The history of fisheries exploitation in Canada has significant ties to the development and westward expansion of the fur trade. Understanding the scale and nature of this relationship is important when assessing the developmental or evolutionary history of a system. This study uses estimates of human population size and subsistence lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) consumption to estimate annual fish harvest at Lac la Biche, Alberta(54o52'N, 112o05'W) during the fur trade era and to assess the magnitude and potential influence of historic harvest on contemporary harvest potential. Historic (1800-1911) lake whitefish harvest increased approximately 10-fold, from 74,000 kg in 1800 to 811,000 kg in 1875, immediately preceding a lake whitefish population collapse in 1878. Following the initiation of a formal commercial fishing industry, contemporary (1912-2009) harvest peaked at 424,000 kg, about one half the previous estimated maximum. The persistence of low contemporary harvest biomasses suggests a shift from a system of high- to low-lake whitefish productivity, likely resulting from decreasing ecosystem resilience with increasing harvest pressure. Knowledge of historic fish harvest can minimize the impacts of the shifting baseline syndrome by elucidating the magnitude and impacts of historic harvests on future harvest potential and potential production.