Canada Hall

The Fur Trade

The Indian an Indispensable Partner

The fur trade could not have existed without the Indians, who imposed their trading practices and commercial requirements on the Europeans. To win the Indians as clients, the Europeans had to manufacture goods of value to the Indian culture. Indians negotiated with merchants from the various trading posts, from New England and from the Hudson's Bay Company. The merchants were all in strong competition with each other and, to secure the assistance and cooperation of the Indians, they all offered gifts to the Indians. Smoking the calumet (ceremonial pipe) and exchanging wampum before commencement of trade was an ancient Indian tradition. Europeans had to submit to the custom as well, in order to maintain the fur trade.
  1. Great Chief of the Iroquois Warriors, by Grasset de Saint-Sauveur. The chief's capot, manufactured in Montreal, was a gift greatly appreciated.
  2. Calumet (wood and lead), 1750-1850.
  3. Brooches (silver), masonic type, and "Louis XV" French medal.
  4. Measuring cup (copper), France, 1681.
  5. Powder horns.
  6. Scraper (wood and metal, leather thong), Naskapi (Nain, Labrador).
  7. Pipe-tomahawks.
  8. Axe (iron). Indians demanded smaller axes because they were easier to carry and use during forest expeditions and canoe travel.

The hides and furs exported to Europe were used primarily to make luxury items. The Indians' first priority, however, was to trade for useful items. On average 60% of the trade goods they received were fabrics, 25% were weapons and tools, 6% alcohol, 3% trade jewelry, and 2% tobacco.
  1. Armbands and headband.
  2. Brooches.
  3. Musket, 1716 model flintlock, Tulle, France.
  4. A Lady of the eighteenth century.
  5. Chest carved in sealskin.
  6. Beaver hat, seventeenth century.
  7. Cauldrons, ca.1830.
  8. Trade capot.
  9. Blanket.
  10. Arrow sash.

The meeting of two civilizations always involves an exchange of ideas, objects and ways of doing things that are later adapted to the tastes and needs of each culture. The Europeans adopted Indian customs and inventions essential for survival in the North American wilderness. The Indians utilized European articles and integrated them into their own culture, often giving them a function completely different from that intended by the manufacturers.
  1. French-Montagnais dictionary, edited by Jesuit Father Antoine Sylvy, 1678.
  2. Pipe, decorated with lead shot; Sioux, nineteenth century.
  3. Indian dress.
  4. A Tobacco pouch; Iroquois, before 1780.
  5. Moccasins, embroidered with glass beads; Sioux Nez, nineteenth century.
  6. Musket barrel, transformed into a scraper.
  7. Toboggan (model); Cree.
  8. Canoe (model), Algonquin.
  9. Leather jacket.