The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada

Canadian Voyageurs

Another type of specialized militiamen developed in Canada were the "voyageurs." Not all militiamen took part in attacks; some were needed to man the canoes laden with all the material needed for large expeditions. This task was extremely arduous, under the conditions of the time, and only Canadian voyageurs, colonists or sons of colonists accustomed from childhood to the rigours of canoeing and life in the woods, were able to accomplish it. Weapons, small cannon, powder, tools, kits for everyone, and sufficient food for hundreds of men over several months were all transported by canoe. All this had to be backpacked over the numerous portages that dotted the routes - a monumental logistical feat and human exploit that had to be repeated time after time.

This type of service was essential not only to military operations but also to the expansion of New France. Without the voyageurs, for whom no river was too difficult and no expanse too great, the great voyages of discovery that established French sovereignty over vast tracts of the North American continent would not have been possible.

Among these explorations were those accomplished over a 15-year period by Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye, an obscure Canadian officer of few means, despite his brilliant service, and his sons, who were the first to reach the Rocky Mountains.