Michigan’s (and Ottawa County’s) history is rich with the stories of the voyageurs. For a century and a half Michigan’s life centered in the fur trade. Its French pioneers, suffering great hardships, worked side by side with the “black robes” at the trading post, the mission chapel, and the forest fort. The chief markets were Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac, and Detroit, but there were also important posts in the St. Joseph and Grand River Valleys. Check out the resources we developed below to guide you through some of that rich history. Use them to dig deeper into some of our local history!

Table of Contents

Use the links below to help navigate to the information you are looking for:

Take the Park History Quiz

What do lions, fox, skunks, the “First Lady of Mackinac Island,” and a US president have to do with Ottawa County Parks? Take a park history quiz to find out! Please note this quiz is hosted on the Ottawa County Parks Foundation website. When it opens, you will leave this page.

Ottawa County Parks Story Time: The Red Sash

Ottawa County Parks Naturalist Guide reads “The Red Sash” by Jean E. Pendziwol, Pictures by Nicolas Debon. This is the story of a young Native American boy whose father guides voyageurs. The rendezvous at Fort William on Lake Superior is a high point.

Gabagouache Virtual Tour

Check out this video from Ottawa County Parks Naturalist Guide, George, as he shares a bit about the voyageurs and the Gabagouache North Canoe.

“Alouette” Sing Along

Join George, Ottawa County Parks Naturalist Guide, as he sings “Alouette”. Feel free to sing along! We guarantee this ear worm will get stuck in your head!

Movie: The Poor Farm

Long ago, “Poor Farms” were established in the United States to take care of those who could not take care of themselves and had no one else to care for them. “The Poor Farm” is a documentary film that tells the story of the Eastmanville Poor Farm in Ottawa County, Michigan. Founded in 1866, it was the longest continually operating Poor Farm in the United States, serving its community for over 130 years. Like many such Poor Farms across the country, the Eastmanville Poor Farm provided a home for the sick, the elderly, the disabled, and anyone else unable to live independently in our society. This film was produced by TDMP faculty Joshua Pardon with assistance provided by students in the Television and Digital Media Production program at Ferris State University. The Poor Farm is now a county park.


Additional Resources

In addition to the local history resources from Ottawa County Parks, we also want to share other excellent resources with you. All of the following videos and activities have been reviewed by our Naturalist Team and you can be sure the information is accurate and appropriate for children. Use them to dig deeper as you explore our local history!

Explore at Home (Mackinac State Historic Parks)

Virtually explore the sites, exhibits, demos and more from our State Historic Sites in the straits region. Also be sure to check out their Orientation Movies!

The Voyageurs (National Film Board of Canada)

This short film tells the tale of the men who drove big freighter canoes into the wilderness in the days when the fur trade was Canada’s biggest business. The film recreates scenes of the early 19th century with a soundtrack by an all-male chorus.

The Story of Mackinac Island

A brief look at the importance of Mackinac Island to the fur trade.

The Birch Bark Canoe

Short documentary on the success of the canoe as a method of shipping and travel.

Making a Birch Bark Canoe with Tom Byers

A greatly condensed building of a canoe from material found in the forest.


Dig Deeper!

Looking for some more in depth resources to tickle your inner history buff? Check out these great text based resources below!

  • French Fur-Trade Era 1634-1763: A written general description of the groups involved, reasons for the trade, and changes in the trade.
  • The Great Lakes Fur Trade (The Mitten, October, 2004): An easy to read written overview of the fur trade in Michigan from Michigan History  magazine. Illustrations, natural history of the beaver, crossword activity.
  • The Life of a Voyageur (HBC Heritage Canada): Using HBC historic images and accompanying text, teachers and students can explore the life of the voyageur, one of the most interesting stories in Canada’s history. Canadian history curriculum. 
  • Lowell fur trading post was manned by Michigan’s most famous woman pioneer (Grand Rapids Press, Nov. 2011, updated April, 2019): Newspaper article discusses Madame La’Fromboise and the location one of her trading post near Lowell, MI.
  • Madeline La’Fromboise: Native American Businesswoman (History of American Women): Wondering who Madame La’Fromboise is? Check out this background on her!
  • Rix Robinson: Biography and stories about one of the earliest and most industrious of settlers in West Michigan. Fur trapper and trader, trading post operator, politician, etc.
  • Fur Trading on the Detroit River (Meandering Michigan History, by Kathy Warnes): Descriptions of early trading locations in the Detroit area and the conflict between rival fur companies. The business of fur trading.
  • The Fur Trade (ScholarWorks at WMU, Ft. St. Joseph Archaeological Project): Detailed discussion of trade, routes, people, and goods of the fur trade in Michigan especially as it relates to Ft. St. Joseph. Lots of images.
  • Trade Goods: From Malachite’s Big Hole resources dealing with “mountain men” of the west. Useful lists of typical goods and what their worth in furs was.
  • Frances Anne Hopkins (HBC Heritage Canada): Frances Anne Hopkins (1838-1919) was a British artist whose canoe travels throughout Canada with her husband, HBC official Edward Hopkins, inspired her to create a series of sketches and paintings which offer an unparalleled artistic record of the realities of 19th century voyageur life.



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