What time the foot of white man first trod the beach of Sault Sainte Marie must ever be a matter of conjecture.
The wildest fancies have been indulged in by those who cling to flimsiest narrative rather than sift the truth.
Down the North Channel, whose fairy islands like the Manido’s stepping stones, lead the way to this growing city, there is pointed out a promontory called Cabot’s Head.
A legend, whose origin is unknown, asks us to believe that the adventurous Venitian penetrated into the new-discovered country at least thus far, but no record of such a journey exists, nor does the map prepared by him, and published in r 544, show any knowledge of this distant interior.
As early as 1603, however, the fur trade had been established and once a year between six hundred and seven hundred swarthy natives with their canoes ladened with the choicest of peltries came paddling down from the unknown waters to barter with the French at Quebec, to drink, to gamble, and once more to disappear in the wilds.
The ” West,” from whence these Indians came, meant all the undiscovered country to the people at Quebec, and the ” whites ” pictured it in their mind’s eyes as a land of fabulous wealth and barbarous splendour, while the vague remarks on the part of the natives excited the Frenchmen to learn more than they had been told.
With the true spirit of adventure, these traders began their conquest of the territory by pushing their way into the interior to barter with the Indians for their furs.
In 1605 the ” Beaver Company” “had sent agents ” to near and around the great lakes and ” Northwest Territory,” and, according to some French writers, they had even visited what is now Athabasca.
To these men, not always rough and uncouth, but oftentimes of noble birth, who had crossed the Atlantic in search of adventure, must be given the credit of opening up the mysterious wilderness.
Pushing their frail Chemaun * noiselessly through strange waters whose over-arching banks allowed the intermingling of the branches of cedar and willow on either side, in constant danger from the silent enemy who stealthily followed day after day for the chance to strike the murderous blow, now portaging over difficult pathways worn through the virgin forest or gliding over the thin thread of waters, so narrow and shallow as hardly to allow a passage, or again shooting suddenly out upon the bosom of a seemingly limitless inland ocean, whose only boundary line was the sky, at times intoxicated with the wildest Expectations, and again sunk in staring despair, they nevertheless persevered until they had accomplished their journey and had claimed the new shore for the king of France.
There arrived in Quebec in 1618, coming from the Western Wilderness, Etienne Brule, who already more than once had acted as interpreter for the intrepid Champlain. He brought a report that he had shipped his canoes on the waters of Lake Superior and backed his statement with specimens of native copper. In all probability he reached the great lake by St. Mary’s River, portaging around the falls, but not until Champlain published his map with its accompanying description in 1632, does the Sault receive authoritative recognition.* There its Indian name, Baw-a-ting, was changed to Sault du Gaston in honour of Jean-Baptiste Gaston, the younger brother of Louis the Thirteenth and son of Henry IV. and his wife Marie de Medici.
Two years after Champlain’s chart was published, Jean Nicolet, a Norman Frenchman, who had found his way to the Nipissing, coasted along the shores of Idler Douce, f and, entering the straits, paddled up the St. Mary River to the foot of the rapids, and landing, stayed for some time before pushing further west.
Close upon the trail of the voyageur, as eager to win converts as the trader was to gain the furs, came the Jesuit Fathers.
With everything to losefrom the material standpointand little to gain in this world, they nevertheless burned with zeal to win the new country for the Christian Faith.
Like Boniface, the Apostle to Germany, who, despite all offers of preferment and exaltation, persevered in his devotion to the pagans whom he sought to win, these holy men, resigned their professorships and incumbencies in Old France and eagerly journeyed to the New World to press their way through suffering, cold, starvation and torture, into the hearts of the people whom they came to save.
Like St. Boniface, too, was the end of many of these holy men.
Whether, as in the case of some, it came through days of agonizing torture, or as with others through the swift and unseen blow from tomahawk or knife, their death saw them willing sacrifices because of their firm belief that the blood of martyrs is after all the seed of the Church.
Among these priests who found their way to Sault Sainte Marie were Isaac Jogues, Charles Raymbault, Gabriel Druillette, Charles Dabton, Louis Andre, Claude Allouez, Hennepin and Pere Marquette.
In 1641 some of the Algonquins from Lake Superior descended to the country of the Hurons to take part with them in the Feast of the Dead. It was a most important occasion with the Indian and only occurred once in every ten or twelve years. The Fathers, who were established as missionaries among the Hurons, were not slow to seize this opportunity for friendship with the strangers, and the year following saw Jogues and Raymbault on their way to Sauk du Gaston, which they reached after a journey of 25o miles. Upwards of two thousand Indians gathered and received them with coarse hospitality. The Fathers reciprocated with the usual presents and feasts. For some days they stayed among them, living in the friendly wigwams, healing the sick ‘with rude specifics, preaching and baptizing, but it was not to be their privilege to remain.
The late months had come with all their glories of Indian Summer. From the leaf-carpeted ground arose the misty haze which bade the Red Men prepare for the Winter’s hunting. Father Raymbault began to sicken from the hardship of his missionary life and he and Father Jogues gathered the braves around them to bid them ” Adieu.”
The Indians expressed genuine sorrow at the idea of separation. ” Stay with us,’ exclaimed one of them, approaching the Fathers, with entreating voice and outstretched hands, ” and we ” will embrace you like brothers ; we will learn ” from you the prayer of the French, and we will ” be obedient to your word.” t
But it was not right that they should stay. They raised a large cross on the banks of the river to show the limits reached by the preaching of its apostles and made it face toward the valley of the Mississippi, to which their attention had been called in a vague manner by the children of the forest, and with much grief at the parting,. they stepped into their ladened canoes and paddled away down the river.
Raymbault was quite broken by the rugged life and privation he had been called upon to endure from time to time, and being taken to Quebec, he died October 22, 1642.*
Father Jogues’ labours were continued among the Hurons and the Mohawks, by one of whom named by the French Le Berger, he was murdered in 1646. t
It must be steadily borne in mind that until the time of the American Revolution there was no thought of dividing the history of the two shores of the St. Mary’s River.
All that happened on either side entered into the story of the whole, and although the chief events until the establishment of the Northwest Company on the north shore, transpired on the south, yet the two districts were so intimately associated as to form merely one community.
Nicolet who, in 1634, was, kindly received by the Ojibways on his arrival, crossed to the north bank on a tour of discovery, as indeed did Marquette also, when in 1668 he came to establish the mission.
Voyageurs passing up to the Gitchi Gummi, as the Indians termed Lake Superior, made the portage impartially on the north side and on the south. The ground of what is now the Canadian Sault was, according to the compiler, Sauer, more inviting for camps or wigwams than the other, while the north hills lent themselves more effectively for purposes of observation than those of the south.
In 1660 came Groseilliers, the daring adventurer, spying out the land for the establishment of a trading company.
It was through the efforts and determination of this man together with Radisson that the Hudson’s Bay Company was born.
Their story reads like exaggerated fiction so full is it of marvellous exploit and success in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties.
In 1659 they had visited what is now Wisconsin, and in 166o had returned to Montreal loaded with furs and with wonderful accounts of the wealth of the newly visited land.
When their stock had been disposed of Groseilliers announced his intention of journeying back on his own account. Immediately he was beset by a multitude of voyageurs and couriers anxious to accompany him. He chose six Frenchmen and prepared for the trip. The Jesuits, however, mistrusting his religious proclivities, insisted on one of their number going with him.
The priest chosen was Rene Mênard, an aged missionary, who, with his servant Guerin, at once joined the party. Up the St. Mary’s, past the Sault and across Superior they journeyed.
But calamity followed upon them, their trading was most unsuccessful, Father Menard was murdered by the natives and his body was consumed in a cannibalistic feast.
Such was the report brought to Montreal on the return of Groseillier.
The year following, 1662, the hatred existing between the Algonquins and the Iroquois reached a climax in this district and a war of extermination was determined upon by the latter.
The story is still told with gusto by the older men who, not yet, have entirely forsaken Indian ways and traditions, and the eye still brightens with the lust of battle as the raconteur tells his tale.
Already had the Huron country been laid waste by the fury of the Naud-a-ways. The Jesuit missions for the time were unable to cope with their power and the few Hurons who were the wretched survivors of the terrible war, wandered starving and freezing and crazed with fear like cornered beasts, not knowing where to turn for refuge.
Trading too was almost at a standstill although there were still found those who took their lives in their hands and pushed through the infested country for the sake of trade and gain.
Hearing that the Iroquois, or Naud-o-ways, were gathering to make war upon them, the Ojibways met in force at Fond-du-Lac at the head of Lake Superior, and paddling across that body of water, camped at Gros Cap, from whence three braves were despatched to discover the whereabouts of the foe.
Strong in their insolent confidence of strength these latter did not seek to hide their movements, and the scouts, emerging from the forest below St. Mary’s Rapids, discovered them in the act of torturing some victims whom they had seized on their way. Hastily retracing their steps to Gros Cap, they related what they had witnessed and immediately the camp became the scene of excited preparation for battle.
The Naud-o-ways, however, had no notion that the Ojibways were so close at hand and the torture ended, their victims being dead, they embarked above the Portage and made for the south shore about to a point nine miles above the Sault, landing at the jut of land which was destined ever afterward to bear their name.
There the orgies began.
The victims were roasted and feasted upon and dancing and drinking filled to the brim the cup of their fiendish pleasure.
From Gros Cap, the opposite point, did the Ojibways listen to the pandemonium till the sounds of the revelry grew faint, and finally ceased altogether and the heaped up fires leaped no more.
The time for action had arrived, for the Indian dearly loves a surprise, and pushing into the water their silent barks they paddled breathlessly to the slaughter.
The dawn of the awakening day was already beginning to streak with its first grey tints the eastern sky when the canoes were beached.
In silence the naked warriors crept upon the foes.
A dog roused and barked, but a bone of one of the victims of the previous night’s revel being thrown to him silenced his suspicions and the camp lay undisturbed.
Nearer and nearer crawled the Ojibways till the moment for attack arrived. The chief leapt to his feet with the war cry of his people, the warriors took it up, and all rushed to the kill.
From hundreds of throats were the triumphant yells echoed as though all perdition had broken loose upon the fated people. The Iroquois stumbled to their feet and groped for club and war knife, but the excesses of the feasting and the fire water of the traders had stupified them and little resistance was possible.
On every side lay scalpless bodies still writhing in anguish, the groans of the dying mingled with the fierce yells of the victors, till when the battle was stayed and the warriors drew off for rest there remained of the proud invading army only two stricken men.
The Ojibways, for once, had been sated with the killing.
The two who remained were of no use to the victors, and a council was called to decide their fate. The decision was quickly reached,
They were led into the burning circle. Their ears and noses were stricken off, then maimed and almost dead, they were placed in a canoe and bidden to paddle back to their own country to tell their fellow warriors that such would be the treatment meted out to all Naud-o-ways who ventured into the Ojibway land.
The message proved effective.
From that time on, no band of Iroquois intruded upon the old enemies’ territory and St. Mary’s River and Gitchi Gummi remained the undisputed territory of the Ojibways and once more opened the doors of its friendly wigwams to welcome the returning ” black robes.” *
* Indian name for priest. The name first applied to the Jesuits by the Ojibways was Wa-mit-ig-oshe” the men of the waving stick”from the fact that always on approaching an Indian settlement the rather stood up in the canoe and held aloft the cross in token of his mission.