By George Siamandas



On Sept 24, 1738, middle-aged explorer Pierre La Verendrye arrived at the Forks. La Verendrye was born in Three Rivers, Quebec on Nov 17, 1685. The family name was actually Gaultier and they had been land owners in France. Of the 13 children born to his parents, Pierre was the youngest and the only one to achieve prominence. At first La Verendrye pursued an undistinguished military career. He also tried farming and fur trading (part time) before becoming an explorer. He was part of the dream of extending French boundaries from Manitoba to the Pacific Ocean. He was looking for the river gateway to the west. But he was not really funded to be an explorer, but to be a French representative during the days of the development of the fur trade in west.

At age 53, he set up Fort Rouge, at the south point of the present site of the Forks, which is thought to have been the first European building in Winnipeg. He also established Fort La Reine on the current site of Portage La Prairie. He chose this location because it was a quick Portage up to Lake Manitoba. La Verendrye was one of the first to use Indians as slaves; and he stated so in his list of achievements. All of his movements were amongst Indian tribes and his experiences involved both massacres and very good relations. Then he proceeded to what is now North Dakota to meet the Mandan Indians. He had heard stories of white skinned Indians that lived near the "shining mountains." There the Missouri river started to flow south suggesting he had not yet found the river of the west. By this time he was in great debt and in great trouble with his merchant and fur trade employers.


Over time there seems to have been lively debate about how good an explorer La Verendrye was. La Verendrye is not considered to have been as successful as he might have been. It took him seven years to cover the same distance Samuel Hearne had covered in five weeks in the north. He seemed to stop for no reason when he reached the Missouri. La Verendrye preferred to travel in the snow and wind rather than the mosquito filled summers. He was aided by four sons who were all actively involved in his exploration work.

In 1741 La Verendrye brought two pack horses (large dogs) from his trips to the Missouri area. These were the first to be introduced to southern Manitoba. Before then a man could go five miles in a day on foot. With the horse he could go 50-100 miles in one day. And since he started his career in middle age he seemed to lack the temperament and curiosity to be an explorer.


He demonstrated the geographical crossroads that the Forks was more than 250 years ago. He consolidated Manitoba as a French fur trading area setting up many forts including Fort Dauphin. He diverted much of the fur trade from the HBC to the French string of trading posts. La Verendrye had used the fur trade funds to fund his exploration work, and his superiors in Montreal demanded his resignation in 1744. At age 64 in 1749 La Verendrye planned to return to the west, this time to go west along the North Saskatchewan River. Unfortunately, but fell victim to a virus sweeping New France and died on December 5, 1749. The trading posts he had built deteriorated and by 1763 everything that had not been burned down was turned over to the British. There is a major monument on Tache Blvd., a school, and a Golf and Country Club. There was also the La Verendrye room that was the main dining room at the old Royal Alexandra Hotel.


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