Sakitawak Bi-Centennial, Ile-a-la-Crosse 1776 - 1976
Voyageurs. Voyageurs.

En Guarde . . . Many Years Of Trade War

These "White" men, they have done much to hurt us. They have taken our young men and taught them the way of liquor and dishonesty. They have brought death to us by a strange sickness and they leave many children to grow up never knowing their father, or enjoying the rights of being children. Already, young men cease to listen to our counsel. Many do not even prepare themselves and their young families for the long winter months. They think the trader is the giver of life. Manitou, guide your children. They are lost in the treacherous greed of these "White" devils. Manitou help us!

Many people died in the flu of 1781. It became harder for the Canadiens to exert influence over the Cree and Chipewyans by trade goods alone. Rum grew to a kingly role in patching up relations. Honesty, not a prime quality in a trader, saw no days of over-work in the beaver-rum trade. Rum was excessively watered down, then gunpowder added to give a stronger flavour. What wonder that the trade journals of McGillivray claim a serious decline in produce. The trade had drastically weakened the trappers physically and morally and left them prey to any passing disease. Yet the people were not to be undone. Again health came to their bodies, and the fur trade again flourished.

In 1798, a young man arrived at "new" post belonging to the North West Company. The date was September sixth; the man was David Thompson. Here young Thompson left goods for the post manager, Alexander McKay, and enjoyed a respite from the long journey to Lac La Biche. In the spring, after break-up, he came east again. By June 1799, he had arrived at the Ile-a-la-Crosse post and notes about the post:

"After the ice had left the Lake has a fine warm summer: Barley, Oats and sometimes Wheat come to maturity, and good gardens of all the common vegetables: for the lake moderates the frosts and cold of Autumn: between fifty and sixty small canoes of Chipewyans were here . . . . This present race have learned to build small Canoes of Birch Rind, and almost every way imitate their neighbor the Nahathaway Indians . . . . early on the tenth (of June), in company with nine loaded canoes each carrying twenty-five packs of Furs, each weighing ninety pounds."

David Thompson's notes give us a broad picture of the time. Already agriculture, has become a strong hold in the fight for survival, and the fur trade is again healthy. Oddly enough, however, David fails to note a special event of his while at Ile-a-la-Crosse. On June 10th, David took fourteen year old Charlotte Small, Patrick Small's first daughter, as his wife according to marriage customs of the day. Sakitawak had seen the first daughter of the settlement married. The village had now come of age.

The summer passed and brought new company to the settlement. On August 23rd,1799, a Friday, a canoe brigade led by William Auld landed at the Canadian settlement. William Auld, of the Hudson's Bay Company, had brought William Linklater and six other men to establish a trading house on the settlement site. Mr. McTavish, of the NW Company, saw these men as intruders, and straight-away began to make life and trade an unpleasant experience for these men.

Mr. McTavish and comrades, made short work of the Hudson's Bay Company's initial attempt in being a practical alternative. Christmas came bearing very little in the way of happiness to the H.B.Post. Seeing no reason to remain, the six men and William Linklater left the House and went to the Hudson's Bay House at Green Lake. Mr. William Auld, his superior, records in his journal the William Linklater arrived from Ile-a-la-Crosse on December 29th. William Linklater reported that no Indians were about the place, and that they didn't expect any to appear until the spring season. No doubt, Mr. McTavish was happy in ridding the settlement of competitors. William Linklater, however, did not give up easy. He returned to his post at a later date. Trouble was the constant companion of Linklater at Ile-a-la-Crosse. Finally in the spring of 1806, the post was abandoned.

The Canadians basked in the revels of victory over the Hudson's Bay Company. But, they did not count on the persevering efforts of Peter Fidler who meant to see Ile-a-la-Crosse as the eventual H.B.C. stronghold. In 1809, Fidler arrived with a party of fifteen men to re-establish Ile-a-la-Crosse House.

Wood Cutting.
Winter Wood. (Photo Courtesy of Ile-a-la-Crosse Mission.)

Again the North West Company began their oppressive tactics. Firewood was stolen; nets were cut; stockades set afire and the opposition threatened with physical punishment. The N.W.C. were succeeding in demoralizing the H.B.C. gentlemen. Very few trappers traded with the Hudson's Bay. The main reason for avoiding the English Company was due, in most part, to the threats of the N.W. Company.

Peter Fidler kept a clear record of the actions taken by the North Westers. In one journal his letters to John Duncan Campbell at the opposing N.W.C. post reveal the situation.

14 October 1810
Mr. J. Campbell


Some of your people have maliciously cut into the ribbons of our stockade with a saw and thrown many of them down either last night or early this morning-which I presume must be unknown to you-we shall put them up again. I hope no further mischief will be done to them or anything else belonging to us by any of your people.

I am sir your obedient servant
P. Fidler for HBC.

Receiving a prompt reply to this note, Fidler finds that the actions continue to take place; and he writes again the same day.

14 October 1810

Mr. Campbell


I hope this will be the last time I shall have the occassion to make any complaints of the conduct of any of your people and for the future you will be considered responsible for any injuries or violences they may committ either upon our persons or property-since our men arrived from the Factory this fall some of your people have carried away a pile of firewood out into billets-and also within these few days have carried away two other smaller piles of cut firewood-by that your men put an immediate stop to this very disagreeable complaints in the future.

I am sir, your most obedient servant
P. Fidler For HBC.

Matters however, were not so tame for the rest of that season. John Campbell had a bully by the name of Mr Black in his service. That man would challenge the HBC employees to do battle with him outside the gates. At night, this same Samuel Black would wait until all were asleep, then he would lead a few of his friends to "scare" the opposition. Shots would be fired and then the "mauraders" would break into song. Generally the songs were about terrible things that would happen to the HBC men. Samuel Black kept up this nightly performance throughout the winter. He would insult in no mean language the cowards within the walls. Often, during this serenade, other NW men would be damaging some piece of equipment belonging to their opponents. The seriousness of these actions was complemented by the lack of trade the Hudson's Bay received from the Indian and Metis Peoples.

Fidler's men were harassed each time they left the fort. Often, Black would use a fist to settle any dispute. It didn't take long for the HBC men to acquire a fear of leaving the confines of their buildings. What is outstanding about this, was the polite manner the two chiefs communicated and socialized. Below are two notes showing the contrast in their official and personal lives.

27 January 1811

Mr. Campbells compliments to Mr. Fidler and requests the favour of his company to dinner which will be ready at 2 o'clock

27 January 1811

Fidler's compliments to Mr. Campbell. I shall stop over at the time appointed Sunday "morning"

Cabin Interior.
Cabin Interior. (C 7785 Public Archives of Canada.)

The spring season brought more incidents of fighting, kidnapping of employees, midnight concerts and damage to HBC goods. It was with relief that the Hudson's Bay Company people saw breakup allow them to leave with their goods to return to the HBC headquarters at the Factory. Before leaving, Fidler and his second-in-command Robert Sutherland, made their opponent, John Duncan Campbell, responsible for the Hudson's Bay buildings. Needless to say, hours after their departure in June, their buildings were demolished by fire.

It wasn't until the fall of 1814, that the HB Company again returned under the command of Joseph Howse. As with Fidler, things were unpleasant. The North Westers prepared to do all in their power to prevent the Hudson's Bay Company from becoming established in their country. Even to trade at a loss was worth the expense. Joseph Howse was replaced by Robert Logan the following years. The North West Company had acquired a new bully at Ile-a-la-Crosse:

"He was one of the young Northwesters who were prepared to go to great lengths in the struggle, and later proved that his courage and purposefulness made him a formidable opponent. To the Hudson's Bay men he was 'the murderer Ogden' accused of holding a Hudson's Bay Indian in the water and then shooting him at Green Lake in 1816, and of leading the bitter rivalry at Ile-a-la-Crosse, where the Company's post and goods were captured under warrant in 1817 and where the Company's men had been completely encircled and terrified in 1818."

It was with hope that in 1819, the Hudson's Bay Company sent in John Clarke to try his luck in finally getting established. If only they could hold out two more years, the agreement holding the partnership of the North West Company would come to an end. At that time, hopefully, the capitalists of Montreal would refuse to continue the costly trade war.

John Clarke arrived at Ile-a-la-Crosse bringing with him a wide reputation as a tough competitor. The first month had barely passed when friction reached a boiling point. On October 6th, 1819, a duel was challenged by Clarke's man McLeod when Fraser, a bully with the NW Company, abused him and threatened Mr. McLeod with his fists. Clarke's journal reads:

"Mr. McLeod politely told him that he was no blackguard to fight with fists, but that if he had any inclination to show his bravery he was ready at a call and would walk before him into the bushes for that purpose, Mr. McMurray (a Northwester) in the interval going for a brace of pistols."

As the ritual proceeded, Fraser didn't appear to take the second pistol and the duel was cancelled. John Clarke notes here that as a result, the watching Indians saw the strong position of the HBC under Clarke. John Clarke had instilled such confidence in his comrades, that the post now bore the name Fort Superior. The petty guerrilla warfare tactics continued on through the fall. New Year's day 1820, saw a jubilant celebration at the HBC fort.

"Saturday, 1st January, 1820 - Fine clear weather. All the men of our fort went this morning to the North West Fort, and saluted the Master there with three volleys; but instead of calling them in as usual to get a dram, the gates were shut, and no admittance. Pethune said he suspected they came to take the house. Gave a booze and dance to men as customary on this day: they are staunch and unanimous.

"Sunday, 2nd January, 1820 - Wind North. Weather very cold. The men still drinking and boozing rum. Several of the North West servants came to our house today, among whom was their bully (Desjarlais). Patrick Cunningham and a few others of our men went and met him and asked if he came to fight any person in our Fort if so, try one of us immediately."

The next month saw some memorable visitors come to the settlement. Lieutenant Franklin and Mr Back of the Arctic Land Expedition arrived, on their way to the far north country, on Wednesday, February 23rd. This party left in the company of John Clarke on March 5th, heading for the Athabasca country.

Map by Franklin and Back.
Map by Franklin and Back 1820. (Reference V1/700-1820 Public Archives of Canada).

John Clarke's journal continues on with the dangerous and exciting happenings of the spring season. The major result of this year's efforts showed the Hudson's Bay Company showing a good profit for the season. John Clarke remained at Fort Superior for the next season. In September, 1820.

George Simpson, the future HBC governor, came to Ile-a-la-Crosse with John Clarke, Mr. Larocque and Mr. Heron were then the NW Company masters. Mr. Simpson then traveled on to the Athabasca post. During the following winter he notes that most of the Chipewyans are being drawn to the Ile-a-la-Crosse HBC Fort for trade. Rather than seeing the good in this, Mr. Simpson spent the remainder of the season reviling Mr. Clarke to all who would receive his letters. In his journal, Mr. Simpson writes:

"I regret to learn that disturbances of a serious nature are breaking out at Ile-a-la-Crosse, and I cannot help thinking they in a great measure arise from Mr. Clarke's own folly; instead of opposing the enemy by judicious, cool, and determined measures, he encourages broils and squabbles between the Officers and men, and for his amusement sends a parcel of Bullies out to decide important differences by pugilistic combats . . . The N.W. Co. are not to be put down by Prize fighting, but by persevering industry, economy in the business arrangements . . . "

But the truth of the fact is, that this has ended the last year of existence for the N.W. Company. Unable to endure more economic losses, the N.W. Company merged with the H.B.Company in the following months. It seems that all of John Clarke's wrong methods worked while the right methods had continuously failed for twenty years. The trade war was over. Now was the time to get back to the business of raping the northland of her fortunes in gold - at the least expense. Ah! Tis good to be without a competitor.

HBC-Ready For Spring Transport, 1920.
HBC-Ready For Spring Transport, 1920.


Author: Webmaster -
"Date Modified: July 21, 2024."

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