My question for this Document of Learning is: “To what extent did Radisson and Des Groseilliers’ deal with the English affect Canada’s history and culture, and how were the ideas of entrepreneurship surrounding the event similar to those existing today?”
I’m going to be focusing on the alliterating areas of Cause and Consequence and Continuity and Change.
Let’s start with some context!
Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers were two French explorers and fur traders. They also happened to be brother-in-laws. They decided to go farther inland towards areas like Hudson Bay to look for new fur-trading opportunities with people like the Cree. They asked Pierre de Voyer d’Argenson, the governor of New France, for permission to go on their journey, but the governor demanded that they not go without taking two of his men with them. D’Argenson did this because “he urged a monopoly control over the fur trade” (Greer), and wanted the two explorers watched at all times. Radisson and Des Groseilliers, believing that would only slow them down and put the governor’s men in danger, decided to leave anyway, albeit secretly and without permission.
They traveled far and wide, and returned to New France with loads of prime, top-notch furs and knowledge of the great beaver-related riches in Hudson Bay. Unfortunately for them, d’Argenson was waiting for them – and he was not pleased with their disobedience. Instead of earning a fortune, Radisson and Des Groseilliers instead got fined and had their furs confiscated. Des Groseilliers was even imprisoned for a few days. Not giving up hope, Radisson and Des Groseilliers decided to try something else: taking it to the competition.
They went to Boston and boarded ships for England. Radisson’s ship had to turn back due to a storm, but Des Groseilliers’ ship made it across. Des Groseilliers met with Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who listened to his business proposition and gave him an audience with King Charles II. Radisson (who eventually arrived), Des Groseilliers, Prince Rupert, and King Charles created the Hudson’s Bay Company, or HBC for short. Prince Rupert became the company’s first governor and the namesake of its territory: Rupert’s Land. As for the two French entrepreneurs, they began working for the HBC.
This next bit isn’t as important, but in case anyone wondered what happened afterwards…
Eventually, due to a chance meeting with a French captive and the promise of a large sum of money, Radisson and Des Groseilliers were convinced to work for the French once again. They traveled to New France, and eventually assisted in the creation of the Compagnie du Nord, a company that was intended to compete with the HBC. Long story short, it didn’t work out, and went bankrupt. Radisson rejoined the HBC, then retired and lived in England until he died, presumably of old age. Des Groseilliers retired to his farm in New France, and met an unknown fate (but he probably died of old age as well).
Why this question?
I believe this is an important question to ask because the two explorers’ actions were the reason behind the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which in turn was a major player in the events that created Canada as we know it today. I also think it’s interesting to note that d’Argenson punished Radisson and Des Groseilliers because he wanted a monopoly on the fur trade, but that punishment was also ironically the final nail in the coffin for his plan. In more ways than one, it demonstrates the unbreakable ties between business and the colonization of “the new world”.
Cause and Consequence
The cause of this event was, in my opinion, a miscalculated judgement of risk versus reward by the governor, d’Argenson. D’Argenson wanted to keep close tabs on Radisson and Des Groseilliers, but he was so insistent on the two explorers taking his men along with them that they left on their own. This demonstrates his wants. When Radisson and Des Groseilliers returned, D’Argenson punished them for trading without a license despite their success. This is just a guess, but I think that d’Argenson’s main reason behind punishing Radisson and Des Groseilliers’ rule violations was due to his fears; he was being cautious and trying not to give potential criminals the idea that they could get away with anything funny on his watch. But in doing so, d’Argenson missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity that would eventually go to their English rivals.
Because of that, the Hudson’s Bay Company was created, and it had immense consequences. First and foremost, the English gained an advantage over the French in terms of fur trading capabilities. The HBC’s ownership of the 3.9 million square kilometre area of Rupert’s Land, which is about a third of Canada, gave them a massive area of land in which they could trade for furs or create colonies as they pleased, without the interference of competition. Additionally, “the fur trade changed the Aboriginal economy. Rather than hunting and trapping for subsistence, people now trapped in exchange for trade goods, including guns and alcohol” (Smith). Since the HBC had set up forts everywhere, trading with the English became far more convenient and realistic for the Indigenous groups in the area.
Furthermore, the influx of settlers and traders created a new population of mixed English-First Nations people. This coincided with the influx of mixed French-First Nations people, the Métis, into the area of Red River. A colony was created, which would eventually spark the Red River Rebellion many years later when Rupert’s Land became part of Canada.
Finally, I have a theory that the fact that the English were the ones who gained control of Rupert’s Land instead of the French is most likely a major reason behind there being far more Anglophones than Francophones in Canada as a whole.
Continuity and Change
Radisson and Des Groseilliers weren’t just explorers and fur traders – they were also entrepreneurs. According to Investopedia.com, “An entrepreneur is an individual who, rather than working as an employee, founds and runs a small business, assuming all the risks and rewards of the venture. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as an innovator, a source of new ideas, goods, services and business/or procedures.”
There are many parallels between this definition and Radisson and Des Groseilliers’ situation. Beaver pelts had become a major commodity, and the two entrepreneurs wanted in on the new beaver craze. When they came up with a business idea, they assumed the risks by venturing out into the wilderness without permission. Their venture was successful in that they discovered a bountiful source of prime beaver pelts.
Due to the French government’s monopoly on fur trading, it would have been difficult for Radisson and Des Groseilliers to start up their own small business. Not only that, but their idea would have cost an unreasonably large amount of money due to needing ships to transport their furs back to Europe. They needed powerful financial backers, but unfortunately for them, the people back in New France weren’t particularly happy with them or willing to support their idea when they returned. “Consequently these entrepreneurs sought backers in the Boston area, and London. In London they were able to find backers due to another entrepreneur, His Highness Rupert, Prince of the Rhine” (Keen). In other words, after failing to sell their idea to one “company” of sorts, Radisson and Des Groseilliers instead sold their idea to the competition.
However, the differences in time period also bring with them differences in entrepreneurship. Unlike today, there were a lot of unexplored areas with untapped riches back in the days of colonial Canada. One simply had to find said riches and survive the experience, then find some wealthy, open-minded noble, and finish the job by crushing any “uncivilized” people who happened to be living in the way. I believe that idea to be one of the most crucial driving forces behind the colonialism taking place in that time period. But nowadays, with pretty much the entire world having been explored and a significant portion of the world’s population demonstrating at least a half-decent respect of indigenous peoples’ rights, aspiring entrepreneurs have to look for other ways to make money.
With far less new resources to discover and use, most entrepreneurs have to look at what they already have and discover new ways of using it, thereby bringing the innovation more towards the cities rather than the unexplored frontier. Also, with the rise of capitalism, creating a business has become a much more realistic and profitable idea, which also means that the money at risk for starting up the business most likely comes from the entrepreneurs’ own pockets, while the rewards such as money and influence go straight back to the entrepreneurs instead of a noble patron.
Social Studies Inquiry Process/Conclusion
Based on my research, I am able to reach several conclusions. They may not all be entirely correct, but I believe they are mostly accurate.
I believe that the idea of entrepreneurship was a key driving force behind both Radisson and Des Groseilliers’ exploits and the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company. I also believe that while the circumstances and factors behind entrepreneurship were different then from what they are now, the core idea of getting a money-making idea and bringing it to fruition has remained the same throughout. Finally, I think that the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company was one of the most important events in terms of the creation of the central provinces of Canada, the “westernization” of the Indigenous peoples, and the proportions of English- versus French-speaking Canadians today. Radisson and Des Groseilliers were two aspiring entrepreneurs whose search for powerful backers shaped the history of Canada as we know it today.
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Pope, Alexandra. “Five Companies That Dominated the Canadian Fur Trade.” Canadian Geographic, 14 Nov. 2016, www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/five-companies-dominated-canadian-fur-trade.