Did you ever think how
great the excitement would he, if some great captain should come back to
England to-day and tell that he had discovered a large new land that had
never been found by white men before? Such excitement the people of
Spain and England and Prance felt, about four hundred years ago, when
great adventurers like Columbus, and Cabot, and Cartier first came
across the ocean from Europe, and returned with their most interesting
stories of the marvellous country they had discovered.
The finding of a new
world was sure to cause great excitement in Europe. In their homes, in
their business places, on the street, men would be sure to talk more
about this great subject than about any other. The wealthy people, the
young men who loved adventure, the watchful and progressive merchants,
the nobility, and even the kings of England and France gradually became
aroused in regard to the wonderful country across the ocean—the land of
large rivers, of endless forests, of sea-like lakes, of vast prairies,
of unknown wealth in fish, and fur-bearing animals, and minerals.
To this mysterious land
came good missionaries, to bring the gospel and education and higher
forms of living; and keen traders and merchants to become rich by
trading with the Indians, chiefly tor furs; and bold adventurers who are
ever ready to go into new and wild territories, partly for sport, partly
for the joy of discovery, and partly from national pride in aiding to
extend the possessions of their own country.
How strangely they must
have felt, those brave men who first dared to cross the wide ocean to
the unknown land! What hopes, what fears they must have had! The very
mystery that was connected with every day’s experiences was full of
attraction. On the ocean they wondered day by day when they would see
the new land, and what kind of land it would be when they reached it. As
they travelled up or down the coast in search of openings into, or
through, or past the land, which they at first supposed was only an
island that lay between them and China, they watched and waited
anxiously hour by hour to learn what they knew had never yet been
learned. And as they made their way slowly into the two great openings
which they found into the
heart of the continent,
one the St. Lawrence River and the other Hudson Bay, they saw new
wonders every minute. They must have marvelled at the beauty of the
thousand bays and islands; at the immensity of the country they were
exploring; at the number of fish, and birds, and animals; at the size
and number of the rivers; at the splendid trees that covered the eastern
portion, which they saw first; and at the habits of the uncivilized men
who owned the country.
And how the Indians
must have been surprised at the sights they saw when the white men first
came to their land! The ships in The Surprise which the white men came
were so large compared with their bark canoes; the guns and cannons made
such strange and awful sounds, and killed birds and animals so far away;
the color and dress of the strangers were so unusual, and the articles
they brought to show them were so beautiful in color and form, and their
language was so entirely unknown to them, that the poor Indians must
have supposed at first that these explorers were real gods who had come
to see them. What strange tales they would have written, if they had
known how to write! What wonderful stories they must have told to their
Indian friends in the interior who had not seen the big ships, nor heard
the new thunder, nor met the pale-faced gods who looked like men!
Would you not like to
learn the story of the four hundred years since Cabot and Cartier first
came to Canada? Is it not very interesting to follow the changes that
have taken place since the days when there were none but Indians in your
country, and when there were no houses but the Indian wigwams? The
history of your country will tell you this story and explain the nature
of these changes.
The leading discoverers
and explorers of Eastern Canada were John and Sebastian Cabot of
England, and Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain of France.
John Cabot reached
Newfoundland, or, as some writers think, the coast of Cape Breton, in
1497, five years after Columbus discovered America. Cartier came to
Canada first in 1534. Finding a large river, which he named the St.
Lawrence because he entered it on St. Laurent’s Day, he sailed up its
broad bosom as far as the present city of Montreal. He made three
voyages in all. After his death the country was neglected for about
fifty years, when Champlain began to lead in founding settlements in
what is now Nova Scotia, and in exploring the unknown country beyond the
farthest point reached by Cartier. He spent several years in travelling
through the present Province of Ontario, and the country south of the
St. Lawrence, where lie discovered the beautiful lake that still bears
his name. Champlain did more than any other man to arouse the French
people to an interest in Canada, and to give the French nation a
foothold in the New World.
The explorers of the
interior of Canada and those who began to change the condition of
Manitoba and the great country lying to the west Jesuit Fathers and
north-west of it, were the Jesuit Fathers and the fur traders. The
Jesuit missionaries were good men, who risked their lives and endured
great hardships in order to bring the Christian religion to the Indians
and train them in habits that would make them more happy and more
The fur‘ traders were
not so unselfish. They pushed farther and farther into the country to
find greater opportunities for making wealth. It is a pity that the
traders1 greed often robbed the missionaries’ good work of its effects.
They were unfair many times in dealing with the ignorant Indians, and
cheated them by giving cheap beads and bright-colored cloth for the most
valuable furs. They did worse than this. They taught the Indians to
drink “fire-water,” and took advantage of them while they were under its
influence. They also gradually drove the Indians from the country they
had occupied, and did so by force, so that there are now very few
Indians left to share the advantages of civilization which you enjoy.
Into the two great
waterways to the heart of the continent, the St. Lawrence River and
Hudson Bay, came the French and the English, each race claiming as much
as possible for itself. Naturally, both countries often claimed the same
portions of the new continent, and the disputes about their claims led
to wars. In these wars each nation always tried to get the help of some
of the Indian tribes, so that the Indians were encouraged to hate and to
destroy one another.
Gradually both the
English and the French explored North America and came towards the
central portion, now occupied by Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
The English came by way of Hudson Bay, and the French by the St.
Lawrence and the Great Lakes. Not only from Old England did the English
come, but from New England many merchants came to trade with the Indians
of the great country west of Hudson Bay.