Ottawa voyageurs

The early fur trade with Native Americans, which developed alongside the coasts of North America, was not limited to the beaver.

Ottawa voyageurs

This has sometimes led to some wild theories, such as the one which suggested that voyageurs wore silk shirts. In this article, I will give a thorough historical overview of voyageurs' clothing from head to toe, with an eye to providing more accurate and varied voyageur impressions.

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Documentation for voyageur clothing in this article comes from fur trade inventories, journals, memoirs, and artwork, and focuses on the period. Major changes in fashion during this period are also mentioned, when they are relevant.

Voyageur Equipments Voyageurs were free to wear what they wished, but by almost all their clothing came from a single source— their employers.

Ottawa voyageurs

North West Company voyageurs received clothing as part of their employment contract, in addition to their regular wages. Sometimes other items, such as tobacco, knives, beads, and vermilion, were also included in these 'equipments'.

Inpork-eaters summer voyageurs received one blanket, one shirt, and one pair of trousers. Hivernants, who were year-round employees, got two blankets, two shirts, two pairs of trousers, and two handkerchiefs [2]. Five years later, the company-supplied equipments changed slightly.

In addition to this, two handkerchiefs were given to men wintering in the Athabasca district, in the Rocky Mountains, along the English Churchill River, Rat River, and upper North Saskatchewan River [3]. Voyageurs could also buy clothing from their employers or fellow voyageurs.

When the Hudson's Bay Company began hiring voyageurs extensively, aroundit too supplied them with clothing. The incredible mobility of the voyageurs probably gave voyageur clothing some uniformity, since each Ottawa voyageurs voyageurs met at a rendezvous.

There they would see what other voyageurs from all across the Northwest were wearing.

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A new fashion, such as wearing breechcloths and leggins instead of trousers, could quickly spread throughout the company, rather than remaining a costume specific to voyageurs from certain fur posts.

Also, as the fur trade expanded ever-westward, voyageurs frequently were posted to new districts, so there was likely little chance for regional voyageur costumes to be established.

Hats and Caps Most people have heard about the voyageurs' long red toque. What does the historic record say about it? Alexander Henry the Elder's memoirs described voyageurs as wearing 'a large, red, milled worsted cap' in [4].

David Thompson also noted that in voyageurs wore 'long red or blue caps, half of which are hung down the head' [5]. A voyageur wearing a long blue cap similar to those described by Thompson is depicted in an painting by John Halkett [6] ; the top half flops over so that the end of the toque is about level with the man's forehead.

A number of other voyageurs in the same canoe wear slightly different toques. These toques fit closely to the head, and at the very top of the toque, the artist shows a little 'knob'. The shape of this knob suggests to me that the body of these toques may have been shaped like a tube, rather than a cone or bowl, and that the tube was closed near the end by gathering it shut, producing a small knob-like ruffle of fabric.

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Three of these 'knobbed' toques are blue, and two are white. Some toques were brought into the Northwest by the NWC and HBC, and turn up on various inventory lists and in journals from onwards, described as 'milled caps' [9], 'grey milled caps', 'worsted caps', 'grey worsted caps' and 'scarlet worsted caps' [10].

It was used on knit Monmouth caps in 17th Century England and on wool cloth and blankets in the 18th century [11]. Sometimes summer caps were improvised from handkerchiefs.

They were folded so as to cover the top of the head and tied together on the forehead 'cleaning lady' style [12], or made into a headband tied with a large bow in front [13]. Ross Cox noted that voyageurs also wore fur caps ; unfortunately I could find no information on what these caps looked like [14].

Voyageurs wore felt hats, too, and they are in NWC journals and inventories from a fairly early date. Artists portrayed voyageurs in crisp black top hats and battered brown top hats [18].

Other styles of felt hats were also worn. A Rindisbacher painting shows one voyageur wearing a battered brown hat with a tapered crown shaped like an upside-down flowerpot [19].

The surviving Beaver Club medals show voyageurs wearing hats with round crowns and broad flat brims [20]. An painting also shows a voyageur wearing a flat-crowned black hat with a wide brim [21].

Sometimes the hats were decorated. Ina list of Rocky Mountain House trade goods included three 'laced' hats trimmed with gold or silver 'lace' or military braid and two 'bound' hats [22]. An and order form for the Columbia Department of the NWC also included 'velvet bound hats' [23].Ottawa Fury FC has earned itself a meeting with Toronto FC.

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