Tuesday, 17 January 2012


"On sites dating to the latter part of the 17th century, glass beads, scraps of metal, thimbles, and other articles provide evidence of contact with another culture - that of the European fur traders. The influx of European trade goods in the late 1600's signals the beginning of the adoption of, and adaptation to, Western Culture by the native peoples of North Central Ontario." ( Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport)

Trade axe drawings from Nipigon Historical Museum collection.

Seen on the left in the Fur Trade Display exhibit,
 they encircle the map of Lake Nipigon.

drawings of Nipigon Historical Museum Trade Axes

Axe # 1 was found at Gurney by D. Whent of Nipigon. The trade mark appears on both sides.

Axe # 2 was found at Ombabika Narrows by C. Hadley of Macdiarmid. The trade mark is on one side and not clear.

Axe #3  was found at Lake Helen by Andrew Hardy of Nipigon. The trade mark U S I D stands for the United States Indian Department. This mark would date this axe no earlier than the third quarter of the 18th century.

Axe # 4 was found at Black Sturgeon Lake by Einar Danielson of Nipigon. It had an old root grown through its eye.

Axe # 5 was found at Black Sturgeon Lake also by Einar Danielson. The trade mark of three crowns appears only on one side.

Axe # 6 was found north of White Lake in the vicinity of Shabotik & Kwinkwage Rivers by Geo. Breckomridge, Thunder Bay. No trade mark.

Axe # 7 was found on Ombabika River by George Flett and given to L. Manuel. No trade mark.

Axe # 8 was found at Polly Lake by Ted Wright. No trade mark.

Henry Mercer describes the Trade Axe in his book, Ancient Carpenters' Tools, Buck Co. Hist., 1975, as , "...having the characteristics of a long down-flaring, flat-topped bit and no poll. "

When they say it has no poll, that means the iron bends around the handle smoothly and does not become thickened and squared to make a pounding surface. As you can see from some of the cracks in the back of our axes that didn't stop some owners from using them as hammers anyway.

The under-curve and hook between the eye and the blade of the axe sometimes makes identification of the nationality of origin possible, i.e British or French.

Peter Priess, Artifact Analyst of the Research Division of the National Historic Sites Service, National Historic Parks Branch, in 1972, told us that this form of axe is sometimes referred to as a half hatchet or tomahawk in available literature. Their history spans from the 16th to the 19th century.

In 1972 axes were being recovered by underwater archaeology projects carried out jointly by the Minn. Hist. Soc. and the R.O.M.

The National Historic Sites Service had just started it archaeological investigation of Western Canada fur trade sites in the early 70's and had not found any axes by 1972 so at that time no research of that item had been undertaken.

The Museum of the Fur Trade, in Chadron, Nebraska, has a couple representative trade axes. Their catalogue card yielded a paucity of information just like ours. Now, if anyone is interested in Trade Guns, there is the place to go - they have hundreds!

Christmas 2007, before we got our Cultural Spaces Canada grant for display cases
the exhibits those items that could stand-alone, low security items.
The axes were tied onto the plywood.

Appendix C of Carl P. Russell's book, Firearms, Traps & Tools of the Mountain Men, U. Of New Mexico Press 1967 Alfred A Knopf, Inc ...Markings on Axes and Tomahawks, page 408 - 424 was the most informative reference for our Trade Axes that I found.

1 comment:

  1. Would you by any chance have any posts on trade lead for the early to mid 18th century? Bars of lead were on trade lists, but I have yet to see an image of an original bar of lead for this period of the type traded for furs. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
    Regards, Keith.