Voyageur’s Life


Ask a voyageur a question. Here’s a blog to answer your questions, like what was life like during the 1800s in French Canada? Like who could or couldn’t be a voyageur? How big the canoes were? What trade goods they carried? What different furs were worth? What they used for medicine? I’ll answer these and more in the “A Voyageur’s Life” blog. Click on the button below to ask your question or go to the “Contact” section of this site — I’ll find the answers.

button


Canadian canoe pilgrimage nearly there

Posted by on Aug 13, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

Canadian canoe pilgrimage nearly there

The paddlers of Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage, traveling along the Ottawa River to the St. Lawrence River, near their final destination in Montreal, Quebec, Aug. 15. At the end of the pilgrimage is a stop at the Shrine of St. Kateri, Khanawake Mohawk Territory, a First Nations reserve on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. This is one of the oldest images of St. Kateri Tekakwitha,  painted by Jesuit Father Claude Chauchetière in 1696. (Thanks to Wikimedia Commons i for this public domain image. The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage was inspired by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the hope of encouraging intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and learning. Participants, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, were immersed in each other’s customs and traditions to foster deep respect, trust, dialogue and hopefully friendship, the building blocks for reconciliation and a path of...

read more

A pilgrimage, not just a fun paddle

Posted by on Aug 10, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

A pilgrimage, not just a fun paddle

This 25-day-long, 850-kilometre canoe trip was organized in response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The TRC, which was part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, began in 2009 and spent 5 years uncovering the tragic history of Residential Schools in Canada. These schools were part of a policy of active assimilation that aimed to cut young Indigenous people off from their familial and cultural roots and impose on them a European culture. The TRC, through national events, provided a place where the survivors of these schools could share their tragic experiences in this system. The Jesuits, acknowledging their role in the residential school in Spanish, Ontario, are committed to the healing and reconciliation process. The Jesuits were given the opportunity to read a Statement of Reconciliation at the TRC National Event in Montreal in April...

read more

Canoe pilgrimage more than halfway there!

Posted by on Aug 6, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

Canoe pilgrimage more than halfway there!

The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage I’ve been following has now traversed the Mattawa River to the Ottawa River. (This leg of the journey might have taken a week or more battling the upstream current in spring, when the water was the highest.) Fortunately the pilgrimage is going downstream, which requires a different kind of skill (and perhaps less stamina). If weather and other logistical concerns don’t alter their plans, the paddlers expect to be in Pembroke, Ontario, Aug. 6 and in Ottawa, Ontario, Aug. 9. Samuel de Champlain, Jean de Brébeuf and other early European settlers used this route, learned from the Indigenous peoples. Here’s Champlain’s map, from 1612 (compliments of...

read more

A Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage!

Posted by on Aug 2, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

A Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage!

A Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage, with 30 Indigenous, Jesuit, English and French-Canadian paddlers, left Midland, Ontario, July 21. The voyage followed the shores of the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron to the French River. Then they headed upstream on the French River to Lake Nipissing. (Going downstream the river was a wild hair-raising 75-mile chute for the fur traders.) From Lake Nipissing the group traveled downstream along the Mattawa River, where they expect to arrive some time today, Aug. 2. The waterway is a traditional First Nations trading route that voyageurs used to and from the rendezvous. And they expect, weather permitting, to arrive in Montreal by Aug. 14-15. Is this a cool idea or...

read more

Blog adds a new focus

Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

Blog adds a new focus

As I continue to research (and fact-check) for Book 2, I come across fun information. It’s not only the questions that people ask me at presentations or online, which was the topic of Voyageur’s Blog. But the new stuff interests me greatly — and I want to share what I’m learning. Some comes from the news, like the pilgrimage crossing the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers. Some will be my own experiments — like finding and tasting edible wild foods or repairing my “made beaver.” Other posts will feature the books I’ve been reading and the things I’ve discovered by asking people who know. To differentiate, the Voyageur’s Blog will always use questions in the title. And if I can separate them in other ways, with color or different fonts, I...

read more

Why did the voyageurs use canoe paddles that were red?

Posted by on Jun 16, 2017 in Voyageur | 0 comments

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 1859, blades were painted and ornamented. on paddles and canoes in Timothy Kent’s ”Canoes of the Fur Trade.” Kent noted that the painter Francis Anne Hopkins showed painted paddles, and that later, like 1859, blades were painted and ornamented. But from the earliest days (called the French era), Kent’s book indicates paddles may have been ornamented with designs, like straight or wavy black lines, bars and dots, while the shaft had a solid color. Kent had much more to say about paddles — size, shape of blade and grip, wood used, cost when purchased in 1738, the different paddles used by the steersmen! I’ll explore all that in a future...

read more

Can people still see voyageurs? Where would you go?

Posted by on May 21, 2017 in Voyageur | 0 comments

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 manufacture in England to its Ojibwe owner, how to sew a costume, primitive cooking, traditional handicrafts, as examples. But what if you want to go a different time or to another place? Dave Hart has created the Crazy Crow Trading Post website which lists of hundreds of events, such as powwows, mountain man rendezvous and re-enacted events. , Now — where do you...

read more

Which term is more correct — Native American or American Indian?

Posted by on Sep 27, 2016 in Voyageur | 0 comments

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 Minnesota. His 1804-05 journal used many personal names, tribal band names from local areas like “La Prairie Indians” and tribal roles like “Chiefs,” “Hunters” and “Sugar Makers.” In this book, we chose a variety of terms, realizing that no single term will make everyone happy. For “Waters Like the Sky,” we tried to be consistent with one spelling. As authors, we intentionally used old language to give readers a stronger feel for that era, even when the words conflict with what we use these days. For example, a tribe called themselves “Dakota” while fur traders called them “Sioux.” When André became friends with them, he began using the words they preferred, to indicate his growing understanding and respect for them. Nikki (P.S. It was difficult to find appropriate images for this...

read more

What was it like to paddle on a canoe brigade?

Posted by on Jun 25, 2016 in Voyageur | 0 comments

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 and friends. This traditional stop at the chapel of St. Ann’s was unusual because of the burial of one of their mates. The brigade will head to the Indian village on the Lake of Two Mountains for one night.] May 28 ~ The guide and I went across to the Indian Village for a supply of bark, gum and wattap to mend our canoes in case of need. …We slept that night at the foot of Petites Ecors, Carrilon Rapids, opposite Pointe Fortune. At Petites Ecors, the river was confined between steep banks. [Gum was made by boiling the pitch from pine trees; it was pressed along the seams and, when it hardened, made them watertight. Wattap—either spruce or hemlock root—was used to sew pieces of bark together. Carillon, Point Fortune and Chute a Blondeau are modern towns that still bear the names used several centuries ago for landmarks on...

read more

Were girls ever voyageurs?

Posted by on Apr 19, 2016 in Voyageur | 0 comments

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 a brigade to bring trade goods and supplies to an inland post, a grueling 19-day journey navigating cargo through rapids, unloading it and returning. She spent the winter at an even more distant post undetected as a woman but that secret was eventually discovered by the man who shared her hut, John Scarth. Voyageurs were busy during the springtime — they needed to move their cargo of beaver pelts back to Hudson Bay and Isabel and John paddled in those brigades. The second brigade took her to Pembina (south of where Winnipeg now is) to become a cook — a trek of about 1,800 miles. When she arrived she realized she was pregnant, with Scarth’s child. During a frigid December, she and other HBC workers trekked across the Pembina River to enjoy a Christmas festivity with the rival North West Company post. Afterwards Isabel begged to stay the night instead...

read more

What did voyageurs eat?

Posted by on Feb 23, 2016 in Voyageur | 0 comments

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 without spoiling. Best of all, it was such a concentrated source of nutrition that a man needed only two to four pounds a day (compared to eight pounds of fish or fresh meat a day)! Pemmican could be eaten raw or made into “rubaboo,” a porridge traditionally made of peas or corn (or both) with grease (bear or pork) and a thickening agent (bread or flour). Maple sugar or berries could also be added to the mixture. After six weeks of only pea soup, the men looked forward to rubaboo. Finally, (this next part came as a surprise to me) pea soup was probably the most nutritious food, delivering the most usable calories for work, that they could have eaten. Pea protein is particularly high in arginine, an amino acid that is a precursor to creatine, which delivers energy to muscles. It boosts iron so it builds muscle mass as...

read more

Voyageurs sang while they paddled? Why was that?

Posted by on Oct 18, 2015 in Voyageur | 0 comments

Voyageurs sang while they paddled? Why was that?

Voyageurs sang?? While they paddled? Why was that? What kind of songs did they sing? (Kacee, age 9) Yes, voyageurs, the French-Canadian canoemen of the fur trade, sang while they paddled their birch bark canoes over thousands of miles of rivers and lakes across the North American continent. One reason they sang was to paddle in unison. Can you imagine 10 or 12 paddlers, each dipping into the water with their own rhythm? With every stroke, their paddles would hit other paddles, and the paddlers would probably bop each other as well. Singing kept them in time. In fact, it’s pretty hard to sing with one tempo and do something (paddling, marching, dancing…) in an entirely different tempo. Singing together meant they could speed up a song if they had to paddle more quickly — like nearing a rapids. And they could paddle faster — and for more hours — without noticing (as much) how sore their muscles were. Singing kept their minds on the story and emotions of the song, or even what verse they might be on. It buoyed their moods and increased their stamina. Their repertoire included rounds, which could continue for a long time, and songs in which one man sang a verse and the others joined on a chorus. Song leaders could make up verses to extend a song. Songs could be invented for any occasion — the weather, spring, bravery, and very often, the women they loved. Some were sad songs but most were robust. Their music included traditional songs that came from France (the old country) — love songs, patriotic songs, dancing and drinking songs and work songs, something for every occasion. People in every country sang to help them do hard physical labor (coal mining, railroad work, hauling canal boats, prison chain gangs). So singing in the canoe was natural. Up to 13,000 song texts have been collected, though not all the music is known. Instrumentalists couldn’t “perform” (and inspire) because every paddler in a canoe needed to use his hands — up to 14 hours a day — but each man had a voice. And because what they could carry in the canoe was limited, instruments were small. They ranged from mouth harps and harmonicas to flutes, violins and bagpipes, if their bourgeois (the head partner who might travel with them) was a Scotsman. Voyageurs might hear instruments accompanying them at rendezvous time, at winter posts, maybe evenings en route, if they weren’t too tired. One book I read indicated that “singer” was a position which offered extra pay, like “bowman,” “steersman” and “cook.” Want to hear a dozen of the songs?In 1966, Theodore Blegen, superintendent of the Minnesota Historical Society and professor of history, published an essay “The Voyageurs and Their Songs,” which included music. It’s since become a CD “Songs of the Voyageurs,” with an illustrated 48-page booklet, available through the Minnesota Historical...

read more

How big was a voyageur’s canoe?

Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Voyageur | 0 comments

How big was a voyageur’s canoe?

How big was the canoe? How many voyageurs paddled it? (Christian, grade 4) There were different sizes of canoes. The first one that André paddled, from Montreal to Grand Portage, was the biggest. It was a Montreal canoe (also called the canot de maître or master’s canoe). This huge freight canoe was about 36 feet long and 6 feet wide. (To help you understand the size, a tennis court is about 36 feet wide.) It would hold 8 to 12 paddlers and 3 tons of trade goods and food. Made of birchbark and cedar slats, which were light and strong, it weighed about 600 pounds. It was built to carry about 60-65 bales or pièces of trade goods as well as provisions, canoe supplies and blankets and personal packs of the voyageurs. Over a portage, four men carried a Montreal canoe. Antoine’s brigade had about five Montreal canoes, each propelled by 8 or 10 paddlers. When Antoine, Emile, Pretty Mouse and André left Grand Portage, they used a North canoe (canot du nord) purchased from Native Americans in Grand Portage who were skilled canoe builders. A North canoe was shorter — about 25 feet long, 4 feet wide — and carried 25-30 pièces, or pieces of cargo, about half of what a Montreal canoe carried. Weighing about 300 pounds, only 4 to 6 men were needed to paddle and 2 to carry it across a portage. The express canoe, or canot léger, was about 15 feet long. It was meant carry people, reports and news—no cargo—so they could travel fast. Canoes used by Native Americans were smaller than North canoes — they needed to travel shallower rivers and didn’t haul big loads over long distances. Nowadays a popular canoe length is 17 feet....

read more

How did fur traders know what trade goods to bring to Native Americans?

Posted by on Apr 16, 2015 in Voyageur | 0 comments

How did fur traders know what trade goods to bring to Native Americans?

How did fur traders know what trade goods to bring to Native Americans? What trade goods did they want the most? Why? What did things cost? (Zak, age 14) Thelma Boeder, a re-enactor with La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Riviere St. Pierre, has thought about this. At the North West Fur Trade Post rendezvous in Pine City, she sat by a blanket covered with trade goods, and shared her knowledge with visitors. Here’s what she said. “What trade goods were brought in was adjusted annually, based on what the traders thought would be wanted in the areas to which they headed. It could be different for a trader heading to the St. Peter’s River [now called the Minnesota River] as opposed to what is now northern Minnesota or the far distant Athabasca [in northern Canada]. Peter Pond, working as an independent trader, decided where he would go and what he should take in each year. “Traders wanted to know: What would appeal to those people that lived there and were skilled in the hunt? What might they need? What might make their lives easier? Of course, native peoples knew how to live well with what was available, but maybe the traders could offer a better version. “Let’s talk kettles, one of the highly favored trade items. Durable metal kettles were a clear improvement over what was at hand prior to the trade, containers made from clay or birch bark. Clay could be heated but broke easily. Birch bark could be heated, too, very carefully. First the seams of a birch bark container, an Ojibwe makuk, had to be sealed with pitch to hold water. If placed directly over a fire, it needed careful tending to escape flames or having the contents boil down to the point of burning. Instead of direct placement over the fire, one could heat a rock and then put it into a makuk filled with water to heat it. “The trader’s metal kettles with their handles became immediate favorites. They could hang a kettle over a fire, fill it with water, meat and other ingredients to simmer for hours with minimal attention. “Kettles wore out in time but not as quickly as clay or birch bark and then were patched and replaced, when needed. The traders conserved canoe space by nesting the kettles small to large. Brass, copper, tin or iron, some with covers, some without — kettles were quickly recognized as a desirable item, available only through the trade. “As far as prices, it varied — by company, independent trader, time frame, location, basic supply and demand.” Thelma suggests The Great Northwest Fur Trade, a material culture, 1763-1850 by Ryan Gale, as a good book to consult, with lots of pictures and good information. It is published by Track of the Wolf in Elk River in 2009....

read more

Did voyageurs use the same campsites each night they were traveling?

Posted by on Feb 28, 2015 in Voyageur | 0 comments

Did voyageurs use the same campsites each night they were traveling?

Did voyageurs use the same campsites each night they were traveling? Or did they find new ones all the time? (Cliff) It was the easiest for voyageurs to stay at a site they knew, and could choose campsites depending on where along the route they were. Because they knew routes, they could estimate how long it would take to the next site, whether it required paddling or portaging. For example, Daniel Harmon names several sites on the first days of his voyage in 1800 — Point Claire, Chute du Blondeau, the Three Kettles. By that time, there were a few established sites — trading posts, businesses, even homes — along the route between Montreal and Grand Portage. Certainly people who lived in those lonely places would be glad for the company, news or voyageur goods in trade if the canoemen needed food or information. But not all days worked according to Plan A. Windy or stormy weather, canoe mishaps, even injuries or health were among the reasons they needed to be flexible and find a site near and fast. When Michel Curot had to wait out bad winds on Lake Superior in 1803, he chose the closest available spot, which was about 3½ leagues from Brulé River where he had hoped to get to. Traveling in northern Wisconsin, Curot described the locations of other overnight sites, like at the end of a portage, where they could décharge instead of carry the packs and canoes. That would be a logical campsite — after an arduous day, the men would be wet and tired and would need to dry out, eat and rest before proceeding. In his Snake River Journal, John Sayer noted that his brigade camped at the Grand Gallé, or Big Yellow Bank, on Sept. 21 and above the little Gallet Sept. 22 (his spelling wasn’t consistent). Sayer remained at another campsite while his men carried part of the baggage across three long rapids one day. He had his men cache some of their food and trade goods at various locations — sites they knew — before they began searching for the best place to build a wintering post. In 1833, William Johnston wrote about camping on Otter Tail Point of Leech Lake, Minnesota, which had a trading house and an Indian village of 10 lodges. It was a destination where they could purchase provisions and wait for the main brigade. Each brigade preferred to use places they knew, but used common sense in finding a nearer spot when weather or other concerns made that a smarter choice. Want to know more? A Journal and Travels in the Interior of North America by Daniel William Harmon. New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1903. A Wisconsin Fur Trader’s Journal, 1804-04 by Michel Curot (the XY Company clerk). Richard Worthington, 2010. John Sayer’s Snake River Journal, 1804-05, edited with introductory chapters by Douglas Birk (1989) (A journal kept by a North West Co. partner trading amongst the Ojibwe in East Central Minnesota.) Letters on the Fur Trade 1833 by William Johnston (Letters of Miengun, an educated grandson of Waubojeeg, the last ruler of the Ojibwa dynasty of Chegoimegon on Lake Superior). Richard Worthington, 2011....

read more

How much was a beaver fur worth?

Posted by on Jan 18, 2015 in Voyageur | 0 comments

How much was a beaver fur worth?

How much was a beaver fur worth? What could Native Americans when they traded for their furs? What did they want most? What was worth the most? (Tyler, age 14) To answer these questions, look on the Resources page for “Value of One Beaver.” I’ve posted a list of some of the trade goods available and how many pelts they were valued at. There’s a second list of how other animal pelts were valued against a beaver pelt. Native Americans prized guns and metal tools the most. You can tell by the price — 10 pelts for a musket. Other items included knives, axes, fishhooks and kettles, which made their work easier. Gift-giving was an important part of the process. It showed friendliness to the tribes; it also helped demonstrate how to use a new product, which made it more desirable. Hunters were offered some trade goods on credit — a whole new way of commerce. [At shops in towns at that time, people had to pay the price a shopkeeper asked, like at stores now.] The best hunters, sometimes rewarded with special gifts or clothing to show their importance, might then be called “made chiefs.” The prices were set by the Montreal partners who ordered the trade goods from Europe a year or more before voyageurs went to Grand Portage and then the individual fur posts. The wintering clerks at those fur posts kept detailed records of what trade goods sold the best; the owners read their comments very carefully to help them plan their purchase orders. I’ve seen two different dates for this list — 1704 and 1793. That makes me think prices didn’t change much. A final note — a beaver pelt in a circular frame was called a plus, pronounced “ploo.” It was also called a “blanket,” and still is.   ...

read more

How much was a French livre worth?

Posted by on Dec 7, 2014 in Voyageur | 0 comments

How much was a French livre worth?

Did you find out how much a French livre is worth? How much money did voyageurs earn? Is that the kind of money voyageurs got paid with? (Peyton, age 11) This answer comes from Dave Dittmer, of Cousin Dave Silversmith. In addition to creating beautiful silver work, he also carries unusual historic coins. French money was used primarily in New France from the early 1600s through to late 1700s. The livre tournois (1360-1600) is one I know very little about. I believe that after the Revolution in 1793, the French had an extreme distaste for anything to do with the king and any royal connections. Coins may have been destroyed, or reminted, out of disgust during that time. No one wanted to use something with the degenerate king’s picture on it. That would make certain coins, like the livre, very rare. About voyageurs’ pay: Sometimes pay could be money (which may not have been much and only lasted a short time while in civilization) or goods and services (such as a company store), or both. Voyageurs were carefree young men who wanted drink, food, tobacco and young girls to flirt with while they were in a city. They had little use for money in the wilderness, unless they were helping families back home.  As time moved on, different currencies were introduced into the market place, such as the Spanish Reale, and they rose and fell. After the French Revolution, the Spanish Reale was a stronger currency, as France lost much of its power base in the New World. Coins that were commonly accepted were the coins most used, depending on the time period. In the centers of trade in New France, many accepted world currencies were used, because the furs were destined for the world market place. Were the voyagers paid in these currencies? Probably not. They were probably paid in the French sols (1738-1764). Nowadays it seems that the harder coins to get are the French coins. Coins actually found on this continent and connected to New France are very expensive. My thanks to Dave for this fascinating commentary! Check out Dave’s jewelry at www.cousindavesilversmith.com  (the bolded words are a line to click on). Or ask him a question, like I did....

read more

What is it like to “become” a voyageur at Fort William Historical Park?

Posted by on Oct 25, 2014 in Voyageur | 0 comments

What is it like to “become” a voyageur at Fort William Historical Park?

What is it like to “become” a voyageur or another character at Fort William Historical Park? Is it fun or hard to do? (Mikaela, 14) Jenni Grandfield, who works at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario, answered the question for me: I’m studying art at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, but I spend my summers in Thunder Bay working at the Fort. This was actually my seventh year working as an interpreter. Most of the knowledge we have as workers comes from personal research. We’re given a “character sheet” that has different sections of information on it; it could have a birth date and place, emotional disposition, family connections, contract information, etc. We are expected to develop our character (and filling in the blanks), either by finding actual facts (typically out of journals, since almost all our characters were real people), or by researching and making informed guesses (what we call “composite” information). We do have a few characters that are considered “primary” people like William MacGillivray and Dr. John McLoughlin, who there is an abundance of recorded history about. To play them, you have to write a test that proves you have developed a rather high level of knowledge. After writing this test a few years ago, I determined that it’s much harder to play someone we know very little about; it requires the grace and caution to invent believable information about someone who really existed. My main character was a real woman named Jeannette Dauphin; she was the wife of a carpenter who spent most of her time raising three children and doing work in the kitchens. Besides that, she was born in Grand Portage, that’s really all I know for sure about her. When you spend a lot of time thinking about your character, you start to get a feel for what they may have been like. When I think about Jeannette, she gives me the impression of a very strong, compassionate woman, who could be trusted to make the right decisions. When I play Jeannette, it’s a little like improv acting; I have to consider how she would think and behave. You really start to feel a connection to the people you play, as if they are a close friend you’ve had lots of private talks with and care about very deeply. Nikki To check out some of the photographs Jenni has taken at Fort William Historical Park, visit www.jennigrandfield.weebly.com and click on “Photography” and then “Photography Collections.” Choose the reenactment photo of a battle– when you click on it, there are many more in her Nor’westers collection....

read more

Is that a real voyageur on the book cover?

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 in Voyageur | 0 comments

Is that a real voyageur on the book cover?

Is that a real voyageur on the book cover? Is it a real birch bark canoe? (Justin, age 13) This voyageur is a “historic interpreter” who works summers at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The photo was taken by Jenni Grandfield, who spends her summers in Thunder Bay working at the Fort as an interpreter. (Check out the post next week about what historic interpreters do — coming soon). This canoe is used daily for canoe rides ($5) to the public, so it’s very sturdy — fiberglass made to look like birch bark. Jenni took photographs from a variety of angles to get it right. “Because of how the dock is set up,” Jenni said, “our voyageur would have had to be at the back of the canoe (the gouvernail or guide’s position) which belongs to the most experienced person in the canoe.” Since in the story the character is a very new voyageur, she knew it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to sit in the stern, or back, of the canoe for this purpose. One more note — he is related to me! His father was showing family photos at a family reunion this summer. I asked if he’d be willing to be on the cover and his parents helped it to happen. And recommended Jenni as a photographer. Isn’t that amazing?...

read more

Why were the Nor’westers’ tents in neat rows at the rendezvous?

Posted by on Sep 14, 2014 in Featured | 0 comments

Why were the Nor’westers’ tents in neat rows at the rendezvous?

Why were the Nor’westers’ tents in neat rows at the rendezvous while the Montrealers were a jumbled mess? (Bruce) The historic interpreters at Grand Portage National Monument told us that only the Northmen rated tents — a concession to the long distance they traveled. The North West Company set the tents up, so they’d be very efficient and line them all up. Because the pork-eaters from Montreal didn’t get tents, they flipped over their canoes for shelter from the rain. Their camps were set on opposite sides outside the post. Native Americans camped in a nearby location. At Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, the voyageur saga continues a dozen or more years later. The North West Company offered tents to both voyageur groups....

read more