There was increasing conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) in the years before the two fur trade companies merged.
Fur traders working for the HBC criticized the company for being slow to respond to situations while the NorthWest Company ran roughshod over them.
1816 was a bad year. In Athabasca (north Saskatchewan), the HBC was short of provisions but they faced open hostilities from the NWC. As a result, 16 HBC employees died of starvation. At Red River, 22 settlers including Governor Robert Semple were killed in what became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre.
Lord Selkirk, whose idea it was to establish settlers in the area, against the wishes of the HBC, travelled to the North Westers’ headquarters at Fort William. In retaliation of the massacre, Selkirk and his private army seized the fort and arrested several of the partners.
The NorthWest Company had a strong position in the Athabasca area but there were mounting problems within the company ranks.
At Ile á la Crosse in northwestern Saskatchewan, both the companies had forts there. The NorthWest Company had Fort Black and the HBC named theirs Fort Superior. Here both sides engaged in guerilla warfare.
Peter Skene Ogden was one of the young Northwesters accused of leading the bitter rivalry at Ile á la Crosse, where the HBC’s post and goods were captured under warrant in 1817. James Douglas was named by the HBC for harassing those at Fort Superior.
Both of these men later went on to become Chief Traders with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually, James Douglas became the colonial Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and a key political figure in the Fraser River Gold Rush.
In my graphic book, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush, I have included a biography of James Douglas, including his time in the fur trade.