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Ten Thousand Miles Through Canada
Chapter I

Departure—Lieut.-Gen. Sir R. S. S. Baden Powell—Boy Scouts—The effect of a breeze—The trek wagon—Lady Suffragists — Bride-elect passengers — Remedy for breaking windows—The concert, how not to do it—The ice region— Marconi cablegram—Straits of Belle Isle—Demons’ Islands —The hapless Marguerite—Early pioneers—Champlain and Broboeuf—French colonization — King Frost — The St. Lawrence River—Hardships of Champlain—The touch of spring.

THE great ocean liner slowly steamed down the Mersey. The bustle and excitement of embarkation calmed down and gave place to other emotions. The little knot of boy scouts that surrounded Lieut.-Gen. Sir R. S. S. Baden Powell had roared themselves hoarse in answer to their comrades’ send-off from shore. They had watched the fluttering hand flags that beat out in signals their companions’ adieu, until distance made them undecipherable. The glamour of the Canadian trip, the topic by day, the dream by night, had faded out of mind for the moment, and a far-away look of yearning sobered the earnest young faces.

The feeling of detachment became general as the wharf rapidly receded, and the faces that comprised some heart asset were blurred into unrecognition in the amorphous crowd. Soon a low-lying smudge on the distant horizon marked all that was left of fatherland; another hour wiped it out, and the great circle of desolation was complete.

The list of passengers on board the “Empress of Ireland,” was a long one. Scarcely a seat was unoccupied at the first dinner in the large saloon. The evening was fine, and the motion of the ship was unfelt. In the night a breeze sprang up, and the morning tables were depleted. The eleven ladies at my table were reduced to two, one survivor wore the badge of the Women’s Suffrage Order. There were only two on board, who openly declared themselves at least, in sympathy with the Suffragist movement. One of them breakfasted under apparent physical discomfort and was absent from the next meal. The Spartan endurance of her companion covered the entire journey; an endurance by no means given to all the members of the sex that enjoyed the privileges for which she was an enthusiastic aspirant.

In the course of the day, the boy scouts played leap-frog, and practised drill. They were the successful fifteen out of over three thousand who competed for the honour of the free Canadian trip. The examination was open to all boy scouts in the British Isles, and two Irish lads were amongst the winners. Of the rest, English and Scotch were in about equal proportion. Their skill in putting together and taking to pieces a patent trek wagon was admirable. This ingenious contrivance was a multum in parvo, designed for sundry uses. In its entirety it comprised a road wagon drawn by ropes ; in pieces it resolved itself into a sleeping tent, a water tank, two ladders and a boat. The boys were divided into companies which vied with each other in smartly manipulating the patent. Alas! there was an interval of some days between the first and second practice. Half the lads were hors de combat; and some of them had to be carried on deck and stretched on mattresses to recuperate after the exhausting effects of vial de mer.

Towards the end of the journey, they took part in a gymkhana of which the Chief Scout was an interested spectator.

The Boy Scout movement is designed to develop manly and humane qualities. During the day each lad took his turn in keeping guard over real or imaginary baggage. The duty seemed to carry with it a general surveillance of the passengers. On one occasion a youth, essaying to climb the shrouds, fell heavily on the deck. The guard in a moment left his post, to apply first aid, a knowledge of which is a recognized part of the scout curriculum. A system that embodies, as it does, the practice of some daily act of kindness is not without promise. I have known it to take the form of carrying a washerwoman’s basket of laundry through a public park.

The organization is spreading with phenomenal rapidity, and already numbers 250,000 members. That Canadian voyage was but the first of a series. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are to be visited in turn.

Lieut.-Gen. Sir R. S. S. Baden Powell, who retired last May from active military service, is devoting all his time to the development of the movement. It was interesting to learn the Chief Scout’s views on the subject. They were in consonance with the honourable undertaking subscribed by every boy that joins: (1) to be loyal to God and the King; (2) to help others at all times; (3) to obey the Scout law.

The General’s statement to the Canadian Press was as follows: “I intend to consecrate myself to this cause which is getting beyond all bounds in its importance. One point I wish you to emphasize to your readers is that the practical side of the movement, allied to the moral, is supreme. Of course I do not object to our boys entering the Army, but I wish to teach them, above all things, to use intelligently the faculties which their Creator has given to them. If I succeed in enthusing Canada somewhat, my work will not have been done in vain. In England it has the approval of King and country, and why not here?”

The movement has already taken root in Canada, the Governor-General being the Chief Scout, Lieut.-Col. A. P. Sherward, C.M.G., M.V.O. of Ottawa, Dominion Commissioner, and Capt. R. T. Birdwhistle, Dominion Secretary.

Amongst the passengers there were fourteen brides-elect. Most of their fiances had been in Canada a comparatively short time, but had done so well that they were in a position to marry. One of the lady passengers, who was crossing to attend her sister’s wedding, took a special interest in this romantic section of the community, and espoused as her particular mission the discovery of all the prospective brides. The amount of sea-sickness amongst them, and the missioner’s sympathy and tact, made the task comparatively easy. She would proudly march on deck, a pale-faced girl on one arm, a rug on the other, and with a look of eloquent significance. We called her the “bride-elect scout.” She was one of the two Suffragists, and if the gift of the franchise to women depended on the gentlemen on board the “Empress of Ireland,” the Prime Minister’s windows would be safe in the future.

As the community in general crept back into life and revived in spirits, a concert was proposed by some of the obtrusively musical section of the passengers. The result supplied an admirable example of the “Art of how not to do it." The self constituted impresario went about soliciting the assistance of all and sundry in getting up “ a little concert." He forestalled objections by asserting that he was convinced you could do something, and his friend by his side would be delighted to take down your name. “What, can’t sing—then you can play: no? Well, let it be a recitation; put down a recitation, Mr. So-and-so.” For the greater part of the day one overheard in various quarters of the ship, “We are getting up a little concert . . . you can do something. What, can’t sing! ” etc. At length the suggestion was made that some of the passengers ought to be left for the purpose of audience, as the list of performers had assumed prodigious proportions. The wisdom of this advice in due course bore fruit, whereupon the impresario took immediate steps to rectify the matter. The next day he went about asking persons who had been pressed into service if they minded their names being dropped. “The programme was too long,” etc., etc. Most of the passengers willingly acquiesced, but one lady resolutely declined to render any assistance in the proposed act of self-effacement. “Certainly, I object. Why should I be dropped out? You asked me to sing; I did not offer my services.” The force of the argument was so irresistible that even the impresario saw it. The item consisted of a ballad of some twenty-five verses, unaccompanied! It is on record that at verse fifteen one polite gentleman and a highly delighted boy comprised the house. A more embellished account explained that they were the only two passengers who had not been asked to “do something.” This, however, is apocryphal. The amount of the collection on the behalf of the widows and orphans of deceased mariners is not chronicled.

A change took place in the temperature as we approached the coast of Labrador, requisitioning extra wraps and overcoats. When the sun went down, a breath of Arctic cold whistled through the shrouds, which made our teeth chatter. Far off on the horizon, where an hour before the sun had sunk, a light still lingered. It was the field ice that for miles glistened along the coast. This was the explanation of the sudden change. We were in the ice region. Then a blinding mist wiped out all objects half a mile ahead, a common experience in that region. It is said to be due to the contact of the Gulf Stream with the sea in that latitude; the the hot and cold currents coming together cause the mist. The foghorn rumbled out its melancholy note at definite intervals. Another steamer answered in the distance, and our boat immediately stopped. This is the rule of the road, and an important provision. Meanwhile, the Marconi had been flashing its current out into the night and made its circle with our near neighbour, a German passenger boat. This modern application of telegraphy has been instrumental in minimizing collisions at sea to almost a vanishing quantity. The only danger now comes from a sailing-ship or the comparatively few steamers not fitted with the apparatus. The Marconi has also inaugurated on board ship the daily newspaper which publishes all the salient doings on land and sea. We were in possession of important news before it was known in London; the state of the markets, the result of the principal cricket matches at Lord’s and the Oval, and the latest social and legal cause celebre.

The fourth day we were in the Straits of Belle Isle. The island from which it takes its name is supposed to be one of the two Isles of Demons, the other being Quirpon, a little further west, off the northern coast of Newfoundland. It is now as it was in the sixteenth century, wild and desolate, with nothing to break the silence but the cry of the sea-fowl, mingled with the shock of waves that break against the rugged coast. The well-known fishery was established at that early date, and French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese vied with each other for the treasures of the deep off the Newfoundland banks. The imagination of these early pioneers of commerce was the mint in which were coined the remarkable stories which are woven into the history of Demons’ Islands. Old maps depict the occupants as devils rampant, fully equipped with tails and horns. The dark forest that stretched along the shores was infested, and the clamour of infernal orgies carried on in the woods could be heard far out at sea. Fiends shrieked amongst the riggings of the ship, as if to warn the sailors of the fate that awaited them should they dare to approach the haunted islands.

It is difficult to disentangle history from romance in the story of the damsel Marguerite, who was cast adrift on one of these islands. She was the niece of Sieur de Roberval, a noble of Picardy, who fitted out an expedition to the Far West in 1542. Her amour with a gentleman on board, who joined the adventure on her account, so enraged her uncle that he stopped the ship and dispatched her to the island, attended by an old Norman nurse. As the ship set sail, her lover jumped overboard, braved the dangers of the sea, and reached her. After two and a half years, a fishing craft, attracted by the smoke rising from the fateful island, landed and rescued Marguerite. The story that is said to have fallen from her own lips is contained in an ancient manuscript, bearing the date 1586, after which the islands were known as “Les lies de la Demoiselle.” It is a singular narrative, containing graphic pictures of the demons raging round the hut and attempting its destruction. The fiends assumed the forms of hideous beasts and nameless monsters, a veritable “brood of Hell,” that stretched out their claws to tear down the frail shelter that stood between them and their victims. The saints pitied the exiles and fought on their side, but from a more terrible fate there seems to have been no deliverance. Soon Marguerite’s lover succumbed to privation and suffering. The child born to them and the nurse followed, and Marguerite was left alone. But the nerve of the woman never failed. She continued to resist the attacks of the demons, and effectively defended herself against the assaults of bears, shooting three of them. When discovered by the crew of the fishing craft, who rescued her, she was clothed in wild beasts’ skins, and on the point of starvation.

Clear of the straits, we entered the mouth of the St. Lawrence. The river flows north and south of Anticosti, mingling its waters with the crosscurrents of mighty seas. The steamer sailed south of the island, leaving English Bay on its right. From that point the banks of the great river are clearly defined, and the ocean passage may be said to be over. Thick fogs that hang over the river’s banks are, however, not without their attendant dangers. Tides that wait for no man have to be studied in connexion with rapids and shallows, which frequently cause delay and spoil record passages.

Through this great waterway the early pioneers of the North-West sailed in their diminutive ships, surviving the perils of ocean to face the still greater dangers that lay hidden in the pathless forests that flanked the shore. There are probably no records in the annals of restless adventure that exceed in heroism and self-sacrifice those of Champlain and Cartier, Broboeuf and Lallemant, types of the great army of explorers who faced the rapids of the St. Lawrence. Their names are indelibly engraved in its geography, their tongue is spoken in the cities reared on the river’s banks, and their spirit animates their distinguished merchants and statesmen.

Adventurers and explorers had preceded Champlain, but they left no mark on history. They either perished in their attempt to penetrate the great unknown, or retreated in the face of dangers which only the bravest could dare. The hidden treasures of a great continent are ever an incentive to adventure and even suffering, but the objective may entail too great a sacrifice. It needs men cast in a different mould, who are not inspired by the wealth of seas, or bright jewels of the mine, but by far nobler projects, to put their hand to the plough and not turn back. Such a soul was Samuel de Champlain. At the dawn of the seventeenth century he joined an expedition to the Far West. De Monts, a French nobleman, commanded the ship in which the explorer sailed. It did not augur well for the success of the enterprise that the company was of the most heterogeneous nature. Men of gentle birth and honourable character were herded together with thieves and vagabonds, the veritable maiwais siqets of France. Volunteers and pressmen, Huguenot divines and Catholic priests gave further mixed colour to the motley group whom Champlain joined on that memorable voyage. This principle of indiscriminate selection adopted by the first pioneers, militated more than anything else against the success of early French colonization. La Roche set forth on one of these expeditions with forty convicts whom he landed on Sable Island to starve and murder each other. Only twelve survived, who were saved from the inevitable fate of their companions by a passing ship. Bad citizens of the Old World cannot make good colonists of the New. Thieves, ruffians, and unscrupulous adventurers only succeeded in laying the foundation of the troubles which merchants and reformers encountered at a later date, and which made the early colonization of Canada both tragic and abortive.

Whilst De Monts vainly attempted to rule this first mixed colony, and treachery and disease were rapidly exterminating its settlers, Champlain began his explorations. He .founded Quebec, and had his first experience of the severity of a Canadian winter. He saw the St. Lawrence struggling against the incursions of the Frost King, who had already exercised undisputed sway along the cliffs, where ice stalactites hung in innumerable lance points. The forest flaunted its sable robes, and the earth, held in an iron grip, drove the grizzly bear into deeper hibernation and filled the land with the howling of hungry wolves. The severity brought with it suffering and death. Only eight out of the twenty-eight men that joined Champlain survived that winter. Starving Indians attempted to cross from the opposite side of St. Lawrence to the settlers’ camp. Drifting ice swept down the river, and jamming their frail canoes, crushed them like shells. The sure-footed Indians were equal to the occasion, and leaped from their skiffs to the ice floes. It is told that even women burdened with children accomplished that feat. They presented themselves at the camp, their bodies emaciated from long privation, and devoured the food given to them with the ferocity of tigers. They seized the carcase of a dead dog that had been lying in the snow for two months and used as a bait for foxes, but neither disgust nor remonstrances prevented them from thawing and eating the offal.

Through such a winter Champlain lived. Spring ushered in for him and his survivors, still weak and ailing, a period of new hope. A general west wind blew down the river and loosened its ice-bound banks. The frozen stalactites suspended from the cliff relaxed their hold and thundered to the ground. A prevision of open water set the wood duck inland on wing. Champlain looked on a new world awakened from sleep and arising to put on its beautiful garments. The early steps of Spring could be seen in the loosening mould beneath his feet; in the delicate tracery of creeping plants that shot through the tangle of the brushwood ; and the flash of the woodpecker’s gay crest amongst the pine and balsam. Soon we shall cross his path again, and shoot some of the rapids where his canoe floated as he made his way towards the lake that still bears his name.

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