Eat Like a Voyageur: Make the Bread and ‘Energy Bars’ That Fuelled the Fur Trade

words :: Carmen Kuntz.

Imagine canoe-tripping for a living. A paddle and canoe as tools of the trade, the river as an office. Paddle. Navigate. Survive. Now imagine the year is 1670. North America is a wild continent, and Europeans are exploring Canada, the resource-rich region they call New France, in search of furs to send back to Europe. Traversing the New World by canoe, these men were called coureurs des bois, which means “runners of the woods.”


Voyageurs at Dawn, Frances Anne Hopkins, 1871. LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


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Predominantly of French or First Nation origin and sometimes referred to as voyageurs, they paddled and portaged across the continent acting as middlemen in the fur industry. Negotiating trade between Aboriginal groups who hunted and trapped the beaver, otter and fox, and the European businessmen waiting in ships on the east coast, the coureurs des bois had to be hardy and resourceful: businessmen yet survivalist.

There were no wicking modern fabrics back then. And no dehydrated, vacuum-packed expedition food. Just wit and skill and wilderness. Food was fuel, and meals had to be quick and calorie-packed. Bannock and pemmican were the trail-tested bread and “energy bars” that fuelled the fur trade. Paddlers today love them for the same reasons the fur traders did; they require simple ingredients, are quick to prepare, and provide easy calories and lots of protein. Eat a piece of history. Cook like a voyageur!




Sweet or savoury, this yeast-less campfire bread is quick to cook and requires just four ingredients. The dense, fire-cooked flatbread has Scottish roots and was introduced to the First Nations during the days of fur trade. Traditionally made with wheat or oat flour, the bread had a long shelf life and provided a source of carbohydrates, which were hard to come by in the Canadian woods. Some of the Indigenous people who adopted it replaced European flour with native flour made from plant roots and tubers. Enjoy as an appetizer, with soups and sauces, or dressed with nut butter, maple syrup or jam.


2.5 cups flour

1.2 tsp. salt

3 tbs. oil

1 cup water

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. sugar (optional)

Flavouring: oregano, basil, or cocoa powder (optional).

Mix dry ingredients. Add oil and small amounts of water until a firm (not too sticky) dough is formed. After letting the dough sit for 30 minutes, roll it into a sausage and wrap around a stick. Rotate over coals until golden brown and cooked through.

Tip: Mix dry ingredients pre-trip for quick prep. Add protein powder to up the paddlepower calories.

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Voyageurs were on the go all day, and staying well fed wasn’t about comfort; it was about survival. Unwrapping a Clif Bar wasn’t an option. Pemmican was first a First Nations recipe, adopted by European fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries.


“His first experience of pemmican,” circa 1880, Harry Bullock-Webster, Sketches of Hudson Bay Life. University of British Columbia Library, Rare Books and Special Collections.


The name pemmican is probably derived from the Cree word for “rendered fat.” Traditionally, fat or suet (rendered lard) provided both the binding agent and key calories for this ultimate survival superfood, which also contained dried meat and fruit. First Nations people would sub in ingredients that were local, in season and readily available. The same goes for today’s pemmican. Dried elk, deer, moose, caribou or bison might not be available at your supermarket, but beef or turkey jerky will be. Switching up the dried berries changes the flavour and adds essential nutrients like iron and vitamin C.



In this modern rendition with nut butter, the shelf-life and binding power are reduced. (Historically, bricks of pemmican could last months or years.) But this is a more accessible and trail-friendly option for today’s trippers.


1 cup coarsely powdered/chopped beef jerky or venison jerky

1 cup dried berries (cranberry, blueberry, dates)

1 cup unroasted nuts of any kind (or trail mix)

1 shot of honey or maple syrup

2 shots peanut butter (substitute for suet)

Pinch of salt

Sprinkle of chia seeds or hemp hearts (optional).

Grind, chop or pound the jerky into small pieces or ideally, a mealy powder. Combine in a bowl with dried berries, seeds or nuts. Heat peanut butter and maple syrup/honey until thick. Mix wet and dry ingredients. Cool the mixture then form into balls, bars or sticks. Tip: Make pemmican at home and freeze it to help ingredients bind.

Excerpted from ML Blue Mountains, summer ’19.