Fur Trade: How and Why?
The fur trade was a major commercial enterprise in Canada for nearly 300 years. Beginning in the 17th century the Fur Trade lasted until the mid 19th century. When Europeans arrived in the New World fur trade became a large part of European and First Nations interactions
Before the fur trade, fishing was the activity Europeans took part in the most. It was off the coast of Newfoundland, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where there was a large supply of cod, that interactions with First Nations peoples fostered the fur trade. The cod needed several weeks to dry, and during that time the Europeans wanted to maintain their relationships with First Nations groups. Europeans would often trade metal and cloth goods to the First Nations for fresh meat and furs.
Beaver felt hats are one of the major reasons why permanent European settlements came to Canada. The popularity of beaver felt hats in Europe, where there are no beavers, grew during the 17th and 18th century. The fur trade was increasingly taken advantage of in order to get enough pelts to satisfy the growing demand for hats.
The fur trade spread across North America, while most fur trading posts and settlements were located around Montreal and Northern Alberta. Each spring, fur traders, or voyageurs, would head to Fort William, now called Thunder Bay, where they would hold a “rendezvous” to trade with First Nations in August. Afterwards the fur traders would head home to deliver the furs to their trading company. The Hudson’s Bay Company, established in 1670, was the most famous trading company and is still around today.
Fur wasn’t the only highly prized trade good. Glass beads were another important part of trade between the First Nations and European settlers and traders. Makers marks also started to appear on items like pipes, axes, and metal decoration that was often traded. These materials are important to archaeologists and historians as they can help map trade routes and their use.
Did you know? It could take 13 weeks for voyageurs to travel from Montreal to Thunder Bay.