Lake Winnipeg and the upper Missouri and beyond. Although France lost its colonial possessions in North America in 1763 after the French and Indian Wars, this Montreal-based fur trade continued. Thus two commercial en-