New exhibition explores Profit and Ambition in Canadian fur-trade Empire

April 29, 2009

New exhibition explores Profit and Ambition in Canadian fur-trade Empire

Gatineau, Quebec, April 28, 2009 — An epic chapter in Canada’s history will be brought to life in a major exhibition this fall at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Profit and Ambition: The Canadian Fur Trade, 1779–1821 tells the story of the North West Company, an extraordinary consortium of Montréal entrepreneurs, Scottish explorers, French-Canadian voyageurs, Métis bison hunters, and Aboriginal trappers and guides. Together, they created a commercial empire, opened new routes across the continent, and laid the groundwork for the Canada we know today.

Profit and Ambition will open at the Museum of Civilization on September 11, 2009. The exhibition will feature about 250 artifacts large and small, including the beaver-felt hats which were the mainstay of the fur trade, and the birchbark canoes invented by Aboriginal peoples, a sturdy vessel that became the fur trader’s primary mode of transportation.

“The North West Company played a pivotal role in Canada’s economic, social and political development,” said Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “This exhibition does a magnificent job of highlighting that contribution to our national heritage.”  

The Montréal-based North West Company was for 40 years a fierce rival of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had its headquarters in London, England. This exhibition traces the North West Company’s rise and fall, and draws a riveting portrait of the fur trade’s cutthroat business practices and its physically demanding way of life. It also introduces visitors to some of the towering figures of Western Canadian exploration, such as Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, David Thompson and Peter Pond.

“This is a truly epic story,” said David Morrison, the exhibition’s curator and Director of Archaeology and History at the Museum of Civilization. “Under the banner of the North West Company, diverse peoples were brought together, heroic feats were accomplished, and Montréal’s role as the commercial centre of Canada, and the influence of British North America was extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Arctic oceans.”

Profit and Ambition also examines the rigid social strata of the fur trade, which generated great fortunes for some while often exploiting the labour and vulnerabilities of others. It shows how the personal and marital ties that were often forged between Aboriginal women and Company men who served in the country’s interior.   

Among the exhibition’s many outstanding artifacts are European trade goods, such as iron ware, firearms, beads and other ornaments, as well as aboriginal clothing, tools, weapons and canoes. The exhibition also includes an impressive array of historical documents and paintings.

Most of the artifacts are drawn from the Museum’s own collections, but some come from a variety of other institutions such as Library and Archives Canada, McGill University and the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives.

Profit and