Canadian Geographic
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INSIDE: In the Cordillera, 1821-1857 Go now!

In the distant, unfamiliar territory of the Cordillera the Hudson’s Bay Company inherited a novel set of problems: persistent commercial and geopolitical competition from the Americans and the Russians, indigenous trading networks that took advantage of this competitive situation, and severely extended supply lines.

By the end of the 16th century the French court had come to realize that a successful fur trade required a permanent base in Canada. In 1599 Henry IV awarded Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit, a Huguenot, a trading monopoly. Already familiar with the Canadian cod and fur trades, Chauvin maintained a trading post at Tadoussac. After two years of successful trading Chauvin died and was briefly succeeded by Aymar de Chaste who organized the first geographical survey of the St Lawrence since Cartier. In 1603 this survey was carried out by Samuel de Champlain.

In 1603 Pierre Du Gua de Monts took over de Chaste’s monopoly. Discouraged by the winters at Tadoussac, he decided to begin a colony in Acadia while continuing to trade on the St Lawrence. On the urging of Champlain Du Gua switched his colonizing efforts to the St Lawrence in 1608. Champlain was to build a post and explore, while pursuing the fur trade. Québec, the site Champlain chose for a post, commanded the river, was near fertile land for an agricultural colony, and was within range of friendly natives accustomed to trading. Champlain was made to understand by the natives that security at Québec, trade, and inland exploration required French participation in native wars.

He accompanied a Montagnais-Algonquin-Huron war party up the Richelieu valley to Lake Champlain to make a raid on the Mohawk. For Champlain the raid was an opportunity to explore and to cement an alliance, promised by Henry IV to the Montagnais in 1602, and for his native companions it was proof of French good will. For the Mohawk it marked the beginning of French interference in their affairs.

Champlain’s supposition that the Huron would play an increasing role in the fur trade proved to be correct. Their well-developed trade connections with the Neutral and Petun and with Algonquian bands to the north provided a framework for the collection of furs and the distribution of French trade goods throughout the eastern Great Lakes.

By the mid 1620s the annual French fur trade in the St Lawrence valley amounted to 12,000-15,000 beaver, but there were only about 20 permanent settlers at Québec. In 1627 Cardinal Richelieu created the large, well-financed Compagnie des Cent-Associés which, in return for a trading monopoly, was charged to bring 4,000 settlers to Canada in 15 years and promote native missions. The next year the company’s first expedition - 4 ships and 400 colonists - was captured by a British force commissioned by Charles I and financed by a London merchant company that also intended to trade in and colonize the St Lawrence valley. Starved into submission, Champlain capitulated the following year. For three years, until the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1632) restored Canada to France, an Anglo-Scottish trading company maintained some 200 men at Québec and operated the St Lawrence trade at considerable profit.


On the next page:

Native Trade and Warfare

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Quiz :

What is the name of the fort that was built on Lake Ontario in 1673 to undercut English competition?