Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


***All photos accompanying posts are either owned by the author of said post or are in the public domain -- NOT the property of History Undressed. If you'd like to obtain permission to use a picture from a post, please contact the author of the post.***

Monday, February 23, 2009

Guest Blogger Marie-Claude Bourque on Voyagers

Voyageurs: Adventure, Freedom, Danger and Travel
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


Jessa Slade said...

For some reason, your 'unavailble hero' made me think of the song Brandy. "But my life, my love and my lady is the seeeeaaaaa..." I'm a terrible -- but enthusiastic -- singer.

Thanks for the history lesson.

Lucy said...

Being born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, I heard so many stories about les coureurs des bois...and no matter how many stories you hear, there will always be this desire to hear more. Always fascinating. thanks for this post:)

Jennifer Ross said...

We say 'they lived a hard life,' but that SO doesn't cover it! Have you ever seen one of the canoes they used? Those things are frickin HEAVY! And they travelled alone a lot of the time, including the portages. And these weren't, for the most part, large men!

Yeah, I'd say they make good hero material.

Marie-Claude Bourque said...

That's funny Jessa.
I don't know what it is about the "unavailable" hero. Why do we always want the one who wants to get away!

Marie-Claude Bourque said...

Thanks Ms Lucy.
Yes, they are not well known outside Quebec, but are such heroes for us.

Marie-Claude Bourque said...

You are right. They must have been very strong and a little crazy. Every winter in Quebec, there is a crossing of the St-Lawrence river competition. Portaging the canoes over ice!
The people doing it are real athletes! Very impressive, it's a huge river!

Joanna Waugh said...

At the hunter's moon every year, voyagers canoe down the Wabash River in Lafayette, Indiana to land at Fort Quiatenon, established in 1717 to protect the French fur trade. Feast of the Hunter's Moon is a two day reenactment festival that includes the voyagers, British soldiers and Native Americans. In addition, the area in which I live in NW Indiana was settled by another French-Canadian fur trader named Joseph Bailly. His original log cabin and home now sit within the boundaries of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you so much for visiting History Undressed Marie-Claude! What a fascinating post!

Life of Zen said...

Thanks for the lesson, Marie-Claude,

I am fascinated by your sentimental words. History is most beautiful when is made connections to us this way.

A part that puzzled me, though, when mentioned the "illegal nature" of the coureur des bois, did you mean the "unlicensed fur trading" the conduct? If the government hadn't regulated/licensed this activity until 1681, it wasn't something illegal, was it? Or did you mean some other behaviors or characteristics?

Pardon my ignorance if my questions does not make sense.