STOP HERE WHERE CANADA STARTED

Canada began in a vicious struggle among the French, the English and the Indians. Forts were built and men fought and died in them. Then peace made them useless, and soon these profound monuments fell to ruin. Today, projects such as the $12-miIlion Louisbourg restoration — which drew almost 200,000 tourists last year — have begun to reshape our historic places across Canada. In rebirth, they have acquired a new purpose as romantic playgrounds for the imagination, stone-and-timber proof of the past we had heard of but never knew. They stand now, waiting to be seen and enjoyed.

JOHN ZICHMANIS April 1 1969

STOP HERE WHERE CANADA STARTED

Canada began in a vicious struggle among the French, the English and the Indians. Forts were built and men fought and died in them. Then peace made them useless, and soon these profound monuments fell to ruin. Today, projects such as the $12-miIlion Louisbourg restoration — which drew almost 200,000 tourists last year — have begun to reshape our historic places across Canada. In rebirth, they have acquired a new purpose as romantic playgrounds for the imagination, stone-and-timber proof of the past we had heard of but never knew. They stand now, waiting to be seen and enjoyed.

JOHN ZICHMANIS April 1 1969

FORT CHAMBLY

For France, the St. Lawrence area was a sort of Algeria of the 17th century. Local Iroquois tribes terrorized the French settlers, and smugglers ran furs down to the more profitable English markets in Boston and Albany.

France invested heavily in the effort to establish her North American empire through a chain of secure forts. Chambly was one of three forts built on the Richelieu in 1665 to house French soldiers engaged in the on-again-off- again fights with the English and the Indians.

Fire destroyed it in 1702 but Chambly was rebuilt, only to be surrendered to the British in 1760 when France’s ambitions collapsed with the end of the Seven Years War. From then on, Chambly remained in English hands, except for a brief American conquest in 1775. The retreating Americans burned the fort, but not enough to prevent the British from building it again. Although its five-foot thick stone walls still mark the memory of English power in the New World, Fort Chambly remains French in spirit for many of the people there. As Armand Audere, a local businessman, explains: “The best thing about the fort is that it lets your imagination run free. When I was a child, I used to play Indians and French soldiers right in the fort itself. Now I’m 57 and have my own children, but whenever I go back to the fort it still lets me imagine things."

The hardships were phenomenal, and the people here had to be ingenious in many ways. For instance, about eight or nine miles of tough bush and Indians separated them from the next fort, La Prairie. So they found a dog—Monsieur de Niagara they called him because his mother came from Niagara—who used to like to visit La Prairie to call on a bitch he knew there. So they started tying messages on his neck as Monsieur de Niagara went back and forth.

This then was the communications line between two places.

Also, the Indians were no joke. They had many' skirmishes, including a big one where some of the farmers didn’t make it to the fort and were trapped outside by the Indians. There are still headstones in the graveyard for two children who were caught in that one. The French network of forts gradually fell to pieces. The big turning point came when Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. This land stretched right up to the Great Lakes, so the sale cut the French possessions in North America in half.

“The fort changed hands many times during its life. First the British took Chambly, then the Americans, then the British again. But, after all, it was built by the A French and so naturally most of the people from here consider it as a French fort. France considered it important enough to have Governor Frontenac visit here. To us, it is a romantic and proud thing. Often we take it too much for granted, but if anything ever happened to the fort there would be a lot of very unhappy people in Chambly, believe me.”

SAINTE-MARIE

From the start of the 1600s, the French had wooed the Hurons. The French wanted furs, the Hurons had them. About 30,000 natives lived in some 20 villages around Georgian Bay, and soon the powerful Jesuit order saw in them an immense convert potential. In 1639 the economic and the spiritual came together with the founding of Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons.

In the next 10 years, the Jesuit settlement became a sort of wilderness community centre. Farms developed around it and trade grew wider. But very soon the Hurons faced extinction: dying by thousands from white-men’s diseases, famine and the fighting Iroquois, they were down to a few hundred by 1649.

The priests themselves suffered from the hatred of the Iroquois; five Fathers were martyred at their hands. Surrounded by empty villages, the Jesuits had no choice but to give up the mission. On the night of June 14, 1649, they set fire to Sainte-Marie and left.

Today, Sainte-Marie sits in remarkably detailed reconstruction at the foot of the hill to the Martyrs’ Shrine. The Hurons are gone but the Jesuits remain, perhaps now and then finding a new kind of convert in the 125,000 who visit during the summer. It’s all quite possible, explains Brother McGivern with a twinkle in his eye:

“The Jesuit Fathers who came here 300 years ago were proving something still to be learned by many people today — it is not enough just to be near someone you care for; you must learn to love him as a brother as well.

You see, the first settlers, the donnés, were like a Peace Corps. No pay, just hard work. Even the first doctor offered his services for nothing, though he was good enough as a doctor to later become a Royal Physician in France. "The Fathers found at first that they were not having much success with the Indians. For 22 years they didn’t get one single convert. Instead, the Indians kept wondering why these men were trying to bring some sort of new religion, what was in it for them? In a way, the tortures inflicted on the Fathers were an attempt to find an answer. You can see it reflected in their methods — pouring on boiling water as a parody of baptism, tearing out tongues to parallel preaching. Yet with these acts, the Indians realized that the Fathers loved them enough to give up their lives. And that was the turning point.

People today think of these atrocities as being barbaric acts confined to a savage mentality. But they don’t realize that these things happen even in this century. There were classmates of mine who suffered unspeakably while doing missionary work in China. But their heroism, like the martyrs' here, has more than just religious significance. It shows that if we have strong beliefs and faith in our traditions, we can build a more stable and serene life as a whole.

“You can see it right here. Anyone can come and stay to rest at the Sainte-Marie Inn. You are not asked why you came, you need give no reason. Yet you’ll find after you’ve been here for a few days, an incredible peace and tranquility soaks in. Somehow, the atmosphere of Sainte-Marie and the Shrine gives people a new strength to go back to the cities with renewed peace of mind. That’s why this settlement has come to be called the ‘home of peace’ by the people who live around here.”

BATOCHE

Half white, half Indian, the Métis were a doomed society. They had tried to farm the lands around the Red River but had been pushed out by the new wave of white settlers from the east. Their leader, Louis Riel, had been banished to the United States.

In 1884, the Métis were once again threatened: with no legal right to their land, they were about to be displaced from their new settlement on the shore of the Lower Saskatchewan. Desperate, they sent to Montana for Riel.

Riel returned and soon set up his own government. As a show of strength, he offered terms to the North West Mounted Police at Fort Carlton to surrender peacefully. Instead, the Mounties sent 100 men to meet the Métis, and at Duck Lake, in a classic you-pushed-me-first drama, both sides started shooting. Sixteen men died.

The east went mad with the news. Lawmen had been murdered. The government sent out General F. D. Middleton against the rebels, and the Métis retreated to Batoche. Outgunned and outnumbered, Riel's forces were completely broken up after a fourday battle. Riel himself escaped but surrendered later. He was found guilty of treason and hanged.

The Batoche site itself mirrors the Métis tragedy. The rectory, the church and the graveyard are simple, sad monuments in the country's conscience. Riel, a traitor by law, remains to many a victim of a deaf, cruel government. Larry Pilon, who grew up a few miles from Batoche, explains:

The people in the east have a one-sided view of Riel. They think he was all bad, but really he had some very good ideas. The government at the time was not just to the Métis. It refused to listen to their problems about the land, even when the Métis were desperate enough to send a representative out east. Instead, it sent out surveyors who began dividing up the Métis land. The Métis got very scared because they were afraid their land would be taken away from them again, just as it had been before around Winnipeg. They were looking for a leader. That is why they called Riel back from the States. "Riel was no criminal. He was an educated man. I’m sure he did not want to fight the government, because he was smart enough to see he would have no chance. As things worked out, he finally did have to fight them face to face, here at Batoche. After he lost, he escaped, but then gave himself up. As his reward, he was hanged.

His death brought some good, I suppose, because after that the government took some interest in the Métis land problems. What made the situation even worse for the Métis was the fact that life on the land at the best of times was very hard. Of course, Riel could do nothing about that. All he hoped for was that the government in the east would not use its power to take away the land the Métis had used as their own. "Nowadays, people like to think that the whole Riel Rebellion was just a misunderstanding. But I think it was much more than that — the government just didn’t care about Riel and the Métis. That is why Riel tried to set up some kind of organization here in Batoche to look after the land and the people. The government knew that, and came down here to beat him down with force. But you know, if Riel had won, the parliament buildings of the province might not be in Regina today, but right here in Batoche.”

FORT LENNOX

Thirty miles south east from Montreal, Fort Lennox rests in the middle of the Richelieu River on lle-aux-Noix (Nut Island), whose first occupant leased it for an annual sum of one bag of walnuts. In 1759 the rent went up somewhat when the French built a fort on the island. The British attacked the next summer with a force of 7,000 men. The French outgunned the attackers, but after a four-day cannon fight they found themselves surrounded on three sides and running out of food. Finally, the order to evacuate came in from the governor in Montreal. The 300-man garrison fled at night. The British took Lennox and destroyed it. But 50 years later the British themselves reopened lle-aux-Noix as a naval base, building warships during the War of 1812. Fifteen were launched on the island, including the 36-gun Confiance, the largest warship on Lake Champlain. This time, the end of the war brought continued construction, and the fort was formed to its present state in the 10 years following 1819. The Governor General of Canada, Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, died that year, and the new fort was named in his honor.

Armand Mainguy, the fort’s superintendent, has been on the island only four years, but already finds himself drawn into the aura of the island. As he explains:

Fort Lennox is different from other places like it be cause when you come here you don't just stay an hour and go. The fort is only a part of an island so beautiful that you have to see it to know what I am talking about. No one who comes leaves right away. The closest town, St. Paul, is just a small place, 1,500 people maybe. There is a post office, a church, two stores. That's all. The people know each other for generations, so they have no hurry to go any where. Still, the visitors and tourists have been coming here for a long time, too, so the local people like to have them here.

“Most of the locals think of the fort as French, since it reminds them of the days when France was a power in Canada. It is all a very personal thing, even in how much attention you pay to the fort itself. Some people who live here look at it only as bread and butter on the table, something that brings in the tourists. They’re always saying, ‘I haven’t been on the island for 25 years, I must go soon.’

“There are other people who find the place so beautiful and interesting they come here practically every Sunday. They see the museum, they see the river sweeping by, and they get to feel that this was truly one of the strong points of the whole chain of forts along the Richelieu. I look in the Visitors’ Book sometimes just to see how the people feel about Fort Lennox, and they always seem to have such good things to say. Sometimes there are things not so nice to read, but that is hardly ever because the fort and the island are so beautiful."

LOUISBOURG

After Britain beat Louis XIV, Cape Breton remained the only French possession on the Atlantic coast. France was determined to make this a permanent and unshakable base, and in 1719 Louis XV poured in the first of $10 million in modern money needed to build the fortress.

After 30 years of peace, France declared war on England in 1744. French privateers began terrorizing Acadia and New England. Desperate, 4,000 New Englanders lay siege to Louisbourg to break the French power. When the 64-gun man-of-war Vigilant tried to run supplies through to the fortress, it was captured and, soon after, Louisbourg fell to the New Englanders.

Four years later, Louisbourg was returned to the French by treaty. But after 10 years of peace, the elder Pitt came to power in England and demanded the defeat of Louisbourg.

Once again it was besieged and in July fell again to the British. This time, the relentless Pitt ordered it "... most effectively and most entirely demolished.” Today, 175 people are working to reverse the result of Pitt’s order. Scheduled for official opening in 1972, the reconstruction drew 195,000 visitors last year. Jerry Roach, an artist who has worked on the project for the past five years, admits that the fortress has brought him a new experience:

“At first, history to most of us is like some callus that's built up — dry and uninteresting. But once you get into it and find history means real people — perhaps doing things similar to what you do — it becomes a totally exciting experience. When I first came to Louisbourg five years ago, I was historically totally innocent. But I soon found that living here made me appreciate the lives of the early settlers and the way they lived. For instance, the climate and land here at certain times of the year are almost overpowering ... incredible swamps, trees hardly able to grow, spruce twisted with disease.

Yet through it all discovered that it wasn't the French or the English who were the villains in the Louisbourg story. It was the land. For instance, when the New Englanders besieged the fortress and captured it, they lost only 87 men in the action itself. Yet they lost 900 men to the first winter here.

Since my painting has always been concerned with some sort of mysticism in nature, I find myself sensitive and receptive to this aspect. However, I know that the other sides of the fortress —the construction, the artifacts, the design and so on — all have become a challenge. And that challenge is to interpret the fortress to its visitors in the most exciting way possible. The beauty of Louisbourg is that we can create here a total environment. In this we’ve been helped a great deal because the French at the time were caught up in a great bureaucracy. Everything had to be recorded and approved by the French government. Hence we have extensive documents as well as artifacts to work with. The trick is, for instance, that when you look at a pot, you don’t just say, This is a pot.’ You say instead, This is what life was like, using this kind of pot.’

“In spite of the occasionally austere environment, the fortress will be able to envelop you in a romanticism and atmosphere you cannot find anywhere else on the continent. If you think of yourself coming out of one of its homey places, out into a foggy night with lights glinting off the cobblestones, the odd piglet running here and there in the crisscrossed narrow streets, then you’ll know what life was like in the 18th century, and more than that, you’ll be a part of it."

FORT LANGLEY

Every year on November 19, Premier W.A.C. Bennett calls his cabinet to the Big House at Fort Langley. There, he holds a meeting in honor of the day in 1858 when, on that site, Governor James Douglas read out the proclamation making British Columbia a Crown Colony.

Originally built in 1827 by the Hudson’s Bay Company to compete with American trade, Langley was the farthest point on the Fraser that the ocean-going ships could reach. It shipped salmon to Hawaii and the Sandwich Islands. It sold wheat to the Russians in Alaska. It brought protection to the local Indians from their enemy tribes.

But in the late 1800s, Langley began to slip. The Russians left Alaska. The gold rush died. The fur trade thinned out. Even the Indian menace stopped after 1839, when the fort’s ninepound cannon destroyed a fleet of threatening war canoes. Finally, the big ships started to bypass the fort on their way upstream. Langley was abandoned.

Today, the fort has been rebuilt to host some 150,000 visitors a year. They come to soak up the frontier atmosphere through the fort and through talking to the local people, people such as Alex Hope, whose family has lived around Langley for more than 100 years:

“My grandfather, Mr. Mavies, came out to the original ’49 gold rush. He was a real adventurer. He came around the Horn once, then through Panama a second time. When gold was discovered on the Fraser, he came here. He found a piece of land he liked and thought it would be a good idea to bring the whole family out from Scotland. So he did. Even brought his grandmother in a wheelchair right across the continent.

“His land was right by the fort here. Of course, the fort was the first Hudson’s Bay post near the BC coast. At first it was prosperous, but with time the steamboats were going farther and farther up the rivers, so the fort fell out of use. Finally, around 1887, the Bay put the fort up for sale and Mr. Mavies bought it.

Funny thing, the people on the farms had no use for the fort as such and didn’t care too much about it. All it was to them was a good lumberyard. So gradually the buildings were torn down one by one, except a small house that used to be the general store.

“Mr. Mavies had a farmhouse built right here on the site. When I was a boy, I used to sleep in that farmhouse when Grandmother had us over. Where you see the Big House now, there was just a big pile of rocks. And beside the old store, there was a barn with a shed next to it. Nothing else. The river, which used to run beside the fort when it was built, had already taken a new course farther away.

None of the Mavies children liked to farm. Eventually, the old farm was sold and the buildings went the way of the original fort. But ever since, I’ve always felt that the Mavies family had something very special here. Then I found that there were other people interested in restoring Fort Langley. The Board of Trade in Langley got interested. Then some people in Victoria got interested. Finally, we formed a restoration society and got some people in Ottawa on our side. The Mavies family had donated some of the land on the old fort site about 25 years ago, but not too much had been done. But then the government gave it over to the Department of Northern Affairs and things really began to happen. Two years ago, they even put in a new Centennial Museum beside the fort.

“Now they say they get about 150,000 visitors here a year, a lot of them young people. I don’t think the fort and history should give them any great lesson or moral to learn. I just hope they enjoy it and get a good feeling of their heritage, a place to belong.’’

FORTS: WHERE AND WHEN

The roads to the six places you’ve just read about are delightful and simple. Although local accommodation has usually been a step behind the visitors’ upsurge, excellent food and lodging can be found within a 20 minutes’ drive at the most.

One word of caution: through hundreds of years, our historic sites have sucked in a tranquillity that comes only with timelessness. Like fine wine, they are gentle yet potent. A visit should never be rushed; take a day at least. Sip slowly.

FORT CHAMBLY

Follow Highway 9 from Montreal to St. Hubert, then Highway 1 to Chambly. Total distance: about 20 miles. The fort is open year round from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. although the museum is closed during the winter months. There are extensive picnic grounds beside the fort, with barbecue pits under the chestnut trees on the shore of the Richelieu. Some accommodation can be found in nearby Chambly, but St. Hubert offers a wider range of good motels and restaurants. Admission to the fort is free.

SAINTE-MARIE

Located on Highway 12 just outside of Midland, Ontario, about 90 miles north of Toronto. Between May 17 and September 1, Sainte-Marie is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From then to the end of the season, October 13, the doors close at 5 p.m.

Picnic tables and barbecues are available. The settlement can be reached by the river as well, since finger docks provide moorings on the River Wye. The famous Martyrs’ Shrine is at the top of the hill. Beyond it, a lookout gives an exhilarating view of the canoe route from Georgian Bay inland. Admission is one dollar for adults, 25 cents for children, a family maximum of $2.50.

BATOCHE

Follow Highway 11 for about 60 miles north and east of Saskatoon. Turn off right just before Duck Lake and follow the signs. A free cable ferry takes cars across the Lower Saskatchewan. Small museum at Batoche schoolhouse is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer. No admission charge. Of all the monuments, Batoche retains the natural atmosphere closest to the days of its fame. Nearest accommodation in Prince Albert, about 20 miles away.

FORT LENNOX

Take four-lane Highway 9b from Montreal to St. Jean, then to St. Paul. Private ferry takes passengers to the island for 50 cents. No cars. The fort is open from May 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. The fort provides good mooring facilities. Splendid picnicking on the island, good fishing. Admission free.

New motels being built in St. Paul itself but very good lodging can be found in St. Jean.

LOUISBOURG

Twenty miles southeast of Sydney on Highway 22. The fortress is scheduled to open officially in 1972 with all facilities ready for the visitor. However, visits are permitted during construction, although entry to the buildings is restricted. The end of summer 1969 calls for the completion of the Chateau St. Louis, the fortress’s most elaborate and ostentatious building. As yet, Sydney remains the nearest spot for good food and lodging.

FORT LANGLEY

From Vancouver, take Highway 1 east about 30 miles to the Fort Langley sign. The fort is open year round, from 10 a.m. It closes at 9 p.m. in July and August and at 5 p.m. for the rest of the year. The Centennial Museum adjoining the fort is also open from February to December 15 and is closed Fridays. Admission to both the fort and the museum is free. Motel accommodation can be found in Langley, six miles from the fort.

For more information and free brochures, write direct to any of the historic parks.