What is a voyageur? (Avalyn, age 13)
Think of the word “voyager” — a person taking a voyage or a trip. Voyageurs were canoemen who traveled about 1,200 miles, from near Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to Grand Portage (on the Minnesota side of Lake Superior) — and back. The voyageur brigades left each May. It took about two months to arrive at Grand Portage and two more months to return.
But they weren’t there to enjoy the trip — they paddled canoes packed with heavy loads most of those miles. When they couldn’t paddle, they carried the trade goods and provisions from their canoe on their backs. They were like the “engine” for a truck.
Another word for voyageur was an engagé, a person “engaged,” or hired, as a canoeman.
Most voyageurs were French Canadian, but they also included Native Americans — Crow, Cree, Ojibway, Iroquois — as well as some men from England, Scotland and Germany.
Voyageurs began traveling to trade furs across French Canada in the 1690s; the era ended in the 1850s.