This Day In History: The Great French Canadian Explorers La Verendrye Dies (1749)


On this date in 1749, the great French Canadian explorer Pierre La Verendrye died. He had explored large areas of Canada in his search for the fabled North West Passage. This was a passage that would have allowed ships to go around North America and to sail into the Pacific.

He was born in 1685 in a small frontier town in New France, now known as Quebec. La Verendrye was also an adventurer and from an early age, he was a rather reckless boy. Life on the frontier was tough. Even by the standards of the time, La Verendrye was tough and fearless. At the age of twelve, he joined an Indian-French raid on the America colony of Massachusetts. La Verendrye became a soldier in France and fought in the Spanish War of Succession. He spent many years as a soldier in Europe and only returned to New France in 1726.  He became a fur trapper and worked in the frontier region north of Lake Superior. Here he got to known the local Indians and he won their confidence. Native American tribes told him of a great river that flowed to the west in the distant North. None of the Indians had witnessed the river and they told La Verendrye that they believed the story and that there was an actual river. He believed that this could be the Northwest Passage. A sea lane that would allow ships to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  He became convinced that he could find the North West Passage. La Verendrye was motivated not just out of a desire for adventure, he had a financial motive. He decided that he would seek out the fabled passage and as he did he would trap for furs. La Verendrye believed that the excursion would make him rich. He and his sons established some trading posts in unexplored territory and used these as a base for further exploration. La Verendrye was able to obtain some primitive maps from Indians of the great river, which he believed was the North-West Passage. La Verendrye explored a vast area in modern Canada and further south in the modern United States.

La Verendrye reached an Indian tribe  in the Missouri River region in present-day North Dakota. He arrived in the area over fifty years before the Lewis and Clarke expedition reached that area. His sons were also explorers and they also explored many areas of modern-day Canada and also the United States. They may have ventured as far west as Montana and were the first people of European descent to see the Rocky Mountains.

Battle fo the Plain of Abrahams that ended the colony of New France

La Verendrye and his sons, in all their travels  never found the elusive Northwest Passage. They had received some support from the Montreal authorities and when they failed to reach the passage they were heavily criticized. There was a simple reason for their failure and this was the fact that it did not exist. Lewis and Clarke proved in the early 1800s, that there was no North-West Passage. La Verendrye and his sons did help to open new territories up for further exploration. They did manage to open up new territories. Furthermore, he helped the greatly expand the territories of New France and without him they would have been claimed by the British and the American colonies. He did much to strengthen at least temporarily the colony of New France.  La Verendrye was never to lose his love of adventure and exploration and he died as he was preparing for another expedition out West. New France eventually was conquered by the British after the Battle of Abraham Plains and they absorbed it into their North American Empire.