Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Prairie Provinces
Chapter I. Introduction


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 healthy.

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.


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