In 1779 a new temporary organization took the name. Its 16 shares were held by 9 partnerships including business leaders Simon MCTAVISH, Isaac Todd and James MCGILL, and several experienced winterers in the Indian country. A 1780 reorganization joined McTavish, the Frobisher brothers, the McGills and the Ellices, with Peter POND as their agent in the Athabasca country.
Pond's inland encounter with opposition trader Jean-Étienne Waddens and the latter's murder in Mar 1782, along with increased American and HBC competition, clarified the need for a more unified, formal and permanent organization. In the winter of 1783-84, the NWC therefore became an enduring multiple partnership controlled by the Frobishers and Simon McTavish, with annual trade valued at about £100 000.
A powerful rival remained, however. Gregory, McLeod and Co backed John Ross and other traders not included in the NWC, and intense rivalry ensued 1784-87. Pond was again linked with murder - that of Ross in Athabasca. Coalition was again the answer, and in mid-1787 the NOR'WESTERS and Gregory, McLeod amalgamated. Dominated by the Montréal firm of McTavish, Frobisher, and Co, dynamic entrepreneurs thus came together - men such as the McGillivrays and, from the ranks of their former rivals, Roderick McKenzie and Alexander MACKENZIE.
While McTavish and Frobisher handled Montréal affairs, Alexander Mackenzie led inland expansion. The Athabasca trade was reorganized with a new base, Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. A far-flung system of canoe brigades, provisioned by PEMMICAN from the plains, furnished transport and brought out up to 20 000 MADE BEAVER annually. It also gave Mackenzie the support needed to explore the Mackenzie River to its mouth in 1789.
During 1790-91, McTavish attempted unsuccessfully to have Britain end the HBC monopoly. Later efforts to lease transit rights from the HBC through its depots on Hudson Bay were rebuffed as well. The only remaining option was to intensify direct rivalry with the "English," who were extending their own network of inland posts. Through the 1790s the Nor'Westers prevailed. Their control of over two-thirds of the Canadian fur trade by 1795 was complemented by Mackenzie's reaching the Pacific overland in July 1793. Potential rivals in Montréal were muted by a 1792 agreement to co-operate.
In 1794 JAY'S TREATY settled the boundary between US and British territory, challenging the Montréalers' access to Detroit, Lake Michigan, the depot of Grand Portage on Lake Superior and the southwest trade beyond. Reorganization in 1795 accommodated Montréal interests who, displaced from the south, sought a place in the northern trade. But NWC winterers, notably Alexander Mackenzie, were aggrieved at their standing in the company. In 1797, Forsyth, Richardson, and Co, which had remained outside the 1795 agreement, began to back the winterers, and in 1798 formed the New North West or XY COMPANY. Joined by Alexander Mackenzie in 1800 (after his NWC commitment ended), the XY Co opposed the NWC from the Great Lakes to Athabasca. Simon McTavish's death, however, enabled reconciliation and the merger of the firms in November 1804.
Meanwhile, NWC-HBC confrontations increased. NWC acquisition of Québec's KING'S POSTS extended the company's activities as far as Lake Mistassini, inland from Hudson Bay. During 1803 to 1806, the Nor'Westers maintained a base on James Bay, and although this enterprise proved unprofitable, rivalry intensified elsewhere. In EXPLORATION, the NWC kept the upper hand, with Duncan McGillivray, David THOMPSON and Simon FRASER crossing the Rocky Mountains and the latter 2 reaching the Pacific.
When Thompson reached the Columbia River mouth in July 1811, he encountered a new post which had been erected by the American John Jacob Astor's PACIFIC FUR COMPANY. Isolated from its source of support by the WAR OF 1812, Astoria was sold to the Nor'Westers in October 1813. It was returned to the Americans by the Treaty of GHENT. Two new NWC western trade districts proved profitable for some years, but hopes to develop a China trade and a liaison with the EAST INDIA CO bore little fruit.
One factor limiting such developments was a deteriorating situation east of the Rockies. The HBC posed trade challenges and, with the earl of SELKIRK, was planning an agricultural colony in an area pivotal to the Nor'Westers' transportation and provisioning networks. NWC attempts to block the plan by buying up HBC stock in London and by discouraging prospective colonists in Scotland failed.
The stage was thus set for a series of bitter and costly clashes at RED RIVER COLONY, FORT WILLIAM and elsewhere. The SEVEN OAKS INCIDENT, 19 June 1816, was the worst event in a conflict neither side could win. From 1815 to 1819, repeated clashes and seizures of men and goods in Athabasca exacerbated bad feeling. In June 1819, 7 NWC partners and numerous men were seized by a HBC force under William Williams, the new governor in chief of RUPERT'S LAND, at the Grand Rapid of the Saskatchewan River. Both the prestige of the Nor'Westers and their business that year were thus impaired, despite successes in impeding the inland activities of HBC officers John Clarke and Colin Robertson.
By 1820, strong forces were building towards a resolution of the conflict. NWC partners, concerned about their future, varied in their support for William McGillivray's aggressive measures against the HBC. Splits between the WINTERING PARTNERS and the Montréal agents deepened. Their partnership agreement would expire in 1821, and clearly its terms would need radical revision. Britain was drawn into the broader NWC-HBC struggle, as each company lobbied for official support. The COLONIAL OFFICE wished the restoration of peace and a settlement of the serious territorial and legal issues which reached beyond the conflict and were aggravated by it.
In 1821 a parliamentary Act granted exclusive trade to the HBC and to William and Simon McGillivray and Edward ELLICE of the NWC, in an effort to placate all parties by devising coalition, not amalgamation. A Deed Poll designated 53 field officers, 32 NWC and 21 HBC, as shareholding chief factors and chief traders, under the charge of HBC governors William Williams and George SIMPSON, the latter a newcomer. The name, charter and privileges of the old HBC provided a foundation for the new firm, while the Nor'Westers' skills and experience contributed a scope and dynamism that served the company well.
Author JENNIFER S.H. BROWN
Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood (1980); M.W. Campbell, The North West Company (1957); E.E. Rich, The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857 (1967); W. Stewart Wallace, ed, Documents Relating to the North West Company (1934).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
In Pursuit of Adventure: The Fur Trade in Canada and the North West Company
An extensive website featuring digitized archival material related to the fur trade and its role in the early exploration, settlement, and economic development of Canada. From the McGill University Digital Collections Program.
Exploration, the Fur Trade and Hudson's Bay Company
This nicely illustrated website chronicles the turbulent early years of Canada’s fledgling fur trade. Features stories about European explorers, Aboriginal communities, the North West Company, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Also includes online maps, teacher materials, and links to primary sources in the Early Canadiana Online database.
Peter Skene Ogden
A biography of Peter Skene Ogden. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Fort William Historical Park
The website for Fort William Historical Park, a major tourist attraction devoted to re-creating the days of the North West Company. Click on "Explore" for an interactive multimedia tour of the historical structures on this site. Click on "Hinge of an Empire" for a preview of a film that depicts the evolution of the fur trade and the roles of the North West Company and Fort William in early Canadian history and development.
Hudson's Bay Company: Heritage
This colourful HBC website documents over 300 years of company history. Features illustrated biographies of prominent personalities, an online art collection, e-books, historical games, timelines, interactive maps, and much more.
Fort St James National Historic Site
This Parks Canada website chronicles the history of the 19th century Hudson’s Bay Company post located on Stuart Lake in British Columbia. Also discusses the relationship between local Carrier communities and European fur traders.
Glossary: North West Company
A glossary of special fur trade terms and indexes to personal names, geographical place names and native tribes. A website from McGill University.
Fur Trade Facts
A glossary of terms commonly used in reference to the history of Canada's fur trade. From the website for Alberta's Heritage Community Foundation.
A biography of fur trader George Keith. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
The Old Post and Village
The website for The Old Post and Village fishing resort, located on remote Lake St. Joseph in northern Ontario. Click on the "About Us" button for links to articles about the fascinating history of the region.
What is a fur trader?
Profiles of some of the hardy and savy personalities that spearheaded the development of the North West Company in early Canadian History. From "In Pursuit of Adventure: The Fur Trade in Canada and the North West Company," a McGill University website.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...