French Voyageurs of the Great Lakes

An explorer called Jean Nicolet claimed Lake Michigan for France in 1634 but the first true French settlers were called ‘Les Couriers du Bois’ – ‘runners in the woods’. They served Louis XIV and raided the Great Lakes for gold and minerals. Disappointed by their results they were succeeded by the Voyageurs – hired paddlers who established a fur trade with native Ojibwe and Sioux tribes, swapping cloth, beads and guns in return for prized buffalo, deer, and beaver pelts. 

The Voyageurs were experienced river men, at home living in the wilderness and accepting of the risks and fortitude required for this hardy life. They were physically very fit and paddled up to 18 hours a day. They would carry two to three 90-pound packs up hills and across marshy bogs to their stations, sleeping on the ground and relying on a diet of pemmican – pounded meat and berries rubbed with fat. The dried meat and fat would keep the food from rotting for months and provided them with a high energy source of nourishment. Owing to their stocky size and hearty appetite, the Voyageurs were commonly known as Pork Eaters.


Re enacting the Past 

Every year, holidaymakers, fun-seekers, and a throng of history nuts descend upon a former World War Two airport to re-enact the events of a French Trading Post called Grand Pottage that flourished by the Mississippi River in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. 

This three day event which takes places once a year during the first week end of August . The rendezvous  point is on the Deer River, Minnesota. For a few days the reconstructed trading post is brought to life by dozens of re-enactors wearing period costumes and each playing a characters they’ve researched.  Most of the re-enactors have perfected some period skills: black powder rifle, tomahawk throwing, survival skills, cooking skills, crafts etc…  The scenes re-enacted are very subtle, we’re not talking battles or speeches but more like everyday events on a trading post where native Americans and Europeans came together to trade their goods. 

 One interesting event is the silent trading, silent because in those days people didn’t speak each other language and trading sometimes was completely silent.  Within the boundary of the  trading post you’ll find many stalls selling food and drinks, demonstration of various crafts , such as quills writing, beaver skinning  The public is invited to take part.  You can even buy voyageurs clothing.  Anybody can come and pitch a tent, the organizers will help you find the right old fashioned camping equipment.  This event has  been going on for 30 years and participants keep on returning year after year.   In the evening you can drink beers at the Trading Post tavern and try a bit of broom dancing to celtic music.


Destination – Mid-West USA