The North West Company. Competiton for the HBC. In 1783, the HBC had a rival the NWC (North West Company) who dotted the western and northern interior, and made it much easier for Native trappers to come to these posts than journey to the Bay.
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Its structure was based on partnerships and was less rigid and top-down than that of the HBC.
The NWC’s Montreal partners stayed in Montreal, bought trade goods from England, and arranged for the sale and shipment of fur pelts to England, while the hivernants (wintering partners) remained in the Northwest and did the actual fur trading. Because they were partners in the NWC they had a vested interest in the company’s prosperity.
The company employed voyageurs, which transported goods to and from Fort William to Montreal. From Fort William they also travelled through the Lake of the Woods/Rainy River system to Lake Winnepeg and on to the Saskatchewan and other rivers.
The main meal was cooked dried peas or cornmeal mixed with water and bits of lard known as pemmican.
Sometimes as a special treat the cook would make a kind of bread known as galette. The main flavouring came from the cook’s unwashed hands as he kneaded the dough and shaped it into flat cakes to be baked in frying pan grease.
After dinner, they told jokes, smoked a pipe and then settled down to sleep under their canoes.
The NWC continued to rely on the canoe throughout the 19th century. In the Northwest the NWC used canots du nord. These canoes were about 7 metres long and a metre wide. They carried about 1500kilos of cargo, and were paddled by a crew of six.
For the journey from Fort William to Montreal, the NWC used canotsde maitre. These were 11 metres long and about 1.5metres wide. Crewed by twelve people, they could carry cargoes of up to 4000 kilograms.
Both types of canoes were constructed of birch bark stretched over a light wood frame.
Travelling the lakes and rivers of Canada was quite difficult. If rapids or waterfalls made a river impassable, or travellers had to switch from one river system to another river system, they would have to portage. This meant the cargo would be unloaded and carried to a place where the water journey could continue.
A voyageur would carry 36 kilogram bales of goods called “pièces”.