A Fur Trade Rivalry Hits Home: Part 1

A Fur Trade Rivalry Hits Home: Part 1

It is a well know fact that there was a bitter rivalry between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company fur traders during the early 1800s — a rivalry bitter enough to often involve unscrupulous acts, violence and murder.

But what is not readily known is that this rivalry reared its ugly head right here in Lac du Bonnet.

Around Aug. 5, 1807, an employee of the Hudson Bay Company by the name of Thomas Miller was sent to manage the post here in Lac du Bonnet (the exact location not known). He kept a journal.

Even before arriving here he mentions coming to a creek chock full of wood with the intention of blocking him from going inland. He believed the blockage was cut and laid by people of the Northwest Company, or as he called them, Canadians or Canads. Undaunted, they cleared the blockage and continued on. Along the way they would encounter various groups of Indigenous people with whom they would do some trading.

Such goods as meat or pemmican were exchanged for ammunition and cloth, or sometimes they just gave them goods on credit hoping that would encourage them to later trade at his post. They arrived in Lac du Bonnet on Aug. 27, whereupon for the next few weeks it they kept busy constructing storage facilities, gathering wood, making fishing nets and trading.

On Sept. 17, he writes that he is desperately trying to get a small canoe but is having a hard time getting one. The small canoe was desired in the fact that the very large freighter canoes they arrived in were just way too large for everyday use. Fortunately, he did however get his small canoe the very next day when some Indigenous people carrying wild rice down the river showed up.

Three of them went on to the North West Company post and the other two stayed, from whom he was obliged to buy 40 gallons of rice for cloth and blankets. The small canoe also cost him some cloth and duffel.

Up until Oct. 23, things seemed to be fairly routine, trading goods for wild rice and a few furs, people making nets, fishing, and hauling wood. On that day it was then reported that two of their nets had been stolen as well as a sturgeon net. It is suspected this was done by the North West Company employees who were also fishing nearby. A week later, on the 30th, yet another was stolen.

—Gerald Sarapu