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The city of Thunder Bay, in northern Ontario near the far western end of Lake Superior, is a curious city when one looks into it. As cities go, the entity is quite young, having only been formed in 1969. But it was formed by the merger of 3 smaller cities, one of which bore the name of Fort William, and Fort William itself had, for a brief moment in time, a crucial role in the settlements of both the Canadian and American interiors. As its name implies, it was initially an actual Fort – a fortified settlement, but not a military one. Fort William was a trading and commercial hub, a deliberate outpost of the same sort of ventures that gained India for Britain. Fort William was the key interior post of the Northwest Company. As with its more famous British contemporaries, the Hudson Bay Company and the East India Company, the NWC’s pursuit of trade in effect claimed much of what today is western Canada. Moreover, much of early American trade either crossed through, or crossed swords with the traders of the NWC. Superior Rendezvous-Place: Fort William in the Canadian Fur Trade, by Jean Morrison, is an approachable history of this settlement, and its significant, if rather brief time as a vital hub of early Canada.
Superior Rendezvous-Place begins with background history on the discoveries of the interior of North America, French and British explorations, and early commercial networks for shipping manufactured goods in, to barter with the natives in exchange for furs (chiefly beaver), and to then packaged and ship the furs back out to ports, thence to Europe. In the absence of roads, the many lakes and rivers of the Canadian interior were mapped and surveyed for the purpose of the portage – trade routes navigated by crews in massive birch-bark canoes. The French developed their network across what is today lower Canada and Michigan, across the Great Lakes, and from there even further into the interior. The British, by way of the Hudson Bay Company, entered the interior from Hudson Bay. In the 7 Years War (the French and Indian War), France lost Canada, and the Scottish Clan McTavish, eager businessmen, saw an opportunity to replace the old French network with one of their own.