edward cavanagh on fur trade colonialism


Edward Cavanagh, ‘Fur Trade Colonialism: Traders and Cree at Hudson Bay, 1713-67’, Australasian Canadian Studies 27, 1-2 (2009).


Why has the historic Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) been considered a ‘non-colonial company’ by Canadian historians? Surely those inescapably colonial dyads of insiders/outsiders, rulers/subjects, and Europeans/Natives, suggest otherwise; and as such, we should try comparing it to other colonial forms to better understand its historical presence. This paper introduces the concept of fur trade colonialism as something that is separate to settler colonialism. As is well known in the Canadian historiographical canon, guns, germs and geopolitical upheavals characterised the Indian interior in this early period (1713-63); but what about the ‘settlements’ that hugged the Bay itself? These ‘settlements’, I argue, were not only the sites of contact, but the sites of a perpetual colonial encounter – a  shared space in which natives and sojourning HBC men came to live under the slight rule of Bayside governors, who tempered their own moral judgement with the policies laid out by the Company’s London Committee. This paper brings these settlements under the microscope to analyse the means by which – if at all – the ‘home guard’ natives (mostly Cree nation) of the settlements were colonised by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Keywords: Hudson’s Bay Company; fur trade; colonialism; Cree nation.

3 Responses to “edward cavanagh on fur trade colonialism”

  1. 1 Michael

    Great article, Edward. In the Canadian mythos, I wonder about the conditions of possibility that allow these historical and ongoing colonial practices, processes and red herrings to continually whitewash the HBC. Thank you for offering a counter-narrative to the dominant stories told about the HBC, indeed, you are working through a critical conversation.

    Moreover, I have a question: how does one go about researching early reformatory records of colonizers within pre-apartheid South Africa (in particular Rhodesia circa early 20th century), who spoke out against colonial violence, the egregious politics and imbalanced power relations: students, perhaps, expelled from universities who wrote about these affairs on a very small scale–exiled from their studies, imprisoned, or disappeared. I have been trying to locate any semblance of these penal records, which no doubt exist, through SA universities in order to understand colonial conditions that are structurally on par with these colonial moments in South Africa. A bit about me: I’m a student in Victoria and part of the Free Knowledge Project. We have video footage of our free lecture series in Victoria BC at http://www.vimeo.com/thefreeknowledgeproject

    I look forward to working through many of the papers availed on the settler colonial studies site.

  2. 2 edwardcav

    thanks michael. As for your Southern African research interests, my advice would be to approach someone who specialises in early 20th century Rhodesia. Unfortunately, I am a little uncertain about your topic. good luck, all the same, and keep up the good work in vic.

  3. 3 Michael

    Thanks, Edward. Please let me clarify my research interest: I’m trying to gain access to expulsionary/disciplinary records from South African Universities in the early 20th century. My research focuses on colonialism in Victoria, BC. That you’re based in Johannesburg, perhaps you could point me to an appropriate source or know of records from the University of Witwatersrand.

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