CAESARS OF THE WILDERNESS, Vol. II by Peter C. Newman

CAESARS OF THE WILDERNESS, Vol. II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fur traders, that is, and how their brigades, assembled under the rival Hudson's Bay and Northwest company banners, literally battled it out for control of the lucrative Canadian market during the 19th century. This is the follow-up to Newman's Company of Adventurers (1985), but the prevailing spirit here goes back at least as far as his 1975 Canadian Establishment. Once again Newman's interest lies with the dominant personalities who helped shape the Canadian business culture--in this case, the Hudson's Bay Company traders who warred with their American archrivals from the Northwest Company. A highly lucrative, brutal industry that established several personal fortunes (including John Jacob Astor's), the fur trade also provided an impetus for exploration of the Canadian North and established a transportation network that abetted later settlement. Hence Newman's interest in characters like Hudson's Bay man Alexander Mackenzie, the Scottish explorer-trader who followed an unknown river, later named after him, to the Arctic Ocean as part of the Hudson's Bay Company (here, just ""The Company"") drive for control of the frontier. Newman views the hierarchical Company, as much as the British Empire, as a primary definer of Canadian territory and--with its emphasis on stamina, survival, and deference to authority--a shaping influence on national character. Burned out as a major industry in 1870, the fur trade gave way to successive, less boisterous waves of immigration, and the Hudson's Bay Company eventually transformed itself into Canada's largest department-store empire; how it managed this will be the subject of Newman's next volume. Newman's fondness for moneyed and money-making Gargantuas swinging it out for control of a financial turf is in full bloom here. And though the author has a weakness for eulogy (George Simpson is the ""Birchbark Napolean,"" others merely ""Galahads of the Pacific""), there's pleasure to be had in following the exploits of megalomaniacs of a less-tamed era.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1987
Publisher: Viking