Bon après-midi! Gisèle Samson de la Nation Québécoise, d’origine canadienne-française et
visiteuse impliquée dans le Réseau associatif francophone depuis 18 ans. Merci à Sylvia
Van Kirk pour l’invitation à faire partie de ce Symposium. Merci à Ron Greene for his
support et ses courriels en français pour moi. The Francophone community proudly accepted
to bring an “ambiance française” in remembrance of the numerous Voyageurs-explorers
who satisfied their passion for adventures in their own way, which also contributed to the
development of the British Colonies.
Jacks of all trades! Hommes de défis à travers bois, montagnes, plaines et rivières. This
title, approved by four persons, represents a thousand of Voyageurs who discovered the
pathways of land and water in canoes, by portages or on horses, built settlements with big
trees, leaving traces for those who came afterwards. Les “faits français” are not always
recognized. This Symposium acknowledges one of these and gives a due consideration to
the Voyageurs-bâtisseurs who covered the territories of the North West and are so often
forgotten. In the files of the AHFV archives, there is a three part series of articles dated in
October 1977 published in the Vancouver Province newspaper that called my attention with
the title: “It is a popular misconception in B.C. that French-Canadians have contributed little
or nothing of the development of the province.” Glen Cowley, the author, addressed this
question to the readers: Why have they been the forgotten men of Canadian history? Many
reasons are mentioned but the main one is that the largely illiterate Voyageurs kept no
records of their achievements while helping to open up the West. We rarely know about the
inside part of these men. Charpentier, Joseph, de Montréal/Qué. (de fort Taku) 1843-47 - (signe X 26 avril
1839) (fils Francis?) meurt à Victoria 4/09/47 (pioneer square cemetery)
”Il était une fois…” “Once upon a time…” un bateau, the SS Beaver from the HBC which
arrived at the Peninsula on March14th 1843: un capitaine (Mr Brotchie), un chef
d’expédition (James Douglas), un représentant de l’Église Catholique Romaine (le jeune
abbé Jean-Baptiste Bolduc sent out by Bishop Signay of Québec Diocese in 1842) et un
équipage d’environ 15 canadiens-français, “engagés”. The banner here is presenting a
few names of “engagés”. (see annexe 1) *If you were a worker with a fur trade
company, who served a limited-term contract, you would be an “engagé”. You would
likely also sign later for another period of service, as there was an implied obligation
between the employee and the Patron to continue; the involvement was less firm than the
contract of a clerk or a partner (réf. Lexicon in Betty Donaldson’s book on correspondences
between McLoughlin and his sister Marie-Louise at the Ursulines’ convent in Low Canada).
*Allard,Joseph,(1802) de Lachine/Qué. (de fort Simpson) charpentier 1843-47 Descendante : Alana Collins Ex. :
trajet* Vancouver 1838-40/ Taku ‘40-42/ Simpson ’42-43/ Victoria ’43-47/ Nisqually ‘47-48 et freeman.
*If you were a man roaming the forests outside the environs of la colonie de la Nouvelle
France, trapping, hunting, canoeing, sometimes living with Indian families, and were often
away for a year or more, you were “coureur des bois”, thought Betty Donaldson. The
British fur trading began with the explorers Desgroseillers and Pierre Radisson. Two
centuries before Confederation, this pair of resourceful Frenchmen just named discovered a
wealth of fur in the interior of the continent -north and west of the Great Lakes- accessible
via the great inland sea that is the Hudson Bay. When they came back with their large stock
of furs, the Low Canada authorities punished them because they had no permit or licence
for trapping/hunting and sent them to jail; all the furs were sent to France. Despite their
success, French and American interests would not back them. It took the vision and
connections of Prince Rupert, cousin of King Charles II, to acquire the Royal Charter which,
in May 1670, granted the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed to “the Governor and
Company of Adventurers of England into Hudson Bay”. Desgroseillers and the Nonsuch ship
had a success with the expedition and built Fort Charles. These fur traders were not among
the “Lords and proprietors”.
*If you were a determined person you could get the honorific title of “Homme du Nord”.
You would have lived away from civilization for at least one Winter season. It meant that
you were tough, had survived cold weather, scarce food supplies, and dark lonely days and
nights. You would take a vow upon receiving your title: to serve your God, your king, and
to respect other men’s wives. You would enter in a country marriage. It is a definition given
by Betty Donaldson and she mentioned that the tradition died out after the HBC gained
control of the Trade, but most of the older traders and trappers remained loyal to the
obligations they had vowed to respect.
The context of 1840 -The News from east circulated by the Voyageurs in charge of the
expeditions Lachine/Fort Vancouver. The Lower Canada and Upper Canada events resulted
in some violence and ended by the Union Act. I imagine that the French Canadians
discussed among themselves the matter of Les Patriotes and l’affaire Riel, although being in
the far west. So little is written!
The 40’s was the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in the West. The
HBC workers already settled in the Wallamette Valley then requested the presence
of catholic priests in 1834. Réf.: Early History of the Catholic Church on Vancouver Island Mgr
Philip M. Hanley
1841 – Wallamette had 100 families, and 83 farmers were F.-C. A catholic group sent a
petition to Bishop Provencher based at Red River. The Bishop answered to the petitioners.
The only way of communication between Canada and Oregon was through HBC.
The Bishop asked two places to travel to the colony in the Wallamette Valley. The HBC
Governor and the London Committee authorized two priests for a different place, Cowlitz
River (Toledo, Wash.). There was a fear of religious controversy. Bishop Provencher
accepted the recommendation. Sir George Simpson wrote to the Archbishop of Québec
Joseph Signay, offering space in the canoes from Lachine to North West Columbia. The
Vicar General, François-Norbert Blanchet, in charge of the Oregon Mission and Rév. Modeste
Demers were the two chosen missionaries. In Nov. 1838, James Douglas, HBC Chief Factor,
welcomed them at Fort Vancouver. Three settlers petitioners : Joseph Gervais, Étienne
Lucier et Pierre Bélèque, thank the priests in the name of the people of Wallamette Valley.
If Hudsons’ Bay Co., with its monopoly over an area 15 times the size of Britain,
represented the England’s interest, then the Québec Catholic Diocese in the West was a
significant actor for the Catholic Missions development. HBC with a series of forts was a
good tool for the British Empire and the catholic missions with crosses and churches would
represent well the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Grégoire XVI. The commercial
enhancement and the religious enterprise with different goals could count on each other, for
a while. A certain amount of religious life was essential for political stability, but political
spirit and religious spirit are rarely aligned for a long time! The RCC Missionaries (Secular
priests François Norbert Blanchet, Modeste Demers and the Belgium Jesuit DeSmet)
succeeded in establishing a Vicariate ecclesiastic in what was a big territory: from west of
the Rocky Mountains and between California and the Artic.
Even the priests had 12 commandements to obey in an open spirit of obedience! I choose
3 of them:
#8 Inform to whom they are sent and how that religion ordains peace, meakness and obedience
to the laws both of the State and of the Church.
#10 Remain perfectly impartial in regard to the respective claims of the North West Co. and of the
Hudson’ s Bay Co. , remembering that they are sent exclusively for the spiritual good of the
people, the civilization of whom must be the greater advantage of both Companies.
#11 Fix their residence near a fort and there build a church, a house, a school and draw
their livelihood from the best that the lands given to them will afford.
(Bérubé, Roland. The first Catholic Missionaries in Western Canada,
Manuscript, un published: 1986)
March 1842: Gov. George Simpson sent a report to the HBC Governors’ Committee.
The recommendation was to build a new trading post on the south east of the Vancouver
Island. It would help the development of the North West Coast of the Island and maintain
the good relations between United States and the British Empire. The Council of the
Northern Department passed a resolution that the post should be built in British territory
without delay. The “New Country” for the Americans was the land of the Oregon and
California Territories. HBC had to be prepared for such a situation. The arrival of a young
population of Red River and American families from the East was called the “Oregon fever”.
It did clash with the claims of the First Nations to the lands. The settled farmers had
problem to adjust to this migration too.
Spring 1842: John McLoughlin jr. was in charge of Fort Stikine and Roderick Finlayson was
his assistant. The young McLoughlin was murdered and an investigation had been done by
Sir George Simpson. The result was qualified as unfair. It certainly impacted the workers
accused of conspiring to plot the young McLoughlin. All the suspects of complicity were kept
in semi-confinement in various forts until 1844. Finlayson was sent to Fort Simpson and,
later, will be at Fort Victoria with 6 workers from Fort Stikine in 1843.
Fort Victoria: 1843: But what would a priest’s role be in the expedition? Douglas
welcomed the presence of a clergyman because he believed that the ennobling influence of
religion would exert a positive effect among the Natives he had encountered the year
before. (Glazebrook, Hargrave Correspondence, James Douglas to James Hargrave). L’Abbé
Bolduc was replacing the missionary Modeste Demers gone to meet First Nations in
Nouvelle-Calédonie. On March 15th, after the team received evidence that the Natives
accepted their visits, Douglas and Father Bolduc went to shore to make acquaintance and to
shake hands with all the people there welcoming them. With a young Chief, they went to
one of their villages, Camosun, at the tip of the bay and came back to the ship.
L’Abbé Bolduc was the first French Canadian missionary priest who organized the first
religious service on the Peninsula on March 19th, 1843. Douglas had seen to it that the
ceremony be imposing. A few of his men were allowed to help the Father to prepare a
shelter with pine branches and an awning taken from the ship. More than twelve hundred
Natives from the Lekwammen people were gathered for the Mass and hundred children
baptised. The same week, the natives were informed of the HBC’s project to build a Posting
trade at this place; workers were assigned to dig a well, others to find the wood necessary
for the buildings and Natives hired to get pickets for the “palissade”. Father Bolduc bought a
canoe from the Amerindians and hired paddlers to go to Whitbey Island. Later, the Beaver
went up north to close 3 forts and bring back the people and materiel at this new place to
establish a Fort.
HBC needed people to build a fort on a peninsula, away from the familiar trails of
the continent, facing harsh conditions and overcoming such a challenge of
establishing a Fort! How did they proceed to select the best French Canadians
Voyageurs? I have no idea! Were they all the ones on the Beaver with Douglas? 15
francophones names are already known and mentioned in the French book “Présence
francophone in Victoria 1843-1987, 144 ans d’histoire!” translated in 1991. Based on this
list and my search for more evidence in the on-line Journal of Fort Victoria and other
reports, I could gather a list of 23 names to be part of this list of Jacks of all trades who
found themselves working at the Fort Victoria in the early years. Three of them are Seniors
“engagés”: Joseph Allard, Antoine Gagnon et François L’Écuyer.
What is the reason behind the choice of hiring the French Canadians « engagés » à bâtir le
Fort Victoria? It could be that their interaction with various First Natives People would
contribute to the peaceful settlement of Fort Victoria because they would interpret traditions
and customs to English colonial powers. A French-Canadian life can be found in the field of
fur trading through contracts, correspondences of the trading fur Chefs and companies’
officers, reports, summaries of voyages and expeditions, missionaries’ letters, post’s
Journals, maps… However, many doubts might appear when consulting the documents, due
to a lack of precision in summaries. Sometimes, it is hard to find who is who. Prof. Guy
Poirier (UWaterloo) wrote: ”The past of the francophonie of our province of adoption is not
easy to reconstruct.” (In the book “La francophonie de la C.-B. : mémoire et fiction Espaces culturels francophones III)
These 23 « engagés » on the banner were coureurs des bois, Voyageurs and Jacks of all
trade! Young and old, the Voyageurs worked off and on for a variety of fur trade companies.
They were people in movement ,persons of high value.! These men were from FrenchCanadian villages and families where they learned how to survive on poor lands or small
farms. The first roads appeared where Natives, French-Canadians and Metis worked with
Fur Trading Companies.
On the banner, these “Homme du Nord” came from different posts: 4 were coming from Fort
McLoughlin: Barthélemy, George, de Lachine/Qué. 1843-45 doute? Parents mixtes? Gardé dans la liste…
Champagne, Joseph, de Lachine/Qué. 1843-46 déserteur vers St-Paul Oregon… 5f/2g
*Gagnon,Antoine,(1805)de Saint-François/Qué. 1843-50 - meurt à Victoria 22/04/65 *L’Écuyer, François, de
Beauharnois/Qué. 1843-51 - s’installe aux États-Unis. + Officer Charles Ross.
1 de Fort Simpson : Allard + Officer Finlayson,
5 de Fort Taku : Charpentier, Dupuis, Jean-Baptiste, de Rivière du Loup/Qué. 1843-47 - enterré à Saanich
31/12/1874 Gravelle, François, de Terrebonne/Qué. 1843-47 - meurt en février 1876 Labonté, Charles, de
Sainte-Anne/Qué. 1843-44 - retour aux Prairies. St-Gré, Gabriel, du Québec, (fort Taku) 1843-51 - enterré à
Shawnigan District 1859
6 de Fort Stikine : Boulanger, Charles : du Québec,1847? 1848 - décédé le 1er janv. 1949 Corbin, Israël, de
Rivière du Loup/Qué. 1843-44 - retour au Canada, Dupuis, Louis, (1820) 23 ans/Rivière du Loup/Qué./ 184344 après 6 ans,retour au Canada, Gariépy, Casimir, de Sorel/Qué. 1843-46 et 1948-49 – s’installe à
Willamette, Côté, François X. : Acadien 1843-50 réside à Victoria de 1863-71, Trudelle, Louis : du Québec,
1848-50 au magasin CBH 1851-52 – aurait planté les premiers pommiers du côté de Saanich.
3 de Fort Vancouver: Beauchamp, Joseph Ovide : du Québec, (Fort Vancouver) forgeron 1848-52 et 1865
décédé 01/08/73 Deroche, Charles : du Québec, (fort Vancouver) 1848-50 – s’installe aux États-Unis. Lafleur,
Michel : du Québec, (Columbia dept.) 1848? 1849-56, marié à Marie (Songhees) le 9/07/48
1 de Nisqualy & Beaver
25/10/56
:Charbonneau, Joseph : du Québec. 1844-48 et 1850-51 et Voltigeur – décédé
1 de Fort Langley : Peltier, Louis, de Montréal/Qué. (fort Langley) contrat au moulin 1848-50, marié à Julie
(Saanich) le 9/07/48, Voltigeur en 1856 – réside à Victoria
1 de Nouvelle-Calédonie-Chilcotin? :Dubeau, Louis : du Québec, contrat au moulin 1846 – 50 – ira au fort
Langley.
1 de Fort Rupert : Morel, Léon, de Montréal/Qué. 1850-51 Marié à Adélaïde de fort Stikine (1852) Voltigeur
(1856) décédé le 8/09/1877.
Voltigeurs : Charbonneau, Morel, Peltier - 1850s’ part of a colonial police force.
According to Charles Ross, in charge of the construction of the Fort Victoria in 1843, the life
at the site was monotonous. The priority was put on the preparation of the wood needed to
erect buildings. Thus, it meant working hard for a completely full day. As there was not
much else to do on the Peninsula, then, someone could feel a “dreary solitude” - Charles
Ross’ expression. During a period of two or three years of trading establishment, there was
no place for social life as a need yet! Anna Stooke in her book Daily life at Fort Victoria
specified that “the hard work and the danger caracterised life at the Fort”.
Descendants?
In 1856 there were 154 stations at HBC. All the French Canadians who stayed in a trading
post (they were 300 with the NW Co. in 1817) or had been part of expeditions, didn’t stay
in the Extreme West. Many “engagés” retired in regions known for giving good living
conditions. (Au Berceau de la C.-B. par Olivier Maurault P.D., P.S.S., MSRC)
The aspect of “freeman” shown by the Voyageurs didn’t help to find them and to know
where they were. Young adults in their twenties, hired around 1815, reached their fifties+ in
this period 1842 - 46; they were tired men, and some of them will make the choice to
settle in Oregon, attracted by the Wallamette Valley for a good land and a confortable life.
The challenge of finding descendants of the Voyageurs is a difficult research. Many
documents lead to a dead end. It is like learning pieces by pieces, linking all of them to a
collective memory, giving you a grey zone, almost erased. Guy Poirier agrees:”Incomplete
and often contradictory information we found as we pursued the matter and tried to sort out
the various discrepancies”.
Often we will notice on the lists an expression like “family records are somewhat confusing”
ex.: in the case of Trudelle, Louis : du Québec, (fort Stikine) charpentier 1848-50 au magasin CBH 1851-52 –
plante les premiers pommiers du côté de Saanich; J. B. Dupuis qui a élevé une famille et fut enterré à l’église
It is easier for a family to find their ancestral line
than to start with a voyageur and try to locate its descendants. A family can do their
genealogy and return to the Voyageurs.
Church of the Assumption in Saanich 31/12/1874.
Sometimes, we noticed that few legitimate children would not help to carry on a research of
someone’s legacy. The progeny, the children tended to die at such a young age! Only 1
child over 4 reached 7 years of age or more. In the case of Léon Morel, we know that over
12 children, 9 of them died before reaching 17 years old. It remains unknown whether his
last three sons had any descendant. Two decades 1830 – 1850 were especially difficult on
women and infants. Hygiene was not much known. The contagious illnesses, breathing
problems, pneumonia and others, like Mountain fever, influenza ….. were the cause of
premature death.
So, what do we know about the descendants of a French Canadian Voyageur? Glen Cowley
wrote in The Vancouver Province in 1977: “His legacy is carried largely in the blood of
the Metis”. The fur trade passed away, and also the 50 years dominance of the Fr.-Can in
the West, to leave place to the “Gold Rush.” The demand of England for silk replaced the
demand for beaver.
Finally, let’s take a few seconds of recognition for the role of all these brave women who
had up to 10 children and tried to play their gender role besides these determined men.
Book: “Woman’s diaries of the Weswark Journey” by Lillian Schlissel.
Last July, in a trip to the Thompson and Okanagan regions, I jumped at the opportunity to
do the Princeton’s Art Walk. The exhibit at the local museum included a rough, small cabin
giving an example of the reality of a family of six sharing that limited space. On the
exterior wall of this wooden shack, it was written: Did you know? The working
language on the HBC Trail was French. Such a sentence makes me aware that the
history of the past is not all forgotten or interred. Yes, the Fur Trade Companies hired
French Canadian who became servants of the Companies. The monopoly was won
by the HBC. Natives, French Canadians and Metis navigated the great rivers of Western
Canada, led by men like Mackenzie, Thompson, Fraser and MacMillan. These early pioneers
were the Human Power, paddling canoes down the turbulent water ways and through many
miles from their destinations. They would paddle 12 hours a day at 40 strokes per minute
and back packing, trundling 100 pounds packs over portages and singing to maintain their
rythme. * A song by Joanne Plourde …. “Envoyons de l’avant nos gens…” The
VOYAGEURS had a special rapport with the native peoples – willing to adopt Amerindians
lifestyles and appreciate their religion. French Canadians and Metis were close to each
other and impressed themselves throughout the colonies. In 1838, French
communication was the first working language in the North West, without
forgetting Chinook. Vivent les Voyageurs-bâtisseurs canadiens-français!
Gisèle Samson/29 sept.2013 de l’Association historique francophone de Victoria.
Annexe 1
Employés de la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson à la construction du Fort Victoria C.-B. 184344 (Réf. : B-223 g8-1843-44) Hommes-à-tout-faire-Jacks of all trades :
Allard, Joseph, 41 ans (1802)/Lachine/Qué./ 1843-47 charpentier au Fort Victoria (bâtiments et chaises)
Barthélemy, George, (1819) 29 ans/Lachine/Qué./ 1843-45 Fort Victoria
Champagne, Joseph, (1820) 23 ans/Lachine/Qué./ 1843-46 Fort Victoria
Charpentier, Joseph, (1819) 23 ans/Montréal/Qué./1843-47 meurt à Victoria 4/09/47 (Pioneer Sq.) fils Francis
Charpentier au Fort Victoria.
Corbin, Israël, 25 ans /Rivière du Loup/Qué./ 1843-44 Fort Victoria
Dupuis, Louis, (1820) 23 ans /Rivière du Loup/Qué./1843-44 Fort Victoria
Dupuis, Jean-Baptiste,(1817) 23 ans /Rivière du Loup/Qué./1843-47 Fort Victoria, enterré à Saanich 31/12/1874.
Gagnon, Antoine, (1805-22/04/65) 38 ans /Saint-François/Qué./ 1843-50 Fort Victoria et 1961-62
Gariépy, Casimir, 19 ans /Sorel/Qué./ 1843-46 et 1948-49 Fort Victoria.
Gravelle, François, (1816-fév.1876) 26 ans /Terrebonne/Qué./1843-47 Fort Victoria
Labonté, Charles,(1821) 22 ans /Sainte-Anne/Qué./1843-44 Fort Victoria retour aux Prairies
L’Écuyer, François, (1797)/Beauharnois/Qué./ Fort Victoria 1843-51 et 1869-71
St-Gré, Gabriel, 27 ans /Qué./ au Fort Victoria 1843-51, Shawnigan District 1859.
D’autres noms s’ajoutent à la liste grâce aux écrits des Journaux des officiers du Fort de
Victoria de 1846+ qui confirment leur présence au Fort Victoria :
Beauchamp, Joseph Ovide,(1820) 1848-52 forge de Victoria, marié le 9/07/1848, retour 1865-01/08/73 décédé.
Boulanger, Charles, au Fort Victoria en 1848 - décédé le 1er janvier 1949
Charbonneau, Joseph : (1819-25/10/56) : au Fort Victoria 1844-48 et 1850-51 et Voltigeur.
Côté, François X. (1820) Acadien- 1843-50 Fort Victoria, marié 19/07/48, réside à Victoria 1863-71
Deroche, Charles,(1818) au Fort Victoria 1848-50
Dubeau, Louis : 1846 – 50 au moulin Fort Victoria et marié le 19 juillet 1848
Lafleur, Michel 1849-56 et marié à Marie Songhees : 3 filles, Marie 1850, Mathilde 1853 et Olive 1856
Morel, Léon, 25/03/1823 – mort 8/09/1877/Montréal/Qué./ 1850-51 Fort Victoria et Voltigeur. Marié à Adélaïde
(1829) le 30/09/1852. Adélaïde meurt à Victoria en janvier 1955. Autonome.
Peltier, Louis, Montréal (1825), (marié à Julie Saanich le 9/07/48 : 2 filles, Julie 1850 et Suzanne Louise 1854-58)
au moulin de Victoria de 1848 à 50, membre des Voltigeurs en 1856, perd sa conjointe le 15/03/58
Trudelle, Louis (1820): Fort Victoria 1848-50 et 1851-52 au magasin CBH Victoria
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Bon après-midi! Gisèle Samson de la Nation Québécoise, d`origine