Glossary of the Fur Trade


NWC is commonly used to refer to the North West Company, and HBC to refer to the Hudson's Bay Company.

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Aboriginal: In general, the original inhabitants of a territory. In North America, aboriginal refers to the people living here before the arrival of Europeans, including Inuit and First Nation peoples. The first European newcomers called aboriginal peoples "Indians" because they believed that they had reached India. See also Native and First Nations.

Agents: Major shareholders of the North West Company, largely based in Montreal; these men managed NWC business. They imported necessary goods from England and stored them in Montreal warehouses. They hired clerks and voyageurs to package and forward these trade goods to trading posts, via the rendezvous at Fort William. Generally, three or more of the agents would make the journey themselves to Fort William to meet with the company's Wintering Partners and conduct NWC business in the Council House.

Agret: A collection of materials used by voyageurs en route to make repairs to the canoe and to furnish their camp. According to Alexander Mackenzie, the standard agret consisted of: "two oil-cloths to cover the goods, a sail, etc., an axe, a towing-line, a kettle, and a sponge to bail out the water, with a quantity of gum, bark, and wattape to repair this vessel." Like a modern tool chest or spare tire in the trunk of a car, the agret was intended to keep the canoe in service, no matter what happened along the route.

Agriculture: The science or art of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock. Aboriginal peoples were engaged in agriculture before the arrival of Europeans in the New World, raising crops such as corn, squash, beans and tobacco. Corn became a staple food for voyageur brigades during the fur trade era as corn and grease. Some NWC posts also kept gardens to supplement their diet. In order to produce vital food supplies, plus many other items, a significant farming operation was conducted at Fort William, outside the palisade walls. See also farm.

Alcohol: See High Wine.

Algonquian: At the beginning of the 17th century there were 12 linguistic families in indigenous Canada. Within most of these linguistic families there were a number of languages and many dialects. Historically, Algonquian speakers occupied a vast territory from the foothills of the Rockies to Labrador and the Maritimes. The Historical Atlas of Canada identifies 86 different dialects spoken within the 18 languages of the Algonquian linguistic family. Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin belong to the North Algonquian Group. Europeans observed that it was not uncommon for Aboriginal peoples to speak more than one language as trade and diplomacy required. Many Algonquian words have been absorbed into the English language, such as chipmunk, caribou, hickory and squash; many place names also derive from Algonquian and other indigenous linguistic groups.

Anishinabe / Anishinabek: The ethnonym (the name a group gives itself) of a group of First Nation peoples in the Great Lakes region, including the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi.  The word comes from the Algonquian language and is translated as "first people" or "original people".

Apothecary: This building at Fort William housed the apothecary shop and the doctor's surgery and summer living quarters since Dr. McLoughlin wintered each year at another post. During the summer period, the apothecary acted as a warehouse for drugs and chemicals received from Montreal for transfer to departments in the interior. Medicines were prepared here and dispensed to company personnel during the rendezvous. Dr. John McLoughlin provided medical treatment for all company employees, including gentlemen and voyageurs. See also hospital.

Avant: The name given to the experienced voyageur who paddled at the very front or bow of the canoe. The avant watched for obstacles and changes in the river and set the pace for paddling. The avant was one of two "end" positions in the canoe: the avant at the bow and the gouvernail at the stern.  These positions were called "les bouts" (the "ends"). The avant was sometimes called devant, French for "in front of".

Assiniboine: Indigenous people occupying the North American plains and as far as the foothills of the Rocky Mountains during the fur trade era. They gradually moved from fur trapping and hunting to buffalo-hunting and pemmican production as their main economic activity.

Athabasca: The general region drained by the upper Athabasca River; a vast area, abundant in beaver and other fur-bearers, of crucial importance to the NWC fur trade. The Athabasca department encompassed the Peace, Athabasca, Slave and Mackenzie River systems. Montreal-based fur trader Peter Pond was the first European to enter the Athabasca area in 1778 via the Methye Portage and Clearwater River. That winter, Pond obtained more furs than his canoes could carry. In 1788, Fort Chipewyan was founded and became a vital base of operations for extending fur trade exploration and trade westward. Today the Athabasca region straddles the northern part of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Babiche: Also spelled babich, babish, and battiches.  Babiche is a French word for the thin strips of rawhide cut from moose, caribou or deer hides. Made by cutting hairless hides in a spiral, babiche was used for laces, threads, netting, making canoes and other uses.

Bales: Generally, the term "bale" referred to the 90 pound (40 kg) packs of trade goods or furs that were transported by voyageurs.

Barrel: A cask of 36 gallons used to contain liquids (such as High Wine), 3 ¾ bushels of flour or a hundredweight (112 lbs) of gunpowder.

Bateau: A flat-bottomed cargo and passenger boat about 20-30 feet long, tapered to bow and stern, drawing a little water, and propelled by oars, poles, or a sail, capable of carrying up to 2 tonnes of cargo (1800 kg). Originally designed for the treacherous river route between Upper Canada and Lower Canada, at Fort William bateaux were used to shuttle cargo to and from the Company's schooners and to move provisions to the Mountain Portage (Kakabeka Falls on the Kaministiquia River) for the inland journey from Fort William.  Bateaux could also ferry provisions to near-at-hand posts on Lake Superior.

Battle of Seven Oaks: See Seven Oaks

Beadwork: Complicated geometric and later, floral patterns, created by sewing thousands of tiny "seed" beads onto garments, moccasins, and other items. These adornments were often spectacular in their intricacy and Aboriginal and Métis women became known for their fine beadwork. Rich dress was valued throughout the Great Lakes: a display of richly decorated clothing was a further mark of the successful hunter and warrior. Personal decoration was not simply a display of material wealth, but a statement and mark of respect for spiritual assistance and guidance.  Floral designs appeared at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and by mid-century had largely replaced the earlier geometric patterns.

Beaver (Castor canadensis): The history of Canada has been profoundly influenced by the beaver. This semi-aquatic rodent has webbed hind feet and a broad flat tail, but most importantly, it has a thick, soft, underfur. Considered the finest down in the world, this fur was  perfect for felting into hats and so fuelled the fur trade. Aboriginal peoples trapped beaver and traded the pelts to European traders. Pelts were transported from the interior of North America to Europe to make beaver top hats. Depending on the size of the beaver and the size and quality of the hat, it took, on average, one pelt to make one beaver hat. Once the hair had been removed from the pelts, the less valuable skins could be used by trunk makers, shoemakers, and by turners to make sieves for sifting grain and seeds.

Beaver Club: Founded in 1785 by a group of Nor'Westers, the Beaver Club consisted of agents and former wintering partners of the Concern who had spent at least one winter in the interior of North America.  The members of the Beaver Club would gather every fortnight (two weeks) between the months of December and April.  Members would take turns hosting the event and several rules were established to govern the behaviour of those who attended, including the admittance of new members and the wearing of a Beaver Club medallion with a ribbon of sky blue.  One of the main customs associated with the Beaver Club was the giving of five traditional toasts to: The Mother of All Saints; King George III; The Fur Trade in all its Branches; Voyageurs Wives and Children; Absent Members.

Beaver Lodges: Beavers build lodges of up to 20 feet (6 m) across the base and 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m) high of sticks and branches cemented with mud. Within the lodge a circular chamber about two feet high and six feet across is built with its floor about four inches above water level. Two entrances are built into this chamber, both being from two to three feet below water on the outside. The outside of the lodge is plastered with short sticks and mud from the bottom of the pond until it is a smooth conical shape.  Not to be confused with lodges, dams are built and maintained to ensure a continuous water level in the beaver pond.

Beaver Top Hats: See Top Hats

Biscuit/ship's biscuit: This term refers to bread that has been cooked twice in order to render it more durable for long trips. From the French "bis", meaning twice, and "cuit", meaning cooked. Ship's biscuit, also called hard tack, pilot bread and sea biscuit, was an important travel food for sailors and voyageurs.

Birch bark: The white outer shell of the birch tree (Betula papyrifera) - birch bark - was used extensively by Aboriginal people for shelter (wigwams), transportation (canoes), and storage (makuks). Bark is best gathered in early summer or during a long winter thaw. Normally it is used in the same year that it is gathered, but it may be stored in rolls and soaked and heated before using. Birch bark that is removed with "inner rind" adhering to it is often referred to as "winter bark" and is considered far superior for canoe building versus "summer bark" which can be dry, badly layered, and prone to cracking.

Blankets: Woollen blankets were among the most valued trade items for Native peoples. Wool is lighter than fur and even when wet offers excellent protection from the elements. Blankets were used as bed covers, mattresses, for making coats, capots, and as a covering for Native women who preferred blankets to coats. The blankets were categorized by "points": a system introduced by the HBC in 1779. The points were woven into the blanket along the selvedge and refer to the size and weight.

Bois Brulé: See Métis.

Bourgeois: In the North West Company, the bourgeois were educated men of usually Scottish or English descent engaged in the fur trade as salaried clerks and shareholders. The bourgeois were known simply as "gentlemen", which distinguished them from engagés or the working class - those below the rank of clerk. Essentially, bourgeois were the middle or merchant class.

Bouts: French for "ends", referring to the end positions in the canoe:  stern (gouvernail) and bow (avant or devant).

Brigade: In the NWC, a fleet of three or more canoes, each canoe manned by a crew of voyageurs. Travelling in brigades offered some extra security if a canoe encountered trouble and also made for a larger labour force at portages.

British: Term used to describe Europeans of British ancestry.

British North America: After the United States broke away from Britain, the remaining British colonies in North America were together called British North America. These colonies - Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland -later came together to form Canada. It stood in contrast to Russian North America (Alaska and parts of California) and to Spanish North America.

Butterchurn: a vessel used for making butter in which cream is agitated in order to separate the butter from the milk.  The cooper at Fort William made churns, buckets and tubs for the dairy.

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Canadien: At the time of the NWC and before, the term Canadien described the French-speaking inhabitants of Lower Canada (now Quebec). In the 1930s it was replaced with Canadien-Français, and in the 1970s, with Québeçois. Canadien workers had similar employment options, usually lumbering, canal building, work with fur trade companies, and, later, railway construction. Lower Canada remained the focus for recruitment. In 1860 as the fur trade waned, Sir George Simpson (HBC) claimed that French Canadians were difficult to recruit, and described them as having "the dash, the vivacity and the song, which characterised the old voyageurs and were the chief attractions of canoeing."

Canoe: By the time fur traders and explorers embraced the birch bark canoe, it had been used by indigenous North Americans for probably five thousand years.   Aboriginal peoples used these vessels for transportation relating to trade, war, camp movement and subsistence activities. This surprisingly sturdy watercraft made of birch bark was used to transport goods and furs along the many lakes and rivers of North America. Crafted entirely of materials readily available in the forests, this canoe allowed Europeans to explore a landscape impenetrable by European watercraft. Different sizes of canoes were used by the North West Company: Canot du Maître; Canot du Nord; canot batard; canot leger; and the hunter canoe.

Canot du Maître: On the 1200 mile (1900 km) trip from Montreal to Fort William, the largest bark canoe - the Montreal Canoe or Canot du Maître - was used. This canoe was probably named for Louis LeMaitre, the canoe builder from the very productive LeMaitre canoe manufactory in Trois-Rivieres. This massive canoe could carry almost four tons (8000 lbs or 3600 kg). From Lachine, it traveled up the Ottawa River, Mattawa River, across Lake Nippissing and down the French River to Lake Huron. From here the brigades traveled up the north channel of Lake Huron to Sault Ste. Marie, across to Lake Superior then on to Fort William. This route required a minimum of thirty-three portages plus the canoe was unloaded every night, overturned, and tarped over to make a covered sleeping area. This canoe averaged 36 feet (11 m) in length, was 6 feet (1.8 m) wide, and was crewed by 8-12 voyageurs. Empty, it could weigh more than 600 pounds (270 kg), but could still be carried by six men over portages.

Nicholas Garry's diary (1821) gives a wonderful description of the loading of this canoe: "The first part of the Loading is to place 4 Poles or long sticks at the bottom of the Canoe which run the whole Length. These support the whole weight and prevent the Bottom being injured. The Pieces or Packs which weigh about 90 lbs. each are then placed in the Canoe and with wonderful precision, each Piece seeming to fit. The most weighty Goods are put at the Bottom, the Provision, Cooking Utensils, Liquor, etc. are like wise put it; at the Bow is placed a large Roll of Bark in case of Accident with a supply of wattape, Gum, &c. A Canoe takes 60 pieces and this with the Weight of Provisions, etc., bring the Gross weight to about 41/2 Tons, an immense freight when this frail Conveyance is considered. When loaded you wonder where the Men are to sit but at the Word of Command they at once place themselves, the Guide at the Bow, the Steersman at the Stern; then the Canoe sinks into the water and space between the Water and the Gunwale is not ½ a Foot. In this frail Bark they go for thousands of Miles seldom meeting with serious Accidents."

Canot du Nord/North Canoe: North canoes were manufactured at Fort William, St. Joseph's Island, Rainy Lake, and sometimes at inland posts. They were 24-27 feet long, carried 20-29 packs, plus 600 lbs (272 kg) of provisions, 200 lbs (90 kg) of baggage, 100 lbs (45 kg) of agret, plus a crew of five or six men; thus a total cargo of up to 4500 lbs (2040 kg). These canoes carried furs from the interior of the continent to Fort William, and trade goods on the return journey. The smaller North canoe was better suited to the western routes where more portaging was required, often on trails less well-maintained than the Montreal - Fort William route. The NWC used approximately one hundred and eighty north canoes to transport supplies and trade goods to the more than eighty wintering posts. This canoe was often light enough to be carried by two men.

Canot batard: The "batard" or bastard canoe was between the sizes of a Montreal and North canoe, measuring about 29 to 33 feet (8.8 to 10 m). It was typically paddled by a crew of six to eight voyageurs, but sometimes by five and on occasion by up to eleven men. Their cargo capacity varied from 35-50 pieces. These craft were quite often used in regions which have generally been considered to be the territory of only North canoes and other even smaller craft. There was another smaller bastard canoe, also known as a "half-size" canoe. It carried 16 pieces of cargo, was 18-24 feet (5.4 to 7.3 m) long, and was usually manned by three or four voyageurs. These half-size canoes played a prominent role in expanding the trade north-westward.

Canot léger: A canot léger (literally a "light canoe") was an express canoe used by the NWC for rapid trips. It was called "light" because it carried minimal or no cargo with a full crew of paddlers and so could travel more quickly than a same sized canoe carrying freight. For instance, the trip from Montreal to Fort William would take four to six weeks to travel with a fully loaded canoe but a lightly loaded or express canoe could do this trip in as little as 18 days.

Hunter Canoe: Also known as "Indian Canoes", these small craft were 13-16 feet (4 to 5 m) in length, able to be paddled by two people.  The NWC purchased hunter canoes from Native builders to supplement their fleet of freight canoes. This smaller canoe was an  important watercraft in the daily lives of Aboriginal peoples and company men and their families for travel by water.

Capot/Capote: Capots were originally a kind of a hooded coat or gown worn by French sailors in wet or bad weather. They were first used in Canada by Natives: as early as 1606, French sailors were trading their capots to the Micmac on the Atlantic coast. They became popular trade goods. By 1620, a French captain found it necessary to order his sailors not to trade away their capots until all the other trade goods had been used up. French settlers soon adopted the sailor's capot. These early capots were almost always made from serge (a kind of wool), linen, leather, or even beaver skin. By the middle of the eighteenth century, voyageurs had adopted the blanket capot, made from point blankets: a warm, hooded, knee-length overcoat, bound close to the body with a colourful sash - a ceinture fléché.

Carriole/Cariole: In Lower Canada, used to describe a light passenger sleigh drawn by horses and sometimes dogs. In the Northwest, the cariole was a kind of sled or toboggan with parchment sidewalls used by the NWC which could carry a passenger sitting down or cargo in its main compartment, with space in the back for someone to ride standing or where additional cargo could be stowed.

Cassette: A small chest or box, strong, light and watertight, used by the bourgeois to carry personal effects while travelling by canoe or as a container for shipping smaller items for trade.

Cask: A round wooden container made of staves, the ends sealed with heads and the whole thing held together with hoops of wood or metal; used for storage and shipment of dry goods and liquids. See barrel, firkin.

Castor gras: A beaver skin worn by its aboriginal owner for at least a year. This skin had lost its long guard hairs due to constant wearing and friction with the body and was considered quite valuable by hatters (also known as "coat beaver"). Castor gras were typically traded during the early fur trade - by the NWC period the vast majority of beaver pelts were simply stretched and dried - described as "castor sec" (dried beaver).

Castoreum: An orange-brown substance obtained from the perineal glands of the beaver, located under the skin at the base of tail between the hind legs. These glands deposit scent to mark the beaver colony's territorial boundaries. Considered a valuable trade item, trappers remove the glands from the beaver's carcass, and sun- or smoke-dry them to produce castoreum. Since ancient times, castoreum has been used to treat a wide-ranging list of medical complaints. During the fur trade, it continued to be a very valuable commodity as a medicine. In 1800, 5,535 pounds of castoreum were exported from British North America to Europe. Trappers then and now, use castoreum to bait traps. Today, castoreum is used in the perfume trade in the form of an alcohol extract for blending perfumes or as a base for perfume making.

Cedar: A tall coniferous tree of the pine family noted for its fragrant durable wood. It was used in the construction of canoes for ribs and planking, and also used extensively for shingles. The cooper used cedar for dry goods casks: wooden, barrel shaped vessels put together with staves, hoops and flat circular heads. Cedar is a significant plant in Native medicine with a strong spiritual component: burning cedar produces a smoke which is believed to be the vessel through which prayers are carried to heaven.

Ceinture fléché: A colourful woven sash worn around a voyageur's waist to hold up his knife as well as his trousers! The wide sash also served the same supportive function as a broad belt does for a weight lifter. During the fur trade period, many sashes came from L'Assomption, a village northeast of Montreal where a cottage industry arose to supply the North West Company with voyageur sashes. The ceinture fléché evolved into an important cultural emblem for voyageurs, French Canadians and Métis.

Chippewa: An Algonquian-speaking aboriginal people whose territory during the fur trade stretched from the Great Lakes to the Plains. The early French explorers called them "Saulteurs" or "Saulteaux" and "Outchibouec" which later became Ojibwa or Chippewa. See Ojibwa.

Clerk: Most persons entering the service of the North West Company as clerks came from the "gentleman" class and were treated as such. From respectable Scottish families, even inexperienced apprentice clerks were referred to as Mister. Most clerks anticipated becoming wintering partners, as they worked their way up through apprentice, junior and senior levels of clerking. Clerks were responsible for packaging trade goods or pelts in 90 pound (40 kilos) packs bound for Montreal or the interior. They were expected to keep journals and send them to Fort William along with the annual accounts of the expenditure of goods entrusted to their charge, the balance of goods, provisions and other effects on hand and the debts due by Natives and voyageurs left in the interior. More experienced clerks were in charge of posts in a department under the supervision of a wintering partner. Also called "commis".

Commis: See clerk.

Community: A group of people having ethnic or cultural or religious or other characteristics in common who may live in a particular area. Or, a group of nations having common interests, like the United Nations. Also, persons united by professional standing, as in the "medical community".

Conquest of New France: The result of a conflict between Britain and France and one of the events of the Seven Years War. The turning point came in 1759 when the British captured Quebec City. The conflict formally ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 when France officially handed New France over to Britain, to be incorporated into British North America.

Continental Divide: The height of land which separates areas drained by rivers that flow to opposite sides of North America. In Canada there are two divides. One runs north-south along the top of the Rocky Mountains. Rivers west of this line flow eventually into the Pacific Ocean, while rivers to the east flow either to the Arctic or Atlantic oceans. The second divide, running east-west across the continent, is low and less obvious. Starting in the Columbia icefield in the Rockies, it crosses the southern plains and central Ontario and Quebec. Rivers to the north of this line flow into the Arctic Ocean or Hudson Bay. See also watersheds.

Cooper: an artisan specializing in the making of casks and wooden containers.  The North West Company employed coopers at Fort William to make casks for shipping the Company's goods into the interior as well as making wooden domestic containers for Farm, Dairy, kitchens and cottages at Fort William.

Corn and Grease: The main diet of the NWC voyageurs was a porridge-like mixture of corn (maise) and grease (usually pork fat). The use of corn as a fuel for long voyages began with early cultivation of corn by the Hurons. Radisson, in the early 1600s, writes of needing nothing more than corn, and the fish they caught along the voyage. Alexander Mackenzie writes from Grand Portage in 1798: "the canoe-men, both from the North and Montreal, have no other allowance here, or in the voyage, than Indian corn and melted fat. The corn for this purpose is prepared before it leaves Detroit, by boiling it in a strong alkali, which takes off the outer husk; it is then well washed and carefully dried upon stage, when it is fit for use. One quart of this is boiled for two hours, over a moderate fire, in a gallon of water; to which, when it has boiled a small time, are added two ounces of melted suet; this causes the corn to split, and in the time mentioned makes a pretty thick pudding. If to this is added a little makes an wholesome, palatable food, and easy of digestion." The NWC obtained its corn and most of its provisions through agents based in the Detroit area.  Corn was important as a provision in the fur trade because it was cheap, compact, and kept well.

Corvée: Manual labour provided by Montreal voyageurs as a stipulation of their contract. At Fort William, corvée might include mending fences, hauling wood or making roads.  Originally coming from feudal law that required certain services for the lord or sovereign, the system was abolished in France in 1789 but continued in the New World.

Council House: The Montreal agents and wintering partners met every summer for the annual shareholders meeting of the North West Company at their inland headquarters of Fort William. The Council House served as the formal boardroom for meetings, and only partners in the Company were allowed admittance. This building, the most exclusive at Fort William, was also used for modest social gatherings in the evenings.

Counting House: In an historical sense the term "counting house" and "office" are interchangeable. Both terms were used to designate the place for the transaction of business. In the Counting House at Fort William, the seasonal office of the NWC, there were copies of all the legal and financial documents of the company. The Counting House also served as a repository for the keys to all of Fort William's buildings. In addition, there were bedrooms where, during the summer, the most senior bookkeepers and clerks from Montreal would have slept during their summer stay.

Country-born: people of mixed English-Scottish and Native ancestry. The term Métis eventually came to include those from a mixed Native and French ancestry.

Country Marriage: See Mariage à la façon du pays.

Coureur de bois:  French for "runner of the woods", and precursor of the voyageur.  During the French fur trade, a coureur de bois was an independent, unlicensed trader who traveled by canoe into the interior to make contact with Native peoples and trade for furs. With the Conquest of New France, British interests took over the fur trade and Montreal-based partnerships increasingly hired crews of French Canadian voyageurs.  By 1814, hundreds of voyageurs were in the service of the North West Company. Unlike the coureur des bois, these men were not independent traders working outside colonial law, but wage-earning canoemen working for a legitimate fur trading company.

Cree: An aboriginal people belonging to the Algonquian linguistic family whose territory stretched from Hudson Bay to Alberta.  The Cree people were integral to the fur trade as trappers and buffalo hunters.

Culture: The learned behaviour of people, which includes their belief systems and languages, social relationships, institutions and organizations, art and manners and their material goods: food, clothing, buildings, tools and machines.

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David Thompson's Map: In 1814 David Thompson completed the first overall map of the northwest third of the continent. His map shows the extent of the North West Company's fur trading empire and the locations of its numerous trading posts as well as the posts of its competitors, the American Astor outfit and the Hudson's Bay Company. It also revealed vast areas of the continent still to be explored: the tributary rivers and lakes of the Pacific coast, the mountains and the unexplored Arctic.

Décharge: French for "unloading", a décharge meant removing all of the cargo from a canoe to carry it overland in order to more easily move the unburdened canoe through obstructions or rapids. A décharge saved voyageurs the trouble of having to portage the canoe.

Dégradé: While en route, when voyageurs were forced to go to shore because of worsening weather conditions, they called this situation dégradé.

Demidécharge: Also "demicharge". A stop where a portion of a canoe's cargo was unloaded for portaging so that the less-burdened canoe with minimal crew could pass through the rapids.

Departments: The interior was divided into departments: the largest of the administrative districts of a fur company. In 1814 the NWC had 19 departments in the interior: Athabasca, New Caledonia, Upper English River, Lower English River, Saskatchewan River, Athabasca River, Fort des Prairies, Fort Dauphin, Lac Ouinipique, Red River, Lac la Pluie, Fond du Lac, Fort William, Nipigon, Lac des Isles, Pic, Michipicoten, King's Posts, and Columbia. Each department contained several posts.

Devant: The voyageur positioned at the front (bow) of the canoe. See also avant.

Doctor: One skilled or specializing in healing arts, especially a physician, surgeon, dentist or medicine man.

Dogs: Dogs were a part of aboriginal life through most of the interior. The Nor'Westers followed suit and used dogs at virtually all their inland posts for work, protection and even as an alternate source of meat. Dog teams pulled carioles and other sleds which were a key means of winter transportation for NWC employees. Dogs could also be used to haul cargo on travois, or in packs strapped to the dog. Travelling by dog sled in winter also meant that travellers had their emergency rations with them: the dogs could and would be eaten.

Dry Goods Stores:  A warehouse at Fort William for storing bulk trade goods that make up the outfits destined for the west.

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Ecology: The study of all interactions that occur between organisms and their environment, including humans.

Ecosystem: A naturally occurring community of organisms - plants, insects, birds, animals, and microbes -plus all the non-living things in the particular environment in which they live and react. An ecosystem can be any size: a log, coral reef, grassland, pond, field, rain forest, or the earth's biosphere, but it always functions as a whole unit. An action taken at any level in this chain, use of a pesticide for example, has a potential effect on every other occupant of the ecosystem.

Engagé: From the French for "hired" or "engaged" under contract, the term engagé described all contracted employees of the NWC who ranked below the level of clerk. Many hundreds of NWC engagés were voyageurs who paddled canoes and carried cargo. Other engagés of the Company included tradesmen and farm workers.

Engagement: A contract signed by a voyageur or other engagé to formalize the terms of his service for the North West Company.  Voyageurs initially signed engagements before a notary public in Lower Canada, usually making their mark with an "x" as most were not literate. Once in the interior, the bourgeois used standard engagements to renew contracts with labourers.

En derouine: A proactive method of trading, usually carried out by wintering voyageurs (hommes du nord) under the direction of the bourgeois. The voyageur would travel to aboriginal communities or camps in order to trade for furs or other goods. This saved Native traders from journeying to a trading post, and ensured that more furs ended up in the hands of the NWC. The North West Company used this method to great advantage in its rivalry with the Hudson's Bay Company.

English: Term used to describe Europeans of British ancestry.  The Nor'Westers also used the term to refer to members of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Equipment/équipement: The terms of the engagé contract usually stipulated that an equipment be given in addition to wages. Equipments for occupations varied, although some items were standard. Some standard equipment, as detailed by Colin Robertson in 1812, could include: blankets, cloth, shirts, trousers, lengths of cotton, knives, handkerchiefs, tobacco, beef shoes (moccasins made usually from cow hides), soap, hats, vests, foodstuffs, and other items.

European Medicine: System of medicine based on European models of illness and disease derived largely from classical sources such as Hippocrates and Galen. During the NWC period, much European medicine focused on bleeding and purging the body of excess humours (humoral theory) and restoring optimum tension of body fibres (solidest theory).

Export: Generally refers to sending merchandise out of one place or country to another country. Not only things can be exported, the term can also be applied to ideas, technology, and culture. See also import.

Express Canoe (Canot leger): see canoes.

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Factory: The Hudson's Bay Company often referred to their large fur-trading post from which furs were shipped to England, as factories. Accordingly, HBC personnel that managed posts or districts were often called "factors" and "chief factors".

Farm: The farm at Fort William was planned and built using principles of the British Agricultural Revolution, but agricultural methods incorporated many features from Quebec. The farm could not make Fort William completely self-sufficient, in that luxury items like spices, coffee, tea, chocolate, cheese, wines and spirits had to be imported, but the farm did supplement the diet of the Nor'Westers at the rendezvous and lessened their dependence on imported foodstuffs. During the rendezvous, the farm supplied the Great Hall with milk, butter, eggs, vegetables and fresh meat. Its potatoes helped local inhabitants get through the winter, as did fish from Lake Superior. Livestock consisted of horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, cats and dogs, and crops were oats, peas, buckwheat, potatoes, Indian corn (maise), hay and barley on 120 acres. There was also a substantial kitchen garden located within the main palisade of Fort William. Most farm work was performed by French Canadians, plus, Native women helped with laborious tasks like seeding and weeding. The Ice House was used to preserve fresh meat in the summer and dairy products were cooled there.  The farm also produced raw wool from sheep shearing and leather, from cowhides.

Firkin: A 9 gallon cask used for shipping liquids and perishable dry goods into the Northwest in the Company's canoes.

First Nations: The term used to refer to the original inhabitants of Canada, except the Inuit. See also aboriginal.

Fish/Fisheries: Fishing was crucial to survival at many of the company's inland trading posts and the importance of fishing at Fort William cannot be overestimated. The Fort's fishery on Lake Superior provided one of the staples (fish and potatoes), that supported the small, stable population that wintered at Fort William. In the fall of 1821 over one thousand casks of salted fish were prepared for winter use.

Flintlock: A lock mechanism for a gun or pistol having a flint in the hammer for striking a spark to ignite the charge; also a firearm fitted with a flintlock.

Fort: Usually refers to a fortified structure. During the fur trade, many trading posts were called forts, even though they were not military in purpose, and most did not have significant fortifications.

Fort Chipewyan: An important NWC trading post located on Lake Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan was the administrative centre of the Athabasca Department.

Fort Detroit: A major military base and an entrepôt of the fur trade in the lower Great Lakes. The flourishing agricultural community surrounding Fort Detroit and nearby Amherstberg helped supply the fur trade.

Fort George: Not long before David Thompson reached the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Fur Company, owned by American John Jacob Astor, had established Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia. Undaunted, the NWC sent two expeditions to Astoria at the beginning of the War of 1812, one overland from Fort William and the other by sea from England. With no prospect of reinforcements from the U.S. government in time of war, the Astorians had little alternative but to hand the Fort over to the Nor'Westers. Astoria became Fort George, headquarters of the North West Company's Columbia Department.

Fort William: NWC inland headquarters (1803-1821) located on the north shore of Lake Superior at the outlet of the Kaministiquia River. Originally named Fort Caministigoyan, it was renamed in 1807 to honour its chief director, William McGillivray. The Nor'Westers relocated their headquarters from Grand Portage to Fort William when it became apparent that Grand Portage lay within U.S. territory following Jay's Treaty. Fort William, the NWC's largest fur-trading post, functioned as a transhipment point for trade goods and furs, and acted as the inland headquarters of the North West Company during the summer rendezvous.

Fraser River: A large river in western Canada named for Nor'Wester Simon Fraser, who in 1808 became the first European explorer to descend its waters.

Free Canadian: Many engagés preferred not to return to Lower Canada when their contracts expired. They stayed in the Northwest, becoming known as "free" Canadians. These men continued to work for their former employer as suppliers of provisions (hunting) and as casual labourers. The best known Free Canadian settlement was the Red River Settlement (present-day Winnipeg), where many voyageurs chose to retire. Also known as freemen.

French Canadian: See Canadien.

French fur trade: The French fur trade spanned the period from Jacques Cartier's early explorations in 1534 to the Conquest of New France in 1763. The first fur trade monopoly was granted by Henri IV in 1577 and until 1663, the French fur trade continued to by conducted by private companies granted monopoly trading powers by the French Crown in exchange for the promotion of settlement and trade. The first permanent fur trading post was established in Canada at Tadoussac in 1603. Shortly after, Samuel de Champlain pushed farther into the interior of the continent and sent Étienne Brûlé to live with the Huron Indians in 1610 to learn their language and trade routes.

The New World fur trade became increasingly important when, in 1638, the British Parliament issued a proclamation strictly forbidding the use of any material for the making of hats, except "beaver stuff" and "beaver wool". Ville-Marie (Montreal) became the base of an expanding continental fur trade. In 1653 the central portion of the province of Québec became the "Domaine du Roi". This was an area leased to an individual or company who enjoyed exclusive fur trading rights within it for a defined period of time. In 1696 New France closed all its western trading posts and trade in the region was officially halted for 20 years but illegal traders kept up their operations. The fur trade resumed, but in 1756 the French and Indian War began in the Ohio valley. The fur trade was interrupted once more and most licensed traders and voyageurs were called back east. By that time, the Montreal fur trade had expanded westward through the southern part of the Canadian Shield, south into the upper part of the Mississippi valley and west across the Prairies to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In the second half of the 18th century there were still French trading posts operating in the Great Lakes region and beyond, although most were abandoned. After the Conquest of New France in 1763, the fur trade in Montreal was controlled by American, English and Scottish businessmen.

Fur Bearer: The term given to all fur-bearing animals associated with the fur trade. Roughly half the annual fur harvest consisted of beaver and muskrat, but fox, lynx, rabbit, otter, skunk, wolf, wolverine, marten, fisher, mink, bear, deer, squirrels, and other pelts were traded to the NWC. These were used in the European fashion industry for linings, trims, floor coverings, muffs, scarves, collars, and stoles.  Fur was not used for full fur coats, but to accent and adorn clothing.  At first, only wealthy persons such as clergy, nobility, or academics could afford this luxury. By the time of the NWC, Europe's rising middle class were enjoying the luxury of fur in all areas of fashion.

Fur Stores: The complex of three fur warehouses at Fort William was known as the Fur, or sometimes, Pack Stores. These buildings received the furs from the departments in the interior, where they were then tallied, aired, cleaned, sorted and pressed into packs for shipment to Montreal. Annually, over 200,000 pounds of fur were funnelled through this transhipment point at Fort William. Besides beaver, comprising half this yearly yield, the furs included muskrat, marten, otter, mink, fisher, bear, moose, wolf, raccoon, wolverine, fox and buffalo. The Fur Stores received items other than furs, for example swanskins, goose quills and castoreum.

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Gaol/Jail: Windowless building at Fort William used by the NWC to jail unruly voyageurs and errant tradesmen. The gaol might also contain men arrested for high crimes who were waiting to be sent to Montreal for trial.

Gentlemen: See bourgeois.

Gouvernail: One of the two end positions in the canoe, the governail was the voyageur at the stern (back) of the canoe who steered the canoe. See also bouts.

Grand Portage: Early inland headquarters of the NWC (1784-1802), situated at the western end of Lake Superior in present day Minnesota. A small trading post had initially been established at this location by de la Vérendrye in August 1731. Grand Portage is named for the 9 mile long portage trail there that ascended a height of land and moved brigades into a new watershed. See also Fort William.

Great Hall: This magnificent hall served as the dining room for North West Company agents, wintering partners, clerks, guides and interpreters during the annual rendezvous at Fort William. Common voyageurs were strictly forbidden. The NWC engaged a chef from Montreal who prepared elaborate meals for the gentlemen who dined here during the Rendezvous. Also known as the mess house.

Guide: The highest ranking and best paid voyageur position, the guide was intimately familiar with canoe routes and the land. Each guide was responsible for a brigade of canoes and the safety of the men who paddled them. As a captain is to his sailors, so is the guide to his voyageur crew. During voyages of exploration, the NWC often hired Aboriginal guides already familiar with the territory to be explored. 

Gunpowder: A very fast burning mixture of sulphur, saltpetre, and charcoal used as an explosive, and a propellant in cannons and muskets.  It is now commonly referred to as "blackpowder" to distinguish it from modern "smokeless" powders.

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Hard tack: See biscuit.

Hatter: A skilled tradesman who made beaver hats in England. The hat manufacturing process involved the use of the toxic substance mercury and over time hatters displayed the alarming effects of mercury poisoning. This gives rise to the expression "mad as a hatter".

Height of Land: A region of high ground that may act as a watershed, the line of separation between waters flowing to different rivers or basins or seas. Heights of land were important in the fur trade because they influenced canoe routes and portages, and they have affected many transportation routes since then. First Nations people used heights of land to demarcate territories, as did later European colonists. A political boundary, like the boundary between Labrador and Québec, may correspond to a height of land. See also continental divide.

High Wine: Twice-distilled rum imported from the West Indies, with a very high alcohol content of roughly 80% or 160 proof. This concentrated was shipped in casks into the Northwest and later diluted for use, either in trade with Native peoples or distributed to the engagés as a reward or incentive for hard work or to mark an important occasion. The distribution of High Wine or other alcohol was controlled by the bourgeois.  

Hivernant: A wintering voyageur who wintered in the interior working for the North West Company. Hivernant was sometimes used to describe also the bourgeois who wintered in the interior. See also homme du nord.

Homme du nord: From the French for "northman", a voyageur who wintered in the interior, a hivernant.

Hospital: The infirmary for sick and injured voyageurs at Fort William. Gentlemen recuperated either in the doctor's quarters in the apothecary, or, depending on the nature of the complaint or disability, gentlemen could receive treatment in their own quarters.

Hudson's Bay Company: In 1670, a group of English aristocrats and merchants, inspired by the travels of Radisson and des Grosseilliers, induced England's Charles II to grant them exclusive trading rights in the watershed of the Hudson Bay. The Hudson's Bay Company could obtain trade goods on a much larger scale by sea, and at much more favourable rates. Initially, Natives brought furs to posts along the Bay but competition from the NWC forced them to extend trading posts into the interior. With a reorganization in 1810, the HBC successfully challenged the NWC monopoly in the rich fur-bearing region of Athabasca. It also supported the efforts of Lord Selkirk to establish an agricultural settlement in what is now southern Manitoba with a land grant in the Red River area. This Red River Settlement was strongly opposed by the NWC and its Métis allies and eventually led to a violent skirmish at the Battle of Seven Oaks. The aftermath of this battle led to financial disarray for the NWC. By 1820, the ongoing rivalry between the HBC and the NWC was not sustainable and they were urged by the British government to compromise: Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, formally directed the two companies to cease hostilities. In 1821 a statute was passed ending competition and ratifying a hastily arranged union between the NWC and the HBC, who merged under the name Hudson's Bay Company. George Simpson was made head of the new company's operations in the North West, which now held a powerful monopoly from the coast of Labrador to the Pacific. The Montreal route to Fort William was abandoned in favour of the sea routes, one by way of Hudson Bay and the other by the Pacific coast. Shortly after Confederation, the vast area controlled by the HBC was taken over by the Government of Canada, an important step in the geographic expansion of the Canadian nation.

Hunting Grounds: Used to describe areas where animals are hunted or trapped.

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Import: To bring from a foreign or external source; to bring merchandise or ideas, technology, or culture, into a place or country from another country. See also export.

Indian: This is an etymologically false term used to describe Native North Americans when European explorers first arrived in the New World thinking they had reached India. See Aboriginal, First Nations, Anishnabe.

Indian Shop: This building was Fort William's fur trade post for local Ojibwa people. There was a considerable trade in goods and services at Fort William. Ojibwa traders brought in non-fur commodities as well, such as meat, maple sugar and canoe bark.  Ojibwa women were also employed in a variety of tasks to support the operations of the Fort, and were paid in credit at the Indian Shop. See also trading post, Native Women.

Interior: During the fur trade era, the term was used to indicate the vast territory north and west of Lake Superior in which the fur trade was conducted. Also referred to as the "pays d'en haut", literally "upper country".

Interpreter: A person employed by the NWC to provide translation services. Usually, interpreters could speak French or English, and one or more Native languages. Along with guides, interpreters were high-ranking engagés within the company. See also Algonquian and Iroquoian.

Inventory: A noun used to describe the quantity of goods or materials on hand, but also a verb used to describe the act or process of determining the goods on hand. Much historical information about Fort William comes from an exhaustive inventory done during Lord Selkirk's occupation in 1816.

Iroquoian: One of twelve linguistic families existing in native Canada at the beginning of the 17th century. Iroquoian-speaking groups lived around Georgian Bay, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario (present day southern Quebec and New York State) with a high population density based on a largely agricultural subsistence. This linguistic family gives rise to the term Iroquois, used to describe Native persons who spoke one of the eleven Iroquoian dialects: Huron; Petun; Neutral; Wenro; Erie; Seneca; Cayuga; Onondaga; Oneida; Mohawk; and Susquehannock.

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Jay's Treaty: Following the American War of Independence, the Treaty of Paris (1783) changed the boundary between Canada and the USA. To settle outstanding boundary problems caused by this peace, Jay's Treaty was signed in London on November 19th, 1794 by the US and Britain. This treaty formally set the boundary line east of the Mississippi between British North America and the United States of America and stipulated that Britain would evacuate western posts by June 1st, 1796; that merchants of both countries would have free access to lands on either side of the border; that the Mississippi River would be open to both countries; that a commission to settle debts to Britain since the start of the American Revolution would be established; and that American shipping would not be hindered in trade with British possessions. When this new boundary was officially established in 1798, the NWC was compelled to move its Lake Superior depot from Grand Portage to the Kaministiquia River, where Fort Caministigoyan was built beginning in 1801 and completed in 1804. It was renamed Fort William in 1807.

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Kaministiquia: An important river in the trade networks used by aboriginal peoples and fur traders. From 1803-1821, voyageur brigades travelled up the 66-mile-long  (106 km) Kaministiquia River from Fort William on Lake Superior to cross the height of land into the Hudson Bay watershed to begin their journey westward. Kaministiquia is an Algonquian word that has had many spellings - Kaministikwia, Caministigoyan - and meanings. It has been translated as "a river of three mouths" as well as "a meandering river".

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Lachine: About 9 miles upriver from Montreal on the St. Lawrence, Lachine was the point of departure for NWC canoe brigades heading to Fort William. The explorer LaSalle started a settlement there in 1666 and people in the region named it Lachine (China) because LaSalle believed that the Ottawa River led to the fabled western sea.

La Vielle: French for "the old woman", a favourable wind that enabled voyageurs to raise a sail on their canoes and travel faster. See sails.

Leggings: Leggings made of animal skin such as deer hide were worn by many aboriginal peoples, both men and women, to protect their legs from insects and bush. They were often decorated with quills. After the start of the European fur trade, leggings were also made with cloth and decorated with ribbons and beads. Recognizing their practicality, voyageurs adopted the use of leggings.  Also called "mitasses".

Linguistic families: At the beginning of the 17th century there were 12 linguistic families in native Canada. These were: Algonquian; Athapascan; Beothuk; Haidan; Iroquoian; Kootenaian; Salish; Siouan; Tlingit; Tsimshian; Wakashan; and Inuktituk.

Lining: A navigation technique where a canoe (minus paddlers with full or partial load) was pulled along from shore by a strong rope called a "cordelle" of 60 to 100 feet long (18 to 30 meters).  The gouvernail or avant might remain in the canoe to help steer away from shore.  This technique was used to guide the canoe downstream when the water was too hazardous to paddle and when the shoreline was free of snags.  See also tracking.

Lower Canada: A British colony from1791-1841, Lower Canada occupied the area bordering the lower St. Lawrence River in the southern portion of the modern province of Quebec. Lower Canada eventually merged with Upper Canada to form the single colony of the Province of Canada, declared in 1840 by the Act of Union and lasting until Confederation in 1867.

London: The capital of England and Britain's centre of political power. The English fur trade had its European base here, where it received most of its trade goods from large supply companies.  In 1814 London was the largest financial and shipping centre in the world.

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Mackenzie River: Named for fur trader and explorer Alexander Mackenzie, who in 1789 became the first European explorer to descend the river.

Made Beaver [MB]: A monetary unit used by the Hudson's Bay Company for establishing the value of exchanges of furs and trade goods.  Trade goods and furs could be valued in terms of MB, which was equivalent to the value of one Made (prime) Beaver pelt. See plus.

Maise/Maize: Also called "Indian corn" by fur traders. Corn was domesticated for cultivation by aboriginal peoples of Mesoamerica almost three thousand years ago. During the fur trade era, aboriginal peoples near Fort Detroit produced much of the corn used in the Company's fur trade operations. See also corn and grease.

Makuk/mukuk/makak: An aboriginal storage and carrying container made of birch bark sewn together with wattape (spruce root).

Maple sugar: Tapping or draining sap from maple trees and processing the sap into sugar originated with Eastern Canadian Aboriginal peoples. "Sugaring" was carried out in early spring. Male employees at Fort William, during the last week of March, would go out to the "sugar bush" (probably Mount McKay) to clear snow, cut firewood and erect lodges for the Native women to dwell in for the period required until the last maple sugar was brought down in mid-May. Each group of trees was owned by an individual woman and her heirs. The final product - syrup, ground sugar, and block sugar - was stored in makuks averaging a weight of 38 pounds. Maple sugar was a valuable trade item for Native peoples. European newcomers to Canada readily adopted maple sugar as a sweetener until the nineteenth century when cane sugar became more common.

Mariage à la façon du pays: From the French for "marriage in the custom of the country". Many unions occurred between European men and aboriginal women without European-based religious and legal ceremonies. These unions had some of the characteristics of aboriginal and European customs but were not recognized by European society. Also called "country marriages", these unions were common between aboriginal women and North West Company engagés and gentlemen.  Some fur traders later formalized their country marriages in a religious ceremony officiated by clergy, but this was not the norm during the fur trade period.

Medicine Man: Native person knowledgeable in cures and remedies derived from plants and animals, often used in combination with special ceremonies. See also doctor.

Métis: An individual of mixed First Nation and European ancestry. During the fur trade, many Anglo-Scottish fur traders and French Canadian voyageurs married aboriginal women in the custom of the country: mariage à la façon du pays. Their children, and later descendents, were of mixed ancestry, or métis. At the time, Europeans used different terms to describe this mixed heritage, including "mixed blood", "country born", "bois brulé" and later, métis. By the early nineteenth century, communities of métis people had grown up throughout the Northwest, the largest of these being the Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg). Today, the term "Métis" (capitalized) refers to a distinct people: those of mixed aboriginal and European ancestry whose culture evolved from early fur trade society and who came to see themselves as a distinct indigenous people.

Milieu: A voyageur who takes up a middle position in the canoe, the lowest rank in the voyageur hierarchy. See also guide, gouvernail, avant.

Moccasins: Moccasins have been used by aboriginal peoples in North America for centuries as soft and versatile footwear. They were usually made from tanned animal hide such as bison, moose and deer. Different aboriginal groups had different patterns and decorations. The preparation of hides and the making of moccasins was usually the domain of native women. Before European contact, moccasins were decorated with porcupine quills. Later, women used beads to decorate moccasins and other items. Many members of the NWC wore moccasins instead of shoes, especially the voyageurs. Because the soles wore out quickly, the NWC relied on native women to make moccasins for its personnel all year long. See also beadwork.

Montreal: The largest European settlement in British North America during the fur trade, and the base of operations for the North West Company. Today Montreal is the largest city in the province of Quebec.

Montreal Agent: See agent.

Mukluks: From the Inuit word for boots, mukluks are an aboriginal style of winter footwear made of skins such as seal, moose and caribou. Mukluks were sometimes decorated similarly to moccasins. See also beadwork.

Musket: A muzzle-loading flintlock smooth bore shoulder firearm.  See Trade Gun.

Muskrat: a large North American aquatic rodent, but much smaller than the beaver. Muskrat pelts were used in hat making but considered inferior to beaver pelts.

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Native: Refers to aboriginal peoples. During the fur trade era, "Native" also included the mixed children of First Nations women and European men. See also Métis, aboriginal, First Nations.

Native Women: The role of aboriginal and métis women in the fur trade was vital. In aboriginal cultures, much of the important work of survival was the domain of women: food gathering, fishing and small game hunting, skinning and preparing hides for clothing or trade, food preparation and storage, making and maintaining the home and household equipment, healing the sick and raising the children. With the coming of the fur trade, aboriginal women formed alliances with European traders and ensured their survival in the interior. They could also act as interpreters and assist in diplomatic relations between First Nation peoples and Europeans. Their presence at trading posts and on expeditions contributed greatly to the successful operations of the fur trade. At Fort William, local Ojibwa women were a vital part of the labour pool. They manufactured many specific items, such as snowshoes, capots, mittens, socks, dog harnesses, moccasins and tents. Other duties included dressing leather, maple sugaring, planting and harvesting crops, washing clothes and cleaning buildings. Ojibwa women were also regularly employed to help build canoes. Such work would be done in exchange for credit in the Indian Shop.

New World: Name given by Europeans to denote the present day Americas, both North and South.

New France: The territory colonized by France in northeastern North America from the explorations of Jacques Cartier in 1534 to the Conquest of New France in 1763. The early period of the fur trade took place during this period and is sometimes called the French fur trade.

Northwest: The vast region of the North American continent north and west of the Great Lakes.

Nor'Westers: A name commonly used to denote North West Company fur traders.

North West Company (NWC): The North West Company, dominant in the fur trade from1784-1821, began with loose combinations of merchants as early as 1775 which coalesced into real partnership in 1784. Simon McTavish, a Scottish-born merchant, was the force behind the early triumphs of the NWC and he and his partners gave the NWC its predominantly Highland flavour as they brought their clansmen to join the trade. Instead of salaried servants as was the case with the Hudson's Bay Company, NWC operations in the interior were run by full-fledged wintering partners who shared directly in the profits. In 1795, the NWC consisted of 46 shares and controlled almost 75% of the fur trade. By 1804, the firm was a 100 share agreement, operating more than 100 posts, with over 1300 employees - most were French Canadian. With a base of operations in Montreal, the NWC overcame the increasing problem of westward expansion by establishing a transshipment point midway - first at Grand Portage, then at Fort William. But the expense of transporting trade goods and furs by canoe to Montreal grew more onerous as distances increased.

Barred from easy sea access at Hudson Bay by the HBC, the Nor'Westers, the great explorers of the age, embarked on a search for a route to the Pacific Ocean. Such a route, they believed, would be shorter and cheaper than the Montreal route, but would also become the long sought North West Passage to the western sea - across which lay the fabled China market for the furs of North America. This elusive passage never materialized and the NWC kept establishing posts further westward, with the HBC aggressively following suit by building competing posts, sometimes side by side. With the acquisition of Fort George from the Pacific Fur Company, the NWC's empire was complete. Its trade routes spanned not only the continent but half the globe, extending from London around Cape Horn to the Columbia, then to Hawaii and the markets of China. The NWC transcontinental business ended when, after years of intense rivalry with the HBC, the two companies merged in 1821.

Northwest Passage: For more than a century the prospect of a sea route to Asia motivated most official exploration of northeastern North America. Europeans began their attempts to explore, or more often, to get around or through this land and establish a western link to China. The French made the first attempt when Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence in the 1530s, then the English explorers Martin Frobisher and John Davis looked for a westward passage as they penetrated the strait between Greenland and Baffin Island. European explorers reached the coast of British Columbia only in the 1770s when Spaniards sailed north from Mexico in tiny ships after word came from Madrid that Russians were encroaching on territory the Spanish did not know but considered theirs. Then Captain James Cook was sent by the British Admiralty to look for the western entrance of the Northwest Passage. Nor'Westers also engaged in the search. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie followed the Mackenzie River to its mouth; in 1793 he crossed the continental divide, reached the Fraser River, then left it to follow an Indian trail to become the first European to reach the Pacific by an overland route. After Simon Fraser descended the Fraser River in 1808 and David Thompson the Columbia in 1811, the geographical framework of western Canada was understood, and no Northwest Passage was found to exist.

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Orkneys: Islands off the north coast of Scotland where much of the HBC labour force was recruited from. See also orkneymen.

Orkneymen: At the end of the 18th century almost 80% of the employees of the HBC were being recruited in the Orkneys, off the north coast of Scotland. The majority of men were hired as labourers who fished and hunted, manned boats and canoes, chopped and carried wood, packed furs, cleaned barns and byres, whitewashed buildings, portaged cargo, and cooked their own food as well as that of officers. The English continued to retain a virtual monopoly on positions as apprentices, writers and officers. Also known as Orcadians.

Ojibwa: An Algonquian-speaking aboriginal people whose territory during the fur trade stretched from the Great Lakes to the Plains. The early French explorers called them "Saulteurs" or "Saulteaux" and "Outchibouec" which later became Ojibwa or Chippewa. More recently, the Ojibwa people of northwestern Ontario call themselves Anishinabe. Sometime between the 1730s and the mid 1760s, people identified as Ojibwa began to occupy Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, and much of what is now northern Ontario. By the late 1770s, Ojibwa settlements were scattered throughout northern Ontario, circled Lake Superior, and were also to be found inland at Mille Lacs, Lac Court Oreille, Lac du Flambeau and other locations. In the late 1700s some Ojibwa moved further west to the plains and became buffalo hunters. They had a well-balanced seasonal harvesting round that emphasized wild rice and fish and belonged to the "woodlands" culture. Culture areas are categories devised by anthropologists to facilitate analysis: each culture area has a major ecological zone. Woodlands cultures had their own distinctive forms of housing, transportation, social organization and decorative arts. The use of an encompassing term Ojibwa does not imply uniformity of language and culture. For the Ojibwa spoke, and still speak, many different dialects and used local resources very differently across their vast territory. See also native women.

Outfit: The annual cycle of NWC trade. The beginning of a new outfit started with the returning canoe brigades to Montreal and Lachine in the fall. The term also refers to the collection of trade goods destined for the interior trade, or for a particular department, in any given year. Wintering partners at the rendezvous would supervise the making up of the outfit for their department to ensure that they had the appropriate quantity and quality of trade goods for the upcoming trading season.

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Pack: The term generally referred to 90 pound (40 kg) bundles of fur brought from the interior and repackaged for further transport to NWC warehouses in Montreal. See also pièce, bale.

Paddles: Long, slender implements used for propelling a canoe through water, paddles were generally made of maple, ash, cedar or tamarack. Overall shaping was done with an axe or hatchet, and finished with a crooked knife, plane, or draw knife. Fur trade paddles were narrow - 4½ to 5 inches wide - and reached to the chin of the paddler. In addition, there were longer 6 foot and 9 foot paddles for the bow (avant) and stern (gouvernail). Paddles were often brightly painted with decorative designs.

Palisade: Commonly used to refer to the fence-like structure surrounding Fort William, the palisade is 12 feet high and 2400 feet long. More accurately referred to as a "stockade", this fence kept wild animals and voyageurs from freely roaming the Fort. Several NWC posts had stockades or fences around their principal buildings.

Partner: see wintering partner.

Pelt: The hide or skin of a fur-bearing animal with hair still attached.

Pemmican: Pemmican was the most important food staple for NWC brigades traveling in the Northwest.  It was made from dried and pulverised meat, usually bison, blended with fat and sometimes berries, and stored in skin bags called "tauraux". The NWC acquired pemmican through trade with Aboriginal and Métis buffalo hunters.  Native women were responsible for preparing pemmican for trade.

Pièce: A pack or container made up for transport by canoe, containing either furs or trade goods, usually weighing about 90 pounds (40 kg). See also bale.

Pièces sur pièces: The building method most commonly used at Fort William also known as post and fill. Horizontal, squared logs were pegged into mortised, vertical posts. The gaps between were then chinked with a mixture of clay, mud and straw to which sand, small stones, horsehair or dung were sometimes added.

Pipée: French for "pipe break", a pipée was a break during a canoe trip to allow voyageurs to rest and smoke their pipes. These were probably taken at regular intervals of about two hours. Distances between posts and waterways came to be measured in pipes. For example, a three-pipe journey might represent a paddling distance of eight hours.

Plus: Pronounced "plew", this was a unit of value commonly used by the North West Company to represent the equivalent of one good beaver skin. All trade goods and furs could be valued in terms of plus. For example, a blanket might be valued at 7 plus, or an otter skin at 2 plus.  See Made Beaver.

Pork eaters: The Montrealers - voyageurs making the trip between Montreal and Lake Superior - were known derisively among the hommes du nord as pork eaters ("mangers de lard" in French). The easiest group to provision, these men departed from Lachine, in farmland near a sea port. Their staple diet was dried peas or corn, salt pork, and ship's biscuit or hardtack. Corn and pork fat were combined to make corn and grease, standard fare on the trip from Montreal to Lake Superior. This was considered a fairly lush diet compared to the pemmican provided for the hommes du nord.

Portage: A stop where both the canoe and its load were carried overland. A voyageur traveling from the Pacific to Montreal could expect to encounter well over 140 portages. Generally, each Montreal voyageur was responsible for carrying six packs over a portage, two at a time.

Posé: A stop along a portage trail, and at regular intervals on longer portages. Portages were measured by the number of posés.

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Quebec: Now a large Canadian province, during the fur trade it was known as Lower Canada. Montreal, the base of NWC operations was located here, and most of the Company's voyageurs were hired from the French Canadians who lived there.

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Rapids: Turbulent water along a river, most often caused by a change in altitude or a narrowing of the riverbed. A voyageur guide encountering rapids could choose to portage, make a décharge or demi-décharge, or run the rapids with a fully loaded canoe.

Red River Settlement: In 1811, lands were granted to Lord Selkirk by the Hudson's Bay Company to establish a colony for Scottish crofters who had been dispossessed of their lands. This settlement in the Red River Valley straddled the NWC's supply route and also impinged on the buffalo hunt, source of the pemmican which provisioned NWC canoe brigades. This led to hostilities which culminated in a clash between settlers and Métis. See also Battle of Seven Oaks.

Rendezvous: Annual event in mid-summer at Grand Portage and later Fort William, where wintering partners exchanged their furs for trading goods and supplies brought from Montreal. Despite much revelry, the purpose of the rendezvous was the transhipment of trade goods and to conduct the annual meeting of NWC shareholders. As Ross Cox, a clerk in the NWC, explained: "Fort William is the great emporium for the interior. An extensive assortment of merchandise is annually brought hither from Montreal, by large canoes or the Company's vessels on the lakes, which, in return, bring down the produce of the wintering posts to Canada from whence it is shipped for England. A number of the partners and clerks...assemble here every summer and deposit the furs which they purchase during the winter, when they obtain a fresh supply of trading goods for the ensuing season." The concept of a gathering of peoples or what the French called a rendezvous pre-dates the European fur trade. In 1611 Aboriginal peoples met Champlain and other traders at Tadoussac and Lachine Rapids to barter furs for trade items. And, when Étienne Brûlé arrived at what is now Sault Ste. Marie around 1621, he found many groups of Algonquian peoples gathered there. As the fur trade pushed farther west, the rendezvous point necessarily shifted to accommodate the increased length of the journey until it reached mid-continent at the western shore of Lake Superior. See also Fort William.

Royal Charter of 1670: In 1670, King Charles II of England granted a royal charter to a group of English gentlemen, granting them exclusive trading rights in the Hudson Bay watershed, the territory known as Rupert's Land. See also Hudson's Bay Company.

Rupert's Land: The territory granted to the HBC by its Royal Charter of 1670 and incorporated into the Dominion of Canada in 1870, after the Deed of Surrender of 1869. It encompassed the area drained by the rivers flowing into Hudson Bay, thus including: northern Ontario, Québec, the southern Northwest Territories, southern Alberta, most of Saskatchewan, and all of Manitoba, including the valley of the Red River south to Lake Traverse in the United States. The name honours the HBC's first Governor, Prince Rupert.  At the time of the grant, the English had no idea of the size of Rupert's Land and knew little about its geography.

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Sails: Each canoe was equipped with a sail. A mast could be slipped through an opening in one of the forward thwarts and the sail attached to cross bars. The sails were made from lengths of strong canvas sewn together to obtain the required width.

Scales: The cost to transport goods was very high, thus close attention was paid to careful weighing and measuring as they affected inventories and shipment. Every substantial post had at least one scale. Plus, use was made of portable hand scales for trading and for weighing produce.

Scots: A term used to describe Europeans of Scottish ancestry.

Scurvy: A human disease brought about by lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) consumption, it usually occurred during long voyages or in times of food shortages. By 1757 it was known that citrus fruits could prevent scurvy, and after 1800 was scarcely mentioned in naval logs.

Selkirk's Occupation: After the Battle of Seven Oaks, Lord Selkirk occupied Fort William and had the NWC partners arrested and sent to Montreal for trial on charges of high-treason, conspiracy and murder. They were subsequently acquitted of all charges but the 10 month occupation paralyzed NWC trade. See also Red River Settlement.

Seven Oaks, Battle of: In 1816, Governor Semple of the Red River Settlement attempted to seize the NWC post in the Red River area - Fort Gibraltar - as well as its pemmican supplies. In response, Métis Cuthbert Grant and his men seized HBC posts on the Assiniboine River.  On June 19th, two opposing parties encountered each other at a place called Seven Oaks near the settlement: a party of 60 Métis and Canadians in the service of the NWC and a party of men from the settlement.  Words were exchanged, and then shots fired, and an armed skirmish ensued.  In the end, 21 settlers were dead, including Robert Semple.  In retaliation, Lord Selkirk (a Scottish philanthropist with a controlling interest in the HBC) seized Fort William in August, 1816. NWC partners were arrested and sent to Montreal for trial. For the next ten months Selkirk's forces occupied Fort William, thus paralyzing NWC trade. These events and the costly litigation that followed helped propel the NWC into merger negotiations with the HBC. See also Selkirk's Occupation.

Seven Years' War: This was the final struggle between France and Britain for control of North America. Lasting from 1756 to 1763, it resulted in the British Conquest of New France and the beginning of British rule along the St. Lawrence River. The war in North America was part of a worldwide conflict that included major campaigns in Europe and India. On one side were Great Britain and Hanover in alliance with Prussia. On the other side were France, Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russia, and eventually Spain. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Share: Any of the equal interest or rights into which the entire capital stock of the North West Company was divided. The NWC grew from 46 shares in 1795, to 100 in 1804. Wintering partners generally held one to two shares each.

Smallpox: (variola) a disease caused by a DNA virus. A smallpox epidemic of 1780-1782 devastated the Native populations of the Great Lakes and the Northwest because they had no immunity. Spread by droplets from the nose and throat or by dried particles on blankets and clothing, smallpox spread like wildfire. As reported by David Thompson, the epidemic spread from the south to the Sioux and Ojibwa, then to the Missouri area, and then to the Cree, Assiniboine, and other plains tribes. Data suggests that 50 to 70 per cent (sometimes as high as 98 percent) of the Native populations died. The fur trade dropped sharply throughout the Northwest for several years during and immediately after the smallpox epidemic.

Snowshoes: Snowshoes were used by aboriginal peoples across the continent for winter travel for thousands of years. The racket-shaped webbing (of babiche), and frame of the snowshoe allows body weight to be distributed across a larger area allowing travelers to walk on top of deep snow. Different aboriginal groups adapted the snowshoe for different environments and snow conditions. Fur traders and early settlers adopted the snowshoe for winter travel.

Spruce: Any evergreen tree of the genus Picea with a conical head of dense foliage and soft light wood. Spruce roots were used to sew birch bark for making canoes. Boughs were used as bedding in wigwams. Spruce gum was used to make pitch, plus, Fort William and other NWC posts were constructed almost entirely of spruce wood.

Spruce gum: Spruce gum is collected by slashing spruce trees in the fall of late winter. The gum oozes out as lumps during the following spring and early summer and is collected in burlap bags. This bag, when placed in boiling water, contains the bark, twigs, moss, dirt and other impurities while the gum itself rises to the surface to be skimmed off. At this stage the gum loses its stickiness and can be handled easily. The gum, at this point too brittle for use on canoes, is mixed with some form of fat - bear grease, tallow, or lard - plus some powdered charcoal. Once it reaches this sticky, taffy-like consistency it is more commonly referred to as pitch. Native women gathered the spruce gum and traded it to the NWC. In 1816 the Agret held 900 pounds of spruce gum stored in kegs: some for use at Fort William and some to be sent with the canoe brigades in their agret. Each canoe was allotted 6 to 8 pounds of gum.

Spruce roots: See wattape.

Sustainability: When a process is sustainable, it can be carried out over and over without negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs to anyone involved: the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The term originally applied to natural resource situations but now applies to many disciplines, including economic development, environment, food production, energy, and social organization. Ecosystems are sustainable when they are able to maintain ecological processes and functions, biological diversity, and productivity over time. When commerce is conducted in a resource conservative and resource efficient manner so that business operations could continue indefinitely, it is "sustainable development".

Swanskins: Swans were an important and valuable trade item because of the number of uses Europeans had for their feathers. The down was used for fill for jackets, pillows, and powder puffs. The smaller feathers were used for dress trimmings and the leading edge flight feathers were used as quills for pens. In some years, as many as 10,000 swan skins were exported, mostly trumpeter swans. Aboriginal peoples and traders alike valued the swan for food.

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Technology: The application of knowledge to meet the goals and provide the goods and services desired by people. This can be beneficial for humanity, but can also spur negative changes to natural environments in order to satisfy perceived human needs and wants. Techology can also refer to a piece of equipment or a technique for performing a particular activity.

Tikanagen: From the Cree word for "cradleboard". Generally, the tikanagen was made by attaching a leather or cloth moss-lined bag to a wooden backboard. Infants and small children were laced into the bag, and mothers carried the tikanagen against their backs using a leather strap, which left their hands free for work. A hoop at the top of the cradleboard protected the child should the tikanagen fall. Tikanagens were often beautifully decorated. See beadwork.

Tinplate / Tin / Tinned plate: Sheet iron covered with a thin layer of tin.  Manufactured in South Wales, tinplate was a lightweight material used in the manufacture of various household implements, including kettles, tureens, candlesticks and gunpowder canisters.  

Tipi/tepee: A Sioux word for "dwelling", tipis were used by aboriginal groups across Canada, were generally made of skins and were shaped like a conical tent - a design ideal for shedding rain. See also wigwam.

Tobacco: Tobacco is a sacred plant among most aboriginal peoples, and tobacco growing pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in the New World. Different varieties were grown in different regions across what is now the United States and southern Canada. As the fur trade expanded, processed tobacco imported from European-run plantations became an important trade item and gradually supplanted Native tobacco cultivation. The NWC purchased at least five varieties of tobacco for the trade, most of it from South America or southern United States. The most popular was North West Twist which came in a rolled form - lengths of tobacco spun into "ropes" and wound onto a roll or spindle. Plug tobacco from Virginia was a compressed brick or cake, flavoured with molasses and licorice, and considered inferior to twist tobacco. Carrot tobacco, also from Virginia, consisted of whole tobacco leaves pressed into a carrot-shaped bundle. Like plug, it was of lesser quality and traded only when twist was in short supply or unavailable.

Toboggan: Toboggan comes from the Algonquian word "odabaggan". Invented by Eastern aboriginal peoples, wooden toboggans were used to carry heavy loads, such as freshly killed game, over snow. Toboggans were flat-bottomed and turned up at the front for better passage over snow. The toboggan is one of many items of Native material culture that were adopted by fur traders and other European settlers in the New World.

Top Hats, Beaver: Hats have been an integral part of a gentleman's wardrobe for hundreds of years. The making of felt hats appears to date from 1456 on the European continent and from 1510 in London. In the latter half of the sixteenth century the fashion of wearing beaver hats spread rapidly. By the end of the 1500s a fur-trading organization had begun to emerge. The rich downy fur of the beaver was discovered to make the best felt which was then fashioned into hats, known simply as "beavers". Through the use of brushes, irons, sandpaper and velvet, a finish as bright as silk was obtained. Because of its long velvety "pile" or fur, the beaver hat, with an outer surface that appeared covered in a growth of fur, was characterized by an exquisite beauty that never distinguished the silk hat. As European beaver, obtained from Russia, became all but trapped out, New World beaver became the prize traders sought. Fashions changed frequently, so the demand for Canadian beaver pelts continued until the introduction of machine-made silk hats in the 1830s which gradually displaced beavers. Today "beavers" are seldom found except in museum collections. A gentleman's beaver top hat would cost approximately one-fifth the salary of a Montreal milieux, the lowest paid voyageur.

Tracking: A navigation technique where a canoe (minus paddlers with full or partial load) was pulled along from shore by a strong rope called a "cordelle" of 60 to 100 feet long (18 to 30 m). The gouvernail or avant might remain in the canoe to help steer away the vessel away from the shore.  This technique was used to guide the canoe upstream when the water was too difficult to paddle against and when the shoreline was free of snags.  See also lining.

Trade: In the fur trade, "to trade" meant the business of buying, selling, or bartering commodities. This generally occurred between partners or employees of the NWC and Native peoples where the exchange was usually European trade goods for pelts. Trade, when used as a noun, referred to the specific skill practiced by the tradesmen. At Fort William they included a blacksmith, an armourer, a carpenter, a tinsmith, a cooper, a tailor, and occasional other trades.

Trade goods: Thousands of bales of trade goods were made up in the Dry Goods Stores at Fort William every summer for transport to the interior. This building had the function of a wholesale warehouse and through it passed the entire NWC outfit for the year - all the goods and supplies shipped from Montreal. These mostly European items included: fabric, blankets, knives, beads, fish hooks, alcohol, axes, muskets, tobacco, trade silver, tin goods, lead shot, traps, and gunpowder. It is estimated that in 1814, 106 tons of trade goods were sent to the interior, not including many tons of provisions and supplies needed to survive the winter west of Fort William.

Trade Gun: A muzzle-loading flintlock musket manufactured in England for the fur trade, it resembled the "fusée" of the French traders. A fairly light gun at .58 calibre, it had a distinctive brass side plate in the shape of a serpent, a large trigger guard and plain iron furniture. Usually the serpent side plate was the only ornamentation, but some trade guns, designated at Chief's guns and presented as gifts to important men among the tribes, were fitted with brass furniture and silver escutcheons, and often a longer barrel.

Trades Buildings: Workshops of the tinsmith, blacksmith, tailor, armourer, carpenter and cooper at Fort William. See tradesmen.

Tradesmen: Specialized engagés hired by the NWC, tradesmen included tinsmiths, blacksmiths, tailors, armourers, carpenters, boat builders, coopers, shipwrights, bakers, chefs, and stonemasons. These tradesmen produced trade goods and utility items for the North West Company and kept Fort William in good repair. These men, in consideration of their specialized skills, were set apart and given separate living quarters at Fort William in the Tradesmen's House, and, during the rendezvous, they had their food supplied from the Great Hall kitchen.

Trading Post: The NWC established trading posts, also called forts, throughout the interior. Each department generally had one larger post, and several smaller ones. Some posts employed tradesmen like blacksmiths or canoe builders. The fur trade was carried out on a system of credit. Native people would come to the post and receive goods on credit with the understanding that they would return with furs or other commodities to pay their debt. In general, Native people received goods on credit in the fall and paid debts in the spring. This system was ideally suited to the seasonal nature of the fur trade, where goods such as ammunition, traps, and blankets were needed at the beginning of the hunting season.

Traps: The principal types of steel traps used in North America since the early 1600s had their origin in Old World torsion traps, made of wood and widely used in Asia, Africa and Europe for millennia.  According to fur trader David Thompson, the steel trap used to trap beaver represented a Native adaptation of the European style trap. Trap technology, combined with castoreum as bait, resulted in unsurpassed harvests of beaver pelts and eventually to the near extinction of the beaver.

Travois/travoix: A system for moving various loads consisting of two trailing poles serving as shafts and bearing a platform or net for the load. Travois could be pulled by dogs or horses, and were a feature of Native life especially on the Plains.

Treaty of Paris: Treaty signed on September 3, 1783 that formally ended the war between Britain and the thirteen colonies in North America and recognized American independence. 

Trois-Rivières: A town in Quebec (Lower Canada) on the St. Lawrence River and the location of the important Le Maître canoe-building workshop for the North West Company. See Canot du Maître.

Tump line: As important to a voyageur as his paddle, this leather strap was used to carry bales of fur and trade goods on portages. The strap went over the head of the voyageur, leaving his hands free to balance the load and navigate the often tricky paths. These men, although small in stature, could carry enormous weight over long distances by engaging their whole bodies in the task through the use of the tump line, also known as a "portage line" or "collar". The tump line could also be used to extend the "codline" when lining a canoe.

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Upper Canada: During the years 1791-1841, this was the name given to the area bordering the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence River and encompassing the Great Lakes, corresponding to modern Ontario, and predominantly English. It was called "upper" because the territory was upstream and higher in altitude than the neighbouring province of Lower Canada.

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Voyageur: During the French fur trade, a change in legislation in 1690 led to the gradual replacement of coureurs des bois with voyageurs. This practice was later embraced by the NWC when they contracted, or engaged,  predominantly French Canadian men to transport furs and trade goods by canoe either as far as Fort William (known as Montrealers or pork eaters) or into the interior (hommes du nord). These engagés were mostly from Lower Canada. There were different classifications of voyageur, with corresponding rates of pay.  Lowest in the hierarchy was the milieu, who could rise in rank to one of the bouts positions, then possibly earn the highest-paying position of guide or interpreter. Montreal voyageurs earned less than their wintering counterparts, as their term of service was seasonal rather than year-round.  For example, Montreal guides earned 800-1000 livres;   Wintering guides earned about 1500 livres. See also: avant, bouts,devants,  gouvernail, guide, mileu.

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War of 1812: A conflict fought in North America between the United States and Great Britain from 1812 to 1816. In British texts, the War of 1812 is sometimes known as the British-American War, to distinguish it from the concurrent British involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. The war was the result of two major issues: the repeated violations of American sovereignty by Great Britain and the American desire to expand its territory. The war ended inconclusively with the Treaty of Ghent (Dec 24, 1814) which provided for the cessation of hostilities and the return of occupied territories. The Nor'Westers raised a regiment of voyageurs and a handful of bourgeois were commissioned as officers in support of Britain's defence of Canada. Fighting did not reach the NWC's interior posts, but shipping on the Great Lakes was disrupted and NWC property destroyed by American forces.

Wattape: The root of the black spruce (Picea mariana) is preferred for sewing birch bark together. Spruce root is gathered from trees growing on soft ground which produces longer, more tapered roots. After the roots are pulled up by hand, they are then soaked, peeled, split, and used or stored in coils. Ojibwa refer to some roots as the "golden thread": following the death of a tree, the roots begin to rot and change their color to amber. The root becomes more flexible, and as the smaller rootlets decay, the roots are much easier to pull from the ground in long lengths. Native women gathered wattape for NWC canoe building, prepared the roots for use, and then sewed the canoes together.

Watershed: The specific land area that drains water into a stream, channel, lake, reservoir, or other body of water; also called a drainage basin. It is a land feature that can be identified by tracing a line along the highest elevations between two areas on a map, often a ridge. Large watersheds, like the Mississippi River basin contain thousands of smaller watersheds, sometimes called "subsheds", each of which contributes runoff to different locations that ultimately combine at a common delivery point.

Western Sea: The name given to the Pacific Ocean by explorers attempting to find an overland route or Northwest Passage to China.

Wild rice: Four species of wild rice comprise the genus Zizania, a group of grasses that grow in shallow water in small lakes and slow-flowing streams. Northern wild rice (Zizania palustris) is an annual plant native to the Great Lakes region of North America and has a long black seed. Wild rice was an important food source for Aboriginal peoples, who harvested it from marshes or rivers. Harvesters used two "rice sticks" to gather wild rice: one stick to bend the stalks over the canoe, and the other to beat the stalks to dislodge the rice into the canoe.  Also called "folle avoine" (wild oats) in French.

Wigwam: The Ojibwa word for birch bark is "wigwas", hence the name "wigwam" used to describe Ojibwa dwellings constructed of birch bark.

Wintering Partner: These men were stock-holding partners who represented the NWC year round at the trading posts in the interior. They travelled with their furs to Fort William during the summer rendezvous to meet with the agents from Montreal. While at Fort William, they would organize their new outfit for the coming trading season. The wintering partners could reasonably be described as retailers, and the agents who imported the goods and had them transported to Fort William as wholesalers. The North West Company's constitution was unique in this way: those in charge of the actual conduct of the trade had a share in the profits and a voice in Company affairs. Those shareholding partners who could not be present at the annual meeting due to travelling distances gave other partners the right to exercise their vote by proxy. Duties of the wintering partners or proprietors included: overseeing the departure of canoe brigades; supervising trade and actual trading with the Indians and cementing good relations with them through ceremonies and gifts; supervising departmental records of returns, outfits, canoe ladings, inventories, debts; assigning personnel to the posts in the department; organizing the work of the engages; ensuring an adequate supply of provisions; and keeping the Company informed on the state of the country. No one could become a wintering partner without first serving an apprenticeship as a clerk, thus clerks had incentive to work diligently in hope of a partnership, while providing a corps of managers trained in the field. The ambition of the partners to retire on the profits of their share, or even become an agent, provided the incentive to pursue Company goals relentlessly. Most wintering partners held one share, though some held two.

Wolf: Any of various large predatory mammals (Canis lupus) that resemble dogs. Often the victim of human fear and superstition, wolves are pack-animals that rely mainly upon sick or injured game animals such as moose and caribou for their diet. Their fur was prized for lining the hoods of coats used in Arctic exploration.

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York boat: An inland freight boat used by the HBC to transport furs and other goods, named after York Factory, one of the HBC's most significant fur-trading posts. The largest of these boats could be up to 40 feet long (12m) and 10 feet wide (30m). York boats were shallow, with a square sail and oars pulled by eight oarsmen, capable of carrying upwards of 75 packs averaging 90 pounds (40 kg) each. See also bateau.

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