Expert canoe men who transported fur trade goods into Canada's deep interior, they were reputed to be tough, hardy and jovial individuals. They also transported military supplies and troops through the wilderness from the 17th to the 19th centuries and occasionally took part in some fighting. Although military authorities might requisition voyageurs, they were not formed into distinct units until the War of 1812. On September 30, 1812, the Corps of Canadian Voyageurs was formed from 300 of the most robust voyageurs. The purpose was to militarize the voyageurs who kept the vital supply lines moving from Montreal to the western outposts. This first corps was disbanded on March 14, 1813, its military supply duties taken up by the Canadian branch of the British Commissariat Department. On April 8, the Provincial Commissariat Voyageurs was raised to carry on the transport work with some 400 "privates" (or voyageurs) from the corps HQ at Lachine, west of Montréal. This unit was often still called the "Corps of Canadian Voyageurs" right up to its disbandment on March 24, 1815.
Voyageurs continued to assist the military authorities in the following decades. During the Northwest Expedition of 1870, Colonel Garnett Wolseley was impressed by the Voyageurs who seemed able to convey anything through what seemed impossible natural obstacles in the wilderness. In 1884-1885, Wolseley had 385 Voyageurs in Egypt with the Anglo-Egyptian troops travelling towards the Sudan. This was the last notable service of Voyageurs in a military expedition.