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Political & Economic Organizations - Additional Reading

Economic Organization

Decline of Trade

By the early nineteenth century, the fur trade was in decline.  Part of the trouble lay in Europe.  The Napoleonic Wars between France and England drastically reduced the demand for furs and made it more difficult for fur trading companies to attract European workers. 

Relentless competition between the HBC and the North West Company virtually wiped out fur and game animals in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and depleted them elsewhere across the prairies.  Buffalo herds that once blanketed the land in herds of fifty to seventy-five million were now a fraction of their original size.

In 1821, the North West Company was absorbed into the HBC, ending four decades of competition in western Canada.  First Nation’s and Metis peoples lost the advantage of dealing with two competing companies and became increasingly more dependent on the HBC.

The situation grew worse as the nineteenth century progressed.  Silk replaced beaver as the favored material for making hats, but the beaver had been all but trapped out in most of the country.  The buffalo, which had become the new engine of the trade, was also in decline.  By 1870, the animal was almost extinct.

For Plains First Nations, the loss of the buffalo was devastating.  Their way of life had revolved around the buffalo for centuries - the center of their traditional political, economic and spiritual institutions.

Changes in fashion resulted in more demand for mink and marten in the early twentieth century, so trading posts expanded rapidly in the Artic.  After reaching a peak in the 1920’s, the northern trade suffered during the Great Depression and rapidly declined.  By the 1950’s, few northerners could make a living from the fur trade.

Within a few hundred years, the fur trade transformed the lives of aboriginal peoples from coast to coast.  As the fur trade ended, it left the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples facing a difficult and uncertain future.