The Colourful Coureurs des Bois
The Colourful Coureurs des Bois and Their Trade
Around 1645, New-France’s fur trade offered a new vocation to men in the prime of life. The lucrative fur industry gave birth to traders called the coureurs des bois.
These wayward but hardy explorers created trade links with First Nations peoples to swap furs for weapons firearms, powder and bullets. Most integrated into indigenous communities, and adopted their way of life. They learned to recognize the sounds of the forest and adapted to a life focused on hunting and fishing in in a natural environment that they overcame.
The coureurs des bois mingled so well with the First Nations that mixed marriages were many. In 1680, Nicolas Peltier, a coureur des bois settled a few kilometres from the Ashuapmushuan in 1680, after having married an Algonquin at Métabetchouan in 1677. He was not the only one to be wedded to a First Nations person.
The coureurs des bois wore: "a breechcloth or short pants, skin moccasins or shoes, with leggings or spats made of drapes or deer skin, to look like socks, all complemented with the tuque or wool hat.’’
On the move twelve hours per day, these men of the forest travelled by canoe and ‘portaged’ to avoid the rapids. It is not uncommon to have coureurs des bois in Quebecers’ ancestry, since the call of the wilderness and forests gave birth to hundreds of men right into the 1930s.