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Fur Trade Route Networks

Throughout the period of the historical fur trade (early 17th to the mid-19th century), water routes were the natural “highways” of First Nations trappers and European fur traders. Water trading networks connected Indigenous societies from the Atlantic Ocean, along the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes, and then on towards the Hudson Bay watershed. North America’s waterborne geography facilitated intracontinental travel, enabled European expansion and settlement into Indigenous North America, and shaped the contours of Euro-Indigenous relations in the context of the fur trade. These extensive and interconnected systems of rivers, lakes and overland trails criss-crossed Indigenous territories and had been used for generations. At the height of the fur trade, the principal canoe route extended westward from the Island of Montreal through the Great Lakes, and from the northwestern shore of Lake Superior over the height of land into the Hudson Bay watershed. From the Lake Winnipeg basin, Indigenous trappers and European traders fanned out towards the Western Prairies via the Assiniboine, Qu’Appelle and Souris rivers, towards the foothills of the Rocky Mountains via the North and South branches of the Saskatchewan River, and finally towards the Athabasca Country via the Sturgeon-weir River and the Methye Portage.