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French-Canadian Canoeing Voyageurs

French-Canadian Canoeing Voyageurs

Charles Deas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Charles Deas – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Could cover more that 60 miles a day

The paddling feats and achievements of the typical French-Canadian canoeing voyageurs in that they were probably retired by the age of 40. In some cases there are descriptions of them paddling for 48 hours without a break simply to race another Voyager crew. On a typical day of 18 hours of paddling voyageurs could, on flat water, cover more than 60 miles a day.

In fact, Archibald McDonald reports that on a trip from York factory on Hudson Bay to Fort Langley on the Pacific in 1826, a journey of 3,181 miles, was covered in 65 days, averaging 50 miles a day and this included difficult upstream travel.

He reported that their daily food ration with 10 pounds of salmon and 3 pounds of pemmican*, which is something like 7000 calories per day,

*Pemmican -is a 50-50 mixture of dried lean meat and fat, usually buffalo meat. The meat was cut into lean strips, dried in the sun and pounded into flakes before being placed in bags made of buffalo hide and mixed with an equal amount of melted buffalo fat. Saskatoon berries or wild cherries and occasionally sugar was added. A standard bag of this mix weighed 90 pounds and took one buffalo to make. It’s food value in terms of calories is about twice that of flour or dried peas and contains everything you need except vitamin C.

The voyageurs diet was supplemented by just about anything they could find or gather; bears, moose, deer, beaver, ducks, turtles, duck and turtle eggs and anything else they could catch, shoot or trap.

By the way voyageurs slept under their canoes with one blanket. Europeans described them as being immune to insect bites, cold, rain and just about anything else nature could throw at them.

A well-trained group of modern paddlers tried to re-create or retrace some of their canoeing feats and gave up entirely after about two weeks.

I suspect that the same sort of guts and glory is built into the modern day canoe racer. It’s part of the tradition and that’s probably why part of the Olympic canoeing tradition included 10,000 m races, approximately 6 miles of all out paddling!