Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter V. Samuel de Champlain


THE story of the rise and ruin of Acadia, told By the last chapter, is indeed but an episode in the history of Canada, which we now resume at one of '.ts most interesting points—the exploration of the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, and the great inland seas of our country ^ and the story of the foundation of Quebec. This was all the work of one man, who may well be called the Father of New France. All that had been done before his time amounted to nothing more than a mere reconnaissance. Samuel de Champlain was born in 1567, at Brouage, a small town on the Bay of Biscay. He was a captain in the navy, and a soldier of no little military skill. During the wars of the League he had done good service for King Henry the Fourth in Brittany, and his prowess had contributed to the triumph of the royal cause at Ivry. After the war he travelled all through the Spanish settlements in the West Indies and South America; an adventure of no slight risk, as the Spaniards, always averse to their South American possessions being visited by foreigners, were especially jealous of the French. Champlain's manuscript journal of his travels is still preserved, in clear, well-marked characters, and illustrated by a number of coloured drawings, which, with a childlike disregard of proportion and perspective, yet give a sufficiently distinct idea of the objects represented.

As has been said, Champlain accompanied De Monts on his Acadian enterprise. When that had utterly failed, the latter was easily induced by Champlain to explore the St. Lawrence, and, by founding a French colony in Canada, deliver the heathen of that land from eternal punishment, so that they might become loyal subjects to His Majesty of France and His Holiness of Rome. De Monts eagerly adopted a project so full of piety and patriotism. He fitted out two ships, one in charge of Pontgrave, the other in charge of Champlain. Pontgrave, with a cargo of wares for barter among the Indians, sailed for Canada on the 5th of April, 1608; Champlain left on the 13th. As he rounded the cliff which to the south-east of the St. Lawrence projects like a buttress into the turbulent waters, he found Pontgrave's ship at anchor, and beside her a Basque vessel which, 011 some difficulty arising between the two captains, had fired upon Pontgrave, wounded him, and kiiled one of his crew. With some difficulty, Champlain compromised the question at issue, and the Basques departed in peace to the neighbouring whale-fishery. Amid the desolation of sombre woods and hills, sombre even at this day, where after three centuries of civilization, the Saguenay rolls its sullen waters, ink-black, m the shadow of the green rocks that guard its channel, Champlain encountered an Indian tribe, his alliance with whom was destined to exercise no slight influence upon his future. They belonged to the great race of the Algonquins, who were the hereditary foes of the Iroquois. The lodges of their village, wretched huts of birch-bark, feebly supported on 'poles, were far inferior in comfort and appearance to the fortified towns visited by Cartier at Stadacona and Ilochelaga. These Indians called themselves Montagnais. They traversed the gloom of the surrounding wilderness, armed with their • flint-pointed arrows and spears, in patient quest of the only wealth the land yielded—the fur of the fox, lynx, otter; the skins of the bear, wolf, wild-cat, and the various species of deer. These men circled round the French ships in their frail but exquisitely graceful canoes; and several of their chiefs were taken on board and feasted to the utmost contentment of their gluitonous appetites. They promised to furnish guides. Pontgrave had now left for France, his vessel full-freighted with costly furs obtained by barter from the Indians. Champlain held Ms course, for the second time, up the St. Lawrence, through scenes which in some respects civilization has done nothing to change; where, now as then, the dark green wall of forest fringes the utmost marge of the precipice, and the towers and buttresses that guard the river are reflected in the sunless depths below. He passed where now a long-settled farm country, varied at every few miles by a bright, picturesque-looking village, meets the eye of the tourist; where then the wilderness held unbroken sway. Soon he beheld once more the huge promontory of Quebec, towering like a fortress built by some god or giant to bar the rash explorers' onward way. At this point the lake-like expanse of the St. Lawrence suddenly narrows to a strait, w hence the Indians named the place "Kebec," or "Strait." Champlain anchored his ship at the old moor [ng-place where the River St. Charles enters the St. Lawrence.

The stone hatchets of the aborigines were scarce capable of felling a single tree without the labour of several days ; very different was the effect of the steel axes with which civilization had armed the white man.

Wielded by the strong arms of these resolute and hopeful men, inspirited by the presence and example of one who himself was a practised woodman, the gleaming axe-blades were smiting hard and fast all through the summer day and ever as they smote, the huge pines, that were the advanced guard of the wilderness, fell before them. Soon several acres were cleared. On the site of the market-place of the Lower Town of Quebec was erected a rude but sufficiently strong fortress, consisting of a thick wall of logs, defended on the outside by a double 1 le of palisades, and having at its summit a gallery with loop holes for arquebuses. On platforms raised to a level with the summit of the wall were three small cannon, commanding the approaches from the river. There were barracks for the men, and a strongly-built magazine. The outer wall was surrounded by a moat. Gram, maize, and turnip seed were sown on part of the land which had been cleared ; and Champlain, practical man as he was in all things, cultivated part of the land close to the fort as a garden.

Early m September Pontgrave sailed for France to report progress and bring back supplies. Champlain was left in charge of the newly-erected fort, to which its founder had given the name of Quebec. The mother city of Canadian civilization, the centre and shield of resistance to bloody Indian warfare, through a long and chequered history of nearly three centuries, Quebec has held the place of honour in the annals of each of the great races that now compose the Canadian People.

The hero who was its founder had, like all heroes from Hercules downwards, not only labour and pain to contend with ; not only the hydra to smite down; he had to crush the serpents that attacked his work in its cradle. One Duval, a locksmith, had formed a plot to seize Champlain when sleeping, and, having murdered him, to deliver up the ship to their late enemies the Basques, and to the commander of a Spanish ship then at Tadoussac. Aided by three other ringleaders, Duval had gained over nearly the whole of Champlain's garrison of twenty-eight. Prompt measures were taken. A shallop had lately arrived from Tadoussac, and was anchored close to the fort. Among the crew was one on whose loyalty Champlain knew he could depend. Champlain sent for him, and giving him two bottles of wine, directed him to invite Duval and his three accomplices to drink with him on board the shallop, and while drinking, to overpower them. This was done that evening. At ten, most of the men in the fort were in bed. Champlain gave orders that the trumpet should be sounded, and the men summoned to quarters; they were told that the plot had been discovered, that its author would be hanged at dawn, and the three who had aided him in plotting mutiny be sent in irons to France to expiate their crime as galley slaves for life; the rest he would pardon, as he believed they had been misled. Trembling, they returned to their beds; and the next day's dawn saw the carcase of their ringleader dangling from a gallows, food for the wildcat, and warning against mutiny. It was an act of prompt decision that reminds one of Cromwell. Thenceforth Champlain had no difficulty in securing discipline.

And now the gold and scarlet livery with which autumn arrays the Canadian forests was being rudely stripped away by November's blasts. A cold winter followed. The first garrison of Quebec amused themselves with trapping and fishing; Champlain 011 one occasion hung a dead dog from a tree in order to watch the hungry martens striving vainly to reach it.

A band of the wandering Algonquins, the feeblest and most improvident of Indians, set up their wretched wigwams close to the fort, round which they prowled and begged. Although they took no precaution whatever against their dreaded Iroquis enemies, every now and then they were seized by a panic, and man, woman, and child, would run half-naked to the gate of the fort, imploring its shelter. On such occasions Champlain would admit the women and children to the courtyard within. These Montagnais were, even for Indians, unusually degraded. They would eat any carrion. Once Champlain saw a band of these wretches, hunger-driven from the region beyond the river, seek help from their kindred. Gaunt and spectral shapes, they were crossing the river in their canoes. It was now the beginning of spring; the St. Lawrence was full of drifting masses of ice wl ich had floated from the far wildernesses of the west. The canoes got jammed between these miniature icebergs, and were at once shivered like eggshells. The famine-striken Indians sprang on one of the largest of the ice-drifts. Certain of death, they raised a terrible yell of fear and lamentation. A sudden jam in the ice-pack saved the-: lives. Champlain humanely directed that they should be supplied with food ; before this could be brought, they found the carcase of a dead dog; on this they seized, and, ravenous as wolf or wild-cat, tore and devoured the putrid flesh.

Whatever may have been the cause, towards the close of winter scurvy appeared among them; and when the spring sunshine came to their relief only eight out of a band of nearly thirty were living. In May a sail-boat arrived from Tadoussac, bringing a son-in law of Pontgrave with news that his father m-law had arrived there. There Champlain met his colleague, and it was arranged that while Pontgrave took charge of Quebec, Champlain should carry out the plan of a complete exploration of Canada.

I he year before, a young war-chief from the distant tribes of the Ottawa had visited the fort ; had seen with amazed admiration the warriors clad in glittering steel; had heard the roar of arquebuses and cannon. Eagerly and earnestly he sought an alliance with the great war-chief. He told how his tribe, one of the superior branches of the Algonquin race, were in alliance with their kinsmen the Hurons against their common enemy the Iroquois. On being questioned by Champlain, he told how a mighty river as vast as the St. Lawrence flowed from unknown regions where the Thunder-bird dwelt, and the Manitous of mighty cataracts abode. This aroused Champlain's most eager interest. To explore that river would be to obtain a knowledge of the whole country, otherwise beyond his reach; perhaps it might even prove to be the long-coveted highway to China and the East. Without the help of the Indians it was clearly impossible for Champlain to pursue his explorations. It was agreed that, next spring, the Ottawa chief with a party of hii warriors should visit the fort. But, as after waiting late in the spring, Champlain found that the Ottawa warriors did not appear at the fort, he set forth with eleven of his men and a party of Montagnais as guides. On his route up the river, he saw, through an opening in the forest, the wigwams of an unusually large Indian encampment. Grounding his shallop on the beach, he made his way to the camp, and found a gathering of Hurons and Algonquins. Their chief received him with all the profuse and demonstrative welcome of savage life; his companions and Indian followers were summoned to the chief's lodge. The dwellers on the far-off shores of Huron had never seen a white man. They gazed in wondering awe on the brilliant armour and strange weapons of Champlain and his followers. A feast and the usual prolonged speech-making followed, as a matter of course. Champlain invited all the chiefs to Quebec. Arrived there, they were feasted in return. At night they lighted huge fires, and painted and decked themselves for the war-dance.

All through the night half-naked warriors, hideous with paint and feathered head-dress, danced and leaped, brandishing stone clubs and flint-pointed spears, as the fierce light of the fire fell on the fiend-like faces and frenzied gestures of hate. All through the night the sinister sound of the war-drum accompanied the yells of the dancers, till the wolves were scared at Point Levis, and wild-cat and lynx retreated deeper into the forest. Next day, Champlain. with eleven of his followers, set forth in a shallop. Accompanied by the canoes, they passed through Lake St. Peter, amid the tortuous windings which separate its numberless islets. Champlain looked with a delight inconceivable to his savage allies on that peculiar feature of Canadian scenery, the cluster of small islands which varies the monotonous expanse of the Canadian lake or lakelet; each of them low-lying in the water as a coral-reef; in its centre a miniature grove of birch and cedar m which the birds are singing ; all round it, to where the emerald garment of the islands meets the water, a dense growth of shrubs and dowers fresh with the life of June. The force of the current being against them, Champlain's sail-boat made way far in advance of the canoes : as he cautiously steered his course, his eye was caught by the gleam, close at hand, of foam, and the roar of hurrying waters. They were dangerously near the rapids. By this time the Indian canoes had joined the shallop. Champlain, with two of his men, determined to accompany the Hurons in their canoes, it being evidently impracticable to prosecute the voyage in a boat which could not be carried past the rapids of the river, now called the Richelieu. The rest of his men were sent back to Quebec.

Presently they reached the beautiful lake which bears the name of the hero of that day's adventure. They arrived at the country of their dreaded foes the Iroquois. They then took greater precaution in their advance. A small party of Indians explored the way. In the rear of the main body another small party guarded against surprise. On either flank a band of Indians scoured the woods to watch for indications of an enemy's approach, and to hunt what game might be met with for the common benefit.

One night, about ten o'clock, they saw dark objects moving on the lake. The keen perception of the Indians at once decided that these were the war-canoes of the Iroquois. They landed and intrenched themselves. The Hurons did the same. It was agreed on both sides that the battle was not to take place till the morning. But both by Huron and Iroquois the war-dance was kept up all night, accompanied by the hideous thumping of the war-drum, and by the cries and yells imitated from the wild beasts of the wilderness, but far surpassing in horror of discordant shrillness the shiiek of the horned-owl, the howling of the wolf, the wailing of the starved wild-cat in the winter woods. With morning's dawn, the Hurons were drawn up in irregular skirmishing order. Champlain and his two companions waited m reserve. Presently the Iroquois defiled through the torest. Their steady advance and manly bearing excited the admiration of Champlain. At their head were several chiefs, conspicuous by their wavmg plumes of eagle-feathers. When the two hostile lines confronted one another, Champlain stepped out in front of the Hurons, levelled his arque-buse, and fired. The two leading chiefs of the Iroquois fell dead. With a yell that resounded through the wilderness, the Hurons showered their arrows upon their adversaries. The Iroquois still stood firm, and replied with arrows from two hundred bows. But w hen Champlain 's two companions, each with his arquebuse, poured a volley of lire into their ranks, the Iroquois, utterly terrified, turned and fled. Like a tempest, the Hurons tore after them into the woods. Most of the Iroquois were lulled . and scalped, or rather scalped and killed, on the spot \ but several were reserved for torture. That night, by the blazing watchtire, Champlain saw a captive tied to a tree; around him, with torches and knives m their hands, yelled and leaped his captors. They gashed his flesh; they applied the burning pine-torch to the wound. Champlain begged to be allowed to put a bullet through the poor wretch's heart. They refused. Chain-plain turned away in horror and disgust, as he saw them tear the scalp from the yet living head. Several of the captives were given to Champlain's Algonquins to be tortured. These they reserved fill they reached their own camp, near Quebec, in order that the women might share in the torturing process, in the ingenious application of which they justly considered that the weaker sex excelled their own.

On their arrival at the Algonquin camp, the girls and women rushed out to meet them, yelling and screaming with delight at the thought of chewing the fingers and cutting out the heart of one of their dreaded enemies. When the prisoners were scalped and slain, each of the women wore one of the ghastly heads strung round her neck as an ornament. To Champlain, as the reward of his prowess, one head and two arms were given, which he was enjoined to present to their great White Father, the French King. Soon after this Champlain revisited France to report the progress of Quebec, to procure further supplies, and to promote the emigration of artisans and other desirable colonists.

Champlain's conduct in thus engaging in Indian warfare has been almost universally condemned by historical critics. We have been told, what no one who knows anything of the subject can question, that Indian warfare is beyond that of any other race savage, bloody, cruel, cowardly and treacherous ; and that for a superior and civilized people to engage in it was to lower themselves to the level of the wolves of the wilderness, by whose side they fought. It has been shown, and with sufficient truth, that the blood of the Iroquois, slain by the arquebuse of Champlain, was the beginning of a ceaseless guerilla warfare between that race and the French colonists, the results of which were the massacres of Lachine, Carillon and Montreal; the desolation of many a farm by the Indian tomahawk and torch. But it may be said in reply that Champlain could hardly have done otherwise. He could not, without the alliance of friendly Indians, have carried out his projects of exploration. It would have been next to impossible for him, even if unmolested, to penetrate that labyrinth of wilderness and river without a guide. Even could he have done so, his scalp would certainly have been forfeited. On no other terms could he have secured the Algonquins, as trustworthy allies, than by his willingness to give them an aid that seemed all-powerful against their hereditary enemies the Iroquois. As to war on the part of the French with the Iroquois, that was an inevitable result of the French occupation of Canada. It was the policy of that powerful confederation, the Iroquois League, to subjugate or exterminate every other race in Canada. Collision between them and the French settlements was only a question of time, and it could not have been initiated n a manner more favourable to French interests than by securing, as Champlain did, an alliance with the two great Indian tribes of Canada, which m power and prowess ranked next to the Iroquois. In the duel of two centuries between the Iroquois and New France, the Indian allies were of the greatest possible use to the countrymen of Champlain ; they not only acted as guides, scouts and spies, but in actual fighting they rendered invaluable assistance. It may well be doubted whether, had not Champlain's policy been carried out, the thin line of French settlement might not have been swept away before the storm of Iroquois invasion.

('hamplain has been blamed for choosing as his allies the weaker tribe of Algonquins, instead of their more warhke rivals. Again, we say, he could hardly have done otherwise. The Iroquois territory lay on the other side of the great lakes. The Algonquins held all the region for miles around Quebec, on the banks of the St. Lawrence and its Gulf; their kinsmen, the Ottawas, had the lordship of the river which bears their name ; their allies, the Hurons, held the key to the entire lake country, The Iroquois, like the Romans to whom they have been compared, could never have been faithful allies. Their organization as a confederacy would never have allowed them to rest content with the second place, the inferior rank, which savagery must always take when allied with civilization. But the Algonquins had no such unity. They were, therefore, all the more willing to cling to the centre of organization which New France presented. ( hamplain also foresaw another means of centralizing the influence of New France over her Indian allies. The Catholic Church would send forth her unpaid ambassadors, her sexless and ascetic missionaries, her black-robed army of martyrs ; the converted Algonquins would be swayed by a power mightier and more authoritative than any earthly confederacy. And events have proved that the policy by which New France won her hold on Canada was the wisest, and therefore the best. It began with the first shot fired in battle by the arquebuse of Champlain.

Returning to France, Champlain visited King Henry the Fourth a short tune before his assassination. He told him of his adventures in Canada, and of the growing prosper _ty of Quebec. The adventure-loving king was much interested and amused. Soon after this, Champlain and Pontgrave sailed for Canada. Pontgrave took charge of Quebec, while Champlain went to meet his Huron allies at the mouth of the Richelieu. They had promised, if he would once more help them in warfare against the Iroquois foe, they would guide him through the region of the great lakes, would show him the mines where the huge masses of copper sparkled, unmingled with ore. Although aware of the little value of a promise from this fickle and unreliable race, Champlain thought it best to try his chance ; accordingly, with a small party of Frenchmen, he left for the rendezvous, a small island at the mouth of the Richelieu River. On his arrival, he found the place a Pandemonium of dancing and yelling warriors ; trees were being hewed down in preparation for a great feast to be given to their Algonquin allies, w hose arrival they were now waiting. On a sudden, news came that the Algonquins w ere in the forest several miles away, righting a large force of the Iroquois. Every Indian present seized club, spear, tomahawk, or whatever other weapon he could possess himself of, and paddled to the shore. Champlain and his Frenchmen followed, and had to make their way as best they could over three miles of marsh, impeded by fallen trees ; water, in which they sank knee-deep; entanglement of brushwood, through which it was hard to struggle. At last they came to a clearing, and saw-some hundred Iroquois warriors at bay, within a breastwork of felled trees; a multitude of their Algonquin enemies brandishing spear and tomahawk around the easily scaled entrenchment. This they had attacked already and been hurled back from the rampart of trees with bloody repulse. They did not dare to renew the effort to storm the Iroquois fortification, but contented themselves with shouting curses, insults, threats of the tortures which their foes, when captured, should suffer. At length Champlain and his followers came up, bred with his three miles effort to get through the cedar-swamp, encumbered with 1 >s heavy arms and weapons. But at once he came to the front, and assumed command. He ordered a large body of the Algonquins to be stationed in the forest, so as to intercept fugitives. He and his companions marched up to the breast-work, and resting their short-barrelled arquebuses on the logs of the breast-work, tired with deadly aim. The Iroquois, m terror, threw themselves on the ground. Then, and then only, did the Algonquins muster courage to scale the breastwork. Most of the Iroquois were scalped and slain. Some fifteen were reserved for the usual slow death by fire. Champlain succeeded in saving one prisoner after the battle. No human powder could have saved the others. All through that night the fires of death and torture burned.

On his return to Quebec, Champlain heard, with dismay, of the assassination of his friend and patron, Henry the Fourth. He also learned the revocation of the fur trade monopoly, which had been the life of the enterprise of De Monts and Pontgrave.

Once more Champlain left his cherished home in the little fort under the shadow of Cape Diamond, his gardens and vineyard already yielding maize, wheat, barley, and-every kind of vegetables, with grapes enough to make a tolerably good claret. He left a M. De Pare as his lieutenant at Quebec, with a few men, and in due course arrived at Honileur. No success attended his efforts to secure a renewal of the monopoly. In fact, the corrupt and imbecile French Court had not the power to do this, even if it had the will. For the fur trade of the St. Lawrence was now open to all nations. It was impossible to exclude the Basque, Dutch, English, and Spanish traders, whose vessels now began to swarm up the St. Lawrence Gulf. But, failing to secure the mastery of the fur trade at its P2uropean source, Champlain conceived the idea of arranging a practical monopoly of the Indian traffic with the Indians themselves. He returned to Quebec in May, i6n. A fleet of greedy trading boats followed his course. He resolved to elude them, and establish a new trading post at the confluence of the great rivers by which the Indian canoes brought down their yearly harvest of skins and furs. He built a small wooden depot on the spot where, m the Montreal of to-day, is the Hospital of the Grey Nuns. He named it Place Royale. Soon- after this he again visited France. Meeting De Monts at a place called Pans, of which De Monts was governor, all charge of the Quebec colony was formally surrendered into the hands of Champlain. But Champlain was more anxious for the success of the colony, for the conversion of the heathen, and for the discovery, if it might be, of a route through Canada to India and China, than for mere fur trade gains. Dismissing all selfish thoughts, he succeeded in forming a company of merchants, into whose hands the gains of the commercial traffic would mainly fall, Champlain contenting himself with their undertaking to aid and increase the colony. At St. Malo and Kouen his proposal was eagerly accepted, and a company was formed, backed by considerable capital; but this was not all that was necessary. In that seventeenth century, wherein were gathering themselves the forces which produced the great Revolution of a later period, no work of public beneficence could be undertaken without the patronage of one of the royal house. Such patronage was sought and found by Champlain's company in two princes of the Bourbon blood, with whose names Canadian history need not concern itself. The two Bourbon princes were the sinecurists of a sensual and indolent Court, men equally greedy, equally worthless; neither of them, though invested with all sorts of high-sounding titles connected with the colony they were supposed to rule, took the slightest interest in Canada. Large sums of money had to be paid to these illustrious noblemen by Champlain and his company of merchants. The Bourbon princes took every bribe they could get, and in return did one good thing for this country— they kept away from it.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus