The Hudson Bay Company had better watch out. Ten Metis are re-enacting their past as voyageurs for two months. They will go from Lachine, Quebec, to Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They are using the same fur trading route that the Northwest Company used. It is a 2,000 kilometre journey to Fort William to commemorate the Great Rendezvous that the Northwest Company held each summer 200 years ago.
The goal of their journey is two-fold: to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Fort William’s Great Rendezvous and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Metis Nation of Ontario. The modern day voyagers will draw attention to Metis culture, heritage and their contribution to the development of Canada during stops at selected communities along the way. The journey began at Lachine on May 19 and will end in Thunder Bay on July 12 in time for the Great Rendezvous festival happening July 11-13. MNO president, Tony Belcourt and other Metis leaders and elders were present for the launch.
The Metis will be dressing in standard period apparel including cotton shirts, corduroy trousers, wool sashes, and moccasins much like early voyageurs. They will be paddling a replica 26-foot birch bark canoe. It will be an easy pace compared to their early counterparts. The modern-day voyagers will only be paddling ten to twelve hours a day during their two-month trek. Upon arriving for the Great Rendezvous, they will spend the rest of the summer serving as historical interpreters at the Fort.
To prepare for the trip the people spent two weeks training at the Fort under the guidance of the Fort’s Collections Officer, Shawn Patterson. Patterson is an expert in recreating the voyageur experience, having personally re-traced the canoe routes of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, during a similar initiative undertaken by the Outdoor Recreation Department at Lakehead University from 1989 to 1993.
The first Great Rendezvous was held at Fort William in 1803. The occasion served as an annual general meeting for the North West Company, gathering together over 1,000 fur traders and voyageurs at Fort William to plan business strategy and to facilitate the transshipment of tons of furs and trade goods.
This ambitious system enabled the Nor’Westers to challenge the Hudson’s Bay Company for domination of the North American fur trade until the two companies merged in 1821.