Strongman competition

Strongman competition
Fur trapping was big business in North America and physically demanding work.

In the past couple of weeks we highlighted two nineteenth-century individuals who, I think, would have done very well in today’s professional sports. One demonstrated remarkable pitching control and the other had Olympian sprinting speed. And they did it all without training; it was just part of a day’s work.

Now let’s look at a group of eighteenth-century individuals and consider how they might have rated in a strongman competition.

During the latter part of the eighteenth century the interior headquarters of the Far Northwest fur trade was Grand Portage on the northwest side of Lake Superior.1 From this location trade goods were taken inland by canoe and furs were brought out the same way.

The rivers and streams didn’t always allow the men and their canoes interrupted passage. At these points the canoes and the goods had to be carried overland to the next waterway. “The labor of land-carriage was great; Mckenzie says, p. xliv., that each voyageur was required to carry eight of the ordinary packages or pieces; but if more were to be transported, the man was allowed a Spanish dollar for each one. ‘I have known some of them’ he adds, to ‘set off with two packages of 90 pounds each, and return with two others of the same weight, in the course of six hours, being a distance of 18 miles.’”2

To make it even more impressive: “The portage was very bad in some places, being knee-deep in mud and clay, and so slippery as to make walking tedious.”3

I think we have a winner!


  1. Alexander Mackenzie,Alexander Mackenzie’s Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in 1793(New York: The Citadel Press, 1967), xvii.
  2. Alexander Henry and David Thompson, ed. Elliott Coues, The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry and David Thompson 1799-1814 (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1897), 1:7n.
  3. Ibid., 6.
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