Political & Economic Organizations - Additional Reading

Economic Organization

A. The Western Trade

Independent Scottish traders began to take control of French trading posts, competing with each other as well as the HBC.  The HBC had little choice, but to do the same and in 1774, they established their first inland post, Cumberland House, on the lower Saskatchewan River.  In the face of this challenge, the Scottish traders decided to pool their resources and the North West Company was born.

HBC trading routes

In the decades that followed, the two companies leap-frogged each other, establishing posts further and further west. Rocky Mountain House opened in 1799 and the American Fur Trading Company built their first trading post in 1831.  These western posts allowed the Blackfoot Confederacy to directly partake in the European trade.  For the next four decades, members of the Blackfoot Confederacy pitted the British against the Americans, always holding out for the best price and taking their buffalo robes, dried meat and furs to the company that offered the widest range of trade goods.

Around this time, alcohol began to play a larger role in the fur trade.  The HBC and North West Company were eager to maintain the flow of furs.  They realized that First Nations had little incentive to keep hunting and trapping for furs once they had all the trade goods they needed.

Alcohol, however, was a different story.  It could be consumed on the spot so that people would always be eager to trade for more.  It could be transported more cheaply and easily than many conventional goods such as metal pots and tools.  It was also addictive.

Before long, alcohol became one of the most important trade items for both the HBC and the North West Company, with often disastrous consequences for First Nations communities.