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Letter from George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, to Andrew Colvile, member of the Governing Committee in London, 20 May 1822

Alcohol & the Fur Trade

It is not my province to go into this subject in a moral point of view and shall therefore confine my opinion thereon as to the effect such restriction might have on our Trade. If the quantity of Spirits given to Indians was calculated I am satisfied it would not amount to a pint p. man annually on an average, which may give some idea of the extent of Crime likely to result therefrom; and I'll venture to say there are not three murders committed annually on the average of the last Ten Years in the whole tract of Country occupied by the Hudson's Bay Coy. from ebrity. As an article of trade it is not generally used and I do not suppose we make Ten packs of Furs p. annum by it: it is, however, the grand Stimulus to call forth the exertions of the Indians and I have often heard them reason thus, "it is not for your Cloth and Blankets that we undergo all this labor and fatigue as in a short time we could reconcile ourselves to the use of Skins for Clothes as our forefathers did, but it is the prospect of Drink in the Spring, to enable us to communicate freely and speak our minds to each other that carries us through the Winter and induces us to Work so hard." This I really believe to be the case, and that if Spirits were withheld it would materially discourage them and produce a lassitude which Weight of other property could not remove.-- In the Provision Countries it is, however, a very principal article of Trade and indispensibly necessary: the Plain Indians are a bold, independent race, Dress entirely in Skins and with them Tobacco and Spirits are the principal commodities, a Quart of Mixed Liquor will at times procure more Pounded Meat and Grease than a Bale of Cloth, indeed our whole profit in that Trade is upon those articles, and if Provisions were paid for in Dry Goods they would eat up all the gains of the Fur Trade. I therefore sincerely hope the Committee will take due time to examine this subject and that they will not prematurely determine thereon as it might be very injurious to the interests of the Concern.

Source: Public Archives of Canada, Selkirk Papers, M.G. 19, EL (1), vol. 24.

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