Making the Voyageur World

Making the Voyageur World

Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade

Carolyn Podruchny

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

416 pages
Illus., maps

Paperback

December 2006

978-0-8032-8790-7

$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

French Canadian workers who paddled canoes, transported goods, and staffed the interior posts of the northern North American fur trade became popularly known as voyageurs. Scholars and public historians alike have cast them in the romantic role of rugged and merry heroes who paved the way for European civilization in the wild Northwest. Carolyn Podruchny looks beyond the stereotypes and reveals the contours of voyageurs’ lives, world views, and values.

Making the Voyageur World shows that the voyageurs created distinct identities shaped by their French-Canadian peasant roots, the Aboriginal peoples they met in the Northwest, and the nature of their employment as indentured servants in diverse environments. Voyageurs’ identities were also shaped by their constant travels and by their own masculine ideals that emphasized strength, endurance, and daring. Although voyageurs left few conventional traces of their own voices in the documentary record, an astonishing amount of information can be found in descriptions of them by their masters, explorers, and other travelers. By examining their lives in conjunction with the metaphor of the voyage, Podruchny not only reveals the everyday lives of her subjects—what they ate, their cosmology and rituals of celebration, their families, and, above all, their work—but also underscores their impact on the social and cultural landscape of North America.

Author Bio

Carolyn Podruchny is an assistant professor of history at York University in Toronto and the secretary-treasurer of the American Society for Ethnohistory. She coedited the volume De-Centering the Renaissance: Canada and Europe in Multidisciplinary Perspective, 1500–1700.

Praise

“A rich and lively portrait of voyageur life. . . . Making the Voyageur World is the most comprehensive, scholarly, and interesting work on the voyaguers, who constituted one of the most significant groups of labourers in nineteenth-century Canada and the North American West.”—Brett Rushforth, Itinerario

“[Podruchny’s] study provides a welcome examination of the society and cultural dynamics of this well-known but over-romanticized group of people who have suffered from generations of inaccurate stereotyping. . . . Her significant efforts have enabled her to present a vivid sense of the voyageurs’ world, including much that is intriguing about their values, behaviors, and beliefs.—John T. McGrath, Journal of American History

“What is particularly impressive about Podruchny’s work is her skillful interpretation of primary sources. The challenge in telling any story about the voyageurs is the fact that they were overwhelmingly illiterate and therefore left almost no written records of their own. Podruchny garners a great deal of information about the voyageurs from an examination of sources left by travelers, explorers, and particularly the bourgeois. . . . Podruchny’s use of a large number of sources allows her to illuminate for the reader the rich cultural and social lives of voyageurs.”—Brian Schefke, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

“[Podruchny] has written an informative, engaging portrait of the voyageur world that will become the standard treatment for the present age. Podruchny’s thematic approach allows her to illuminate broad patterns and make connections between themes that would be obscured in a more historical treatment.”—Gerhard J. Ens, Western Historical Quarterly
 

“Podruchny’s citations and bibliography display her exhaustive research, particularly in the papers of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the companies that operated from Montreal, such as the North West Company. Podruchny also demonstrates a superlative understanding of the secondary literature as well the various works on social theory that she deftly employs in her examination of the voyageur world. Yet she does so without resorting to the opaque jargon that often obfuscates rather than illuminates much of contemporary historical writing. Indeed, Podruchny clearly has produced a seminal work.”—Annals of Iowa
 

“Organized, clear, thorough, and readable. . . . Perhaps the greatest strength of Podruchny’s book is the admirable depth of her research and the multifaceted nature of both her sources and her methodological and theoretical approach. . . . Podruchny excels in her analysis of the values, rituals and relationships of her voyageur subjects, linking their geographic liminality with the far-reaching changes to their cultural, social, and religious identity prompted by their unique form of employment. She adroitly exposes the many ironies of voyageur identity.”—Emma Anderson, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
 

“Podruchny’s work is a valuable contribution for the clarity it brings to the daily experiences of the fur traders and the rhythms of their lives. . . . This work will be valuable to those who study French or British Canada and for those who have an interest in labor relations in a frontier environment. Scholars engaged in early Canadian history will be familiar with the broad contours of her interpretation, but will benefit from the details about the daily life and work of the voyageurs.”—H-Net Book Reviews

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