Fur Trade and the North West Company

This exhibit introduces the North West Company papers that are now full-text searchable as part of the Quartex handwritten text recognition (HTR) pilot. These collections include records that document the finance, accounting, and administration of the North West Company, and illuminate the kinship networks that solidified wealth and political power amongst its senior management and major shareholders. The first several pages provide contextual information about the documents and their creation, followed by an introduction to the different types of records included within the collection. The last two pages are a compilation of related research guides and glossaries to help use this material in research and in other activities, and examples of research utilizing such records as a primary source. There is also a list of resources containing histories of the North West Company and the commercial fur trade.

As they relate to larger histories of the fur trade and of extraction-based colonialism, it should be emphasised that all of the documents included in this exhibition are textual in nature and primarily authored by the North West Company’s bourgeois, or senior management, nearly all of whom came to North America from Britain. Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous peoples were principal parts of the fur trade during this period, however, and are therefore also present, albeit indirectly. The 600-mile journey made and described by James Stanley Goddard in 1766 is a representative example: a birch bark canoe, a navigational understanding of the waterways connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, sustenance in the form of fish, corn, and squash; all of these were necessary and learned components of Stoddard’s journey and of the fur trade more generally. As the archivist Tom Nesmith writes, the “archives of their [Indigenous peoples’] knowledge helped to create the archives of the Europeans they encountered.” 

1. The Concept of Societal Provenance and Records of Nineteenth-Century Aboriginal-European Relations in Western Canada : implications for archival theory and practice. In Archival Science, 6.