Dominion Of Canada – Early History, 1497

FROM the day when Leif the Norseman sailed west in his little ship with the Dragon’s head at the grow, the eyes of European adventurers had turned to the West for a solution of the mystery of the East. It remained for John Cabot, a cosmopolitan merchant, to bring to England the first definite news of that land we now call Canada. In searching for the origin of the Eastern spices in which he traded, he heard at Mecca of a series of caravans by which they came overland-a string which seemed to stretch out indefinitely towards the east : till the idea occurred to him that if their origin were so far to the eastward it might be quicker to seek them by sea from the west. So, in the Matthew, with eighteen sturdy hands he sailed in May, 1497, from Bristol, first north, and then, when Ireland was behind him, westward for a month. Passing Newfound-land to the starboard hand he first sighted land on St. John’s Day, June 24th, 1497. This point (the Prima Vista) is popularly believed to have been the western extremity of Cape Breton, though Labrador and Newfoundland have also claimed the title.

After a quick passage home to announce the discovery, and receive his reward of £10! from Henry VII, John Cabot with his son Sebastian sailed in the following year with five ships ; but no record of results exists, and he disappears unremarked from the pages of history. Other discoverers followed quickly, for in 1500 Juan de la Cosa’s map showed flags with the cross of St. George extending from Cape Breton to a point which is probably intended for Cape Hatteras.

In 1501 Gaspar Cortereal ranged over Labrador and Newfoundland, and the next landmark in exploration was the landing of Jacques Cartier of St. Malo at Blanc Sablon—the first landing on Canadian soil—in 1534. A year later he was back again, and on August 10th, anchored in a small bay opposite Anticosti, which he named St. Lawrence—a name which was afterwards extended to the whole of the gulf and the river. In the same year the explorer ascended the River, landing at the Indian towns of Stadacona (Quebec) and Hochelaga (Montreal).

During the winter of 1542-3 the Sieur de Roberval wintered with a small garrison at Cap Rouge, near Quebec ; and then for a time the troubles in France which followed the death of Francis I put an end to active exploration on any large scale. With the return of peace a project for the colonisation of Canada was undertaken by the Marquis de la Roche ; but the expedition never reached its objective. Sixty convicts were landed on Sable Island and were left there without assistance for five years. Only twelve survived.

All this time, Englishmen had not been idle. Fisher-men and traders had scoured the seas and eventually had made the port of St. John in Newfoundland. In 1576, Martin Frobisher was daring the ice in the Arctic seas for a realisation of his dream of the North-West Passage to Cathay. In 1579 Sir Francis Drake took possession of the Pacific Coast, and named the country New Albion. John Davis discovered the Davis Straits in 1585, and in the two following years made voyages to Arctic Canada. The fur-trade, too, had become an important one. Trappers and traders were meeting, and news from inland was borne by the ships back to their home ports.

The new epoch—the epoch of colonisation—began with the year 1603 when Samuel Champlain, a native of Brouage, in the Bay of Biscay, sailed under Pontgravé, a rich Breton merchant, with two vessels on a voyage of commerce and settlement. The voyage extended up the St. Lawrence as far as the Lachine Rapids. On the return of the explorers to France, a new company was formed immediately, headed by Sieur de Monts and Pierre du Guast, the Governor of Pons. Its objective was to explore the indefinite region known in the King’s commission to de Monts as ” La Cadie.” 1 This is the first record of that Acadia which was to become for the next century a battle-ground where French and English were to fight long and bitterly for possession.

The new expedition sailed in April, 1604. Two months later they sighted Nova Scotia, sailed up the Bay of Fundy to the harbour which we now know as Annapolis, but which de Monts called Port Royal, ” the most commodious and pleasant place we have yet seen in this country.” At the head of the bay the expedition came to a river which falls into Passamaquoddy Bay—the river Sainte Croix—and on an islet in this stream was formed the first French settlement on the North East Coast of America.

A very short stay proved the site to be impossible, and the adventurers removed to Annopolis, or Port Royal, where a permanent settlement was founded. In the story of Port Royal, of its abandonment, of its re-settlement, of its missionary enterprise, there is abundant romance. In spite of court intrigue, in spite of adverse influence of all kinds, the little colony struggled on. An expedition was even sent to extend the borders to the other side of the Bay, when a stray English vessel discovered and destroyed it. This incident, the first breath of century-long strifeled to the discovery and destruction of Port Royal by the orders of Sir Thomas Dale, the Governor of Virginia.

While the little colony of Port Royal had been fighting for its life the restless spirit of Samuel Champlain drove him to lead another expedition of discovery up the St. Lawrence River where, in 1608, he founded Quebec, I the first City of New France. Twenty-eight settlers wintered there, and in the following year a garden of maize, wheat, barley and vegetables of all kinds was planted. In 1609, Champlain joined the Algonquin and Huron Indians in an expedition against the Iroquois, and in doing so alienated the most powerful race in the country ; but with this exception he conducted the affairs with sound judgment and a fine diplomacy.

The record of the next twenty years is occupied in accounts of fights with Indians, of explorations among the lakes and inland waterways and of missionary enterprise, and though much quiet progress was made, no outstanding features call for notice.

In 1627, Canada and Acadie were granted to ” The Company of New France,” or ” The Hundred Associates,” headed by the great Cardinal Richelieu and a modified form of feudal tenure was established in New France with the object of inducing men of good birth and means to enter and develop the country. The war between France and England hindered the project, and in the course of the operations Quebec was captured by the English, only to be returned to France at the end of hostilities, In 1635, Champlain—” the Father of New France,” as he has been rightly called—died.

Three years later, the Iroquois attacked the Huron Indians, and in the course of the war practically exterminated them as a nation ; and between 1642 and 1667 there were frequent and serious wars between the French and the Iroquois Indians, who had never forgotten Champlain’s expedition.

Acadie was taken by the English and restored ; was transferred to the English and again, by the treaty of Breda (1667), given back to France. It was a period of great activity both in missionary enterprise and in exploration. Indeed, the two in many cases went hand-in-hand.

The year 1663 is a landmark in early Canadian history. The trading companies were obviously unequal to the task of developing the country : the Iroquois Indians were virtually masters of the St. Lawrence valley : and the white population of the country was afraid to leave the protection of the forts. Moreover, they were dependent for supplies almost entirely upon the French ships. The fate of the country hung in the balance. The land groaned for peace. Appeals were made to the King of France and, acting on the advice of the great Colbert, the young Louis XIV assumed control of New France and made it a Royal Province. Soldiers were sent to aid the distressed settlers ; and, led by the Mar-quis de Tracy, expeditions forced their way into Iroquois country with such good effect that peace was soon made between the French and the Five Nations, and the distressed colony was free to develop its resources and extend its limited borders. The population rose from less than 2,000 in 1663 to over 4,000 in 1665, and for the first time in its history we read of the immigration of young unmarried girls who were destined to be the mothers of the early Canadian people. It seemed as though the little ship of New France was at last safe in haven.