I learned so much about voyageur sashes when the Winnipeg Art Gallery education guides toured the St. Boniface Museum recently. Voyageurs were French workers employed to transport furs for the Hudsons Bay Company.
Our guide Bailey told us the sashes could be up to three meters long and were used for many purposes including providing support to prevent voyageurs from getting hernias when they lifted the one hundred pound bales of furs Bailey is standing beside in the photo.
The sashes made of brightly colored wool could also be used……. for carrying belongings, lashing a canoe to your head during portages, tucking objects like a knife behind when the sash was around your waist. It could serve as…….. a torniquet for broken bones, a belt, a scarf, a wash cloth, a towel, a saddle blanket or as a tumpline worn on the head to help carry heavy objects. The fringes on the end might have important keys tied to them or be used for mending clothes.
The Metis, a people with both a French and aboriginal heritage, adopted these sashes from the voyageurs and called them ‘un ceinture fleche’ or ‘arrowed belts.’ Nowadays the sash is worn by members of the Metis nation as a symbol of pride. The sash in the photo above belonged to the founder of Manitoba Louis Riel, a Metis man who was certainly proud of his heritage and his people. In this statue of Louis Riel on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature you can clearly see his sash tied around his waist.