An Archipelago of Memories
The Trappings of the Storied Past, Rich, Varied and Priceless Mark a Montreal Lawyer’s Hobby as Historically Unique
C. LINTERN SIBLEY
The historical collection of David Ross McCord is one of the most unique and decidedly the most valuable in Canada. It contains many relics of historical interest which can best be described as priceless. A visit to the museum where this treasure trove is housed transports one into an earlier aye, when Canada was in the making. The collection should be located in a building worthy of it for the benefit of future generations, and the time has come when action in the matter is necessary.—Editor.
in Montreal is just the private residence of a quiet and most unassuming gentleman.
Yet it is Canada’s greatest treasure-house of priceless historical relics. Canada’s! Not Canada’s because it happens to be located in Canada, but Canada’s in very truth, because a man of noble mind and unselfish heart has devoted the best years of his life, unaided by the State, and unencouraged by any institution, to collecting and preserving, on Canada’s behalf, landmarks of the country which would otherwise have perished or been scattered to the four corners of the world.
The gentleman referred to is David Ross McCord,
K.C. His collection he has already styled “The McCord National Museum,” and the whole of the priceless relics, which bear relation to many of the most famous events and characters in the history of Canada and of the British Empire, will be handed over as the property of the people of Canada for all time, and handsomely endowed by their present owner, as soon as Canada, in the shape of certain official authorities, says the word.
It is betraying no secret to say that Mr. McCord wants his collection to be housed in a public building in Montreal, open free to the public, and under the auspices of McGill University. But Mr. McCord wants the building to be worthy of its contents, and is not prepared himself to provide all the money to build it. McGill University wants the collection, but says it is not in a position to provide the building.
There is the situation in a nutshell as it has existed for some years. Mr. McCord is getting tired of it, and now, unless some suitable provision is soon made, the collection will go to Toronto or Win-
nipeg. Certain gentlemen—or perhaps certain institutions—in either city would provide the money for a suitable building at once. Of that Mr. McCord is assured already. Soon the matter will be decided one way or the other, and one of the three cities named will have a new and unique public attraction.
“Temple Grove” is by no means a small house, but it is packed almost from floor to ceiling with many hundreds of souvenirs at which the authorities of the British Museum would jump. A year or two ago when I first visited the place, the drawing room and recption room, as well as other rooms, had been utilized to store the collection. Quite recently when I was there, the dining room, and every other room on the ground floor had been invaded, and the family had been driven for house room to the upstair apartments. Even these are being invaded by relics, and the family, retreating before them, will apparently soon find itself on the roof, so rapidly is the collection growing. So, you see, something must be done, and done soon.
Let me describe a little picture that has photographed itself on my memory. Several delightful hours have been passed in roaming over the collection with the erudite and witty gentleman who is the owner-curator. The time has come to drag ourselves away from the fascinating collection, and the equally fascinating flood of lore and wit and anecdote with which the specimens have been described.
We are outside on a snow-covered terace.
Our host, one of the type of learned men who patronized wealth, instead of letting wealth patronize learning, comes out with us. His head is bare, despite the zero temperature, and as white with the frosts of many winters as is the winter landscape. Yet he does not seem an old man. His small, spare figure bears the stamp of health and vigor. His actions are brisk and whimsical—like his mind. He comes of a long line of Canadian ancestors. He speaks with the cultivated accent and polished literary phrase of an English public school man. He wears, as a protection against the cold, the gown of a Japanese nobleman. He stands between Grecian columns, and looks out over the grounds of the high location on which his house is situated upon a vast section of the great metropolitan city of Montreal, with its innumerable lights twinkling in the frosty air of early night.
“Look,” he says, still in the enthusiasm with which he has described his treasures. “The distance between this terrace and the road is the famous forty yards on the Plains of Abraham—the forty yards which as effectively transferred a continent to Britain as did the treaty of the succeeding year at Montreal. The height of this terrace above the lawn is the advantage of the posi-
tion which the French had over Wolfe’s army on the Plains. The steps there in the path to the house are twelve in number. They represent the twelve regiments in Wolfe’s army. Look at them” —and he pointed to the steps, dimly to be seen in the frosty starlight. “The first is the 15th regiment, the next is the 28th, then the 35th, the 43rd, the 47th. the 48th, the 58th, the Monkton, the fiOth, the 78th, the Highlanders, and the Louisburg Grenadiers. ’ ’ (I give the regiments from memory, and may be wrong in some details.) “Now listen, can’t you hear the conquering volley of that gallant British Army ringing down through the centuries? Can’t you see the gallant British Army rushing the position of the equally gallant French? The battle, short and sharp, is over. Quebec has capitulated. The fate of the continent is decided—and you and I are here! Good night!”
His feet crunch on the snow. The door closes behind the odd little figure—and we are left to make our prosaic way down over the historic battlefield he has pictured to the world of reality, and to the modern street-car.
You see what an odd, unique personality we have been visiting, and the enthusiasm over Canada’s great past that inspires him. The incident is typical of the man and of his museum. His whole life has been devoted to the task of preserving the memories of Canada’s great past, and of making great scenes and people live again for all time. Below I
give a list of a few of the more important objects among many hundreds that he has saved for Canada. But it is not only relics that he has stored. He himself is a born artist. He says it is as easy and natural for him to draw and paint as it is to write. The fruits of his genius in this direction are seen on the walls in scores upon scores of paintings of historic landmarks—magnificent scenes of
historic places many of which have been altered altogether out of resemblance to what they were. For years he employed an artist to assist him in this work, and drawings and paintings correct in every detail will, as a result, tell future generations the character of the historic places of long ago.
Let me here give a list of some of the priceless things I noted in the collection:
1. The war bonnet of the famous Indian warrior Teeumseh, who commanded the right wing under General Proctor, in the battle of the Thames, Canada, where his Indians were driven back, and he himself killed, Oct. 5th, 1813. This bonnet, Mr. McCord says, is the only example in the world of the process which exemplifies the power of deposing an Indian chief by “unhorning” him. This power rested with the squaws, who were thus “the first suffragettes.” On its crown the bonnet bears two small caribou horns, showing that Teeumseh possessed the kingly idea of crowning himself with horns, like the Vikings, who had horns on their helmets. The female line of the Indians had the power to depose the chiefs, and the ceremony of doing this was to remove the horns. Many of the eagle feathers in the helmet still have red tips, and if Teeumseh followed the practice of the southern and western Indians, the number of redtipped eagle feathers would indicate the number of scalps he had taken.
2. Teeumseh’s bow and arrows, bearing the crest of the Shawnee Indians.
3. A belt, three feet long, containing the treaty between the Huron Indians and the Jesuits for the erection of the first permanent wooden church in Huronia, at Ossosone. A profile of the church, in detail, is on the belt. The church was destroyed by the Iroquois Indians four years before Ville Marie had its origin.
4. —Tom Hood ’s desk. This desk folds up into the form of a handsome, brassbound mahogany box. In it are Hood ’s bank book and literary correspondence.
5. —An autograph of Iberville, who was despatched by France in 1094 to capture Ft. Nelson.
6. —A letter of Serigny, with seal on it. Serigny along with Iberville captured Fort Nelson and called it Bourbon.
7. —Frontenac’s Commission to his brother Maricourt, who had the good fortune to shoot away the British Admiral’s flag when Quebec was attacked by the British, and defended by the same Frontenac.
8. —A piece of Jacques Cartier’s ship, the “Petite Hermine.’’ Cartier discovered the St. Lawrence in 1535.
9. —An autograph letter of Francis I., the first king who was presented as ambassador to the Emperor Charles V.
10. —The only signature in the world of Frontenac’s wife.
11. —Nelson’s sailing orders and orders for battle at Trafalgar, to Capt. Redmill, of the Polyphemus.
12. —The inkstand in which Brant’9 pen was dipped when he was translating the Gospel according to St. Mark, and the Prayer Book.
13. —Brant’s skull.
14. —Many personal letters of kings and queens, including an autograph letter of Mary of Modena weeping over the lost crown of England, and another full of hopes and fears as to the battle, when it was hoped that a naval engagement would brighten the hopes of the King’s return to his crown in England.
15. —Amherst’s original letter going into the details of the last days of the French regime and surrender of Mont-
16. —The first dated record of the exact spot where Wolfe fell on the
Plains, engraved on the powder horn of an officer after the battle. This engraving, which is a beautiful piece of workmanship, shows the fortifications, the position of the armies, and even the sixand-a-half-pounder gun with which Williamson says he mortally wounded Montcalm.
17.—The level used by Sir John Franklin, when he laid the first lock of the Rideau Canal. It is mounted on navy blue velvet, and lashed with silk ropes.
18. —The only portrait of Colonel By, the founder of Ottawa, who entertained Franklin on this occasion, and took advantage of the great discoverer going through from the North to England, to get him to assist with the laying of the first lock of the canal.
19. —The original journals of Simpson and Dease on their Arctic expedition of discovery.
20. —The only journal of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the Arctic, 1819 to 1822.
21. —The MSS. of Sir John Richardson’s search expedition.
22. —The letter of Charles Ingles, rector of Trinity Church, New York, to Sir William Johnson, sending Dr. Stuart to be a missionary to the Mohawks, and expressing the highest hopes for his success, which hopes were carried out to the fullest.
23. —The best portrait in the world of General Wolfe, in addition to a wonderful collection of engravings of the general. Among the portraits are a superb miniature water color drawing and a large portrait in black, taken at Bath a year before he fell.
24. —A lock of Wolfe’s hair in a crystal.
25. —Two priceless letters written by Wolfe, when he joined the service, in which he shows (to alter the old proverb) that the ensign was the father of the man.
(Continued on page 139.)
(Continued from page 9.)
26. —A letter written by Wolfe immediately after the sad news of what he calls the massacre of the army under General Braddock, in which he comments on the danger of panic spreading among men in action, and especially upon the “insensate” idea of advancing redcoats against invisible foes in the shape of Indians or Frenchmen in thickets. These were men for whom, on the Plains five years later, his life was given, and England gained a continent.
27. —A letter of Tonty, Lascelles’ faithful companion.
29. —An autograph of the French Royal representative, De Tracey. On the same document, and amid a galaxy of signatures, is that of the man who built the first wooden palisades around Quebec.
30. —The autographs of Dollard, Alonee de Lestre, and Tavernier, three of that heroic party who gave their lives to save New France.
31. —Gloriously interesting letters from Sir Walter Scott to Maria Edgeworth.
32. —A large locket, mounted in pearls, that was presented to Major John Andre, the famous British officer, who was executed by the Americans, and whose remains were later buried among England's heroes in Westminster Abbey.
33. —A Bible, a superb specimen of royal binding, which was given by Charles I. to Douglas, the first Earl of Queensbury, when His Majesty was a guest at one of his castles.
34. —A marble bust of the Duke of Wellington, and autograph letters by the Duke.
35. —A magnificent China vase, 2% feet high, formerly the property of William IV., and probably given him by the then Emperor of China.
36. —The only portrait in existence of Brigadier-General Morrison, the hero of Chrysler’s Farm, who, in connection with de Salaberry, saved Montreal.
37. —The sword of General Brock, one of his general’s uniforms, and the last letter he wrote, just a few hours before he was struck by the bullet which ended his career.
38. —The early silver jewels, and the level, square, and secretary’s jewel of more than a century ago, of the Grand Lodge of Canada. This Freemason’s title, it was generally supposed, had never been used until it was adopted in Ontario a few years ago.
39. —The personal relies of James McGill, the founder of McGill University, including an ivory miniature, his great desk, his mourning rings, and other relics, even down to the collar that ornamented the pet dog of Mrs. McGill.
40. —The personal relics of Sir William Dawson, the famous principal of McGill University, including the cap and gown that he wore at numerous convocations.
41. —A superb original Louis XIV. chair, brought from France by Guillimen, a member of the Supreme Council of New France.
42. —The letter which cast the first light on an interesting point about the family of Wolfe, showing that at the christening of Wolfe, the hero of Quebec, his mother told a guest that James was not her first son.
43. —120 feet of the superb iron railing from the hammer of an artificer whose very name Mr. McCord knows, which served as a balustrade in the first parish church of Ville Marie. It is dated 1672, and it is accentuated at intervals, with the Maria, the monogram of the Virgin.
44. —The cross of the Bonsecours Church, and a confessional used at Divine Service for over 160 years, until taken out of the chapel when it was entrusted to Mr. McCord. The confessional is most interesting, as it was cut with a large jack-knife, grating and all, out of a piece of solid wood by the famous Piquet, the founder of Ogdensburg.
45. —A piece of the sacred ash-tree, under which the famous Mother of the Incarnation, the foundress of the Ursulines in Quebec, taught her Indian neophytes. This was presented to Mr. McCord by an ex-Superior of the famous Convent.
46. —What Mr. McCord calls an “archipelago of faith,” being the signatures of famous Jesuits, among whieb is the priest who said the first service in Montreal, and also the last Jesuit in Montreal. These signatures are immediately above a hinge of the first Jesuit Church at Sillery which turned to the hands of the men who left that chapel to surrender their lives as martyrs in the West, and never again entered its doors.
47. —Superb carvings of Bishop Stewart’s first church in Lower Canada, and also the whole of the “East” of that edifice. It will be remembered that he was of the royal family of Scotland.
48. —The prayerbook given to Bishop Fulford, of Montreal, at his consecration, and other relics of Montreal’s first metropolitan.
49. —The pastoral staff of Bishop Lewis, who was the first Anglican consecrated as a prelate in Canada, and the first archbishop in the Dominion.
50. —The letters patent of Bishop Medley and his episcopal seal. Bishop Medley was Metropolitan of Canada. He laid the corner stone at Fredericton, N.B., of the first Anglican Cathedral built since the Norman Conquest—and that in the woods of Canada! This is a noble claim for the antiquity of the Auglican Church here, for although bishops had established chairs in parish churches, here was the laying of the comer stone of a cathedral as such.
51. —The signed portrait of the late King Edward as Prince of Wales, given to Sir George Cartier.
52. —Queen Victoria’s own copy of her cornonation procession, mounted in mother of pearl and ivory, and badged with the Royal Arms.
53. —A superb silhouette by August Edouart of Queen. Victoria as a child, playing with -her doll.
54. —Queen Victoria’s letter of condolence to Lady Cartier on the death of Sir George. It is an indication of Queen Victoria’s goodness of heart that this letter was written and despatched after dinner on her own birthday.
55. —Indian relics innumerable.
And So one might go on, apparently ad infinitum. The quantity of his treasures is overwhelming. You talk and talk and talk with their owner as you examine them. The legendary lore of the Greeks and the Romans, the British and the French are all drawn upon by him for illustration and comparison. His wit sparkles and scintillates. He challenges and provokes repartee. You are lost in an animated discussion with him. You forget the museum, the thing you are examining, Canada, everything, and are far away in thought in the history of civilizations long, dead and gone.
And then you pull up with a start. Ah! Here is something else. What is this? And away you go again.
“Oh,” says your host, “there is one thing I specially wanted to show you. Just a woman’s letter. Just a woman’s letter. Come here.” You go back to the room in which is old James McGill’s desk. He pulls out the bottom drawer, takes out a book of precious autograph letters, and hands you one the writing of which seems familiar. You read, in a firm and gracious woman’s writing:
“My Dear Uncle—
“I have to return you my best thanks In Albert’s name as well as mine for your good wishes of the 10th. That day must ever be one of joy and gratitude to me, as being the commencement of the greatest possible happenings to me. Few, if any, possess such a treasure as I do in my beloved Albert, whose only object Is the happiness and well-being •f others.
“May his bright example of virtue and excellence be followed by our son, and may he be the Image of his father, Is my most fervent prayer!”
The signature is that of our late beloved Queen Victoria. The son she refers to, born a year before this letter was written, was the late King Edward. The letter is on monogrammed note paper, and was written by Queen Victoria in Windsor Castle on Sunday, Feb. 13, 1842.
And, with this memory of the greatest woman of her time, you really do tear yourself away. That is, away from everything except one proud possession that is, and will be, for the present, a secret. Your host tells you about it, in confidence. He takes you to see it. There it is, in a corner. The brass inscription plate tells its story.
The owner looks at it proudly, and looks at you.
“Some day, before his term of office [ is over,” he says, “His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught will come to this museum which I have founded for Can¡ ada. I shall lead him to this, and when | he looks at it I shall just raise my hand to my forehead in salute. That is all. Not one word. Just a salute. Eh? Ah, well, good-bye.”
And abruptly you are bundled out.