Grand Forks (North Dakota) on the northern Red River

Red River at Grand Forks, North Dakota (photo Airphoto, Jim Wark)

From 1770 the site known as “Les Grandes Fourches” was for a century an important rendez-vous place where Canadians, French, Métis, Sioux and other indigenous people met for two to three weeks at a time with a view to exchanging among themselves furs and practical goods of multiple kinds. On June 15, 1870, when the first post office opened, “Les Grandes Fourches” was anglicanized to “Grand Forks”. Today, the northern Red River separates the territories of North Dakota and Minnesota.

These annual gatherings often amounted to temporary “cities” for purposes of supply and rejoicing. For a long time the fur trade has been one of the oldest and most significant industries in America. It played a key role in the economic and cultural development of Colonial French Louisiana. Moreover, it consolidated alliances between a large number of unrelated Native American tribes.

The fur trade

Historical re-enactments

Jacques Cartier, originally from Saint-Malo, France, and Jean-François Roberval, born near Carcassonne in France, were the precursors of the fur trade industry on the North American Continent. Fort Cartier-Roberval, which they jointly established in Cap-Rouge (Quebec City) in 1542, was the first trading post in America. It is often forgotten that this commercial establishment was erected only 20 years after the arrival of Cortés in Mexico and 65 years before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, which inaugurated in 1607 the British colonization of the New World. The fleur-de-lys and the arrowhead of the coat of arms of present-day North Dakota are reminiscent of the Cartier-Roberval mission as well as the French-Native American friendship policy strongly advocated by Samuel de Champlain, the “Father of New France”.

North Dakota’s coat of arms was officially adopted in 1957. The fleur-de-lys alludes to Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, a Canadian explorer from Trois-Rivières, Quebec, who was the first known white man to visit the territory of this state. The blue and gold wreath in the crest reflects the history of North Dakota as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The arrowhead forms the shield of the coat of arms and symbolizes the indigenous character of the “Sioux State”.

Grand Forks was named after nearby geographical features in the course of the northern Red River taking the form of two curves at the bottom of a hay fork shape comprised of three relatively long teeth. The aerial photo of the river running through fields near Grand Forks illustrates these distinctive natural features.