History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter VII The Recollet Mission


The Recollet Order was a mendicant one, and as it strictly observed the vow of poverty m the spirit of St. Francis himself, it had no funds to contribute to the new mission. However, the exertions of Champlain's friend Houel, who held the post of Comptroller-General of the salt mines of Prouage, and of some others interested in the mission, procured enough money to enable the Fathers dedicated to it to proceed to the scene of their pious work. Those of the Recollets w ho had a vocation for the mission to Canada were four, Denis Jamet, Jean Dolbeau, Joseph Le Caron. and Paciiique du Plessis. All confessed their sins, received plenary absolution, and set sail with Champlain from Harfleur. They reached Quebec m the last week of May, 1615. According to the custom of their Order in undertaking a mission in a strange place, their first proceeding w as to choose a site for their convent. They selected a position close to the wooden rampart surrounding the fort and barracks erected by Champlain. They next set up an altar, decorated it with a crucifix and the mystic seven candlesticks, and intoned a mass beneath the blue vault of heaven, a fitting temple for the first mass ever celebrated in Canada. Dolbeau was the celebrant. The entire colony of New France knelt on the bare earth before him, the naked savages from forest and river looked on in amazed perplexity, and as the host was held on high by the officiating priest, cannon after cannon sent forth its salute from ship and ramparts. After this the friars took counsel together in order to allot to each his sphere of labour in this vast harvest field of souls.

To Father Dolbeau the Montagnais were assigned as his peculiar care ; to Le Caron, the distant tribes west and north-west of Lake Huron ; Fathers Jamet and Du Plessis were for the present to remain in the convent at Quebec. Dolbeau, fired with missionary enterprise, accompanied one of the lodges of the Montagnais hunters to their winter hunting grounds. Of these it has been said by a missionary priest who knew them well, that whereas the Iroquois were nobles of the Indian race, and the Algonquins the burghers, the Montagnais were the peasants and paupers. Dolbeau was not of strong constitution, and was subject to a weakness of the eyes. The Indian hunters treated him kindly, and shared with him such food as they used themselves : boiled maize, tisli speared through the ice, and the flesh now and then of deer, bear, wild-cat, porcupine, and a multitude of other such animals with which the forest swarmed. But Dolbeau was expected, when the camp moved, to carry his share of the poles and birch bark of which their frail hut consisted; it task too heavy for his strength. Day and night the icy wind swept through every crevice in the scanty walls. Day and night the pungent smoke from the wood-fire tortured the eye-sore missionary. The dogs, the intolerable stench, the filthy cooking, the enumerable fleas, the scolding, the incessant chatter of women and children, made the good father's life a burden too heavy to be borne. At last he debated in the court of conscience and casuistry the question whether God required of him the sacrifice of losing his eyesight, and having most sensibly decided that this was not the case, he returned to his convent at Quebec. But n the spring of 1616, undaunted by his experiences, a worthy disciple of the saint who embraced lepers, he went once more with a Montagnais hunting lodge on a tour through the vast sea of forest that extends to the regions of perpetual ice. lie penetrated so far north as to meet wandering bands of Esquimaux.

While the Recollet convent was being rapidly brought to completion by the witting hands of the brothers set apart for the duty, Le Caron had gone in a canoe to the trade rendezvous at "the Sault" (Montreal), where were assembled countless canoes laden with furs, and a number of eager, chattering, gesticulating Indians, of the Huron and Algonquin tribes. Here Le Caron stayed for some time, picking up what he could learn of the Huron language, and observing their manners. He succeeded in winning the friendship of several of the Huron chiefs, who invited him to accompany them in their canoes on their return voyage, and promised that they would convey him to the chief town of their nation, Carhagouha, and there build him a house and listen to his teachings. When Champlain and Pontgrave arrived, they tried to dissuade Father Le Caron from his project of spending the winter among these far-off savages. But m vain. The disciple of St. Francis had devoted his life to perpetual poverty; he knew no ambition but to serve his God; what to him were privations?

On the festival of Dominion Day hi our modern Canada, July 1st, 1615, Father Le Caron bade adieu to the scanty comforts of such civilization as then was in New France, and embarked on board one of the large Huron canoes. Twelve French soldiers, devout Catholics, attended the expedition. Day after day the fleet of frail but exquisitely graceful craft shot over the. expanse of the unrippled stream; day after day the wondering eyes of the missionary must have rested on scenes of nature's beauty on which, scarcely changed since then, the tourist of the Upper Ottawa looks with such pleasure at this day. There, on either bank of such a river as the simple French monk had never seen before, was an ever changing Eden of maple, oak and beech; while, over all, the giant pines lifted heads defiant of the storm. Then, on countless islets of emerald green, summer had spread her honey feast for humming-bird and bee. The strange beauty of the forest, fresh with the life of summer, the colours and scents of unknown flowers, the ever-changing panorama of river, lake, and island archipelago, must have awakened new sensations of pious happiness and gratitude in the breast of the Franciscan missionary. The voyage proceeded. As with slow steps the voyageurs carried their canoes by the portage, long and difficult, that leads past the Falls of the Calumet, the pious Catholics must have felt scandalized to see their heathen guides cast in their tobacco offerings to the guardian Manitou, the water-fiend, as it seemed to Le Caron, who had his lair in the recesses of those dark precipices crowned with sombre pines, or beneath the arches of those masses of descending water lashed into a sea of foam. The missionary tried to dissuade them from this act of devil-worship so abhorrent to his soul. But the Indians persisted in their act of unmeaning superstition, saying to Le Caron that it was the custom of their fathers. On from thence the canoes held their way without interruption, past the mouth of the river which the town of Pembroke had not yet poisoned with the saw-dust of its lumber mills; on, where for seven miles the river became a lovely lake, beneath the ink-black shadows and sheer precipice of the Eagle rock (Cape Oiseau) till the roar of rapids and the death-dance of breakers fatal to many a gallant lumberman's boat warned them to the portage of De Joachim. Thence, for twenty miles, straight as bird can fly, the Ottawa lay pent between its deep and dark mountain shores. Thence past the Rocher Capitain, where the imprisoned river struggles like a huge serpent between its rocky barriers; past the Deux Rivieres, where it escapes into a wider channel; at length they reach the junction of the tributary river Mattawa. That scene is little changed since the seventeenth century. There the congregated hills, covered with gloomy frondage, still harbour the beasts of prey which have become extinct elsewhere in Upper Canada; there still the scream of the eagle is not yet silenced by the whistle of the newly arrived locomotive. Ascending the Mattaw a some forty miles the voyagers launched their canoes and men "on the marge of a limpid lake, bearing the name, as it does still, of the Nipissing Indians. All day long they saw leafy shores, and verdure-covered islands seemed to float b\ them in the depth of blue. Avoiding the villages of the Nipissings, a nation who, as the Huron chief told the much-believing Franciscan, were a nation of sorcerers, and whose country, fair as it seemed to the eye, was the abode of demons and familiar spirits, they passed down the stream now called French River, and reached the country (near Lake Huron) of the Indian tribe afterwards known as the Cheveux Releves. These bestowed the most elaborate care in plaiting and dressing their long black hair. They next reached the principal Indian town of Carliagonha, which Le Caron found to present a seeming approach to civilization such as he had seen in no other lndian community. It contained a multitude of large-sized houses, each with the household tires of many families, and was defended by a triple rampart of palisades, thirty-five feet high, supporting a gallery with a breastwork, whence stones and missiles could be hurled against a foe. Here, on their arrival, the Hurons built a house of suitable size for the missionary, who at once began his labours to teach and convert them. A few days after his arrival he beheld, with the joy of one who sees a brother from whom he has long been parted, Champlain and his ten French soldiers. The true-hearted priest pressed the illustrious soldier to his heart.

Then mass was celebrated—the first mass in the country of the Hurons. I he forest was Le Caron's sanctuary, the song-birds of midsummer were assistant choristers, the odour of a thousand blossoms blended their perfume with the incense. Multitudes of the heathen beheld with awe what seemed to them the Medicines of the White Man, the monotoned prayer, the gorgeous vestments, the strange, sweet chanting of the psalms, the altar with its mystic lights, the figure which looked on them from the crucifix with agonized face and tortured limbs. Thus did this brave Franciscan, armed with cross and breviary, carry the Cross into the very stronghold of savage paganism, and, by offering the holy sacrifice of the mass at his mystic altar, bid defiance to its lords.

But our thoughts must turn from these wielders of the spiritual weapons to that great man whose nfluence with the Indian heathen was far greater than that of any "Chief of the Black Robe."; These benighted pagans were much more anxious for Champlain's aid with the carnal weapon. Again and again they prayed him to come once, more to their aid against the common enemy. After mature deliberation, Champlain and Pontgrave agreed that the wisest course for the good of New France would be to throw in their lot with the Hurons and Algonquins, to strike a blow at the Iroquois ascendency, and endeavour to form out of the shifting and disunited tribes of Canada" a confederacy capable of resisting the formidable league south of Lake Ontario. Of such a confederacy it was i itended that the French colony should be the centre, that its armies should be led and officered by Frenchmen, and that its bond of union should be allegiance to the faith taught by French missionaries. Thus the Indian race, indifferent to dangers from its numbers, and its skill in the tactics of the wilderness, would be -uled by being divided. It was a plausible scheme, and to the last continued to be the policy of the French colony of Canada. To a certain extent it was successful; the Algonquins were made the faithful allies of New France, the Hurons were exterminated in the course of the struggle. The French power stood in the path of the Iroquois power to the complete ascendency over all tribes north of the lakes, which they would, no doubt, otherwise have obtained ; but the Iroquois threw n their weight against New France in the English war of conquest, as they did against American Independence in 1778, and American aggression in 1812. For New France to side with the Indian tribes of Canada against those south of the lakes was inevitable, but she thereby incurred the hostility of the boldest, best organized and most terrible enemies that the savagery of the wilderness could match against civilization.

A war council was held (June, 1615) at "the Sault," of the chiefs of the Ottawa Algonquins and of the Hurons. It was stipulated by Chain-plain that they should raise a force of twenty-five hundred warriors, to be in immediate" readiness for invading the Iroquois territory. He himself would join them with all his available force of French soldiers. To this the Indian chiefs, after much discussion and many speeches, agreed. < ham-plain went back to Quebec to muster his force and prepare what was necessary for the expedition ; but when he returned to the place of meeting he found that the volatile and impatient Indians had set fire to their camp and departed, taking with them, as has been already related, the missionary Le Caron. But Champlain was determined not to be baffled by the fickleness of his allies. Taking with him only his French soldiers, one of whom was the trusty and intrepid Etienne Brule, his interpreter, and ten Indians, with two large canoes, he made his way over the track of his former expedition up the Ottawa as far as Allumette. Beyond this he followed the course of the Ottawa, till among the sombre hills of Mattawa he reached its junction with the river of that name. Follow ing the course of that stream, and crossing Lake Nipissing, he reached the Huron country, not without having undergone severe suffering from hunger, for the ten Indians, with the usual improvident glutting of their race, had gorged themselves

with the entire commissar at supply for the voyage, and they were glad to gather blueberries and wild raspberries for sustenance. Encountering some of the Cheiveux Releve's Indians, of whom mention has been made, they found that they were within a day's journey of the great inland sea of the Ilurons. Soon launched upon the broad bosom of the "Mer Douce," the Sweet-Water Sea of the West, he held his course for over a hundred miles along its shores, and through the mazes of its multitudinous islands. Crossing Byng Inlet, Parry Sound and Matchedash Bay, he reached, as the terminal point of his voyage, the inlet of the bay near the present village of Penetanguishene. Then they left their canoes hidden m the woods, and struck inland for the Huron town Otouacha. Champlain found this to be one of the better class of Indian towns. It was of long, bark dwellings, surrounded by a triple me of palisades, and stretching far into the distance were fields of maize, the ripe yellow spears of grain sparkling in the sunshine, and the great yellow pumpkins lolling over the ground. At Otouacha Champlain met with enthusiastic welcome. The man with the breast of iron was feasted again and again, amid rows of stolid warriors squatting on their haunches around him, while the younger squaws handed round the huge platter containing boiled maize, fried salmon, venison, and the flesh of various other animals, not to be too curiously enquired into.

Pending the complete muster of his Indian allies, Champlain made an extensive tour of observation through the Huron country. At Carhagouha, as has been mentioned, he met the Recollet missionary, Le Caron. lie visited a number of the Huron villages and towns, the largest of which was Cahiague, in the modern township of Orillia. This contained some two hundred of the usual, long, bark dwellings. The entire number of those towns in the Huron territory of sixty or seventy square miles was eighteen, according to Champlain s estimate. Cahiague was now swarming with hosts of warriors in readiness for the march. It was known that a neighbouring tribe had promised to send into the Iroquois territory a reinforcement of five hundred warriors. Of course, the inevitable feasting and speech-making went on for several days. At length the muster was complete, and, laden with their canoes and stock of maize for commissariat, they began their inarch. They crossed the portage to Balsam lake, and passed across the chain of lakes of which the River Trent is one of the outlets. Those lakes are at the present day among the most desolate features of Canadian scenery. Nothing varies the monotonous wall of woodland which hinges the horizon. The canoe of the traveller moves along forests of reeds, hundreds of acres of extinct forest growth cemeteries of dead trees, with not a sign of life or movement, except when the cry of the startled crane or heron breaks the silence of the solitary mere.

At length they reached, after many portages at the various rapids, the mouth of the Trent. Where now the pleasant streets of the picturesque town of Trenton nestle amid the villas and gardens which fringe the Bay of Quinté, Champlain crossed the Bay close to the present village of Carrying Place to the township of Amehasburgh, in Prince Edward county, and, crossing the two-mile-wide creek which leads to the village of Milford, passed through the township of North Marysburgh to the lake shore beyond. Their voyage was prosperous; they landed on the New\ork coast, and, leaving their canoes carefully concealed in the wood, they marched, silent and vigilant as hyena or panther, through the forest to the south. After four days they reached a forest clearing, and saw the fields of maize and pumpkin, which showed an Iroquois town to be close at hand. Presently, they saw a large number of the Iroquois at work gathering in their harvest. With their usual incapacity for a moments self-restraint, and contrary to Champlain's orders, they yelled their war cry and ran to capture their foes. But the Iroquois warriors were armed, and offered a prompt resistance, fighting with such resolution as to turn the war against the Hurons, who were retreating in disorder, when a shot from Champlain's arquebuse drove back the pursuers. The Iroquois town was of considerable size, and Champlain describes it as more strongly fortified than those of the Hurons. The rampart of palisades, crossed and intersecting, was four feet deep. They gave support to a gallery defended by a breastwork of shot-proof timber, well furnished with piles of stones for defence; while, as a precaution against an attempt by an enemy to fire the wood-work below, a wooden gutter ran round the walls, capable of be ing amply supplied with water from a small lake on one side of the defences.

The Huron chiefs and warriors seemed to have no plan and very little heart for attacking the town. Their idea of a siege seemed to be to leap and dance round the palisades, screaming out epithets of abuse, and shooting their arrows at the strong, wooden buildings which they could not penetrate. At length Champlain called them together, and upbraiding them in no measured terms for their inaction and want of courage, proposed a plan by which the town might be assailed with more effect. Borrowing his tactics from the moveable towers of mediaeval warfare, Champlain, aided by his few Frenchmen and the Hurons, constructed a huge wooden tower capable of commanding the w all, and with a platform sufficiently spacious to support a body of Frenchmen armed with the arquebuse. Two hundred Hurons dragged the tower, to which ropes had been fastened, close to the palisades, and the French arquebusiers at the top began their fire on the naked savages densely crowded on the rampart below them. The Iroquois stood their ground with rare courage, even when exposed to the terrors of a mode of attack to which they could offer no effectual resistance. But the excitable Hurons lost all self-control. Instead of making a united effort to storm the palisade under Champlain's leadership, they yelled, danced, gesticulated, and showered aimless arrows at the defences of the Iroquois. Champlain's voice was drowned in the tumult. The attack was discontinued after three hours; the Hurons failing back to their camp, which they had taken the precaution of fortifying. Champlain was wounded in the leg and knee by arrows. Losing all heart from their repulse, the Hurons resolved to remain where they were for a few days, in order to see if the five hundred promised allies would come; if not, to withdraw homewards. After five days waiting, they left their camp, retiring in what order they could maintain, and carrying in the centre of the main body their wounded, of whom Champlain was one. He was packed in a basket and carried on the back of an able-bodied Huron brave. Meanwhile the Iroquois hovered on their flanks. At last the miserable retreat was ended. They launched their canoes and crossed the lake in safety, paddling over the sheet of water between the eastern mouth of Bay Quinte and Wolf Island. Having landed, Champlain learned conclusively the value of an Indian's promise. The Huron chiefs, in return for Champlain's promised aid in war, had undertaken that at the close of their expedition the}- would furnish him with a guide to Quebec. They now very coolly declared that it was impossible; he must winter with them, and return in the spring with their trade canoes down the St. Lawrence. And so the irregular army disbanded, each eager to return home, and all quite indifferent as to what might become of their late ally. Fortunately a chief named Durantal, an Algonquin, whose abode was on the shore of a small lake north of Kingston, most probably Lake Sharbot, offered Champlain his hospitality. With him the French leader stayed during the first part of the winter. Durantal's dwelling seems to have been much more comfortable and better provided than most Indian houses. It was necessary to wait till the setting-in of the coldest season of the winter should freeze the marshes and rivers that lay in their path before they could make the journey to the Huron towns. Meantime Champlain amused himself by sending the shot from his arquebuse among the multitudinous wild fowl that flocked and flew around the lake shore. On one occasion he had a narrow escape from being lost in the woods. A deer-hunt was being prepared for, on the banks of a small river which had its outlet into the lake. They constructed two walls of forts connected by interlaced boughs and saplings, which, standing apart at a wide distance, converged and met. At the angle where they met, the walls were strengthened with timber on each side, so as to form an enclosure from which there was no escape. The hunters then dispersed through the forest and drove the deer into the enclosure, where they were easily slaughtered. It happened that Champlain was posted deeper in the forest than the rest, and he was attracted by the appearance of a strange red-headed bird, unlike any that he had seen before. It flew before him from tree to tree; he followed, so absorbed in watching it that when on a sudden it took flight and disappeared from view, he had lost all trace of the direction whence he had come. He had no pocket compass. All round him was the mountainous maze of forest, no one tree to be distinguished from another. The fight closed on him wandering and perplexed, and he lay down to sleep at the foot of a tree. The next day he wandered on once more and came to a dark pool, deep in the shadows of the pine woods. Here he shot some wild fowl with his arquebuse, and flashing some powder among the dry leaves, managed to light a fire and cook it. Then, drenched by rain, he lay down once more on the bare ground to sleep. Another day and another night he passed in the same way. At length he came to a brook, and following its course he reached the river just at the spot where his friends were encamped. They received him joyfully, having searched everywhere for him in vain.

December, at last, brought the true, hard frost of winter; and after nineteen days' journey they reached the Huron town of Cahiague. 1 here they rested for a few days, then proceeded to Carhagouha, where Champlain found the missionary, Le Caron, in good health, and still actively engaged in the good work of conversion. Le Caron had by this time made some progress in the mysteries of the Huron tongue. Champlain and he visited the Tobacco Nation, a tribe south-west of the Huron, and of kindred origin. They also visited the Cheveux Keleves, to whose custom of cleanliness and neatness he pays a tribute of admiration, but justly condemns their total abstinence from wearing apparel. Champlain was about to proceed homeward when he was delayed by having to act as umpire in a quarrel between a tribe of the Allumette Algonquins and the Hurons of Cahiague. The latter had given the Algonquins an Iroquois, with the kind design that the Algonquins should amuse themselves by torturing him to death. The ungrateful Algonquins on the other hand adopted the man, and gave him food as one of themselves. Therefore a Huron warrior stabbed the Iroquois, whereupon he was forthwith slain.

War would have been the result, but that fortunately they asked Champlain to decide between them. He pointed out to them the exceeding folly of quarrelling among themselves when the Iroquois were waiting to destroy them both, and certainly would destroy them, if they became disunited. He then pointed out the great advantages both sides would gain from the trade with the French, and urged them to shake hands like brothers, and be at peace. This good advice was taken, fortunately both for the Indians and for New France. At last Champlar went homewards by the circuitous route of the Upper Ottawa, while the frequent presence of roving Iroquois bands in the St. Lawrence region rendered it the only secure one. He took with him his Huron friend and entertainer, Durantal. At Quebec it had been rumoured by the Indians that Champlain was dead; great therefore was the joy of all the dwellers in Quebec, when k was seen that the Founder had returned safe and well.


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