When I needed info on pensions for infirm canoemen, where could I find it?
Luckily, a book by Carolyn Podruchny had just enough online to answer my question — and more.

Making the Voyageur World

Her “Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade” had much to pique my interest.
This history of voyageur life had such fun info, I had to keep reading, so I bought the book. It led me to fascinating discoveries. I read the whole thing. She’s good — I even dug into her 60 pages of footnotes and 26 pages of biblio!
Fascinating book, worth your time too.


Here’s what I liked best:
Different songs for different canoes

Most voyageur music was unaccompanied; lucky brigades had a violinist.

Of course I knew voyageurs sang. What they sang depended on what kind of canoe they paddled!!

  • In an express canoe, which traveled very fast (limited cargo, only news and/or passengers), paddlers sang songs with a very fast tempo, while canoemen in the huge, heavily-laden Montreal canoe (with 2½ tons of cargo) sang and paddled slower, to match with need for more power and control in rapids.
  • If the voyageurs were tired, slower songs eased the pace of their effort. [Whalers, the Volga boatmen, coal miners and others doing heavy labor did the same thing.]
  • Singing also diverted them from hunger, dispelled the monotony of paddling, and distracted the voyageurs from hardships of the journey. [Makes sense to me.]
  • But canoe noise and commotion, like at a portage — and singing — scared away the game and fish. One Aboriginal complained that they could not catch whitefish until after the fur trade brigades had passed by because their noise frightened the fish away. It’s another reason the pork-eaters carried all their food!

Birchbark canoes leaked

The job of bailing — with a sponge — could almost be a full-time one, given rainstorms and high waves. They had to keep the water level as low as possible inside the canoe. [Ooh. I thought they were drier than that.] Bailing was done with a sponge and a milieu was stationed at a canoe position designated specifically for bailing — the bar d’éponage.
In “Treacherous Waters,” Andre’s milieux bailed furiously when they faced the tornado.


Tree was shaped into a “lobstick” (Wiki Commons)

“Lobsticks” were tall trees, stripped of their lower branches, with only a small tuft left at the top. They became landmarks because the trees chosen were on high ground, often on a point of land and surrounding trees were also cut down, to increase its visibility.
This so amazed me that I’ve researched another post on lobsticks. (Coming soon.)
Since voyageurs usually stopped at the same campsites, lobsticks would be seen by many. But after 200 years, probably none are still standing. And I bet no new ones are being created in the BWACW.

Final Thoughts

It’s always fun to track down the real events of the fur trade, and then figure out how to fit them into the story I’m telling. Spoiler alert?? Probably not, but here’s what I’m thinking for Book 3:

  • Andre’s mismatched crew in an express canoe may not know a wide enough range of songs. Whose job will it be to bail — and is he effective?
  • Haven’t decided how to write about a lobstick. Was there ever a real one on their route? Will they know the person who is being honored? Could they witness the event?

Read more — buy “Treacherous Waters” through PayPal. Or the ebook.
Ask a question—I’ll research the answers for a future post.
Visit me on Facebook: Share or Comment.
Be a Voyageur for an Hour — come to the next presentation: (12:30 pm May 23, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, St. Cloud). Or book me as a speaker.
Ask your local library or bookstore to stock copies.
Got a good book about voyageurs I should read? A rendezvous I should attend? Tell me.

“Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade” by Carolyn Podruchny. University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln and London, 2006)

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