The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History

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University of Toronto Press, Jan 1, 1999 - Business & Economics - 463 pages

At the time of its publication in 1930, The Fur Trade in Canada challenged and inspired scholars, historians, and economists. Now, almost seventy years later, Harold Innis's fundamental reinterpretation of Canadian history continues to exert a magnetic influence.

Innis has long been regarded as one of Canada's foremost historians, and in The Fur Trade in Canada he presents several histories in one: social history through the clash between colonial and aboriginal cultures; economic history in the development of the West as a result of Eastern colonial and European needs; and transportation history in the case of the displacement of the canoe by the York boat. Political history appears in Innis's examination of the nature of French-British rivalry and the American Revolution; and business history is represented in his detailed account of the Hudson's Bay and Northwest Companies and the industry that played so vital a role in the expansion of Canada.

In his introduction to this new edition, Arthur J. Ray argues that The Fur Trade in Canada is the most definitive economic history and geography of the country ever produced. Innis's revolutionary conclusion - that Canada was created because of its geography, not in spite of it - is a captivating idea but also an enigmatic proposition in light of the powerful decentralizing forces that threaten the nation today. Ray presents the history of the book and concludes that "Innis's great book remains essential reading for the study of Canada."


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The Beaver
The Expansion of Trade to the Saskatchewan
A Century of Trade on Hudson Bay 16701770
The Hudsons Bay Company
The Northwest Company
The St Lawrence Drainage Basin versus Hudson Bay
The Northern Department
The Decline of Monopoly

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Page 426 - DOBBS, ARTHUR. An account of the countries adjoining to Hudson's Bay, in the north-west part of America; containing a description of their lakes and rivers, the nature of the soil and climates, and their methods of commerce, &c.

About the author (1999)

A lifelong student of political economy, Harold Innis became an internationally prominent social scientist and chief architect of the staples interpretation of Canadian history. An undergraduate student at McMaster University at the opening of World War I, Innis volunteered for military service. While in France, he was seriously wounded. What Innis experienced during the war contradicted popular beliefs at home that the Canadian identity was a pale reflection of British imperialism and deepened his nationalist outlook. After doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, Innis joined the faculty of the University of Toronto. Rejecting the thesis of American historian Frederick Jackson Turner as a key to Canada's history, during the 1920s and 1930s he articulated the framework for a new Laurentian---St. Lawrence River-based---interpretation. At any given period, Innis argued, the pattern of Canadian economic development was based on the physical characteristics of a particular staple and the methods by which it was extracted and carried to distant markets. Innis first outlined his ideas in The Fur Trade in Canada (1930). Beginning with an extended discussion of the unique characteristics of the beaver, he then elaborates upon the importance of indigenous people's harvesting and processing techniques, the fur traders' business methods, and the critical river transportation routes that fostered a distinctive pattern of development in Canada over three centuries. In the last chapter, Innis suggests ways that other staples, such as timber, wheat and minerals, modified the patterns originally established during the fur trade. Innis devoted the remainder of his life to fleshing out these ideas, and toward the end he began to explore the biases embedded in staples-driven communications systems. Some of his ideas were taken up and extended by Marshall McLuhan. The Laurentian paradigm dominated Canadian history and social science from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Its influence is still reflected in the work of Canadian scholars most skeptical about America's cold war leadership. In its pursuit of less nationalistic themes in Canadian history, the present generation has not so much revised Innis's work as ignored it.

Arthur J. Ray is a professor in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia, and author of Indians in the Fur Trade and I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada's Native People .

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