Animals of the Fur Trade

HBC was established in 1670 to enter into the business of fur. Across Europe, there were diminishing supplies of beaver pelts that were needed to make the newly fashionable hats. Taking advantage of their access to North American furs from Hudson Bay, the Company eventually expanded to the west. They traded with Aboriginal Peoples for pelts and sold the pelts to British merchants at auction.

Beaver pelts were in the greatest demand, but other animals such as mink, muskrat, fox and sable marten were also trapped. In the 1830s, when beaver lost its value as a staple fur, HBC maintained a profitable trade emphasizing fancy fur.

Although the fur trade continues today, HBC is no longer in the fur business.

BeaverMuskratMink Sable or MartenFox

Read each clue and match it to one of the animals.

I prefer to live in large bodies of water, but will build dams to block streams to create my own. My webbed rear feet and large paddle-shaped tail help me to swim quickly.  I am able to swim underwater for up to 15 minutes and have transparent eyelids to see while I am submerged.

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Correct! Beaver

This famous Canadian animal was nearly hunted to extinction for its soft undercoat perfect for making hats.

In 1920, HBC employees Maud and Jimmy Watt convinced the Quebec government to create a beaver reserve to help the wild population to recover from over-hunting,

By 1944, HBC sanctuaries had expanded to Ontario and the Northwest Territories. Fortunately, beaver are prolific breeders and populations began to increase.

I live in the tundra and northern coasts of Canada. I have both a white winter coat and dark brownish fur for the summer.

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FoxCorrect! Arctic Fox

In 1920, HBC expanded its network of posts in the Arctic to develop their business around the Arctic fox.

By 1944, HBC exported 30,000 Arctic fox pelts.

In 1927, HBC entered into fur ranching when it purchased shares in two Prince Edward Island fox farms.

I am a relative of the mink who can dart up trees and leap from branch to branch. I prefer the year round cover of coniferous forests. I am known for my bushy tail, rich brown colour and spot of orange at the throat.

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Sable or MartenCorrect! Sable or Marten

Marten pelts were traded along with beaver at the start of the fur trade. They were used for coats, hats, and gloves. Two marten pelts were required as the equivalent of one beaver pelt.

The sable fur is very popular in Russia and its use has been associated with royalty or high position within governments.

I am an aquatic animal who spends most of the time in semi-underwater homes in marshes and swamps. I am a popular wild fur known for my natural beauty and distinctive colour in shades of brown, gold, beige, and grey.

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MuskratCorrect! Muskrat

Muskrat pelts were traded along with beaver at the start of the fur trade. They were used for coats, hats, and gloves.

In the late 19th century, the number of muskrat pelts traded surpassed beaver pelts.

In 1838, Donald Smith who later became Governor of the Hudson Bay Company started his career at HBC counting muskrat pelts.

I am found near lakes or rivers and am at home in the water. My fur, representing wealth and glamour, is the most popular fur sold worldwide.

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MinkCorrect! Mink

The mink have soft, short hair that is ideal for sleek coats, where other furs are often more bulky.

After the prices and demand for beaver pelts decreased in the mid-19th century, mink farming became more profitable.

The majority of mink harvested today is ranched. There are over a million mink pelts farmed in Canada each year.