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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Montreal Peddlers

Some of the more significant merchant traders who ventured west in the mid-17th century were Sieur Des Groselliers, his brother-in-law Pierre-Esprit Radisson (who may have visited what is now Wisconsin in 1656), and Médart Chouart. Others included Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth (who used the Savannah Portage to reach the interior of Minnesota and Mille Lac in 16791), Le Mothe Cadillac (who, in 1709-10 established a post that grew to be Detroit2), and La Verendrye, who established posts as far west as the plains by the 1730s.3

During this period, the men of the Ottawa (Odawa) tribe acted as the principal middlemen in the fur trade, and took vast numbers of furs to Montreal every year where they exchanged them with Europeans for goods such as guns, cloth, and knives. By the 1660s masses of young Frenchmen were moving inland to trade with Aboriginals. This system was preferred by the Aboriginals, because it let them trade in their own villages, rather than paying the high prices demanded by the Ottawa middlemen.4 These men had licenses to trade from the government of New France but many went into the pays d'en haut, or the "upper country" region (west of Montreal) illegally to trade. These outlaws were referred to as coureur de bois, or "wood runners."5

After 1763, following the conclusion of the French and Indian War, young Frenchman continued to dominate the fur trade and live among the Aboriginals.6 These traders were usually hired on contract to assist in the trip to the pays d'en and then back again to Montreal. At times, they were only hired after arriving in the upper country, although all contracts legally had to be signed in New France. Some of these men had stayed inland on previous trips but others were young men who had not received family permission to join the trade. From about the 1670s onward, the forests of the upper country were filled with illegal coureur de bois.

Young men from every class of society joined the trade. Young Seignorial (landed gentry) sons were involved in the trade. Some of these men included famous settlers Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil (who would become governor of Trois-Rivières and Montreal), and Philippe Gaultier de Comporté. Many of these young men raised their young families in the upper country. Some would never return to live in Europe. For example, Michel Accault, a prominent coureur de bois, married the daughter of the chieftain of the Kaskaskias tribe and became a chieftain himself.7 His mates also married Illinois women and settled in the same location.

Over time, the colonists who took part in the fur trade developed a lifestyle adapted to the realities of the industry. Among these realities was the necessity of living in cooperation with the Aboriginals. Their relationship included trade partnerships cemented by marriage. Within two or three generations, the children of the fur trade had developed their own communities between the trading posts and the native villages. Their double isolation from France contributed to the development of a sense of separate identity. By the eighteenth century, these villages were major supplier of voyageurs for the western trade. The men, having grown up inland, were skilled boatmen and traders, and were accustomed to life in the bush.

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Liens Rapides

Background

Montreal Peddlers

North West Company

Hudson's Bay Company

Geography and Ecology

The Trade

Provisioning

Buffalo Rope Trade

Company Employment (Wage Labour)

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