year, the French fur trading companies hired a great number of
men from the Saint Lawrence valley on contract, who initially
worked as canoeists and packers for each trip done during the
summer. The brigades left Montreal
as soon as the ice broke up and returned in the autumn, bringing
trade goods out with them and returning with furs, which is how
the term "voyageur" or tripper came about.
It was the responsibility of those who manned the outposts to
collect the furs, but many hands were needed to keep these posts
running: woodcutters, carpenters, hunters, fishermen, horse
keeps, as well as trappers and fur traders. As these individuals
spent the winter on site, they were known as "hivernants" or
winterers, terms which were often specified in their contracts.
It must also be remembered that not all fur trading companies
were large. Companies often consisted of a few associates. Three
men were sufficient to man a small canoe loaded with trade goods
provided by a supplier in Montreal, and undertake a trading
expedition. As such, in the late 17th and early 18th century,
many enterprising associates did just that.