Topic – Voyageurs

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Transporting Goods

Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, 1800’s

As the fur trade grew, there were more and more trading posts. At trading posts, Indigenous peoples traded furs for goods they wanted. Some trading posts were very far from the villages and towns that European settlers had created.

For trading posts to work, goods had to be transported. The items that Indigenous peoples wanted had to get to the trading posts. The furs from Indigenous people had to be sent to places where they could be shipped to Europe. At this time, there were no trains, no cars, and no highways. How were goods transported over long distances?

Who Were the Voyageurs?

Hudson’s Bay Company voyageur canoe

Voyageur is a French word that means “traveller.” Voyageurs were men who transported goods to and from trading posts. Most voyageurs spoke French and came from towns such as Québec and Montreal.

As much as possible, voyageurs travelled on lakes and rivers. Their canoes were from 8 to 11 metres long. Smaller canoes had a crew of 5 or 6 men. Larger canoes had a crew of 8 to 10 men. Along with the crew, the canoes also carried a heavy load of goods.

A Difficult Job

Being a voyageur was not an easy job. Voyageurs often paddled for 14 to 18 hours each day. They rested for just a few minutes each hour.

Some rivers had rapids. Rapids are places in a river where the water is shallow, rough, and flows very quickly. Many rapids were too dangerous for the canoes. Voyageurs had to travel on land to go around the rapids. They had to carry their canoes and the heavy goods they were transporting. Voyageurs had to be tough, brave, and strong.

Help from Indigenous Peoples

European voyageurs meet Indigenous Peoples, 1820

Voyageurs might travel many days to get to a trading post. They had to know how to survive in the wild. Indigenous people were experts at surviving in the wild. They taught voyageurs many survival skills.


Voyageurs had to bring their food with them. They were paddling all day long, so they did not have time to hunt for food along the way. They ate foods such as dried or salted meat, peas, and beans.

Singing Along the Way

“Alouette.” one of the songs that voyageurs sang.

Voyageurs often sang songs while paddling. This helped them pass the time, but it also helped them paddle. Voyageurs paddled to the beat of the song. This helped everyone paddle in the same rhythm. You might know the old French-Canadian song “Alouette.” This is one song the voyageurs sang.

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