Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

How a Breton Sailor Came to Canada

Years passed on. England did little more than plant her flag in the New World, as the lands beyond the seas came to be called. Now and again indeed the English tried to found colonies. But the settlers sickened and died, and the attempts failed. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half-brother of the famous Raleigh, was among the gallant captains who sailed the seas and claimed strange lands in the name of the great Queen Elizabeth. He landed upon the shores of New-found-land—the island which is still called by that name to-day. There he set up the royal arms of England, and, with solemn ceremony, taking a handful of soil in his hand. Sir Humphrey declared the land to be the possession of Elizabeth, Queen by the Grace of God.

So Newfoundland became a British possession, and thus claims to be the oldest of all our colonies.

Meanwhile Spain and Portugal were busy gathering wealth and glory in the New World. But the King of France thought that he too should have a share. He sent a message to the King of Spain asking him if it was true that he and the King of Portugal meant to divide all the world between them without allowing him a share as a brother. "I would fain see in father Adam's will where he made you the sole heirs to so vast an inheritance," he added. "Until I do see that, I shall seize as mine whatever my good ships may happen to find upon the ocean."

So the French King sent men to explore America. And all that they explored he called New France, taking little heed to the fact that the flag of England had already been planted there.

Many daring men sailed forth with the French King's orders, but Jacques Cartier, a Breton sailor, is perhaps the most famous. He made four voyages to the New World, and brought back many wonderful tales of the things he had seen there. He told how he had met with wild and savage folk with dark skins. They painted their bodies in strange fashions, and their only clothes were the skins of beasts. Their black hair was drawn up on the top of the head and tied there like a wisp of hay, and decorated with bright feathers sticking out in all directions.

These men were the Red Indians of North America. They are not really Indians at all. But when the first people found America they thought that they had reached India by sailing west, and they called the natives Indians. We have called them so ever since.

Cartier told too of great beasts like oxen which had two teeth like the tusks of elephants and which went in the sea. Strange fish he saw, "of which it is not in the manner of man to have seen," some with the head of a greyhound and as white as snow, some that had the shape of horses and did go by day on land and by night in the sea.

Besides these tales of strange beasts and men, Cartier told of a fairy city of which he had heard. This city was called Norumbega. The Indians believed that somewhere beyond the rivers and the mountains it lay full of untold wealth and splendid with starry turrets and glittering gem-strewn streets. There the sun shone for ever golden, the air was sweet with the scent of richest spices through which rang, all day long, the song of birds. And when they heard of it, many left their homes and sailed away to seek this city of Delight. Cartier himself sailed many a league. He went where no white man had been before. But he never found the Golden City.

The wild people were not unfriendly. They looked in wonder at the strange men with pale faces who came to their country in winged boats. For although the Indians had canoes made of birch bark, in which they travelled up and down their rivers and great lakes, they had never before seen a boat with sails.

It was while Cartier was exploring that Canada received the name by which we know it.

"Cannata," said the Indians pointing to their village of huts.

Cartier thought that they meant that the country was called Cannata. So he called it Cannata or Canada. But the Indians had only meant to show the pale face their village, and the word in the Indian language really means a village.

Upon the shores of the Bay of Gaspe, where Cartier landed, he raised a great cross of thirty feet in height. To the cross-bar he nailed a shield on which were carved three fleurs-de-lis,  the emblem of France. Above the shield, in large letters, were carved the words, "Long live the King of France." When the cross was planted in the ground Cartier and his men joined hands, and, kneeling round it in a circle, prayed. About them stood the astonished, wondering Indians. They were a little ill-pleased that these pale strangers should raise this unknown sign upon their land without leave. But they could not guess that in years to come, before the sign of the cross, before the foot of the white man, the red man should vanish away as snow before the sun.

Cartier was kind to the Indians. They grew to love him, and when, upon his second voyage, they heard that he meant to leave them and explore inland they were very sorry. Perhaps, too, they did not want any other Indians to have the beads and ribbons and pretty things which Cartier gave them in exchange for their furs. So they did all they could to prevent him from going. They even tried to frighten him. Three Indians dressed themselves as evil spirits. They painted their faces black, stuck great horns a yard long upon their heads, and covered themselves with black and white dogskins. Then in a war canoe they came paddling down the river, howling dismally all the time. When they came in sight the other Indians began to shriek and howl too. They ran to Cartier and told him that these were spirits which had been sent by their god to warn him not to go up the river as he intended. "If you go, O Pale Face, fearful things will come upon you," they said. "Wind and storms, ice and snow, will bar your way. None will return alive. Our god will lead you into the spirit land."

But Cartier was not at all afraid. He laughed at the Indians. "Your god is powerless," he said. "My God is all powerful. He Himself has spoken to me, and He has promised to keep me safe through every danger."

So Cartier started on his journey and travelled up the river, now called the St. Lawrence, to an Indian village named Hochelaga. There he climbed a hill and looked around upon the fair country. As far as the eye could reach land rolled before him. Over dark forest and wild prairie, over lake and hill and valley swept his wondering gaze. He followed the grand and shining river, as it wound its way along, until it was lost in the dim distance. It was not indeed the fairy land of which he had heard, but it was very splendid. "It is Mount Royal," he said. And to-day it is still called Mount Royal, for that little Indian village has grown into the great city of Montreal.

When Cartier returned to France after his first voyage to Canada, he took with him two Red Indians, sons of a great Indian chief. This he did so that they might learn French and be able, on their return, to translate for him all that was said.

Many times Cartier sailed to Canada. With him he brought men and women, so that they might settle in the land, and making their homes there, form a New France over the seas. But few people wanted to leave their comfortable homes and go to live in a far and unknown land. So, to get men enough, Cartier was obliged to take them out of the prisons. As might have been expected, people who had been put in prison for their evil deeds did not make good colonists. They met besides with many troubles. They suffered from sickness, cold and hunger. Many of them died, and at last those who were left sailed back again to France. And so Cartier's attempt at making a colony ended.

Awake, my country, the hour of dreams is done!

Doubt not, nor dread the greatness of thy fate.

Tho' faint souls fear the keen confronting sun,

And fain would bid the morn of splendour wait;

Tho' dreamers, rapt in starry visions, cry

"Lo, yon thy future, yon thy faith, thy fame!"

And stretch vain hands to stars, thy fame is nigh,

Here in Canadian hearth, and home, and name,

This name which yet shall grow

Till all the nations know

Us for a patriot people, heart and hand

Loyal to our native earth, our own Canadian land!

O strong hearts, guarding the birthright of our glory,

Worth your best blood the heritage that ye guard!

These mighty streams resplendent with our story,

These iron coasts by rage of seas unjarred,—

What fields of peace these bulwarks well secure!

What vales of plenty those calm floods supply!

Shall not our love this rough, sweet land make sure,

Her bounds preserve inviolate, though we die?

O strong hearts of the North,

Let flame your loyalty forth,

And put the craven and base to an open shame

Till earth shall know the Child of Nations by her name!

C. G. D. Roberts.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Westward! Westward! Westward!  |  Next: The Story of Henry Hudson
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.