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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter VI. Champlain and the Ottawa


IN 1609 two young men among Champlain's French followers had volunteered to ascend the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers with the Indians on their homeward journey, to perfect themselves in their language, and to learn what could be learnt of the mysterious country beyond. In 1612 one of these young men, named Nicholas Vignan, appeared in Paris, and related a history of his adventures, which, marvellous as it was, seemed so consistent that Champlain believed it to be true. Vignan s story was so framed as to meet the beliefs and flatter the hopes of those who held the theory that a passage could yet be discovered through North America to the Polar Seas. He stated that he had ascended the Upper Ottawa to its source, which was from a lake of considerable size. He had crossed this lake, and in the country beyond it had found a liver, following whose course he had reached the sea. He said that this sea was the Pacific Ocean, and was distant from Quebec only seventeen days' journey. This lie—and Champlain afterwards said that Vignan was the most impudent liar he had ever known—had the good effect of interesting the selfish nobles of the court in Champlain's enterprise. They saw visions of a direct passage to India and China, which would give France, or rather the privileged class who regarded France as their footstool, a monopoly of trade with the Orient : gold and silk, ivory and spices, pearls and amber, all the most coveted treasures of the most gainful trade in the world, would be poured at the feet of great lords and ladies, to replenish whose purses the plunder of France alone was insufficient. They urged Champlain by all means to prosecute his discoveries. In April, 1613, Champlain once more sailed for the St. Lawrence. In May he left St. Helen's Island, near Montreal, with four Frenchmen, Nicholas Vignan being of the number, and began to ascend the Lower Ottawa. Swiftly they passed up the gentle current of the mighty stream, with no sign of life but the cry of the fish-eagle as if swooped upon the water for its prey, or the song of the wild birds from the bank's unbroken wall of verdure. At length their course was stopped by the rapids of Carillon and Long Sault, past which the\ were obliged to carry their canoes. This they had to do for die most part over the bed of the river; the forest, with its entanglement of underwood and interlacing vines, presenting a barrier that was absolutely impenetrable. They had to drag their canoes over rocks, like reluctant horses; they had to push them against currents which threatened every moment to sweep men and canoe to certain death. Champlain had once a narrow escape from death; he fell where the whole force of the current was sweeping him irresistibly down the rapids ; he saved himself by clutching a rock, but his wrist was severely injured by the cord of his canoe. At length they reached the cataract whose silver columns of spray even now ascend high above the smoke of a great city ; whose grandeur remains at this day unvulgarized by its vulgar surroundings; which, though bound and shackled to turn-mills and drive-machinery, is still the Chaudiere. Here, his Indian guides threw :n offerings of tobacco, in order to appease the Manitou, or guardian spirit of the cataract. Having dragged their canoes over what is now the most densely peopled part of the city of Ottawa, and having passed above the Chaudiere, they launched them on the placid bosom of a broad, lake-like stream. On they slid, those two egg-shell ships, freighted with the future of Canada, past where now on either side villages and churches, school-houses and farm homesteads diversify the richly-cultivated farm-land, interspersed with here and there a grove of oak or maple, the survival of what was then primeval forest. Nine miles from the Chaudiere they heard again the rush of falling water, and saw the white spray-column, like smoke from a bush fire, ascending from the largest of the sixteen cataracts of the Chats. Here a wall of granite, broken by interspaces of cataract, crosses the river, which thunders with the whole force of its volume of water through every crevice and opening. Past this, once more they dragged their canoes by land. Again they embarked on the Lake of the Chats, and proceeded without further hindrance till they reached the rapids which extend from the Devil's Elbow at Portage du Fort. Thence they enjoyed a calm passage till they reached Allumette, where an Indian chief named Tessouat received them with much kindness. He gave a solemn feast in Champlain's honour, runners being sent in all directions to summon the neighbouring chiefs to the feast. Early on the next day, the women and girls, w ho were Tessouat's slaves, swept the floor of his hut to prepare for the festival. At noon the naked warriors appeared from even direction, each furnished with his own wooden spoon and platter. The large hut which did duty as Tessouat's palace was as full as it could hold of warriors, row within row. squatting on the ground like apes, and expectant of the feast. First came a compound, not unsavoury, so Champlain writes, of pounded maize boiled with scraps of meat and fish; next venison, and fish broiled on the burnt-out logs. Water was the only drink, and when the feast was over the pipes were lighted, and the council began. The pipe having first been passed to Champlain. the council smoked for half an hour in silence; Champlain then made a speech in which he desired them to send four canoes and eight men to guide him to the country of the Nipissings. a tribe to the north of the lake of the same name.

To this the Indians demurred, as they were not on friendly terms with the Nipissmgs. Tessouat gave expression to their feelings: "We always knew you for our best friend amongst the Frenchmen. We love you like our own children. But why did you break your word with us last year when we all went down to Montreal to give you presents and go with you to war. You were not there, but other Frenchmen were there who cheated us. You will never go again. As to the four canoes, you shall have them if you insist upon it. But it grieves us to think of the hardships you will endure. The Nipissings have weak hearts. They are good for nothing in war, but they kill us with sorcery, and they poison us. They will kill you." At length, however. on Champlain assuring them he was proof against sorcery, extorted a premise to give him the canoes; but he had no sooner left "the reeking and smoking hut than they re-considered their promise and gave him a discreet refusal. Champlain returned to the council and expostulated with them. This young man," said Champlain, pointing to Yvnan. "says he has been in their country, and that they are not so bad as you describe them."' The chief looked sternly on the young Frenchman: Nicholas: he cried, "Did you say you had been in the country of the Nipssings?" "Yes, I have been there," said the impostor. All the vidians gravely fixed their eyes upon him. At length Tessouat spoke: "You are liar; you spent the whole winter sleeping in the house with my children. If you have been to the land of the Nipissings, it must have been m your sleep. You are trying to deceive your chief, and induce him to waist his life.  He ought to put you to death, with tortures worse than those with which we kill our enemies." Champlain led the young man from the council house; after much equivocation Vignan finally confessed that the whole story was an invention of his own, fabricated, it is hard to say from what motive; perhaps from the morbid love of notoriety, which is sometimes found among travellers of a later day.

The Indians rejoiced over Champlain's discomfiture. "You" they said, "did you not listen to chiefs and warriors instead of believing that liar".

They earnestly entreated Champlain to permit them to put Vignan to death by torture. His generous chief preferred to forgive him freely.

Champlain returned to Montreal, or, as he called it, the Sault', where he met his lieutenant, Du Pare, who, having been most successful in hunting, was able to give a plentiful repast to his half-famished chief. Having seen that all went well at Quebec. Champlain sailed for France, promising to return the next year.

The French merchants who had taken interest in the Canadian enterprise gave it but a half-hearted support. They never looked beyond the beaver skins and furs; with Champlain's higher projects of colonizing and Christianizing Canada they had but scant sympathy. And yet, reflection might have taught them that to win the Indians from their heathenism into the fold of the Catholic Church was to extend the political influence of France, and with that influence, to extend its trade. They did not see that men like Samuel de Champlain, the knight-errant of exploration, men like the Recollet and Jesuit missionaries, in all their efforts, in every conquest made by sword or breviary, were advancing the best interests of French commerce by giving to its operations a continually widening area. But, though Champlain realized this, his motive was a higher one. He belonged to a class of explorers peculiar to the great days of discovery in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; men of a temperament grave, valiant, adventurous, whose faculty for threading the mazes of unknown seas and impenetrable forests amounted to an instinct; men who did nothing for the praise of men, but all for the glory of God. Such were Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Sir Humphrey Gilbert; such, at a later day, was David Livingstone. To this noble and heroic type, n a special degree, belonged Samuel de Champlain. With him the saving of souls by the conversion of the heathen, was an actual, living, motive force in all that he did, as shown by a saying of his, characteristic of the man and his age in its exaggerated piety: "The saving of one soul is worth an empire." But he found few, even among the clergy, to sympathize with him. The French Church of those days was, as Carlyle says of it at a later and still baser day, "a stalled ox, thinking chiefly of provender." But Champlain found help in time of need from a friend, one Hould, of Brouage, who introduced him to the brethren of a convent near that town, and belonging to an order whose name will be ever memorable in Canadian history—the Recollet.

Early in the thirteenth century appeared that extraordinary man, St. Francis of Assissi, in whom met all that was most fanatical, most ascetic^ most lovable in the faith of the Dark Ages. Called by dreams and visions in early youth, he chose poverty for his bride, robbed his wealthy father in order to built a church, stripped himself naked in presence of the Bishop of Assissi, begging of him in charity a peasant's dress. He kissed and consorted with lepers, he travelled to Africa and Syria, and went to preach conversion to the ferocious Caliph, at the head of his army. Strange to say, the Caliph sent him back with marks of honour, probably from the reverence eastern natives entertain for those madmen whom they consider inspired. Wherever he went through Europe, his fervent and passionate oratory attracted the multitude and made converts. His Order waxed strong ui every European land. It furnished to the Church's Calendar no fewer than forty-six saints, who suffered martyrdom for the faith ; besides four popes, and forty-five cardinals. But in process of time discipline was relaxed, and abuses crept in. A reformation took place in one branch of the Great Franciscan Order, and the "Recollati," or Recollet Fathers were known as the Franciscans of the Strict Observance. Such were the men to whom Champlain now applied for help. Several of the Order, "inflamed with pious zeal," undertook the Canadian Mission, which no other priest would touch.


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