Case 4 North West Company

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'...how very different the liberal and public spirit of this North West Company of Merchants of Canada; from the mean selfish policy of the Hudson’s Bay Company styled Honorable; and whom, at little expense, might have had the northern part of this Continent surveyed to the Pacific Ocean, and greatly extended their Trading Posts; whatever they have done, the British Government has obliged them to do' (David Thompson)

mackenzie letter Mackenzie & Co. Letter , Dated 1818, concerning Furs

A letter to the firm of Sir Alexander Mackenzie & Co., one of the co-partners in the North West Company, from its British agents, Inglis Ellice & Company, detailing amounts received on the sale of beaver skins in 1814. Mackenzie & Co. had originally formed part of the X Y Company, in competition with the North West Company. A merger allowed the now stronger North West Company to expand into the territory west of the Rocky Mountains.

voyageur1 Notarial Voyageur Contracts. Montreal: 1794-1801.

The North West Company was not one single firm, but a set of co-proprietors, and voyageur contracts were usually made in the name of the various companies forming part of the whole. Once hired by the Company, voyageurs signed engagés before notaries public in Montreal. The standardized form, originally drawn up in manuscript, was later issued as a printed form, with blank spaces left for the name of the voyageur (who usually signed with his mark), the destination of the trip, the length of time it would take, and the wages to be paid. Hyvernants (those wintering over) were fewer in number, and better paid than the summer men, who worked the canoes on return trips to Montreal. Men were hired for a specific position in the canoe—avant or devant, milieu, and gouvernail (steersman), and were paid in money, blankets, tobacco and clothing.

Mackenzie map Mackenzie, Alexander, Sir, 1764-1820. Voyages From Montreal on the River St. Laurence, Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans, in the Years 1789 and 1793. London: Printed for T. Cadell, J. and W. Davies, Strand; Cobbett and Morgan, Pall-Mall; and W. Creech, at Edinburgh by R. Noble, 1801.

A highly successful explorer, Alexander Mackenzie had joined a fur trade partnership in Montreal which later formed part of the North West Company in 1779, impressing the company so well he was sent into the west. He was stationed at Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan in 1785, and joining Peter Pond at the Athabasca River in 1787, set out to explore the large river flowing out of Great Slave Lake which Pond believed led westward to the Pacific. This led to an account of his travels entitled 'Journal of a Voyage performed by order of the N.W. Company, in a Bark Canoe in search of a Passage by Water through the N.W. Continent of America from Athabasca to the Pacific Ocean in Summer 1789'. Setting out in June 1789 he and his party travelled, in a remarkable 14 days, the full length (1075 miles) of what was to be named the Mackenzie, discovering that the river ran northward into the Northern ocean.

After a visit to London where he obtained surveying equipment and instruction on its use, he set out westward, on a second expedition, following the Peace River, attempting to find another river across the divide leading to the Pacific. Following the advice of native tribes he encountered he travelled eventually down the Bella Coola River to the ocean, arriving there a few short weeks after Vancouver’s visit. This first overland journey across North America by a European is commemorated in his famous inscription on a rock 'Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.' He had travelled more than 2300 miles in three months. His journals were edited for publication by William Combe in London, accompanied by this map.

Thompson wrote of meeting McKenzie near present-day Sault Ste-Marie: 'Here I had the pleasure of meeting Sir Alexander McKenzie the celebrated traveller who was the first to follow down the great stream of water flowing northward from the Slave Lake into the Arctic Sea, and which great River bears his name, and made well known to the public by the journey of Sir John Franklin. Upon my report to him of the surveys I had made and the number of astronomical Observations for Latitude, Longitude and Variation of the Compass, he was pleased to say I had performed more in ten months than he expected could be done in two years.'

Wilcocke map Wilcocke, Samuel. Notice respecting the boundary between His Majesty’s Possessions in North America and the United States … London: Printed by B. McMillan, 1817.

The map inserted in the front of Wilcocke’s text is a revised state of the plate Arrowsmith had used for the first edition of Mackenzie’s Voyages. It shows the principal trading stations of the North West Company.

Harmon map Harmon, Daniel Williams. A Journal of Voyages and Travels in the Interiour of North America: Between the 47th and 58th Degrees of North Latitude, Extending From Montreal Nearly to the Pacific Ocean, a Distance of About 5,000 Miles, Including an Account of the Principal Occurrences During a Residence of Nineteen Years in Different Parts of the Country. Andover [ Mass.]: Printed by Flagg and Gould, 1820.

Born in Vermont, Daniel Harmon moved to Montreal, and at the age of twenty-one became a clerk in the North West Company. He left for the northwest in 1800 and spent the next nineteen years in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. His diary ‘one of the most famous journals of the Canadian fur trade’, according to W. Kaye Lamb, is a personal account, not meant for official purposes, of his daily life, covering the years 1800 to 1819. Harmon describes his lengthy travels, trade and relations with the native tribes and his many encounters with other fur traders. He met David Thompson at least twice. The text was left with the Reverend Daniel Haskel of Burlington, Vermont, who edited it for publication. The original diary is now lost but a manuscript copy was prepared in 1816 and that has been transcribed for publication by W. Kaye Lamb as Sixteen Years in the Indian Country: the Journal of Daniel Williams Harmon, 1800-1816 ( Toronto, 1957). Comparison of the two texts shows that Mr. Haskel was very faithful to the original journal.

According to the editor, the map is based on that of McKenzie, corrected and brought up to date and is ‘presumed now to be the most correct map of the interiour of North America, which has ever been published.’