Everything changed the moment when early French explorers realized, "Well, they don't have any gold, but damn! Those rodents would make good looking hats." Beginning in the 16th century, the fur trade was the backbone of the colonial economy and major international industry for roughly 300 years. The fur trade was instrumental in the development of the country that would become Canada. At the heart of the fur trade was the beaver, whose pelts were used to make everything from wool felt hats to robes to winter coats.