• Voices from the Gathering PlaceSault Ste. Marie: 1622 - 1870

Die Stromschnellen von St Marie (The Rapids Of St Mary), Frank Buchser, 1868

By kind permission of the Kunsthaus Art Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland

This website was created by teacher Peter White for the Algoma District School Board

The Voyageurs

Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall (Ontario), 1869, by Frances Anne Hopkins

Courtesy vLibrary and Archives Canada under the reproduction reference number C-002771 and under the MIKAN ID number 2894967

The voyageurs traveled by canoe each spring, often from Montreal to trade for furs. They would pass through Sault Ste. Marie on their way to Fort William, (now Thunder Bay), at the other end of lake Superior.


At the beginning of the fur trade there were no roads or railroads  so the canoe, the vehicle invented by the First Nations, was the only way to travel faster than walking.


Most of the first voyageurs were young Frenchmen who were indentured servants which means they paid for their trip from France to Canada on a sailing ship by working as a voyageur for free until the debt was paid. Today this would be like someone offering to pay your ticket to some exciting and far away place like Mount Everest as long as you work for them without pay for a few years. Would you do it?


A generation after the first voyageurs, many of them were Métis, men whose father was European (usually French) and whose mother was First Nations. Many of the oldest family names in Sault Ste. Marie are Métis.


Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nations has said that many family surnames (last names) in Sault Ste. Marie date back to the voyageur days. He related that when fur traders from places like Montreal arrived in the Sault each season they would want the same men that they had the year before to paddle their canoe. For example, a group of men would be known as "Sayers'" voyageurs because each season the fur trader by the name "Sayers" wanted the same First Nations men to work with him again.


Learn more about the voyageurs by clicking on the numbers above.