Bon Voyage! Voyageur canoe offers educational tour at RIVERDAYS

Bon Voyage! Voyageur canoe offers educational tour at RIVERDAYS

-By Meredith Morgan

Long before trucks and trains, early entrepreneurs paddled their wares RIVERDAYS2web.jpgdown local waterways. At this year's RIVERDAYS festival, history buffs can travel like the fur traders of Michigan's past in an authentic voyageur canoe.

On July 18 from 12 to 4 p.m., staff members from the Chippewa Nature Center will guide participants on 20 minute canoe tours down the Chippewa River. Paddles and lifejackets will be provided. The program is open to all ages, and no canoeing experience is necessary.

The RIVERDAYS canoe tours will highlight the region's fur trade, as well as its natural history. According to Dennis Pilaske, the Nature Center's director of interpretation, the watercraft facilitates fun, hands-on education. "You can read a book or look at a picture, but this is the chance to really understand and experience how people lived centuries ago," Pilaske said. "The voyageur canoe offers a unique opportunity; it’s like a giant floating classroom."

Constructed of fiberglass, the 29-foot canoe is painted to resemble the birch bark boats used by French fur traders. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the popularity of felt hats created a high demand for animal pelts in Europe. This gave rise to a major fur trade in the Great Lakes area. According to Pilaske, voyageur canoes were an important part of the regional economy.

"Before highways and roads, the dominant feature of this region was its rivers. Fur traders used the canoes to transport goods to the area and haul furs out. They were kind of like the long-haul truck drivers of the past."

The Nature Center purchased the voyageur canoe in 2006, thanks to a grant from the Midland Area Community Foundation. Aside from RIVERDAYS, the boat is used for a variety of programs including family tours, a fall color ride, and sunset paddles.

For more information about the RIVERDAYS voyageur canoe tours, contact the Midland Area Community Foundation at 989-839-9661. For information about other voyageur canoe programs, visit the Nature Center’s website,