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Ch. 6: Hochelaga

The Second Voyage: HOCHELAGA

Nine days of prosperous sailing carried Cartier in his
pinnace from Stadacona to the broad expansion of the St
Lawrence, afterwards named Lake St Peter. The autumn
scene as the little vessel ascended the stream was one
of extreme beauty. The banks of the river were covered
with glorious forests resplendent now with the red and
gold of the turning leaves. Grape-vines grew thickly on
every hand, laden with their clustered fruit. The shore
and forest abounded with animal life. The woods were loud
with the chirruping of thrushes, goldfinches, canaries,
and other birds. Countless flocks of wild geese and ducks
passed overhead, while from the marshes of the back waters
great cranes rose in their heavy flight over the bright
surface of the river that reflected the cloudless blue
of the autumn sky.

Cartier was enraptured with the land which he had
discovered,--'as goodly a country,' he wrote, 'as possibly
can with eye be seen, and all replenished with very goodly
trees.' Here and there the wigwams of the savages dotted
the openings of the forest. Often the inhabitants put
off from shore in canoes, bringing fish and food, and
accepting, with every sign of friendship, the little
presents which Cartier distributed among them. At one
place an Indian chief--'one of the chief lords of the
country,' says Cartier--brought two of his children as
a gift to the miraculous strangers. One of the children,
a little girl of eight, was kept upon the ship and went
on with Cartier to Hochelaga and back to Stadacona, where
her parents came to see her later on. The other child
Cartier refused to keep because 'it was too young, for
it was but two or three years old.'

At the head of Lake St Peter, Cartier, ignorant of the
channels, found his progress in the pinnace barred by
the sand bars and shallows among the group of islands
which here break the flow of the great river. The Indians
whom he met told him by signs that Hochelaga lay still
farther up-stream, at a distance of three days' journey.
Cartier decided to leave the Emerillon and to continue
on his way in the two boats which he had brought with
him. Claude de Pont Briand and some of the gentlemen,
together with twenty mariners, accompanied the leader,
while the others remained in charge of the pinnace.

Three days of easy and prosperous navigation was sufficient
for the journey, and on October 2, Cartier's boats, having
rowed along the shores of Montreal island, landed in full
sight of Mount Royal, at some point about three or four
miles from the heart of the present city. The precise
location of the landing has been lost to history. It has
been thought by some that the boats advanced until the
foaming waters of the Lachine rapids forbade all further
progress. Others have it that the boats were halted at
the foot of St Mary's current, and others again that Nun
Island was the probable place of landing. What is certain
is that the French brought their boats to shore among a
great crowd of assembled savages,--a thousand persons,
Cartier says,--and that they were received with tumultuous
joy. The Indians leaped and sang, their familiar mode of
celebrating welcome. They offered to the explorers great
quantities of fish and of the bread which they baked from
the ripened corn. They brought little children in their
arms, making signs for Cartier and his companions to
touch them.

As the twilight gathered, the French withdrew to their
boats, while the savages, who were loath to leave the
spot, lighted huge bonfires on the shore. A striking and
weird picture it conjures up before our eyes,--the French
sailors with their bronzed and bearded faces, their
strange dress and accoutrements, the glare of the great
bonfires on the edge of the dark waters, the wild dances
of the exultant savages. The romance and inspiration of
the history of Canada are suggested by this riotous
welcome of the Old World by the New. It meant that mighty
changes were pending; the eye of imagination may see in
the background the shadowed outline of the spires and
steeples of the great city of to-day.

On the next day, October 3, the French were astir with
the first light of the morning. A few of their number
were left to guard the boats; the others, accompanied by
some of the Indians, set out on foot for Hochelaga. Their
way lay over a beaten path through the woods. It brought
them presently to the tall palisades that surrounded the
group of long wooden houses forming the Indian settlement.
It stood just below the slope of the mountain, and covered
a space of almost two acres. On the map of the modern
city this village of Hochelaga would be bounded by the
four streets, Metcalfe, Mansfield, Burnside, and Sherbrooke,
just below the site of McGill University. But the visit
of Cartier is an event of such historic interest that it
can best be narrated in the words of his own narrative.
We may follow here as elsewhere the translation of Hakluyt,
which is itself three hundred years old, and seems in
its quaint and picturesque form more fitting than the
commoner garb of modern prose.

Our captain [so runs the narrative], the next day very
early in the morning, having very gorgeously attired
himself, caused all his company to be set in order to
go to see the town and habitation of these people, and
a certain mountain that is somewhere near the city; with
whom went also five gentlemen and twenty mariners,
leaving the rest to keep and look to our boats. We took
with us three men of Hochelaga to bring us to the place.
All along as we went we found the way as well beaten
and frequented as can be, the fairest and best country
that can possibly be seen, full of as goodly great oaks
as are in any wood in France, under which the ground
was all covered over with fair acorns.

After we had gone about four or five miles, we met by
the way one of the chiefest lords of the city, accompanied
with many more, who, as soon as he saw us, beckoned and
made signs upon us, that we must rest in that place
where they had made a great fire and so we did. After
that we rested ourselves there awhile, the said lord
began to make a long discourse, even as we have said
above they are accustomed to do in sign of mirth and
friendship, showing our captain and all his company a
joyful countenance and good will, who gave him two
hatchets, a pair of knives and a cross which he made
him to kiss, and then put it about his neck, for which
he gave our captain hearty thanks. This done, we went
along, and about a mile and a half farther, we began to
find goodly and large fields full of such corn as the
country yieldeth. It is even as the millet of Brazil as
great and somewhat bigger than small peason [peas],
wherewith they live as we do with ours.

In the midst of those fields is the city of Hochelaga,
placed near and, as it were, joined to a very great
mountain, that is tilled round about, very fertile, on
the top of which you may see very far. We named it Mount
Royal. The city of Hochelaga is round compassed about
with timber, with three courses of rampires [stockades],
one within another, framed like a sharp spire, but laid
across above. The middlemost of them is made and built
as a direct line but perpendicular. The rampires are
framed and fashioned with pieces of timber laid along
on the ground, very well and cunningly joined together
after their fashion. This enclosure is in height about
two rods. It hath but one gate of entry thereat, which
is shut with piles, stakes, and bars. Over it and also
in many places of the wall there be places to run along
and ladders to get up, all full of stones, for the
defence of it.

There are in the town about fifty houses, about fifty
paces long, and twelve or fifteen broad, built all of
wood, covered over with the bark of the wood as broad
as any board, very finely and cunningly joined together.
Within the said houses there are many rooms, lodgings
and chambers. In the midst of every one there is a great
court in the middle whereof they make their fire.

Such is the picture of Hochelaga as Cartier has drawn it
for us. Arrived at the palisade, the savages conducted
Cartier and his followers within. In the central space
of the stockade was a large square, bordered by the lodges
of the Indians. In this the French were halted, and the
natives gathered about them, the women, many of whom bore
children in their, arms, pressing close up to the visitors,
stroking their faces and arms, and making entreaties by
signs that the French should touch their children.

Then presently [writes Cartier] came the women again,
every one bringing a four-square mat in the manner of
carpets, and spreading them abroad in that place, they
caused us to sit upon them. This done the lord and king
of the country was brought upon nine or ten men's
shoulders (whom in their tongue they call Agouhanna),
sitting upon a great stag's skin, and they laid him down
upon the foresaid mats near to the captain, every one
beckoning unto us that he was their lord and king. This
Agouhanna was a man about fifty pears old. He was no
whit better apparelled than any of the rest, only excepted
that he had a certain thing made of hedgehogs [porcupines],
like a red wreath, and that was instead of his crown.
He was full of the palsy, and his members shrunk together.
After he had with certain signs saluted our captain and
all his company, and by manifest tokens bid all welcome,
he showed his legs and arms to our captain, and with
signs desired him to touch them, and so we did, rubbing
them with his own hands; then did Agouhanna take the
wreath or crown he had about his head, and gave it unto
our captain That done, they brought before him divers
diseased men, some blind, some crippled, some lame, and
some so old that the hair of their eyelids came down
and covered their cheeks, and laid them all along before
our captain to the end that they might of him be touched.
For it seemed unto them that God was descended and come
down from heaven to heal them.

Our captain, seeing the misery and devotion of this poor
people, recited the Gospel of St John, that is to say,
'IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD,' touching every one that
were [sic] diseased, praying to God that it would please
Him to open the hearts of the poor people and to make
them know His Holy Word, and that they might receive
baptism and christendom. That done, he took a service-book
in his hand, and with a loud voice read all the passion
of Christ, word by word, that all the standers-by might
hear him; all which while this poor people kept silence
and were marvellously attentive, looking up to heaven
and imitating us in gestures. Then he caused the men
all orderly to be set on one side, the women on another,
and likewise the children on another, and to the chiefest
of them he gave hatchets, to the others knives, and to
the women beads and such other small trifles. Then where
the children were he cast rings, counters and brooches
made of tin, whereat they seemed to be very glad.

Before Cartier and his men returned to their boats, some
of the Indians took them up to the top of Mount Royal.
Here a magnificent prospect offered itself, then, as now,
to the eye. The broad level of the island swept towards
the west, luxuriant with yellow corn and autumn foliage.
In the distance the eye discerned the foaming waters of
Lachine, and the silver bosom of the Lake of the Two
Mountains: 'as fair and level a country,' said Cartier,
'as possibly can be seen, being level, smooth, and very
plain, fit to be husbanded and tilled.'

The Indians, pointing to the west, explained by signs
that beyond the rapids were three other great falls of
water, and that when these were passed a man might travel
for three months up the waters of the great river. Such
at least Cartier understood to be the meaning of the
Indians. They showed him a second stream, the Ottawa, as
great, they said, as the St Lawrence, whose north-westward
course Cartier supposed must run through the kingdom of
Saguenay. As the savages pointed to the Ottawa, they took
hold of a silver chain on which hung the whistle that
Cartier carried, and then touched the dagger of one of
the sailors, which had a handle of copper, yellow as
gold, as if to show that these metals, or rather silver
and gold, came from the country beyond that river. This,
at least, was the way that Cartier interpreted the simple
and evident signs that the Indians made. The commentators
on Cartier's voyages have ever since sought some other
explanation, supposing that no such metals existed in
the country. The discovery of the gold and silver deposits
of the basin of the Ottawa in the district of New Ontario
shows that Cartier had truly understood the signs of the
Indians. If they had ever seen silver before, it is
precisely from this country that it would have come.
Cartier was given to understand, also, that in this same
region there dwelt another race of savages, very fierce,
and continually at war.

The party descended from the mountain and pursued their
way towards the boats. Their Indian friends hung upon
their footsteps, showing evidences of admiration and
affection, and even carried in their arms any of the
French who showed indications of weariness. They stood
about with every sign of grief and regret as the sails
were hoisted and the boats bearing the wonderful beings
dropped swiftly down the river. On October 4, the boats
safely rejoined the Emerillon that lay anchored near the
mouth of the Richelieu. On the 11th of the same month,
the pinnace was back at her anchorage beside Stadacona,
and the whole company was safely reunited. The expedition
to Hochelaga had been accomplished in twenty-two days.

Stephen Leacock

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