Voyageurs: Adventure, Freedom, Danger and Travel
By Marie-Claude Bourque
By Marie-Claude Bourque
Coureur des Bois
Why do the words “Coureurs des Bois” make most French Canadian woman dream? “The life of the Coureur des Bois was one of adventure, freedom, danger and travel," said celebrated coureur des bois Pierre Esprit Radisson (1636-1710).
Doesn’t that say it all?
Coureurs des Bois, which means literally “wood-runners”, were itinerant, unlicensed fur traders of New France (Eastern Canada) that emerged in the early 17th century. Romanced by some and hated by others because of their illegal nature, these hardy pioneers, inured to hardship, were a strong and sturdy set, tireless and fearless, resourceful in emergencies.
With muscles of steel, they guided their frail canoes through the stormy waves of the big lake and ran the perilous rapids of fast moving streams. They were men who had accompanied the Native in their hunting expeditions, and made themselves acquainted with remote tracts and tribes; and who now became, as it were, peddlers of the wilderness.
Hard not to dream about them, so hard in fact that modern coureurs des bois, such as Nicolas Vanier and Frédéric Asselin make the perfect modern heroes.
By 1681, the French authorities realized the traders had to be controlled so that the fur industry might remain profitable to them. They therefore legitimized and limited the numbers of coureurs des bois by establishing a system that used permits. This legitimization created a "second-generation" coureur des bois: the voyageur, which literally means "traveler". This name change came as a result of a need for the legitimate fur traders to distance themselves from the unlicensed ones. Voyageurs held a permit or were allied with a Montreal merchant who had one.
For the most part, voyageurs were the crews hired to man the canoes that carried trade goods and supplies to "rendezvous posts" where goods and supplies were exchanged for furs. Some voyageurs stayed in the back country over the winter and transported the trade goods from the rendezvous posts to farther-away French outposts. These men were known as the hivernants (winterers). They also helped negotiate trade in native villages.
In the spring they would carry furs from these remote outposts back to the rendezvous posts. Voyageurs also served as guides for explorers. The majority of these canoe men were French Canadian and/or Métis. Many were from France and others were members of Native Aboriginal tribes Voyageurs played an important role in the European exploration of the continent and in establishing trading contacts with the Indians.
The voyageurs and coureurs des bois are legendary, especially in French Canada. They are folk heroes celebrated in folklore and music and I grew up with this romantic version of these rugged free men, able to travel so far, paddles for hours in the frigid rivers, transport canoes on their back over miles and lived with Natives, sometimes even taking a wife among them.
These to me represent the typical “unavailable” hero who stays with you just long enough for you to fall in love with them, until the call of the wild becomes stronger.
What a great past this is for my ANCIENT WHISPERS hero Gabriel LaJeunesse, an Acadian deported in 1755 who becomes immortal after a run in with a powerful sorcerer but flees the magic he hates, to lose himself in the wood, trekking back north to Canada. And there, he becomes one of those latest coureur des bois, a Voyageur, hiding his pain through the rough life of these legendary explorators, until he finally finds love in modern time.
Marie-Claude Bourque is an American Title V finalist with her entry ANCIENT WHISPERS, a dark paranormal romance filled with tortured sorcerers, dark sensuality and gothic rituals. You can find her at http://www.mcbourque.com/ and www.myspace.com/marieclaudebourque .
And you can also vote for your favorite of four entries in round 4 of the American Title V contest at: http://www.romantictimes.com/news_amtitle3.php