One of the first things I built when I moved to Ohio nearly 18 years ago was an outdoor canoe rack. My passion for paddling began on northern Indiana rivers where I would skip high school classes and paddle my 90-lb. Grumman canoe down the lazy Eel River by myself. My love for the “pull of the paddle” grew as I took several trips to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota with my youth group. Later I attended college in the north woods of Wisconsin and paddled rivers with whitewater. Northern Michigan rivers and even Lake Michigan became my water playground later. The fresh water of the Great Lakes was a part of me.
Moving to Ohio some twenty years later, I knew that northern Ohio had some awesome rivers that needed to be explored, oh and Lake Erie! I knew when I took the position as a historical interpreter/naturalist with Cleveland Metroparks, I would be managing the Voyageur Canoe Paddle program, and this excited me.
I first came across the term ‘Voyageur’ (traveler) attending Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. I joined a singing group called The Voyageurs. We traveled around Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada singing traditional French Canadian paddle songs. We also visited historic fur trading posts in Pine City, Minnesota and other sites along the north shore of Lake Superior. To say the least, the fur trade culture and climate were growing in me. The singing, the paddling and the wilderness adventures -- much like the old time Voyageurs of the Great Lakes region -- suited me just fine.
|Frances Anne Hopkins - paintings |
Dr. Bob Hinkle and the previous historical interpreter Ken Bowald started a living history program in 1994 called the Voyageur Canoe Paddle. It was a Great Lakes Fur Trade living history lesson in a 34-ft. canoe with paddle in hand, song on the lips, and tales shared that captured the spirit of these hard- working paddle men. It made perfect sense, a Great Lake region with many rivers flowing through a once vast wilderness.
It was now my turn with a faithful crew of seasonal and volunteer interpreters to pass on to Greater Cleveland residents the value of our waterways and the human drama that thrived and struggled along the shore of Lake Erie, Cuyahoga, Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers. But how extensive was fur trading in this area of Ohio?
One particular individual whose name kept surfacing along the Cuyahoga River around 1743 was a Frenchman named Saguin. It was a time in Great Lakes history that the French and English were jockeying for more land for their mother countries, and seeking to make a quick profit off of the soft gold commodity: fur. In early reports from Robert Navarre in Detroit, it appeared that Sieur de Saguin was a liaison between French authorities in Detroit and the Ohio Country’s pro-French nations. Saguin was to keep a French presence in the region. His house or post was marked on several maps and identified as the “French House.” The exact location is not known but the general vicinity is where Tinkers Creek Road and Canal Road intersect along the Cuyahoga River.
Saguin had contacted Navarre and told him that only two canoes full of merchandise annually would enable him to carry on a lively business. He had accumulated 200 bundles of furs during the 1743 season. Native Americans were willing to bring more pelts to his post if only he would supply them with more ammunition. Saguin was unable to secure more gun powder for them.
By 1743, the English were starting to put considerable pressure on the French concerning business and began to disrupt trade. They were bringing an abundance of trade goods into Ohio lands and trading at lower value. Navarre spoke about… “the Indian is not at all disturbed to see a surfeit of goods come into the country, for he knows the abundance will let him buy cheaper. ” Brandy was one of the commodities offered for sale from Oswego, an item Saguin viewed as putting his welfare in great danger. Soon the Ottawa of Detroit and Huron of Sandusky would travel east to trade and avoid Saguin’s post.
Saguin abandoned his post sometime in 1744. In 1755, an Englishman by the name of Lewis Evans created a map of the Ohio country that placed Saguin’s trading post on the Cuyahoga River. It is said that he got his information from credible traders and a Native American called The Eagle.
Shortly after Saguin left, an Englishman George Grogan arrived and established a trading post on the mouth of the Cuyahoga River between 1745 and 1748. It was told that he was respected and the American Indians got along well with him.
Another Frenchman arrived by the name of Joseph De Shattar, establishing a fur trade nine miles up the Cuyahoga River in 1787. He worked for the Northwest Fur Company and had a shortlived post.
More stories are told of Entienne Brule in Ottawa County who lived among the Ottawa in the early to mid-1600s. It is believed by some that he is the first white man to explore Lake Erie. He was part of the original exploration party by Samuel Champlain to discover many of the Great Lakes.
LaSalle was also a Frenchman who continued to claim the Ohio Country for France, expanding the fur trade route and sailing Lake Erie. He found a route to the Ohio River by entering the mouth of the Grand River near Fairport Harbor, Ohio in 1669. An Ohio Historical Marker has been placed commemorating that momentous event.
Voyageur Encampment - 2001
Voyageur Canoe out on Lake Erie - 2002
Voyageur Canoe Paddle program - saluting! 2013
Yes, Ohio and specifically the Cuyahoga River and other nearby waterways were legitimately instrumental in the Fur Trade Era. We may not have as much of a claim as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan, but we can claim our part. So Cleveland Metroparks honors the Fur Trade by offering programs on Hinckley Lake and Wallace Lake from June through October. Join us, won’t you?
Voyageur Canoe Paddle 2014 Schedule
June 27 (Evening)
July 25 (Evening)
August 22 (Evening)
September 5 (Evening)
September 20 -21
October 4 - 5
October 18 - 19
July 12 – 13
Day programs are 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Evening programs are 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
For more information or to register call: 440-786-8530