The Armourer's Shop

The job of the Armourer was to maintain the North West Company’s defence firearms in good repair and fix broken Indian Trade Muskets. The Armourer would have to be skilled as a wood worker and blacksmith. Wood planks of Walnut, Maple and Black Cherry were brought by schooner from Detroit to provide new stocks for broken trade muskets. A forge in the Armourer Shop allowed the Armourer to perform metal repairs on the muskets. Common repairs were replacing springs, tempering and hardening soft parts, straightening bent barrels and case hardening the hammer (the striking surface that the flint hits to create sparks).

The Armourer would also assist the Blacksmiths as required by producing traps, small axes, nail making and repair of locks and keys.Firearms were an important fur trade item to the Native people. The North West Company sold approximately 800 muskets, rifles, and pistols each year. The London firm of Barnett manufactured most of these firearms. It was more efficient for a Trading Company to buy its firearms than make them. Though sets of locks, butt plates, ramrod pipes etc were brought in so the Armourer could build muskets when there were no firearms to repair or extra blacksmithing to be done in the winter.

The Armourer also maintained the cannon and muskets stored in the Powder Magazine. This would cover the Fort’s Wall Guns, Field Pieces and English and American Muskets. The most popular firearm was the North West Trade Musket, a simple, plain, light firearm designed for the needs of the Native Hunter. As a Musket, it had a smoothbore barrel so it could fire either shot or a ball. (The shot, to hunt ducks and grouse and the ball, for caribou and bison.

These firearms sold for standard price of 10 beaver pelts for a 36-inch barrel musket in the Fort William district. It is a myth that the fur traders stacked pelts to the top of the gun. Rifles and pistols were also traded.

A pistol being shorter in range was carried for personal protection. A rifle is a firearm, which has spiral grooves cut into the barrel. The lead ball would catch on these grooves rotating the ball in flight thus making for a further and more accurate shot. David Thompson observed Kootenay Indians hunting mountain sheep at 120 yards in the mountains.

All firearms in the Fur Trade of 1816 were Flintlocks. The Flintlock principle relied on the ability of a piece of flint to strike a hardened steel surface called the Hammer. The result of this striking action produced a shower of hot metal sparks. The hammer would be thrown forward by the impact of the Cock exposing a small quantity of finely grained gunpowder contained in the flashpan. The sparks would ignite the gunpowder in the flashpan and result in a fire that passes through a small hole in the side of the barrel. Inside the barrel would be a measured charge of coarser grain gunpowder and a lead ball of shot, the powder is ignited sending out the ball.