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Book Reviews 401 Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific, 1793-1843. RICHARD SOMERSET MACKIE. Vancouver: UBC Press 1997. Pp. xxiv, 420, illus. $75.00 cloth, $29.95 paper The title of this book is actually somewhat misleading because it deals with far more than the fur trade in what after 1821 became the Columbia Department of the Hudson's Bay Company. Mackie traces the history of the notion of a 'British, transcontinental commerce' linking the Canadian colonies with the Pacific. After a short discussion of early attempts to find the Northwest Passage and the operations of various companies in the Pacific, including the North West Company, Mackie focuses on the HBC and how, under the direction of George Simpson from 1821, it succeeded in achieving the transcontinental commerce others had aimed at. By adapting to the particular conditions of the Pacific coast and applying the skills accumulated in the interior, the HBC was able to achieve a surprising degree of monopoly. Trapping out the southern areas kept American fur traders out, while negotiations with the Russians protected the company in the north. But fur proved to be less important than it was in the East, for the pelts of the West were not as good and the Native peoples were not primarily hunters. They relied on other resources, particularly maritime ones, for their subsistence. As a result, new products, such as lumber, salmon, and flour, became important items of trade in a new western economy that extended along the Pacific coast north to present-day Alaska, south to California, and westward to the Sandwich Islands. Indeed, when the company built Fort Victoria in 1843 and turned its attention northward, it was in the process of transformation. By 1849, when it began the colonization of Vancouver Island, the HBC was no longer, as Mackie puts it, 'the mythical fur trade company' of beaver and canoes, but rather 'a general resource company that had recognized an abundant new environment and a broad commercial opportunity' (182). Mackie succeeds in demonstrating that diversification occurred before 1870 and that the economy of what became British Columbia was too complex to make generalizations about a so-called fur trade era at all appropriate. This history of the company's operations in the West is based on a thorough examination of company journals, account books, correspondence , and reports, both published and unpublished, and an extensive list of secondary sources. It is therefore extremely detailed - sometimes too detailed - and the reader sometimes loses sight of the train of the argument. Nevertheless, this book will prove extremely useful for anyone seeking information on the HBc's business in the western part 402 The Canadian Historical Review of its territory. This study also helps to rescue the HBC from the stereotypes that have hindered examination ofthe company's history by showing that it was not just a collection of fur traders and picturesque voyageurs, but an enterprise which, like any other, sought out sources of profit wherever it could find them. Still, this analysis remains very much an examination of the company 's operations as they were viewed and carried out by its managers, and it does not entirely escape from older interpretations of the company's history. Mackie does devote a chapter to the significance of the Natives to the company's success. The Aboriginal population was indispensable. It provided provisions, commodities for export, and labour, and all at a cost so low that company officers were regularly moved to comment on what a bargain they were getting. Some ofthese workers were slaves, who .were purchased from local Native populations , among whom slavery was common, or who sometimes came with the wives of company traders. Mackie does not overlook the fact that the country's Aboriginal inhabitants were crucial to the HBc's success and that they were not simply part ofthe landscape, though his discussion makes clear that the economic partnership that developed in the West was, like the one in Rupert's Land, an unequal one that eventually undermined Native cultures. Mackie's discussion of the company fails to remedy a common problem among histories of the HBC - the neglect of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 401-402
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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