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The Forks National Historic Site of Canada

History

Aboriginal-European Contact at The Forks: 1734-60

Beaver
Beaver
© Parks Canada

The beginnings of trade with European-supplied fur traders had a great effect on the settlement patterns and life in Native communities. The English fur trading company, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) established trading posts along Hudson Bay, and although the posts were hundreds of miles from The Forks, the Assiniboin were drawn there by the lure of European trade goods, especially firearms, metal goods and cloth. The Assiniboin became middlemen in the fur trade - they traded their used European items for furs with other Native groups, carried these furs by canoe to the Bay, traded with the HBC and returned to their homes. This arrangement gave the Assiniboin an advantage over their rivals. As middlemen, they would not trade firearms with their enemies. As long as other Aboriginal groups could not trade directly with the HBC, the Assiniboin could take advantage of their military advantage and expand. Throughout this period, there was a general movement of Native groups west; in part to control the transportation routes to the north, in part to get better access to the best trapping areas to the North-West and because the arrival of the horse (from Spanish territories in Mexico) made life on the Plains not just viable, but prosperous.

Fort Rouge
Fort Rouge
© Provincial Archives of Manitoba

The wars and rivalry between Britain and France in Europe spilled over into western North America. The French tried to win the profits of the fur trade from the HBC by establishing a network of trading posts among all the Aboriginal trapping groups. The French, led by Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Vérendrye, established Fort Rouge a post near The Forks in 1738. With the arrival of the French inland, the Assiniboin and other middlemen no longer had a monopoly on firearms, so their expansion slowed and their economic outlook changed. They gradually became more involved in provisioning for the fur trade rather than freighting for it, and so moved westward to take greater advantage of the great buffalo herds.