The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site

Coat of Arms for the North West Company
Coat of Arms for the North West Company
© Old Fort Willian

The Companies

In the early 19th century, the North West Company had become so powerful that three quarters of the furs passed through it, and therefore through the St. Lawrence Valley. The control exercised by the Hudson's Bay Company, located on the shores of Hudson Bay since 1670, was severely threatened, even though it had access to a shorter and less expensive route to England by Hudson Bay and Strait.

Coat of Arms for the Hudson's Bay Company, 1921
Coat of Arms for the Hudson's Bay Company, 1921
© Hudson's Bay Company Archives / PAM HBCA Documentary Art P-237 (N8084)

However, the increasing remoteness of the trapping lands and the brutal competition between the two companies at that time led to an increase in costs, so that the two rivals had to merge in 1821. So nearly all of the furs shipped to England would go through Hudson Bay leaving only 5% that passed in transit through the port of Montréal.

However, Montréal had already started to diversify its economy. So other products such as timber and wheat replaced furs. This was also the era in which the Lachine Canal was dug to bypass the famous rapids located just upstream from the port of Montréal.

George Simpson, Governor of Rupert's Land, on an Inspection Tour
George Simpson, Governor of Rupert's Land, on an Inspection Tour (HBC's 1926 calendar from a painting by L. L. Fitzgerald)
© Hudson's Bay Company Archives / PAM HBCA Documentary Art P-390 (T8226)

The warehouse continued to be used for about another forty years. The famous governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, George Simpson, had built his manor just across from it. After his death in 1861, the manor and the warehouse became the property of the Congrégation des Soeurs de Sainte-Anne. The warehouse was used for a variety of purposes: dormitory for the young girls, laundry, classroom, and lodging for the workers at the college, before finally becoming one of the rare museums in Eastern Canada commemorating the Canadian fur trade epic in 1984.