Aboriginals desired metal and cloth goods while the Europeans needed meat and furs. Trading between Aboriginal and Europeans would likely have remained relatively small-scale, if it had not been for a new fashion trend in Europe that fuelled the demand for beaver pelts (Office of the Treaty of Commissioner, 2). The high demand for quality pelts to make wide-brimmed hats created an industry based on beaver fur. The fur trade would dominate Aboriginal-European relations for the next 250 years.
The impact of the fur trade on Aboriginal communities would have both positive and negative consequences. This paper seeks to examine the social, cultural, economic, and health related impacts of the fur trade on Aboriginal communities living in the Hudson Bay, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region during the 1600-1800s. Through an examination of the history and development of the fur trade, this paper will demonstrate that while Aboriginal communities gained some benefits from the fur trade, their communities suffered adverse affects that created a dependency on European settlers and contributed to the marginalized state of Aboriginal communities today.
The trading of furs, metal and cloth between European fishermen and coastal Aboriginal communities had been occurring on a small-scale since early in the 16th century. European fishermen found a lucrative market for these furs in Europe where the demand was high. Historically, Europeans had bought their furs from Russia and the northern countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Estonia) through trading centers established in Belgium and Holland. However, in the mid-1600s a fashion trend emerged that would dominate the European market for the next 250 years. King Charles II began wearing felt hats surfaced with beaver fur, fuelling the desire for beaver fur throughout the continent (Calverley, 1). By the time this trend had taken root, the beaver was facing extinction in Europe. Beaver hat manufactures and traders had to find alternative sources of beaver fur and set their sails for North America.
In North America, Aboriginals had been employing beaver fur for use as blankets and cloaks for centuries. Aboriginals traditionally wore their beaver cloaks inside out - with the fur closest to their bodies.. The wearing of the fur resulted in a soft pelt that could be easily (and cheaply) manufactured into the coveted beaver hats. The value of the beaver in the North American fur trade was indisputable and it became the fur of choice until the late 19th century, thereafter the market opened to include other types of fur as well (The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, 1).
ECONOMIC IMPACT ON ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Aboriginal groups had been engaged in small-scale trading throughout the continent. They did not possess a monetary system of exchange and rather traded in common units of value rather than cash. Once the Europeans arrived and the fur trade began, the beaver played an important role in creating a system of "currency" that could be employed in trade negotiations. In fact, the beaver was "the staple of the trade in most areas east of the Pacific coast until the mid 19th century [and] became the accounting and battering standard. Traders valued furs and