Antoine Ménard, ordinary hero of exploration in Western Canada

History has retained the names of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes and La Vérendrye and his explorations across Western Canada. The names of those who accompanied him on his adventures, however, have often been forgotten. This is the case of Antoine Ménard, a 17th century traveler who ventured to Manitoba and whose personal history helps to better understand the great History.

When Pierre Gaultier de Varennes and de La Vérendrye set off from Montreal in 1738 to explore the pristine territories west of New France, he had among his companions a 43-year-old experienced traveler named Antoine Ménard. No book has been written on him, it does not appear in history textbooks and there is no stele in his name.

However, it is this figure from the great History that the anthropologist and specialist in Quebec military history, André Gousse, devoted two conferences this week in Winnipeg, at the Heritage Center and at the University of Saint-Boniface.

Antoine was born in Michilimakinac, a trading post where the town of Mackinaw in the state of Michigan in the United States is located today.

His family is already involved in the fur trade. His grandmother, Marie Mite8agami8k8e, is of Algonquin origin and his father is a trading post interpreter for diplomatic relations with Indigenous People, says André Gousse.

When La Vérendrye hired him, he was a man who already had 30 years of experience in the field. He knows the ways and masters several Indigenous languages. Leader of men, his profile means that he is paid twice as much as his companions.For Ménard, this expedition with La Vérendrye which will lead him to Manitoba is a high point in his career, because he takes part in a great expedition to find the West Sea. He participated in the establishment of Fort La Reine, where the city of Portage-la-Prairie is located today, says André Gousse.

However, Antoine Ménard will not finish the expedition with La Vérendrye and will not meet the Mandans, an Indigenous People whose territory was located in present-day North Dakota. Antoine Ménard was hired for a year and chose to return to Montreal at the end of his contract. He became a farmer and later a militia captain. He will no longer travel.

At the time, Voyageurs were the truckers of today, their mission was not to harvest pelts, but to transport them on what was a bit like the Trans-Canada Highway of the 17th and 18th century, explains André Gousse.

He probably wanted to make a very well-paid trip to be able to offer capital to his family, says André Gousse.

André Gousse, a former Park Canada official and specialist in military history, went to Winnipeg at the invitation of the La Vérendrye Company.

According to the historian, these Voyageurs, who participated in the fur trade and the exploration of the West, represent an infirm minority of people in the society of the time.

We are talking about at most a few hundred men out of a population estimated at 80,000 at the end of the French regime, notes André Gousse.

But they are people who have their importance because they are the ones who will discover the territory, establish relationships with the Indigenous Peoples everywhere and who will push the Francophone presence in America a little further.

Translated from article written by Pierre Verrière and published on ICI Manitoba on November 23 2019. See original French version

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