Quebec – Cap Rouge the First French Colony in Canada

ALL that is beautiful, all that is picturesque of Cap Rouge and its approaches will soon be laid under the despoiling hands of the railroads that are to cross the valley on a great steel viaduct in order to reach the bridge over the St. Lawrence River. Before the tragedy is enacted let us glance over its romantic history, and again view it with loving eyes.

No spot in all our broad Dominion, other than Quebec, presents so fascinating a history as this tiny village on the borders of the St. Lawrence, but its story has remained a fragmentary one in the fuller light that has been thrown upon Quebec. Roberval and Jacques Cartier destined it to be the Centre of French Colonization but the failure of their scheme, and the sixty odd years that followed of forgetfulness of Canada in France, changed its destiny, for when Champlain came in i608 he wisely chose Quebec as the site of Settlement for its many advantages over Cap Rouge. The latter became but a village and so remains until this day. Yet throughout the centuries it occupies conspicuous place amongst the chroniclers because of its position as the Western end of the island of Quebec.

When Jacques Cartier came on his third voyage to Canada, as the forerunner of the ill-fated Roberval colony to follow, he chose Cap Rouge as the most desirable place of settlement. This was in 1541.

In January 1540, Francis I. appointed Jean Francois de la Roque, Seigneur de Roberval, Lord of Novembeque and his Viceroy and Lieutenant General of the armies in Canada, Hochelaga, Saguenay, Newfoundland, Belle Isle, Cap Rouge, Labrador, the Great Bay and Baccalaos. The Viceroy is permitted to enlist from the various French prisoners men who were condemned to death. Probably nothing but the fear of certain death could have tempted men to engage in so hazardous an expedition. It is certain that Rober-val had considerable difficulty in obtaining men. October found him unprepared to sail, and the King, impatient of the delay, conferred a commission upon Jacques Cartier as Captain General and Master Pilot, with orders to outfit an expedition to Canada in conjunction with Roberval, but when the winter was passed and only five ships were provisioned and ready to proceed Cartier was ordered to set sail at once while Rober-val was to follow when he could.

The expedition after the customary vicissitudes finally reached Cap Rouge. Here Cartier built a rude fort, and unloaded the two ships that were to return to France that autumn. Twenty men were employed clearing an acre and a half of land which was sowed with turnips, others cleared paths up the cliff side to the point and built a fort there to protect the colonists from attack by the Indians. The winter was no doubt the usual one of that period, and Jacques Cartier at the opening of navigation in 1542 determined to return to France. At the port of St. John’s which he entered, he found Roberval with his two hundred colonists embarked on three ships, Jacques Cartier refused to return to Cap Rouge, and one night he slipped his cables and stole away.

Roberval proceeded to Cap Rouge where he landed his colony of agriculturists about the end of July. On the site of Cartier’s fort on the height of the point he constructed another fortification which his chronicler says “was beautiful to look upon and of surprising strength within which were two corps de logis (dwelling-rooms) and an annex of forty-five by fifty-five feet in length which contained divers chambers, a kitchen, offices, and two tiers of cellars. Near them he built a bakery and a mill, and dug a well.”

Beside his moored ships in the little cove on the Cap Rouge River on the bank he built a two story house in which to store the provisions he had forgotten to bring. The country he renamed France Prime and Cap Rouge became Charlesbourg Royal. Two ships were sent to France for provisions, and they had hardly sailed when the colonists were put upon short allowance. The monotony of the winter was broken by crime among the men, and the scurvy which carried off some fifty of them.

One man Michael Gaillon was hanged on the extreme point, for robbery. Several were chained and imprisoned, one woman was publicly whipped as a common scold, and so, as the chronicler says, “they were enabled to live in peace and quietness.”

When the spring returned there were but one hundred men left of the entire party. Before the summer closed it was decided to abandon Cap Rouge and return to France. Here the narrative ends as abruptly as did this first attempt to colonize Canada.

Sixty-five years elapsed before the second effort was made—this time at Quebec and under the direction of Champlain in 1608.

In the chronicles we again begin to find mention of Cap Rouge about 1638, several families having settled in the little valley. A road known as the Cap Rouge Road was also constructed about this period.

The settlers were liable to raids from the Iroquois and a number were murdered and scalped. The years rolled on and the little village at last freed from Indian pillage was prosperous if not populous. It escaped the feuds and broils of the religious and secular governments in Quebec, and went the even tenor of its ways in the quiet pursuit of agriculture, but its awakening came in 1759 when the colony was arrayed in arms against the English invasion under General Wolfe. The French General Montcalm realizing the danger of the landing of the British forces at this point, commissioned de Bougainville with a force of about 2000 men to patrol the heights as far even as Cap Santé. Wolfe, defeated at all points in his attempted landings, finally decided to move the fleet of ships under Admiral Holmes with his forces aboard to Cap Rouge, and to chance a landing between there and Quebec, trusting in some way to mislead de Bougainville who was guarding the Point and had thrown up entrenchments there to prevent just such a possibility. Frequent feints were made by Wolfe at Cap Rouge, but de Bougainville was ever an the alert. It was then that Wolfe decided upon landing further down the river at what is now known as Wolfe’s Cove. On the night of the 13th September, 1759, Wolfe’s entire land force left the ships and dropped down the River from Cap Rouge to the place of debarkation, while Admiral Holmes held his ships at Cap Rouge so as to deceive de Bougainville.

The battle of the plains of Abraham that followed need not be told here. The French everywhere defeated, and Montcalm their General mortally wounded, Vaudreuil gathered the remnant of the beaten troops together and retreated to Cap Rouge where he joined de Bougainville, when the entire French force leisurely continued to Montreal. In the following spring Levis arrived at Cap Rouge with a large force, thence he marched to Ste. Foye and gave battle to Murray ; the latter defeated took refuge within the city walls and saved the situation. The British fleet appearing a few days later with reinforcements for Murray, General Levis retired to Cap Rouge and from thence he continued to Montreal.

This was the last of war’s alarms for the little village for some sixteen years, when again the trumpet sounded to arms. This time, the American colonists at war with England, had sent an invading force through the wilderness into Canada under a gallant leader, Benedict Arnold. In November, 1775, he appeared on the Heights at the mouth of the Chaudiere. He crossed the St. Lawrence and took possession of Cap Rouge and Ste. Foye. At the former place earthworks were erected, and a large guard was left in charge while the main body was quartered at Ste. Foye.

One of the American chroniclers, Henry, tells ,of a raid made upon the summer residence of Gov. Cramahe on the Cap Rouge road. Under the guidance of the old French caretaker they had pretty well looted the house when the old lady suggested that the cellar would be a good place to visit. She lifted the trap door and they all passed down until it came the Sergeant’s turn, when something in the expression of the woman’s face alarmed him and he refused to join his comrades. She then coolly admitted that her intention was to trap the entire party.

Early spring saw the dispirited Americans across the Cap Rouge river on their way to Montreal.

Again the peaceful pursuit of agriculture occupied the `habitants’ of the little valley until about 1820 when W. Atkinson, Esq., an English shipping merchant of wealth, taste and social position bought the beautiful Point for a sightly residence, and the coves for his extensive lumbering operations. Later on, other well-known firms such as Dalkin and Wilson, J. Bell Forsyth and Co. stored and prepared the great Ottawa rafts of pine for shipment to England. We have heard some of the old inhabitants say that as many as 100 sailing vessels were loaded there in a season. At times sailors and rude raftsmen made pandemonium in the village. Ship building never became an important industry of the village, but about 1831 one Leaycraft in association with some of the Atkinsons built two brigs the “Guiana” and the “Cap Rouge,” The ship yard was directly at the foot of the long hill, and the block tackle and model house remained standing until within the past few years as a dingy monument to its builders. The vessels above referred to were loaded with horses for Berbice, British Guiana. The ” Cap Rouge,” Capt Touzeau, arrived safely with her cargo.

Michael Scott, an enterprising miller, built a large grist mill at the head of navigation on the Cap Rouge river. The wheat was brought down the St. Lawrence on bateaux from up country. The flour ground was exported to England. Long years ago this industry ended, but not before its promoter had acquired a fortune. Scarce a trace now remains of the mills or dams, but the great brick house built by Mr. Scott for a residence still stands, but deserted after a strange history.

Somewhere about 1860, Messrs. Dalkin & Wilson erected a large pottery. It flourished for a few years, and under the superintending of an able American, it turned out some very creditable ware; much of its raw materials however, had to be brought from great distances, and this in time proved its undoing. The property passed under successive ownership until it finally came into possession of the late James Ross, when it ceased to be operated. Later it was tom down, and now not a brick remains to tell the story. We have been fortunate enough to pick up several pieces of the different ware turned out. One small pitcher bears in relief the words Cap Rouge. Another piece, a salt cellar, is very well turned. It is in light yellow with a blue band and the glazing not too bad.

Later the Cap Rouge Pier and Wharf Co. was enregistered and took over timber storage and the preparation of it for export. Jas. Bowen, Esq., was its first manager, and at his death his brother Amos succeeded him. They were both popular men. When the square pine business declined, the Coves again became grass-grown and the village slept, and became the resort of artists for its exceeding picturesqueness. Henry W. Ranger, the noted American landscapist, painted here for several seasons. Then came Jas. B. Hance, from England, with a breezy réputation as the painter of sunsets. He still has a summer studio on the hill at the turn into the Ste. Foye Road. R. J. Wickenden, the versatile painter of portraits and genre, found inspiration for his brush about Cap Rouge. Dawson Watson, the impressionist, now the head of the St. Louis Art School, was also a frequent sketcher in the neighbourhood. Birge Harrison, painter of the snows, produced some of his finest winter landscapes at Cap Rouge. Frank Schoonover, the clever illustrator for several of the American Magazines, found his material here for the specially illustrated edition of Sir Gilbert Parker’s “The Lane that had no Turning.” And this brings up the fact, that in the years gone by, Sir Gilbert Parker found many of the scenes and characters for his Canadian stories within the parish limits. At different periods he was our guest, as were all the artists referred to. We scoured the country for artistic and literary material, and it was ever responsive. A number of our short stories that were published in book form in the U. S. were based upon incidents in the parish annals. “Emily Montague,” the first Canadian novel, written by a Mrs. Francis Brooks, a resident of Sillèry, frequently carries us to Cap Rouge two or three miles distant from the home of the celebrated authoress.

A lover of the country, and impressed with the many beauties of Cap Rouge, the Hon. John Neilson, proprietor and editor of the `Quebec Gazette,’ made his summer home there until his death in 1848. The old homestead is yet in possession of one of his grandsons, Col. H. Neilson.

Cap Rouge was at one time attached to the parish of Ste. Foye, but upon the building of an ornate Catholic Church and presbytere, it was erected into the civil and ecclesiastic parish of St. Felix de Cap Rouge. Its first priest was Rev. Mr. Drolet, who was succeeded by the Rev. V. O. Marois, brother of Mgr. Marois. Upon Mr. Marois’ advancement to the parish of St. Thomas, his successor became the Rev. A. Pampalon, who is yet the incumbent, and the well-beloved pastor of his congregation. During our holding of office as Mayor of the parish, he was ever the kindly adviser and good friend.

One of the greatest calamities that ever occurred in Canada was the burning of the steamer Montreal off Cap Rouge Point, in 1857, by which some four hundred lives were lost.

The approach to Cap Rouge along the St. Louis road through a bush of stalwart pines, large oaks, and picturesque birches is a fitting prelude to the arrival at the beautiful carved statue of the Sacred Heart, from which the view is particularly fine. The village with its clustering houses in the valley beneath, the sinuous River Cap Rouge, the English park-like effect of the foot-hills and the blue mountains behind. A. J. Bradley the eminent writer and the author of “Canada in the 20th Century ” told us that in all his travels through the Dominion he had found no view that appealed so strongly to his love of the picturesque and beautiful.