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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter II. Jacques Cartier


AS the delusions of astrology and alchemy were the motive power of the researches which have given us the true sciences of astronomy and chemistry, so the favourite delusions of the last century of the Middle Ages gave to the world the boon which ranks with the invention of printing and the European Revolution—the discovery of America. Men like Cartier, Columbus, the two Cabots, even Champlain a century later, dreamed of a passage across the Western Ocean to India and China. And kings, like those who sent out these and other discoverers, had, as their chief object, the finding of a treasure-trove of gold and gems. But an impulse had been given to European thought which stimulated maritime discovery as well as every other art, by the new birth of learning resulting from the taking of Constantinople, and the consequent dispersion over Italy and France of the band of Greek scholars who held the key of ancient Greek-letters.

Among other arts, ship-building and navigation had now improved, the use of the bowline enabling mariners to sail on a wind, the discovery of the compass and of the method, as yet but imperfect, of taking observations, made long voyages through unknown seas possible. The trade with the Orient, hitherto monopolized by the Turk, was thrown open to Christendom by Vasco da Gama's success in doubling the Cape of Storms. This last also led to all the maritime nations giving their attention to new methods of constructing ships large enough to undertake long voyages to distant seas. It was such ships, the first of modern naval art, that carried the discoverers of America and Canada.

There seems good reason to suppose that the hardy Norman fishermen had, with the Bretons and Basques, visited the Newfoundland fisheries for centuries before the voyage of Cabot. There is also a tradition of a sea captain from Dieppe, voyaging on the African coast, being carried by a storm across the Western Ocean, and seeing an unknown land and river's mouth. This may have been heard of by Columbus, who, four years laterf made his voyage of discovery. The alleged discoveries of Verrazzano are probably mythical, but they found a place in the compilation of Ramusio, and have ever since been commonly accepted as veracious history, until within the last few years, during which the investigations of distinguished American savants have caused them to be pretty thoroughly discredited. Suffice it to say that in process of time Canada was claimed by three European powers: by Spain, as part of her province of Florida, in consequence of the preposterous gift of the whole continent to the Spanish king by Pope Alexander the Sixth : by France, ifi consequence of the discoveries claimed to have been made by several navigators under the auspices of Francis I.; and by England, in consequence of the undoubted discoveries of Sebastian Cabot.

After the Treaty of Cambray, France began, in some degree, to recover from the exhaustion of the disastrous war into which she had been plunged by the ambition of Francis. The plans for Canadian exploration were revived by a young noble in favour with the volatile king, in whose schemes of gallantry and war he had shared. The king had appointed his young comrade Admiral of France, and a fitting choice was made of one worthy to be entrusted with the task of exploration. Jacques Cartier, afterwards ennobled by Francis for his discovery of Canada, was a bold and experienced sea captain, a God-fearing seaman, fearless of tempest or battle. No part of France has produced a more fearless race of mariners than the rugged old town of St. Malo, where Cartier was born. His portrait is still preserved there, and we can judge, to some extent, of its expression by the familiar copies in this country. A face firm, yet kindly; the rough sailor's beard pointed after the fashion of the time. On an April morning in 1534, Jacques Cartier, being then in his fortieth year, sailed from his native town with two small ships, neither of them over sixty tons, and a crew of a hundred and twenty-two men. It was usual in those days to send out ships of war two at a time, for the ships were so built as not to carry anything but the munitions of war and the (Mew. An attendant ship held provisions ami a cooking-room. Much space was taken up by the amount of ballast required to steady the ship. A voyage of twenty days brought them to Newfoundland. Thence sailing to the south of that island, Cartier passed the Magdalen Islands, and entered a bay, which, from the heat of a Canadian summer's day, he named Baie des Chaleurs. Having erected a large wooden cross as a sign of the claim of the French king to the whole country, a proceeding watched with dismay by an Indian chief, who regarded it as an act of sorcery, Cartier advanced up the St. Lawrence till in sight of the Island of Anticosti, when, dreading the storms already threatening, as autunm approached, he set sail for France. He first carried away two Indian boys, a more justifiable act of kidnapping than those of which he and others were afterwards gu Ity, since it was needful to procure Indian guides who could understand the white man's speech, so as to serve as interpreters in future expeditions. The news of his discovery was received with enthusiasm. Here was a chance for the French king to obtain new dominions in that lately discovered .world, which was regarded as containing new El Dorados and Empire Cities like those conquered by Spain. Then, the Catholic reaction, already gathering its powerful forces to repair the damage done by the storm of the Reformation, seized on the idea of converting the heathen. A new expedition was resolved on, with Cartier in charge, several of the young noblesse of France being under his command—in all a hundred and ten souls. There were three ships, the largest bearing the memorable name of La Grande Hermine, no tons burden ; the second, La Petite Hermine, and the third of lesser size. All confessed and heard mass m the Cathedral of St. Malo, and on the nineteenth of May, 1635, set sail from the rugged stone harbour of the Breton port. After a stormy voyage, they all met at the Straits of Belleisle, and entered a bay close to Anticosti, which, it being the Feast of Saint Lawrence, Cartier named after the Roman martyr, St. Lawrence. From that day the saint became sponsor to the mightiest river of Canada.

Cartier's conduct in kidnapping the two Indian boys has been severely blamed by the historian Parkinan and other writers; but had he not done so, it is inconceivable that he could have guided his squadron through the dangers of the first river voyage. Day after day they sailed up the gloomy stream, to the giant cliff of Cape Tourmente, and anchored beside an island, which, from its profusion of grape-vines, Cartier named after the god Bacchus. At last the squadron anchored in the River St. Charles, close to the site of Quebec, where then, under the shadow of the historic hill, an Indian town or village, called Stadacona, clustered its bark-bin t wigwams. The Indians received the Frenchmen with all kindness. The two Indian boys, fresh from the wonders of court, camp and city, told a tale of marvellous experiences in the land of the white man. Donnacona, the chief, was received and feasted on board Cartier's ship. The Indians told Cartier that the entire region through which he was proceeding was called Canada, but that the chief town was some distance up the river. After no slight difficulty in obtaining the necessary guidance from the Indians, whose sorcerers, disguised as demons, with hideous paint and long horns, endeavoured to terrify the pale-faces, Caruer, with the smallest of his ships, a galleon of forty tons and sixty men, began to ascend the river. It was autumn: the unbroken forest on either bank lay reflected in the water boughs where the ripe grape clusters hung from tree to tree ; masses of foliage, lit with the colours which 110 other forest can emulate—the gold of larch or maple, the flame-red of the soft rnaple, the garnet of the sumach. Amid the woods everywhere the song-birds thrilled the air. As the galleon sailed on, countless wild-fowl flew, hoarse-screaming, before their approach. At length the Indian guides signalled to beach the. galleon. An Indian trail led them through the oak groves which covered what is now the site of Montreal to the Indian town of Hochelaga, surrounded with r'pe fields of gold-coloured maize. Here the entire population turned out to receive the strangers with tumultuous welcome ; men, women and children yelling and leaping in the wildest excitement at the arrival of those whom they looked on as beings gifted with a supernatural superiorly. The town consisted of some fifty oblong dwellings, each housing a number of families. These houses were constructed of birch bark twisted around a number of poles. In the centre of the town was a large open space. Here Cartier and his friends were seated on mats upon the ground. Around them, row behind row, the warriors squatted, the women and children thronging the outer area. There the chief, a palsied and repulsive-looking old man, was carried for Cartier to lay his hands on him and heal him. Cartier did not refuse to touch the aged and helpless limbs, and read a passage from the Gospels over a crowd of bed-ridden savages, who crawled out of their huts to be cured. L his done, he distributed a lavish present of beads, knives and hatchets, to squawks and braves. The Frenchmen were offered profuse supplies of food, maize and deer-flesh, which, however they did not accept. Cartier then was guided to the summit of the beautiful mountain, to which, in honour of Francis I., he gave the name of Mount Royal. From that stately hill where now the traveller looks down upon a scene in which human art in its noblest forms mingles with and ministers to natural beauty; where the river, magnificent now as then, bears on its bosom the navies of the merchant princes of Canada, and where its waters are spanned by the vast granite arches of a bridge which is one of the wonders of the world; where one of Canada's noblest cities covers the site of the vanished Indian tow n—the illustrious discoverer gazed far and wide upon an unbroken mass of forest, stretching to either horizon and beyond, from the Arctic North to the savannah of Florida.

After a stay of several days at Hocihelaga, Cartier returned as he came, to Donnacona. There a rude fort of earth-works and palisades had been built, in front of which ships lay moored in the St. Charles River for the winter. Cartier and his company passed that gloomy season amid hardships innumerable, and suffered the loss of some of their best men. The Indians, at first so ready to welcome them, were no longer to be propitiated with wine and presents ; the fickle savages became dreaded foes, and were excluded from the fort. At length the terrible blood-poisoning disease that comes with cold and famine broke out among them. An Indian, who observed the scurvy symptoms n Cartier, told him of the remedy, a decoction of the evergreen spruce leaves. A large spruce was cut down, and through six days the sick Frenchmen drank abundantly; the salts of potash contained in the leaves effecting a speedy cure. At length the long expected spring, dissolving the ice that bound their ships, set the prisoners free. Just before leaving, Cartier managed to seize Donnacona and several leading chiefs, and, conveying them on board his ship, sailed for France. This seems to us a treacherous act, though we must remember how7 strongly the Jesuit teaching pervaded the Catholic reaction. The maxim that it is lawful to do evil that good may come had been early impressed on minds like Cartier's. It was unfortunate for poor old Donnacona that he told Cartier all sorts of Indian legends of wonder-land of gold and jewels in the far west. He must be taught to recount these marvels to the Most Christian King. After all, the old chief was probably much better off than he would have been in his own wigwam, cared for kindly in a country where he was looked on with some sort of respect as an Indian " king," for the early French discoverers of Canada, with their feudal notions, regarded the chiefs as possessing a dignity and authority belonging to European kings and lords. The chiefs were baptised with great pomp m Rouen Cathedral, but all died shortly afterwards.

After an interval of six years, another expedition sailed from St. Malo for Canada. A renewal of war between the Emperor Charles the Fifth and Francis had much abated the interest of the French in American colonization. The inducements already tried were not attractive. But a new-court favourite, a nobleman whose title was the Sieur de Robeival, in Picardy, was appointed the first Viceroy of Canada, and managed to secure a grant from the king of sufficient money to equip five ships for the voyage. The squadron was manned, in a great degree, by all manner of thieves and useless vagabonds, whom De Roberval had authority to impress from the public prisons. Kept waiting for promised supplies, Roberval remained to obtain them, Cartier sailing at once for Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence. Once more he anchored at the famidar moormg-place; but when the Indian warriors swarmed, as they had been wont, in their birch canoes around his ship to ask news of Donnacona, and were told by Cartier of his death, they withdrew in sullen discontent. Thus. Cartier's requital of the Indian chief's hospitality proved not only a crime but a mistake.

Two forts were built: one on the height, one on the river bank. A little land was cleared, and seed sown. While this was being done, Cartier withdrew, with two boats, to-explore the river. He did not succeed in getting beyond Hochelaga, and on returning found that the expected supplies had not yet appeared, and the terrors of a Canadian winter must again be undergone, with deficient supplies, a thoroughly discontented crew, and the Indians alienated. Roberval did not arrive with the supplies till June of the next year, 1542, by which time Cartier had already quitted the colony, fearing to pass another winter such as the two that he had lived through. The vessels of the two commanders encountered each other in the harbour of St. John, Newfoundland. In vain De Roberval commanded Cartier's return: that night his ships set sail for France. The sole result of this -expedition was a few glittering scales of common iron pyrites which Cartier took for gold, and several quartz crystals, which he supposed to be diamonds. Hence its name was given to Cape Diamond, where he found them. It is pleasant to know that the discoverer of Canada met with no cold receptions on account of the scanty success of this expedition. He was created a noble by the king, and lived long to enjoy his dignity in the neighbourhood of his native St. Malo.

De Roberval did not meet with better success. The expedition was ill provided with provisions and other necessaries. They built a fort or barrack on the site of the former entrenchment of Cartier. Again the rigours of a Canadian winter came upon a French colony totally unprepared to meet them. They had to subsist on such fish as could be procured from the Indians, and on roots fried in whale oil. Added to this, the company quarrelled incessantly among themselves. To maintain discipline, De Roberval resorted to lash and cord for the slightest offence. Theft was checked by hanging the first offender. Several men and women were shot. The colony was a hopeless failure. De Roberval returned to France, leaving a small garrison behind him. Sometime afterwards he again sailed for Canada with a ship-load of colonists, but he never reached his destination, and is supposed to have perished by shipwreck. Meanwhile the garrison he had left on the shore of the St. Lawrence joined the Indians, and degenerated into barbarism. Thus ends the first chapter of the French settlement. It is but the prelude to a nobler record.


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