M u s e u m  C r e a t e d  L e s s o n

Cours 2 : Les échanges commerciaux

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Pointe-à-Callière, musée d'archéologie et d'histoire de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec

Trade

After the French arrived in North America, the fur trade quickly became concentrated in the St. Lawrence Valley, especially in Montréal. Later, around 1615-1620, it shifted westward toward the Great Lakes and the network of First Nations that had their hunting grounds there. Natives bartered thousands of furs every year for European goods, including textiles, food, cookware and finery. All these furs – 80% of them beaver pelts – were exported to France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

For Natives, wealth was meant to be shared, and trading was a matter of honour, not accumulating goods. According to their thinking, one had to give something and receive something in return. The French appetite for acquiring things seemed strange to Natives, for they weren’t interested in amassing possessions.

Contact with Europeans did teach them a new economic concept, however, that of a fair price. If they were not happy with what French traders offered them, they would go to the English.

Montréal was the hub of trade in New France. In the 17th century, a fur fair was held in the town every summer. The allied First Nations came here to barter their beaver, mink, otter, marten and moose pelts for European trade goods. The fur trade had become essential to their survival.  As the Natives put it, the “fire of trade” had been lit in Montréal. And that trade required alliances.

Meanwhile, the French were venturing farther and farther inland and building trading posts where the allied nations could bring their furs. The thirteen British colonies and their Iroquois allies were not happy about this expansion, because they also had an eye on these territories. Clashes occurred. A general peace that would reflect everyone’s interests would surely be good for trade.

The gathering in 1701 was primarily a political one. Yet it was made possible by not only political ties, but also trading connections that had been forged between the First Nations and Europeans since the early 16th century.
Pointe-à-Callière, musée d'archéologie et d'histoire de Montréal.
c. 1700

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