Living History – Voyageurs
The "Saginaw Voyageurs" is a living history re-enactment group of the Castle Museum. The members participate in a journey each summer tracing the routes of the original Voyageurs and fur traders of the Great Lakes. The purpose of these trips is to promote an understanding and appreciation for the early Great Lakes fur trade, the life of the voyageurs, and the role Saginaw played as the fur trading center.
The "Saginaw Voyageurs" often camp much as the Voyageurs did by over-turning the canoe and attaching a canvas lean-to to shelter them for the night. Tents may be used as well. The Voyageurs generally cook their own meals (Voyageur stew) unless a local village chooses to host a meal for them. The "natives" are always welcome to join the Voyageurs at their campsites.
Original canoes were made from cedar with a birch bark skin attached with the white bark on the inside and the "olive" colored part showing on the outside. These craft were sturdy but light and could be carried or portaged around obstacles, such as river rapids or waterfalls.
The "Saginaw Voyageurs" canoe is a fiberglass replica of the birch bark Montreal Canoe. The canoe weighs more than 600 pounds, which is about the same as its birch bark counterpart. The canoe is 34 feet long, 5 feet wide, and is paddled by 11-16 men. The canoe travels very fast in the water with the men paddling 60 strokes per minute for about 20 minute stretches. They then take a "pipe" break to rest while the canoe drifts. They sing the songs of the Voyageurs to help maintain rhythm while paddling. They also have a small tarp to use as a sail if there is a tailwind to push them along.
The costumes worn by the men are reproductions of the dress of the Voyageurs period. It is often pointed out that they look like "pirates" and that is true as both are from the same era. One difference is that the Voyageurs wore moccasins instead of shoes or boots. Clothing consisted of a loose tunic or shirt falling below the waist over the pants or leggings with a woven sash and leg garters securing the outfit. A hat and pouch with a knife or pipe were worn along with Indian necklaces and silver trade items for display.
If you are interested in joining the Saginaw Voyaguers, please contact Sherri Greene at (989)752-2861 ext 303 for more information.