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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter VII Activity in the North


In the forty-three years, which elapsed between the signing of the charter granted to the Hudson's Bay Company and the signing of the treaty of Utrecht? the company had established seven trading posts on the shores of the bay. They were located at the mouths of the East Main, Rupert's, Moose, Albany, Severn, Nelson, and Churchill Rivers. The company had made little effort to penetrate the interior or secure the trade of distant Indian tribes. The long contest between England and Prance for the ownership of the coast doubtless deterred the company from such an extension of its business as would have been almost inevitable, had the first forty-three years of its life been years of peace. It was scarcely justified in opening posts in the interior, when the fortunes of war might give them to the French.

Even ;n a time of peace some of the directors of the company were in favor of slow-going, cautious methods of business that would not require any large additions to the small capital with which the company started its operations. Much depended on the character and ability of the governors placed in charge of its distant trading posts. Some were content to do business in the same way year after year; but others, adventurous, keen-witted, and indefatigable, were eager to push their way further and further into the wilderness, making great discoveries, coining in contact with new tribes, finding richer fur districts, and extending the operations of the company as widely as possible. For two hundred years the company' had a splendid list of such men among its factors, and there are no more heroic figures in history than many of these men. Yet they had no thought of posing as heroes. To find new paths through the forests, new routes across the plains, new passes through the mountains; to discover and map out great rivers and lakes; to build new forts and trading posts; to blaze trails for future trade and settlement across a country larger than many an empire of Europe—these were just parts of their day's work. The world owes much to these men, for they were more than mere traders. Their explorations, their records of events, and their observations on the inhabitants, fauna, and flora of the districts which they traversed, have added much to human knowledge and greatly aided the spread of civilization.

At the head of a long list of worthy names we may place that of a mere youth, Henry Kelsey. He entered the company's service when eighteen years of age, and from the first showed unusual energy and ambition. Adventurous, fond of travel, and quick to acquire Indian languages and adopt native modes of life in the wilderness, he resembled the coureurs des bois who pushed their way into the remote pays d'en haul from Quebec. In 1688 this lad volunteered

to go north from Port Nelson and find a suitable site for a post on the Churchill River We have no detailed record of the journey, but it seems to have been successful, for a small fort was soon erected on the river which lor many years marked the northern limit of the company's operations on the coast ol the bay Three years later Geyer, the company's governor at Fort Nelson sent Kelsey on another journey. The young explorer Left the fort on July 5 1691 and proceeded up the river to Bering's Point (probably some point on Split Lake) to meet the Assiniboines who assembled there on their trading trips. He tells us that he met them at that place and travelled with them by water seventy-one miles. Then they beached their canoes and travelled through a wooded country for three hundred and sixteen miles. Passing over open prairie for forty-six miles, they traversed a country broken by lakes, swamps, and rivers for eighty-one miles; and in this region buffalo and beaver were very plentiful. Retracing his steps for fifty-four miles, Kelsey finally found the tribe he wished to meet, the Naywatamee-poets. After various adventures he returned to Fort Nelson, dressed" in Indian garb and accompanied by an Indian wife. It is difficult to know just where Kelsey travelled, as he was not careful to give the directions taken in his journey; but he probably went from a point on the Nelson River to some part of the valley of the Saskatchewan. We may consider him the first Englishman to penetrate the interior of the present province of Manitoba from the north. He took possession of the districts which he traversed on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The years which followed the treaty of Utrecht were a period of great prosperity for the Hudson's Bay Company; but while there was some extension of its trade towards the interior, the tendency was to push exploration and trade to the north rather than the south and west. There were two reasons for this tendency; first, the oft-repeated tales of gold and other precious metals to be found somewhere in the far north; and second, the persistent belief that a sea route would be found leading from Hudson Bay to the Orient. The Hudson's Bay Company was quite willing to reap the advantage which would accrue to it from the discovery of precious metals, but it took little interest in the discovery of a northwest passage; nevertheless some people insisted that it was the special duty of the company to seek for this passage, because of certain clauses in its charter. The Indians on the. Churchill River had told Captain Knight of rich mines of copper on some liver in the north, and he finally persuaded the directors to fit out an expedition to search for them and to make other discoveries in that direction. On June 4, 1719, Captain Knight received orders from the company to take "the Albany frigate, Capt. George Barlow, and the Discovery, Capt. David Vaughan, commander, upon a discovery to the northward;" and the order says further, "with the first opportunity of wind and weather, to depart from Gravesend on your intended voyage, and by God's permission to find out the Straits of Anian. and to discover gold and other valuable commodities to the northward."

The ships were well provisioned, they had a stock of goods for trade, they were supplied with tools for mining, and they carried strong, iron-bound boxes in which to bring home the '' gold and other valuable commodities.'' The months passed, and although no word came from the ships, no anxiety was felt, because they were expected to winter in the bay. Two of the company's ships made trading trips to the north during the summer of 1719—the Prosperous which sailed from Port Nelson on June 19 and returned on August 10, and the Success, which sailed from the mouth of the Churchill on July 2 and came back on August 10. Neither had seen any trace of Captain Knight's ships, but this did not cause any uneasiness; nor was the public seriously alarmed when the summer of 1720 passed without any message from them. In the summer of 1721 the Prosperous under Henry Kelsey and the Success under Capt. James Napper sailed north from Port Nelson on June 26. The latter was wrecked four days after she sailed; but the former returned safely on September 2, although she brought no information about Captain Knight's vessels.

When the third summer came with no news of the missing ships, grave fears for their safety were felt, and the company sent orders to Capt. John Scroggs of the sloop Whalebone, which had sailed from Oravesend oil May 21, 1721, and had wintered in the bay, to make a search for Captain Knight's vessels. Scroggs was absent when the order arrived, having sailed from the Churchill in June to trade with the Esquimaux: and when he returned it was too late to do anything that season He set sail as early as possible in the spring of 1723 and for five weeks searched vainly for traces of the lost ships. Their fate remained a mystery for forty-eight years, and then relics were found which told their story—one more of the grim tragedies of the northern seas. In 1767 the crew of one of the company's ships engaged in the wlialc fishery landed on a point of Marble Island and found there anchors, chains, tools, and other articles which had plainly belonged to the Albany and the Discovery: and the ebb tide revealed the broken hulls of the missing ships themselves. Two years later the crew of another whaling ship heard from the lips of an aged Esquimaux the story of sickness and starvation which carried off the luckless men who had sailed with Captain Knight in 1719.

These voyages of discovery in the north had cost loss of life and ships and had added little valuable information about the coast and its resources: so it was only natural for the company to discontinue them and to give attention to the extension of trade in other directions. A post had been built on the spot beside the Churchill River, which Kelsey had selected in 1688; but this was abandoned in 1718, and a new wooden fort was erected live miles further down the stream and named Fort Prince of Wales. But there was always the possibility of a new war with France; and while wooden forts were useful defences against hostile Indians, they had not proved effective against cannon in the attacks made by d'Iberville's forces. These facts led the company to strengthen the fortifications of its most important posts, those at Port Nelson and the mouth of the Churchill. So in 1734 skilled military engineers began the construction of fortifications which ultimately made Fort Prince of Wales one of the strongest fortresses in North America. The walls were from twenty-five feet to forty-two feet thick at their foundations, and were mounted with forty-nine heavy cannon. At each of the four corners of the walls a strong bastion was built, three of them containing bomb-proof storehouses and the fourth containing the magazine. There were covered passages in various directions. At first the parapets of the walls were constructed of timber brought from the abandoned fort up the river, but in 1746 the company replaced these with stone parapets. The fort was about three hundred feet on each side, and within the walls were two houses, a dwelling, and a building for offices. Joseph Robson. who was the engineer in charge of the work for some years, tells us that one of these buildings was one hundred and ten and one-half feet long, thirty-three feet wide, with side walls seventeen feet high, and roof covered with lead.

In 1720 the Hudson's Bay Company began to push its operations inland and built Henley House on the Albany one hundred and fifty miles above the fort at its mouth. Ten years later a new fort was erected on the site of the old post at the mouth of the Moose River, and about the same time Richmond Fort was built on Richmond Bay at the mouth of the Whale River; but the latter was not a profitable post and was subsequently abandoned. In 1732 a new post was established on the Elude River, a branch of the East Main. In 1760 orders were issued for the construction of a new and stronger fort on the Severn, its site to be as far up the river as possible.

War broke out between England and France in 1714, and the Hudson's Bay Company was fearful of attacks on its forts by French warships or by forces marching overland from Quebec. This accounts for the strengthening of many of these forts and for the increase in their garrisons. The governors of all of them were ordered to keep prepared for an attack at any moment. Moose Fort was to be guarded most carefully, as it would be the first point of attack by any force coming from Canada, and its garrison was increased to forty-eight men. The garrison at Fort Nelson was raised to the same strength.

After the failure of the Hudson's Bay Company to find a northwest passage in the years from 1719 to 1723 no further efforts in that direction were made for several years. Then Arthur I)obbs began to urge the company to renew the search, and he kept up the agitation so persistently that the matter assumed the importance of a public question. As a result of his representations the company sent two ships on the quest in 1737. The Churchill under Capt. James Napper and the Musquash under Capt. Robert Crow were dispatched from Fort Prince of Wales on July 7 with instructions to seek an outlet from the bay on the northwest. Captain Napper died a month after sailing and his ship returned to port on August 18; the other vessel came back four days later. Neither crew had accomplished anything of importance.

The Hudson's Bay Company had no commercial advantage to gain from the discovery of the northwest passage and was naturally unwilling to expend more capital in the search for it; but the irrepressible Dobbs continued to write and speak about the matter until public opinion compelled the government to take it up. The Admiralty finally detailed the bomb-ketch Furnace and a small vessel called the Discovery for this service and appointed Capt, Christopher Middleton to command the expedition The ships sailed westward in June, 1741, and spent some time in exploring the northern part of Hudson Bay in a cursorj manner; but no new information of importance was brought back.

In 1746 parliament passed an act to encourage exploration for a northwest passage, offering a reward of £20,000 for its discovery. Under such encouragement a Northwest Association was formed, which dispatched the Dobbs Galley, Capt. William Moor, and the California, Capt. Francis Smith, to the northern sea. Henry Ellis accompanied them as agent of the association. The crews had signed for a three years' cruise; and the ships were well supplied with naval and military stores, presents for the natives of the new lands to be discovered, and goods for trade. Bonuses were promised to the officers and men, if the voyage were successful in its purpose.

The ships sailed from England on May 10, and a man-of-war conveyed them for a part of the voyage. They cruised about Hudson Bay for several weeks, and in September entered the mouth of the Hayes River where they were to pass the winter. A large log building, called Montague House, was erected to shelter the party during the winter. The relations between Governor Norton and the officers of the ships were far from cordial; and there was much suffering among the crews on account of scurvy and other diseases. Early in the following June the ships sailed out of the river and resumed their search for the passage to India. Nothing of importance was discovered, except that the so-called Wager Strait, which some had hoped might lead to the passage, was not a strait at all but a narrow bay. The ships made sail for home in August and reached Plymouth two months later. r.^'Thus ended a voyage of great expectation, without success, but not without effect, as we had the possibility and probability of a Northwest Passage, having observed and studied the tides, currents, fogs, winds, and ice—as well as the natives of the land and character of the Esquimaux."

Unable to induce the Hudson's Bay Company to make any further efforts to discover the northwest passage, Dobbs and his friends attacked the standing of the company itself. They had sufficient influence in parliament to secure the appointment of a special committee in March, 1748, which was directed "to inquire into the state and condition of the countries and trade of Hudson's Bay, and also the right the company pretend to have by charter to the property of the land, and exclusive trade to those countries." The inquiry lasted two months; and the enemies of the company strove to show that its monopoly should be revoked and the trade thrown open to all who wished to engage in it, and that the lands covered by its charter should be forfeited and re-granted to any persons who would occupy and improve them. It was pointed out that the company had occupied none of the immense area granted to it except the few small sites of its trading posts. Many witnesses were examined, but the final decision of the committee was very favorable to the company.

Even in times of peace the company found itself unable to maintain the monopoly of the fur trade which it claimed under its charter The fact that its territory had been ceded to Britain by France in the treaty of Utrecht did not keep the French from securing a part of its trade. Traders from Quebec pushed further and further into its territory, securing some of its richest furs. There was a French post on the upper part of the Moose River and another on the Albany not far from Henley House, and Governor Norton is reported to have said in 1739 that the French had a settlement (post) not more than one hundred and twenty miles from Fort Prince of "Wales. The company wished the government to make good the promise of protection contained in its charter by keeping French trading ships out of Hudson Bay and restricting the Quebec traders to the east and south of a fixed line.

This seems to have led the Lords of Trade and Plantations to ask the company in 1750 for descriptions of the boundaries of its territory and maps of the same, especially of those parts which were near settlements made by the French. The company's reply stated its position and added that the boundaries between its territory and the French possessions were to be settled by the commissioners whose appointment had been provided for in the treaty of Greeht. Although thirty-seven years had passed, the commissioners had not determined these boundaries Two years later the company took occasion to remind the government that another matter, whose settlement had been provided for m the same treaty, had never been dealt with, and that was the company's claim against the French for damages. The government was not to be hurried, however, and fate took one of the questions out of the discussion a few years later. Wolfe's victory on the Plains of Abraham and the subsequent treaty of Paris gave Canada to the British.

In the meantime the Hudson's Bay Company, mindful of its own interests and perhaps urged forward by the public sentiment which had found a spokesman in Arthur Dobbs, had made another attempt to explore the interior of its vast domain. In the year 1754 James Tsham, the governor of York Factory, had in his stall" a bookkeeper named Anthony Hendry. This young man was a native of the Isle of "Wight, who had been outlawed for smuggling and who was trying to start life anew in the northern post. He had asked for exploratory work, and the governor sent him south to the prairies beyond the Saskatchewan. Four hundred Assiniboines had come down to the fort with their catch of furs, and when they started on their return trip, Hendry went with them. Following up the Hayes River and the Nelson, they crossed Lake "Winnipeg about the end of July and began the ascent of the Saskatchewan. After they had followed the river for a few miles, they turned off to the southwest, and reached the district west of Lake Winnipegosis. Hendry tried to induce the Assiniboines living there to trade with York Fort, but was told that they preferred to take their furs to the French post at the mouth of the Pasquia River.

Continuing his journey to the west, Hendry finally came to the wide plains where the Blackfeet dwelt. Four horsemen came to conduct him to a village of that nation where he counted three hundred and twenty-two tents. He gave the headmen presents and invited the chief to trade with the Hudson's Bay Company; but afterwards he learned that this displeased the Assiniboines who did not wish the Blackfeet to leave their native plains. Wherever he went, Hendry tried to draw the Indian trade away from the French and secure it for the company which he served, and when spring came he had an immense quantity of fur. On April 28, with canoes well laden, Hendry began his return trip. At every camping place canoes filled with furs joined his until a flotilla of sixty was floating down the broad Saskatchewan. "When he reached the French Fort at the mouth of the Pasquia, the trader in charge of it asked Hendry to be his guest. Almost before the Englishman knew what had happened, the French had given his Indians ten gallons of brandy and had purchased the best of their furs. Coaxing them away from the over-hospitable French, Hendry took his Indians and their depleted cargoes of fur down to Fort York, which he reached on June 20.

Hendry had done valuable work for the Hudson's Bay Company, had the directors been wise enough to appreciate it; but the factors at the bay did not believe his reports of Indian tribes which used horses and did not relish his advice about methods of securing more of the inland trade. The minutes of the company show that be was given a gratuity of £20 for his work, but he was disappointed in his hopes of being sent on another exploratory journey.

Released from the menace of attack by the French, the Hudson's Bay Company extended its operations widely in the years which followed the cession of Canada to England. It began by exploring the great district to the west and northwest of Fort Prince of "Wales. Moses Norton was governor there, and the reports of a great river far to the north and of copper to be found along its banks, which the Indians continued to bring him, led him to urge the directors of the company to explore the region. He had recommended Samuel Hearne, then employed by the company as mate of the brig Charlotte, for this service, and the company accepted his recommendation. Hearne was instructed to make "an inland journey, far to the north of the Churchill, to promote an extension of our trade, as well as for the discovery of a northwest passage, copper mines, etc." He was also to determine the latitude and longitude of important points, estimate distances, note the course and depth of rivers, observe the character of the soil and its products, and to take possession of all places likely to be of advantage to the company.

The guns of Fort Prince of Wales gave Hearne a farewell salute when he set out on November 6, 1769, with instruments, tools, and provisions for his assistants and Indian guides. When he was about two hundred miles away from the fort, his guides deserted him, carrying oil' a part of his tools and ammunition: and so he was forced to return to the fort after an absence of thirty-seven days. On the 23 of February he started out again with five Indians and a small supply of provision. As it was necessary to slop frequently to secure game for food, Hearne could not proceed very rapidly. In spite of their efforts, the men were often without food for days together and were reduced to using their shoes and parts of their fur clothing to prevent death from starvation. Keeping on in a northwest direction, they ultimately reached some point in the Barren Lands. Here on August 11 an accident befell Hearne's quadrant while he was taking an observation of the sun to determine his latitude, and this forced him to return. He reached the fort in November.

Resting for a few days only, Hearne set out on his third journey into the interior on December 7, 1770. On this trip he was accompanied by the Indian chief Matonabee, who acted as leader of his guides. Pushing on through the snow, the party reached a place called Clowey in the spring. A large party of Indians had assembled there to make a raid on the Esquimaux, and Hearne traveled north with them. Their women, children, dogs, and heavy baggage were left there, and a rapid dash northward brought them to the Coppermine River on July 11. On the way Hearne meet the Copper Indians, who had never seen a white man before, and smoked the peace-pipe with them. Descending the Coppermine, Hearne reached the Arctic Ocean on July 18, and after taking possession of the region for the Hudson's Bay Company, he turned southward. Keeping to the westward of the trail which he had taken north, Hearne reached Lake Athabasca on December 24, 1771. He spent the winter in that district, and in the spring turned his steps eastward, arriving at Port Prince of Wales on the 29th day of June, 1772.

In 1773 Governor Norton sent Hearne south to the Saskatchewan where he established a post, afterward known as Cumberland House, which became an important centre of trade.

The company was not unmindful of the debt it owed Hearne for his wide explorations, the friendly relations between it and the natives which he had promoted, and the increased Trade which he had secured for it; and soon after a position Of governor at Fort Pinee of Wales became vacant through the death of Moses Norton, Flearne was appointed to it. Unfortunately be did not show in this position the courage, energy, and determination which had characterized him in his explorations.

War had broken out once more between England and her old-time enemy, France- and the French determined to strike England in her distant possessions on Hudson Bay, as had been done in the brave days of d'Iberville. In 1782 Admiral de la Perouse was sent there with the Sceptre, of seventy-four guns and the Astarte and the Engagmant, of thirty-six guns each, to destroy the forts of the Hudson's Bay Company. He reached the mouth of the Churchill in August 8, much disappointed to find that the company's ships, which he expected to capture in the bay, had eluded him. He was short of provision and ammunition and was in no condition to capture such a stronghold as Fort Prince of Wales, had it been bravely defended by an adequate garrison. But the force there consisted of thirty-nine men only, and Hearne seems to have been stricken with terror by the approach of a force of four hundred, Frenchmen on the morning of the 9th. Snatching up a white table cloth, he used it as a flag of truce and secured opportunity for a parley. As a result of the parley the place was surrendered without a shot being tired. The surprised French admiral transferred part of the cannon, ammunition, and provisions to his poorly supplied ships, and then gave his men permission to loot the place. He ordered his engineers to destroy its fortifications; but they were so strongly constructed that most of the works were intact after two days' efforts to blow them up.

On August 11th, Admiral de la Perouse sailed away to repeat his success at the mouth of the Nelson. Umfreville, who was in York Factory at the time of its capture, tells the story in the following words:

'"The first notice we had of an enemy's being on the coast was on the 20th of August, 1782, in the evening, at which time the Company's ship was lying in the roads, and had been for five days, without having the least intimation of this event, although Mons. La Perouse, by his own account, had been sounding Port Nelson River on the 18th. The next day, August 21st, the weather being extremelv fine and calm, it afforded the enemy an opportunity to land their men with safety, which they attempted in fourteen boats, provided with mortars, cannon, scaling ladders, and about three hundred men, exclusive of marines.

"Our number of men consisted of sixty English and twelve Indians, who behaved extremely well to us, and evinced their regard to us by every exertion in their power. The defense of York consisted of thirteen cannon, twelve and nine pounders, which formed a half-moon battery in the front of the Factory; but it being thought probable that the enemy might come in the night and turn these guns against us, they were overset to prevent the French from taking this advantage. On the ramparts were twelve swivel guns mounted 011 carriages, which might have annoyed the enemy in the most effectual manner. Every kind of small arms were in plenty and good condition within the fort. We had likewise ammunition in great store, and the people seemed to be under no apprehension. A fine rivulet of fresh water ran within the stockades; there were also about thirty head of cattle, and as many hogs, with a great quantity of salt provisions of different kinds.

"August 22. Two Indian scouts were sent to obtain intelligence, who returned in about three hours and gave it as their opinion that the enemy must be nigh at hand, as they heard several guns fired in the vicinity of the fort. About sunset we could plainly discern a large fire behind us, kindled by the French, as we supposed, to refresh themselves before the attack the next day.

"August 23. It was observed at daylight that, the Company's ship had taken advantage of a tine breeze and prudently shaped her course for England, unperceived by the enemy. About 10 o'clock this morning the enemy appeared before our gates; during their approach a most inviting opportunity offered itself to be revenged on our invaders by discharging the guns on the ramparts, which must have done great execution; but a kind of tepid stupefaction seemed to take possession of the Governnor (Humphrey Martin) at this time of the trial, and he peremptorily declared that he would shoot the first man who offered to fire a gun. Accordingly, as the place was not to be defended, he, resolving to be beforehand with the French, held out a white flag with his own hand, which was answered by the French officer's showing his pocket-handkerchief.

"Under this flag of truce a parley took place, when the Governor received a summons wrote in English. In this summons two hours were granted to consult about our situation; but this indulgence was made no use of, and the place was most ingloriously given up in about ten minutes, without one officer being consulted, or a council assembled; so that this fort, which might have withstood the united efforts of double the number of those by which it was assailed in an attack with small arms, was surrendered to a half-starved, wretched group of Frenchmen, worn out with fatigue and hard labor, in a country they were entire strangers to. From the nature of their attack by the way of Port Nelson River, they could not use their mortars or artillery, the ground being very bad, and interspersed with woods, thickets and bogs, by which they were so roughly handled in the course of their march that I verily believe they had not fifty pairs of shoes in their whole army. The difficulties of their march must appear very conspicuous when it is considered they were a whole day in marching seven miles."

The men of the garrison were made prisoners; and after the French had taken some of the contents of the fort, it was burned. The company lost furs, provisions, and other property amounting to many thousands of pounds.

Fort Prince of Wales has never been rebuilt, and stands today much as the French admiral left it one hundred and thirty years ago. Like the ruins of Louisburg on the far eastern coast of Canada, this fortress on her northern shore is a monument of the centuries of war between Britain and France. Br Bell has said: "Its site admirably chosen, its design and armament once per feet; interesting still as a relic of bygone strife, but useful now only as beacon for the harbor it had failed to protect."


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