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The Legend of Louis Durand

Early French Canadian Voyageur

By Mike Durand


Painting by Frances Anne Hopkins, "Canoe shooting the Rapids," (detail oil, c.1879) Reproduced with permission of the National Archives Canada, Ottawa, C-002774.


Stories abound about French Canadian Voyageurs who traveled the famous waterway routes as fur traders and explorers during the 1700's and 1800's. Louis Durand was a predecessor to many of these excursions having blazed the way beyond where many of the other Voyageurs dared or ventured to travel. This is a story about the Legend of Louis Durand and his famous Voyage in 1 696.

Louis Durand was born November 13, 1670 at Sillery, Quebec, Canada to Jean and Katherine (Annannontak) Durand. Louis was the third and last child to this marriage. His older brother Ignace, born 1669, also became a voyageur, "coureur de bois", and made many trips up the Ottawa River. Louis Durand's father Jean Durand, died when Louis was just one year old at the age of thirty-five of unknown causes. His mother soon remarried Jacques Coutourier and together they reared Louis in additio n to having six additional children, of which (five survived). Louis also had an older sister named Marie, born June 4th 1666. She married Mathurin Cadot at Montreal on July 31st, 1688. Since his mother Katherine was a full blooded Huron Indian, (see the Amerindian Princess April edition), it was likely that Louis was at least bilingual in French and Native American Languages. His mother Katherine was reported to have spoken many languages. Katherine's father was a distinguished chieftain from the Bear Cla n of the Huron nation, before the Iroquois warriors massacred him when Katherine was just an infant. (see article, The Huron Indians , April edition).

According to the map, it has been documented that Louis Durand and his fellow voyageurs traveled at least into what is now known as Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 1696, this territory was known as part of "New France".

Louis Durand began his life as a Voyageur at the age of 17 years old when he was invited by a trading company about the first of Sept. 1691 to replace a voyageur, Joseph Guillet also known as squire de Bellefeuille., who had suddenly become sick, just before a voyage was to begin. Louis agreed to "go up to the Outaouais country with the company to help transport merchandise, to trade for fur, and all that was honestly and lawfully expected of him" He, was permitted to trade his gun, a blanket, six shirts and one coat for his own profit and to transport the fur belonging to himself in the returning canoe which he manned. This was Louis Durand. s first known voyage. He had also participated in additional voyages before the voyage of 1696.

The beginning of the Voyage 1696

On April 11, 1696 in Montreal, Louis Durand (now age 29) and Joseph Moreau signed a contract with Marie-Therese Guyon, the wife of Antoine de Lamothe-Cadillac. In this contract, Durand and Moreau agreed to leave Montreal for Michellimakinac with merchandise to be delivered to Commander C adillac at Michillimakinac. They were to leave with the next canoe convoy leaving Montreal. Upon return the following Sept. they were each to be paid a salary of one hundred pounds in silver. They were each permitted to take along one hundred pounds of merchandise to trade for their own profit.

Cadillac later encouraged them to form an association after their arrival in late April at Fort Michellimakinac and to plan a voyage to establish trading relations with the Sioux Indian who lived far to the west. Cadillac also encouraged them to join up with another Voyageur by the name of Mathieu Sauton.

Because of legal problems and wrangling with Commander Cadillac at Fort Michillimakinac, Louis Durand and his fellow Voyageurs did not depart on their voyage until sometime after July 27th 1696. Additionally, Cadillac had seized many of their trading possession and they had to borrow from other traders in order to make this voyage.

With resupplied canoes of trading goods and st aples the Voyageurs left to navigate the waterways on this famous voyage. When they arrived in the area of what we now call Green Bay WI. they entered the mouth of the Fox River. There, they probably traded with the local tribes to obtain the smaller canoes to travel the Fox, Wisconsin and Mississippi River waters.

Louis Durand had been a Voyageur for twelve years by the time he and his fellow Voyageurs made this historic trip. He was comfortable in the beauty and ways of nature. The Huron Indian s had lived amongst nature and the rivers for hundreds of years. They were known to have developed the advanced agricultural methods including cultivation and gardening and also lived amongst the harvesting of natural foods and herbs. They were known as "dwellers amongst the rivers" and were known to dry and preserve fish as well as other meats. Louis was particularly noted for being an excellent Voyageur since his survival skills had withstood the test of time since he was a young boy. He enjoyed being amo ngst nature and being a Voyageur meant freedom from the regimented life of the Colony. Louis and his fellow Voyageurs wintered in the region (probably along the Mississippi or Missouri River amongst the Sioux) and returned the following year with furs and hides as well as new information which became a part of the oral and written history of the Durand family This voyage may of had an impact on our ancestors eventually migrating to the Mississippi region.

Even though Louis Durand and his fello w Voyageurs were intimidated and had many of their original possessions taken from them by Commander Cadillac, records indicate that Louis did not back away from confronting Cadillac and pursued him in court upon his return from this historic voyage. Louis Durand also saw to it that his mother, Katherine, was cared for when he was on this voyage, by arranging credit for her at local merchants, and to be paid by him upon his return from the profits of his trading.

Louis Durand never attended sc hool, and could neither read or write, however, at a very young age he could read the great book of nature which taught a great deal of practical knowledge. The forests, lakes, and rivers held no secrets for this "coureur des bois". He knew the trees and herbs of the forest, the properties of each, the habits of all the animals of the forests, how to hunt and trap them. He knew all the kinds of fish how to catch them. He knew how to make a canoe from the bark of a tree and how to navigate it up and down the rivers and rapids. He knew how to put on a pair of snowshoes and overcome deep snow for twelve to fifteen miles in one day.

There was a time in his life when he thought nothing of leaving for the wilderness of Labrador in Eskimo land, the shores of the Great Lakes, the Missouri River in Sioux Country or just a short voyage in neighboring forests. Very few situations found him unprepared; he was the man for unforeseen circumstances. Had he not journeyed America from Labrador to the Western Prai ries Frequented the many Indian nations to hunt? Was he not familiar with the dialects and customs of the many tribes he met in his travels?

As I walk along the banks of the mighty Mississippi today, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I can imagine my ancestor Louis Durand and his fellow Voyageurs navigating the beautiful river way singing in French the famous songs which distinguished and glorified their role in the history of this great land. I can feel the presence of their spirit and know that wit hin my own being, my spirit is filled with the will and determination of our ancestor, Louis Durand and his Voyageurs.


Our French Ancestry in Huron County, 1631-1976

        by T.W. Denomme 1976

The Adventures of Louis Durand, Joseph Moreau and Sieur de Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac

        By Roger E. Durand

The Amerindian Princess

        By Paul M. Dumais, M.Ed.


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page added 1/25/99
modified, 5/6/99