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Anthropology: The Evolution of Trapping in Canada

Animal trapping is done all over the world by using a man-made device to catch wild animals. Trapping is especially common in Canada as a means of making a profit in the fur trade industry. Wild animals might also be caught by Canadian trappers for several other reasons, including:

  • For a source of food
  • As a means of pest control
  • For the sport of hunting
  • For wildlife management 
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A farmer’s trapped fur from pests on the farm like coyotes, beavers and skunks hang ready for sale in an old barn in Alberta, Canada.

Types of Animals Commonly Trapped

Throughout the history of trapping in Canada, trappers have been known to trap several types of animals. For the purpose of hunting, to be used as a source of food, to be used for their fur in the fur trade industry, or for the purpose of pest control. Some commonly trapped animals found in the great outdoors of Canada may include;

  • Foxes are commonly trapped for their fur
  • Rabbits are commonly trapped for their fur and as a source of food.
  • Lynx is trapped in the fur trade. However, they are a protected species in some parts of Canada because they are becoming extinct in Canada
  • Bears are commonly trapped to use their fur to make rugs and as a source of food.
  • Wolves and wolverines are commonly trapped as pest control to protect livestock and for the fur trade of wolverines from northern Canada.
  • Raccoons are for use in the fur trade. Hats made of raccoons were more common in the 1950s. Nowadays, raccoons are mostly trapped for pest control.
  • Beavers are trapped to use their pelts to make fur hats. They were also trapped to prevent flooding of waterways.
  • Coyotes are also commonly trapped to protect livestock in Canada.
  • Fishers are commonly trapped for pest control and for their fur to be used as pelts.
  • Other less commonly trapped animals in Canada include the marten, the mink, the muskrat, the otter, the skunk, the squirrel, and the weasel.
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Trapping in Canada

Early Fur Trade in Canada

The first Canadian fur trade began as early as the 1600s in Canada. The fur trade lasted over 250 years. During those years, Europeans traded beaver pelts with the Indigenous tribes of Canada. 

Beginning in the 1600s, there was a huge demand for fur hats in Europe. This strange obsession with beaver hats helped to develop the fur trading business in Canada.

The Canadian fur trade soon began to build a reputable business relationship between Indigenous Canadians and Europeans in the fur trading industry. This booming business would continue in Canada for centuries to come.

In the 17th century, the fur trade continued to grow because of the strange obsession with the European fashion trend of wearing fur hats made of beaver pelts. The Canadian Indigenous people soon began to trade with the French. Many of whom would later settle in Canada. Here they would also start businesses in the ever-growing fur trade industry of Canada.

The Hudson Bay Company

In 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company was formed in Britain. The Hudson Bay Company also began trading goods with Canadian Indigenous people for beaver pelts. This tradition saw an even greater increase in Canadian trappers catching beavers for the trade of their pelts in Canada. 

The Hudson Bay Company is still a popular Canadian franchise in business today. However, it no longer sells beaver hats. Customers can find a wide selection of just about any household item, from kitchenware, to bedding, clothing, and cosmetics.

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The Hudson Bay Company

Trapping For Beaver Pelts in Canada

The beaver is known as the official animal of Canada. Much like many Canadians, the beaver represents harmony and persistence. As such, the beaver works hard to provide for its family. Ambitious beavers don’t stop until their job is finished. This incredible, hard-working animal was given official recognition in Canada on March 24, 1975. Commonly seen on Canadian coins, stamps, and collectibles or souvenirs. The beaver is widely recognized worldwide as a representation of Canada.

This popular Canadian brown-furred animal with a large flat tail was a significant species of early exploration by settlers in Canada. Seeking to trap wild animals as a source of the fur trade and food supplies to feed their families, beavers were well sought after by early Canadian trappers. 

Back in the early days, the beaver pelts attracted many fur traders, such as Radisson and Samuel de Champlain. These settlers arrived in Canada in the early 1600s in search of fur-trading opportunities. They made a significant contribution to the history of Canada by trapping beavers that were in high demand by the Europeans hoping to cash in on the latest fashion trend in fur hats.

Because of their high demand in the fur trade industry, beavers were almost entirely wiped out by eager trappers in the 16th century looking to make a profit in the fur trading business. However, beavers are resourceful creatures and managed to avoid extinction. 

Today, there are more beavers in Canada than ever before. This population shift is mainly due to a decrease in the popularity of beaver pelts being used as fury hats. It is also because of the favorable environmental conditions in Canada that allow beavers to live in the wild. In Canada, there is plenty of lakes and vegetation for beavers to survive and reproduce in rural Canada. 

Laws Governing Trapping of Beavers in Canada

When Canada saw an alarming decrease in beavers, laws were put in place to help reduce their extinction. Now in Canada, trapping is controlled by the Ministry of Natural Resources. In order to trap, you must have a trapping permit. In fact, every trapper who harvests fur must have a license to do so. This license states where the trapper is entitled to trap. It also gives a quote on the number of animals that can be trapped each hunting season. This number varies yearly, depending on the increase or decrease in the animal being trapped.

In Ontario, Canada. The beaver population today is under-harvested compared to years ago. In recent years, between 50 to 60% of allowable beavers are actually trapped. Perhaps this is because there is a decrease in the popularity of trapping within Canada as a whole. Many animal rights activists are now against trapping and genuine fur coats have become a thing of the past.

Trapping Beavers on Private Land Today in Canada

The Ministry of Natural Resources makes recommendations for trapping on private property in Canada. However, the private landowner can make their own decisions about how much trapping will be done on their own private land. Private landowners also have the right to trap outside of the trapping season on their own land if they feel the need to reduce the animal population that they deem to be out of control. This permission is granted to landowners under the Fish and Games Act of Canada.

Off-season population problems can usually be kept under control if landowners harvest their beavers in the trapping season when pelts are plentiful. If a trapper is caught by officials trapping on private land, written permission must be shown granting their right to trap there.

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Trapping beavers in Canada

The Fur Traders of Montreal, Canada

Conflicts took place in 1609 between the British, French, and Indigenous allies over control of the fur trade. By 1640, the conflict turned into wars between the Iroquois and the French, called the “Beaver Wars”. The Great Peace of Montreal ended the battle in 1701.

The voyageurs drastically helped with the expansion of Canadian fur traders. They also traded with Indigenous tribes. 

Voyageurs had permission from the government to trade with the indigenous people. In the 1960s, many of these traders married Indigenous women to increase positive trading relationships. 

Their children would become Métis, who is a recognized group of Indian-status individuals in Canada. 

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Montreal Fur Trade

Canadian Fishing, Fur Trade, and Christianity Back in the Day


Fishing is another of Canada’s earliest trades. The 16th century saw European fishermen catching an abundance of cod off the St. Lawrence River and the Newfoundland Grand Banks. They would hang their fish to dry along the shores of the Grand Banks while making connections with the Indigenous tribes who would enjoy trading their furs for fresh fish. 

During the early years, Canadian fishermen used handmade hooks and nets, traps, and spears to catch a plentiful supply of fish and shrimp. 

Some native Canadians along the coastlines of Canada enjoyed the sport of fishing by using homemade hooks carved from wood or bone with a line. Some fishing rods were also constructed out of bamboo shoots or wood with horsehair used for the line. A homemade hook would be tied to the line.

This made a profitable business for these early fishermen. Some of the most popular fish for Canadian fishermen to catch include:

  • Cod
  • Haddock
  • Halibut
  • Pollock
  • Trout

Today, Canada’s most lucrative fishing export comes from:

  • Lobster
  • Salmon
  • Crab
  • Shrimp

Fur Trade

During the 16th century, the felt hat became a popular fashion trend among interested Europeans. The broad-brimmed hats were lined with soft underfur found in beaver pelts. 

French-Canadian fur traders began setting up business in Quebec as early as 1608. This began an alliance between the French and Indigenous fur traders supplying furs to their European allies. 


In the 17th century, fur traders began to flock toward the St. Lawrence River area. This brought on competition and reduced profits seen previously by the Indigenous and French Canadian fur traders.

 In a solution to bring order to the growing problem, the French Crown granted permission to only certain trapping parties along the  St. Lawrence area. There were also attempts made by the Roman Catholics to convert Indigenous traders to Christianity.

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Fishing on the St. Lawrence River, Canada in the 1600s

The Significance of Trapping in Canada Today

Today, the fur trade still contributes a huge part to Canada’s economy and its ecological system. Believe it or not, the fur trade actually contributes more to the Canadian economy than the forest industry.

According to statistics, it is estimated that Canadian fur trappers earn over $320 million annually on the sale of pelts. Now, that sure is a lot of beaver pelts. This also takes into account all varieties of trapping gains. Canada’s most valued markets today include Europe, the United States of America, China, and Hong Kong.

Employment in the Canadian Fur Trade Industry

With a year-to-year fluctuation, the Canadian fur traders typically employ an average of 60,000 full-time and part-time workers annually. There are approximately 50,000 active trappers located in Canada. Of which, 25,000 are the First Nation. These numbers do not include trappers who are located on private property. If we take these members into consideration, the totals will be significantly higher.

The Canadian fur trade industry still offers a substantial source of income for many rural Canadians today. It is a profitable business to get into for many Canadians, while others may simply enjoy it as a much-loved sport.

The most popular trapping locations in Canada today include Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador. While statistics show that the greatest amount of fur trapping for the purpose of the fur trading business takes place in Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario, Canada. Over 85 percent of Canada’s fur trade for the purpose of selling garments made of fur takes place in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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Trapping Industry of Canada


Final Thoughts About Trapping in Canada

In today’s economy, trapping is still widely practiced in Canada as a means of financial support for many families. However, it is now regulated in each province to control the number of animals being trapped. These government regulations also ensure that no animals who are considered endangered species are trapped for the gainful purpose of fur trading.

The Canadian fur trade industry has significantly contributed to Canada’s economy over the years. The fur trade is still just as much of a huge part of the job force within the country today as it was hundreds of years ago. 

Beaver garments are still the most profitable Canadian fur export in the fur trade industry today. Other popular Canadian fur exports include the muskrat and lynx as well as other fur-bearing animals. 

The trapping industry in Canada still provides an excellent source of income and food supply to many Canadians today. While other Canadians simply enjoy trapping, hunting, and fishing as popular outdoor sports. The best thing about this sport is that it can also be enjoyed all year long in the great Canadian outdoors, as long as you follow the guidelines and have a permit.

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A raccoon was caught in a trap in Canada.

Thanks for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed this brief history lesson about trapping in Canada. Let me know if you have anything else to offer on the subject of trapping in the great Canadian outdoors in the comment section below.


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