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An introduction to the canadian fur trade

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  2. After the trade with Europe began,the beaver, hitherto relatively unimportant, becamethe medium through which European commoditiesprofoundly modified Indian culture.
  3. Innis developed the concept of "cyclonics" to explain the disruptions that occurred when new technologies led to the rapid exploitation and then exhaustion of staple commodities. Yet Innis, the economic historian, tells the story in 400 pages of dry, Euro-centric and dense prose packed with statistics.
  4. To the Indians, iron and iron manufactures were of prime importance.
  5. For years Canadian historians have given us glib generalizations on the importanceof the fur trade, have speculated about Peter Pond'smap, or have written vaguelyand ignorantly of the "romance" of the fur trade. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, one end of which lay in the metropolitan centres of western Europe and the other in the hinterland of North America.

Introduction[ edit ] Harold Innis begins The Fur Trade in Canada with a brief chapter on the beaver which became a much desired fur due to the popularity of the beaver hat in European society. In such case studies, Innis had been taught it was necessary to understand the nature of a commodity or staple product and to adopt a comprehensive view of it by studying its geography.

Lawrence River especially in the deciduous forests of the Pre-Cambrian Shield with its abundance of waterways. He suggests that beaver fur could be carried long distances because the pelt of the average adult weighed less than two pounds.

The animal itself was a good source of food. Innis points out that the beaver "migrates very little and travels over land very slowly. These biological characteristics made their destruction in great numbers inevitable, especially after Indian hunters acquired European axes that could chop through beaver lodges and dams. European guns, knives and spears also made the sedentary beaver easy prey. In this movement, the waterways of the beaver areas were of primary importance and occupied a vital position in the economic development of northern North America.

Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until conditions to do so are met. July 2016 Learn how and when to remove this template message Harold Innis meticulously traces the fur trade over more than four centuries, from the early 16th century to the 1920s. It is a story filled with military conflict between French and English imperial forces and among warring Indian tribes.

It is also a tale of shrewd barter and commercial rivalry. Yet Innis, the economic historian, tells the story in 400 pages of dry, Euro-centric and dense prose packed with statistics.

The company eventually ruled an area stretching from Labrador to the Pacific.

  • The native peoples became dependent on European traders for fresh supplies, ammunition and spare parts;
  • Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page.

Innis begins by chronicling the first contacts between European fishing fleets and eastern native tribes in the early 16th century. Champlain joined forces with the Huron Confederacy and its tribal allies against the Iroquois Confederacy in the long struggle to control the fur trade. The two companies built trading posts far west of Lake Superior and Hudson Bay, but the Nor'Westers were more aggressive as they travelled north to the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River and west to the Pacific.

The fierce competition ended in 1821 with the amalgamation of the companies into a Hudson's Bay Company monopoly. The Company finally surrendered its northwestern empire when it sold its land to Canada in 1869 following the decrease in profits and demand for furs. The coming of steam boats to the West and the building of railways brought increasing competition from independent traders and new companies from the American West as well as firms from WinnipegEdmonton and Vancouver.

Improved transportation also brought increased control of the trade and cheaper goods. Increased control led to more inspections, better accounting, conservative policies, decreased aggression, and expansion of districts.

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Problems that arose included the difficulty in monitoring large districts and policies that were sometimes too rigid. The increase in agriculture also brought competition through decreased reliance on game for food. A beaver felt hat The importance of iron to a culture dependent on bone, wood, bark and stone can only be suggested.

The cumbersome method of cooking in wooden vessels with heated stones was displaced by portable kettles.

Work could be carried out with greater effectiveness with iron axes and hatchets, and sewing became much less difficult with awls than it had been with bone needles. To the Indians, iron and iron manufactures were of prime importance. The French were the gens du fer. The native peoples became dependent on European traders for fresh supplies, ammunition and spare parts.

More efficient hunting with guns led to the extermination of the beaver and the need to push into new hunting territories in search of more furs. This competition led to outbreaks of fighting. He writes that the aboriginal peoples' dependence on the trade in beaver pelts to secure European iron goods "disturbed the balance which had grown up previous to the coming of the European.

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Birch-bark canoes enabled traders to travel in spring, summer and fall; snowshoes and toboggans made winter travel possible; while Indian cornpemmican and wild game provided sustenance and clothing. Equally important, Innis notes, was the natives' thorough knowledge of woodland territories and the habits of the animals they hunted.

In Watson's terms, The Fur Trade in Canada is a "complex analysis" of three distinct cultural groups: Alliances were formed and wars were favoured to increase the supply of fur. Goods were traded that would encourage the Indian to hunt beaver. They encouraged war or promoted peace as ways of winning First Nations support. He notes these policies led to an increase in the overhead costs of trade that decreased profits and encouraged the growth of monopolies.

It also explores the effects of the staples trade on the more technologically advanced home countries of France and Britain. In Canada's case, the first such goods were the staples cod fish and beaver fur.

Later staples included lumber, pulp and paper, wheat, gold, nickel and other metals. The colony put its energies into producing staples while the mother country manufactured finished products. Thus, the staples trade promoted industrial development in Europe, while the colony remained tied to the production of raw materials.

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  • The changingfortunes of the fur monopoliesof New France, of the Hudson's Bay Company, and of the North West Company's remarkable partnership of hard-fisted, harddriving Scottish traders with the unexcelled French and half-breed "field force" are set forth in new and illuminating detail;
  • Equally important, Innis notes, was the natives' thorough knowledge of woodland territories and the habits of the animals they hunted;
  • The increase in agriculture also brought competition through decreased reliance on game for food;
  • New France and its Rivals 1600-1760.

As time passed, colonial agriculture, industry, transportation, trade, finance and government activities tended to be subordinated to the production of staple commodities for industrial Britain, and later for the rapidly developing United States. This cumulative dependence on staples relegated Canadians to the status of hewers of wood and drawers of water. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, one end of which lay in the metropolitan centres of western Europe and the other in the hinterland of North America.

It was a transoceanic as well as a transcontinental system.

  1. For years Canadian historians have given us glib generalizations on the importanceof the fur trade, have speculated about Peter Pond'smap, or have written vaguelyand ignorantly of the "romance" of the fur trade.
  2. University of Toronto Press, pp. It is to be hopedthat the fur trade and this interpretation of it cannot now be ignoredwith impunity by Canadian historians.
  3. More efficient hunting with guns led to the extermination of the beaver and the need to push into new hunting territories in search of more furs.

In the case of beaver fur, for example, a slight change in fashion in sophisticated metropolitan centres like London and Paris could have devastating effects in a marginal "backwoods" colony dependent on exporting staples. Innis developed the concept of "cyclonics" to explain the disruptions that occurred when new technologies led to the rapid exploitation and then exhaustion of staple commodities. Later, the decline of the white pine, a vital commodity in the lumber trade, forced the shift to pulp and paper production based on abundant spruce.

For Innis, imported industrial techniques led to rapid resource exploitation, overproduction, waste, depletion and economic collapse. These were the problems of economically marginal, staples-producing countries like Canada.

Innis maintains that the shift from furs to lumber led to European immigration and the rapid settling of the West. The "coffin ships" that carried the lumber to Europe brought back emigrants as a "return cargo. The costs of these transportation improvements were largely responsible, he writes, for the Act of Union joining Upper and Lower Canada in 1840-41, and the political Confederation of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1867.

Yet, he writes, the book is one of the few in Canadian historical literature that deserves to be described as seminal. According to Berger, Innis showed that Canada was far from "a fragile political creation and that its existence represented the triumph of human will and determination.

An Introduction to Canadian Economic History.

University of Toronto Press, pp. The Dark Vision of Harold Innis. University of Toronto Press, p.

Harold Innis and the fur trade

Great Canadian Books of the Century. The authors note that "Innis was not the most elegant of writers—his prose is often swamped with unnecessary detail. New France and its Rivals 1600-1760. The quotation appears on p. Also see, Ray, Arthur.

Portrait of a Scholar.