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Signing of the Treaty of Ghent. Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier is shaking hands with United States Ambassador to Russia John Quincy Adams; British Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn is carrying a red folder. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Treaty of Ghent, 1814

In my last post, I mentioned Dr Bigsby. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814, put an end to the War of 1812, a war between the British and the Americans.  Under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, an official border had to be drawn between Canada (British) and the Union (American). Our Dr Bigsby was with the Commission whose members drew the border between Canada and the United States. Also engaged in drawing the border was Simon Fraser, an explorer. (See Treaty of 1818, Wikipedia.)

Because many voyageurs worked with the Hudson’s Bay Company, it could be that our canotier was among the last persons to realize that Nouvelle-France had become a British colony.

However the voyageur‘s world changed when the border was traced between Canada and the United States. Moreover, because of the Louisiana Purchase, the central part of the United States was no longer a French colony. Napoléon had sold nearly a third of what constitutes the present-day United States.


Louisiana: the green area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Consequences

Following the The Louisiana purchase, 1803 and the Treaty of Ghent, 1814, Grand-Portage ceased to be part of a territory that had been considered French or English territory. Settlers would soon begin arriving in both Manitoba, a British possession, and in Minnesota. As for our voyageur, he had to use other trading-posts and was still in the employ of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The American Fur Trade Company, 1808

At this point, the United States entered the fur trade business. On 6 April 1808, John Jacob Astor (17 July 1763 – 29 March 1848), German (Waldesians)- born Johann Jakob Astor, established the American Fur Company and also established the Pacific Fur Company.

Ramsay Crooks, John Jacob’s employee and, later, his successor, hired American canoemen, but his employer would never have become the richest man in the world had  Congress not allowed him to hire Canadiens.

The Americans recruited by Ramsay Crooks did not prove equal to the task. They could  not work in unison. They carried guns, quarreled among themselves, and they killed Amerindians. Therefore, Ramsay Crooks decided that an exception had to be made to the Embargo Act of 1807.

Ramsay Crooks therefore wrote to Astor:

“It will still be good policy to admit freely & without the last restraint the Canadian Boatmen. these people are indispensable to the succesful prosecution of the trade, their places cannot be supplied by Americans, who are for the most part are [sic] are too independent to submit quiety to a proper controul, and who can gain any where a subsistence much superior to a man of the interior and although the body of the Yankee can resist as much hardshiip as any man, tis only in the Canadian we find that temper of mind, to render him patient docile and perserving. in short they are a people harmless in themselves whose habit of submission fit them peculiarly for our business and if guided as it is my wish they should be, will never give just cause of alarm to the Government of the Union it is of course your object to exclude foreigner except those for whom you obtaine licences.”[i]

As a result, during Thomas Jefferson‘s presidency, the American Fur Company was allowed to employ Canadian voyageurs, which it did, with considerable success, for twenty years. In fact, John Jacob Astor, whose great-grandson perished in the sinking of the Titanic, had a fine employee in Gabriel Franchère (1786-1863). Franchère and voyageurs sailed to the mouth of the Columbia River. They travelled on the Tonquin, under the command of Jonathan Thorn, an impatient and hard man. The Tonquin left New York on 8 September 1810 and arrived at the Columbia River on 12 April 1811 to establish the first American-owned (if Canadian-staffed) outpost on the Pacific Coast, Fort Astoria (present-day Astoria, Oregon).”[ii] 

You will note that I have used bold letters to write “if Canadian-staffed.” Nute writes that “John Jacob Astor, the prince of American fur-traders and the organizer of the largest American fur company, is said to have remarked that he would rather have one voyageur than three American canoemen.”[iii]

Gabriel Franchère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gabriel Franchère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Note on Gabriel Franchère

When the American Fur Company surrendered to the North West Company, in 1812, Gabriel Franchère found his way back to Montreal where, temporarily, he remained in the employ of John Jacob Astor. Franchère is the author of a book entitled Relation d’un voyage à la côte du Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique septentrionale dans les années 1810, 11, 12, 13, et 14 (Narrative of a trip to the American North West in the Years 1810, 11, 12, 13, and 14). It would seem that the book is the possession of Marianopolis College (where I was a student for one year), in Westmount (Montreal). 

What I would like to point outis that Franchère did not stay in Montreal. He returned west and died in Minnesota, where Astor’s men settled when they retired from what we could call “active duty.” It shoud also be pointed out that this was a most articulate gentleman who nevertheless worked as a mere clerk not to say voyageurs and had so loved his work that home had become Minnesota. As for voyageurs in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), most of its employees retired in neighbouring Manitoba (Canada).

The Explorers 

Beaver pelts had been very precious because they were used, among other things, to make hats. Remember the high hats. But as John Jacob Astor realized, the beaver had nearly become extinct, which for him meant abandoning the fur trade. As I have noted, a large proportion of his men settled in Minnesota when they could no longer carry two bales, or when steam boats replaced the canoe. They had opened up a very large number of forts and “[t]hey, with their traders, were thus the first white settlers of most of these areas.”[iv]


But what of the intrepid hommes du Nord, the North men, or young voyageurs?  As it happens, “[i]t was they, too, who did the actual exploring of the interior, for the greater explorer, like Alexander Henry, Jonathan Carver, and Alexander Mackenzie [who] relied on their canoemen for knowledge of navigable streams, portages, wintering grounds and other topographical features.”[v] 

A new canoe was used, mentioned in The Voyageur & his Canoe “The Kootenay-Salish canoe was built for the rapid rivers of southern BC [British Columbia], with both ends extending out under the water (art work by Lewis Parker).”[vi]

The Kootenay-Salish Canoe by Lewis Parker (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

In short, we have just learned about a third employer. As well, we saw that most voyageurs remained where they had worked, thereby becoming settlers, and that the more intrepid worked for explorers. I am sure that Simon Fraser had voyageurs in his employ when he chartered British Columbia. The Kootenay-Salish canoe was their canoe.


[i] Grace Lee Nute, The Voyageurs (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1987[1931]), pp. 203-204.

[ii] Wikipedia, “Pacific Fur Company”           <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Fur_Company>

[iii] The Voyageurs, p. 6.

[iv] Nute, op. cit., p. 10.

[v]  Ibid.

[vi] James Marsch, “The Birchbark Canoe,” in the Canadian Encyclopedia <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/birchbark-canoe-1>


Canoemen by David Morris

Un Canadien errant, 1842

The Lost Canadian

Leonard Cohen

Un Canadien errant (A wandering Canadian, )
Banni de ses foyers, (banned from his hearths, )
Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
Des pays étrangers. (in foreign lands.)
Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
Des pays étrangers. (in foreign lands.)
Un jour, triste et pensif, (One day, sad and pensive, )
Assis au bord des flots, (sitting by the flowing waters, )
Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)
Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)
“Si tu vois mon pays, (If you see my country, )
Mon pays malheureux, (my unhappy country, )
Va dire à mes amis (go tell my friends)
Que je me souviens d’eux. (that I remember them.)
Va dire