Awakening of Europe - M. B. Synge

The Founding of Quebec

"Row, brothers, row, the stream runs fast,

The Rapids are near, and the daylight's past."

—T. MOORE, Canadian Boat Song.

While Henry Hudson was sailing up his newly discovered river, and the little colony of Virginia was growing daily stronger under Captain John Smith, other countries were busy colonising on the shores of the New World. If there was a New England and a New Holland over the seas, there was also a New France.

Some sixty years before this time, when the spirit of discovery was abroad and all eyes were turned towards the golden East, a French sailor called Jacques Cartier left his native shores to try and find a new passage to India by way of America. His home was at St Malo, a seaport in Brittany—the nursery of hardy mariners such as himself. In the town hall there to-day hangs his portrait, the keen eyes ever searching something beyond the seas that dashed against the shores of his native town.

He left France in the summer of 1534 with three small ships, and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the storm-beaten shores of Labrador, already discovered by Cabot. Passing through the narrow straits between that coast and Newfoundland, he came to a great expanse of water, which he named the Bay of St Lawrence, a name he gave later to the great river which flows into this mighty bay. Undaunted by the dangers of the unknown, Jacques Cartier, with two young natives, made his way up the river St Lawrence till he came to some great cliffs standing high above the surging current below. Little did he think, as he looked at those silent heights, that here should be the site of the busy city of Quebec in Canada, now full of heroic memories. At this time only a cluster of rude huts crowned the summit of the rock. But this little native village was not the capital of the forest state, so the Indians told the French sailor.

On the banks of the river, some days' journey hence, stood the great native town called Hochelaga. In a little boat, with fifty sailors, Cartier set out for the mysterious city. Forests with trees thickly hung with grapes lined the shores of the river up which they now rowed, the water was alive with wildfowl, the air rang with the song of blackbird and thrush. As they neared the city, Indians thronged the shore. Wild with delight, dancing, singing, crowding round the strangers, they threw into the boat presents of fish and maize. As it grew dark, fires were lit, and the Frenchmen could see the excited natives still leaping and dancing by the blaze. When day dawned Cartier followed his guides by a forest path to Hochelaga. Beneath the oaks of the forest the ground was thickly strewn with acorns. Before him rose a great mountain, at the foot of which lay the Indian town. Swarms of natives now rushed round the white men, touching their beards and feeling their faces.

"We will call the mountain here Mont Royal," said Jacques Cartier, and the name survives in Montreal, to-day one of the busiest cities in Canada.

It would take too long to tell of Jacques Cartier's return down the river, how winter came on him suddenly and hemmed him in until the river itself froze over and the whole earth was deeply wrapped in snow. He returned to France in course of time, with his account of the two native villages built on the river St Lawrence.

Cartier had discovered. It was for another man to build and colonise. This man was Champlain, known as the "Father of New France." And he did more than build, he sailed farther up the river and discovered Lake Ontario and the famous rapids, now known as the Falls of Niagara (Thunder of Waters.)

In the year 1603 Champlain found himself at the mouth of the St Lawrence river, anxious to examine the native villages of which Cartier had brought such glowing reports. For some unknown reason all was now silent and deserted. He passed under the bare rock of Quebec and made his way to the once populous village of Hochelaga. But all signs of life were gone since the days of Jacques Cartier. As he rowed back, the rugged charm of the place seized his fancy. He saw the broad river, the good seaport, the thick forests in their varying hues, and the idea of building cities on the native sites appealed strongly to him. Five years later he was ready, and sailed from France with men, arms, and stores for a colony on the banks of the river St Lawrence.

On a level piece of land between the summit of the cliffs and the river, where a cluster of native huts had once stood, Champlain chose his site. The woodmen were soon engaged in making a clearing, and in a few weeks a pile of wooden buildings had arisen just where the busy city of Quebec now stands. Very soon winter was upon them. They must stand by their colony, though building should be impossible through the frost and snow. With twenty-eight men Champlain prepared to hold the settlement. Sadly he watched the many-tinted autumn leaves fall from the forest trees; the sunshine of October faded, and November brought a bare waste of country. The river froze over, and soon a heavy blanket of snow buried the earth. The winters of Canada are very long, and it was May before anything further could be done. By this time twenty men out of twenty-eight were dead, and the others were all suffering from illness, when a welcome sail appeared on the river below with help and food. Champlain was now free to found another trading station at the Mont Royal of Cartier—the Montreal of to-day.

For twenty-seven years he toiled ceaselessly to build up the New France beyond the seas, and the early history of Canada is centred in the life-story of Champlain, the Father of New France. Quebec and Montreal were active centres of French trade, until they passed into English hands; and it is but a few years ago that an Englishman unveiled a statue of Champlain in the very heart of the city he had founded nearly three hundred years ago.