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April 21, 2006

Voyageurs Visit the Sturgeon River House Museum

A large group of voyageurs will be descending on the Sturgeon River House Museum tomorrow.  They are not coming by canoe but by car.  They are representatives from various museums and related organizations from the area roughly enclosed by Mattawa, Parry Sound, Blind River, and Haileybury.  This organization called the Voyageur Heritage Network (VHN) was formed in 1983 “to help heritage and cultural groups develop and offer better services to their communities”. 

 Photos of Sturgeon River House from late 1870s – Norman McLeod – last manager before the post moved to Sturgeon Falls in 1880.  Museum photo

The VHN meets a couple of times a year in different museums and communicates regularly during the year.  The Saturday meeting is a business meeting with interesting and relevant programs in the afternoon in a session open to the public.  I will be involved, as will voyageur interpreter Mike Buss dressed in full costume and talking about the voyageur way of life. 

The museum is open 5 days a week and will be open this Saturday for this meeting.  You can find the museum by turning left on Leblanc Road just west of Sturgeon Falls and following the signs. 

The Museum 

The Sturgeon River House Museum started small as a centennial project by the Municipality of Sturgeon Falls in 1967 and has expanded remarkably over the years.  It has a rebuilt fur trade pioneer village on the site of the former fur trading post on the river there from 1850 to 1880. 

The inner court features a blacksmith shop, pioneer log home, ice house, etc.  A large 12,000 square foot main building features a wide variety of fur trade artifacts plus extensive local history material on two floors.  The Francophone archives from the Francophone historical society that I wrote about in May 2004 has relocated its archives from North Bay to an archive room on the second floor of the museum.  A gift shop and snack bar are available. 

The museum has also developed an extensive Theodore Fouriezos Wetland Park that provides a fascinating nature walk.  One of the expanding winter programs at the museum is centred around snow shoe walks that large groups of children enjoy.  A brochure outlines many other activities including guided tours, a Cranberry Festival with cranberry picking and cranberry treats (October 14-15) and a Traditional Family Christmas (December 10, 2006).  Phone 753-4716 for information or go online at info@sturgeonriverhouse.com

Curator Serge Ducharme describing Trail layout at the Museum.  D. Mackey photo.

I visited the Museum recently and had a tour with Museum Curator Serge Ducharme.  Of special interest was their icehouse and ice harvest because I wrote about the topic last week.  They have an icehouse with lots of sawdust and they cut and store ice as a museum project.  The ice was not suitable this year but a photo story of the 2005 event can be seen on their website.  Serge described the museum operation including the trail system and showed me their storage and workspace.  An intern has been acquired to begin to upgrade and reorganize some of the displays. 

He also provided me with some of the history of the original Post as provided by the Hudson’s Bay Archives.  The photo shows the original post with post manager Norman McLeod (1869-1880) on the left.  He died there and the post coincidentally was closed about the same time. 

The original post in the Sturgeon Falls area was in a couple of other locations before settling on the west bank of the Sturgeon River.  A plan shows the site with a native burial ground opposite on the other side of the river indicating a native camp there doing business with the post.  The original trading post on Lake Nipissing was on the LaVase River outlet into Lake Nipissing in North Bay.  Toussaint de la Ronde was the first manager from 1821 to 1824 – 182 years ago.  The original company was the North West Company which joined with the Hudson’s Bay Company and became the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821. 

The Lake Nipissing post was a sub post of the larger post at Lake Temiskaming as was the post at Mattawa and Temagami.  There was heavy “opposition” from “free traders” who used whiskey to buy furs for profit and resale.  The post harvested cranberries for distribution to other areas for years as one of its activities.  The Hudson’s Bay Company sold the 288 acre site to local settlers prior to its acquisition by the town. 

The Museum is owned and operated by West Nipissing and the Board is a municipal board.  Councillor David Lafleur is on the Board and serves as the chair of the Voyageur Heritage Network and will oversee the event tomorrow in the Museum’s fine meeting room.  Congratulations to the Museum and the Network for their good work.

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