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Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson

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Murderer. Salesman. Pirate. Adventurer. Cannibal. Co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is perhaps best described, writes Mark Bourrie, as “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party to the Dutch and crossed the Atlantic to Holland—thus beginning a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

A guest among First Nations communities, French fur traders, and royal courts; witness to London’s Great Plague and Great Fire; and unwitting agent of the Jesuits’ corporate espionage, Radisson double-crossed the English, French, Dutch, and his adoptive Mohawk family alike, found himself marooned by pirates in Spain, and lived through shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. His most lasting venture as an Artic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates today, 350 years later, as North America’s oldest corporation.

Sourced from Radisson’s journals, which are the best first-hand accounts of 17th century Canada, Bush Runner tells the extraordinary true story of this protean 17th-century figure, a man more trading partner than colonizer, a peddler of goods and not worldview—and with it offers a fresh perspective on the world in which he lived.

320 pages, Paperback

Published June 4, 2019

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Mark Bourrie

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 103 reviews
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,861 reviews369 followers
February 15, 2020
I remember first hearing about Radisson and Groseilliers in about Grade 5, when I think they were called “explorers” or “fur traders.” I also recall my mother calling them Radishes and Gooseberries. Imagine my surprise to find that Groseilliers actually does mean gooseberries!

In many ways, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a better and a worse man than you would expect from the few facts that I encountered in grade school. He seems to have been able to roll along with whatever situation he encountered, looking for an upside or an opportunity. He also seems to have had a natural aptitude for languages which stood him in good stead. On the poor side, he seemed to be motivated almost entirely by profit and was willing to abandon or double-cross his friends and business partners whenever it was convenient for him.

Why should we be interested in the man? As the author states in his introduction: He’s living with Indigenous people in North America. He’s with Charles II of England and his court of scoundrels, traitors, and ex-pirates. He’s in England during the Great Plague. He’s in London during the Great Fire. He’s set upon by spies. He’s in the Arctic. Then he’s with pirates in the Caribbean. After that, he’s at Versailles. And then the Arctic again. Along the way, he crosses paths with the most interesting people of his day. He’s the Forrest Gump of his time.

I can’t help but think that Radisson could have achieved a lot more if he hadn’t been quite so fixated on the fur trade. He could have lived a good life among the Iroquois or the Mohawk, but his restless nature wouldn’t let him settle. A bit of a conman, he couldn’t happily just live a normal life.
Profile Image for Alex Binkley.
Author 5 books6 followers
June 16, 2019
Canadian history books pay too little attention to the impact of the arrival of Europeans in North America during the 1600s and 1700s. When they do look at that period, their message is usually about European settlers transforming the primitive continent.
In his new book Bush Runner, Ottawa author Mark Bourrie portrays the European arrival much differently through an unvarnished account of the life of Pierre Radisson. Radisson has stayed in the history books for his role in developing the fur trade and helping to set the stage for the opening up of the continent to European settlement.
Bourrie goes beyond the usual hype to describe the machinations and manipulations of Radisson who he describes as essentially “a hardware salesmen with some of the most fascinating customers in the world.” He travelled with plenty of European goods to trade for furs. He also calls Radisson “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” Still Radisson comes out looking better than most of his historical contemporaries regardless of their social standing.
Born in France, Radisson came to New France with his family and managed to be kidnapped as a youngster, and then adopted by a Huron family. Never content with his lot on life, he abandons them and offers his services to France, Holland and England at various times in hopes of fulfilling his desire to become rich by trading furs gathered by natives to fashion conscious European gentry. He abandoned wives and others with equal disdain in the future.
He became a minor celebrity in his time known to kings and other highly-positioned figures. But it was never enough to produce the wealth he lusted for.
Bush Runner also makes it clear that what Europeans really brought to North America were guns, iron axes and diseases the natives were unprepared for. The native tribes spread across the continent had a pretty good life before the arrival of the Europeans. The tribes living in the Great Lakes region farmed and hunted. The average native was bigger and healthier than the usual European.
Bush Runner also puts some context to the demands by Canada’s First Nations for recognition of their land and other claims.
Bourrie was able to tap into Radisson’s own accounts of his canoe trips and voyages by ship to Hudson and James Bay as well as many other historical records and first-hand accounts of life in North America in the 1600s.
However the Radisson story isn’t all long canoe trips and adventures in the North American wilderness. Bourrie chronicles his extended stays in France and England and the kind of shysters and schemers he connected with.
Bourrie’s description of the lives of the North American natives paints a much different picture than what we often hear about. The various first nations generally had a far more egalitarian social structure than Europe did. While there was lots of warfare among the tribes, they fighting didn’t produce the catastrophic killing usually associated with European battles until rifles and gunpowder arrived.
Bourrie’s account of Radisson’s time in Europe strips away any luster that period might have. Endless wars, wide-spread poverty, horrific plagues and violence, especially against anyone different make North America look good in contrast.
Bourrie backs up his story with excellent detailed footnotes, which are well worth reading for the insights they add to his narrative.
Bush Runner is published by Biblioasis of Windsor, Ont.
3 reviews
July 2, 2019
Informed, engaging, great view on history

If you only ever read one book about seventeenth century Canada, make it Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson by Ottawa author Mark Bourrie.

It weaves the compelling story of one man’s life into the big-picture events of his times and into a profound account of the forces that shaped our country.

Radisson’s name and an outline of his place in North American history are known to anyone who has attended grade school in Canada.  We were taught that he and his brother-in-law Médard des Groseillers played central roles in the fur trade, the struggles of New France, and the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  But Radisson’s life, even when discussed outside of the classroom, is rarely presented as something that might stand alone from the anesthetizing abstraction of colonial powerbrokers, politics, and paperwork warriors.   

Radisson’s human experience on the frontlines and in the forests breathes life into this period, but it also intersects with the major events, cultures, and players of the era like few others.   

In this, Bourrie recognized the opportunity to paint a richer and more instructive picture of the dawn of modern Canada and has done it in a way that is informed, engaging, and enlightening.

Bush Runner and its detailed account of Radisson’s life disrupts our view of history in many ways, beginning with and building on the drama of his life among the Mohawk. They burned his flesh and crushed his bones. They pierced him with a sword and held him prisoner under the menace of painful death.  He witnessed tortures and ate human flesh to survive.  But, as Bourrie explains, the Mohawk were , as much as anyone, Radisson’s family, and life among the Indigenous peoples was at least as orderly, humane, and civilized as much of 17th century Europe.  This experience and exposure to Indigenous culture shaped the skill set and peculiar personality of a man who, in turn, helped shape Canada.

Drawing detail from fulsome primary sources including recently uncovered documents as well as Radisson’s renowned writings and record trail, Bush Runner makes it clear that Radisson’s persistence, cunning, and understanding of Indigenous life were the critical forces driving the achievements attributed to the Radisson-Groseilliers duo. 

Bourrie amplifies this central story with adventures not widely known.  These took Radisson back and forth across the Atlantic into royal courts and the homes of the powerful in France, England, and Holland as well as to the ringside of London’s Great Plague and Great Fire.

I knew that Bush Runner would cover this ground from reading promotional material, but I also found something else and something that makes this book a model of my preferred way of absorbing history.  Humour.  Radisson’s ups and downs, frustrations, self-interest, and mishaps that leave him shipwrecked with pirates or penniless after great trading adventures seem Chaplinesque and this too is part of the reality of life in any era.

Bourrie, a professional historian, lawyer, and accomplished writer, tells these stories with an obvious enthusiasm not only for his subject but also for the act of sharing it with others. We are lucky he took up the task of knitting all this into a coherent and compelling whole.  

Profile Image for KB.
188 reviews7 followers
October 7, 2020
"Lies, murder, and plunder aside, Radisson left us with the story of a remarkable man, a very free man in a time when they were rare... and a brave man who must have been a tremendous dinner companion, as long as you weren't on the menu."

I honestly don't recall ever learning about Radisson at any point in school, but this sounded like a good adventure story - and it was. Bourrie was able to grab me right from the intro, where he actually had me laughing a couple times. He is serious about his subject, but is still able to add some levity to the tale.

Radisson does a lot of side-switching, and there's many historical events that happen around him. This was sometimes a little hard to get through, especially once Radisson goes back to Europe. But it's worth reading along because at the heart of the book lies a fascinating story and man.

I imagine this book would've been quite a lot of work to put together, trying to separate fact from fiction, fill in gaps, and provide context of both time and place. But Bourrie was able to do a great job and provides readers with an exciting story that is well-researched and engaging. Closer to 3.5 than 4.
10 reviews2 followers
September 16, 2019
This book needs to be mandatory reading in all North American history classes. Finally the story of the early explorers of North America, by a character worthy of name recognition as Columbus. Radisson is indeed the Forest Gump of the late 1600 and his infiltration of the Indigenous communities, the English court, Pirates of off Spain and near death escapades makes this non-fiction history a must read.
28 reviews
February 15, 2021
Terrific read for historical geeks, especially those with an interest in North America and early interactions between Europeans and Aboriginals. Well researched and truly fascinating throughout, Radisson's life plays out like a grand adventure film with cunning and ruthless trade missions in the wilds of Canada and the Great Lakes region which are wonderfully contrasted by accounts of London during the Plague and the Great Fire. Bushrunner has a wide appeal and does a good job of unpacking the complexity of central Canada's aboriginal people's and their relationships with one another and encroaching European powers. Also, should note there's a decent amount of casual cannabilism and constant figurative backstabbing to keep you guessing and grimacing. Read this book!!
Profile Image for Enid Wray.
878 reviews29 followers
January 14, 2020
I remember being fascinated by ‘Gooseberry and Raspberry’ when I was learning Canadian history way back when. Oh what a sanitised and privileged understanding I was presented with… Thank goodness we’ve come a long way since then (not saying that we’ve not still got a long way to go).

This title helps us continue moving forward in the right direction. I agree with the author that ‘everyone deserves a good story’ and as someone with an interest in historical geography I am fascinated by the events depicted in this work. This well researched, and impeccably well documented, telling lays bare the underbelly to the settlement history of Canada. Anyone who doesn’t get the arguments for land settlement claims by indigenous peoples would learn much from reading this book.

However, notwithstanding the authors stated intent to write a ‘non-academic and publicly accessible biography’... this reads like a history lesson - an entire course perchance - and I can’t see the ‘average’ reader sticking with this. Even I struggled, at times, with the minutiae of detail presented and found that I had to keep taking breaks from my reading, setting it aside and coming back to it.

While billed as non-fiction, this actually falls into that grey zone between fiction and non-fiction… it’s more like a docu-drama. There are clearly many liberties taken on the part of the author - for good reason! - to fill in the gaps in order to try to make this ‘accessible’ to the reader. And there is also the fact that Radisson’s own accounts were written many years after the actual events. How reliable - or complete - are some of his ‘reflections’ shall we call them? Memory is a tricky matter after all...

Certainly, this should be required reading for every teacher of Canadian history.
Profile Image for Norman Smith.
243 reviews2 followers
August 14, 2019
Bourrie's book provides a great deal of insight into life in 17th Nouvelle France, through the life of one of its most adventurous characters, Pierre Radisson. Radisson also spent half his life in England and France, but there he was a minor character.

I found this book to be quite readable, and enjoyable. Radisson is not presented as heroic; indeed, he was a murderer among other crimes. It also deals with the lives of the First Nations people of the time, presenting them as rounded, sophisticated, intelligent people, something that is not often the case with histories of 17th century Europeans in North America.

The book is not flawless - editing, a pet peeve of mine, could have been stricter - but it is very good, and the flaws do not, in the end detract from the value of the book.
108 reviews2 followers
August 15, 2022
Well researched and written. The author seamlessly ties in the larger geopolitical changes happening during Radisson’s life in a way that is understandable and gives much-needed context for someone who lives a wild life across two continents. Radisson was at both English and French courts, lived with Mohawks, defected all sides multiple times, and survived the tail end of the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire the next year.

Four stars for the fact that the footnotes really needed a good edit prior to publication. Sometimes footnotes are repeated without need, or they mention something that you will eventually read in the main text but ten pages on, or they mention people and events that I wasn’t able to make sense of. I’m glad for the excellent bibliography at the end. Clearly, a lot of research went into this book and it shows.

A hearty recommend for people interested in 17 century New France, HBC history, and Indigenous culture and relationships with Europeans at a time when contact was relatively fresh and both sides were learning about the other. Greatly fleshes out the standard two sentences learned by every Canadian high school student about Radisson and Groseilliers.
Profile Image for Gary.
86 reviews2 followers
October 29, 2020
I love sound historical books and this one did not disappoint. As a kid growing up I watched on CBC the series on Radisson and always had a special interest in this dude ! The book I finished reading was his biography and detailed explicitly who he actually was, his tribulations in life, and his impact on the fur trade in Canada and more specifically the building of the Hudson Bay Company. Usually non fictional books are sometimes rather dry in content, but this one read like a fictional novel. These were the years of the 1600's when life was rather primitive and hard. His legacy as a fur trader, explorer, adventurer and con man remains today. One has to assume that unless you actually had an interest in the founding of this country, his life would be of little interest. A very well put together chronicle that gives the reader a guttural insight to what life was for both the natives and the white man.
1 review
November 24, 2020
This may be the first book that I have read about Canadian history in the 1600s since high school but it will certainly not be the last. Raddison’s detailed accounts of his times with the indigenous peoples of Canada were the most interesting parts of the book. Although two maps were provided in the appendix, it would be more helpful if detailed maps were provided throughout the book with notable places highlighted on them. I found myself having to google many of the places to get a understanding of the routes and the sheer distance he travelled over the years.
158 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2022
What a great book. Exactly what I was looking for on early fur trading and Radisson. He wasn't a very moral man and I would not have liked him I think. A turncoat, dubious business dealings and a side switcher. Good book if you are looking for details on 1630s to 1710s a ND d cc the great Hudson's bay vs company
Profile Image for Martin Tolton.
19 reviews1 follower
December 20, 2020
Anyone who thinks Canadian history is boring should read this and lovers of history will no doubt enjoy this book. It is a fantastic account of 17th century Canada, with a glimpse of New York, London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Pierre Radisson were he fiction would be a peer to Flashman were Flashman born two hundred years earlier.

An adventurer who survived numerous Atlantic crossings, Mohawk captivity, the Plague, the Great Fire at least one revolution, a winter in Hudsons Bay, and a couple of strandings on deserted islands by or with pirates. He in no small measure saved Montreal and founded the Hudson Bay Company. He was a rogue who parlayed and did business with thieves, smugglers, murderers as well as dukes, princes, and kings.

He left almost no enduring mark on North America, but had a hand in all we see around us.
October 28, 2020
One of the few books I've read that I really felt like I couldn't put down. It's not only a fascinating story, but it's exciting, and so vividly told. There aren't enough good books about Canadian history that read like novels, but this is definitely the best one I've come across.

The details about life amongst the various indigenous groups is by far the most interesting aspect. We never really get a sense of indigenous history in Canada apart from fluff about the fur trade, tee-pees, and the fact that they were already here when explorers arrived. They are usually treated as background, but in this book, despite the story following the life of Radisson, it's the lives, society, and culture of several different Indigenous nations that are the real story.

Bourrie does a great job of using Radisson's life to tell an Indigenous story, instead of using Indigenous people as a background for a European story.
Profile Image for Susan Brunner.
42 reviews2 followers
May 6, 2020
This book’s full title is Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson by Mark Bourrie. I loved this book. This is a book I got at a Ben McNally Brunch at the King Eddie. These are great events as you get a good breakfast at the King Eddie and hear four authors speak about their books. I have bought a number of books at these events as the most of the speakers are great. The link is here. It is hard to say if there will be more events at this point.

I had heard, of course, about Pierre Radisson in Canadian history, but always in the context of Radisson and Groseilliers. In any Canadian history I took, they never just talked about the adventures of Radisson and that is too bad. In any event, history taught in schools is whitewashed. This book does not whitewash anything. This is history as it should be told and it is fascinating. If history was told as in this book Then maybe students could learn to love history as I do. My love of history goes back to one great history teacher I had in high school.

The stories told about him in this book shows him double-crossing everyone, especially the French, English, and Mohawks. He probably felt he had no choice and he probably didn’t. He is an interesting character who was in North America, Caribbean, France, Holland, and Britain. It is surprising how many times he went from the New World to the Old World and how much he travelled around the New World considering how long these journeys took and how fraught with danger they were.

Most reviews just talk about the travels mentioned in the book. However, you have to read the book to get the full favour of his adventures. Just reading a review of where he went is not that interesting. Mark Bourrie writes an exciting tale about his adventures, so it is well worth reading. Michael Taube gives a review of this book in the Washington Times. This is a more interesting review by Dave Waddell in the Windsor Star as the reviewer talks to Mark Bourrie. James M. Fisher at Miramichi Reader gives an ok review, but it still better to read the book.

The is a podcast interviewing Mark Bourrie on CBC if you do not mind podcasts. Not a bad interview, but podcasts are not my favourite media. Mark Bourrie is interviewed on the Morning Show on Global News.

This is a great Canadian History story and history as it should be told. It is well worth the read.
Profile Image for M.J..
156 reviews10 followers
December 29, 2020
Mark Bourrie’s “Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson” is a delightful biography of not only the man at the centre of the book, but also of the unromantic forces that shaped early European colonial exploitation of what is now Canada. It is at its best when the charismatic rogue is himself in the spotlight, fading only slightly as larger political forces sideline Radisson.

Pierre-Esprit Radisson came to New France (modern Québec) as a young boy with little expected of him. Intelligent—if not necessarily learned—and charismatic, he was by nature a survivor with fluid loyalties. Based largely on Radisson’s journals, the book follows a life that moves in Indigenous communities (as a prisoner, as an adopted family member, and as a trader) and takes on dangerous and unsanctioned fur trading missions in his early years, eventually arriving in the courts of King Louis XIV of France and Charles II of England and laying the foundation for a massive fur trading enterprise in Hudson’s Bay (first for the French and then for the English). He was, as the author notes in his introduction, everywhere “a time traveller to the 1600s would want to see”.

Written in a wry and almost conversation manner, it is presented without any obvious agenda. Bourrie clearly enjoys the adventure aspect of the life at the centre of his story—with some infectious fondness for the rogue, even while articulating Radisson’s many character flaws—and has no time for mythmaking. He is dismissive of some of Radisson’s own claims in a delightfully direct manner. He is not afraid to occasionally assert his own voice or views, breaking the fourth wall to provide context or insight, in ways that can sometimes be jarring, but are often helpful.

Where the book is at its best is in Radisson’s early years. Here, with Radisson as the focus, Bourrie is able to provide colour and a through line that is dotted with his own sly additions on the motivations, dynamics and historical record of the world in which Radisson moved. It is only when the book moves to Europe that it feels to lose some of that focus—just as Radisson himself loses much of his agency and becomes subservient to changing political fortunes, rising and falling factions, and the impacts of broader socio-political forces—and misses some of the liveliness of the earlier sections. This likely had much to do with the source material itself (or potentially lack thereof), as Radisson’s star fades and his luck, seemingly unending in his youth, turns against him.

Overall, a well-told and incredibly interesting story of a slice of pre-Confederation Canadian history as witnessed, fittingly enough, by an “eager hustler with no known scruples”.
5,870 reviews130 followers
March 29, 2021
Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a biography of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company. Mark Bourrie is a Canadian lawyer, blogger, journalist, author, historian, and lecturer at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, wrote this biography.

This book serves as an entry (A prize-winning book) in The Indigo Reading Challenge 2021. It won the most recent RBC Taylor Prize (2020) – one of the few prize winners that I have yet to read for the year.

Pierre-Esprit Radisson was a French fur trader and explorer in New France. He is often linked to his brother-in-law Médard des Groseilliers. The decision of Radisson and Groseilliers to enter the English service led to the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is perhaps best described as an eager hustler with no known scruples. Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party to the Dutch and crossed the Atlantic to Holland, which begins a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

A guest among First Nations communities, French fur traders, and royal courts, Radisson double-crossed the English, French, Dutch, and his adoptive Mohawk family alike, found himself marooned by pirates in Spain, and lived through shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. His most lasting venture as an Arctic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson is written and researched rather well. Sourced from Radisson's journals, which are the best first-hand accounts of 17th century Canada, this biography tells the extraordinary true story of this protean 17th-century figure, a man more trading partner than colonizer, a peddler of goods and not worldview.

All in all, Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a wonderful biography and gives great insights into the life of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, murderer, salesman, pirate, adventurer, cannibal, and co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Profile Image for Michael.
246 reviews39 followers
July 18, 2020
This is the story of one of the founders of the Hudson Bay Company who is thus foundational to our Canadian history, Pierre Radisson was captured and adopted by the Iroquois as a reckless teenager sent to the colonies by his under involved parents. He is adopted by the Mohawk, after proving his courage, and learns various indiginous languages and cultures which he turns to his advantage after escaping. somehow surviving a few failed attempts. Radisson's written narrtives provide an important historical record of 16th century North America and it's connection to the French and British courts as Radisson and his brother in law and business partner, Grosellier, travel back and forth seeking sponsors for their entrepreneurial escapades seeking wealth in the fur trade in the territories accessed by Hudson Bay. They are present in London during the Plague and the Great Fire and experience court intrigues and adventures with pirates in the Caribbean. All of thus sounds very dashing and adventurous but I found the flow of the narrative somewhat less than enthralling. Bush Runner suffers the problem of being an adventure tail that suffocates with the burden of wanting to be historically accurate. Many of the historical details unfortunately do not contribute to the narrative. Radisson is ultimately frustrated in his ambitions to enter the upper classes and I would say this story is somewhat frustrated in its efforts to be a page turning adventure story. It does succeed in the end, however, in being educational and modestly satisfying.
6 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2020
WOW! This is a Phenomenal book. Exciting, thrilling, extremely informative and packed full of hard to find information.

The book follows the life of Pierre Radisson, Who at the age of 15 was kidnapped by Mohawk warriors from his home near the small settlement of Trois-Rivières in New France. He was later adopted into the tribe. A cultural practise I have heard mentioned off hand in other Native peoples history refereeing to the great lakes region's people but have never been able to find more in depth explanation until now. This story provides quite a bit of interesting insight and information about the life and culture of the native tribes of the great lakes/St. Lawrence valley region in the 1600's that only someone womb spoke their language lived among them would be able to relay.

Native life is only a part of this book however. He travels quite far and the book's settings drift constantly through his life. From Quebec, Trois-Riveres, Montreal, Hudson valley,Upper Michigan, Ontario, London, Holland and even South America. From living as a native to being partly responsible for the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company to rubbing shoulders with Louis XIV, this is a unique story that we luckily didn't loose to history.

I loved this book, Anyone who loves adventure/non-fiction history books I would say this is a must read.. Especially if you live in Quebec, Eastern Canada/US
Profile Image for John.
176 reviews
September 7, 2019
Bush Runner provides a unique glimpse into the life Pierre Radisson that has never really been told as well as a sense of the lives and cultures of various indigenous peoples in the 1600s not long after settlers came to North America. Radisson's life was beyond belief. Clearly a con man through and through, he traversed eastern North America a number of times when few white people ever had, as well as sailed between Europe and North America several times looking for a way to strike it rich through cornering various markets in the fur trade. Mark Bourrie tells the story of Radisson's life as an adventure tale rather than a dry academic treatise so it is a lot of fun to read. Although his focus was Radisson, by setting the historical stage at each step in Radisson's life, the reader gets a relatively comprehensive view into the lives and struggles and politics of indigenous people in the mid to late 1600s. Much of the focus is on the Iroquois nations but there are also glimpses into the lives of Huron, Ojibwe and Cree people. If early post-contact history and wilderness travel in the time before maps of North America were available are your bag, this will make a very enjoyable read.
718 reviews6 followers
March 19, 2020
Award winning book on legendary fur trader Pierre Radisson. His travel took him many places. Born in France he early on travelled to New France where he was captured by Iroquois. Narrowly averting death he was adopted by the Indigenous people and learned their language and ways. This experience provided the basis for his future success. He worked for the Dutch, French and most of all the British selling his services to the highest bidder. The trip that he took with Groseilliers, his brother in law through lower Ontario, Wisconsin and Michigan collecting beaver pelts and establishing ties with Indian tribes was largely responsible for the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. The two men never really received their due for this. Radisson's career bogged down in the 1680s during years of religious tension. He had switched employers too often for either Protestants or Catholics to know if he was on their side. As with all history now, this book comes with a subtext. Political correctness. The writer must make clear that Indigenous people suffered for European colonialism. Even a description of Iroquois torture is prefaced with an admission that Europeans did far worse. This is the only downside of a good book.
Profile Image for Steven Langdon.
Author 9 books47 followers
June 15, 2020
Pierre Radisson was a favorite of our high school Canadian history texts, with what was described as a crucial role in building the fur trade for New France.

Now Mark Bourrie has written a much more probing book about this remarkable man, drawing on recently discovered manuscripts he had written for various French and British kings and aristocrats. This unusual biography has been published by Biblioasis, the innovative Windsor company.

Radisson was captured by the Iroquois when he was very young, was adopted by a prominent family and learned the language. So this book is full of insights into Indigenous life in the 1600’s — not just regarding the Iroquois but also the Cree and even the Sioux with whom he connected in his fur trading.

There are also insights into the conspiracies and conflicts among the European countries battling for advantages in the America’s. They were a nasty lot!

Radisson was not a New France hero in this context but a much more interesting character shifting amongst the French English and Dutch to realize his goals.

The story of his life is fascinating and this book brings it alive skillfully. Very much worth reading for a realistic look at our early history.
Profile Image for John.
915 reviews92 followers
July 19, 2021
My dad found this one and thought it was really interesting, and lent it to me because I study and teach Colonial America and Canada and he knew I would like it. I have read so many books about New France and colonial New York and somehow I still knew practically nothing about this guy Radisson. So crazy. He should have died so many times. The best part was when he gets captured by the Mohawk and somehow avoids getting killed, gets adopted, then kills a few Mohawk, runs away, gets recaptured, brought back, and somehow his adopted family convinces everyone to give him one more chance. Then he's off on like a year-long hunting trip to Illinois with his Mohawk buddies like nothing ever happened. He must have been a really charismatic guy!
The other really interesting takeaway that I feel would be good for students is the mobility he had in the Atlantic world. Radisson was kind of a nobody, but he was trying to strike a deal with the Jesuits, going to Boston looking for backers, then to London, to Paris, back to London, talking to the king, going to Hudson's Bay...I hadn't really thought about how a French/Quebecois guy with plans and knowledge might just find himself welcome practically everywhere. Maybe it was his aforementioned winning personality.
Profile Image for Luce Cronin.
468 reviews4 followers
September 19, 2020
This book, based on Radisson's journals, has opened my eyes to a lot of goings-on of which I knew nothing, or simply did not realize. When being taught history, facts are presented. Now I wonder how many people really think about these facts and what they imply. From reading this book, I can see that Canadian history from the 17th century revolves mainly around financial gain - from all sides. This country as it is now depended on money issues at the time and it involved all parties, - Dutch, French, British, Indigenous. The beaver pelt trade determined who wanted/owned this country. No grandiose goals or luminous visions. Money. Who acquired the most, obviously, gained control of this country. People like Radisson were pawns in the game. He was very clever at playing this game and understood that loyalty to a particular side meant doom. Also, as an aside, people who were lauded as great founders were shown in their true light - for instance D'Iberville. Schools do not teach you to what degree his sadism extended - killing women and children for the sake of promoting the "right side" in this dire trade war that we call the founding of a country.
14 reviews
January 15, 2020
A good read, especially about Radisson's engagements with the First Nation communities in Canada in the 17th century. Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson was eventually adopted by a leading family, only to escape after almost a year and ending up on a Dutch sailing ship to Holland. The early chapters portray the many survival challenges faced by a young person at that time and give insight into how Radisson's experiences with the Mohawks and other indigenous peoples shaped the rest of his life.

In his later years, Radisson's fur trading ventures in the Arctic led to the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company. At all times, Bourrie presents Radisson as more of a trader than a colonizer. Sourced from Radisson's journals, the book also elaborates Radisson's first-hand accounts of London's Great Plague and Great Fire, details his experiences in the royal courts of London and France, and his active involvement on a Spanish pirate expedition. The book would be a great addition to Canadian and American history and Indigenous history courses.
Profile Image for Karen.
388 reviews21 followers
February 19, 2020
This book was fantastic! I learned so much about the history of 17th century Canada (and the world) in this biography of Radisson. He was quite a character - a Frenchman who really looked out for himself at all cost. Whether it was surviving capture by Iroquois, feeling betrayed by the French or the English, he did what he had to do, changing allegiances with the wind, just to stay alive and afloat. He did business with everyone and anyone: Canada's Indigenous people, French, British, Dutch. And considering some of his treasonous behaviour, it's quite a miracle he survived as long as he did and passed away from natural causes. Thankfully he was literate and adept at many languages. He put his tale down on paper for the nobility's entertainment and centuries later it was found and published for the rest of us. The author does a fantastic job of transcribing Radisson's life story while providing context and background. This book is heavily referenced; it was very well researched. Recommended for those interested in Canada's history from a rough and raw perspective.
285 reviews
August 8, 2020
Fascinating, enlightening, well researched and well written. Can’t ask for anything more from a non fiction book. Pierre-Espirit Radisson (approx 1636-1710) and his brother-in-law, Medard des Groseilliers are well known to any Canadian student. They were given the first Royal Charter to form the Hudson’s Bay Company and to develop the fur trade in Northern Canada for Britain. Radisson lived the life of a scoundrel, a cheat, a pauper, a traitor, a trader, and an adventurer. But, he did write about his travels throughout his life. He delivered a manuscript of his 1st 4 voyages to King Charles II in 1669 which was filed away, forgotten and only re-discovered in an English library in the late 1880’s. Because of this manuscript and other copies of his papers that have since been discovered (as recent as in the 1990’s,) we know of his life in some detail and the role that he played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the fur trade. He would have faded to a footnote in history had he not recorded these details. Highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Rick Book.
Author 8 books6 followers
March 26, 2020
This is the way Canadian history should be told, not in dry, turgid textbooks but in riveting page-turners that read like adventure novels, which in this case, has a multi-talented and deeply-flawed scoundrel for a protagonist who spoke several Aboriginal languages, was at home in the forests and the birchbark canoes of the Great Lakes region, double-crossed the English, French and Dutch colonial powers, married and abandoned several wives, founded the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trade business, committed murder, cannibalism, and for his troubles spent much of his life in poverty. Through it all, author Mark Bourrie demonstrates his tremendous gift for storytelling, his astonishing ability to sleuth out research material, and his sly sense of humour that leaves you laughing out loud. Thanks to him, Radisson will be known not merely as the name on the side of a hotel, but as a fully-drawn man whose dreams, charms and force of will helped shape the future of Canada.
Profile Image for Barbara Brydges.
410 reviews19 followers
September 12, 2020
I learned a great deal about early Canadian history through this well researched, and well written story of the life of Radisson. He and his partner Groseillers made a sanitized appearance in my school history books as French Canadian explorers and fur traders, but I had no idea that Radisson was captured and adopted by the Iroquois, that he was a savant in terms of learning languages and mastered a number of indigenous languages as well as English, that he was instrumental in convincing investors in the court of Charles II that there was a fortune to be gained by the establishment of what became the Hudson’s Bay Co (though few did actually make money in the early years). Because he’s a journalist as well as an historian, Bourrie is able to shape Radisson’s life and times into a compelling story that all Canadians should know.
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