On his sixteenth birthday Phillipe Chabot is told that his brother-in-law has hired him to be a voyageur. He will be paddling west from Montreal to Grade Portage to trade supplies with the Indians for furs. He is overjoyed and receives all the appropriate clothing from his family as birthday gifts, even a tobacco pouch. As the loaded canoe brigade gets ready to leave, his cousin, Jeanne, accepts the proposal of marriage yelled at her by the clerk who is going along to keep track of the trading. Unfortunately, disaster strikes the brigade as the men paddle the rivers, make their portages, and get onto the sometimes violent and unforgiving Lake Superior. In Montreal, the city is ravished by a fire and many people die.