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Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific, 1793-1843
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Fort McLoughlin and Fort Simpson were built to intercept these furs before they could reach American traders, who had no permanent posts on the coast. The strategy was ultimately successful. By American competition was essentially over.
By the late s HBC traders of New Caledonia were complaining that their furs were finding their way to Fort McLoughlin, where they were fetching higher prices. By the end of the decade, with American competition reduced, the HBC was able to fix prices uniformly and eliminate much of the flow of furs to the coast, which by its nature was less secure than the Interior. At first the post was known simply as Milbanke Sound , after its ocean access.
The Hudson's Bay post established here in was named Fort McLoughlin, but after the erection of the fort the surrounding Indians gathering around it, the place gradually became known as Bella Bella, the name adopted, generally, for the Indians of the vicinity by the officers of the company. Tolmie, who was stationed at Fort McLoughlin, , gives the name of the principal tribe as the Bil-Billa or Haeeltzuk Indians; John Dunn, trader and interpreter, also stationed here about the same date, and again later spells the name Bel-Bellahs.
George Simpson , wrote that the fort was near a village of about "Ballabollas" Bella Bellas, known properly as the Heiltsuk. Charles Ross, who took over command of the fort in , estimated the local "Billbillah" population at 1,, and the "Bellwhoola" at Although successful in the fur trade, Fort McLoughlin was not self-sufficient in food.
In Sir George Simpson wrote that Fort McLoughlin was visited by about 5, natives from seven main villages, trading furs worth about 2, to 3, pounds sterling.
Table of Contents
But fur proved to be less important than it was in the East, for the pelts of the West were not as good and the Native peoples were not primarily hunters. They relied on other resources, particularly maritime ones, for their subsistence. As a result, new products, such as lumber, salmon, and flour, became important items of trade in a new western economy that extended along the Pacific coast north to present-day Alaska, south to California, and westward to the Sandwich Islands. Indeed, when the company built Fort Victoria in and turned its attention northward, it was in the process of transformation.
By , when it began the colonization of Vancouver Island, the HBC was no longer, as Mackie puts it, 'the mythical fur trade company' of beaver and canoes, but rather 'a general resource company that had recognized an abundant new environment and a broad commercial opportunity' Mackie succeeds in demonstrating that diversification occurred before and that the economy of what became British Columbia was too complex to make generalizations about a so-called fur trade era at all appropriate.
This history of the company's operations in the West is based on a thorough examination of company journals, account books, correspondence , and reports, both published and unpublished, and an extensive list of secondary sources. It is therefore extremely detailed - sometimes too detailed - and the reader sometimes loses sight of the train of the argument.
Nevertheless, this book will prove extremely useful for anyone seeking information on the HBc's business in the western part The Canadian Historical Review of its territory.
- The HBC on the Coast.
- The History of the Fur Trade and the Early Exploration of Canada;
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This study also helps to rescue the HBC from the stereotypes that have hindered examination ofthe company's history by showing that it was not just a collection of fur traders and picturesque voyageurs, but an enterprise which, like any other, sought out sources of profit wherever it could find them. Still, this analysis remains very much an examination of the company 's operations as they were viewed and carried out by its managers, and it does not entirely escape from older interpretations of the company's history.