Photo by Devin McNulty

Photo by Devin McNulty

Spaces: The Society of Les Voyageurs

Summer 2019

Walking into the cabin of one of U-M’s oldest continually active student groups, The Society of Les Voyageurs, is like being transported to a French Canadian mountain hut. That was exactly what the members hoped to achieve when they built the Habe Mills Pine Lodge in 1927 on the banks of the Huron River. “Voyageur,” the French word for traveler, refers to the contracted employees who worked in the Great Lakes fur trade as canoe paddlers and general laborers from the late 17th to 19th century.

Founded in 1907, the U-M society for outdoorsmen has only one requirement for admission: that all members be “dedicated to the enjoyment of the wonder and mystery of nature.” A written statement displayed at the 2018 reunion reminded everyone to “reflect on the connection between our natural environment and our place and role in it,” which members often do while canoeing on the Huron River and further afield on hiking and outdoor trips.

A huge stone hearth, with the words “Here Let the Fires of Friendship Burn Forever” carved into its wooden mantle, greets visitors when they enter the lodge. In one corner, near a staircase that leads to a loft filled with bunk beds for the few students who live there, are a dozen canoe paddles, each made by a different “voyageur.”

Emily Zonder, ’19, who served as vice president of the society this past year, said she regrets not joining the group until her sophomore year, when she learned the Voyageurs’ fall trip was to Lake Superior Provincial Park, a place she knew well.

“Those five days changed my life. I made my best college friends here,” she said, explaining that the society has only 20 members at a time. New members are accepted only when seniors graduate.  Guests, however, are always welcome, Zonder said, adding that on any given night one might hear bluegrass being played on the piano. But it is on Sunday evenings that all of the voyageurs gather for a potluck supper, as was the case in late April, when they also paddled on the river, laughed on the porch, and helped some visiting alumni with a big project: building a sauna next to the lodge that will surely keep them warm next winter.

For more on The Society of Les Voyageurs, check out the video below.

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