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1640-1840: 2nd wave

Fur Trade


The fur trade was one of the earliest and most important industries in North America. The fur trading industry played a major role in the settlement of Canada. Settlers from France began exploring Western Canada because they were interested in making money in the fur trade. Settlers then traded with members of different Nations.

A black and white sketch shows four Indigenous trappers walking through snow in a wooded area while carrying guns and wearing winter gear and snowshoes.

Indigenous trappers wore snowshoes to walk over the snow. 

The first contact between European and First Nations people in the West happened during the fur trade. The relationship between the First Nations people and the fur traders was very important.

  • First Nations people helped the fur traders survive in many ways such as:
  • sharing knowledge of weather patterns
  • showing them where to find water
  • helping them to understand the healing properties of local plants, roots, and herbs
  • guiding them on travels
  • providing information on travel routes
  • trading pemmican and fur
A First Nations man, his wife, and child are sitting on the ground next to a tipi.


The First Nations people helped the early settlers learn how to survive on the harsh prairies.

Hudson’s Bay Company

The Hudson’s Bay Company (H.B.C.) was the most powerful company in Canada and between 1640-1840 the company was involved mainly in the fur trade. The Hudson’s Bay Company set up fur trading outposts on all of the major rivers in the country to trade with all of the First Nations people.

A black and white photo shows four men wearing winter gear and snowshoes pulling a loaded toboggan.


These settlers are using snowshoes and a toboggan to carry items that they are trading with the First Nations people.

Two wooden buildings stand next to each other with a garden nearby.


A photograph of the old trading post in the village of Mamihk on Red Earth Reserve, approximately 65 miles east of Nipawin, SK.

Henry Kelsey of the Hudson’s Bay Company travelled along the Saskatchewan River trying to get the First Nations people to trade their furs. He was the first White man to come into the area we now call Saskatchewan.

An illustrated man stands in a York boat while three other men row the boat.

Henry Kelsey was the first European man in the area we now call Saskatchewan.

However, by the 1850s the fur trade was no longer as profitable due to a lack of both supply and demand of furs. In 1870, the Hudson’s Bay Company sold its land to the Government of Canada.

Fur coats had become very popular in the early 1800s and drove the fur trade, but this demand slowed down by the 1850s.


Trade was very important between the fur traders and the First Nations and Métis people. The First Nations and Métis traded furs and food to the fur traders for items such as tools, guns, fabric, glass, and beads.

The Métis people were important to the fur trade. At the beginning of the fur trade, the First Nations people did most of the trapping. As the fur trade continued into the early 1800s, the Métis men became known as highly skilled trappers and hunters. As hard workers who had a strong knowledge of the land, they were able to survive in the wilderness and teach others how to survive.

An illustrated Metis man is holding a beaver and muskrat.

The Métis were highly skilled trappers and hunters.

The fur traders used canoes, toboggans, and Red River carts to carry furs and goods. The Red River carts were also used by the Métis as their main source of transportation when they travelled across the prairies to hunt, find resources, and trade goods. The Red River carts acted as shelter and temporary homes. They allowed the Métis to carry their possessions with them as they migrated to new communities during the fur trade. Small settlements grew near the areas where the First Nations, Métis, and fur traders traded goods.

An image of a family posing beside a tent and Red River Cart in European dress is shown.

This Métis family is standing beside a Red River cart.

An illustrated Red River cart is parked.

A Red River cart is mostly made from wood.

The Métis women were very important to the fur trade as well because they were connected to other First Nations and Métis. The women were able to provide food to the fur trade posts and could share their wisdom and trading connections with the European fur traders. They also made beautiful sashes and quilts and were known for their beadwork and embroidery – particularly floral beading designs. European fur traders continued to marry Métis and First Nations women for many years.

An illustrated Métis woman sits on a stone as she works on beadwork.

Métis women are very skilled at beadwork.

Another important part of the fur trade was pemmican. First Nations and Métis people made pemmican: a type of dried bison meat mixed with wild berries and fat. Pemmican didn’t spoil so it was valuable for trading with fur traders and trappers who needed it to survive during the harsh winters.

An illustrated piece of pemmican.

Pemmican is a ‘superfood’ because it provides all the fat and protein the body needs to survive for a long period of time.

A group of men are sitting down next to two Red River carts and a tipi.


There are Red River carts parked as men wait for others at this trading settlement.