Fur industry in the rearview mirror

The year 1806 marks the date when the fur industry became a major influence here within the New Caledonia region.

By George LaBrash

 

The year 1806 marks the date when the fur industry became a major influence here within the New Caledonia region of Northwestern North America.

With the introduction of trade goods to the area and subsequent opportunity to export commodities in the form of new furs to the outside world, the stage was set for a dramatic change to the time-honoured nomadic lifestyle of the local inhabitants.

Prior to the establishment of the trading posts at Fort St. James and Fort Fraser by the North West Company in 1806, life had existed here on a hunter-gatherer basis for perhaps 10,000 years.

Evidence suggests that these early inhabitants were highly nomadic and visited five to seven different “homes” in the course of the annual round. Each home stop had something special to offer, whether it be a choice fish-harvesting opportunities or an ideal wintering sites, each location was unique and critical for supporting a special lifestyle.

At the time of initial European contact, the First Nations in this region used fur extensively as a garment material.

Abundant and well prepared furs were essential for survival where a continental climate ensures extreme temperatures changes on a regular basis. Furs and prepared leathers were also often traded with the coastal First Nations in exchange for marine shells and oolican grease.

When the trading ports were set up in this area two centuries ago, the North West Company was interested in gaining access to the abundant fur resource throughout this region.

Trade items were transported from Montreal by canoe and pack train and the bundled furs were carried back to Montreal by some route for several decades.

In later years, other access routes were developed, however transporting goods and materials in and out of this remote area was never easy.

For the first century or so the trading posts seem to offer a mutually beneficial arrangement between labour needed to harvest the fur resources was supplied by the local First Nations population.

Most of the work needed to keep the trading posts supplied with food, fuel and water was also supplied by First Nation individuals.

The trade items available at the post consisted mainly of tools, firearms, garment materials, general food staples and ornamentals.

In the course of time, this arrangement resulted in the establishment of permanent First Nation settlements within close proximity to the trading posts. The nomadic lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer of by-gone centuries had essentially ended during this century.

The Fort Fraser and District Trappers will be hosting the 67th annual convention of the B.C. Trappers Association in Vanderhoof on April 13-15. To book a table in the commercial area in order to sell or display items contact Terri-Anne Houghton by e-mail: Tmalczewski@shaw.ca

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