The Heritage Network

The Heritage Network

Fort Colvile Bicentennial

Fur Trade

The man business of the HBC was, of course,the fur trade, and Colvile, like all the major HBC posts, traded for a lot of furs (47k+ of beaver alone, 1826-50).

HBC kept meticulous records of what were called fur returns—trade goods went out to the trading units (land posts, trapping brigades, and coastal trading vessels), and furs came back in return. In the 1850s, while he was superintendent of the Columbia District, Chief Factor James Douglas gathered the data on fur returns starting with the establishment of Fort Vancouver in 1825. The book he compiled is in the British Columbia Archives in Victoria. Some time back I obtained a photocopy of the data, and entered into spreadsheets. (Post and data by Tom Holloway)

Fur traded by year at Hudson’s Bay fort Colvile

There are some great documents in out library that Tom has supplied about the fur trade: The first one, Fur Trade Report 41 is a long report that includes money paid to workers, income, furs collected and much more. It is still in hand-written script and could use a transcription.

The next is another report by Warren Dease that has a transcription and a good look at HBC Fort Colvile in 1827:

There are a number of educational videos about the fur trade produced by the Friends of the Spokane House. ttps://

One of those: The Coin of the Realm, shows reenactment of scenes from the Fur Trade>

Slices start at 12 O’clock and go clockwise

Slices start at 12 O’clock and go clockwise

“Vastly more muskrats were gathered than any other species. That is across the board, not just at Colvile. Muskrats were much smaller than beaver—one source I found indicated that on average, one beaver pelt weighed the same as 7.5 muskrat pelts. As for value, HBC put an assessed value (estimate of what they would sell for in London) on a large (i.e., adult) beaver pelt of 32 shillings (384 pence). The assessed value on a muskrat pelt was 6 pence. One wonders why they even bothered dealing in muskrats.”

In other words, it took sixty-four muskrats to equal the value of one adult beaver! In the spreadsheet attached below the graph I have entered the assessed values per pelt that HBC used for insurance purposes, first in shillings/pence, then in total pence per pelt (shillings x 12 + pence). The last column is (total pelts x pence per pelt), using the combined total of large + small beaver for the total value for beaver. The resulting pie graph looks quite different from yours using numbers of pelts—and it better reflects the importance of beaver in relation to other species. (Thanks to Tom Holloway for this data and explanation.)

Colvile Returns by Value
  Value each Pence 
 Total fursSdper peltTotal pence
Large Beaver31,69532038412,170,880
Small Beaver15,6941561862,919,084
Beaver:47,389   15,089,964
Black Bear3,195253303968,085
Brown Bear2,5097108522,137,668
Grizzly Bear2,270356426967,020
Cross Fox752190228171,456
Red Fox2,3785666156,948
Silver Fox84980117698,784
Land Otter4,7272002401,134,480

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