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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

The Fur Trade

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Artists conception of the grounds at Fort Victoria

Strolling through a Hudson's Bay Company store today, it is difficult to locate any vestiges of the legacy of the Fur Trade that shaped the nation and established the world's oldest retail corporation. The Fur Trade came to Canada as the result of simple supply and demand economics. The demand in Europe during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries for fur was largely due to a fashion trend. The most sought after of pelts was the beaver, for the fine layer of its fur could be used to make the most stylish hats and adornments at that time. As the quest for such rich pelts intensified, the European fur-traders became better organized and found themselves having to move farther and farther inland from Hudson Bay to acquire this lucrative commodity. Initially the Hudson's Bay Trading Company tried to entice the native's from the west to bring furs to their posts in the east, such as Fort Charles, Fort Nelson, MooseTrade goods at Fort Whoop-Up Factory and Fort Churchill, to trade for a variety of European goods, however this did not work as well as they had hoped. By the end of the 18th Century, the Hudson's Bay Company had begun to construct posts all across Rupert's Land.

The life of a company employee was not easy. Most were of European or mixed European and Aboriginal descent. They had to make the difficult trip West with their families, often to very isolated regions where there were few other white men, harsh weather conditions and no other amenities. However, it was around these fur trade outposts that many of today's modern cities and towns grew up. As other settlers and adventurers moved west they tendView of the palisade walls at Fort Calgaryed to gravitate toward these same areas, constructing schools, churches and other businesses to serve their families. By the 19th century, the fur trade system was well entrenched throughout Canada and had become the main system of trade and commerce, lasting until the turn of the 20th century, helping to open up the west and build a country.

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