Indians in the Fur Trade


249 pages
Contains Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7980-6
DDC 306'.089'97




Reviewed by Kerry Abel

Kerry Abel is a professor of history at Carleton University. She is the author of Drum Songs: Glimpses of Dene History, co-editor of Aboriginal Resource Use in Canada: Historical and Legal Aspects, and co-editor of Northern Visions: New Perspectives on the North in Canadian History.


When it was first published in 1974, Indians in the Fur Trade broke new
ground in the study of Native history in Canada. The old fur-trade
history had emphasized European competition for imperial supremacy or
the romance of the European adventurers’ lives in the “wilds” of
North America. Aboriginal peoples were marginal players at best. But
historical geographer A.J. Ray demonstrated convincingly that Native
traders were just as important in shaping the dynamics of the fur-trade
economy as were their European partners. He outlined the ways in which
different Native groups responded differently to the new trade
opportunities, and how those responses in turn precipitated consequences
ranging from epidemic disease to population redistribution and
ultimately economic collapse. Both Ray’s methods and his
interpretations have influenced every scholar in the field since the
book appeared. This new edition contains a thoughtful introduction in
which the author reflects on the intellectual influences that shaped his
original ideas and the directions that fur-trade history has taken since
the book’s first publication. There is also an updated bibliography.

Indians in the Fur Trade remains as impressive and important today as
it was when it was first published. Ray combines a meticulous analysis
of account ledgers and trade journals with a geographer’s sensitivity
to place and a historian’s sensitivity to change, creating a rich and
multilayered sense of the world of the pre–1870 fur trade in the lands
southwest of Hudson Bay. He demonstrates convincingly that the absence
of Native-authored documentation does not prevent us from deducing
Native motivations and choices from the clues left in the non-Native
record. The new edition allows those who somehow missed Ray’s study to
discover its merits, and allows the rest of us to replace our well-worn
old copies.


Ray, Arthur J., “Indians in the Fur Trade,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,