Sunday, 28 September 2014 21:02
Last week students voted on what we should study this week. The vote was majorly in favor of studying the beaver and other animals that fueled the fur trade. Did you know that beavers are responsible for the exploration and settlement of Canada and large parts of the northern United States?
In the 1500s, European fishermen brought beaver robes purchased from Native Americans back to Spain. The Europeans prized the beaver fur because of its warmth and its ability to be made into felt hats. Imagine the top hat that Abraham Lincoln wore. That is the hat that was in fashion. Did you know that hat was made out of felt from beaver fur?
Different styles of beaver felt hats. Image source: “ChapeauCastor” by Londres, E. Stanford, – Castorologia, Or, The History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver, Horace T. Martin, Montréal, W. Drysdale; Londres, E. Stanford, 1892.
Many Europeans took part in the quest to collect beaver fur from Canada and the US to sell back home. The Europeans hired French Canadians known as voyageurs to paddle huge birch bark canoes from Montreal to the villages of First Nation people (native people in Canada) to collect the beaver pelts. The Native Americans and First Nations did all of the trapping and the Europeans traded them blankets, weapons and beads for the fur.
The men who paddled canoes to trade and transport the furs were called voyageurs. Did you know that “voyageur” means “traveler” in French? The voyageurs traveled along the historic highway that Dave and I are now following. This trade route was opened in the late 1600s. Fur trade companies were founded, like the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 and the North West Company in 1784.
Beaver populations all over North America decreased rapidly until the 1900s when regulations were set that limited the number trapped. The beaver is part of the rodent family. They are large brown furry rodents with small eyes, small rounded ears, large orange teeth, and a large flat, scaly tail. They weigh between 44 to 60 pounds. Beavers are like lumberjacks. They will chew the base of a tree until it falls down. They love to eat the bark and leaves from the trees that they fell. Their favorite trees are aspens but they will also eat birch, alder, willow, and mountain maple. Beavers live in lodges that they build along the shore of a lake, river or stream. Lodges are made out of mud, grass and branches. The entrance to a beaver lodge is underwater. You can learn more about beavers in our Wilderness Library.
Other animals that were trapped for the fur trade were marten, otter, lynx, mink and fox. You can click on the link for each animal to learn about it in the Wilderness Library. The lynx and otter fur were used for fur muffs (used for keeping hands warm). Fur from the other animals were used to decorate coats and hats.