Why did the voyageurs use canoe paddles that were red?

Why were the blades of voyageur paddles red? Was it to show them how deep they should paddle? (Darcy) Hmmm. After only a few hours of paddling, canoeists wouldn’t probably need a marker on their paddles — they would instinctively know how deep to paddle. I’ve continued to puzzle over this, trying to find something about red paddles in old journals. Nothing. While color would give them style and dash in an otherwise plain world, paint would cost money and voyageurs wouldn’t have much to waste on something frivolous. Where would they get paint? Would it help identify brigades — and why might that be important? Did it have to do with wood preservation? Finally I contacted Jeremy Ward, curator at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Canada, who had answered my question about the weight of a Montreal canoe. “Good question. Agreed that voyageurs did not have money to spend on things like paint for personal equipment. The bills of lading issued by the NWC that show the payload contents, crew names and additional equipment (agrets) includes things like setting poles, ropes (cordelles), tarps (paralas), axe and kettle, repair kit, etc. And no paddles,” Ward wrote. “This suggests to us that the voyageurs did indeed supply their own paddles. How and when, then, would this rough lot from Montreal area assemble with paddles painted a matching colour? How often were canoes actually paddled using painted paddles (of like colours)? “Perhaps it might have been more common to see painted paddles in the interior where overwintering voyageurs would have been stationed together and fulfilling chores for the company while waiting for spring canoeing to open up. I recall learning at some point that, more common than red, Spanish Brown would have been a colour that might have been available and used,” Ward surmised. “Perhaps this was actually uncommon and yet we think it common because the best pictorial representations are from Frances Hopkins’ celebrated paintings that show her accompanying her husband to the Lakehead by voyageur canoe. A six-week trip with a distinguished white woman aboard a canoe was a highly unusual event and perhaps this crew were assigned with fancier fare to impress.” Ward suggested the chapter on paints used on paddles and canoes in Timothy Kent’s ”Canoes of the Fur Trade.” Kent’s book noted that the painter Francis Anne Hopkins showed painted paddles, and that later, like...
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Can people still see voyageurs? Where would you go?

Can people, like, see voyageurs still? Where would you go to learn how to do the work they did, like canoeing, or outdoor skills? Quinn, 11   Yup, there are lots of ways to see and learn how to be a voyageur. It depends on what you want to do, where you live and things like your age or amount of money or time you can spend. First. Look on my website under the EVENTS section The most current events are listed at the top. Then go to RESOURCES. Under the “DO” subsection are camps or places to learn separate skills, if you have a week or two. Under “VISIT” I list some historic sites and museums in the Midwest U.S., with links to their websites. Besides their regular displays, the historic sites and museums host special weekends with re-enactors, period arts, crafts and music (the EVENTS you already checked out). In a day or even just an afternoon, families can wander around, watch and interact with the costumed re-enactors. (Hint: they like it best when you have questions!). What happens at those weekends? Lots! Each location has a schedule of hands-on activities and games for kids and adults. Try your hand at starting a fire with only a flint. Play a game of cat and mouse. Visit the market areas to see trade goods that voyageurs brought or wanted — beads, fabrics, tools, baskets, traditional handicrafts, furs and much more. Trade was the main event in the 1700-1800s (but now you’ll need to bring money). You can paddle in a Montreal canoe at Fort William — $5 will get you a ride in a big canoe around an island. At the Canadian Canoe Museum, you could bring your own canoe to help find out how many canoes will fill the lock. Do muzzle loaders and black powder grab your interest? Many sites have exhibitors and contests. Or perhaps you wouldn’t mind seeing how a beaver is skinned (go to Fort Union Rendezvous). Because the Rendezvous didn’t happen without Native Americans, the weekend at Grand Portage is a double feature, with a powwow. Or join the lacrosse game. At the Festival of the Voyageur, you can tour an Ojibwe lodge and hoist a traditional fur pack as well as visiting the fur post. The North American Voyageur Council’s Fall Gathering has short classes—about beads, following a blanket from its...
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Which term is more correct — Native American or American Indian?

Your book uses the word “Indians” instead of “Native Americans.” Why? I think that is wrong. It seems disrespectful, and not what we are learning in school. So which term is correct — Native American or American Indian? (Niala, age 13; Corey, 12; Justin, 10; Soren, 15) Nowadays we have many terms — like Native Americans, first Americans, American Indians, First Nations, native peoples and aboriginal peoples. The Native American people I’ve spoken to often prefer to be identified by their tribal name which is the most accurate description. Back in the 1800s, people didn’t spell tribe names consistently — Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa and Chippeway are different spellings for the same tribe. As a whole group in Canada now, indigenous peoples prefer First Nations. A young man at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Minnesota preferred to be called Native American, as did other younger members, but he suggested that older members of his tribe preferred American Indian, which is what the Smithsonian Museum uses. But in the 1700s and 1800s people didn’t use all the terms we have now. Back then, racial sensitivity wasn’t important. Back then native peoples may have been called “red indians or “savages,” words which may shock today’s readers. Then, the French word “sauvage” referred simply to “a person who lived in the wilderness.” That old word is now tainted with negative meanings. In the 1700s and 1800s, European settlers weren’t concerned about which words to use for different tribes. They used “Indians,” “red men” and “savages,” because the settlers had limited experience and were afraid of them. New settlers didn’t know how to communicate with the people whose land they were inhabiting, nor how to live together, nor how to value a different way of life. They didn’t realize how their growing communities threatened those of the native peoples. And, unfortunately, they didn’t care. Fur traders and clerks at that time kept journals and used a variety of words, from “Savage” to “Indian” to their tribal names. George Nelson, who accepted a 5-year term as a clerk (at age15!) in 1802, was fearful at first, but as he came in greater contact with various nations, he used more tribal and personal names. Daniel Harmon spent 19 years in “Indian Country,” starting at age 21 in 1800, and included many names of individual Indians. John Sayers was a partner for many years in Wisconsin and...
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What was it like to paddle on a canoe brigade?

What was it like to paddle on a canoe brigade? Did voyageurs ever write about it? Did voyageurs keep journals? (Renner, 12; Carsyn, 13; Blake, 11) In 1793,  John Macdonell left Lachine to begin serving as a North West Company clerk—and he kept a journal! This post focuses on the time when his brigade left Montreal to their arrival at the rendezvous at Grand Portage (the first half of his journal). He wrote much more, but these shortened comments give you a sense of the voyageurs’ work and his experience. As a clerk, Macdonell didn’t have to paddle or portage on the voyage. When his brigade arrives—after about 5 months of rigorous travel—he will supervise a wintering post and be in charge of its trading. *** May 10 ~ Signed my engagement papers with the North West Company for five years to winter in the Indian Country as a clerk. The terms are £100 at the expiration, and found in necessaries. [That’s £20 per year. As “necessaries,” clerks were allotted special provisions like tea, sugar and liquor, extra clothing, extra blankets and traveling equipment, and a tent. He will get paid the cash upon return.] May 25 ~ Embarked at Lachine on board a birch bark canoe, the first that I remember to have been in. …The brigade of canoes in the Grand River [Ottawa] is generally 4. Canoes when fully loaded carry about 3 Tuns. [His steersman and foreman and the canoe’s 8-10 paddlers come from the parish of Berthier. His guide is swapped at the last minute, and goes with a different trader.] May 27 ~ At 9 a.m. Crossed over to St. Ann’s where we found the Priest saying mass for one Lalonde who had been drowned 110 leagues [A league is the distance a man can walk in one hour, perhaps three miles.] above this place, at Roche Capitaine [a series of rapids in the Ottawa River below the forks at Mattawa].Tho drowned near 12 months ago, his remains were only brought down by his brothers this spring on their return from the upper country in a coffin made for the purpose in order to give him Christian Sepulture, according to the Catholic Rites. [At St. Ann’s, the crews normally collected a voluntary donation to have prayers said for the prosperity of the voyage and a safe return to those engaged in it, to their family...
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Were girls ever voyageurs?

Were girls ever voyageurs? Did girls go on the fur brigades? (Ava, 9; Mackenzie, 12; Rissy, 13; Olivia, 13) To paddle in the fur brigades required immense upper body strength, so it was a rare woman who “manned” a voyageur canoe. Indian women were an integral element in the fur trade in other ways. Some manufactured birch bark canoes — both the massive Montreal canoes and the smaller North canoes more commonly used. Still others occasionally guided expeditions, interpreted or acted as peace negotiators. Many made pemmican (dried powdered bison meat with dried berries). A few women of European descent chose an adventurous role, with amazing pluck and determination. Marie-Anne (Gaboury) Lagimodière is considered the first white woman resident in the west. In 1806, Gaboury, age 25, married Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, who worked in the fur trade for Hudson’s Bay Company in Rupert’s Land, (what western Canada was called then). She did not want a part-year relationship typical of voyageur families, so she traveled with her new husband from Montreal to where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet (near where Winnipeg is now). This was shockingly different from any other French-Canadian bride. They wintered with a group of Métis and her first child was born January 6, 1807. The following spring, the family moved to Saskatchewan, and remained there until 1811, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle among other French-Canadian trappers and their native wives. Marie-Anne accompanied her husband on trapping and buffalo hunting expeditions. Her second child was born on open prairie — shortly after her horse bolted towards a herd of buffalo. Another time she shot a large bear that had attacked one of their companions. Marie-Anne was the grandmother of Louis Riel. Because many Métis trace their ancestry through her, she is known as the “Grandmother of the Red River.” Sources: Dictionary of Canadian Biography: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gaboury_marie_anne_10E.html Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Anne_Gaboury Isabel Gunn, age 26, became a woman voyageur. Originally from the Orkney Islands, off northern Scotland, she arrived at Moose Factory (the southernmost post in the Hudson Bay) in August 1806. But she was wearing men’s clothing and called John Fubbister. It is possible she hoped to join a sweetheart — or her brother George who was working for Hudson’s Bay Company somewhere in Rupert’s Land. Having signed a 3-year contract as an HBC laborer (at the wage of £8 per year), she went to Fort Albany and was assigned with...
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What did voyageurs eat?

What did voyageurs eat? Only pea soup? Really? (Mara, age 9) Why didn’t they catch fish or shoot game on the way instead? (Jenner, age 14) Or eat something else, like rice or beans? Didn’t they get bored with the same food? (Aubry, age 12) Well, back in that day, nobody had the wide range of choices — and nobody complained about their food. But the voyageurs’ diet — pea soup twice a day — does not seem very nourishing. To do the continuous work of paddling for 12-14 hours or the harder work of portaging, voyageurs needed 5,000 calories a day! That’s two and a half times the fuel that adults today need. It’s more than marathoners burn in a race. A little history: In the early fur trade days, canoemen found their own food by hunting, fishing or trading when they came upon friendly Indians with extra provisions. However, that took extra time each day and meant the brigade could not travel as far to trade. Then, fur trade companies realized the wisdom of having brigades carry their own food from Montreal to the rendezvous. Along with the 55 packages of trade goods each canoe carried, they also toted several bushels of peas, and several hundredweight of biscuit and of pork or grease. Every night a cook from each canoe poured about nine quarts of peas in their kettle, added a strip of bacon or pork and lake water and hung it on a tripod over the fire to simmer until daylight. In the morning four biscuits were crumbled and added to thicken it, enough so that the stirring spoon stood straight up. Now filling the kettle to the brim, the pea porridge provided two full meals that day for the eight to 12 men in the canoe. They paddled for a hour or so before stopping for breakfast; supper came about 8 p.m. Over time, when the brigades arrived at Sault Ste. Marie, they could purchase other food supplies, like pemmican made by aboriginal women of various Great Plains tribes. Pemmican is a mixture of dried and pounded buffalo meat and fat, with berries added to improve the flavor. Moose, caribou or even fish might be substituted for buffalo. The mixture was crammed into buffalo-skin bags and topped off with melted fat to make a 90-pound parcel. It could last for months or even a year...
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