David Thompson Voyageur Trek

Trip Overview

Canoeists on the CanoeSki David Thompson Voyageur Trek

The voyageur canoe leads the David Thompson “canoe brigade” down the South Saskatchewan River (© canoeski)

This action-packed, multistoried river adventure into wild northwest history got underway in 2007, year one of the four-year International David Thompson Bicentennial Commemoration. To join in the bicentennial celebrations, we teamed up our river trip with the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society and the St. Louis Historical Society to host a public open house at the site of an ancient Hudson’s Bay Company fort on the South Saskatchewan River, several kilometres north of Batoche. On the canoeing side, a replica voyageur canoe and a bit of period costuming added flair to the event, which included guided tours of the archaeological dig at the fort site, artifact displays and local historical displays and presentations.

The connection between the famous explorer, fur trader and mapmaker David Thompson and the gathering at the site of the old HBC fort was Thompson’s presence there as a young apprentice helping to construct the fort and keeping the post journal. We have a copy of his handwritten daily journal from the Hudson Bay Co. Archives to view when we visit the archaeological site called South Branch House.

Across the river from the HBC post was another fort manned by their fiercest competitors, the North West Company. The NWC post remains relatively unknown because of its obscure location in deep forest, but from our final campsite on the river trip, we take a hike to explore the intriguing remnants of the fort still visible at the site. The forts are notable for their brief but eventful lives. In the summer of 1794, both forts suffered devastating attacks from hostile local inhabitants. The tale of horror that ensued comes from one of the readings on the canoe trip from the journal of a NWC partner travelling through the area at the time.

Prior to the foregoing day of fur trade intensity, is a day that starts the trip at another archaeological site called Petite Ville, involving Métis history circa 1870’s. This interesting addition to the trip occurred when the 2-day format was extended to three days in 2008. After launching at Petite Ville, the trip moves downstream to get re-acquainted with the saga of the 1885 Northwest Resistance by taking a side hike to Batoche. Finally, after exploring the fur trade forts the following day, the river trip comes to a close at the St. Louis Buffalo Park with another inescapable dose of archaeology, learning about Bison Antiquus, discovered at nearby excavations. The total immersion in history and archaeology is made easier by the on-board presence of a professional archaeologist!

Although the Thompson Bicentennial culminated in 2011, we carry on with the program minus the voyageur canoe, which migrated north to La Ronge with its owner. The South Branch House open house has been downscaled to small group tours of the excavation site by the Archaeological Society, which has been conducting an excavation and field school program at the HBC site since 2005.

The David Thompson Voyageur Trek won the prestigious Spirit of Saskatchewan Award for CanoeSki Discovery Company at Tourism Saskatchewan’s Annual Gala Awards Ceremony held in Saskatoon in March 2010.

Trip Details
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Scheduled Dates: July 12 – 14, 2024
Custom departure dates for groups can be arranged.
Geographic Area: South Saskatchewan River – Batoche/St. Louis area
Nearest Communities: Rosthern and St. Louis, Saskatchewan Canada
Paddling Venue: River flatwater with mild to moderate current
Adventure Rating: Novice – a modest degree of fitness and upper body conditioning will help prepare you for rigorous physical activities like paddling and portaging
Minimum Age: 14
Paddling Distance: 59 km (35 mi.)
Accommodation: Wilderness camping in storm-proof nylon tents
Price per Person: $760 plus 5% GST

Booking Info


South Branch House arcaeological excavation site on the South Saskatchewan River

Archaeologists give a guided tour of the South Branch House excavation site  (©canoeski)

Day 1 – will involve an early morning departure from Saskatoon, heading north to Rosthern and east to the canoe launch point at Petite Ville, an 1870’s Metis wintering village on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River about a half hour’s drive north of Saskatoon. From there we paddle downstream to the junction of the historic Carlton Trail at Batoche National Historic Site where the only civil conflict on Canadian soil took place in 1885. We will hike the trail to the Batoche site and take in Parks Canada’s multimedia presentation on the 1885 Uprising and take a guided tour of the site. Returning to the river, we paddle a short distance to our evening campsite.
Paddling distance: 20 km (12 mi)
Hiking distance: approx. 4 km (2.4 mi)

Day 2 – We continue paddling downstream to reach the Hudson’s Bay Co. fur trade post that David Thompson helped to build. Our stop at South Branch House archaeological site will coincide with the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society’s summer dig program at the site. We will learn about discoveries turned up by archaeological excavations and hear about the history of the fort. Our evening camp is a beautiful wilderness site in a forest meadow, a short portage off the river. From our camp, we will hike to check out the site of the North West Company post.
Paddling distance: 19.5 km (12 mi)
Hiking distance: approx. 1 km (.6 mi)

Day 3 – Leaving camp in the morning, we may spot bald eagles nesting in the vicinity. Our final day will be a fairly relaxing paddle to reach the village of St. Louis where we will pull our canoes off the river mid-afternoon. After loading the gear and taking post-trip photos in front of the gigantic pre-historic bison, we hike to the neighboring café for refreshments. Our return drive to Saskatoon should get us back into the City about suppertime.
Paddling distance: 19.5 km (12 mi)

Campsite 2 on the David Thompson Voyageur Trek

Suppertime in a scenic forest meadow campsite      (©Jeff O’Brien)

Package Includes:

  • Canoeing and safety equipment
  • Pre-trip paddling & safety briefings
  • Storm-proof nylon tents
  • Waterproof packs for personal items & clothing
  • National Park entry fees
  • Nutritious meals prepared over an open fire
  • Certified instructor/guide
  • Historic and cultural interpretive activities en route
  • Return transportation by passenger van from Saskatoon

Prices shown in Canadian Dollars; applicable taxes extra
Advance booking required, subject to availability

To book your space on this trip, please see Registration

Packing List, Liability Waiver and Detailed Trip Info – contact Cliff Speer 306-653-5693 or cliff@canoeski.com

David Thompson Voyageur Trip Tales

Voyageur Jeff
Beautiful cedar strip hand-crafted replica 26′ voyageur
north canoe on the South Sask River.  (©Jeff O’Brien)

South Saskatchewan River Adventures in History and Archaeology by Jamie & Connie Baxter, July 2009

Prairie Boy Discovers a Treasure Trove of Archaeology by Georges Doderai, July 2009

Learning About History and Wilderness Living by Velma Persson, July 2009

A prairie boy and retired farmer from St. Louis, a tourism contest winning couple from Morse and a farmer/drug store worker from Rosetown, each have a story to relate about the David Thompson historical and archaeological river adventure…>>>

Media Stories on David Thompson Voyageur Trek

River Rhythms and River Stories by Amy Jo Ehman (pdf – 986 kb)
Prairies North Magazine March 2009
Story Line: A canoe trip log relating stories of fur trade history and archaeology encountered on a David Thompson-themed trek down the South Saskatchewan River

Weekend Voyageurs by Candace Savage (pdf – 925 kb)
Canadian Geographic Travel Magazine March 2008
Story Line: A paddling journey into the darker side of fur trade history involving conflict and murder on the South Saskatchewan River

Travelling the Wake Left by Thompson by Peter Wilson (pdf – 536 kb)
Saskatoon Star Phoenix August 20, 2007
Story Line: CanoeSki paddlers follow in the footsteps of famous Canadian explorer David Thompson on the South Saskatchewan River

Article by Cliff on David Thompson Voyageur Trek:

Our River is Alive with History and Archaeology by Cliff Speer (pdf – 274 kb)
Neighborhood Express June 2009
Story Line: David Thompson is known for his heroic achievements in the exploration and mapping of Canada, but the fur trade era of his time has some sorry tales to tell. Saskatchewan forts were the scene of some gruesome conflicts and killings involving fur traders and native inhabitants. Two ancient forts on the South Saskatchewan River, operated by the major competitors in the trade, are the repository of such little-known dark secrets. Discover more of the sombre side of Saskatchewan fur trade history in Cliff’s article in this Saskatoon community paper.

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