The voyageurs (French for travellers) 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, 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-speeaking 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
Fees and permits
There is no fee to enter Voyageurs National Park.