So the comfortable men in the posts around Hudson’s Bay were ordered off their office chairs and out into the field to cut off the Northwest Company’s routes. The Bay had lost the services of perhaps the most brilliant surveyor, David Thompson, but they had sent out Peter Fidler and Philip Turnor into the Peace River area. It took at least three years for reports to get to London where all decisions were made and for replies and orders to get back to the posts. The cautious British were not about to waste money on trading posts as long as the Indians would come to them at the Bay. At last they had to face the facts.
In 1814, John Clarke was sent out, by way of Methye Portage, to build Fort Wedderburn on an island right in front of Fort Chipewyan. This was an invasion of sorts and a recipe for violence. After all, the Bay had no charter to trade outside of the Hudson’s Bay watershed. The Nor’westers had discovered, mapped and settled the Peace River and opened its trails and waterways to traffic. The war was on! Quietly at first, violently later, the “Canadians” (the Nor’westers) simply saw to it that the hated “English” got no food and no furs from the Indians.
Clarke had orders to open a shorter route than the long loop around Chipewyan into the Sagitawa-Dunvegan area. He was sent from Ile-a-la-Crosse down a route mapped by Turnor or Fidler – which looked good on paper. It led down a shallow, winding river to Lac la Biche, from which the La Biche River ran to the Athabasca, then upstream past the site of present-day Athabasca Town to Lesser Slave River, where Mirror Landing became famous second only to Methye Portage. The Lesser Slave River looked like an enticing chain of lakes leading to 75 miles of open water where a sail could give rest to the oarsmen of the heavy York boats, mass produced by the Bay.
A Hudson Bay trader named Decoigne got to the Western end of the lake and built a small post under the startled gaze of Nor’Wester Hugh Gillis who was stationed there only five days out from Dunvegan.
In practice, narrow sluggish rivers that petered out in dry seasons, muskegs, numerous portages, storms on the lakes, and mosquitoes made the route less than attractive. To get to Fort Chipewyan, one had to run the formidable Grand Rapids on the Athabasca. Trade did not thrive. In addition, the Nor’westers were related by marriage, “after the fashion of the country” to the most of the prominent Indian families. The open warfare that followed nearly bankrupted both companies before amalgamation took place in 1821 under the Hudson’s Bay Company flag