The Fur Trade The fur trade was the engine that drove the New France ( Maritimes and Quebec) colonies. And the search for new sources of fur was constant. The Quebec colony was an interesting example of opposites. While the official goal of the colony was to create a self sufficient colony supported by business and farming, the reality was that fur drove the finances of the colony and often took the men needed to run the colony into the forest to trade fur.
There were 6 key elements to the fur trade: 1. Beaver 2. Natives and native alliances 3. Coureurs de Bois / Voyageurs 4. Transportation systems - birch bark canoes , ships to transport fur across the Atlantic 5. Merchants in Montreal / Quebec City and in Paris France. 6. European fashions and markets Without any of these elements, the fur trade could not exist.
Why was the beaver pelt so valued compared to other fur bearing animals ? It was not that other animal pelts were not used or had little value, it was simply that the beaver pelt was the “ Granddaddy” of them all. - A finished beaver pelt hide was more pliable ( shaped more easily), kept its fur better and was more durable than many of the other furs.
Two types of beaver pelt: Castor Sec : literally “dry beaver”. This was a new / fresh pelt which still had the long, hard guard hairs still attached to the pelt. It was more brittle and was more difficult to make into a hat as it needed to be “limbered up”. This type of pelt was by far the most common type of pelt traded. Castor Gras : literally “ Greasy beaver”. A beaver pelt which had been worn, fur side in against the body, by a native for up to two years. The use of the pelt meant the long guard hairs had been removed and the persons sweat and natural body oils made the fur soft and pliable and “ greasy”. This type of fur was extremely valuable and was highly prized for hat making.
- The fur trade was easily the most profitable industry in New France, supplied by the natives. - The natives Did Not take furs into the towns and cities. They transported furs to trading posts or traded directly with the Coureurs de Bois and the Voyageurs. - Coureurs de Bois- literally translates as “Runners of the Woods”. - they were young french men who travelled to the tribes or trading posts and transported furs back to Montreal and Quebec city. - vital to the fur trade as interpreters and as “middle men”. - the coureurs de bois were free spirits who led a tough life but were respected by the natives because they often understood the ways of the natives. - Eventually, so many young men began to leave the farms of New France to join the profitable fur trade that the Governor of New France allowed only permit holders to trade for furs. -These licensed fur traders were called “Voyageurs”. - This permit was difficult to enforce, so there were still many illegal Coureurs de Bois trading furs.
- Voyageurs - Were men who had a legal permit, granted to them by the Governor, to trade for furs. - Voyageurs were known as adventurers and hard workers. The first part was out of a desire for profit. As furs lessened, fur traders ( voyageurs) had to move further and further out into the wilderness, opening new trade routes and meeting new tribes in their quest for fur. - The hard work was out of necessity. Voyageurs were known for their canoes and skills in the wilderness. - Voyageurs freight canoes could be up to 12 meters ( 40 feet) long and could carry between 6 -12 people. - Cargoes could reach 2300 kg ( 5000 lbs) in weight which, when a portage ( detour) was reached, meant that the cargo was carried by the men across land, including the canoe. - This was often done using a tump-line which was a strap that went across the voyageurs forehead. It held all the weight of the load and kept the voyageurs hands free. http://www.milkandcookies.com/link/44759/detail/