The Fur Trade The sixteenth century to late nineteenth century.
Pre Contact Before European contact the Indigenous peoples of the Americas people survived by using resources off of the land. In this time period there were systems of governance established and a strong culture which was both respected and celebrated.
Ships along the coast • In the early sixteen hundreds European ships sailed the coasts of North and South America, looking for a way across the land between them and China. • In 1610 Captain Henry Hudson sailed his ship into a northern strait which led into a wide bay. The next time Europeans came into Hudson Bay, nearly 50 years later, the sailors were looking for fur not China.
The Nonsuch • King Charles of England asked a number of wealthy Englishmen as well the Frenchmen Radisson and Groseillier to sail ships into the bay. They were hoping to bring back many furs, however storms and ice turned the first ship back to England. In September 1668 a second ship named the Nonsuch reached the bay safely with Groseillier on board.
Men on the Nonsuch • The crew from the Nonsuch built a small fort where they lived for the winter and in the spring the Indigenous people came to trade their furs. • In June of 1669 the Nonsuch sailed back to England, arriving in October.The owners of the Nonsuch were so pleased with the furs that they decided to form a company that would send ships every year to trade on the bay.
The Monopoly • The king gave the newly formed company a monopoly of trade in the area. This meant that no one else would be allowed to trade there. All of the collected furs must only be sold to the Hudson Bay Company.
The North American Fur Trade • Trading was not a foreign concept to Indigenous people as they traded amongst themselves, everything from copper tools to pottery.
Trading Posts • At first the Europeans returned to England with the ships each year. Soon the Hudson Bay Company began building trading posts which allowed the Europeans to live at the post all year round.
The Métis • Many of the European men developed relationships with Indian women and the resulting children came to be called Métis. Métis people were valuable during the fur trade as they could speak the languages of the indigenous people and were reliable and resourceful.
The Beaver • The beaver has two kinds of fur. Next to its skin is a warm woolly coat however over this wool grows the long silky guard hairs. • The supply of fur-bearing animals in western Europe was largely exhausted however fur was still a symbol of elegance and wealth.
Currency The Indigenous people did not use money in their trading but the Europeans used a currency system. In the trading between these two groups the beaver pelt became the currency system.
Currency continued • Tokens were made and items to be traded were measured against the value of a beaver pelt. • For example, four martins were equal to one beaver.
System of currency • European traders brought along with them a number of items, which they knew, would assist Indigenous people in their daily lives and these items had a trading value in terms of beaver pelts. For example in one list of the value of goods one gun cost 12 beaver pelts.
French Fur Traders go west. • Fur traders from New France (Quebec) paddled their canoes south west to trade. A difference between these traders and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) traders is that they were mobile when trading and met the Indigenous people to trade rather than waiting for them to come to a trading post.
French Traders go west. • Among the traders who travelled west was Pierre Gaultier de Varenesse, Sieur de La Verendrye and his 50 men. • La Verendrye built a number of trading posts along the rivers for the Indigenous people to bring their furs to the French instead of taking the furs as far as the Hudson Bay.
French Traders • The French soon became a strong force in the west and posts have been built as far as the Saskatchewan river. • There is a constant battle for power between the French and English. The French captured the English post on Hudson Bay and the English captured Quebec.
The Final Battle • A seven year war between France and England in the 17th century put the fur trade on hold. • The Treaty of Paris at the end of the seven year war put an end to France's position as a major colonial power in the Americas
North West Company • Fur traders from the British colony began to travel towards the western plains looking for furs. At first most of these peddlers worked by themselves, travelling for long periods of time to the western plains and back to Montreal.
North West Company • In 1784 many of the peddlers formed the North West Company (NWC) and a few years later another large groups of traders joined the newly formed company. • NWC had two partners, Montreal partners who sold furs and bought trade goods, as well as partners who stayed in the west and traded with indigenous people. These workers were known as the wintering partners.
HBC and NWC • In 1821 the two companies decided to end their competition for the furs and join together under one name. • The new company would still be known as the Hudson’s Bay Company because it was the HBC that, under the Royal Charter, still controlled the route from the Hudson Bay.
Ending of the Fur Trade The fur trade had slowly dissolved, partially due to the lack of furs and also the lack of Indigenous people who were willing to assist in trapping and trading the furs. The change in style in Europe from fur to silk was the final blow to the North American Fur Trade. At the end of the fur trade many traders went to work on the rail road, mining and lumbering.
References Neering, Rosemary. The Fur Trade. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1985. http://www.furtradestories.ca/era_precontact.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fur_trade
References Continued. http://www1.canadiana.org/hbc/stories/produits2_e.html http://www.metisnation.ca