New Lands for Trade
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The Business of Fur
New Lands for Trade
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New Lands for Trade

In 1659, two French fur-traders - Pierre Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law Mdard Chouart des Groseilliers - embarked on a journey into the Canadian interior that would transform the North American fur trade.

Their journey began with a hint of drama.
Defying the Governor of New France, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Mdard Chouart des Groseilliers set off to find new fur trade routes in 1659. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Defying the Governor of New France, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Mdard Chouart des Groseilliers set off to find new fur trade routes in 1659. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The adventurers defied orders from the Governor of New France and set out to explore beyond the trading territories known to Europeans and seek out new sources of fur.

They paddled for two months, travelling up the Ottawa River, through Lake Nipissing to the north shore of Lake Huron. They kept an eye out for Iroquois, who were trying to control the fur trade and didn't want the French making their own contacts with other natives.

In the company of several Ojibwa, Radisson and des Groseilliers encountered some Iroquois and a battle ensued. The Ojibwa were victorious, eating the flesh of their dead enemies and taking the prisoners along "to burn them at our own leisure for the more satisfaction of our wives. We left that place of massacre with horrid cries...
Lake Superior
Lake Superior
we plagued those unfortunates. We plucked out their nails one after another..."

By winter they had reached Lake Superior, farther than any European trader had ventured. Local natives told them that if they waited until spring, they could join a great feast - and trading ceremony. They camped for the winter with a group of Ojibwa and endured famine. They ate their dogs and boiled the bones four times for a thin soup before finally grinding them into dust and eating that. They tried to dig roots out of the frozen ground, stripped bark from trees, and ate the hide from beaver pelts. Many of the Ojibwa died of starvation and the survivors were sick and gaunt. "We mistook ourselves very often the living for the dead and the Dead for the living," Radisson wrote.

When spring finally arrived so did opportunity for Radisson and des Groseilliers.
Eighteen Indian nations came together for ten days of feasting near Lake Superior. Radisson and des Groseilliers were welcomed to the ceremony, observing the politics and theatre and taking advantage of the unprecedented commercial opportunity.

"We sang in our language as they in theirs, to which they gave great attention. We gave them several gifts, and received many. They bestowed upon us above 300 robes of castors," wrote Radisson.

The castors, or beaver pelts, were thick and lustrous.

The natives told the Frenchmen that the pelts came from northern rivers - and those rivers possibly led to a great salt-water bay.

The two traders returned to Montreal with three hundred Indians in a flotilla of canoes laden with furs, expecting a hero's welcome.

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