• The Fight at Seven Oaks, 1816. By Charles William Jefferys. Library and Archives Canada.

Late in the afternoon on June 19, 1816, 25 armed Hudson's Bay Co. employees rode out to Seven Oaks near the company's trading post on the shores of the Red River.

In a clearing they confronted 61 armed Metis and Indians. Tensions rose. Bullets flew though clouds of gun-smoke and "in a few minutes all our people were either killed or wounded," said John Pritchard, one of three HBC men who survived.

The violence marked the boiling over of a dispute between two companies vying to corner Canada's profitable fur trade.

The Metis and Indians who did the killing were employees of the North West Co., a Montreal-based furrier that relied on their pemmican to fuel its trappers in Canada's wild interior.

The dead were a group of Scottish farmers who set up a competing HBC trading post on the Red River in 1812 at the order of Lord Selkir, a major stockholder in the company.

Deadly Competition
Profit & Ambition: The Canadian Fur Trade, an exhibit running at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa-Gatineau until September 12, tells the tale of this battle for corporate supremacy.

Starting with the demand for beaver pelt top hats in Europe during the 18th century, it sets out to investigate the story of the enterprising Montreal businessmen who decided to try and best the HBC.

Launching their fur trade from the shores of Old Montreal, the voyageurs of the North West Co. were among the first Europeans to explore the Canadian frontier. Their dangerous work made their financiers rich, and in the process drastically changed the Native American way of life.

The exhibit is filled with artifacts from the time, including journal entries describing the drunken revelries of wealthy merchants and the hardships of voyageurs, as well as clothing, pelts and a scale that lets you compare your height and weight to a courier du bois.

To find out more, go to http://bit.ly/GajU7, or watch a video about the life of a voyageur below.