European fishermen traded manufactured goods such as axes, knives, kettles, cloth, brandy and fake pearls for furs. Beaver pelts, which accounted for 80% of the trade, were used to make hats. After beaver, the next most common skins were moose, deer, caribou, elk and seal; these were used to produce leather. Lastly came the pelts destined for the clothing industry: mink, ermine, fox, wolf, and lynx.
In the sixteenth century, Portuguese, Breton, Norman and Basque cod fishermen poured into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the coastlines of Newfoundland, Labrador and Cape Breton. During these trips, the fishing boat captains acquired pelts from the Aboriginals ― mainly the Montagnais and Mi’kmaq, or so it is believed.
In 1534, when Jacques Cartier made his first voyage, cod and whale fishing boats were plentiful in the Gulf. At that time, contact with the First Nations had increased, since the European fishermen dried their cod on the banks of the St. Lawrence. The Spanish Basques, who held the whale-fishing monopoly in Europe, also prepared whale oil on the river’s shore, aided by the Montagnais in exchange for bread, biscuits and cider. These whalers and fishermen traded axes, knives and other metal objects for seal, caribou and sable furs.