Today we have a post from Jaia about the history of the Fur Trade in Canada, and its effects on Canada’s earliest peoples. 

Last year, Canada celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Confederation and I believe that the years to come are opportunities to reflect on the significant events that made Canada the nation that it is. The fur trade was one of these events and it had positive and negative effects, especially on the Indigenous peoples in Canada at this time.

Long before the confederation of Canada, Indigenous peoples were an essential part of the fur trade. These people were in Canada first and the Europeans used them for their knowledge of trapping animals and collecting furs in the winter, as well as other skills. During this time, the Indigenous peoples contributed their time and efforts to the fur trade and worked hard to trade their furs with others. However, the fur trade affected their ways of life in a negative way due to business competition, violence and foreign diseases being spread.

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In the fur trade, two main companies, The Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, dominated business and used competition to motivate themselves during the cold winters. Due this competition, the high demand for furs made Indigenous people highly involved in the process, and decreased the populations of animals in the area. This was not an immediate problem, but eventually began to put many Indigenous men out of work due to the lack of trapping. This was very important as many Indigenous men had to move away with their families and become farmers, not continuing their jobs as trappers.

Although the fur trade had a mostly negative impact on Indigenous peoples, it created an economy based on profits from furs. This caused general hunting grounds to be divided, but created a new concept of territorialism, which could be thought of as negative. This territorialism brought up conflict between the Algonquians and Iroquois, as well as creating high tension over the St. Lawrence (the path for French fur traders). Therefore, violence was increased and brought up controversy in the lives of Indigenous peoples, beginning the demoralization of the Indigenous reputation.

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Another reason that the fur trade negatively impacted Indigenous peoples was because many European diseases were introduced to Canada, leaving Indigenous peoples to cope with their lack of immunity. Smallpox, measles, and cholera were transmitted from Europeans to Indigenous peoples who were either not able to fight the symptoms or use their traditional medicines to heal. These diseases and epidemics seriously decreased the health of Indigenous peoples by causing infections leading to fatalities. Not only did this take lives, but also caused many Indigenous peoples to be in critical condition in which working during the harsh winters was not an option of any sort.

In conclusion, the fur trade in Early Canada impacted those from Europeans, to English and French traders to hunters themselves. Unfortunately, Indigenous peoples suffered from the long-term effects, making bargains that would cause the suffering of their people for many years to come. This is why it is important to understand the hardships and sacrifices of people who not only fought to make Canada a better place, but for those who were forced to give up what they knew to make way for others.

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