1780 - 1821
The local depletion of beaver spurred the fur trade’s territorial expansion. Beaver were never abundant in the Hudson Bay lowlands and were quickly trapped out around Lake Superior and along the transportation axis to Lake Winnipeg.
From 1780 to 1821 rival traders from Hudson Bay and the St Lawrence, competing fiercely for an easily depleted resource, established over 600 western posts, most of them occupied for only a few years. Durable posts were located at strategic positions on the main transport lines and, in addition to trading, served as depots and administrative centres.
By 1800, when competition had driven rival traders into much of the rugged land between Lake Superior and Hudson Bay, beaver returns from the Petit Nord reached about 50,000 pelts per year. Thereafter, interior districts reported, one by one, that beaver were scarce. Shortly after the union of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company in 1821 the annual beaver return from the Petit Nord was below 7,000 pelts.
Following its union with the North West Company in 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company conducted trade under near-monopoly conditions. As a result, the trade was organized more efficiently and from a relatively more stable settlement base than had been the case during the previous half century. In 1821, 125 posts were in operation, 68 of them belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The reorganized Hudson’s Bay Company reduced the total number to 52, thereby eliminating unprofitable posts spawned by competition and establishing the pattern that persisted for the rest of the fur-trade period.
To further explore the Hudson’s Bay Company’s consolidated trading system, click here.
This interactive map exhibits the depletion of beaver from 1760 to 1825, and tells the story of how the Hudson’s Bay traders and St Lawrence traders converged in that time.