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Black Fur Traders in Canada

The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.


Mathieu Da Costa

Mathieu Da Costa (depending on the language of the documents that mention his name, also known as “Mateus Da Costa,” “Mathieu de Coste,” “Matheus de Cost” and “een Swart genamd Matheu”), interpreter (dates and places of birth and death unknown). Da Costa is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in the early history of Canada. Historians consider him the first Black person known to have visited Canada, probably in the company of Pierre Dugua de Mons and Samuel de Champlain). (See also Black Canadians; African Canadians.) But many aspects of his life remain unclear or unknown.


Jean de Brébeuf

Jean de Brébeuf, Jesuit missionary, author of Relations des Jésuites, 1635, 1636 (born 25 March 1593 at Condé-sur-Vire, in France; died on 16 March 1649 at St. Ignace in Huronia).


Louis-Olivier Gamache

Louis-Olivier Gamache, sailor, merchant (born in 1784 in L’Islet, Quebec; died September 1854 on Île d'Anticosti, Quebec). Gamache lived on Île d'Anticosti at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and his exploits, either true or legend, became part of the region’s oral tradition. He is said to have joined the British navy and many years later, returned to Quebec to settle on Île d'Anticosti where he was a merchant and, according to legend, a dangerous pirate. Some accounts also allege that Gamache demonstrated supernatural powers and had a personal relationship with the devil.