The North West Company was based in Montreal, and traded goods for furs all across the northern part of the continent. The company was owned mostly by men from Scotland, and staffed by Métis and First Nations voyageurs, hunters and trappers.
North West Company established forts to trade with the Dakelh at Fort McLeod in 1805; Fort St. James and Fort Fraser in 1806; Fort George in 1807; Fort Alexandria in 1821 and Fort Kluskus in 1834. Only the latter did not succeed, due to the already strong, established trade between the Carrier and coastal First Nations.
The North West Company’s biggest competitor was the Hudson Bay Company but they were also concerned with rivalry from American companies. To prevent American traders expanding their interests into the Canadian west, Simon Fraser was instructed to make his push west in 1806. His interest was economic and territorial and, after meeting and trading with local First Nations people and establishing a camp on Stuart Lake, Fraser started his plans to travel downriver to the Pacific Ocean.
Fraser had Alexander MacKenzie’s journals from 1793 as a reference but, more importantly, he relied heavily on the advice of local First Nations guides and runners to make it down the treacherous river that he thought was the Columbia.
Fraser’s crew included Jean-Baptiste “Waccan” Boucher and Jules Quesnel, among others. The men stopped for one night at the end of May in 1808 on the shores of the Fraser near what was later the City of Quesnel, and then pushed off down the river the next day still yet unaware of the terrible rapids that were to come. His journey, almost to the mouth of the river and back to where he started, took 71 days, an impressive accomplishment given the unfamiliar territory, the harsh environment and the scarcity of food and supplies.
By 1821, the North West Company had merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and trading continued with about 50 fur traders in this area, who were mostly Iroquois and Métis. Until the Gold Rush of the late 1850s, few non-Natives lived in this area.