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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter III. Cartier's Successors


DURING the next half century, the French Government and noblesse, occupied in the disastrous civil wars, had no thought whatever of Canada. The generation which knew Cartier had passed away; that of Champlain had not come. Yet, through all these evil years the barques of the Breton and Norman fisher-folk swarmed upon the Banks of Newfoundland, and returned to France full-freighted with the harvest of the sea. The still more profitable trade in furs, too, became more and more an established branch of commerce between the Indians and the Frenchmen, who, building their huts on the margin of the St. Lawrence Gulf, found that, for a few trinkets, they could procure supplies of beaver and bear skins, walrus tusks, and the valuable furs of the smaller animals, such as the mink, ermine, and silver fox, then held in so much value in France. Many of these married Indian girls, acquired the Indian language and habits, and made voyages in the canoes which traded to some distance up the St. Lawrence. But the noblesse had not lost sight of the advantage of acquiring new territories and new titles by enterprises of Canadian colonization. A very abortive effort in this direction was made by the Marquis de la Roche, a Breton noble, who obtained from the king permission to found a colony in Canada. He repeated the mistake which had ruined the enterprise of Roberval. He ransacked the prisons, and brought together a company of thieves and cut-throats who were forced to embark in a small vessel, so deep-freighted with this cargo of convicts that the wretched men, leaning over the ship's side, could dip their hands in the water. By good seamanship, or good luck, they crossed the Atlantic, and reached a low stretch of sand-bank with breakers surging unceasingly over the skeleton of a wrecked ship. This was Sable Island, eighty miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. In accordance with the cruel custom of the time, La Roche landed his convict colonists on this dismal islet, while he and his sailors went m search of a suitable spot for settlement. Brit a storm from the west came on, and the tiny craft could do nothing else than run before the tempest, which speedily carried her to France. There La Roche was imprisoned by one of the rival leaders in the civil war, and, though oppressed by remorse for the fate of the unfortunates he had abandoned to almost certain starvation, could do nothing until five years later, when he was able to bring the circumstances under the notice of the king. Meanwhile, the convicts having learned to despair of La Roche's return, faced their miserable fate. The island, about three miles long, contained in its centre a small lake fed by a clear spring of fresh water. There were a number of wild cattle, the progeny either of some that had escaped from the wreck of a Spanish ship, or of some left there eighty years before by the explorer De Lery. Not a tree or shrub was to be found, but the sand-hills were covered with a coarse grass un which the wild cattle fed. Black foxes burrowed in the sand-hills; seals basked on the beach. On these they managed to subsist, eating the flesh, and clothing themselves with the skins. They contrived to construct huts with the timbers of wrecked ships, wherein, huddled together without a fire, these miserable outcasts learned to regret the warmth and shelter of the dungeons whence they had been taken. Thus they lived for five years, when a ship passing near sent a boat to the island and carried the survivors of the strange exile back to France. The king sent for them. They stood in his presence like wild men, with hair unkempt and long shaggy beards,—their only clothing the skins of beasts. They had hoarded up a quantity of valuable furs, which had been taken horn them, but were returned by the king's order, who also pardoned them and bestowed on them pensions

Once more a seaman from St. Malo undertook the attempt at settlement. Pontgrave of St. Malo, with the aid of Chauvin, a captain in the royal navy, obtained a monopoly of the fur trade on condition that they should found a colony. Their only thought was of the trade; as to the colony, they brought out some sixteen persons in 1599, for whom they built a depot under the shadow of the gloomy, inaccessible hill-sides at the outlet of the Saguenay. Here a stone house was built, the first erected in Canada. But the colonists were utterly deficient in self-help .and energy. Unable to face the horrors of winter in that dismal region, several of them died of cold and exposure; the rest, preserved by the charity of the Indians, were afterwards carried back to France.

In 1603, Aymer de Chastes, a veteran soldier and commander of the Order of St. John, had "saved' the cause of Henry the Fourth at the most critical period of the civil war which ended with the triumph of Ivry, A devout Catholic, Ih Chastes longed to devote the last years of his life to the cause of his God and his King. He could think of no nobler achievement than to win the wilds of Canada for the Cross of Christ and the Crown of France. King Henry readily granted to his devoted follower the title of Viceroy of Canada. De Chastes very wisely formed a company, thus sharing with others the profits to be derived from his monopoly of the fur trade. Of his party were Pontgrave and a young soldier and sea-captain, named Champlain, of whose character and career we shall speak hereafter, as his is, beyond question, the central figure m early Canadian history.

From Hontleur, Champlain and his companion sailed with two small ships over the ocean, through the gloomy St. Lawrence, past the majestic promontory of Quebec, from beneath whose shadow the Indian town of Stadacona had vanished; on, past lake and island, to Montreal. Here, too. the town of Cartier's day had disappeared, leaving no trace behind. The explorers vainly endeavoured to make their way in a canoe farther up the St. Lawrence; they were stopped by the whirl ng eddies and miniature cataracts of the rapids of St. Louis, against which these bold adventurers strove in vain to make way. Baffled for the time, they returned to France, only to learn that the death of the good De Chastes had probably put an end to their enterprise. Colonization, however, was once more taken up by a nobleman of high character for energy and valour, the Sieur de Monts, who obtained from the k ng a commission as Viceroy of Canada, or rather of La Cadie or Acadia. The name of Acadia was soon afterwards restricted to Nova Scotia. The name itself is derived from a less poetical source, being the Indian for a species of small cod, called by the English the pollock. In De Mont's commission Acadia included all Canada, with the entire country from Philadelphia northwards. As usual, the new Viceroy received a monopoly of the fur trade. Also as usual, he received and made use of the refuse of French society to be swept into the holds of his vessels. But he was fortunate enough to carry with him several associates of high rank and character, foremost among whom was the young Baron de Pouti in court. Their adventure, now to be recorded, brilliant and memorable as it undoubtedly w as, is but a prelude, and that a tentative and unsuccessful one, to the real history of Canada.


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