The Native Peoples and Champlain
China and the Indies
Champlain's Itinerary
The Word Voyageur
Coureur des bois
Canoe
Forest Harvesting
Life and Death of Champlain

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The Word Voyageur

16th century (early 1500s)
17th century (around 1650)
18th century (early 1700s)
19th century (around 1850)
20th century
21th century


Did you know…?

    The word voyageur is closely linked to the history of North American exploration, the fur trade and forestry.

    Voyageur took on a new meaning in French Canada. Actually, dictionaries in France have different definitions than those found in French Canada. This word is part of North American history. English Canadians and Americans took the word from the French and have even kept the same spelling.

Here is the etymology, the history of the word, over the years in North America.


16th century (early 1500s)

Person who travels to see a new country with the hopes of discovery or study. Samuel de Champlain was this type of voyageur.



A 17th Century Hudson Bay Settler.

A 17th Century Hudson Bay Settler
National Archives of Canada/C-1020/Detail

17th century (around 1650)

Merchant experienced in trading expeditions. He either worked on his own, for a group, or with established merchants. After 1681, he had to have a permit, which was required by the authorities to trade furs with the Amerindians.

He travelled by canoe.



18th century (early 1700s)

During this period, the term voyageur merchant, meaning a man who worked for himself, started circulating. He transported merchandise to trading posts in Amerindian territory. Sometimes, he would spend the winter or even longer before returning with the skins.

A voyageur was also a man hired to take on many different tasks (guide, interpreter, paddler, porter, etc.) in uncharted territories during exploration voyages.



19th century (around 1850)

Worker who travelled each year to cut down trees at various forest harvesting sites. He was also known as a timber man, logger, driver, log driver, raftsman and even "coureur des bois". He was in charge of cutting and floating the wood.

Then the word took on the definition that we now know and use today. The voyageur is a person who travels for pleasure or who travels a great deal. Be sure to notice that all of the previous definitions of voyageurs referred to men, whereas this definition includes women. Some of the voyageurs wrote stories about their voyage, which were occasionally published.

Trapper

Trapper
National Archives of Canada/C-5746/Detail


The Canadian voyageur is a man with an adventurous spirit, ready and willing, capable of being occasionally, successively, or all at once a discoverer, interpreter, lumberjack, colonist, hunter, fisher, sailor, and warrior. He strongly possesses all of these qualities, even though he does not always have the opportunity to practice them all.

Taken from Forestiers et voyageurs, by Joseph-Charles Taché, 1863


20th century

"Commercial traveller" (commis-voyageur) was used for a merchant who travelled to sell his products. More and more, the word "tourist" began replacing voyageur, as this industry gained importance.

By the end of the century, a new voyageur had arrived: the netsurfer.


21th century

The netsurfer travels from land to sea. Sites are a reference to the terrestrial world and to surf or to navigate refers to the maritime world. Modern day pirates are called hackers.

Today, the virtual voyageur is at the heart of the Internet. And, just like in the past, the powers, whether big or small, dream of controlling all commercial roads.

The Internet dispels all concepts of time and space for the voyageur. In the virtual world, we no longer see the road going by. The voyage is supposed to include the entire experience along the way, and not merely the arrival at the destination, is it not?





© ROPFO 2001. All rights reserved.
Conception