Aboriginal/French exchanges - Ontario Heritage Trust

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Aboriginal/French exchanges

The story

“The story began with a First Nation alliance and a Roman Catholic mission, developed with official exploration and the fur trade, and continued with agriculture and permanent settlement.” Gratien Allaire, Professor Emeritus at Laurentian University of Sudbury

Who

French explorers | fur traders and missionaries | aboriginal nations

What

Early French exploration | colonization | settlement in Ontario

When

17th and 18th centuries

Where

St. Lawrence River Valley and the Upper Great Lakes

Why

French colonization | revenue for French merchants | finding a route to the riches of Asia

The relationship between French and aboriginal peoples in what is now Ontario dates back to 1610 when Samuel de Champlain arranged for Étienne Brûlé to live among his aboriginal allies to learn their languages and gain information about the interior of the continent. Champlain himself travelled to the Ottawa Valley in 1613 and wintered in Huronia in 1615.

As the 17th century progressed, complex trade and military relationships were forged between the French and aboriginal peoples. With their own trade and territorial interests to pursue, aboriginal people played an essential role in the fur trade and in the growing economy of New France. Aboriginal trappers accepted a range of trade goods, including copper kettles, axes, jewelry and beads in exchange for furs.

Much of the trade was initially conducted in the St. Lawrence River Valley, but as circumstances changed and relationships evolved, French explorers began to push farther westward into the interior of the continent, establishing trading posts and small forts. These explorers were also motivated by the possibility of finding the elusive passage to the Western Sea and the perceived riches of Asia.

Exploration and trade were also closely linked with religion as Jesuit missionaries acted as agents of trade and evangelization during this period, establishing the mission Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Huron-Wendat territory in 1639.

The politics of exploration, trade, colonization and religion all shaped the complex and constantly evolving relationship between French and aboriginal peoples in New France during the 17th and 18th centuries.

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