You might think it part of the past, but the world of the voyageur is still with us. In Canada, the fur trade involves some 65,000 people and contributes about $800,000,000 a year to the country's economy. Pastimes such as canoeing on our waterways and camping in our parks are essential parts of this country's heritage. Outdoors clubs throughout the country put on popular sporting events such as the famous Mattawa River Canoe Race. The Canadian Heritage River System works toward preserving the rivers of the fur trade, while promoting them for recreation.
A great number of Canada's museums and historic sites commemorate the fur trade era, as do many organizations dealing with Aboriginal history. Numerous festivals also ensure that the voyageur's world continues to thrive. Annual events such as Fort William's Rendez-vous, Winnipeg's Festival du Voyageur and the Back to Batoche festival are both educational and crowd-pleasing.
In Canada's national consciousness, the fur trade era lives on. Interest in the field is widespread, and historians have been discussing its many facets for over a century. Genealogy is a topic of fascination, especially among descendants of voyageurs looking to retrace their roots. Organizations such as the Société historique de Saint-Boniface offer a range of resources to learn about your family history.
Without a doubt, the most remarkable legacy of the voyageur period is the Métis Nation. Descended from unions between Native women and employees of fur trading companies, Métis are more numerous than is generally thought. Many of them are French Canadians who are unaware of their origins.
With over 300 communities across central and western Canada, the Métis Nation continues to influence politics. In 1982, the Métis were recognized as a founding people and distinct aboriginal group, along with First Nations and the Inuit. In 1992, the Canadian government acknowledged Louis Riel as a Father of Confederation.
The Métis make up about a quarter of Canada's Native population. According to estimates, they number between 350,000 and 400,000. The actual number of descendants of voyageurs and Aboriginal women may be higher, since not all are aware of their Métis origins. Some have integrated with the Aboriginal community, while many in Eastern Canada identify themselves as French Canadian. However, in regions such as the former Rupert's Land, a strong Métis identity has emerged.
There are many ways of exploring the voyageur's world. Try tracing your family tree to find out if you have voyageur ancestors. People interested in Métis roots could learn the Michif language, or join one of the numerous Métis organizations.
Regardless of identity, anyone can be a voyageur in spirit. Try out the traditional music or dance. Take part in a historical re-enactment. Visit a historic site or watch a film about the voyageur era. Simply taking a canoe trip or putting on a pair of snowshoes can give you a glimpse of this world. Modern voyageurs of all ages can help preserve our natural and cultural heritage.
RendezvousVoyageur.ca offers a gamut of activities and interactive games. Experience an epic canoe journey in Nor'West Adventure.
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