Its capital was then only £8420. Private companies were formidable rivals to its success; and French agents, making Canada their headquarters, ventured on hazardous but most lucrative expeditions. The active competition of these bold hunters threatened the very existence of the infant Company.

The conquest of Canada, however, somewhat lessened the danger of its position. Three years after the taking of Quebec, 1776, the fur trade received a new impulse. English traders became familiar with the difficulties of trade of this kind; they learned the customs of the country, the ways of the Indians and their system of exchange of goods, but for all this the Company as yet made no profits whatever. Moreover, towards 1784 some merchants of Montreal combined to explore the fur country, and founded that powerful North-west Company, which soon became the centre of the fur trade. In 1798 the new Company shipped furs to the value of no less than £120,000, and the existence of the Hudson’s Bay Company was again threatened.

We must add, that the North-west Company shrank from no act, however iniquitous, if its interests were at stake. Its agents imposed on their own employés, speculated on the misery of the Indians, robbed them when they had themselves made them drunk, setting at defiance the Act of Parliament forbidding the sale of spirituous liquors on Indian territory; and consequently realising immense profits, in spite of the competition of the various Russian and American companies which had sprung up—the American Fur Company amongst others, founded in 1809, with a capital of a million of dollars, which was carrying on operations on the west of the Rocky Mountains.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was probably in greater danger of ruin than any other; but in 1821, after much discussion, a treaty was made, in accordance with which its old rival the North-west Company became amalgamated with it, the two receiving the common title of “The Hudson’s Bay Fur Company.”

Now the only rival of this important association is the American St Louis Fur Company. The Hudson’s Bay Company has numerous establishments scattered over a domain extending over 3,700,000 square miles. Its principal factories are situated on James Bay, at the mouth of the Severn, in the south, and towards the frontiers of Upper Canada, on Lakes Athapeskow, Winnipeg, Superior, Methye, Buffalo, and near the Colombia, Mackenzie, Saskatchewan, and Assiniboin rivers, &c. Fort York, commanding the course of the river Nelson, is the headquarters of the Company, and contains its principal fur depôt. Moreover, in 1842 it took a lease of all the Russian establishments in North America at an annual rent of £40,000, so that it is now working on its own account the vast tracts of country between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean. It has sent out intrepid explorers in every direction: Hearne, towards the Polar Sea, in 1770, to the discovery of the Coppermine River; Franklin, in 1819 to 1822, along 5550 miles of the American coast; Mackenzie, who, after having discovered the river to which he gave his name, reached the shores of the Pacific at 52° 24’ N. Lat. The following is a list of the quantities of skins and furs despatched to Europe by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1833-34, which will give an exact idea of the extent of its trade:—

Beavers . . . . . . . . . . . 1,074

Skins and young Beavers,. . 92,288

Musk Rats,. . . . . . . . . 694,092

Badgers,. . . . . . . . . . 1,069

Bears,. . . . . . . . . . . 7,451

Ermines,. . . . . . . . . . 491

Foes, . . . . . . . . . . . 9,937

Lynxes, . . . . . . . . . . 14,255

Sables, . . . . . . . . . . 64,490

Polecats, . . . . . . . . . 25,100

Otters, . . . . . . . . . . 22,303

Racoons,. . . . . . . . . . 713

Swans, . . . . . . . . . . 7,918

Wolves, . . . . . . . . . . 8,484

Wolverines, . . . . . . . . 1,571

Such figures ought to bring in a large profit to the Hudson’s Bay Company, but unfortunately they have not been maintained, and for the last twenty years have been decreasing.

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Jules Verne

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