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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Cordilleran communication : the Brigade system of the far western fur trade Favrholdt, Kenneth Cornaby


This thesis is an examination of the fur trade transportation system through the northern Cordillera of North America in the 19th century. An historical geographical approach is used to reveal the development of the fur brigade system in what are now British Columbia and Washington State between 1793 and 1885. The earliest European explorations across the Cordillera, discussed in the first chapter, provided a framework for the routes subsequently used by the fur brigades. Many of the routes were aboriginal trade corridors; native guides typically helped the explorers find their way through the Cordillera. Theoretical considerations are also posed in this chapter to place fur trade transportation in a broader context of transportation modelling. The brigade routes through the Cordillera are the focus of the second chapter but connections beyond the Cordillera and the larger context of the fur trade are important also. The fur trade was a transcontinental and international enterprise. A description and analysis is made of the major routes through the Cordillera used by the Pacific Fur Company until 1812, the North West Company until 1821, and the Hudson's Bay Company until 1846. The system of the Siberian fur trade in this period is also considered. The third chapter describes the changes that occurred to the transportation system after 1846 with the settlement of the international boundary from the Rockies to the Pacific. The Hudson's Bay Company searched for an all-British route north of the 49th parallel, settling on a trail across the Cascade Mountains between forts Hope, Kamloops and Colvile. Chapter four identifies the different components of the transportation system in the Cordillera, termed "brigades," including different modes of transportation - canoes and bateaux, horses, men's backs, and dogsleds (used in the winter). The problems of portages, the variety of goods and supplies transported, the regimen, including the scheduling and logistics of the brigades, are all analyzed. Considered also is the human organization of the brigades and the concomitant problems of discipline and protection. The brigade system was tenuously maintained; much was problematic. The concluding chapter summarizes the development of a transcontinental link and the problems of maintaining such a system of transportation and communication in the pre-railway west. Theoretical issues are raised. The Fraser River gold rush of 1858 impacted on the fur trade in general; the construction of the Cariboo Waggon Road through British Columbia in the early 1860s further altered the system of fur trade transport. The surveys for a transcontinental railway after Confederation and the union of B.C. with Canada in 1871 resulted in the demise of the fur brigade routes as important transportation corridors through the Cordillera.

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