The Open Door Web Site
Colonies and Empires Index
European Settlement in North America
The Origins of Canada
The Struggle between France and Britain
The American War of Independence
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
Colonies and Empires
The Hudson Bay Company
French Canada was not a land of great settlement, but fur-traders and adventurers did well there. The Coureurs-de-Bois went deep into the forest looking for new fur supplies and founding the trails that would later become North America's great inland highways.
Ironically, it was two of these tough French frontiersmen who brought the English into the far north. Le Sieur de Groseillers and his brother-in-law, Pierre Radisson, spent years exploring around the Hudson Bay. They repeatedly tried to persuade the government of Louis XIV, under Colbert, to take an interest in this far northern region, only to be rejected. When they brought their canoes, crammed with high quality furs, down to Quebec from the Hudson Bay area, they were simply fined for illegal trading.
Rejected by the French authorities, Groseillers and Radisson turned to the English and led an expedition, in the name of Charles II, into the far north. "Mr Gooseberry" and "Mr Radish" were so successful that, in 1670, Charles II gave a charter to the "Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay". The king casually gave the company control of all the area drained by the rivers running into the Hudson Bay. It was 1,5 million square miles (4 million square kilometres), ten times the size of the British Isles. For London businessmen and politicians, including the Duke of York, Prince Rupert and half of the Cabinet, who invested in the Company, the profits were fabulous. Ships loaded with weapons, cheap jewellery and cooking utensils sailed into the Hudson Bay every June, just after the ice had melted. The goods were exchanged for furs, and the ships would leave for England before the Autumn ice re-appeared.
France claims the Mississippi River
French Canadians now felt squeezed between the British Atlantic colonies to the south and the British Hudson Bay Company to the north. Worse still, the native Indians began diverting their trade from Quebec and Montreal to the more profitable Hudson Bay Company.
Robert Chevalier de la Salle
To meet the challenge, French explorers, missionaries, soldiers and traders looked westward towards the Great Lakes. On the far side of Lake Superior, where they made new alliances with the native Indians, they turned south. In 1682, Robert Chevalier de la Salle reached the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River.
Forts were built to protect these newly acquired lands. However, by the end of the 17th century, it was becoming clear that New France and the British colonies, as they expanded, would have difficulty living side-by-side.
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