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Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de Lavérendrye
Discoverer of the Canadian West, born at Three Rivers, Quebec, 17 November, 1685; died at Montreal, 6 December, 1749. His early manhood was passed as a soldier in the service of France, and he was wounded on the battlefield of Malplaquet. Later he returned to his native country and engaged in the fur trade. As a step towards the exploration of the Pacific, or the Western Sea as it was then called, he established three trading posts west of Lake Superior, i.e. Forts St. Pierre, on Rainy River (1731), St. Charles on the Lake of the Woods (1732), and Maurepas, at the month of the Winnipeg River (1734). A sincere Christian, and having at heart his own religious interests as well as those of his men, he had taken with him Father Charles M. Mesaiger, a Jesuit, who did not go farther than the Lake of the Woods, where he was succeeded, in the summer of 1735, by Father Jean P. Aulneau de La Touche.
This young priest having temporarily left for the east (8 June, 1736) with Lavérendrye's eldest son, Jean-Baptiste, and nineteen "voyageurs", in quest of much needed provisions, the entire party was slain on an island of the Lake of the Woods on the very day of their departure. Lavérendrye prudently resisted the pressing solicitations of the natives, burning to avenge on the Sioux, the authors of the massacre, the wrong done to the French. Then, in spite of his many debts occasioned by explorations and establishments for which he had no other funds than the desultory returns of the fur trade in an unorganized country, he went on with the task entrusted to his patriotism by the French court. On 24 September, 1738, he reached the exact spot where now stands Winnipeg, and, ascending the Assiniboine to the present site of Portage la Prairie, he built there a post which he called Fort La Reine. Thence he made for the south, and by the end of 1738 he was at a Mandan village on the Upper Missouri. Early in the spring of the following year, he sent north one of his sons, who discovered Lakes Manitoba, Dauphin, Winnipegosis, and Bourbon, and erected a fort on Lake Dauphin. Meantime Lavérendrye had had to repair to Montreal to come to an understanding with his creditors. On his return to the west he took with the Jesuit Father Claude G.Coquart, the first priest to see the confluence of the Assiniboine with the Red River and reside at what is now Portage la Prairie (1741). In the spring of 1742 he commissioned two of his sons, Pierre Gauthier, dit the Chevalier, and Francois, to explore the country as far west as they could possibly go. In the company of savages who had never seen a white man, they reached, after many perils, one of the spurs of the Rocky Mountains, which they partially scaled (12 January, 1743). The desertion of their native guides, terrified at the unexpected discovery of a village of their traditional enemies, alone prevented further progress. The explorers must have penetrated to a point in the northwest corner of what is now Montana. Lavérendryre was naturally endowed, it is true, with indomitable energy, but he was struggling against too heavy odds. Dragged before the law courts by the Montreal merchants whom he could not pay, and accused by others of thinking more of filthy lucre than of discoveries, and ill sustained by the Paris authorities, he had to give up his work (1744), after consecrating to it the thirteen best years of his life. Gradually his worth became recognized at Paris, and honours were bestowed upon him by the French king. He was on the eve of resuming his explorations when he died, and was buried in the vault of Notre-Dame, Montreal.
An upright man and a good Christian, Lavérendrye was considerably more than a mere explorer. No less than six fur-trading stations attested to his efficiency as an organizer. On the other hand, the numerous personnel of "voyageurs" whom these posts necessitated eventually gave rise to that wonderful race, the Metis, which was in after years to play such an important part in the history of Central Canada.
A. G. Morice.