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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Hudson’s Bay Company on the Pacific, 1821-1843 Mackie, Richard


This dissertation begins in 1821, when the Hudson's Bay Company took over the Columbia Department from the North West Company, which since 1813 had exported a single commodity (peltries) from the watersheds of two great rivers (the upper Fraser and lower Columbia) to two markets (London and Canton). This fur trade appeared at first so unpromising that the Hudson's Bay Company considered abandoning the lower Columbia region in 1821. Instead of doing so, between 1821 and 1843, the Hudson's Bay Company consolidated its operations in the Columbia Department through the application of a number of venerable commercial policies of the Canadian fur trade. The company extended its fur trading activities to all the major rivers of the region, from the Taku in the north to the Sacramento in the south. To support this massive trade extension the company developed large-scale provision trades in agricultural produce and salmon on the lower Columbia and Fraser rivers. Environmental and cultural conditions favoured these developments. The company also took advantage of the possibility of seaborne transport to develop markets at Oahu (Hawaii), Yerba Buena (San Francisco), and Sitka. To these places the company exported, on its Pacific fleet of ships, a range of country produce from the west coast, especially lumber and salmon. By 1843 the company had developed a new regional economy based on local commodities and Pacific markets; fur continued to be sent to London on an annual vessel. These new exports, and this new regional economy, depended on Native labour in addition to a permanent non-Native workforce of about 600. The company in several places colonized the Native economy and redirected its produce to foreign markets. In 1843 the trade in fur remained—despite the emergence of profitable new export trades—the company's major source of profit from the Columbia Department. The dissertation ends in 1843 when, fearing the possibility of an unfavourable boundary settlement, the company established Fort Victoria to serve as new departmental headquarters, at the same time inaugurating a considerable northward realignment of company activities on the Pacific. At this new post the fur trade would be a minor activity; company officials intended to develop a wide range of resources on Vancouver Island, all of them involving the hiring of Native workers. Increasingly, with the help of Native labour and trade, the company embarked on policies of resource development and extension of commerce on the coast, while the interior districts produced only fur. Difficulties of transport and distance from market prevented similar developments in the company's districts east of the Rocky Mountains.

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