||The Fur Trade in Canada
This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 6 The Pathfinders
Backgrounder and Activity
This activity focuses on the opening chapter of Episode 6 (the first 7 minutes of the program).
This video chapter highlights the beginnings of the fur trade in New France in the 1650s. It introduces viewers to the French fur traders Pierre Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, and begins to focus on the rivalries between France and England for control of the fur trade.
In 1645, New France had 600 settlers living in the St. Lawrence Valley. The colony was dedicated primarily to the fur trade, and it depended on the assistance of the Algonquin and the Huron. The fur trade routes extended to the Native territories of northern and western North America. Beaver skins were carried hundreds of kilometers along this network to Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec. Between 1648 and 1650, the Huron nation was decimated by the Iroquois, greatly disrupting the fur trade. The Iroquois attacked French settlements and created a climate of uncertainty in the colony. The situation seemed desperate for New France's small population.
In May 1660, a young officer, Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, left Montreal to protect a convoy of furs. He was accompanied by 17 men, French and Huron. The Iroquois attacked the group at the Long Sault Fort, and slaughtered Dollard des Ormaux's men. Nine survivors (four Huron and five French) were taken prisoner. All were tortured and killed.
Pierre Boucher, governor of Trois-Rivières, went to France to plead the colony's case to King Louis XIV. The King realized that, to prosper, New France needed to be populated and expand beyond its strictly commerical operation. To this end, he sent troops to fight the Iroquois, stimulated the population of New France, and appointed a governor to administrate the colony.
Between 1667 and 1680 French merchants set out into the interior and created new alliances with the Native Peoples. They were assisted by a new breed of trader - the coureurs des bois.
Activity: A Speech to the King
Radisson and des Groseilliers told no one about the Cree lands they had learned about from the Aboriginals. When they could not convince the French to support their trip, they went to the King of England and told him their secret. The King funded an expedition of two ships, only one of which made it through the Hudson Strait, to the Rupert River where they started to build Fort Charles.
Have students write the speech that des Groseilliers and Radisson might have made to King Charles II. Remind them that they need to be very convincing � they are Frenchmen in England working against their own country, expeditions are very expensive, and the King has no more reason to belie them than the French did.
Invite students to present their speeches to the class, and encourage the class to discuss how convincing each speech is.