According to various baptismal records or notary acts, William identified himself either as a miller, master miller, ploughman, farmer, daily labourer or habitant (term designing someone who owned a concession in current Québec Province territory). Still, there is a further aspect of William’s occupations that I wanted to write about—for in spite of what things look like he might have got his share of thrills.
William was also a voyageur.
For those of you not familiar with early Québec and Canadian history, a voyageur was a woodsman (coureur des bois), a canoe-man, and a guide in remote regions, mainly employed by fur companies to transport supplies to their distant stations and sometimes to work on the premises during the wintertime [they were called hivernants].
As outlined in the 2013 HBC’s publication, Life of a Voyageur, that you can download in PDF format here:
“The spring brigades of canoes left Montreal around May 1st arriving at the west end of Lake Superior by mid-June carrying trade goods, supplies, and passengers to the forts and posts. The large canoes, called canots du maître, travelled in brigades of five canoes. Each canoe included a bowman or avant who guided the canoe, the middlemen or milieux who had the least experience and paddled in the middle of the boat, and a steersman or gouvernail who would stand or sit at the back and steer on instructions from the bowman. […]
The route from Montreal to Lake Superior and back would take 12 to 16 weeks. The men paddled from sunrise to sunset, heaving back-breaking packs of trade goods and furs over grueling portages.There were many risks, many men drowned, suffered broken limbs, twisted spines, hernias, and rheumatism.[…].
The canots du nord that were used to go further west of Lake Superior were smaller canoes with five man teams. […] Grand Portage was the meeting point of the Montreal voyageurs and the wintering North Men. “
On November 30, 1802, William Bangle, of the Parish of Terrebonne, was in Montréal before Notary Public Jonathan A. Gray for the purpose of agreeing to an engagement contract with Alexander Mackenzie & Company pertaining to a trip to Grand Portage as a middleman, hunter, and hivernant, and to travel further north if necessary. His wages were of 1,800 pounds—including a 600-pound advance at signing. However, this contract was null and void as it was crossed out. Obviously, it was indeed revoked since on March 11, 1803, William agreed for another trip—essentially under the aforesaid conditions—except the deal was for a two-year period and his wages, modified accordingly, were of 3,300 pounds—including a 1,080-pound advance at signing.
So around May 1, 1803, William left Montréal for Grand Portage. At age 37, he left behind him a wife, Marie Tourville, and five young children, namely William, 7; André, 6; Marie-Madeleine, 3; Pierre, 2; and Charles, 9 month-old.
As stated in Terrebonne Parish records, William Bangle was present in July 1802, for the baptism of his son Charles, as well as in September of 1806, for the baptism of his son Joseph-Hippolyte.
May we thus consider that there were no babies during a four-year period? You might think that maybe Marie had a miscarriage or a baptismal record was lost. Your favourite detective did some sleuthing and here is what she came up with.
William was definitely back by October 1805, as he was with Notary Public Joseph Turgeon, finalizing the sale of a land he owned in Terrebonne. To sum things up, we might assume that William was away from home as of spring of 1803 until fall of 1805.
Have you ever wondered what was the day-to-day life of a voyageur’s wife and children while the man of the family was traveling across the Northwest?
Well, if such is the case, you will appreciate that I have unearthed a very interesting document that will provide us with some insight into Marie’s reality while William was paddling his life away.
All the details coming up in two weeks!