Pierre Verendrye

Pierre Verendrye

(1685-1749)

By 1720, the colony of New France had lost much of its valuable fur trade to the English Hudson’s Bay Company. One French- Canadian came forward in a valiant effort to reverse that decline: Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye, later known by his title, Verendrye.

The youngest of eight children, Verendrye was born in Three Rivers, a town midway between Quebec and Montreal. As a young man, Verendrye enlisted in the army, serving in Canada and Newfoundland. In 1708, he went toFrance, fought in the War of the Spanish Succession and was badly wounded at the battle of Malplaquet.

Verendrye returned to Canada in 1712. That same year he married Marie-Anne Dandonneau du Sable; the couple had four sons and one daughter. When he saw that his military career had come to a dead end, Verendrye entered the fur trade. Montreal had long been the center for the trade, but the posts of the English Hudson’s Bay Company had drawn off the choicest pelts and the largest profits. Verendrye therefore looked to the far west.

In 1727, he was given command of the fur post on Lake Nipigon, north of Lake Superior. There he heard repeated rumors of a “western sea” which he thought would take him to the Pacific Ocean. Verendrye returned to Quebec and persuaded the governor togrant him a commission to find the western sea.

In 1731, Verendrye left Montreal with three of his sons and about 50 French Canadian explorers. During the next 10 years Verendyre and his party established eight new forts in modern-day Manitoba: Forts St.Pierre, Saint Charles, Maurepas, Rouge,Dauphin, Bourbon, Lareine, and La Corne.

In 1738, Verendrye visited the villages of the Mandan Indians on the Missouri River. Verendrye experienced frustration and even heartbreak during the course of his explorations. His son Jean Baptiste was killed by Sioux Indians in 1736. Verendrye also ran heavily into debt; the government of New France had granted him a commission to explore, but did not give him funds to do so.

In 1742, two of Verendryes sons, Louis- Joseph and Francois, went on an expedition that traveled south-by-southwest from Fort Lareine. It is likely that the brothers reached the Big Horn Mountains of modern-day Wyoming in January, 1743, and were therefore the first Europeans to reach the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Verendrye returned to Montreal in 1743. His health was ruined by his many journeys and he faced bankruptcy. However, as a small consolation, he was made a chevalier of Saint Louis and promoted to captain of the tro