Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Fur Trade




The fur trade was not just an industry in early Canada, it was also important for exploration and mapping.  If you have an ancestor that worked in the fur trade, there is lots of information about it on the internet. Some farmers took fur trapping jobs in the winter to make extra money to buy more land.

The Voyageurs were the canoe traveling workers for fur trading companies.  The Coureurs de Bois were unlicensed, independents. The fur trade was global – while Canada and the US were trading to Europe, Russia was trading furs to China and Islamic regions of Asia. Besides the well-known Hudson’s Bay Company, North West Company, and American Fur Company, there were also the Russian-American Company and the New Netherlands Company.

The trading companies soon realized they needed a Standard of value for furs, and it worked most of the time, not always.  When people think of the fur trade they think of beaver, but there were many other species including otter, sable, deer, bear, skunk, wolves, foxes and hares.

A prime beaver pelt was called a "made beaver" - a pelt which had already been worn for at least one season and from which most of the long outer hair had worn off. The greasy beaver wool was easily shaved from the skin by felters, and turned into the finest felt for making hats.

The prices of all trade goods were set in values of Made Beaver (MB) with other animal pelts, such as squirrel, otter and moose quoted in their MB (made beaver) equivalents. For example, 2 otter pelts might equal 1 MB.

There are many digitized books on the Fur Trade in North America – you can search google fur trade (also try + ancestors name) and choose Books from the google menu. Also try searching at archive.org. I am providing a few links that have names of people involved in the fur trade.
Relevant Links:

HBC Voyageurs database
NW Fur Traders – McGill (check other pages here)
Davies/Scroggie Collection (some contracts)
Land Claims in Michigan (some by Fur Traders families)
Directory of the hat, cap, and fur trades, United States and Canada 1880
The John Askin Papers

Henry’sJournal – Fur Trade on the Red River

The Canadian North-west, its early development and legislative records : minutes of the Councils of the Red River colony and the Northern Department of Rupert's Land

The Beaver - HBC Periodical

Fur Trade Info at French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan

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