History of the James Bay

Two groups live side by side in the James Bay area: Jamesians with a population of 17,000 and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee (nearly 13,000). The long adventure of the first Europeans to come to America mingled with the history of the Cree who were probably the first occupants of the huge territory of the James Bay.

You can ready about the long history of the Cree in our note: Cree Nation. As to the Europeans, their exploration of the area was fuelled by the search for new route to Asia, the so called Northwest Passage, fabled sea route to China.

In 1610, Sir Henry Hudson discovered the bay that bears his name. Twenty years later, in 1631, Thomas James published the map of Hudson Bay showing once and for all that the Hudson’s Bay was not the Northwest Passage. However, the Europeans realised that the region was full of animals whose furs were among the best and the most sought-after in the world. Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers, developed the fur trade in New France (Canada).

Then, they managed to interest the English. In May 1670, King Charles granted a royal charter to the Hudson’s Bay Company, which is still in operations. But Radisson and Chouart left the HBC in 1674 and returned to France to create the North West Company, in direct competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

This struggle for the control of the fur trade continued until 1713, when signature of the Treaty of Utrecht ended hostilities between the French and the English. During the 18th and the 19th centuries, the fur trade gradually declined. The James Bay region was nearly forgotten, and interest in the area was revived by the riches in the bedrock on the James Bay territory. The last European trappers became thus prospectors.

Road construction and railway development made it possible for the mining industry to flourish. During the 20th century, a dozen mines went into operation here, leading to the founding of Chapais, Chibougamau and Matagami. The infrastructure set up by the mining industry opened the way in the 1960ies to another natural resource: the boreal forest. Spruce is used to produce excellent wood framing, and its pulp enhances the strength of certain types of paper.

Besides, the 1960ies were the logging years in the James Bay as well as elsewhere in Quebec, as a large number of companies were established.

At the beginning of the 1970ies, the era of the hydroelectric projects comes…

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