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Radisson and Grosilliers

Radisson and Groseilliers
Courtesy of the Hudson's Bay Company Archive

Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart, Sieur Des Groseilliers established trading routes that led to the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company. They were the first Europeans to extensively explore the forests of the North, the first to negotiate with the Cree and the first to explore the upper part of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Lured by rumors of vast untouched beaver preserves, the brothers-in-law ventured into the country north of Lake Superior in 1659. They had heard stories from the Huron, Cree, and Sioux nations of the wealth of beaver pelts between the Hudson Bay's southwestern shore and Lake Superior. The two returned to Quebec with glossy pelts that probably saved the colony's ailing economy.

However, the French governor, Marquis d'Argenson, denied them permission to explore the coveted territory, fearing that the expedition would shift the focus away from the St. Lawrence. The Marquis even went so far as to jail Groseilliers for trading without a license. The explorers decided to switch allegiances and explore on behalf of the English at Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia). They set off a chain of events that culminated in the British conquest of New France a century later.

While working for New Englanders of Boston, the pair sailed to Hudson Strait, discovering copper deposits near Lake Superior. Financed by Prince Rupert, cousin to King Charles II, the two undertook a trading expedition in 1668 in search of the fabled "Northwest Passage" to the Orient. Radisson, aboard the Eaglet, was forced back to Plymouth by severe storms, while Groseilliers and the Nonsuch crew built the first fort in the region. The two spent the winter trading for pelts.

Their report of the wealth in furs led to the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. In 1671, Radisson founded Moose Factory, a company trading post a few miles south of James Bay.

In 1674, Radisson and Groseilliers reconciled with France and went to Guinea and Tobago to serve in the French fleet. Radisson became a resident of Quebec in 1681, and the following year he led an expedition against the English on Hudson Bay. After revisiting both France and England, he was again employed by the Hudson's Bay Company.

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