Canadian Geographic
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Early trade networks

New Caledonia and Columbia

The Russians, the first Europeans to reach the northwest coast of North America, quietly conducted a trade in sea-otter pelts with the Chinese for years. Cook’s third voyage (1776-80) demonstrated the profitability of the sea-otter trade. Vessels from several nations entered this trade, but Americans, unencumbered by commercial restrictions and political considerations, rapidly became dominant. The early trade depended on native middlemen, who already participated in well-established trading networks at the main outer-coast villages. Besides sea-otter pelts, white traders obtained fresh water, wood, foodstuffs, elk skins, and eulachon oil. In Cook’s day they offered trinkets and beads in return, but soon they had to supply copper and unwrought iron, and then firearms, textiles, rice, molasses, and rum.

By 1785 a competitive international trade for sea otter was beginning along the outer coast of British Columbia. Eventually the search for furs led Cooks’ men to penetrate the intricate waterways leading off the outer coast. Although most trade was patterned on native protocol that required introductory ceremonies, gift exchanges, and price negotiations, the relationship between white and native traders is best characterized as one of mutual distrust, even animosity, tempered by greed.

After 1805 the Montréal-based North West Company established a number of forts beyond the Rockies in the Upper Fraser area (New Caledonia) and in the Columbia River system (Columbia District). Its operation on the Columbia was briefly and vigorously challenged by the Pacific Fur Company, but the American company withdrew during the War of 1812. Until 1821 New Caledonia and the Columbia District remained trading territories of the North West Company.

To further explore the Hudson’s Bay fur trading system, click here


This interactive map and timeline illustrate the history of the marine and land fur trades in the New Caledonia/British Columbia region.


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Great Lakes Basin

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Quiz :

Which considerations greatly influenced the marketing of cod from Newfoundland in the 18th century?