Des Groseilliers, Médard Chouart

Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers, explorer, fur trader (bap at Charly-sur-Marne, France 31 July 1618; d at New France 1696?). A man of courage who valued personal freedom and initiative, Des Groseilliers opened Lakes Michigan and Superior to the fur trade and Jesuit missionaries. Resentful of perceived injustices at the hands of French officials, he joined the English and with Pierre-Esprit RADISSON helped found the HUDSON'S BAY CO.

Des Groseilliers probably came to Canada in 1641. In 1645-46 he worked for the Jesuits at Ste Marie in Huronia. The latter phase of the IROQUOIS WARS (1648-53) cut the St Lawrence colonies off from their fur suppliers, but a peace made with the Iroquois early in 1654 and the arrival of a contingent of Ottawa-Huron gave Des Groseilliers the opportunity to explore west of Lake Huron. He left 6 August 1654 and returned August 1656 with 250 natives in 50 canoes from the Green Bay (Wisconsin) area and the southwestern shore of Lake Superior, bearing a fortune in furs. During this trip he learned of the rich fur country north and northwest of Lake Superior which, he was told, was only 7 days by canoe from Hudson Bay.

In August 1659 Des Groseilliers, this time accompanied by his brother-in-law Radisson, undertook a second voyage to the south shore of Lake Superior to Chequamegon, Mille Lacs area of Wisconsin, and in the spring of 1660, to the north shore of Lake Superior near Pigeon River. Upon their return to Trois-Rivières on 24 August 1660, with 60 canoes and another fortune in furs, they were arrested for illegal trading and their furs were confiscated. Further frustrations with French officials took the pair to Boston in 1662 to solicit English help in a venture directly to Hudson Bay.

 After an abortive New England expedition Des Groseilliers was persuaded to take his plans to England (1665). Three years later (1668), with the backing of Prince Rupert and London merchants, Groseilliers sailed from London to the mouth of the Rupert R in the 45-t ketch NONSUCH, commanded by Zachariah Gillam, where the crew wintered and traded for furs. The following year the Nonsuch returned to England, proving that it was possible, as Groseilliers had predicted, to exploit the fur trade from Hudson Bay. The successful conclusion of this voyage led to the founding of the HBC on 2 May 1670.

Over the next 5 years he was busy setting up company posts on James Bay. Persuaded by Father ALBANEL to rejoin the French, he returned to Canada in 1676. In 1682 he entered the COMPAGNIE DU NORD and built a French post at the mouth of the Hayes River. English complaints of the destruction of their posts by Des Groseilliers and his companions as well as evasion of the French tax on furs again led him into trouble. After pleading his case in Paris (1684) he returned to New France and seems to have retired.