Over the winter the men carried on a small but active, trade with a dozen families or so Cree families in the Setting Lake area. Sinclair sent John and William Corrigal to live with local trappers to make sure they didn’t trade with Cross Lake Northwesters.
Supplying Wegg’s Post with food was a constant worry. Five days after their arrival, Sinclair sent hunters afield and assigned one of the men to make fishing nets. Over the winter they also relied on local hunters who came to the post to trade fresh and dried meat.
Between August 1795 and the following June Sinclair and his men went through 3400 pounds of moose meat, caribou and beaver. Pickerel, jack and other local fish were also on the menu. Snowshoe hare, birds’ eggs, ducks, geese, and a single swan round out the post’s larder. On Christmas Day, 1795 Sinclair wrote”
“At 3pm three Indians came to the house with 69 beaver skins 100 pounds of moose meat and 35 pounds of beaver flesh”.
Wegg’s Post had a profitable winter, bringing in over the equivalent of 1650 prime beaver pelts, which Sinclair took down river to York Factory in two large canoes the following June.
Two hundred twenty-five years later, little remains of the York Factory outpost. The Chief Factor instructed Sinclair to “relinquish” the house and move to a new location. The instructions may have been an implicit order for Sinclair to burn down the building so it could not be used by competing traders. It is not clear whether he did that.
Various stories of the destruction of the post have been passed down through generations. There are common threads to these oral histories: a) a dispute between some local Cree and Northwest Company or independent traders who occupied the post after Sinclair left; b) the Cree killed the traders; and c) the fur trade post was burned to the ground. While it is true that small skirmishes erupted between traders and indigenous people from time to time, there is no record of any conflict in the Setting Lake area. Such an event would have undoubtedly been mentioned in the correspondence at York Factory.
At first glance, it seems surprising that Sinclair would abandon a post that he and his men worked so hard to build just months earlier, a post strategically located to incept traffic moving up and down the Grass River, a route that had served indigenous people and the Hudson’s Bay Company so well for over a hundred years. What was behind the decision?
In a word – “competition”. Two fur trade giants engaged in a head-to-head battle for pelts and profits – moving into each other’s territories; burning each other’s boats and forts; bribing each other’s traders; raising the prices they paid for furs, forcing their opposition to increase prices or lose business – each trying to claim the advantage.
In 1774 the Hudson’s Bay Company sent Samuel Hearne to the North Saskatchewan River to build Cumberland House to compete directly North West traders. Cumberland House changed the fur trade forever.
Twenty years later, when Wegg’s House was built, few indigenous trappers paddled the Grass River route to York Factory to trade; most furs were delivered by Bay men themselves, first in large freighter canoes, later in York boats. Both required deeper water than birch bark canoes and so a more southerly deep-water route was chosen. The new Middle Track route ran through Lake Winnipeg to Norway House and down the Hayes River was chosen.