The voyageurs were French Canadian indentured servants who engaged in the transporting of furs by canoe during the fur trade era.Voyageur is a French word, meaning "traveler". The emblematic meaning of the term applies to places (Canada and the upper Midwest of the United States) and times (primarily in the 18th and early 19th centuries) where transportation of materials was mainly over much longer distances. This major and challenging task of the fur trading business was done by canoe and largely by French Canadians. The term in its fur trade context also applied, at a lesser extent, to other fur trading activities. Being a voyageur also included being a part of a licensed, organized effort, one of the distinctions that set them apart from the coureurs des bois. Additionally, they were set apart from engagés, who were much smaller merchants and general laborers. Mostly immigrants, engagés were men who were obliged to go anywhere and do anything their masters told them as long as their indentureship was still in place. Until their contract expired, engagés were at the full servitude of their master, which was most often a voyageur. Less than fifty percent of engagés whose contracts ended chose to remain in New France (either because they returned to France or because they died while working and never had a chance to leave).
The voyageurs were regarded as legendary, especially in French Canada. They were heroes celebrated in folklore and music. For reasons of promised celebrity status and wealth, this position was very coveted. James H. Baker was once told by an unnamed retired voyageur:
I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw. I have been twenty-four years a canoe man, and forty-one years in service; no portage was ever too long for me, fifty songs could I sing. I have saved the lives of ten voyageurs, have had twelve wives and six running dogs. I spent all of my money in pleasure. Were I young again, I would spend my life the same way over. There is no life so happy as a voyageur's life!
Despite the fame surrounding the voyageur, their life was one of toil and not nearly as glorious as folk tales make it out to be. For example, they had to be able to carry two 90-pound (41 kg) bundles of fur over portage. Some carried up to four or five, and there is a report of a voyageur carrying seven for half of a mile. Hernias were common and frequently caused death. Most voyageurs would start working when they were twenty two and they would continue working until they were in their sixties. They never made enough money to consider an early retirement from what was a physically grueling lifestyle.
Marten River is an unincorporated hamlet located in the municipality of Temagami, in the District of Nipissing, Ontario, Canada. The latest census 2005 puts the town population at 87. Marten River is considered the gateway to the Temagami area.