CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 10 . . . . January 4, 2007
The fur trade, an important part of Canada’s history, influenced the development of trade routes, exploration, settlement and towns and cities from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. From this four-volume series, readers will gain insight into the fur trade, not only from the main body of the text, but also from first-hand accounts gleaned from the diaries, journals and memorandums of traders, explorers, Jesuit priests, company clerks and others. Identical in layout, the books, averaging 14 chapters each, include a table of contents, a brief index and glossary, a time line and plenty of photographs, maps and illustrations. Each page has side borders of brown-toned archival maps, effectively unifying the series. “Ask Yourself” boxes pose questions for readers to ponder. At the back of each book is a “Test Your Knowledge” section which provides three activities- usually drawing a map or a diagram- to enhance learning, and a website for further study.
Each book, of itself, is a valuable resource for students of Canadian history. However, taken as a whole, this series is simply a rehash of mostly the same information, printed in four volumes. The time lines - from 1666 to the present -, obviously, are identical, as are the main topics, and even the “Test your Knowledge” section of two of the titles is exactly the same. In fact, the only differences between the volumes are the key trading posts, the featured explorers and what the authors call fur trade “personalities,” key players in the development of the fur trade.
In Forts and Trading Posts, readers will find out about the French versus British competition for furs, particularly beaver pelts, life at a trading post, the types of items traded for furs, important forts, the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, the rise and fall of the beaver, and the many contributions made by Aboriginal people, especially the women.
Much of the same information appears in Hudson’s Bay Company. For example, the chapter devoted to the contributions of Aboriginal women is almost identical, merely paraphrased. The only major difference is the section about the HBC’s change in focus from a group of fur trading posts to the retail stores of the present day. One interesting fact is that the Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest chartered company, having employed 70,000 people in the year 2000. There is mention of Prince Rupert, Henry Kelsey, and the rivalry between the HBC and the North West Company.
North West Company covers, once again, most of the same topics as the previously mentioned titles; however, the book features Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie and David Thompson’s explorations and describes the strong ties that the company had to Aboriginal trappers. Today, the North West Company, like the HBC, has switched its prime focus, and currently has 158 retail outlets in northern Canada and Alaska, serving between 500 and 5,000 customers.
Trade Routes provides a basic overview of the fur trade, from its beginnings in the early 1600s to the establishment of the two rival fur trading companies. Featured explorers are Samuel de Champlain, Radisson and Groseilliers, and Pierre de La Vérendrye. The remaining topics are repeated in other volumes of the series.
Though the books do have value, it is not necessary to purchase the entire series in order to gain an understanding of the fur trade. One title would be sufficient. Due to the repetitious nature of the books, they are -
Recommended with reservations.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.