Champlain: THE MAN WHO CAME TO STAY
Part One of THE WHITE AND THE GOLD
THOMAS B. COSTAIN
Beginning tlie absorbing saga, by one of tbe world s great historians and storytellers, of tbe men and women whose deeds and visions won tbe land we now call Canada
IN THE EARLY YEARS of the seventeenth century the rivers and lakes of North America were as silent as the coastline. Sometimes a shadow would flit along the edges of the water, made by a birch-bark canoe so skilfully propelled that no ripple would mark its passing. At night there might be many such. Keen eyes might peer out from the forest depths but never in daylight would the figure of a bronze warrior be detected at the water’s edge.
In June of the year 1609 this for once was changed. A shallop progressed up the Richelieu River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence which rises in Iroquois country. It was manned by twelve men, each with a short-barreled arquebuse slung over his shoulder. At the prow stood the leader who would not abandon his dream, Samuel
de Champlain, watching the shore line with a fascinated interest. He was forty-two years old, this Founder of New France, with a quiet sober manner which carried nevertheless an air of distinction. He had a broad forehead, a long nose and the liberal mustache and small goatee which would be fixed later in the memories of men by the great Cardinal Richelieu. He had been born on the marshy shores of Saintonge on the Bay of Biscay and trained for the sea by his father. Here he came into touch with men who were dreaming of a successful conquest of the New World. This project fired his imagination and touched his idealistic side and he devoted his life to it. He had first arrived in Canada six years previously, as official observer and historian attached to an expedition from St. Malo, and had at once ascended the great St. Lawrence River by canoe as far as the Lachine Rapids, in the wake of another St. Malo man, Jacques Cartier, the discoverer of Canada, who had come this way more than half a century before.
Samuel Je Champlain, leaJer k0 woulJ not ahanJ~n k~8 dreams, slipped down the river toward Iroquois country where no white man had ever been before
Later Champlain had made a second voyage from France to the country of La Cadie (from the Indian word aquoddie, for pollock fish) later to be known as Acadia. Now, on this third expedition, backed by the toughminded shipowners of Rouen and St. Malo, he had been given command of one of three small ships. He had taken his vessel up the St. Lawrence until he came to the great dome of rock standing like a brooding sentry above the river where it narrows to less than a mile. When his eyes first rested upon it he knew that here, someday, a great city would stand. He called it Quebec from the Indian word kebec which meant a narrowing of waters. Now, aboard the shallop, he was .doing his duty as he conceived it: exploring the potentialities of the land to the westward to assure a steady flow into Quebec of the furs which would keep the expedition’s investors in line.
In the wake of the shallop came birch-bark canoes in great numbers, all of them filled with the warrior allies of the French: Montagnais, Algonquin and Huron. Although the party was striking south to make war on the Iroquois it traveled openly, which was indeed unique. Champlain had not come into contact with the Iroquois but he had felt on every hand the dread which they inspired. The Five Nations of the Iroquois, living in palisaded villages among the lakes of northern New York, were cruel and strong and, in an angry and arrogant way, ambitious. They were a conquering race and could not brook any opposition. The Ongue Honwe they called themselves, “the men surpassing all others,” and their right to such self-praise is hacked by a scientific examination of the skulls of representatives of all Indian tribes; a test from which the Iroquois emerge as the possessors of larger and more highly developed brain chambers than all the rest, including the native races of the south and west.
Champlain’s expedition came close to an ending when it reached a large waterfall beyond which the shallop could not go. The explorer directed that the shallop be headed back to where the Richelieu joined the St. Lawrence. Keeping no more than two volunteers from his company, he
Tke WTite and tke Gold
THE WHITE AND THE GOLD was the royal standard of France, the drapeau blanc of pure white powdered with the gold of the fleur-de-lis. It had become the national flag of France with the accession of Henry IV, in whose reign Samuel de Champlain founded the colony of New France on the St. Lawrence. The White and the Gold was, however, not immediately popular with the French —white was the flag of the Huguenots and, at first, Henry’s preponderantly Catholic subjects looked
askance at it. But the Man from Navarre united a France long torn by regional strife and, moreover, was a good and wise King. By the time Champlain planted the standard on the rock which was to be Quebec, all who served under Henry were proud to carry his flag. T here had been flags of France before—the red Oriflamme of St. Denis, the ancient blue Chape of St. Martin; there were to be others. But the century which made Canada was spent under the white standard with its golden flowers.
told his native companions that he was still prepared to go along with them. The ranks of the Indians had been thinning rapidly as they came closer to Iroquois territory and more left when they realized that only three of the Frenchmen would accompany them. The stauncher decided to keep on and places were made for the white men in the canoes. With an outward display of confidence they proceeded on t heir way.
The lake, which they entered through the channel of Grande Isle, proved to be the largest body of inland water on which the three Frenchmen had ever gazed. They studied its island-studded expanse with wondering eyes, refusing to believe when the Indians asserted that much larger lakes lay westward. Proceeding now with the utmost care, they came to Lake George. On the evening of July 29 they sighted off a point of land—where later F'ort Ticonderoga was to stand—a cluster of canoes on the surface of the water. The three white men in their soiled doublets and worn leather boots realized that this meant the clash they had come to invite. To their Indian allies the fact that the alien canoes far off in the distance were heavy in the water meant that they were made of elm bark. Only one tribe used the elm canoe. Iroquois!
It was too late to withdraw now. The warriors from the north realized that their boldness had brought them to a dangerous pass. Their savage enemies were out in force.
What followed bears no resemblance whatever to the established practices of Indian warfare which were predicated on surprise in attack. The two parties approached each other openly and a challenge to battle was exchanged in jeering voices across the tranquil water. Having clamored their contemptuous defiance, the Iroquois took to the shore, and in a very short time there could be seen through the trees the flickering lights of their fires. All through the night the men of the Five Nations danced about the fires and sang war songs in shrill, exultant voices. They were, it was clear, completely confident.
Champlain’s companions maintained an equal show of assurance, lashed their canoes together and spent the night on the water. They returned jeer for jeer and insult for insult but it was hard to remain confident in the face of the uproar from the Iroquois camp.
Tlie unconqtiered Iroquois stood face to face for tlie first time with strange white warriors. Then the stillness was shattered: Cliamplain liad fired the first shot m one of history s longest and bitterest wars
In the morning the three Frenchmen donned their breastplates which were so highly polished that they caught the rays of the rising sun and sent fingers of reflected light, out across the waters of the lake. Champlain himself donned a casque with a white plume as the mark of leadership. The men loaded their carbines and filled the ammunition straps slung across their shoulders. Each of them was equipped as well with sword and dagger. Their fingers were steady and their eyes did not waver as they peered into the depths of the forest where the Iroquois were preparing.
It was arranged that the white men would go ashore in different canoes and keep apart in the battle in order to give more effect to the discharge of their guns. To make their presence a surprise for the overconfident Iroquois, they hid themselves under robes in the bottom of the canoes. On landing they remained in the rear where they could not be seen.
The warriors of the Long House, who had nothing but contempt for their northern foes, came out to do battle with taunting laughter. Champlain estimated their number at two hundred and he was surprised at their physical magnificence. Tall, lithe, splendidly thewed, they were superior in every respect to the braves from the north. Three chiefs, their heads topped with snowy plumes, strode boldly in the lead, their eyes fierce, their stone hatchets held aloft. The allies, whose response to the exultant howling of the Iroquois had become somewhat forced and reedy, now proceeded in great haste to carry out the plan which Champlain himself had prepared. Their ranks parted and he stepped forward slowly into the breach thus made in the line. Seeing a white man for the first time the Ongue Honwe fell into a startled silence. Their eyes lost for a moment the glitter of tribal hate and became filled with awe. This, clearly, was a white god who had come down from the sky to fight on the side of the despised Hurons. The stone hatchets, no longer brandished in the air, hung at their sides.
Although Champlain advanced with no sign of haste, he knew that the Iroquois pause was a momentary one, that they would recover their fighting spirit immediately. It was clear to him also that the Huron braves lacked the fighting pitch to sustain a charge from their hereditary enemies who outnumbered them several times over. The balance between life and death hung tautly in the air. In no more than a second of time it would be Continued on page 32 settled. Everything depended on him, the steadiness of his hand, the sureness of his aim.
His arquebuse had been loaded with four bullets. Taking aim at the three chiefs, who stood together like a group carved by some Greek master, he discharged the contents of the carbine. His eye had not failed him. The spray of bullets stretched all three chiefs on the ground, two of them killed instantly.
The explosion jarred the senses of the Iroquois but at the same time it had the effect of releasing them from the spell. They reached for their bows and sent a downpour of arrows into the Huron ranks.
At this critical moment one of Champlain’s men showed himself on the flank and fired point-blank at the aroused Iroquois. This was more than they could stand. Another god, another roar like thunder in the clouds! They turned and fled with a consternation which never before had been felt in an Iroquois heart. The Ongue Hon we had been surpassed at last.
The allies now came to life. With hatchet and scalping knife they sprang I in pursuit. A dozen or more Iroquois were captured. That night the excited and madly exultant warriors picked out one of the prisoners for torture. He j was a young brave and owed his selection for this grim honor to the hope of the victors that he lacked ! resolution for the ordeal. They lashed him to a stake set up in a glade of the forest and told him to sing his death ! song. The unfortunate youth gave out I a dismal and quavering chant. The dancing, jeering savages did not allow him to finish but dashed forward and set the wood around the stake to blazing. While the flames licked at the cringing copper flesh, they indulged in other cruelties, tearing out his fingernails, pressing red-hot stones to his writhing limbs, ripping deep strips of flesh from his hide after breaking his bones and exposing the tendons.
Champlain stood this as long as he could and then demanded that the torture be stopped. His allies refused to listen at first. It was not until they saw that his friendship might be withdrawn from them that they reluctantly agreed to let him administer the coup de grâce. Standing some distance back the white leader sent a bullet unerringly into the heart of the tortured youth. The eyes closed and the shaved head fell forward in welcome death.
A noted historian has pointed out, in dealing with this incident, that there was inconsistency in the revulsion which all white men felt on witnessing the ordeal of prisoners at the stake. In less than a year after this the King of France would die under the dagger of the assassin Ravaillac, and his murderer would be put to death publicly with as much brutality as any Indian ever suffered at the hands of bis captors.
CHAMPLAIN had joined the northern Indians in this foray into Iroquois territory, and had enabled them to score an easy victory, as a matter of carefully considered policy. He realized that his efforts at colonization could succeed only if the fur trade proved sufficiently profitable. It was the Montagnais who brought the fruits of their trapping to Tadoussac at the junction of the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay Rivers and it was the Algonquins who made up the long flotillas which came down the
Ottawa River to trade at Hochelaga, where Montreal now stands. His support must be given to these natural and convenient allies in their neverending feud with the Iroquois, and the support must be more than passive. He must fight beside them.
In pursuance of this bold policy Champlain took part a year later in a second attack on the Iroquois. They found the enemy, one hundred strong, in a barricade of logs three or four miles up the Richelieu. This time the northern allies far outnumbered the warriors of the Long House. The terror inspired by the firearms of the white men paralyzed any attempt at defense and the screeching allies broke through the barrier, killing all but fifteen Iroquois who survived the fighting and were carried off to be burned at. the stake.
No other policy seems to have been open to Champlain. Propinquity made the northern tribes his natural allies and he needed their immediate friend-
ship. But the policy was to have bloody repercussions later. The Iroquois never forgot nor forgave. For more than a century the smoldering wrath of the Iroquois braves would vent itself in furious raids on the settlements of New France. They ranged themselves with the British in the wars between the two white races and struck blow after blow at Montreal and Quebec. Even after the Hurons had been exterminated and the Montagnais had ceased to count, the feud went on. The war parties which stole up the broad avenue of the Richelieu and the blazing fires of Lachine were the result of the course which Champlain initiated in the difficult first years of colonization.
Champlain sailed back to France in 1611 to work on a plan which would place his colony under the wing of; someone close to the throne in order to command further help and patron-i age. He fastened his choice on the Prince de Condé, possessor of one of the proudest names in France. In the spring of 1614, after long negotiations, the merchants of the great ports were! brought into one organization under this distinguished, if sterile, patronage Condé was to be viceroy with Champlain acting as his lieutenant in Canada. Condé was to receive his thousand crowns a year and the associated members were to send out six families as settlers each season. The monopoly was to extend for eleven years from the signing of the charter.
Champlain, who had been running back and forth between the two continents while the negotiations simmered, returned to Canada now in a jubilant mood. The success of the venture seemed assured at last. The little settlement clinging so tenaciously to the foot of the great rock at Quebec would prosper. Other posts would be started at strategic points. Champlain himself would be able to pursue his explorations and his work with the Indians. And finally the objective which had always been prominent in his mind would at last be realized. The cassock and breviary of the missionary would be seen along the great rivers and lakes and in the palisaded villages of the savage tribes.
Between visits to France to smooth the roiled financial waters, Champlain continued his explorations. It is impossible to tell in detail of the many journeys he made in the long canoes so proudly paddled by his Indian friends and guides, the fleur-de-lis always fluttering at the prow, or to tell of the many far parts of this fair land on which he set foot. The most important of his explorations was a long thrust northward in the summer of 1615 which was prolonged into the next year. He undertook it to fulfill a promise made earlier to the heads of the Huron nation. He ascended the Ottawa River, transferred to the Mattawa and found himself finally at Lake Nipissing. Turning southward he went into Huron country and found himself gazing on a body of water of sufficient size and grandeur to make him doubt the accuracy of his senses.
His conviction was that he had reached the great lake of which he had heard so much and which later would be called Huron. Because of this he named the water stretching far out beyond the horizon the Mer Douce, the Fresh-water Sea.
The home of the Hurons encom-
passed that corner of Ontario which extends northward from Lake Simcoe and takes in all the beautifully wooded and lake-bespangled land around the great arm of Georgian Bay, and which lapped over on the east into the present-day playground of summer enchantment known as Muskoka and in the other direction into the northern area of fertile western Ontario. It was small indeed to hold a nation of such relative greatness. The Hurons, who numbered about twenty thousand, had provided themselves with more than thirty villages in this irregular triangle of peaceful country. The location provided them with one great advantage: they were widely separated from their enemies of long standing, the ambitious and predatory Iroquois. Between the Huron country and the Finger Lakes was western Ontario, which belonged to the Tobacco Nation, and the the eastern arm of New York where the Cat People lived.
Progressing southward through the Huron country, which abounded in streams and lakes and waterfalls, Champlain visited a number of the largest villages, coming at last to the most important of them called Cahiagué, which had two hundred lodges and triple palisades thirty feet high. He found that pandemonium had taken possession of the place. The war kettle had been brought out and was simmering like a cauldron of wizardry in the centre court. Huron braves from all quarters had been coming in for days, their skulls shaven clean, none wearing more than a breechclout and some imitating the Tobacco Nation who went stark naked; they also had another trait which set them apart -—they tortured women prisoners. The crowded lodges at Cahiagué were now packed as full as caterpillar tents. The warriors were feasting and dancing and singing war songs. The squaws were screaming, the children were joining in and the innumerable dogs, unlike the barkless canines of Hochelaga, were adding to the din.
The Hurons were taking the warpath on a greater scale than ever before. The plan was to move secretly and swiftly against the main village of the Onondagas, the senior of the Five Nations, and wipe them out. Now that Champlain, giver of victory, had come with many men, all of them carrying the deadly weapon which killed at a distance, they knew that victory was assured.
The great war party traveled down the lakes in what is now the Kawartha section and entered Lake Ontario by way of the Trent River. They struck across that great body of water and the white men were told of the tremendous falling watehs at the end of the lake and of the huge seas which lay still farther to the west.
The attack was a failure owing mainly to the overconfidence and scatterbrained conduct of the Hurons. First they gave their presence away by attacking a party of Iroquois harvesting their fall crops in fields. As a result the attack was delivered against aroused and thoroughly prepared defenders. The village was surrounded by four rows of wooden palisades, supporting a gallery which swarmed with jeering Iroquois. Champlain realized the attack would have to be launched with great care. He drew bis dusky allies back into the shelter of the trees and set them to work, first at making what was called in France a cavalier, a tower high enough to permit his musketeers to fire down over the heads of the defenders, as well as a number of mantelets, movable wooden shields behind which the attacking Party could advance against the walls.
All would have gone well if once again madness had not taken possession of the Hurons, who abandoned the shields and dashed to attack in the open. Arrows fell among them like lethal hail and their losses were heavy. The French marksmen in the cavalier took steady toll of the defenders on the gallery but gunfire no longer held any element of surprise. Wild efforts of the Hurons to set fire to the outer palisade failed and they slunk back to the cover of the trees, having lost all stomach for the devastating archery of the Iroquois. After three hours the attacking party decided they were beaten and Champlain, who had been wounded in the leg by an arrow, could not rouse them to further efforts.
In the retreat which followed, the French leader was carried in a basket °n the back of a powerful brave. He
suffered intense pain, his unhappiness increased by speculation as to what effect the disaster would have on his unstable allies. Sullen in defeat, the Hurons made it clear that they had lost faith in their white allies. The mutter of discontent held no trace of self-blame.
It had been arranged that canoes would be provided to take the French to Montreal Island immediately after the expected victory. Now none would volunteer for the task. Champlain saw that, whether he liked it or not, he and his men faced the necessity of spending the winter in Huron country.
It is probable that the long cold months were lived through at Cahiagué where the counter-blow, if it came at all, was most likely to fall. The village consisted of two hundred lodges, community houses, some of which were as long as two hundred feet. They were made of roughhewn boards, bent inward to form an arch. Inside they were regions of bedlam with long platforms a few feet above the ground on each side and with a narrow open space between. These platforms were divided into spaces for the various families: and here they lived and ate and slept and performed all the natural functions with a lack of privacy which was equalled only when the animals were taken into the ark.
Down the centre of these malodorous caverns there was a series of family fires, belching forth sparks and smoke which stubbornly refused to leave by the open space between the ends of the planks above, and thus established a murkiness of atmosphere through which the brown skulls and fierce features of the inmates loomed dimly like denizens of the nether regions. In the dark and draughty upper reaches unshelled corn hung down on long lines looped from section to section, with the family clothing, the skins, cured and uncured, the dried fish, the weapons and the rather pitiful prized possessions of the primitive people.
Champlain’s first consideration, of course, was to improve the defenses, making sure that guards were always mounted on the galleries and that supplies were kept of stones and water to be used in case of attack. He realized he had espoused the weaker side in this age-long feud. Nothing the Hurons could do would ever put them on an equality with the Iroquois in the making of war. Some authorities have advanced the opinion that the Iroquois brave, for courage and craft and power of endurance, has never had an equal, placing him even above the mounted bowmen of Genghis Khan.
The Iroquois reprisals did not materialize and the winter was spent in deadly monotony. The food, always flat because the Indian did not understand the use of salt or any form of seasoning, became so bad that the civilized stomachs of the unwilling guests were revolted by the dreadful messes prepared by the toothless and quarrelsome squaws. There was always a shortage of the dog flesh which was a staple article and very rarely did the hunters bring in venison or bear meat. Usually a meal consisted of heavy concoctions of dried corn or a combination of corn meal and smoked fish, which had a peculiarly offensive odor.
Champlain had known before that in striking a balance between the virtues and faults of the red men their morals had to be placed on the debit side. The Huron men were lazy, they were natural thieves, they were treacherous and unpredictable. They were inefficient even in the few duties they took on themselves. The women, after a few years of unbridled license and passion, were hopeless drudges, busy all day at plodding tasks and becoming in time more cruel than the men. Jacques Cartier had reported a custom at Hochelaga of turning all girls at puberty into a community brothel where they remained until they chose a husband. The Huron custom was found to be based on trial marriage. A girl, after receiving a gift of wampum, would live with a man long enough to decide whether they suited each other. The more attractive of the dusky belles made as many as a dozen experiments before settling down, and gathered as a result a very handsome store of wampum and other gewgaws for the adornment of their plump brown bodies. This fickleness did not weigh against them. It was a recognized approach to matrimony and, if they never again allowed their fancy to stray after settling down, they were as well regarded as the young squaws who had been less adventurous.
The most interesting possession in all Indian tribes was wampum, belts or strips of skin covered with designs in small shells of many colors. Wampum was like money in the sense that it served as a commodity of exchange but it was much more important than that. It was used as well as a means of recording historical events. In treaty making wampum was employed as a pledge and proof of the decisions arrived at, each side carrying away strips which illustrated what had been decided. Champlain may have seen with his own eyes the first stage in the making of wampum. A dead body, usually that of an antagonist who had been killed in battle or under torture, was slashed with long deep cuts on the belly and buttocks and other fleshy parts. The body was then lowered into deep water and left there for a considerable length of time. When brought to the surface, it would be found that small shell fish had buried themselves in the cuts. From the inner surface of these barnacles the handsomely tinted pieces of shell were cut which served in the designing of the wampum.
Even at this early stage of relationship between white man and red the taciturnity of the latter was fully recognized. On most occasions the Indian had no more to say than the customary “Ho!” of greeting but in the winter evenings it was a different matter. As they crowded around the fires and blinked with their smoke-filled eyes (most of them developed diseases of the eye early in life), their tongues unloosened. This was in fact the only safe time for the braves to indulge themselves in loquacity. The gods were imprisoned in winter in blocks of ice, whereas in summer they roamed the woods, heard everything that was said—and took offense easily.
The Hurons were prepared even to speak of their religious beliefs. They had a conviction of the immortality of the soul, as well as a belief in one great god above all others. The Hurons had a theory that the spirits of dead warriors took a long journey along the Milky Way, racing so fast that no enemy could overtake them, the winds blowing fiercely at their backs to help them on, until they came to the Happy Hunting Ground. The Hurons were certain that their favorite dogs had souls but they would not concede as much to their women. The Algonquins, a gross and licentious race, were sure that after death the souls of warriors lived in a heaven where they feasted and danced through all eternity.
Racial legends and beliefs were set down in symbols on flat, pieces of wood and these were preserved and handed down from one generation to another. Among the stories thus preserved was a version of the beginning of things. A literal translation of the start of their
My disposition doesn’t glow
When people phone ‘‘to say hello.”
Hello's a strange elastic word That takes an hour being heard.
LEONARD K. SCHIFF
saga of the making of the world ran as follows: “At first there were the
great waters above all the land, and above the waters were thick clouds, and there was God the Creator.”
WHEN SPRING CAME, and tiie Iroquois had not struck, the canoes and the necessary crews were produced for the return trip and early in April they set out. As they sped down the rushing waters of the Ottawa, Champlain’s mind was busy. The defeat provided him with reason for serious reflection and it is possible that the spectre of future wars was constantly before him. A more pleasant thought may have occupied his mind at intervals. This long thrust he had made into the unknown wilds must have appeared to him as the first of countless other, and more profitable, ventures.
But all was not plain sailing in France. Condé, the viceroy, sold his post to Montmorency, the admiral of France, for eleven thousand crowns. The investors in the company, having no concern for anything but the profits, refused to assume the expense of sending out settlers as provided by the charter. Champlain complained so bitterly that he was subjected to continuous attacks.
But he was not the kind of man to accept rebuffs in silence. He laid all the facts before Montmorency. The admiral reached the conclusion that the tir e had corre to cut away from the greedy shipowners. J here was a reorganization and the former partners were given five twelfths of the stock in a new syndicate, an arrangement grudgingly accepted because it left them in a minority position. Champlain had to exercise all his diplomatic skill to keep things on an even keel.
QUEBEC in lg20 was far removed from a realization of Champlain’s lir.-.t visions. There were no more than fifty people in the settlement. The hastily constructed buildings were beginning to leak and show signs of collapse. Other houses had grown up around them, all just as unsubstantial and dreary. Along the waterfront were wharfage facilities and some rude storage sheds.
Between the bare summit towering overhead and the little settlement hugging the river banks there was nothing but a steep, winding path; some efforts had been made to clear the ground and the stumps of what had once been noble trees now cluttered that lofty expanse, waiting for the settlers who would haul them out and set oxen to plowing the ground.
Although vegetables and grain and some fruit were now being grown and the waters thereabouts yielded fish in considerable quantities, the people of Quebec often found themselves close to the edge of actual want. In other ways their life was far from diverting or useful. They diced and gamed and quarrelled, and stern discipline had to be maintained over the unattached men. The women probably suffered the most. The men could hunt and fish but their wives sat in idleness within their own four walls. Even when the ships arrived in the spring there was nothing much in the cargoes to interest them, certainly none of the latest fashions from Paris and none of the newest fabrics. Even the issues of the Mercure Gallant, which had begun publication in 1611, were more than three months old when received.
The shut-in settlers were now denied the interest which the independent traders had supplied. In the earlier years, when no monopoly had existed, the adventurers from the seaports had flocked out in crowded ships, avid for a share in the riches of the new continent. They lived in the dilapidated cabins on Anticosti or in the ships anchored off Tadoussac. They even risked the passage of the St. Lawrence and swarmed about the Place Royale, as Champlain had named the trading post he had established at Hochelaga and which was becoming the most active of tradtng centres. It was here that the great fur flotillas of the Hurons and Algonquins brought their pelts for barter, sweeping down the swift Ottawa.
The independents had always been an obnoxious lot. They were greedy and dishonest and drunken and a continual nuisance to the authorities at Quebec where they paused on their river trips. They ogled the women and caroused in the supply sheds at the waterfront. Noisy and rambunctious, they were unrestrained in all their habits; a filthy, heavy-bearded crew with the instincts of pirates. They were, in fact, the most deadly birds of prey, utterly without scruple, ready to risk their own scalps for beaver skins, and quite prepared to do murder for gain. Later they would be responsible for the first steps in debauching the
red men. It was from the free traders that the Indians had their first taste of alcohol, and from these transients also the red warriors obtained guns and learned to use them.
Champlain’s head was filled with plans. He would have a stone citadel on the crest, a series of streets and squares, broad and clean and airy, churches with lofty spires, a hospital. He even dreamed of houses climbing up the steep path, a waterfront of enduring stone; of orderly days and secure nights and church bells tolling the hours. But he would not live to see the realization of more than a fraction of his fond hopes.
There had been no time for romance in his career. Nevertheless he had been married in Paris in 1610 under circumstances which might have led to a highly romantic married life. Returning to France after his first viatory over the Iroquois, when he was forty-three, he had contracted a matrimonial alliance with a daughter of the secretary of the King’s chamber, one Nicholas Boullé. Hélène Boullé was only twelve years old, a charming and vivacious girl, when they took the vows together in the Church of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois.
Because of her age the marriage contract stipulated that she must remain with her parents for at least two years before joining her husband in Canada and it is easy to believe that Champlain looked forward with ardent expectancy to the time when his young bride should arrive in Quebec. But she remained in France for ten years after the wedding. Champlain may have been too exclusively concerned with the heavy pressure of his duties to bring her out at the time stipulated. It is more likely, however, that he considered the future of the little settlement too uncertain. His relationship with her was limited to brief visits.
Madame de Champlain was, therefore, twenty-two years old when she finally came to Canada. She had become a mature woman, thoughtful and intelligent, a devout Catholic and an ardent believer in the cause to which Champlain was committed; attractive, small and gay. Champlain, by way of contrast, was now fifty-three. His hair was sprinkled with grey and lacking in the bristling quality it had once possessed. The long years of struggle were beginning to show.
The wife of the founder came ashore at Quebec in a flurry of excitement. She had brought many trunks with her, filled with beautiful clothes. There had been a revolution in fashions from the ugly extremes of the sixteenth century. Daintiness was now the order of the day, and it was the prevailing note in the wrist cuffs of point lace, the graceful slashed sleeves, the barred petticoats and the trim polonian shoes.
Madame de Champlain frequently wore a gold chain around her neck with a small mirror. The Indians, who became much attached to her, counted it a great privilege to look at the mirror and see themselves reflected there. They believed this meant that she always kept them in her heart.
The wives in the little settlement gazed with famished wonder and delight at the gaily bedecked mate of their dignified leader and the excited bevy of young women who followed at her heels, equally gay with their many colored falles and buskes and puffs. Perhaps, though, there was a shade of dismay in Madame de Champlain’s eyes as they rested on the tipsy walls of L’A bitat ion, Champlain’s official home, and took note of the dilapidated wharves and the mud of the streets.
The hasty foundations of his house had been sinking and the floors were so uneven that it was like living in a ship’s cabin in rough weather. The doors and windows fitted badly and the place could not he properly heated in winter. The roof leaked, allowing water to run down the walls, and there was a close and unpleasant odor of mildew.
Perceiving his wife’s reaction to her new home, Champlain withdrew some of the artisans from their labors with the Récollets and set them instead to repairing the home. It is unlikely that they were able to do anything about the topsy-turvy walls and the uneven floors but they succeeded in making the house dry and warm.
The first winter was a period of difficult readjustment for the delicately reared young woman from Paris. There was little for her to do. Housework was negligible. The beautiful snow, greeted at first with delight, began soon to dampen her spirits. In thLs strange white world she was like a prisoner.
The marriage was not a success. If there had been less disparity in their ages, if it had been the good fortune of the young wife to have taken her place by his side earlier, the situation might have been different. Madame de Champlain had character and courage and it is pleasant to indulge in thoughts of what might have been; of his young wife accompanying the founder of Quebec on some of his ventures into the western wilds, sitting in the prow of a canoe, her eyes as filled with excitement as his with the beauty and wonder of the new continent.
At the end of four years it became known that Madame de Champlain would accompany her husband back to France. The glum colonists watched while her trunks, packed tight with all the finery for which she had found so little use, were carried aboard the ship. They watched with open regret when the slim figure climbed the swaying rope ladder. She stood at the rail and waved to them in farewell, knowing that it was a final one.
She never came back. Having become deeply religious, she desired to enter a convent. Champlain refused his consent and it was not until after his death that she carried out lier purpose of becoming an Ursuline nun, taking the name of Sister Hélène d’Augustin. She founded a convent at Meaux and died there in 1654. -fa