Fur Trade

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Early in the 17th century French traders established permanent shore bases in ACADIA, a post at TADOUSSAC (QC) and in 1608 a base at QUÉBEC to exploit the trade more effectively. The following year the Dutch began trading up the Hudson River (NY) and in 1614 established permanent trading posts at Manhattan and upriver at Orange [Albany]. This activity marked the beginning of intense rivalry between two incipient commercial empires. During these years the number of traders flooding into the St Lawrence region and cutthroat competition among them greatly reduced profits. In an attempt to impose order the French Crown granted monopolies of the trade to certain individuals. In return, the monopoly holders had to maintain French claims to the new lands and assist in the attempts of the Roman Catholic Church to convert Aboriginal people to CHRISTIANITY. In 1627 Cardinal Richelieu, first minister of Louis XIII, organized the COMPAGNIE DES CENT-ASSOCIÉS to put French territorial claims and the missionary drive on a firmer footing. Missionaries were sent out: in 1615, four Récollets, and in 1625 the first members of the powerful Society of Jesus (Jesuits) arrived at Québec. A mission base, STE MARIE AMONG THE HURONS, was established among the HURON near Georgian Bay, but the Huron were more interested in the trade goods of the French than in their religion. Yet it was fur-trade profits that sustained the missionaries and allowed the company to send hundreds of settlers to the colony. In 1642 VILLE-MARIE [Montréal] was founded as a mission centre. In 1645 the company ceded control of the fur trade and the colony's administration to the colonists (see COMMUNAUTÉ DES HABITANTS). Unfortunately, they proved to be inept administrators, and fur-trade returns fluctuated wildly as a result of an IROQUOIS blockade of the Ottawa River route to the West. Finally, after a desperate appeal by the colonial authorities to Louis XIV, in 1663 the Crown took over the colony. The main staple of the trade was still BEAVER for the hat industry. The Ministry of Marine (see MINISTÈRE DE LA MARINE), responsible for colonial affairs, leased the West Indies trade, the African slave trade and the marketing of Canadian beaver and moose hides to the newly formed COMPAGNIE DES INDES OCCIDENTALES, in reality a crown corporation. All permanent residents of the colony were permitted to trade for furs with the Aboriginal people but they had to sell the beaver and moose hides to the company at prices fixed by the Ministry of Marine. All other furs were traded on a free market; thus the trade was not a monopoly, but the law of supply and demand had been suspended for beaver and moose hides. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French minister of marine, hoped to see the Canadian economy diversified to produce raw materials for French industry, particularly timber, and minerals and foodstuffs for the West Indies plantations. Thousands of emigrants were shipped to Canada at the Crown's expense to bring the land into production. Colbert discovered that a sizable proportion of the young men did not remain on the land but disappeared for years to trade with the Aboriginal people in their distant villages (see COUREURS DE BOIS). The main reasons for this phenomenon were the assured profits in the trade and the imbalance of the sexes, which was so great that until about 1710 only about one man in seven could hope to find a wife - a necessity on a farm. In the interior, however, the traders quickly formed alliances with Aboriginal women, whose economic skills facilitated adaptation by the French to wilderness life. By 1681 Colbert was forced to acknowledge the pull of the fur trade, and he inaugurated the congé system. Each year up to 25 congés (licences to trade) were to be issued by the governor and the intendant. Each congé allowed three men with one canoe to trade in the West. It was fondly hoped that the Canadians would wait their turn for a congé, thus leaving the colony only...
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