Songs of the Fur Trade

Voyageurs worked long hours at a very dangerous job. They were expected to paddle 55 strokes per minute while in the canoes and could only stop during “official breaks”. They carried 180 pound packs at a trot across rugged portages! Rest stops (pose) were located up to ½ mile apart. They suffered through difficult weather, eating very plain food (corn mush and grease). It might seem strange that through all of this it was very likely that they were singing a good part of the time!

The songs were adapted to accompany the motion of paddles dipped in unison. Singing helped to pass the time and made the work seem lighter. In fact, it is likely that the Montreal Agents and Wintering Partners sought out and preferred to hire voyageurs who liked to sing and were good at it. They believed that singing helped the voyageurs to paddle faster and longer. However, the French Canadian voyageurs were a gay people and did not need a reason to sing. They sang on just about every occasion.

The voyageurs sang of simple things and events. They were fond of songs about wind and weather, spring, love and especially fair ladies. A la claire fontaine tells of a lost love because of an undelivered bouquet of roses.

Alouette informs the lark that the singer will pluck its head, nose, eyes and wings and tail. En roulant ma boule sings of ponds, bonnie ducks and a prince “on hunting bound”. Many of the songs favored by the voyageurs have been passed down to our own era. Below we have printed the words (in French of course) to Alouette. You probably already know the melody.

CHORUS: Alouette, gentille alouette ] 2
Alouette, je t’y plumerai

1. Je t’y plumerai la tête] 2
Et la tête, Et la tête

4. Je t’y plumerai le dos] 2
Et le dos, Et le dos
Et le bec] 2, Et les yeux] 2, Et la tête]2

2. Je t’y plumerai les yeux] 2
Et les yeux, Et les yeux
Et la tête, Et la tête

5. Je t’y plumerai le cou] 2
Et la coue, Et la cou
Et la dos, Et la bec,
Et les yeux, Et la tête

3. Je t’y plumerai le bec] 2
Et le bec, Et le bec
Et les yeux, Et la tête

Alouette, alouette
Oh Alouette, gentille alouette] 2
Alouette, je t’y plumerai] 2