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The Quest for Pelts


What follows is the ninth instalment of The Nations of Canada, a serialized project adapted from transcripts of Greg Koabel’s ongoing podcast of the same name, which began airing in 2020.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, two separate yet related developments took place in what would become eastern Canada. The first was a sudden explosion in exchange between European traders and Algonquin-speaking fur trappers on Canada’s Atlantic coast. French, English, and Basque visitors had long been doing a decent side business while pursuing their main purpose of fishing or whaling, exchanging iron tools or scrap metal for animal skins. However, the 1580s witnessed a significant increase in the scale of this trade. For the first time, ships were sailing across the Atlantic for the express purpose of procuring furs.

Meanwhile, for the Innu and Mi’kmaq living along the Atlantic coast, the period brought the beginning of a dramatic change in economic and social conditions. For decades, they too had seen the fur trade as a supplement to the seasonal exploitation of fish and game resources. But now a new economic model was becoming viable. And in many ways, it was more attractive than the old model.

Time that had previously been spent fishing, hunting caribou and other game, or crafting stone…

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