Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye
Birthday: November 17, 1685
Nationality: Canadian, French
Died At Age: 64
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born Country: Canada
Born in: Trois-Rivières
Famous as: An explorer
children: François de La Vérendrye, Jean Baptiste de La Vérendrye, Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye, Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye
Died on: December 5, 1749
place of death: Montreal
Pierre Gaultier was a French Canadian military officer, fur trader and explorer. He is credited to have organized the expeditions which opened up the area west of Lake Superior and paved the way for the addition of Western Canada to the original New France in the Saint Lawrence basin in future. His accomplishments however went unnoticed during his lifetime though years later he was ranked as one of the greatest explorers of the Canadian West. He was joined by his sons in his explorations and had built a string of trading posts in the course of their search for an overland route to the “western sea” which for a while helped strengthen French claims in North America. Born as the youngest son in a large family of French settlers in Canada, Pierre Gaultier decided early on in his life to embark on a military career. As a young man he took part in Queen Anne's War and was also present at the Raid on Deerfield. He fought in Flanders during the War of the Spanish Succession and sustained grievous injuries in the war. After recovering he embarked on a career as a fur-trader. He soon yearned for adventure and set out on an expedition to explore the areas near Lake Superior which helped to lay the foundation for further exploration of the region
Childhood & Early Life
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes was born on November 17, 1685 in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, as the youngest son of René Gaultier de Varennes and Marie. He had 12 siblings, seven of whom reached maturity.
He lost his father when he was just six. He received a few years of formal education at the seminary of Quebec where he was a student from 1696 to 1699.
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Pierre Gaultier decided at a young age to join the army and received a cadet’s commission in the colonial regulars at the age of 14. He participated in Queen Anne's War in 1704 and 1705 and was present at the Raid on Deerfield which involved a long journey through the wilderness to attack the inhabitants of a sleeping village.
He was promoted to ensign shortly afterwards. This was, however, a minor rank and did not satisfy the ambitious young man. So, he decided to enlist in the French army where he expected better chances of advancement. He moved to France in 1708 and joined the Régiment de Bretagne.
He fought in Flanders during the War of the Spanish Succession and was severely wounded by gunshot and eight sabre cuts at the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709. He was then taken as a prisoner of war by the enemy and released in 1710.
Following his release he was promoted to lieutenant. However, by this time he was yearning to return to Canada and was permitted to go back in 1712. Back home he got married and started earning his livelihood by farming and fur-trading.
His mundane life underwent a big change in 1726 when his brother Jacques-René was appointed commander of the poste du Nord, the north shore of Lake Superior. Gaultier began trading in the area and became commandant in 1728 when his brother left the post to participate in the war against the Foxes.
During this time, he heard of a great river that might lead to the Pacific and hence to the riches of the Orient. He decided to explore the routes that led to the fabled lands of riches in the Pacific.
He met Governor Beauharnois at Quebec in 1730 and worked out a plan with him. He set out from Montreal with three of his sons and 50 engages in 1731. By autumn, his son Jean-Baptiste had built Fort St. Pierre on Rainy Lake.
They proceeded on their expedition, and built Fort St. Charles on Lake of the Woods which would serve as his headquarters for the next several years. The expedition reached Lake Winnipeg in 1734 and built Fort Maurepas near the mouth of the Red River at the southern end of the lake.
He also focused on his fur-trade over the course of his expedition which angered Maurepas, the French Minister of Marine, who believed that Pierre Gaultier was more interested in fur-trade than in exploration.
The expedition reached the Mandan Indian villages on the Missouri River in present North Dakota in 1738. By now the men were physically and financially exhausted. Inspite of their best efforts, they had been unable to discover the routes they had intended to find.
On their return journey, they placed a lead tablet near present Pierre, S.D., claiming the country for France. Upon his return Gaultier was heavily criticized as his expedition was considered a failure. It would be decades before his accomplishments would be recognized by the French-Canadians.
Pierre Gaultier is counted amongst the greatest explorers of the Canadian West for the expeditions he undertook with his sons which opened up the area west of Lake Superior, laying the foundation for the addition of Western Canada to the original New France in the Saint Lawrence basin. He did not receive much recognition for his achievements in his lifetime but was much honored in the years following his death.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Order of Saint Louis shortly before his death in December 1749.
Personal Life & Legacy
Pierre Gaultier married Marie-Anne, daughter of Louis Dandonneau Du Sablé in October 1712. The couple had six children—four sons and two daughters. His sons also became well-known explorers in their own rights.
He died on December 5, 1749, aged 64.
Several places are named in his honor. These include La Vérendrye Provincial Park in Ontario, La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve in Quebec, and Boulevard de La Vérendrye in Montreal, Quebec.