Why was the Northwest Passage an important discovery for European explorers?

The Northwest Passage was a waterway rumored to run through northern Canada and connect the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, Europeans wanted to use the Northwest Passage as a short route to China, where traders could make a fortune selling European goods.

In the late 1500s, the first of a series of expeditions set out in search of the passage. The Europeans did not find it, but they did make another important discovery, that the Inuit were excellent trading partners. The Inuit were eager to trade animal furs for European goods, particularly iron, which made stronger tools than ivory or bone.

In a 1818 drawing by Hans Zakaeus, a Greenland native who served as liaison between the British and the Inuit, British navy officers John Ross and William Edward Parry trade with Inuit.