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Canadian Fur Trade

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Supplies, and more primitive implements disappeared and the methods of making them were forgotten This dependance was what destroyed the culture and freedom of the Natives of Canada involved in the fur trade. Once the Natives had forgotten their old ways they became dependent on European goods to survive. So long as the fur trade persisted, the Natives could survive, but by the mid nineteenth century the animals they hunted had almost disappeared. The Natives could not even rely on the fisheries for enough food to survive anymore: moose and deer had virtually been exterminated from the forest country, and fisheries were said to be unreliable .

These starving Natives started drifting into colonies, surviving on the charity of the colonists and occasionally working on farms during the harvest. Although the government hoped this continued contact with the colonists would civilize the Natives, its hopes would not be realized. When the Natives had no food or shelter they would wander into a colony and try to beg or look for work, but whenever some other opportunity arose they would drift out just as suddenly as they had come in. The Natives still preferred the old way of life but they had become dependent on the Europeans. They had not become civilized by European standards but they had grown dependent on their modern ways for survival. The economy of the early fur trade changed with the increased demand of furs and the interest of big investors.The early fur trading relationship was one of mutual dependence, or one could even say European dependency because during the early eighteenth century the European market was desperate for furs.

A new method developed by the Russians for combing away the long guard hairs from a beaver’s pelt , leaving the short barbed hairs, made felting much easier and cheaper. The availability of this new technique greatly increased the market for felt hats in Europe which in turn caused the fur trade in Canada to increase at a phenomenal rate. This increase in trade sparked interest in the fur trade from big investors who wanted to join the fur trade. The arrival of big investors revolutionized the fur trade into an industry that would shape a nation. In order for a company to start a trading post in Canada it needed permission from the Crown.

In granting the permission the Crown would usually give a monopoly over specific trade, in a certain area. Such a monopoly, however, did not come without conditions. Those investors who joined together to form trusts and companies were obliged to aid in the colonization of the new land. In order to maintain the monopoly, certain quotas of settlers had to be met, or the monopoly was rendered void ; and there was always another company or trust with new promises willing to take over the monopoly. Failure to meet the settlers’ quota occurred because the companies were primarily interested in the fur trade, and not in the development of colonies.

Until the late seventeenth century, the English had little stake in the fur trade, concentrating mainly on their thirteen colonies that were flourishing south of New France. England finally decided to get involved when two Frenchmen, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Mdart Chouart, Sieur de Grosseilliers, proposed to Charles II of England to sail up to Hudson’s Bay to trade there for furs. Radisson and Groseilliers had already successfully made this trip once, but on their return to France the furs they had acquired were taken and they were put in jail for travelling without permission. On their release they went to England, where Charles II persuaded a group of rich Englishmen to invest in another voyage. This second voyage was so profitable that the investors decided to create a company that did this every year, and so The Company of Gentlemen Adventurers Trading into Hudson’s Bay (the Hudson’s Bay Company) was formed. Thus the English had taken its place in the fur trade .

This emerging fur industry would, however, become strained, as the fur supply grew smaller and could no longer meet the needs of the European market. Though the fur trade brought economic growth for Canada, this growth had the opposite effect on the beaver, which, by the end of 1870, was on the verge extinction. The beaver shaped the development of our country more than any other single factor in those early days of exploration, earning its place on our coat of arms. The habits of this animal along with the great demand for its pelts influenced the exploration of Canada.

Before the coming of the Europeans the beaver had mastered its territory. It has been estimated that before the fur trade the beaver population increased twenty percent a year . But these same advantages the beaver had prior to the introduction of iron products into their ecosystem became their down fall. Beavers migrate little and move slowly on land. As they build permanent structures, dams, in which they live, they are easily found by hunters. Also they are a monogamous animal.

When one beaver is killed its mate will not find a new mate. This means that if only one of a pair of beavers is killed even the beaver that manages to escape from the hunters will not reproduce ever again. All these factors combined to reduce the beaver population to almost nothing in areas that were heavily hunted. The reduction in the beaver supply forced the traders to travel farther and farther across the continent exploring most of Canada and laying the groundwork for the building of a nation. The fur trade has played an important role in the shaping of Canada into the land we see today.

However, this transition brought about by the fur trade also changed the lives of Native Canadians, from self-sufficient independent people to a minority depending on the fur trade for survival. The explosion in the fur trade was due to fashion in Europe, which revolutionized the fur trade into big business. This big business took advantage of the Indians and their stone age technology by giving them products of Europes iron age, and so making them dependant on the new products for survival. The fur trade influenced the early shaping of Canada, for it opened up the country to later European development, and shaped the history of our country. Only at the end of the twentieth century has there been some recognition of the devastating consequences of the fur trade on the Native Canadian’s cultural ways of life and on the delicate ecological balance of the beaver and other endangered species with their environment. With this recognition one can only hope that the twenty-first century will bring about a responsible response to these problems that will lead to a stronger and more enriched Canada.


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Canadian Fur Trade. (2019, Nov 26). Retrieved from