Thursday, 1 August 2013

Samuel de Champlain visits the Anishinabe Aki (1613-2013)

In 2013 we mark the visit or land survery and exploration 400 years ago of Samuel de Champlain who was the French explorer, surveyor and founder of Quebec City. With the help of the First Nation Anishinabe (Algonquin) sailed down with 3 companions from Quebec City, then nothing more than a few buildings on the shore of the Saint-Laurent housing a total population of 30 men.
Samuel de Champlain, explorer, founder of Quebec City 1608 and of New France

He travelled up the Outaouais River known then as Kichi Zibi. If you look at the map of the time you will note that by leaving Quebec, Champlain was going West into unknown and potentially dangerous territory, there is no Montreal and no Ottawa as we know it today, no other European settlements, the Saint-Laurent river was patrolled by War Parties of Iroquois and Algonquin.

The First Nation near Quebec are the Montagnais-Huron,  then south of the Island of Montreal is Iroquois country and then up the Kichi Zibi he would enter into Anishinabe Aki (Algonquin) lands. The Algonquin are closely related to the Montagnais-Huron and their deadly enemy was the Iroquois Confederation. The reason why Champlain made a long detour up the Outaouais river in trying to reach the Great Lakes was because of the war between the Iroquois and the Algonquin, Montagnais-Huron which had been on-going since 1550. His Native guides pointed out the way on this trip to avoid any encounter with the Iroquois. The Algonquin were also protecting their trade with the French which gave them access to metal axes, metal pots for cooking and firearms which were a powerful weapon their enemy did not have.  All huge improvements on their quality of life.

Upon arrival in the Ottawa Valley, Champlain will give a French name the great Asticou Falls which he translated into Chaudières.  He will write that the thundering noise of the waterfalls was so great that you could hear them 2 km away. As for the Rideau water falls, he will ignore them and the naming will come some 60 years later. Champlain also did not think much of the Ottawa valley or the Anishinabe lands. He uses many negative words in his journal to describe the region, he wrote that God may have planted numerous wild strawberry, raspberry and blueberry plants in the region as compensation for the poverty of the place.

Asticou or Chaudière Falls in 1860.

After passing the numerous rapids of the Kichi Zibi in front of what is today Parliament Hill and the Chaudière (Asticou) waterfalls he will meet with Chief Tessouat at Allumettes Island, he will engage him into diplomatic negotiations and try to obtain permission to go further up the river. However Tessouat will refuse to grant him this permission fearing lost of exclusive trade routes and interference by the French with the Nipissing people from whom the Algonquin collected a tax. Nicholas de Vignau who was Champlain's translator and who had travelled previously or so he claimed up the Outaouais river made several boastful claims. The first was that it was possible to nagivate without portage up the river. Luckily Champlain listened to his Algonquin guides who explained that the rapids were terrifying and un-passable, something Champlain quickly understood when he saw them. Vignau had also spoken of a Northern Sea further ahead, probably was is called today James Bay, on this point Vignau was called a liar by Chief Tessouat, who said if he saw the great Northern Sea it was in his dreams. Champlain trying to preserve his good and important relations with the Algonquin rebuked him publicly and angrily, he then abandoned Vignau in the forest near the Island of Montreal, Vignau was never heard of again and it is not known what happened to him but it is easy to imagine that his fate was grim.

Of the legacy of the trip made by Champlain in the Anishinabe Aki (Ottawa valley) little remains, 1613 was not a good year for him. The only lasting mark are the maps and the tracing of the Kichi Zibi (Outaouais) river. However this new water way will be a highway for all fur traders in future and then much later for the lumber industry.

If the Europeans saw this excursion into Anishinabe Aki as a great endeavour full of wonderful discovery and daring. For the Natives this anniversary is not one to be remembered fondly, this was the beginning of a very sad and sorry period which would see their culture destroyed and pushed aside.

1 comment:

  1. What a coincidence! Only this morning I was reading a "History of Canada" and his name came up.
    I wasn't so interested in him as in the coureurs du bois, many look tre bien.
    Speaking of history, whatever happened to Kim Campbell?