"I have been forty-two years in this country. For twenty-four I was a light canoeman; I required but little sleep, but sometimes got less than required. No portage was too long for me; all portages were alike. My end of the canoe never touched the ground until I saw the end of it. Fifty songs a day were nothing to me. I could carry, walk, and sing with any man I ever saw. During that period I saved the lives of ten Bourgeois, and was always the favorite, because when others stopped to carry at a bad spot, and lost time, I pushed on-over the rapids, over the cascades, over chutes; all were the same for me. No water, no weather ever stopped the paddle or the song. I have had twelve wives in the country; and was once possessed of fifty horses and six running dogs, trimmed in the finest style. I was then like a Bourgeois, rich and happy; no Bourgeois had better dressed wives than I, no Indian chief finer horses; no whiteman better harnessed or swifter dogs. I beat all Indians at the race, and no white man ever passed me in the chase. I wanted for nothing; and spent all my earnings in the enjoyment although I now have not a spare shirt on my back, nor a penny to buy one. Yet, were I young, I should glory in commencing the same career again. I would spend another half century in the same way. There is no life so happy as a Voyageur's; none so independent, no place where a man enjoys so much variety and freedom as in the Indian country. Huzza! Huzza! Por de pays Sauvage."
Many were vibrant voyageurs in the northlands of Saskatchewan. Many were the music loving paddlers of Quebec. Many were they who took to wife the fair and strong women of the Cree and Chipewyan. Many were they who had the courage to abandon the peaceful comforts of 'civilization'. Many were the children - les Metis.
Voyageurs - the word means adventure, daring and romance. The vanguard of an ever-expanding civilization flirts with freedom and awesome power of wild nature. Voyageurs - our parents and grandparents.
Making a Portage. From a painting by Cornelius Kreighoff
Wives meant survival. A wife meant good strong, warm clothing. A wife meant less fear in times of accident or illness. A wife meant strength and endurance from good food. A wife meant a warm home. A wife meant companionship through the long, quiet, and lonely winters. A wife meant children.
Hudson's Bay employees on their annual expedition
Of the lists of employees for the North West Company, one that suggests possible roots for Ile-A-La-Crosse families was written in 1804. The list contains servants for the whole of the North West. Below are the names of some of these servants-especially those employed at Ile-A-La-Crosse:
A number of them later work for the Hudson's Bay Company after the union. A few become "free traders" who made their lives a family affair of trapping and hunting with their adopted Indian families.
Joseph Howse kept a list of servants who found employment in the Ile-A-La-Crosse Fort in 1814-15. Among the thirty-three employees are names such as Charles Flett, John Flett, James Gardiner, William Linklater, and Thomas Dumont. Others came to work the following season. Among the twenty-five recorded names are Jean-Baptiste Paul, William Flett, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau and Charles Gauthier. It is important to note that in 1820-21, when the rivalry between the two fur-trading giants was at its peak, the Hudson's Bay Company had over seventy-five people employed in it's service. Many of these men stayed to raise families which have continued to live in Ile-A-La-Crosse until today. Below is a list of these employees of 1820-21:
Many of these men took wives. One can be almost positive a wife was had and children raised if a man remained in the service for several years. As we'll see later, most stayed for a considerable number of years, and were followed by younger employees bearing the same surname. A few individuals were fortunate to have their marriage contracts entered into the Hudson's Bay papers. Below are two different marriage contracts.
Mr. and Mrs. Daigneault
All positions were named according to their position in the boats used to transport the yearly fur trade to the Factory on Hudson's Bay. Mr Patrick Small Jr. who was born at Ile-A-La-Crosse with sister Nancy and Charlotte, returned for a spell in 1826-27 and obtained goods from the Hudson's Bay Fort. This was the last mention ever made of the first Metis family of Ile-A-La-Crosse.
Of interest to those who dwell in genealogy is the fortunes of the various families throughout the years. It is fairly easy to trace backwards to grandparents and possibly great-grandparents. However, any further back takes considerable research. A few notes may help.
Ile-A-La-Crosse Family, 1930s
(Photo Courtesy: Ile-A-La-Crosse Mission)
(Photo Courtesy: Ile-A-La-Crosse Mission)