Fur trade Society at Fort William

Large crowd of re-enactors in the main squareThe Rendezvous reflected the interdependent relationships of the various peoples involved in the fur trade, including the Scots, French Canadians and the aboriginals predominating. These groups paralleled the basic social divisions in the business: the merchant-traders, voyageur-labourers and the hunter-trappers.

Agents, Partners, Clerks

The managerial class was comprised mostly of men of Scottish descent. The Montreal Agents held controlling interest in the firm, arranged for the importing and transportation of trade goods and marketed the furs. The Wintering Partners supervised the inland departments while the Clerks kept records, handled correspondence and managed lesser posts. Each year, this group met collectively to evaluate the year's collection of furs, assembled goods for each interior department and laid plans for the future.

Engagés: Voyageurs, Tradesmen, Farmers

Ojibwe woman holding basket filled with bannock.pngThe Engagés or Labourers were mostly French Canadians employed by the NWC. Their name is derived from the contract or engagement each man had with the Company. The vast majority were voyageurs who paddled the canoes and portaged goods and furs. The Montrealers who journeyed between the east and Fort William were known as mangeurs du lard or porkeaters. Those who worked in the western interior were known as hivernants or winterers. Except for the Guides who knew the canoe routes, most voyageurs camped outside the palisade at Fort William. There were other engagés who were employed as tradesmen who repaired and manufactured trade goods and maintained the Fort. There were also Farm labourers to look after livestock and raise crops.




The Natives: Ojibwa

Native man in regalia playing traditional flute.png

The Natives played a crucial role in the fur trade for it was their technology, especially the birch bark canoe and snowshoe, which enabled the Europeans to succeed in the fur trade. Trapping, hunting, harvesting, fishing and guiding were other important skills. Native Ojibwa around the Fort often worked in the canoe sheds and farm area. 

Free Canadians and the Métis were those who worked on their own in the interior. Many were of mixed blood descent. Some performed piecemeal labour for the Company.