The Birch Bark Canoe
Birch bark canoes have been a part of the fabric of Canada dating back 500 years to the greeting of Cabot at Bonavista by 50 canoes of the Mi’kmaq, and then 100 canoes of the Huron and Iroquois leading Cartier to Hochelaga.
By the mid-1600s, courier de bois and voyageurs trading out of the walled fortress cities of Quebec and Montreal had paddled their way to trade on the Ottawa, French, and Winnipeg rivers, as well as the Ohio, Mississipi and Missouri.
The canots du nord of the winterers were meeting the great supply canoes, les canos du maitre, in a great Rendezvous at Grand Portage by the late 1700s. After the war of 1812, the great Rendezvous Depot was reconstructed on the Kaministiqua River at Thunder Bay on the Canadian side of David Thompson’s new survey.
The 1967 Rendezvous and Canoe Race
Our Rendezvous history dates back 50 years to Canada’s Centennial year. A canoe race in the tradition of the competition of the fur brigades was staged to coincide with celebrations across Canada from Rocky Mountain House to Montreal.
Our race and Rendezvous grew out of the Gold Rush Canoe Derby at the Flin Flon Trout Festival. A small group of enthusiasts proposed a two-man canoe race from Edmonton to Montreal. The idea grew into a race for north canes with six paddlers, representing each province and territory.
Trial races across Ontario in 1965 and from Montreal to New York City and from Fort St. James to Victoria in 1966 preceded our race to Expo ’67. Our epic 5,250 kilometre race in 1967 recreated the excitement of the brigades of old, and began a tradition of races, brigades and Rendezvous’ for north canoes and Canadians across our country from coast to coast.
2017 Voyageurs Rendezvous Canoe Race
The 2017 Voyageurs Rendezvous Canoe Race encouraged Canadians to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in voyageur style and reminded us of the historic importance of our water ways. Unlike the 1967 race, in which paddlers, all men, mostly white, represented the province and territories who entered teams, the 2017 race teams were from Indigenous and Metis backgrounds and communities. There were a minimum of two women on each team and team members ranged in age from 18 to 65! Paddlers were mentally and physically challenged by the rigors of as much as 138 km/day, in temperatures as high as 34 C. They endured rapids, boulders, sand bars, dehydration, intensely hot days, head winds, blisters, sore muscles and more but they were all champions when they passed the final blue flag at The Pas, Manitoba, having put 1600 kilometers of river behind them.
Stamp collectors rejoice!
Canadians had an opportunity to actively participate in the 2017 Voyageurs Rendezvous by purchasing a commemorative certificate, sealed in beautiful envelopes stamped with our limited edition 2017 Voyageurs Rendezvous postage stamp. These certificates were carried in the race teams’ canoes from Rocky Mountain House to The Pas, then mailed to the purchasers from Canada Post in The Pas. The paddlers carried a few extra certificates along and you can still purchase yours by contacting Carol with The Confluence Heritage Society at 403-845-3245.