In a memorial addressed to Governor Haldimand, dated October 4th, 1784, the North‑West Company, through its directors, Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher, asked for certain privileges, and outlined a plan for the exploration of the country lying between Hudson's Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Accompanying the memorial they sent a letter, which contains details of the attempt to establish the fur trade under British rule in Canada not contained in Mackenzie's introduction to his 'Voyages.' On the 18th of the following April, Peter Pond sent a memorial to Lieutenant-Governor-General Hamilton supporting the memorial of the North‑West Company. With the memorial he sent his famous map. In the interval between October 1784 and April 1785 General Haldimand retired from the office of Governor, General Hamilton taking his place as Lieutenant-Governor.
General Haldimand replied to the Frobishers through his secretary, R. Matthews, stating that he did not feel himself authorised to grant their requests, but promised to forward the memorial to London. In June 1785 the memorials and Pond's map were sent by Hamilton to Lord Sydney, the covering letter being couched in these terms: —
"Quebec, 6th June 1785.
"My Lord, — I have the honour to enclose the copy of a memorial to His Excellency, General Haldimand, presented to him by the merchants trading to the North‑West, also their memorial to myself soliciting an exclusive Trade for a limited time. If it may be allowed me to suggest what occurs to me p290 on this business, however monopolies may be in general prejudicial to commerce, I must think that were the Indian Trade suddenly laid open to greedy and needy adventurers, the returns might be very great for a short period; but the Indians would be drowned in rum, and, exclusive of that consideration, it would be the occasion of endless quarrels, and bloodshed must be the consequences.
"The pretensions of the first discoverers will have their just weight with your Lordship; I shall therefore decline saying anything upon that head.
"The enclosed plan No. 1 shows the communication from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron by Lake la Clie. No. 2 shows Mr Pond's discoveries laid down in the best manner a short time would permit.
"All of which shall be pursued upon the signification of your Lordship's approbation, or abandoned in consequence of the orders I may hope to receive, all of which is submitted to the judgment of your Lordship with all possible deference and respect.
"I have the honour to be,
Your ever obedient and most humble servant,
"Benjamin Frobisher's remarks on the proposed communication accompany this.
"The Right Honourable Lord Sydney."
"To His Excellency Frederick Haldimand, Captn. General and Commander-in‑Chief in and over the Province of Quebec and the Territories thereon depending, Vice-Admiral of the same, &c., &c., &c.
"The memorial of the North‑West Company humbly sheweth:
"That the Company from the Boundary described in the p291 late treaty of Peace being apprehensive, the United States would avail themselves of every means to dispossess them of their Trade to the North‑West, from being entitled to an equal, if not an exclusive, right to the Grand Portage on Lake Superior and the water communication to the extent of Lake du Bois: Have at their own Expense and with the approbation of your Excellency, sent off from the North side of Lake Superior in the month of June last, Two persons on whom they can depend, accompanied by six Canadians, to attempt the discovery of another passage, North of the line of Boundary, to the River Ouinipique, and from the information your Memorialists have since received from them, they have every reason to expect that this passage, so much to be wished for, will be discovered and found practicable, which will effectually secure that valuable branch of the Furr trade to this Province.
"That, exclusive of this great Object, your Memorialists have in view another discovery of greater magnitude, which is that of exploring at their own Expense, between the latitudes of 55 and 65, all that tract of country extending west of the Hudson's Bay to the North Pacific Ocean, of which surveys shall be taken as far as it may be practicable, and such surveys with remarks thereupon respecting the nature of the Country, and the Rivers which discharge their waters into that sea between those latitudes, together with every other information that can be collected from the natives, shall be laid before the King's Governor for this Province, to be by him transmitted to his Majesty.
"That the Company's Servants, as before mentioned, are now actually employed in the first of these discoveries; And the latter, which must be considered as an object deserving of every Encouragement from Government, they are ready to undertake by such of their Servants, and other Persons who are qualified to carry their intentions into execution.
"That your Memorialists request your Excellency will be pleased to represent to his Majesty's Ministers the value and importance of these discoveries; and the propriety of granting to the Company an exclusive right to the passage they may discover from the North side of Lake Superior to the River Ouinipique; and also of the Trade to the North‑West either p292 by that passage or by the present communication of the Grand Portage for Ten Years only, as a reward for their services and in consideration of their making these extensive and valuable Discoveries, at their own expense.
"Your Memorialists would not presume to ask for this exclusive Right of Trade to the North‑West, if it could prove injurious to individuals, or hurtful to this Province in general; but, on the contrary, they are the only persons who have any Interest of connection in that Country; consequently no one can be injured by it; while it will give them the opportunity of making the discoveries they propose, and pursuing the most proper measures suggested by long experience to supply the natives abundantly with every necessity they require, by which only, and a well-regulated system in that long chain of connections, the North‑West Business is capable of being cruised.
"Your Memorialists therefore request that until his Majesty's pleasure is known, that your Excellency will be pleased to suspend the granting of passes for the Grand Portage, or the passage they are attempting to discover from the North side of Lake Superior to the River Ouinipique, should they be applied for; And that you will be pleased to signify the same to the Officer commanding at Michilimakinak, to the end that no person may have cause to complain under a pretence of having property in the Country, if the Company should obtain for the Considerations now laid before your Excellency an exclusive right to the Trade from Lake Superior to the North‑West.
"Your Memorialists pray your Excellency will take the merit of their Memorial into your Consideration, and that you will be pleased to recommend to his Majesty's Ministers to grant to the North‑West Company (of which your Memorialists are the Directors) an exclusive privilege of Trade from Lake Superior to that Country for Ten Years only, as a reward for discovering a new passage to the River Ouinipique, and thereby effectually secure to this Province the Furr Trade to the North‑West. And in consideration also of exploring at their own expense between the latitudes of 55 and 65 all that Tract of Country West of Hudson's Bay to the North Pacific Ocean, and communicating to the Government such p293 Surveys and other information respecting that Country as it may be in their power to obtain.
"And your Memorialists as in duty bound will ever pray, &c., &c.,
Benj. & Jos. Frobisher,
Directors of the North‑West Company.
"Montreal, 4th October 1784."
"Montreal, 4th October 1784.
"Sir, — We beg to lay before your Excellency for your Consideration the enclosed Memorial on the subject of the trade to the North‑West, to which we request your Excellency will permit us to add a few remarks respecting the rise and progress of that Business at different periods, since the Conquest of this Country, and state to your Excellency the nature and extent of it, and the Advantages which will Arise, not only to the Proprietors, but to this Province in general, from a well-regulated System in conducting it.
"The first adventurer went from Michilimakinak in the year 1765. The Indians of Lake La Pluye having then been long destitute of Goods, stop't and plundered his Canoes, and would not suffer him to proceed further. He attempted it again the year following, and met with the same bad Fortune. Another attempt was made in the year 1767. They left Goods at Lake Pluye to be traded with the Natives, who permitted them to proceed with the remainder; and the Canoes penetrated beyond Lake Ouinipique.
"From this period the Trade of that Country was attempted by other Adventurers with various success, and we were among the number in the year 1769 when we formed a connection with Messrs Todd & M'Gill of Montreal for the purpose of carrying on the Business, but the Indians of Lake La Pluye, still ungovernable and rapacious, plundered our p294 Canoes, and would not suffer any part of our Goods to be sent further. Before we could be acquainted with this misfortune, our Goods for the year following were at the Grand Portage, and we were then too far engaged to hesitate for a moment. A second attempt was made, in which we were more successful. Our canoes reached Lake Bourbon, and thenceforward we were determined to persevere. Taught, however, by experience that separate Interests were the Bane of that Trade we lost no time to form with those Gentlemen, and some others, a Company, and having men of Conduct and Abilities to conduct it in the Interior Country, the Indians were soon abundantly supplied, and being at the same time well treated, New Posts were discovered as early as the year 1774, which to the French were totally unknown; and had we not been interrupted by new adventure, the public in the course of a few more years would have been well acquainted with the value and extent of that Country, of which even at this time our knowledge is very imperfect. These adventurers consulting their own Interest only, without the least regard to the management of the Natives and the general welfare of the Trade, soon occasioned such disorder, that those who had the most substantial prospects lost no time to withdraw their property, since which this Business, tho' not altogether neglected, has been carried on under great disadvantages occasioned by a variety of Interests, sometimes partially and at other time wholly unconnected with each other; insomuch that at the latter end of the year 1782 those who had persevered were no more than Twelve in number, and being convinced by long experience of the advantages that would arise from a general Connection, not only calculated to secure and promote their mutual Interests, but also to guard against any encroachments of the United States on the line of Boundary, as ceded to them by treaty from Lake Superior to Lake du Bois — They entered upon and concluded Articles of Agreement, under the title of the North‑West Company, of which we were named the Directors, dividing it into sixteen shares, of which each proprietor holds a certain number proportionate to the Interest he then had in the Country. And to prove to the world that they have no Views but what are directed to extend that Business p295 and promote the Commercial Interest of the Province, it is expressly ordered in the Thirty-second Article that their Agreement for the purpose of carrying on a Trade to the North‑West shall be registered at the Secretaries' Office for this Province of Quebec for the Inspection of the public.
"Their first object was to prepare the necessary supplies and provide against any interruption to their business from the United States, by discovering another passage from Lake Superior to the River Ouinipique, at least 40 Leagues distant from the American line, at the Lake of the Woods, to secure at all events a Communication with the North‑West. Having every reason to expect from the line to be drawn as explained in the late treaty of Peace, that they would soon be dispossessed of the Grand Portage, situated at the North‑West extremity of Lake Superior, which is the only part of that Country where there is a possibility of getting to the Water Communication which leads to Lake du Bois, and thenceforward to every part of the Country beyond it; from which your Excellency will perceive the Grand Portage is the Key to that part of British America; and should the United States be put in possession before another passage is discovered, that valuable Branch of the Fur Trade must be forever lost to this Province. Urged by these reasons the Company lost no time in procuring the best information of the Country; and early in June last they actually sent off from the North side of Lake Superior a Canoe with Provisions only, navigated by six Canadians under the direction of Mr Edward Umfreville, who has been Eleven Years in the Service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and Mr Venance St Germain; both of them men who speak the Language of the Natives, and who are in other respects very well qualified to execute the Company's intentions.
"Their Instructions were to proceed to Lake Alempigon, and thence in a West direction by the best Road for the Transportation of Goods in Canoes to the River Ouinipique, at or as near as may be to the Portage de L'Isle, and by Letters received from them at Lake Alempigon, 30th June, it appears they had met with innumerable difficulties from the want of Indian Guides, but they then had one who had undertaken to conduct them to Lake Eturgeon, and they expressed the p296 most sanguine hopes of getting forward from thence to the River Ouinipique. The Company have no accounts of them since that period, and as all their Canoes are now returned from the Grand Portage, they cannot until next year give your Excellency any further information concerning this discovery.
"The Inland Navigation from Montreal, by which the North‑West business is carried on, is perhaps the most extensive of any in the known World, but is only practicable for Canoes on account of the great number of Carrying places. To give your Excellency some Idea of which there are upwards of ninety from Montreal to Lake du Bois only, and many of them very long ones.
"Two sets of men are employed in this business, making together upwards of 500; one‑half of which are occupied in the transport of Goods from Montreal to the Grand Portage, in Canoes of about Four Tons Burthen, Navigated by 8 to 10 men, and the other half are employed to take such goods forward to every Post in the interior Country to the extent of •1000 to 2000 miles and upwards, from Lake Superior, in Canoes of about one and a half Ton Burthen, made expressly for the inland service, and navigated by 4 to 5 men only, according to the places of their destination.
"The Canoes from Montreal always set off early in May, and as the Provisions they take with them are consumed by the time they reach Michilimakinak, they are necessitated to call there merely to take an additional Supply, not only for themselves but also for the use of the Canoes intended for the Interior Country, and the Consumption of their servants at the Grand Portage, but as these Canoes are not capable of carrying the whole of such Provisions it thence becomes necessary to have a Vessel or Boats upon Lake Superior for that Transport only, and the utmost dispatch is required that everything may be ready in point of time to send off their supplies for the Interior Country, for which purpose the Goods, Provisions, and everything else required for the Outfits of the year must be at the Grand Portage early in July: for the carrying place being at least •Ten miles in length, Fifteen days are commonly spent in this Service, which is performed by the Canoe‑men, who usually leave the p297 west end from the 15th July to the 1st August, according to the distance of the places they are intended for.
"Their general loading is two‑thirds Goods and one‑third Provisions, which not being sufficient for their subsistence until they reach winter Quarters, they must and always do depend on the Natives they occasionally meet on the Road for an Additional Supply; and when this fails, which is sometimes the case, they are exposed to every misery that it is possible to survive, and equally so in returning from the Interior Country, as in Spring provisions are generally more Scanty. In winter Quarters, however, they are at ease, and commonly in plenty, which only can reconcile them to that manner of life, and make men forget their Sufferings in their Annual Voyage to and from the Grand Portage.
"We have taken the liberty to mention these matters so minutely to your Excellency to demonstrate how precarious that business is, and to show the impossibility of carrying it on to any extent in opposite Interests, without manifest ruin to some of the parties concerned and the destruction of the Trade. While, on the contrary, by a well-regulated System in that long and precarious chain of connections which a Company alone can establish and execute, every Advantage may be derived for discovery and improvement.
"The present Company have accordingly adopted the most proper measures to answer those ends, and have entered upon the Business with a determined Spirit to supply the Natives plentifully with every necessary they require, which is the only sure means to extend it and to obtain a perfect knowledge of the Country, so far as it may be done without interfering with the Commercial rights of the Hudson's Bay Company, which on all occasions they will carefully avoid.
"The property the Company have already in that Country, exclusive of their Houses and Stores and the different Posts, as appears by the settlement of their Accounts this present year, Amounts to the sum of £25,303, 3s. 6d. Currency, and their Outfits for the next Spring, which will be sent from Montreal as soon as the Navigation is open, will not fall much short of that sum, so that the Company will have an Interest at the Grand Portage in July next of about £50,000, original p298 Cost, in Furrs, to be sent to Montreal by the return of their Canoes, in goods for the Interior Country, from which your Excellency may judge of what may be expected from that Trade, when in our power by an exclusive Right for Ten Years to explore the Country and extend it.
"We beg your Excellency's pardon for troubling you with this long detail; we have done it merely to give your Excellency the best information respecting a Trade which is hardly known, and still less understood, except by those who have been in that Country, requesting your Excellency will take this letter in support of their Memorial into your consideration, and extend to the Company your Favour and Protection to obtain for them An Exclusive Right to the Trade of the North‑West, on the Conditions stated in the Prayer of their said Memorial to Your Excellency.
"We have the Honour to be, with the utmost respect in behalf of the North‑West Company,
"Your Excellency's Most obedt. and Most hbl. servts,
Benjn. & Jos. Frobisher
To His Excellency
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of Canada
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 25 Jul 16