Hudson’s Bay Co. Fur Trade Canoe

Photo by Ted Behne

The Hudson’s Bay Co. was established by Royal Charter in 1670, and is one of the world’s oldest mercantile companies. To exploit the wealth of fur-bearing animals in the interior, HBC hired native canoe builders to construct specially designed cargo canoes to carry trade goods to outposts deep in the interior, where trappers would bring furs annually to swap for manufactured goods.The fabulously profitable fur trade, continued for nearly 240 years.

Fur Trade Canoes were the long-haul trucks of their day. Strong enough to carry substantial cargoes, yet light enough to be easily portaged, it enabled voyageurs to make the trip to distant outposts and back before the annual freeze-up. The largest of these heavy-duty watercraft measured 38ft long by 6ft beam and 3ft deep. They could carry up to four tons, plus twelve paddlers and their personal gear.

In the wilderness of Canada, in the days before roads, cars, trains, or planes, the fur trade canoe sustained outposts of civilization. The trading posts grew into settlements and the settlements eventually evolved into a nation. It has been said that Canada is the only country in the world that owes its existence to a boat.

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