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à la facon du pays (marriage)

French for "in the custom of the country." A type of marriage arrangement in fur trade society that included both Aboriginal and European customs, but was not recognized by European society. These unions were common between North West Company men and Aboriginal women.


(noun) original inhabitant of a territory; (adjective) of or relating to a territory's original inhabitants. In North America , Aboriginals include First Nations and Inuit.


collection of materials that voyageurs used to repair the canoe en route, including pitch (gum), wattape (spruce root), bark and other equipment.


of or relating to a major Aboriginal language family, including nations dispersed throughout eastern and central North America


a Native people living along the upper reaches of the Ottawa River and belonging to the Algonkian language family.


historic name for the region where the Red River Colony was founded, including the Red and Assiniboine River valleys.


a native people belonging to the Sioux family. At the time of the fur trade, they were dispersed across the prairies as far as the foothills of the Rocky Mountains . They are also known as Nakoda.


fur-rich district, nowadays straddling the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan . Native peoples in the Athabasca played a vital role in the fur trade.

Athabasca, Lake

large lake (7,850km²) at the heart of the Athabasca district and a major hub of the North West fur trade. Its waters flow north to the Arctic Ocean via the Slave and Mackenzie rivers.


major Aboriginal language family stretching from Hudson Bay to the Pacific coast and spoken as far away as the American Southwest. Derived from the Cree word for Lake Athabasca .


Iroquois term for cranberry.


position at the front of the canoe, occupied by more experienced voyageurs.



strip or thread of raw animal hide.


the art of weaving baskets and other containers.

Battle of Batoche

armed conflict in Batoche , Saskatchewan , lasting from May 12 to 16, 1885. The confrontation took place between the North West Expeditionary Force and a group of Métis led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.

Battle of Seven Oaks

conflict (1816) pitting a group of Métis against a group of Scottish colonists from the Red River colony.

bead embroidery

handicraft involving sewing small beads onto moccasins and other objects, practised by the Métis and other Native peoples.


Aboriginal people belonging to the Athapascan family and living in the Peace River region, today in the province of Alberta .


former nickname for the Métis of the Pays d'en Haut descended from unions between European men and Native women. Also called "country born" and "mixed blood."


person occupying a high-ranking post in a fur trading company. In the North West Company, bourgeois were usually men of English or Scottish descent who worked as clerks or shareholders.


French for "end"; voyageur occupying one of the end positions in the canoe, serving as gouvernail or avant.


(French: écuelle ) hollow dish that the voyageurs took along with them, used for eating and occasionally for bailing out the canoe.


thin strip of wood used to support the strings of a musical instrument.


unit made up of several canoes paddled by teams of voyageurs.


Canadian Shield

vast geographic and geological region centred on Hudson Bay . The rocks of the Canadian Shield are among the oldest on Earth.

canot du nord

French for "north canoe"; birch bark canoe used in the pays d'en haut, on the lakes and rivers between Lake Superior and the Pacific Ocean . Smaller than the Montreal canoe, it was manned by four to six voyageurs and could carry 1.5 tonnes of cargo.


wolverine; mammal appearing in Aboriginal stories and known for its habit of stealing dead animals from traps. Sometimes called "glutton."


small chest or box that is strong, light and watertight, used by the bourgeois to carry personal effects while en route.


substance obtained from the perineal sacs of the beaver and formerly used in medical treatments.


synonym for catnip.

ceinture fléchée

French for "arrowhead sash"; woven sash often decorated with patterns, initially worn by voyageurs for practical reasons and later as a symbol of their identity.

celestial tree

spiritual symbol among certain Aboriginal peoples, also known as the "tree of peace."

Champlain, Samuel de

(circa 1570 - 1635) French explorer, founder of Quebec and Port Royal in New France .


French Canadian legend about a canoe capable of flying and transporting its passengers back to their homeland.

Chinook jargon

also called "Chinook Wawa"; lingua franca (common language) formerly widely spoken on the west coast of North America, containing elements of various local Native languages as well as words borrowed from European and Asian languages.


Aboriginal people belonging to the Athapascan language family and living in the Athabasca region at the time of the fur trade. Today this group is part of the Dene nation.


junior agent in a fur trading company, sometimes in charge of a trading post.


conflict during which Britain took possession of the colonies of New France, incorporating them into British North America .


rope or cable for towing a canoe or other watercraft.

corps mort

trees that have fallen into a swiftly-moving river and become jammed.


labour provided by Montreal voyageurs as stipulated in their contract.

coureur des bois

French for "runner of the woods"; ancestor of the voyageur who traded with Natives without official permission during the period of New France .

cow parsnip

also called hogweed; large perennial thick-stemmed plant of the parsley family, growing in moist soils, often measuring 2m tall and flowering in summer. Other than its therapeutic properties, its leaves are edible, its stem can be used as a drinking straw, and its root as an insect repellent.


Aboriginal people belonging to the Algonkian language family and dispersed over a vast territory stretching from northern Quebec to Alberta .

Cumberland House

Hudson 's Bay Company trading post located in the Saskatchewan River delta. Founded in 1774, it was HBC's first inland trading post. Its Cree name is Waskahikanihk.


unit of exchange; resource whose value can vary and which is used to determine the prices of other trading goods and services.



French for "unloading"; removal of cargo from the canoe in order to manoeuvre it more easily around obstructions or through rapids.


French for "deteriorated (weather conditions)"; situation where brigade members are forced to go ashore because of poor weather.


act of removing from the canoe enough weight (including the crew) so that it can pass through rapids. Since the canoe no longer has to be carried, doing a demi-décharge makes portaging easier for the voyageurs.

des Groseilliers, Médard Chouart

(1618 - 1696?) Explorer of French origin, one of the founders of the Hudson 's Bay Company in 1670.


French for "in front of"; voyageurs positioned at the front of the canoe.



large animal of the deer family, mountain-dwelling cousin of the caribou.

en derouine

method of trading, usually practised by wintering voyageurs, whereby traders would travel to Aboriginal communities and hunting grounds in order to trade for furs or other goods.


French for "hired man"; labourer hired on contract by a fur trading company. An engagé could be a voyageur, tradesman or farmer.

English hatters

artisans in England who fashioned hats of various styles with Canadian beaver pelts.


articles of clothing, tools and other items provided to voyageurs as part of their contract.

express canoe 

canoe used by the NWC for rapid trips, called « light » (léger) in French because it carried minimal or no cargo yet had a full complement of paddlers, and hence could travel faster than freight canoes.


Festival du Voyageur

annual festival held in Saint-Boniface , Manitoba , celebrating the heritage of the voyageurs and their descendants.

First Nations

collectively, the first peoples to inhabit North America , excluding the Inuit.

Forget dit Despatis, Nicolas

(circa 1620 - 1680) farmer, colonist and coureur des bois . In 1656, he became one of the first coureurs des bois to travel to the Pays d'en Haut, where he obtained from the Natives 50 canoes loaded with furs.

Fort Chippewyan

major trading post of the North West Company, located in the Athabasca district.

Fort Langley

Hudson 's Bay Company trading post founded in 1827 near the present city of Vancouver .

Fort William

major fur warehouse for the North West Company, located on the north shore of Lake Superior near the present-day city of Thunder Bay .

Fraser River

major river of western Canada, rising in the Rocky Mountains and flowing into the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver, British Columbia; named for Simon Fraser of the North West Company, who was, in 1808, the first European to travel it.


(French: homme libre ) status of a voyageur once his contract with a trading company has ended. These men remained in the interior and continued to do business with their former employer as suppliers of provisions and labour.


see Freeman

French Canadian

Canadians whose origin is partially or entirely French.

French River

river in Ontario , Canada , located on the fur-trading route.

fur merchants

people who acquired furs through trade with Natives, then sold them to craftspeople who made fur products.


Gaboury, Marie-Anne

(1780-1874) pioneer of western Canada , the first white woman to settle in the region and grandmother of Louis Riel, founder of the province of Manitoba .


French for "helm"; helmsman, position at the rear of the canoe where a voyageur steered the craft.

Grand Portage

trading post located at the western extremity of Lake Superior in present-day Minnesota . It served as headquarters of the North West Company before the establishment of the Canada-U.S. border and the building of Fort William .


in a brigade, position of the voyageur in charge of the safe passage of the canoes; the voyageurs' equivalent of a ship's captain.



( Hudson 's Bay Company ) fur-trading company founded in 1670 and directed from London , England . The company once administered and exploited the vast territory formerly called Rupert's Land.


(French: gouvernail ) position at the rear of the canoe where a voyageur steered the craft.


also known as poison hemlock; tall perennial plant with a long stem and small white flowers, usually toxic but used in the fur-trading period as a sedative, a pain reliever or an antispasmodic.

hired man

English for engage ; labourer hired on contract by a fur trading company. A hired man could be a voyageur, tradesman or farmer.


French for "wintering ones"; voyageurs and bourgeois who spent the winter at trading posts in the North West .

hommes du nord

French for "North Men"; the more experienced voyageurs who spent winter at trading posts in the North West .

Hudson Bay

large gulf in central Canada opening onto the Arctic Ocean .

Hudson 's Bay Company

fur-trading company founded in 1670 and directed from London , England . The company exploited the vast territory formerly called Rupert's Land.


Aboriginal people, also called Huron-Wendat, belonging to the Iroquoian language family. Inhabiting southern Ontario in the fur-trading era, today they live mostly in Quebec .


Indian boots

high boots with moccasin-shaped feet, made from leather (buckskin or other) and worn during the winter to protect the lower legs. Also known as mukluks or winter moccasins.


name applied collectively to the Native peoples of the Americas by early European explorers, who believed they were in India .


Aboriginal peoples inhabiting Canada 's northern and polar regions.


grouping of several Aboriginal peoples belonging to the Iroquoian language family, including the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida , Cayuga and Mohawk nations. Today they inhabit the provinces of Ontario and Quebec , and the state of New York .


Jacques Cartier

(1491-1557) French explorer and navigator; first European to discover the Saint Lawrence River (1534). His expeditions helped open Canada to French colonisation.

Jean Cadieux

(1671-1709) French Canadian coureur des bois, hunter, trapper and poet. During an expedition against the Iroquois, when he lay on the brink of death alone in the wilderness, he composed the "Complainte de Cadieux", a song that later became popular among the voyageurs.

joie de vivre

French for "joy of living"; term sometimes used to describe the fun-loving and exuberant nature of the voyageurs.


(1645 - 1700) explorer born at Québec, one of the first white men to navigate the Mississippi River . His discoveries aroused interest among the French authorities in colonizing the Mississippi Valley .



village in Quebec located NE of Montreal. During the fur trade period, a cottage industry arose there for supplying woven voyageur sashes.

La Salle, René-Robert Cavelier de

(1643-1687) explorer of Norman origin and founder of Lachine , Quebec . After travelling down the Ohio River, then the Mississippi River as far as its mouth, he contributed greatly to French knowledge of North America 's hydrography. He was killed in Texas in 1687.

La Vérendrye, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de

(1685-1749) explorer of New France, known for having played a key role in the exploration of the interior of North America and in the establishment of the fur trade.

La Vieille

French for "the old (woman)"; favourable wind that enabled voyageurs to raise a sail and cross bodies of water faster, used in the French expression la Vieille souffle, meaning a good wind is blowing.


community located on the island of Montreal upstream from the Lachine rapids, departure point for North West Company canoe brigades.

Lake Superior

the largest of the Great Lakes (82,000km 2 ); lying near the centre of the North American continent. In the mid-1600s, European explorers pushed west of Lake Superior, looking to expand trade and find a land route to the Western Sea .


the beaver's house, built mainly from mud, logs and tree branches. A dam protects the lodge's entrance by raising the water level and keeping the opening submerged.


capital city of England , major commercial centre for the British Empire and headquarters of the Hudson 's Bay Company.

Louis Riel

see Riel, Louis

Lower Canada

historic name for the province of Quebec .


Mackenzie River

Canada 's longest river (1,800km), located entirely in the Northwest Territories . Its waters flow into the Arctic Ocean, and its drainage basin includes Lake Athabasca , Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake . The river was named for Alexander Mackenzie, the first European explorer (1789) to descend it.

made beaver

monetary unit used by the Hudson 's Bay Company to set the value of goods traded between fur merchants and Native suppliers.

mangeurs de lard

French for "pork eaters"; Nickname for North West Company voyageurs who travelled the route between Lachine and Fort William . Unlike the hommes du Nord , they spent the winter in Lower Canada .

maple sugar

very sweet crystalline product obtained from boiling the sap of the sugar maple and letting its water evaporate; introduced by Natives to early explorers and colonists.

Marquette, Jacques

(1637 - 1675) Jesuit missionary of French origin who arrived in New France in 1666. After learning various Native languages, he undertook several religious missions in the Great Lakes area. He died of dysentery near the modern city of Chicago .

Marriage à la facon du pays

see "à la facon du pays (marriage)"

Mattawa River

river of the province of Ontario . Rising in Lake Nipissing, it runs for 72km into the Ottawa River . A major transport corridor for goods during the fur trade period, the Mattawa is today designated a Canadian Heritage River .

McTavish, Simon

(1750 - 1804) Montreal merchant of Scottish origin. As a founder of the North West Company, he played a key role in the fur trade.

Methye Portage

(French: Portage la Loche ) portage in the north of the modern-day province of Saskatchewan . Gateway to the Athabasca region, it was at 20km the longest portage on the trade route, straddling the watersheds of Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean .


nation of North America of Aboriginal and European descent. The Métis are largely descended from the unions of voyageurs and Aboriginal women that occurred during the fur-trading period.


language spoke by a large number of the offspring of marriages à la façon du pays . Mitchif was a mixed language, containing elements of French, Cree and other Aboriginal languages, including Ojibwa and Dene.


French for "middle"; voyageur who takes up a middle position in the canoe, the lowest rank in the voyageur hierarchy.


member of a religious order responsible for converting non-Christians to Christianity.

Mississippi River

major river of the United States and the longest river in North America, rising on the Great Plains and flowing into the Gulf of Mexico .


also called "leggings"; Aboriginal gaiters (lower leg coverings) made from two pieces of animal hide sewn together and worn on the lower leg. For voyageurs, mitasses took the place of stockings.


see Michif


footwear made from deerskin or another animal hide. Aboriginal in origin and adopted by fur traders, the moccasin is made of a single piece of hide and is well adapted for walking over irregular terrain.


city in Quebec , Canada located near the confluence of the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence Rivers, Montréal played a key role in the development of the fur trade.

Montreal Agent 

Montreal-based shareholders of the NWC who were responsible for importing trade goods for shipment to the North West , and for exporting furs to Europe .


two-winged insect possessing a proboscis (snout), which it uses to pierce skin and suck blood.



synonym for Aboriginal; (noun) original inhabitant of a territory; (adjective) of or relating to a territory's original inhabitants. In North America , Natives include First Nations and Inuit.

Native peoples

collectively, the original ethnic groups of North America , including First Nations and Inuit.

New France

a group of former French colonies in North America .


(modern name: Nuu-chah-nulth) aboriginal people inhabiting the west coast of Vancouver Island . Their language, along with Chinook, belongs to the Wakashan language family.

north canoe

birch bark canoe used in the pays d'en haut, on the lakes and rivers between Lake Superior and the Pacific Ocean . Smaller than the Montreal canoe, it was manned by four to six voyageurs and could carry 1.5 tonnes of cargo.

North West

region of North America lying to the north and west of the Great Lakes .

North West Company

fur-trading company founded in Montreal in 1779. After contributing greatly to the opening of the North West to European commercial interests, it was merged with the Hudson 's Bay Company in 1821.


lawyer responsible for writing up official documents, such as voyageur contracts.


(North West Company) fur-trading company founded in Montreal in 1779. After contributing greatly to the opening of the North West to European commercial interests, it was merged with the Hudson 's Bay Company in 1821.


Ogden, Peter Skene

(1790-1854) explorer and fur trader who initially worked for the North West Company, later for the Hudson 's Bay Company. He played a major role in opening the west coast of North America to commercial interests.


Aboriginal people belonging to the Algonkian language group and living to the north and west of Lake Superior during the fur trade era. They have also been known as Chippewa and Saulteaux.

Orkney Islands

group of islands off the northern coast of Scotland , place of origin for many of the labourers of the Hudson 's Bay Company.


Parks Canada

service of the government of Canada responsible for the maintenance and preservation of national heritage sites.

Pays d'en Haut

French for " upper country"; historic name for the little known or unexplored regions to the north and west of the colony of New France . Later, the term applied to regions beyond the western limit of Upper Canada .

peace pipe

pipe smoked by certain Aboriginal peoples for ceremonial occasions.


trading post founded in 1801 by Alexander Henry, located in present-day North Dakota ; also the name of a river that runs into the Red River as well as a bush producing edible red fruit.


Aboriginal foodstuff made from dried and pulverised meat, traditionally bison, blended with fat and sometimes wild berries. Pemmican was a staple food for brigades of voyageurs to the west of the Great Lakes .


French for "piece"; pack or container prepared for transport by canoe, containing either furs or trade goods, usually weighing about 40kg (90lbs).


French for "pipe break"; during canoe trips, stops at regular intervals (generally every two hours) to allow the voyageurs to rest and smoke their pipes. By extension, the term came to mean a unit of distance between two stops.


monetary unit used by the North West Company, equivalent to one good-quality beaver pelt; also spelled "plue."

Pond, Peter

(1739?-1807) army officer, explorer and fur trader originally from Connecticut . He played a key role in opening up the Athabasca region to the fur trade and was also one of the original partners in the North West Company.


deciduous tree existing in 35 species throughout the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Poplars often grow in marshy areas, hence its frequent use by the beaver.


large rodent whose body in covered with sharp-pointed quills, which the animal used to protect itself.


portion of a canoe trip where the river becomes impassable and the canoe and its cargo must be carried as far as the next navigable spot.



the largest province of Canada , lying in the eastern part of the country and the place of origin for most of the voyageurs. Before Confederation, Quebec was known as " Lower Canada ."


Radisson, Pierre-Esprit

(circa 1640-1710) explorer and coureur des bois of French origin, one of the founders of the Hudson 's Bay Company (1670). He became one of the first Europeans to explore the North West and establish contact with the Native peoples living there.


part of a watercourse where the current becomes fast and the water rough, making navigation difficult.

Red River

long winding river, rising in the United States Midwest and flowing into Lake Winnipeg .


gathering of voyageurs and bourgeois of the North West Company. The largest Rendezvous took place at Fort William , where brigades from West and East would come together for about two weeks at the height of each summer.

Riel, Louis

(1844-1885) Métis spokesman who struggled for the rights of his people, also recognized as the founder of the province of Manitoba . He was hanged in Regina in 1885 for playing a key role in the North West rebellion.


mixture of flour and pemmican.

Rupert's Land

historic term for the lands that the English King gave to the Hudson 's Bay Company for their administration and exclusive commercial use. In 1870, this region became the Northwest Territories .


Saint Lawrence River

major waterway of North America, originating in the Great Lakes and flowing northeast into the Atlantic Ocean .

Saskatchewan River

major waterway of Western Canada. Rising in the Rocky Mountains, this network of rivers flows eastward through Alberta , Saskatchewan and Manitoba , emptying into Lake Winnipeg .

Sault Ste. Marie

site of a Native community and a meeting place, named "Sault" by Samuel de Champlain for the nearby waterfall where Lake Superior drains into Lake Huron , later renamed "Sault Sainte-Marie" by missionaries.


disease caused by a lack of vitamin C.

Simpson, George

(1786-1860) one of the first governors of the Hudson 's Bay Company after its merger with the North West Company in 1821.


racquet-shaped flat instrument attached to the feet, enabling the wearer to walk in deep snow without sinking in; an Aboriginal technology that Europeans adopted for winter travel.

Société historique de Saint-Boniface

cultural organization whose mission is to study the history of Manitoba 's French-speaking community and preserve its heritage.

spruce gum

gum-like sticky resin that forms on the trunk and branches of the spruce tree when the bark is removed.

Superior , Lake

see Lake Superior

sweat lodge

facility used for taking a steam bath and causing the body to perspire profusely.



sacks, usually of bison rawhide, filled with pemmican, pressed into 40kg masses and sealed with tallow.


tent used by Aboriginal peoples (especially of the plains), constructed with a series of wooden stakes arranged in a cone shape, then covered with animal hides.


term from the Algonquin language for a sled, with or without runners, made from thin wooden planks joined together and often curved upward at the front.

trading post

warehouse or store, sometimes fortified, established near Aboriginal populations and serving as the place where traders exchanged European goods for furs.


city in Quebec located on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River . Sometimes called "Three Rivers" in English, the city played an important role in the fur trade.

tump line

strip of leather or other material that voyageurs slung around their head and used for holding heavy loads in place during portages

Turlington's Balsam

Benzoin-based preparation formerly used to relieve respiratory illnesses and various inflammations.


under fur

(French: duvet de castor ) fine hairs found near the skin of the animal. The under fur was in great demand for manufacturing beaver felt.



man hired on contract by a fur trading company to transport goods by canoe between trading posts and warehouses. Of the hundreds of voyageurs employed by the North West Company, most were French Canadian from Lower Canada .



thread made from spruce roots, used for patching pieces of birch bark covering the canoes of the voyageurs.

Western Ocean

see Western Ocean

Western Sea

historic name for the Pacific Ocean, objective of overland explorers looking for a north-western passage to China .

wild rice

annual grain of the zinzinia family with a very long black seed. An aquatic plant native to North America, wild rice was an important part of the diet of Aboriginal peoples living around the Great Lakes .

Winnipeg , Lake

major lake (over 24,000km²) located in Manitoba , Canada , at the eastern extremity of the prairies and near the geographic centre of North America ; an important hub for the fur trade.

wintering partner

shareholder in the NWC who resided in the interior and managed trade for one of the company's trading districts.

wintering voyageur

(French: hivernant) voyageur or bourgeois who spent the winter at a trading post in the North West .


infusion made from the inner side of the bark of the willow, used for relief of fever and minor aches.


York Factory

former administrative post of the Hudson 's Bay Company, located on the shore of Hudson Bay in the present-day province of Manitoba .

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