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Fur Trade

copper pots, fur clothing, European exploration, fur trade, furs

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Fur Trade in North America, trade in animal furs, generally conducted between indigenous peoples and Europeans in the northern part of the western hemisphere. The fur trade was a major economic incentive for European exploration. It involved trapping and skinning fur-bearing animals and then collecting the skins for processing into fur clothing and felt.

When French explorer Jacques Cartier visited eastern Canada in 1534, he was greeted by members of the Mi'kmaq nation holding fur-bearing animal skins, which they seemed to want to trade. Even at this early date, long before the settlement of Jamestown and Québec, visiting fishermen from France, England, and Spain had been bringing copper pots, glass beads, and iron knives and axheads to northeastern America and bartering them for furs. For the next 300 years the fur trade would drive the exploration of North America, shape relations with indigenous peoples, and affect the history of empires.


Belyea, Barbara, ed. Columbia Journals: David Thompson. McGill-Queens University Press, 1994. Account of the daily life of a fur trader.

Gibson, James R. Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841. McGill-Queens University Press, 1991. Comprehensive survey of the Pacific Coast trade in sea otters.

Livesey, Robert. The Fur Traders. Stoddart, 1989. Captures the drama and courageous exploits of Canadian fur traders; for younger readers.

Ray, Arthur J. The Canadian Fur Trade in the Industrial Age. University of Toronto Press, 1990. Examines the Canadian fur trade from 1870 to 1945.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. A revealing study of how Native American women served as liaisons between their own people and the incoming European traders.


Greer, Allan, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, University of Toronto. Author of The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Article key phrases:

copper pots, fur clothing, European exploration, fur trade, furs, western hemisphere, glass beads, eastern Canada, Europeans, Québec, skins, France, England, Spain, North America, processing, members, years

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