This Week in History


Discovering the Canadian West

For the week of Monday September 1, 2008

On September 3, 1736, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, Monsoni chief La Colle and Cree chief La Micouenne agreed during a meeting at Fort Saint-Charles (on Lake of the Woods) to help protect each other from their common enemy, the Sioux. The agreement was reached during the time La Vérendrye was exploring the lands west of New France.

La Vérendrye at the Lake of the Woods
© Library and Archives Canada, 1939-60-1
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye was born in Trois-Rivières on November 17, 1685. He joined the Troupes de la Marine at a very young age and went to France in 1708 in the hopes of a promotion to a higher military rank. He took part in a number of battles, including the Battle of Malpaquet during the War of Spanish Succession. In 1715, after having been back in New France for three years, he became involved in the fur trade. In 1728, he was appointed commanding officer of the post at Kaministiquia (now Thunder Bay, Ontario). He was fascinated by Aboriginal tales of a western sea. In 1731, he and three of his sons set off to find a passage to Asia beyond this sea. He went on to explore lands west of New France that had yet to be explored by Europeans.

La Vérendrye, Canada's Farthest West, 1732
© Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1973-22-1, Gift of W.E. Gale, Vancouver, B.C.
During his explorations, he and his sons established numerous forts such as Fort Maurepas (on Winnipeg Lake) in 1734 and Fort La Reine (now Portage-La-Prairie, Manitoba) in 1738. In 1736, one of his sons, Jean-Baptiste, and all the expedition members with him were slaughtered by the Sioux. It was following this event that La Vérendrye reached an agreement with the Monsonis and the Cree in order to avoid possible Sioux attacks. In 1738, he reached the land of the Mandans (now North Dakota). Exhausted, La Vérendrye ended his explorations in 1743 without having found a way to the western sea. However, his sons continued the search and reached the Rockies that same year.

In 1749, Louis XV awarded Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye the Saint‑Louis Cross, the highest military honour reserved for officers, for his discoveries in the west. The explorer died that same year on December 5 in Montréal. Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye was designated a National Historic Person of Canada in 1920. Fort La Reine was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1925. The Establishment of Fort Maurepas and Gaultier de La Vérendrye’s Journey to the Mandans were designated National Historic Events of Canada in 1931 and 1946, respectively.

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