The voyageurs (French for travelers) were among the earliest Europeans to explore North America, from the mid-1600s onward. They travelled mainly by canoe and provided the main transport for the fur trade. The coureurs des bois (runners of the woods) handled getting furs by trading with the Indians and doing some trapping themselves while Montreal merchants did the marketing, mainly export to Europe.
Of course the French did not invent canoes and mostly did not explore new routes. Native traders had been using these methods for a thousand years.
The voyageurs explored much of what are now Western Canada and the Western US. Traces of them can be seen in French names all over the map: Detroit, Joliet, Des Moines, Fond du Lac, Cadillac, Louisville (named for a French king), Saint Louis (for an earlier king), Boise, Grande Prairie, even as far as the Picketwire River (from French Purgatoire) in Colorado. An entire region in southern Manitoba has French names for all the villages and many French-speaking inhabitants; what was once its main town, Saint Boniface, is now a suburb of Winnipeg.
Places where canoes had to be carried (French portager) around rapids or between rivers often have portage in their names, for example Portage la Prairie and Grand Portage. Another portage was Sault Ste Marie, French for "Saint Mary's leap" to describe some rapids. Today there are towns with that name on both sides of the river, Sault Ste Marie (Michigan) and Sault Ste Marie (Ontario).
Fort William Historical Park, in what is now Thunder Bay, is a site where voyageurs coming up from Montreal in large freight canoes used to meet and trade with those who ventured further west in smaller canoes. The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough (Ontario) and the Virtual Museum of New France (an online museum run by the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa) both have voyageur-related exhibits. Saint Boniface hosts a Voyageur Festival annually in January.
Flora and fauna
There are four distinct seasons in Voyageur country. The air is temperate during June, July, and August when periods of fine, mild weather prevail. The frost-free season averages 120 days from June to mid-September. The average ice-out date is May 3 but varies year to year. Annual precipitation (rain and snow) averages 25-28 inches in the park and snowfall ranges from 55-70 inches, but is highly variable. The first measurable snowfall occurs in late October and the last in late April or early May.
Visitor information centers
- 1 Ash River Visitor Center, 9899 Mead Wood Rd (Located 28 miles south of International Falls, Minnesota, 11 miles off of Hwy 53.), ☏ . The Ash River Visitor Center is located in the historic Meadwood Lodge. Take a moment to explore this historic, rustic building. Watch your head, as some interior doorways were constructed for shorter individuals.
- 2 Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, 9940 Cedar Ln (Located 25 miles south of International Falls just off of Highway 53.), ☏ . Nestled along the south west shoreline of Kabetogama Lake, within the community of Kabetogama. The Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center is open during the warm, summer months only.
- 3 Rainy Lake Visitor Center, 1797 Ut - 342 (11 miles East on Highway 11 from International Falls, Minnesota), ☏ . Located on the shore of Black Bay with views across the water to the Kabetogama Peninsula. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open year-round, although hours of operation vary with the season. This visitor center serves people in the northern part of the park and is located 11 miles East on Highway 11 from International Falls, MInnesota. The visitor center offers an exhibit area, displays, a bookstore, a staffed information desk, a children's activity table, and a theater for viewing the park film.
Voyageurs National Park is located in Northern Minnesota. The park shares its northern boundary with Canada and lies just west of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. The park visitor centers are accessible by car but in order to truly experience the park, one must leave their vehicle behind and access the park by boat.
Fees and permits
There is no fee to enter Voyageurs National Park.
- The only restaurant of any kind is at #Kettle Falls Hotel
- 1 Kettle Falls Hotel, 12977 Chippewa Trail, Kabetogama, ☏ , Kettlefalls@frontiernet.net. The only hotel in the park.