The Lifeline of the Oregon Country
304 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
7 b&w illustrations
Release Date:01 Jun 1998
Release Date:01 Dec 1997
Release Date:01 Oct 2007

The Lifeline of the Oregon Country

The Fraser-Columbia Brigade System, 1811-47

UBC Press

“Furs is what brings us,” remarked an early trader in the Oregon Country, adding, however, that “the difficulty of getting the necessary supplies will continue to operate against it,” located as it was, “on the worst side of the Rocky Mountains.” Fortunately, the discovery in 1805 by Lewis and Clark that the Columbia River was navigable by canoe or boat to the Pacific led to the logistical linking of the New Caledonia and Columbia Districts by means of the Fraser-Columbia brigade system. First used in 1811 by the North West Company, this transport system of North canoes, Indian pack horses, and Columbia batteaux eventually became the lifeline of the fur trade of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Columbia Department until 1847, when the route was severed by the extension of the Canada-US border along the forty-ninth parallel to the Pacific.

In The Lifeline of the Oregon Country, James Gibson compellingly immerses the reader in one of the most intractable problems faced by the Hudson’s Bay Company: how to realize wealth from such a remote and formidable land. The personalities, places, obstacles, and operations involved in the brigade system are all described in fascinating detail, stretch by stretch from Fort St. James, the depot of New Caledonia on the upper reaches of the Fraser River, to Fort Vancouver, the Columbia Department’s entrepôt on the lower Columbia River, and back.

Never before has such a rich collection of primary information concerning the fur trade supply system and the constraining role of logistics been so meticulously assembled. The Lifeline of the Oregon Country will prove indispensable to historians, researchers, and fur trade enthusiasts alike, and is an important contribution to our understanding of the economic history of the Pacific Slope.

James R. Gibson is a historical geographer at York University. He is the author of the award-winning Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast 1785-1841 (1992), as well as of Imperial Russia in Frontier America: The Changing Geography of Supply of Russian America 1784-1867 (1978), and Farming the Frontier: The Agricultural Opening of the Oregon Country 1786-1846 (1984).


Part 1: Introduction

1 Opening the Oregon Country

2 Linking the Oregon Country

3 Reforming the Oregon Country

Part 2: The Outgoing Brigade

4 Canoeing down the Fraser: From Stuart’s Lake to Alexandria

5 Packhorsing over the Mountain: From Alexandria to Thompson’s River

6 Packhorsing between the Fraser and the Columbia: From Thompson’s River to Okanagan

7 Boating down the Columbia: The Easy Leg from Okanagan to Walla Walla

8 Boating down the Columbia: The Hard Leg from Walla Walla to the Sea

Part 3: The Incoming Brigade

9 At the Sea: The “Grand Depot” and “General Rendezvous”

10 Boating up the Columbia: The Hard Leg from the Sea to Walla Walla

11 Boating up the Columbia: The Easy Leg from Walla Walla to Okanagan

12 Packhorsing between the Columbia and the Fraser: From Okanagan to Thompson’s River

13 Packhorsing over the Mountain: From Thompson’s River to Alexandria

14 Canoeing up the Fraser: From Alexandria to Stuart’s Lake



1 Chief Factor William Connolly’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, May 5-September 23, 1826

2 Chief Factor Peter Warren Dease’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, May 7-September 13, 1831




Find what you’re looking for...
My alt text
Stay Informed

Receive the latest UBC Press news, including events, catalogues, and announcements.

Read past newsletters
Current Catalogue
Spring 2021 catalogue cover featuring a beige background and drawings of houses in a variety of colours
Publishers Represented
UBC Press is the Canadian agent for several international publishers. Visit our Publishers Represented page to learn more.