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Topic – The Fur Trade

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The Fur Trade

Fishing and the Fur Trade

John Cabot statue, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

The explorer John Cabot had seen huge numbers of cod in the waters off Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By the early 1500s, European countries were sending fishing ships to catch the cod.

The fishers needed to go on land to dry the fish they caught. If the fish weren’t dried, they would rot before the ships could reach home. When the fishers went ashore to dry fish, they met Indigenous people who wanted to trade with them.

Indigenous Peoples standing by sleds loaded with trade goods

The Indigenous people wanted to trade with the European fishers to get items made of metal and cloth. In return, Indigenous people could give the Europeans furs and fresh meat. This trading of goods was the beginning of the fur trade. The fishers found that they could make lots of money selling the furs in Europe.

Fashion and the Fur Trade

beaver top hat

Later in the 1500s, hats made from beaver fur started to become very popular in Europe. The hairs of the fur were pressed flat to make a material called beaver felt. (Most of the felt we use today is made from sheep’s wool that has been pressed flat.) Beaver felt does not absorb water. Beaver hats were especially popular in England, which has a rainy climate.

By the late 1600s, beavers were almost extinct in Europe. Why? People had been hunting beavers to make hats. But more and more Europeans wanted to buy beaver hats. This made beaver fur from North America very valuable.

the manufacturing of beaver-hair top hats from Canada-produced pelts

Beaver wasn’t the only type of fur that Europeans wanted to buy. Furs such as fox, mink, and raccoon were also popular. These furs were used to make coats, hats, and blankets.

Before Europeans came, the Indigenous peoples of North America had a long history of trading furs among themselves. Indigenous peoples were an important part of the fur trade with Europeans in North America.

The Fur Trade Grows

Europeans were making lots of money from the fur trade. When there is lots of money to be made, lots of people get involved. More and more Europeans came to North America to take part in the fur trade.

In 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company was founded. One of its main goals was to provide beaver furs to England. English companies turned the fur into hats.

English and French traders in North America competed with each other to trade for furs with Indigenous peoples.

The fur trade did not start to slow down until the middle of the 1800s. Hats made from silk became the new fashion. Since fewer people wanted beaver hats, beaver fur became less valuable.


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