A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Sidebar: 19th-CENTURY CONDITIONS OF THE WORKING CLASS as reported in the 1889 ROYAL COMMISSION ON LABOR AND CAPITAL

The Fur Trade

Long before automobiles, airplanes or highways, men known as "coureurs des bois" or "voyageurs", traveled quickly and quietly though the Canadian wilderness. Their highways were the rivers and lakes of Canada's North. These men worked for either the Hudson Bay Company or the North West Company (co-founded by Lawrence Ermatinger,a Swiss immigrant). These corporations had been set up to trade goods for furs wit the Native population and their control of the trade was almost absolute. There was a huge demand for furs in Europe and the voyageurs and coureurs Des bois had to overcomes obstacle after obstacle. They had to travel thousands of miles across Canada's interior before ice formed on the lakes and rivers. This is how coureurs Des bois were described by Denis Riverin in 1705:

"They are always young men in the prime of life, for old age cannot endure the hardships of this occupation...Since all of Canada is a vast and trackless forest it is impossible for them to travel by land: they travel by lake and river in canoes ordinarily occupied by three men...

"They embark at Québec or Montréal to go three hundred, four hundred and sometimes five hundred lieus [2000 km] to search for beaver among Indians whom they have frequently never seen. Their entire provisions consist of a little biscuit, peas, corn, and a few small casks of brandy. They carry as little as possible in order to make room for a few bundles of merchandise and are soon obliged to live from hunting and fishing...If fish and game are scarce, as frequently happens, they are obliged to eat a sort of moss, which they call tripe, that grows on rocks. With it they make a broth that is black and loathsome, but which they would rather eat than die of starvation. If they have nothing to eat on their return journey or in their travels from one tribe to another they would resort to their moccasins or to a glue they make from the skins they have bartered."

"...They endure the jeers, the scorn and sometimes the blows of the Indians, who are constantly amazed by...Frenchmen who come from so far away at the cost of great hardship and expense to pick up dirty, stinking beaver pelts which they have worn and have discarded."2

Even though the development of the railway system brought the voyageurs' trade to an end, the routes and portages which they, along with the natives, established through the wilderness are still followed by today's canoeists.

René Richard must also have taken some of these routes. He, too, must have relied on the land to provide him with shelter and food. But within Richard's lifetime, innovating such as the outboard motor, snow moblies, all-terrain vehicles made a certain way of life become obsolete. Richard caught a glimpse of that existence and immortalized it through his sketches. They are part of the voyageur's inheritance: a gift to all Canadians to cherish and save.

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