Voyageurs: French Exploration of the New World

July 29, 2017 – October 14, 2018 Carroll Gallery

It often took two months for the seafaring journeys that brought European explorers to what is now North America. But following the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus, they came—they rushed—to claim land for their countries. French voyageurs worked for fur companies to transport goods to and from the New World’s trading posts. The life was hard, but they were romanticized as heroes. Voyageurs chronicles the years of the Great Lakes fur trade and reveals the lifestyle, demands, and rewards of this unique era in history. It is this story told in the exhibit Voyageurs: French Exploration of the New World, on view through October 14, 2018, at The History Museum.


Drawings, maps, and other illustrations on the exhibit’s 29 panels chronicle French exploration in North America, including the history of fur trade, French voyageurs, Fort St. Joseph, the Potawatomi Indians, and French explorer Robert de La Salle.


Three dimensional artifacts on view include ledgers, journals, and notes from William Burnett, a European trader who settled in St. Joseph, Michigan, in the late 1700s, provide records of transactions from such individuals as Lathrop Taylor and chronicle expeditions. Glass trade beads, a horseshoe, an iron door latch, and other artifacts offer a glimpse of life in the area during this period.


Voyageurs: French Exploration of the New World was produced with assistance by Western Michigan University. The Niles History Center loaned artifacts for the exhibit. Erica Kirk was a guest writer.


Also at The History Museum is the 38-room Oliver Mansion, once home to industrialist J.D. Oliver, president of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. All furnishings in the historic house are original to the home, giving visitors a remarkable glimpse of how the wealthy family lived.


The History Museum is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. House tours are available Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.


Admission is free for members. There is a charge for general admission. For an additional charge, visitors can also see all three floors of exhibits at the adjoining Studebaker National Museum.

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