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No. 43: The Beginning of the Fur Trade in the Peace Region

Ce texte a été publié en anglais et n'est pas disponible en français.

The fur trade didn't expand into the Peace Country until Alexander Mackenzie came that way.

It was the winter of 1792-93, and Mackenzie had embarked on his famous expedition to the Pacific Ocean. His travels took him up the Peace River, then up the Parsnip River and finally onto the Bella Coola River to the Pacific coast.

Mackenzie was employed by the North West Company. And as historian David Leonard writes in his book Delayed Frontier, his observations on the region's resources encouraged the company to expand into the Peace.

And he detected that this region was particularly rich in fur, and, based on his prognosis, a fur trade post was opened at what was called Rocky Mountain Portage in 1801. And four years later, Fort Dunvegan was established by Archibald McLeod at Dunvegan.

And with the emergence of Dunvegan and Fort St. John the following year, the fur trade proper can be said to have opened in the Peace River Country.

As in the rest of the New World, the major trade was in beaver pelts. But almost every fur-bearing animal had a marketable value, including marten, skunk, bear, and (the most valuable of all) the silver fox.

The valuation, because there was no cash in the region, was based on "made beaver."

A made beaver is one good quality beaver skin, against which all other skins are measured. So a good silver fox fur could be as much as 35-40 made beaver.

The main cultural group in the Peace was the Beaver nation.

Alexander Mackenzie wrote in his journal, "the men were of comely appearance and fond of personal decoration." Mackenzie described the women as "contrary in disposition," and noted they were "slaves to the men."

But the fact that most interested the North West Company was the excellent hunting skills of the Beaver people, and their interest in doing trade. David Leonard explains.

They undertook to do extra trapping, in order that certain trappings of Euro-Canadian society, like traps, guns, tin pans, pails and clothing could be acquired in return for fur.

And over the space of the next half-century or so, the nature of the Beaver civilization there changed quite dramatically.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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