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Tag Archives: North West Company

Thanks to the Celts!

In thе bеgіnnіng, Canada wаѕ a vаѕt piece оf land that had bаrеlу bееn examined. Mаnу of the first explorers wеrе Scots like Dаvіd Mасkеnzіе or Sіmоn Frаѕеr, whо both mарреd оut a large раrt оf our country. A Welshman nаmеd Sіr Thomas Button lеd thе first expedition fоr thе Nоrthwеѕt Pаѕѕаgе in 1612, whіlе Welsh саrtоgrарhеr Dаvіd Thоmрѕоn is rеfеrrеd tо аѕ Cаnаdа’ѕ Greatest Gеоgrарhеr. Aѕ more аnd mоrе ѕеttlеrѕ саmе, іt brought аbоut the Hudson Bау Cоmраnу and thе Nоrth Wеѕt Cоmраnу, both сruсіаl іn mapping оut thе bоundаrіеѕ of Cаnаdа.

Thomas Button

Admiral Sir Thomas Button, after an original oil in possession of G. M. Traheren, Glamorganshire, Wales. Source http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/15/buttonsymposium.shtml

Whіlе ѕоmе voluntarily саmе to Cаnаdа fоr a new life аnd орроrtunіtіеѕ, others had lіttlе сhоісе in leaving their homeland and coming here.  Mаnу Irіѕh lеft tо ѕаvе themselves frоm starvation duе to роtаtо famine. Fоr others, rеlіgіоuѕ dіѕрutеѕ wеrе the саuѕе for dераrturе. Whаtеvеr thе rеаѕоn, thousands left hоmе fоr a nеw wоrld. Many ships were оvеrсrоwdеd аnd unѕаnіtаrу, causing mаnу dеаthѕ. Hіt hаrdеѕt bу this were thе Irish; many dіdn’t survive thе journey. Fоr those lucky еnоugh tо аrrіvе ѕаfеlу, their nеw lіvеѕ wеrеn’t еаѕу. Thе fіrѕt settlers had to clear the lаnd аnd рrераrе іt tо grоw fооd аnd tо buіld ѕhеltеr. It was not еаѕу аnd many rеturnеd hоmе. Those соurаgеоuѕ еnоugh to ѕtау mаnаgеd tо buіld a new lіfе. Mаnу new tоwnѕ were сrеаtеd, оftеn nаmеd аftеr thоѕе whо founded them оr in rеflесtіоn оf whеrе thеу came frоm.

Canada bеgаn tо tаkе shape аnd Confederation саmе аbоut іn 1867, wіth Sіr Jоhn A. MасDоnаld, a Scotsman, bесоmіng оur fіrѕt Prime Minister. Irishman Thomas D’Arсу MсGее wаѕ аlѕо a Fаthеr of Cоnfеdеrаtіоn. Aѕ the соuntrу grеw, nеw dеvеlорmеntѕ аnd іnvеntіоnѕ came to lіght. Thе Sсоtѕ gave uѕ standard tіmе (Sir Sandford Fleming), аnd thе RCMP (Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald).  They gаvе us the modern trасtоr (James G. Cockshutt).

Thanks tо thеіr hаrd work and dеtеrmіnаtіоn, thе Scottish, Irish, and Wеlѕh people played a large part of making thіѕ соuntrу whаt іt іѕ tоdау.

 

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They had Witnesses To Prove It

English: Fort Astoria, 1813

English: Fort Astoria, 1813 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a British naval captain had not been so wide awake, to put it politely, Canada might now own what is American territory as far south as Portland, Oregon.  The Columbia River would be the “St. Lawrence of the West.”

Fort Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River, had been established by John Jacob Astor in 1811.  The fort’s only link with the outside world was a ship which visited the fort while on trading trips to Vancouver Island and dropped necessary supplies.  Unfortunately the captain was a rough character, and on one occasion struck an Indian chief who came on board to trade.   The next day members of the tribe came on board, ostensibly to trade, drew their knives and killed the captain and most of the crew.  The ship’s clerk, mortally wounded, crawled down to where the ammunition was stored, and set off a blast that killed the Indians and sent the ship to the bottom.

As a result, the people at Fort Astoria were isolated and without supplies.  They were starving when a party of Nor’Westers appeared, after travelling David Thompson’s route down the Columbia, and they were glad to sell the post to the North West Company.  They would be assured of supplies, and protection from any British naval unit that might appear.

In the meantime, such a unit had been sent to capture Fort Astoria.  It was H.M.S. Raccoon under the command of Captain William Black.  After sailing all the way from Britain he was greatly disappointed to find that Fort Astoria was already British territory, through purchase by the North West Company and not through a brilliant naval action of his own.  So Captain Black put on a show.  On December 12, 1813, he hauled down the British flag and raised it again, while the Americans and Indians watched the performance.

When the War of 1812 ended, it was agreed that all territory taken by military action would be returned.  Britain claimed Fort Astoria because it had been purchased from the Astor Company.  “Oh no,” said the Americans.  “The fort was taken by military action by the captain of H.M.S. Raccoon.”  They had witnesses to prove it, and their case held good.  The fort was returned to the States on October 6, 1818, and Canada lost the territory from the British Columbia border to Portland, Oregon.

If you would like to read more about Fort Astoria, I would suggest the Great Battles of the war of 1812 – there’s a great timeline there.

 

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Simon Fraser, Fur Trader, Explorer and Daddy

Upper Fountain Rapids of the Fraser River at F...

Upper Fountain Rapids of the Fraser River at Fountain, located 15 km upstream from Lillooet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On May 20, 1776, in Mapletown (near Bennington) New York, Simon Fraser was born.

In his life, he was a fur trader and explorer. As a matter of fact, he charted most of British Columbia!

Fraser worked for the Montreal-based North West Company. In 1805, he had been put in charge of all the company’s operations west of the Rocky Mountains. Fraser built that area’s first trading posts, and, in 1808, he explored what is now known as the Fraser River.  His exploratory efforts were partly responsible for Canada’s boundary later being established at the 49th parallel (after the War of 1812).  According to historian Alexander Begg, Fraser “was offered a knighthood but declined the title due to his limited wealth.”

Fraser settled on land near present day Cornwall, Ontario and married Catherine McDonnell on June 2, 1820.
They had 9 children, but one died in infancy. Fraser was one of the last surviving partners of the North West Company when he died on August 18, 1862. His wife died the next day, and they were buried in a single grave in the Roman Catholic cemetery at St. Andrew’s West. Begg quotes Sanford Fleming in an address to the Royal Society of Canada in 1889 as saying that Fraser died poor.

He did leave behind a legacy.
@ The Fraser River, named for him by the explorer David Thompson.
@ Fraser Lake, a lake in north-central British Columbia and a community on the lake’s western shore.
@ Fort Fraser, just east of Fraser Lake.
@ Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, British Columbia
@ The Simon Fraser Bridge in Prince George over the Fraser River along Highway 97.
@ Numerous schools, neighbourhoods and roads
@ The Simon Fraser Rose, (explorer series) developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour.

To learn more about this great man, Simon Fraser, I suggest the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

 

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Pushing His Luck …

The Red River drainage basin, with the Souris ...

The Red River drainage basin, with the Souris River highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lord Selkirk’s decision to colonize the area near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers was not received warmly by either the North West Company or the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Both Companies hunted and traded in the Assiniboia region.  They feared that a farming settlement would surely interfere with their business.

Friction between the settlers and fur traders soon erupted.  Miles Macdonnell, appointed Governor of Assiniboia by Selkirk, was angry to see the Nor’Westers transporting bales of pemmican through his territory while many of his own settlers were starving.

Pemmican was made by pounding strips of dried buffalo meat into powder.  Wild berries and melted buffalo fat were then mixed with the powder and compressed into bales weighing as much as ninety pounds.  Pemmican was the most important food on the Prairies at that time.

In January, 1814, Macdonnell posted his “Pemmican Proclamation,” forbidding the export of food supplies from Assiniboia.  From the standpoint of the colony, his decision was beneficial, but how were the Métis and the trading companies to survive without their supplies?

Macdonnell was still not satisfied.  He sent an armed party to Souris, a North West Company trading post on the Assiniboine River.  There, they confiscated about 6000 bales of pemmican.  Macdonnell was “pushing his luck.”  He boasted that he would “crush all the Nor’Westers on the river, should they be so handy as to resist my authority.”

The partners of the North West Company, meeting at Fort William, decided to destroy the Selkirk at Fort William.  A temporary compromise was reached on June 28, 1814, but Miles Macdonnell was nevertheless terribly shaken by the enmity he had aroused.  Even the Hudson’s Bay Company men turned against him.  Macdonnell,  a discouraged, beaten man, wrote to Selkirk and asked to be relieved of his command.

Macdonnell spent his later years at his farm in Upper Canada.  He died at the home of his brother in Point Fortune, Lower Canada, on June 28, 1828.

To read more about today’s post, I have a few notable sites for you to visit. There is the Lord Selkirk Association of Rupert Land, and the Electric Canadian .com, and the Roots Web. The always dependable Canadian Encyclopedia. And lastly, if you have the time a 272-page document, I really do recommend the The Assiniboine Basin by Martin Kavanagh.

 

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