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North West Company

Competition with the Hudson's Bay Company

The traders were, for the most part, active and aggressive, and they made much more headway than the Hudson's Bay Company men. The Northwesters, as they were called, broke new territory for the trade in the West and did not hesitate to try to take the trade even in the vicinity of Hudson Bay. The older company was stirred into some action, and there was an increasingly sharp rivalry. This was not serious, however, until after the Hudson's Bay Company became dominated by Lord Selkirk.

The younger company, meanwhile, was split by dissension, brought on chiefly by the hostility between two important figures in the company, McTavish and Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Mackenzie became (1802) the chief figure in a rival company created c.1798 and usually called the XY Company. This opposition disappeared after the death of McTavish in 1804; Mackenzie's men were reunited with the Northwesters.

To the North West Company is due some of the glory of Mackenzie's earlier voyages to the Arctic (1789) and Pacific (1792–93) oceans. The geographer David Thompson was in the company's employ when he did most of his valuable work, and other explorers, such as Alexander Henry, the younger, were Northwesters.

The company pushed its business into the territory of the United States and met with little opposition except from John Jacob Astor. The Southwest Company, established in 1811, was practically, although not actually, a combination of Astor and North West Company interests; this association was disrupted by the War of 1812. On the Pacific Northwest coast, which was largely explored by Northwesters, Astor was also a rival, but the American post, Astoria (see Astoria2), was sold to the North West Company during the War of 1812 by Astor employees sympathetic to the British; however, it helped establish a U.S. claim to the Pacific Northwest.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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