Despite Colbert's grand
agricultural design, the fur trade
remained the main economic resource of New France and led to
territorial expansion. Profit was kept high by fixed prices. "Coureurs
de bois" traveled to the "pays d’en haut", an area around the
Great Lakes, to contact distant tribes and get the best furs.
The demand of the trade pushed the French further and further
west. Exploring expeditions were self-financed because of furs.
There was a strong competition with the English who created the
Hudson Bay Company in 1670, leading to a contest between the St
Lawrence and the Bay traders.
While the fur trade played a key role in
encouraging territorial expansion, the State was also interested
in establishing new forts to stop English expansion, and the Church
was eager to christianise more Native American peoples. Church,
state and commerce therefore had mutually reinforcing influences
on the territorial development of New France
The fur trade gave New France a double
character: on the one hand, the St Lawrence heartland was a
dense and ordered agricultural colony, while the pays d'en haut
was wild and free. Most young men were involved at some point in
the fur trade and often led a double life, with one family in
the St Lawrence Valley and another in the interior.
The fur trade encouraged the tendency to
traval and led to an extraordinary territorial expansion.
For the French, the St Lawrence was a highway into the interior,
giving access to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi/Missouri
system. By contrast, the English were isolated behind the barrier
of the Appalachian mountains. As a result, most of the interior
was explored and claimed by French Canadian explorers and fur
• in 1673 Louis Jolliet and
Jacquette Marquette explored the Upper
• in 1685 Cavelier de La
Salle explored the Mississippi.
The expedition built fur-trading posts all along
the Mississippi Valley, beginning at the Great
Lakes (Detroit, St Louis) down to the
Gulf of Mexico
• in 1718 Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne
de Bienville founded New Orleans
• in 1738 Pierre Gaultier de la Vérendrye explored the Upper Missouri valley
fur trade helped to make New France a prosperous colony, with
Quebec as its political capital, Montreal as its fur-trading
headquarters, and an extensive empire that combined military
forts and trading posts.