Before there was a frontier, there was the fur trade.
Historian Robert Foxcurran says Quebecois traders and trappers moved west to the Pacific coast, ahead of “the official frontier of white settlers.”
It is a significant, but often overlooked period of early history in North America, according to Foxcurran, a historian from Seattle, Washington, who was a featured speaker at the return of the annual heritage picnic at Michaud House in Langley City on Sunday, July 31, the first since the pandemic.
Foxcurran is co-author of “Songs Upon the Rivers: The Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Métis from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi across to the Pacific,” which points out that long before names like Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone became engraved in history, French-Canadian explorers had pushed far west and north, intermarrying with indigenous peoples, and establishing trade and kin networks across the continent.
“It was a multicultural, multilingual advance,” Foxcurrant described, with the explorers known as “les Canadiens” founding settlements that would become cities — Detroit, Saint Louis, and New Orleans.
Most of the lands where they settled became American territory.
“A very large percentage ended up in the U.S.” after the borders were drawn to divide the western terriorioes, Foxcurran explained.
As a result, their history has been largely buried or relegated to local lore or confined to Quebec, he said.
Returning for the heritage picnic was Joanne Estelle Plourde, founder of Voyageurs and Co. which aims to dramatize and preserve the stories of the Voyageurs, the French Canadian paddlers during the fur trade.
Members dress up in traditional garb and sing French, Canadian, and First Nation songs. Plourde portrayed Michel Laframboise in a presentation about a Voyageur expedition in 1824.
READ MORE: A look at Aldergrove’s past
Michaud House, built in 1888 by Joseph and Georgiana Michaud, the first French-Canadian family to settle in the Langley area, was once a thriving dairy farm while the very first Roman Catholic mass was said to take place inside the house.
The structure was designated as a heritage site in 1980 and underwent restorations by the Langley Historical Society and Arts Council.
More photos from the heritage picnic can be veiwed online at the Langley Advance Timnes Facebook page.
More information about Voyageurs and Co. is available on their Facebook page.
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