The Temiskaming Métis People

Historically, the Temiskaming region is home to the Temiskaming Métis community. Fur trades were active in this region for almost three hundred years, beginning in the 1670’s.

Similar to the Red River Métis Community in Manitoba, intermarriage between trade personnel and local Algonquin people in Temiskaming gave rise to identifiable groups of Métis or “country-born” people. The size of the Métis population here was much smaller than in Red River.

Because of the establishment of the two forts at the narrows of Lake Temiskaming, many voyageurs and coureur des bois were drawn to the area to engage in the trading of goods. This also encouraged intermarriage between these individuals and the Algonquin of Temiskaming.

Temiskaming Website photoshistory
The Old Mission Fort at the Narrows 
(Picture supplied by Archives Canada)

The men in these families worked as voyageurs, guides, boat-builders and carpenters. The women fished, hunted small game, cultivated, and also produced beaded moccasins, mittens and other items for the fur trade.

Until the Mid-1880’s, most people of mixed ancestry in the Temiskaming region lived in the immediate vicinity of Fort Témiscamingue (especially from spring through fall). Their family names included McKay, Louttit, Thompson, Taylor, Mcdonald, Petrant and Langevin. Many descendants of the Temiskaming Métis or country-born are now considered status Indians. Some of these First Nation’s descendants blended into the general population. In Ontario and Quebec (unlike what is now western Canada) provincial governments did not usually recognize the Métis as a distinct people.

When treaties were made with the Ojibway and Cree in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, people of mixed ancestry were told they had a choice. If they wanted treaty benefits, they would have to settle on Indian Reserves and be acknowledged as Indians. Otherwise, they would simply be treated as white people.

Fort Temiscamingue (4)
Fort Témiscamingue
(Picture supplied by Archives Canada)

In Temiskaming, many chose to live as Métis and formed the Métis community in Temiskaming which still exists today. In recent years there has been a renewal of pride and identity among the Métis population in the region. This is evident from the large numbers of individuals wanting to reclaim their traditional Métis history, culture and customs.

There are many documents produced from the past about Métis people in Temiskaming. Most notably are the notaries found in log books of both Fort Témiscamingue, located in Ville-Marie, Quebec, and the Oblates Mission church which was located on Lake Temiskaming, South Lorrain Township, in Ontario.  Both Forts face one another with only a mere ½ mile or so of open water dividing them.

History of Fort Témiscamingue

In 1679, the government of New France established a fort on Lake Timiskaming to compete with the English posts of the Hudson Bay, but it was destroyed by the Iroquois in 1688.

HBC Fort Lake Abitibi (6)
HBC Fort Lake Abitibi 
(Picture supplied by Archives Canada)

In 1720, a new Fort Témiscamingue was founded by French merchants at a strategic location where the two shores of Lake Timiskaming come closer than 250 meters (820 ft) to each other, a former Algonquin encampment site called "Obadjiwan Point" (meaning "the strait where the current flows"). This became a center for the fur trade route from Montreal to Hudson Bay, roughly located halfway between these two. Both about 20 days of canoeing and portaging away.

After the fall of New France in 1760, the North West Company took over the fort and gained a virtual trade monopoly by the 1790s. In 1821, the fort came into the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company.

In 1864, it became the seat of its district. By the end of the 19th century, lumbermen, missionaries, and settlers succeeded the fur traders and the fort's role as a trading post gradually became obsolete. In 1902, it closed down. There is not much information available about the HBC Fort at the Old Mission. Most notably is the diary of Father Charles Paradis of the Oblate Missionaries who logged most of the forts activity in his diary. He wrote about many different families which crossed the lake working from one fort to the other. According to Founding of New Liskeard, in 1658, Jesuit missionaries explored the region and by 1863 Oblate missionaries established a mission to the Algonquin, Mission St. Claude, on the Ontario side of Lake Temiskaming, which was opposite of Fort Temiskaming. The mission would close in 1887 when missions were established at North Temiskaming, for the Algonquin, and at Ville Marie, Quebec, for the French-Canadian settlers.

Fort Temiscamingue2 (4)
Fort Témiscamingue 
(Picture supplied by Archives Canada)

Between 1873 and 1889, the chief trader at the local Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading post was Charles Farr. In 1889, Charles Cobbold Farr left his employment with the Hudson Bay Company and moved his family to a clearing along the shore of Lake Temiskaming known as Humphrey's Depot. This spot was also known by its Algonkian name, Matabanick, an ancient native portage whose name roughly translates "place where the trail ends".

C.C. Farr's dream was to establish a community, which he would name Haileybury.

Quick Facts about our Indigenous Ancestors

• Temiskaming is an Algonquin word meaning ‘At the place of deep water’.

• When a trapper finds an animal in someone else’s trap, he kills it and hangs it up for the other trapper to retrieve.

• The average load for a single voyageur was 180 lbs., with many carrying extra weight on the promise of extra pay.

• The Métis coureurs des bois (runners of the woods) were the first dispatchers that ran a mail service between trading posts and communities during the early fur trade era.

• The York boat was a sturdy watercraft developed by the Métis, designed to carry heavier loads and last longer than the birch bark canoe. Both oars and square sails powered these boats.

• The most important role of the York boat crew was that of the steersman. He was responsible for steering a boat along water routes with his vast knowledge of the water route system.

• When gathering a crew it was considered an advantage to have men who were the same height. When portaging, travel was much easier if the canoe was parallel to the ground.

The Fur Trade and the Voyageurs

According to online research, by 1681, the French authorities realized the traders had to be controlled so that the industry might remain profitable. They therefore legitimized and limited the numbers of coureurs des bois by establishing a system that used permits (congés). This legitimization created a "second-generation" coureur des bois: the voyageur, which literally means "traveller". This name change came as a result of a need for the legitimate fur traders to distance themselves from the unlicensed ones. Voyageurs held a permit or were allied with a Montreal merchant who had one.

The fur trade was thus controlled by a small number of Montreal merchants. New France also began a policy of expansion in an attempt to dominate the trade. French influence extended west, north and south. Forts and trading posts were built with the help of explorers and traders. Treaties were negotiated with native groups, and fur trading became very profitable and organized. The system became complex, and the voyageurs, many of whom had been independent traders, slowly became hired labourers.

For the most part, voyageurs were the crews hired to man the canoes that carried trade goods and supplies to "rendezvous posts" (example: Grand Portage) where goods and supplies were exchanged for furs. The canoes travelled along well-established routes. They then transported the furs back to Lachine near Montreal. Some voyageurs stayed in the back country over the winter and transported the trade goods from the rendezvous posts to farther-away French outposts. These men were known as the hivernants (winterers). They also helped negotiate trade in native villages. In the spring they would carry furs from these remote outposts back to the rendezvous posts. Voyageurs also served as guides for explorers (such as Pierre La Vérendrye). The majority of these canoe men were French Canadian and/or Métis. They were usually from Island of Montreal or seigneuries and parishes along or near the St. Lawrence River. Many were from France and many were members of Native Aboriginal tribes.

The voyageurs were highly valued employees of trading companies, such as the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). They were instrumental in retrieving furs from all over North-America but were especially important in the rugged Athabasca region of the North-West. The Athabasca was one of the most profitable fur-trade regions in the colonies because pelts from further North were of superior quality to those trapped in more southerly locations. Originally the HBC was content to stay close to their trading posts along the shores of Hudson Bay and have their native trading partners bring the pelts to them. However, once the NWC began sending their voyageurs into the Athabasca it became easier for the natives to simply trade with them than to make the long trek to Hudson Bay.  As a result, Colin Robertson sent a message to the HBC London Committee in 1810 suggesting that they begin hiring French Canadian voyageurs of their own. As this quote shows, he firmly believed them to be one of the keys to success in the fur trade:

I would warmly recommend to your notice the Canadians; these people I believe, are the best voyageurs in the world; they are spirited, enterprising, & extremely fond of the Country; they are easily commanded; never will you have any difficulty in setting a place with them Men; however dismal the prospect is for subsistence, they follow their Master wherever he goes.

Despite this strong endorsement, it would be 1815 before the HBC took his advice and began hiring substantial numbers of French-Canadian voyageurs for trading expeditions to the Athabasca. Colin Robertson led the first of these HBC expedition to the Athabasca and claimed to have difficulty hiring voyageurs from the Montreal region because of NWC efforts to thwart him. The NWC realized how important the voyageurs were to their success and were unwilling to give them up easily. This competition for experienced labour between the HBC and the NWC created the largest demand for voyageurs in Montreal since before the merger of the XY Company and the NWC.

The voyageurs are legendary, especially in French Canada. They are folk heroes celebrated in folklore and music. The reality of their lives was that of toil. For example, they had to be able to carry two 90-pound bundles of fur over portages; more suffered from strangulated hernias than any other injury.

Voyageurs who only paddled between Montreal and Grand Portage were known as mangeurs de lard (pork eaters) because of their diet, much of which consisted of salt pork. This is considered to be a derogatory term. Those who overwintered and ate "off the land" (mainly fish, pemmican and rubaboo) were called hommes du nord (northern men) or hivernants (winterers). Voyageurs were expected to work 14 hours per day and paddle at a rate of 55 strokes per minute.  Few could swim. Many drowned in rapids or in storms while crossing lakes. Portages and routes were often indicated by lob trees, or trees that had their branches cut off just below the top of the tree.


The Hudson's Bay Company (French: Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson), abbreviated HBC, is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world. The company was incorporated by British royal charter in 1670 as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay; it is now domiciled in Canada and has adopted the more common shorter name as its legal moniker.

It was once the de facto government in parts of North America before European-based colonies and nation states. It was at one time the largest landowner in the world, with Rupert's Land being a large part of North America. From its longtime headquarters at York Factory on Hudson Bay, it controlled the fur trade throughout much of British-controlled North America for several centuries, undertaking early exploration. Its traders and trappers forged early relationships with many groups of First Nations/Native Americans and its network of trading posts formed the nucleus for later official authority in many areas of Western Canada and the United States.

In the late 19th century, its vast territory became the largest component in the newly formed Dominion of Canada, in which the company was the largest private landowner. With the decline of the fur trade, the company evolved into a mercantile business selling vital goods to settlers in the Canadian West. Today the company is best known for its department stores throughout Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company Archives are located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

The company is owned by Hudson's Bay Trading Company, the retail arm of American private equity firm NRDC Equity Partners, which also owns a high-end department store chain in the U.S., Lord & Taylor.


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