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- Kegs of Hard Biscuit
- Sewn, Sealed Packs of Trade Goods
- Kegs of Rum
- Kegs of Salt Pork
- Kegs of Beans
- Kegs of Flour
- Kegs of Sugar
- Iron Strapped Wooden Boxes
- Basket Packs
- Personal Packs
- Blankets and Oil Skins
- Bundle of Setting Poles
- Mast and Rigging
- Pine Pitch
- Roll of Spruce Root
- Rolls of Birch Bark
- Bailing Sponges
- Narrow Paddles
- Iron Cooking Pots
Kegs of Hard Biscuit
Canoe crews had no time to hunt or fish, so they carried their own provisions for the journey. They could eat hard biscuits throughout the long journey without fear of the biscuits spoiling. Each canoe carried six 100-pound (45-kilogram) kegs of hard biscuit. These biscuits were made from a mixture of flour and water that was baked until dry and hardened.
Sewn, Sealed Packs of Trade Goods
Manufactured goods, such as copper cooking pots, metal spoons, and glass beads, had to arrive in Montreal from overseas by November to be sorted, bagged, and baled for the voyage inland the following April. Each canoe carried sixty 90-pound (41-kilogram) packs. Forty days and thirty-five portages later they arrived at the tip of Lake Superior for transfer to the smaller northern canoes. Then, manned by new crews of paddlers, the Nor’Westers headed for the fur country still 1000 miles (1600 km) to the west, where they wintered. The following spring, the journey was repeated in reverse, this time with bales of pelts. So a single trading journey could take 24 months.
Kegs of Rum
Rum and brandy were staples of the fur trade. They were products for trade, and drinking was often a part of the greetings exchanged before trading began. Each freight canoe leaving Montreal carried ten 10-gallon (38-litre) kegs of alcohol in concentrated form that would be diluted with water once the casks reached the trading grounds. Hudson’s Bay Company, concerned for the damage done by alcohol to the First Nations, banned its use in trade in 1843.
Kegs of Salt Pork
In the days before refrigeration, meat, and vegetables were often pickled in brine (a mixture of salt and water). Crews taking the freight canoes as far as the head of Lake Superior mixed salt pork with their corn gruel. These men were often referred to as les mangeurs de lard (pork eaters) – a reference to the salt pork carried in the two 100-pound (45-kilogram) kegs.
Kegs of Beans
Each canoe carried two 100-pound (45-kilogram) kegs of beans. Dried beans were an important source of winter food for the fur traders. They traded these staples with the Native peoples who used them as food or seed stock.
Kegs of Flour
A 100-pound (45-kilogram) keg of flour was in the supplies brought for the people living at Fort William.
Kegs of Sugar
A 50-pound (23-kilogram) keg of sugar was a staple brought for the people living at Fort William. This rare treat, imported from tropical plantations, was locked in a storeroom when it reached Fort William.
Iron Strapped Wooden Boxes
Valuable goods such as medicine, surveying instruments, glassware, and cash were stored in four secure, reinforced boxes called cassettes. Heavier or awkward trade items (muskets, shot, unworked iron supplies) were shipped in simpler wooden crates.
These two baskets contained part of the canoes agres or equipment. The agres included kettles, line, sponge, oil cloth, axe, sail, and repair kit.
Each voyageur had a pack that contained personal items for the journey. These typically included a pipe and items of clothing.
Blankets and Oil Skins
With no tent to cover them, the crew members slept under the stars wrapped in the blankets. If it rained they had oil skins to keep them dry.
Only the Bourgeois (Montreal-based traders) or clerks slept in the tent. The members of the crew slept in the open or under the overturned canoe.
Although the Musket was a prime item for trade, it was not a practical hunting weapon – it was too slow and the noise could scare away nearby game. It was popular as a symbol of authority and as an instrument of war. In the 1730s traders from Montreal could get twenty beaver pelts for a musket.
Bundle of Setting Poles
The crew used these ten poles for poling the canoes upstream on the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers. All but two poles were thrown overboard on the Mattawa as they were no longer needed for the journey. Another set of rough poles, sometimes referred to as les grandes perches were laid on the floor of the canoe before the cargo was loaded to distribute the weight of the cargo.
The two heavy oiled red tarps usually covered the goods to keep off rain and river water, but if the conditions were right a tarp could also be used as a sail.
Mast and Rigging
Most of the time the crew propelled the canoe with paddles, but if the wind was coming from the right direction, the crew could set up the mast and hoist a tarp or blanket as a sail.
Often called cordelles, the crew used these lines mainly for lining – hauling the canoes upstream from the shore when climbing rapids that were too swift for poling. The voyageurs also found many other uses for the 60 yards (55 metres) of rope.
Pine pitch was used to seal the seams of the birch bark. Each canoe carried tins of pitch to fix any seam that sprung a leak. Pine pitch was made from melted resin or sap, mixed with dung, ash, charcoal or other filler then animal fat or beeswax was added to create a thick, workable, sticky, waterproof paste.
Roll of Spruce Root
The pieces of birch bark that make up the sides of the canoe were stitched together with spruce roots (watap). A spare roll of root was part of the canoe's repair kit.
Rolls of Birch Bark
The voyageurs carried spare rolls of birch bark to patch any holes that were made in the canoe by submerged rocks, floating logs, and other hazards.
Before contact with Europeans, First Nations peoples used stone or flint axes and hatchets. The steel tools sourced from the Europeans were highly prized by the Aboriginal traders.
Water could seep into a birch bark canoe through the seams or easily ship over sides that were only 6 inches (15 cm) above the water. The crew used baling sponges to soak up the water.
The most junior members of the crew were the middlemen (milieu) who perched two abreast on the middle thwarts and did the bulk of the paddling with narrow 4-foot (1.5 metre) paddles.
The end men (les bouts) in the bow (avant) and stern (gouvernail) used 6-foot (2-metre) paddles when seated, 9-foot (3-metre) paddles when they were standing.
Iron Cooking Pots
Iron cooking pots were a prized trading item. The crew used iron pots to cook their evening meals.