21 November

X.Y. Company Formed

Fortitude in distress.

                    -MOTTO OF THE BEAVER CLUB

The feudal state of Fort William is at an end; its council chamber is silent and deserted; its banquet-hall no longer echoes to the burst of loyalty, or the "auld world" ditty; the lords of the lakes and forests have passed away.

                -WASHINGTON IRVING, 1836,

Even today a group of businessmen in Montreal, with distinguished guests from other places, meets occasionally to commemorate one or Canada's earliest social organizations, the Beaver Club. They appear in the costumes of the coureurs de bois and the ceremonies always include an after dinner "paddle"- the members and guests sit in a double line on the carpet, facing in the same direction, and use pokers, brooms, and walking sticks while they pretend to be paddling a war-canoe.

The original Beaver Club was founded by the aggressive members of the Northwest Company, mostly Scotsmen, who were determined to break the Hudson's Bay Company's fur-trading monopoly. While the H.B.C. (sometimes called "Here Before Christ") men waited at their posts for the Indians to bring their furs to them, the Nor'Westers sent their men all over western Canada to deal directly with the Indians. Some of the greatest explorers were Nor'Westers: Mackenzie, Fraser, Thompson, Henry, and others.

Competition was so keen that it almost became a civil war. The chief beneficiaries were the Indians, who learned to play off the rival fur traders to obtain higher prices for their furs. The Northwest Company not only competed with the Hudson's Bay Company, but some of its own men broke away and formed the X.Y. Company on November 21, 1795. John Jacob Astor's fur traders increased the competition, and Lord Selkirk's colonization of the Red River added further pressure. The Northwest Company's feud with Selkirk led to the battle of Seven Oaks (see June 19) and Selkirk's raiding of Northwest headquarters at Fort William. Although Selkirk lost a legal battle with the Northwest Company, as well as a large part of his fortune, and his life, his Red River colony did not fail. It was the beginning of the settlement of the Prairies, which were to become one of the greatest granaries of the world.

The fierce competition ended in 1821 when the No Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, and surrendered its name and trading posts. The Hudson's Bay Company then reigned supreme from Labrador to the Pacific coast, and only the Beaver Club in Montreal remained as a memorial to the Nor'Westers.


21 November

-1763    Benjamin Franklin established post offices at Montreal, Trois Rivières, and Quebec.

-1817    St. John's, Newfoundland, was badly dam aged by fire.

-1829    Egerton Ryerson published the first issue of the Christian Guardian supporting Methodist interests in religion and politics.

-1856    The Grand Trunk Railway was completed from St. Mary's to Sarnia, Ontario.

-1890    The Indians of Ontario and Quebec petitioned to be able to elect their own chiefs as formerly, though still subject to the Queen.

-1942    The Alaska Highway was opened.

-1950    A collision between a troop train and the C.N. transcontinental at Canoe Lake, British Columbia, killed twenty-one, and injured fifty-three.

-1954    H.M.C.S. Labrador completed an 18, 000 mile trip around the continent via the Northwest Passage and the Panama Canal.