For nearly a century, Montréal was at the centre of a commercial and political empire that covered a large part of the North American continent. Commanding a fur trading network that stimulated territorial expansion, Montréal was a strategic centre for the French-American empire.
The fur trade and territorial expansion
The French military intervention of 1665-66 set the stage for a large-scale return of the fur trade.
Partnerships were formed between outfitters and voyageurs. Outfitters furnished equipment and imported French goods, while voyageurs travelled upriver to the pays d’en haut, accompanied by men under contract who took care of transportation. The voyageurs then traded their goods for beaver pelts, which they brought back to Montréal. Government-issued trading licenses were required for such expeditions starting in 1681.
Resources were quickly depleted, forcing the voyageurs to travel further afield, first to the Great Lakes region, then to the Mississippi Valley and finally to what would later become the Canadian Prairies. This widespread expansion made it necessary to establish permanent trading posts and well-garrisoned forts, to ensure France’s control of the region. Competition from English merchants came from the colony of New York to the South, and from the Hudson’s Bay Company in the North.
Within the French colony, merchants not only had to compete with one another, but also with colonial administrators in Québec City who secretly participated in the trade, and with commanding officers of the Western garrisons.
Montréal was the organizational hub of the fur trade. While it did not result in extensive growth for the city, the fur trade nonetheless employed a third of the labour force and fascinated local youth who often worked in the trade for a few seasons before settling down on the land and raising a family. The call of the West was still strong, and the spirit of adventure left a definite mark on Montrealers’ mentality.
Dollard des Ormeaux's will