The Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670, was in the commercial fur business. But it had to determine where its raw material was located, scattered throughout the river systems draining to the Bay, and how to extract it. The HBC was therefore also committed to exploration.

Within twenty years of its incorporation, the Hudson’s Bay Company explorers had reached today’s province of Saskatchewan, and nearly to Great Slave Lake (interactive map: Exploration from Hudson Bay,1610-1821 -> map layer: Primary routes, 1610-1751). Only late in the 18th century, well after New France had fallen to British control, did HBC explorers enter areas east of Hudson Bay which the French had visited a century earlier (map layer: Primary routes, 1775-1819 ). And it was not until the 1810s that explorers finally began to penetrate the vast Ungava region, crossing northeastward to Ungava Bay through the last large untracked wilderness in the eastern part of the continent.

Rather, exploring the river systems westward – the Saskatchewan, the Severn, the Coppermine – was much more in the interests of the HBC, and their men pressed further and further west through the middle of the 18th century (map layers: Primary routes, 1752-1762, 1763-1774 ). With increasing frequency they encountered the “Canadians” -- French, and later Scots, under the banner of the Northwest Company – out of Montreal. Their primary fur-trading route led to Lake Winnipeg, and here the confrontation with the traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company heated up. English settlement in the Red River area (Winnipeg today) after 1800 heightened the tension, and by 1821 the “Nor’westers” of Montreal had relented, leaving the fur trade solely in the hands of the HBC.

As exploration and trade moved deeper into the continent, the degree of recorded detail lagged behind the general awareness of the land. As a result, large blank areas dominated many of the maps.