HL Deb 04 July 1862 vol 167 cc1404-12

, in moving an Address for Copies of Correspondence relating to the establishment of a means of a communication between Canada and British Columbia, said, that a large part of the territory to the north and the west of our Canadian possessions had been for the best part of two centuries in the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, part of it under a charter of Charles II., and part of it under a licence to trade. Within these territories the company had the sole power of governing the country and trading with the Indian tribes. It was difficult to define the exact boundaries of that part which was held under charter from that which was held under the licence, and in all probability the Secretary to the Colonies would not be able to give any definite information on the point, but it was said that it included all the territory which drained into the Hudson's Bay. At the time the charter was granted the country included in the powers was almost totally unknown, and, as to all that large portion which was held under the licence, remained so down to a very recent period. The licence to trade expired in 1859, and a large portion of the territory which they had held under it had since been erected into a colony under the name of British Columbia. It was well known that that colony since its first establishment had received an immense development from the discovery of gold mines, exceeding in richness all that had been discovered in Australia or California, and very large numbers of persons were desirous of emigrating thither. So long as British Columbia was merely a small colony, it was, perhaps, not worth while to seek for any further means of communication than were afforded by the route over the Isthmus of Panama and the West India line of steamers; but since its immense development it was imperatively necessary that we should have an independent means of communication through our own territories, without having to rely on any other Power, which at some time or other might possibly be hostile. Of course, it would be futile to ask the Government to spend money in making roads or railways. What he would ask of them would be to give such facilities for the introduction of settlers into the colony as would lead to the country being opened up, and this in the course of time would lead to the construction of the means of communication. He thought it essential that we should be independent, both in peace and war, of any other Power with respect to our means of communication with this rising colony. He did not ask that a large Parliamentary grant should be given for the opening of this communication. All he asked the noble Duke to do was to carry out the recommendations of a Committee of the other House who sat on this subject. The noble Lord, who was very indistinctly heard, concluded by moving that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty for—

  1. "1. Copies or Extracts from Correspondence between the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and the Hudson's Bay Company respecting the Establishment of a Means of Communication between Canada and British Columbia."
  2. "2. Copies or Extracts from Correspondence between the Secretary of State for the Colonies mid the Hudson's Bay Company respecting the Renewal of the Licence to trade in the Indian Territory which expired in 1859."
  3. "3. Copies or Extracts from any Correspondence between the Government and the Hudson's Bay Company respecting the withdrawal of the Red River, Satckachewan, and Swan River Territories from under the control of that Company, and their Erection into a Colony depending directly upon the Crown."


wished to say a few words in defence of a body of men with whom he had the honour to be connected—the Hudson's Bay Company. Whenever property belonging to a corporate body was taken for the use of the public, it was usual to give the money value of the property. He had no hesitation in declaring that the Hudson's Bay Company had no wish to stand in the way of any arrangement, if their just claims were properly considered. As in the case of the East India Company, the Hudson's Bay Company would require to have the dividends of their capital secured to the shareholders, and some compensation given to their agents, who had an interest in the business of the Company. If that were done, the Hudson's Bay Company would be quite prepared to give up their property. It had been imputed to the Company that it was opposed to immigration within its territories; but that was not the fact, for the Company had made exertions, and spent a considerable amount of money in attempts at colonization; but the nature of the climate, and the geographical position of the country rendered the attempts unsuccessful. Except where there was an approach by sea, all settlements in the United States were upon the lines of rivers, the wave of colonization continually spreading along those lines. But no such wave of population had approached the Hudson's Bay territories, and as long as there were large tracts of uncleared land in Canada of equal fertility, but more accessible than land within the Hudson's Bay territory, settlers would prefer the former to the latter. With respect to the charter of the Company, it was not now for the first time that that subject had been mooted. More than fifty years ago a number of able men took exception to it, and obtained legal opinions as to its validity, but those opinions did not lead to any further steps being taken. The navigation of the rivers and bays in the territories was very difficult, and required great experience, as was shown by the fact, that while of the Company's vessels none had been lost, no less than thirty chartered vessels had been wrecked. The country was therefore not of a nature to invite settlers in any numbers.


said, he did not understand the noble Earl who brought forward the Motion to make any observation hostile to the Hudson's Bay Company. He would remind the noble Earl who spoke last that the circumstances of the territories of the Hudson's Bay Company had greatly changed within the last fifty years. It was true, as the noble Earl had observed, that colonization generally spread itself along the course of the rivers like wave following wave; but if he had visited many parts of the United States in the far West, he would have found that that was not a universal rule, and that in places where fertile land was found settlers spread themselves irrespective of oceans or rivers. In fact, the wave of colonization had advanced very closely to the Red River Settlement itself. With respect to the Motion of the noble Earl, he was willing to produce the papers asked for, except those under the second head, which had been already laid upon the table in 1859. The noble Earl was anxious to know the position of the licence to trade in the district which since 1859 had passed under the direct authority of the Crown. Shortly after the change of Government in that year, he (the Duke of Newcastle) brought in a Bill, the heads of which had been prepared by his predecessor, in anticipation of the Company refusing the offer made to them by the Government, and which gave power to the British Government, if they should think it necessary, to appoint magistrates in that district. At the time, he stated that he was not at all sure that it would be necessary to appoint magistrates in that district for some years, as he anticipated that the fears of the Hudson's Bay Company regarding an influx of fur traders into that country would be found to be groundless, and that their agents, who had established a moral influence over most of the natives, would be left to exercise any necessary control. The event had justified that anticipation in the Indian territory. But further north was a district in which gold had been discovered. That discovery had greatly altered the state of things, and he expected that he should have to resort to the powers of an Act passed some years ago, the title of which would not at first sight show its relation to British Columbia—the Falkland Islands Act. That Act gave power to the Queen by Order in Council to make provision in certain colonies in which no settled or organized government existed. He did not think it would be dignified for Her Majesty's Government to attempt to exercise influence over the Hudson's Bay Company by means of threats. The only part of the Company's territories in which colonization could have been expected before the discovery of gold was near the Red River; but the discovery of gold had effected a considerable change, and a very large district on the Satckachewan must, he believed, eventually pass out of the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, and any adjustment with that Company must affect a much larger tract of country than the Red River Settlement. Considering the rapid progress of British Columbia, it was certain that before long there must be some means of communication across the continent. It was true that the communication between this country and British Columbia by means of steamers between Panama and Victoria might be improved. He trusted such a line would be established, because for some time that route must be the cheapest and most ordinary route from this country. But the progress of events would not allow the means of communication to be confined to that route. A short time back, when there was an apprehension of hostilities with the United States, he was unable to communicate with the Governor of British Columbia for the space of six weeks, there being the possible chance of any despatches sent viâ Panama falling into hostile hands. In times of war, and equally in times of peace, it would be necessary to have a communication by land, and that was the general feeling in British Columbia, in Upper Canada, and among merchants and others in this country. It was said that it was an inhospitable region; but he believed that there was a long line of country, of considerable width, which was not only capable of cultivation, but which was really fertile. He did not think that the establishment of a communication would be so expensive as some persons imagined. One peculiarity of the rivers on each side of the Rocky Mountains was, that they were navigable to points wonderfully near to their sources. There was a route, which he thought would be practicable, by which persons starting up the Fraser River reached its source in fourteen or fifteen days, nine of which they spent on board a steamer, and the remainder in a stage-waggon. You then reached a point on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, whence you had the option of either navigating the Upper Satckachewan or cutting straight across to the Red River—a fifteen days' journey. To make this route practicable we had a right to expect that the colony of British Columbia, on its side, should bear the whole expense of making the roads up to the summit of the Pass of the Rocky Mountains, and it could hardly be doubted that Canada would be equally ready to effect that communication on its side, and within its territory. The House of Commons, however, could not be expected to Vote a sum of money to perfect the communication between one of these points and the other. With regard to the alleged discovery of gold on the Satckachewan, he could not say that he was thoroughly convinced on this point. No doubt, gold had been discovered there, but whether it was in such quantities as would lead to any great immigration could not yet be determined. It was not likely, however, that while the extraordinary productiveness of the gold-fields in the Cariboo district continued, that many persons would go in search of the precious metals in the Satckachewan district. He could assure the noble Earl, that so far from having neglected the whole subject, he had been, and still was, in communication with parties with a view to a telegraphic and some kind of postal communication across the coun- try. He wished, however, to guard against the assumption, from anything which fell from him, that this communication could be easily effected. A Company had been set on foot; but he was afraid that if they attempted to carry out their present plan, it would lead to disasters. This passage was totally unlike that to which they compared it—the route across the Rocky Mountains between the settled part of the United States and California. Some 30,000 persons crossed that country every year, and a most inhospitable country it was. But these persons went throughout in waggons, laying in their own provisions, and relying upon their own resources along the whole route. On the line he had indicated, however, there was a constant change of passage from waggons to steamers, and therefore much organization was necessary before the route could be practicable and safe. The position of the Hudson's Bay Company created a great difficulty in dealing with all these questions. Under their charter the Company claimed the right of possession in fee simple of the whole of this great country as completely as any property belonging to any of their Lordships. They asserted their right to all the enormous territory bounded by the Western States of Canada and the Rocky Mountains, by the United States territory, and on the north by Hudson's Bay—a country so vast that at the price of one penny per acre it would cost £700,000 to purchase it. Moreover, before they would surrender their rights the Company claimed to be reimbursed the large amount paid to the late Earl of Selkirk for his possessions there, compensation for improvements, and for their monopoly of trade. They also said, "If you take the Satckachewan, the proper thing to do is to buy us out altogether, because in depriving us of this you deprive us of our hunting grounds." Without pledging himself to the accuracy of the calculation, he believed that, according to their views of their rights, they would not he inclined to take less than £1,500,000 for them. Now, it would not be possible to go to Parliament for such a sum for such a purpose; and what, then, was to be done? He had always felt that the charter was a very doubtful one. Taking into account the circumstances of this magnificent continent, it seemed monstrous that any body of gentlemen should exercise fee simple rights which precluded the future coloni- zation of that territory, as well as the opening up of lines of communication through it. Of course, such a thing could never happen in these days. He was inclined to believe that the charter was originally illegal; but, no doubt, it would be a serious blow to the rights of property to meddle with a charter 200 years old, and such a course would not be taken except under circumstances of unparalleled public necessity. He was not prepared to say that such a necessity might not arise. The colonization of British Columbia must progress with enormous rapidity, and it might happen, in the inevitable course of events, that Parliament, would be asked to annul even such a charter as this. He was justified, however, in not resorting to such an extreme measure as long as it was possible to obtain a settlement of any other kind. The question was of such paramount importance at this moment that no opportunity of settling it ought to be lost; but he could not undertake to offer any such sum as that he had mentioned, or, indeed, any other large sum; and he thought the Company could not expect that any very large sum should be paid to them. It was probable that gold would be found in the territory bordering upon the Satckachewan; and if such were the case, the Hudson's Bay Company would no more be able to prevent men from settling upon that territory than they would to prevent their sailing upon the ocean. It might be desirable for their interests that the country should be maintained as a fur-bearing country and as nothing else; but when that was no longer possible, it would be to their advantage to meet the public halfway, and make arrangements which should effect that most important object—the settlement of the country. He had had many interviews with gentlemen connected with the Hudson's Bay Company, and had always found them most courteous and friendly, but he had not been able to come to any understanding with them. He should be happy to lay upon their Lordships' table all the Correspondence which had taken place with reference to the establishment of a line of communication between Canada and British Columbia, and he hoped that when Parliament met next year he should be able to inform their Lordships that some progress had been made towards the establishment of postal and telegraphic communication between Canada on the one side, and New Westminster on the other.


said, that he had paid great attention to this subject; and when he held the seals of the Colonial Office, it became necessary to consider the propriety of renewing the exclusive privileges of the Hudson's Bay Company. He moved for a Committee of the House of Commons to consider the whole subject. In the Report of this Committee and the evidence given before it their Lordships would find a full and impartial account of all the circumstances affecting this most important subject. Although the subsequent discovery of gold had somewhat altered the position of affairs, yet he was convinced that the policy recommended by that Committee was in its main features that which it was the interest of this country to adopt. The Government and people of this country could have no possible interest in the subject different from the colonists of North America. No doubt the charter of the Company was a very extraordinary one; but as the opponents of it had always shrunk from testing its validity by judicial proceedings, he had always declined to take any steps hostile to it. Indeed, he was of opinion that we were indebted to the Hudson's Bay Company for having under most extraordinary circumstances, administered the vast territories which were committed to them, not merely so as to advance their interests as a great fur-trading company, but so as to maintain a rough but effective system of law and order, and to protect as far as they could the aborigines, whose interests we were bound to respect. It was therefore in no unfriendly spirit to the Company that he expressed his opinion that they would not he discharging their duty if they stood upon their extreme rights, so as to prevent the attainment of objects which were essential to Imperial or Colonial interests. The Committee of the House of Commons decided that it was upon the whole desirable that the position of the Hudson's Bay Company should be maintained in the districts which were not adapted for settlement; but, at the same time, they recommended that means should be taken without loss of time, either through the instrumentality of Canada or independently of that colony, to give to the settlers on the Red River the advantage of being governed under the British Crown in a regular and orderly manner. The gentlemen connected with the Hudson's Bay Company had always said that they were prepared to act on these principles, and to facilitate any arrangement which would erect into British settlements or colonies any territories that were bonâ fide adapted for purposes of settlement. He hoped that they would continue to act in that spirit, and would be prepared to abstain from setting up any extreme claims which might prevent an amicable arrangement between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Government.


said, he would withdraw the second paragraph of his Motion.

Motion for an Address for—

  1. 1. Copies or Extracts from Correspondence between the Secretary of State for the Colonies the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and the Hudson's Bay Company, respecting the Establishment of a Means of Communication between Canada and British Columbia:
  2. 2. Copies or Extracts from any Correspondence between the Government and the Hudson's Bay Company respecting the Withdrawal of the Red River, Satckachewan, and Swan River Territories from under the Control of that Company, and their Erection into a Colony depending directly upon the Crown:
agreed to.