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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

The Greater Canada—Wide wheat fields—Vast pasture lands— Huronian mines—The Kootenay riches—Yukon nuggets— Forests—Iron and coal—Fisheries—Two great cities—Towns and villages—Anglo-Saxon institutions—The great outlook.

In 1871, soon after Rupert's Land and the Indian territories were transferred to Canada, it was the fortune of the writer to take up his abode in Winnipeg, as the village in the neighbourhood of Fort Garry was already called. The railway was in that year still four hundred miles from Winnipeg. From the terminus in Minnesota the stage coach drawn by four horses, with relays every twenty miles, sped rapidly over prairies smooth as a lawn to the site of the future City of the Plains.

The fort was in its glory. Its stone walls, round bastions, threatening pieces of artillery and rows of portholes, spoke of a place of some strength, though even then a portion of stone wall had been taken down to give easier access to the "Hudson's Bay Store." It was still the seat of government, for the Canadian Governor lived within its walls, as the last Company Governor, McTavish, had done. It was still the scene of gaiety, as the better class of the old settlers united with the leaders of the new Canadian society in social joys, under the hospitable roof of Governor Archibald.

Since that time forty years have well-nigh passed. The stage coach, the Red River cart, and the shagganappe pony are things of the past, and great railways with richly furnished trains connect St. Paul and Minnesota with the City of Winnipeg. More important still, the skill of the engineer has blasted a way through the Archaean rocks to Fort William, Lake Superior, more direct than the old fur-traders' route; the tremendous cliffs of the north shore of Lake Superior have been levelled and the chasm bridged- To the west the prairies have been gridironed with numerous lines of railway, the enormous ascents of the four Rocky Mountain ranges rising a mile above the sea level have been crossed, and the giddy heights of the Fraser River canon traversed. The iron band of the Canadian Pacific Railway, one of whose chief promoters was Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, the present Governor of the Company, has joined ocean to ocean. The Canadian Northern Railway runs its line from Lake Superior through Winnipeg and Edmonton to British Columbia. It has in prospect a transcontinental Railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway has in operation a perfectly built line from Lake Superior through Winnipeg and Edmonton to the Rocky Mountains, and with the backing of the Canadian Government guarantees a most complete connection between the eastern and western shores of the continent.

Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC

A wonderful transformation has taken place in the land since the days of Sir George Simpson and his band of active chief factors and traders. It is true, portions of the wide territory reaching from Labrador to the Pacific Ocean will always be the domain of the fur-trader. The Labrador, Ungava, and Arctic shores of Canada will always remain inhospitable, but the Archaean region on the south and west of Hudson Bay undoubtedly contains great mineral treasures. The Canadian Government pledges itself to a completed railway from the prairie wheat fields to York Factory on Hudson Bay. This will bring the seaport on Hudson Bay as near Britain as is New York, and will make an enormous saving in transportation to Western Canada. What a mighty change from the day when the pessimistic French King spoke of all Canada, as "only a few orpents of snow." Mackenzie River district is still the famous scene of the fur trade, and may long continue so, though there is always the possibility of any portion of the vast waste of the Far North developing, as the Yukon territory has done, mineral wealth rivalling the famous sands of Pactolus or the riches of King Solomon's mines.

Under Canadian sway, law and order are preserved throughout this wide domain, although the Hudson's Bay Company officers still administer law and in many cases are magistrates or officers for the Government, receiving their commissions from Ottawa. Peace and order prevail; the arm of the law has been felt in Keewatin, the Mackenzie River, and distant Yukon.

But it is to the fertile prairies of the West and valleys and slopes of the Pacific Coast we look for the extension of the Greater Canada. While the Hon. William McDougall was arguing the value of the prairie land of the West, his Canadian and other opponents maintained "that in the North-West the soil never thawed out in summer, and that the potato or cabbage would not mature." With this opinion many of the Hudson's Bay Company officers agreed, though it is puzzling to the resident of the prairie to-day to see how such honourable and observing men could have made such statements. The fertile plains have been divided into three great provinces, Manitoba (1871), Saskatchewan and Alberta (1905). Manitoba, which at the time of the closing of the Hudson's Bay Company regime numbered some 12,000 or 15,000 whites and half-breeds and as many more Indians, has (in 1909) a population of well-nigh half a million—the city of Winnipeg itself exceeding more than one quarter of that number. Saskatchewan and Alberta probably make up between them another half million of people in this prairie section. These being the three great bread-providing provinces of the Dominion, produced in 1909 on 297,000,000 of acres, which is but 8 per cent. of their total arable land, of wheat, oats, barley and flax, 132 1/3 million dollars' worth of cereals.

The City of Winnipeg, which, when the writer first saw the hamlet bearing that name, had less than three hundred souls, has now become a beautiful city, which drew forth the admiration of the whole British Association on the occasion of their visit to it in 1909. Its assessment in 1910 was 157 millions of dollars, and the amount of building in that year reached 11,000,000 dollars. The city has under construction at Winnipeg River, fifty miles from the city, 60,000 horsepower of electric energy, which will be transmitted by cable to the city in 1911 for manufacturing purposes. Up till 1882 the Hudson's Bay Company store was a low building, a wooden erection made of lumber sawn by whip-saw or by some rude contrivance, having what was known in the old Red River days as a "pavilion roof." Its highly-coloured fabrics suited to the trade of the country did not relieve its dingy interior. To-day the Hudson's Bay Company departmental stores and offices, built of dark red St. Louis brick, speak of the enormous progress made in the development of the country. The Hudson's Bay Company store, great as it now is, has been equalled and even perhaps surpassed by private enterprises of great magnitude. Winnipeg, as being from its geographical position half way between the international boundary line and Lake Winnipeg, is the natural gateway between Eastern and Western Canada. It is becoming the greatest railway centre of Canada, and is familiarly spoken of as the "Chicago of Western Canada." It bids fair also to be a great manufacturing centre. In spite of its recent date and unfinished facilities for power its manufactured output has grown from 8 2/3 millions of dollars in 1900 to 25,000,000 in 1910. From 1902, when its bank clearings were 188 1/3 millions of dollars, these grew in 1909 to 770 2/3 millions. All this is not surprising when the marvellous immigration and consequent development is shown by the railway mileage of Western Canada, which has grown from 3,680 miles in 1900 to 11,472 miles in 1909 ; and when the annual product, chiefly of cattle and horses, reached in the latter year the sum of 175,000,000 of dollars.

British Columbia, including the New Caledonia, Kootenay Country, and Vancouver Island of the fur-traders, is a land of great resources. Its population has increased many times over. Its groat salmon fisheries, trade in timber, coal mines, agricultural productiveness, and genial climate have long made it a favourite dwelling-place for English-speaking colonists.

In late years much prominence has been given to this province by the discovery of its mineral products. Gold, silver, and lead mines in the Kootenay region, which was discovered by old David Thompson, and in the Cariboo district, have lately attracted many immigrants to British Columbia; the adjoining territory of the Yukon, brought to the knowledge of the world by Chief Factor Robert Campbell, has surpassed all other parts of the fur-traders' land in rich productiveness, although the region lying between the Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior, along the very route of the fur-traders, is becoming famous by its production of gold, silver, and other valuable metals.

Throughout the wide West great deposits of coal and iron are found, the basis of future manufactures, and in many districts great forests to supply to the world material for increasing development.

What, then, is to be the future of this Canadian West ? The possibilities are illimitable. The Anglo-Saxon race, with its energy and pluck, has laid hold of the land so long shut in by the wall built round it by the fur-traders. This race, with its dominating forcefulness, will absorb and harmonize elements coining from all parts of the world to enjoy the fertile fields and mineral treasures of a land whose laws are just, whose educational policy is thorough and progressive, whose moral and religious aspirations are high and noble, and which gives a hearty welcome to the industrious and deserving from all lands.

The flow of population to the Canadian West during the first decade of this century has been remarkable. Not only has there been a vast British immigration of the best kind, but some 150,000 to 200,000 of industrious settlers from the continent of Europe have come to build the railways, canals, and public works of the country, and they have been essential for its agricultural development. Several hundreds of thousands of the best settlers have come from the United States, a large proportion of them being returned Canadians or the children of Canadians.

On the shores of Burrard Inlet on the Pacific Ocean another place of great importance is rising—Vancouver City, the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Victoria, begun, as we have seen, by Chief Factor Douglas as the chief fort along the Pacific Coast, long held its own as the commercial as well as the political capital of British Columbia, but in the meantime Vancouver has surpassed it in population, if not in influence.

All goes to show that the Hudson's Bay Company was preserving for the generations to come a most valuable heritage. The leaders of opinion in Canada have frequently, within the last five years of the century, expressed their opinion that the second generation of the twentieth century may see a larger Canadian population to the West of Lake Superior than will be found in the provinces of the East. William Cullen Bryant's lines, spoken of other prairies, will surely come true of the wide Canadian plains:—

"I listen long
 .... and think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark brown furrows."

The French explorers are a reminiscence of a century and a half ago; the lords of the lakes and forests, with all their wild energy, are gone for ever; the Astorians are no more; no longer do the French Canadian voyageurs make the rivers vocal with their chansons; the pomp and circumstance of the emperor of the fur-traders has been resolved into the ordinary forms of commercial life ; and the rude barter of the early trader has passed into the fulfilment of the poet's dream, of the "argosies of magic sails," and the "costly bales" of an increasing commerce. The Hudson's Bay Company still lives and takes its new place as one of the potent forces of the Canadian West.

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