cover photo © Janice Lang
Twenty days after setting sail from Saint-Malo in Normandy in April of 1534, Jacques Cartier reported: “The fairest land that may possibly be seen full of goodly meadows and trees.” His small fleet had just arrived for the first time on the coast of New Brunswick. He named the bay where his ships moored “Chaleur” (now Chaleur Bay), which means “warmth” in French because of the heat they encountered in May of that year. His first impression of the interior of Canada was not so favorable: “The land should not be called New Land, being composed of stones and horrible rugged rocks…. I did not see one cartload of earth and yet I landed in many places… there is nothing but moss and short, stunted shrub. I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain.” Cartier obviously was no naturalist; nor did he have an appreciation for the untamed beauty that greeted him. His mind was fixed on discovering a western route to China.
|Salmon Beach, Chaleur Bay|
In 1535, Cartier made a second voyage across the Atlantic to New France, ever hopeful of finding riches for his sovereign. Instead, he was greeted along the St. Lawrence by natives of Iroquois-Huron extraction at Stadacona, now Quebec City. From here he was determined to sail farther west upriver to Hochelaga, an Iroquois town of over 1,000 people living in bark longhouses surrounded by palisaded fortifications. By then, autumn had settled over this wild country, coloring the leaves in bright hues that astonished these French seafarers, who remarked they were “the finest trees in the world.”
Countryside, Quebec Province
From there they continued their journey west in long boats up the St. Lawrence, ever hopeful of finding that elusive Northwest Passage. Thirteen days later they came upon open fields in the shadow of a great mountain. “On reaching the summit,” he wrote, “we had a view of the land for more than thirty leagues round about. Towards the north there is a range of mountains running east and west. And another range to the south.” Cartier named this summit Mount Royal, today’s Montreal. Again, no mention of the colors of fall against an azure sky, or the sheer thrill of viewing nature in an unspoiled state.
|View from Mount Royal|
Montreal’s Plains of Abraham were memorable—if not a bit soggy in the rain—as were the restaurants and shops and trying to speak French with the wait staff. The sun finally came out during our jaunt to Ottawa, where we toured the imposing Parliament with its gothic revival style and posed for pictures with the Mounted Police on duty there. (That was an extra-special treat for me, as I’d been a long-time fan of the TV show, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” since I was a kid in the mid- to late 1950s.)
On another trip, we ventured to New Brunswick, where to our amazement, the Saint John River magically reversed its course as the Bay of Fundy’s changing tides exerted a power I’d never seen before or since.
Montreal a second time had its charms in wintertime, especially the underground shopping and dining, which I experienced anew during a romantic weekend getaway prior to an enormous blizzard that closed down the Northway just hours after our harrowing escape return to upstate New York. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the city blanketed in snow, but that is all well and good, since I’ve never been a fan of cold and snow anywhere.
|View of Ottawa|
A visit to Toronto in 1971 with a friend, whose parents had relocated there from Connecticut, was also memorable. The nightlife was spectacular, especially for us young ’uns. Although not exactly a natural beauty, the city’s subways—the trains and stations—which we utilized to get around, impressed me with their bright white tiles and exceptional cleanliness.
Beauty is many things to many people. While I greatly appreciate and admire the natural beauty of lakes, rivers, and mountains, of foliage in spring and autumn, sunsets and moonrises, fireflies on a warm summer evening, I take special pleasure in the monuments built and left behind by rugged pioneers and settlers—their homes and places of worship, their struggles to survive and thrive. My travels in Canada have left me with lasting memories and a few faded photos. It is my hope to return again soon.
Reprinted from the Canadian Historical Brides blog, Jan. 13, 2017
Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the Devil, The Partisan's Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, her latest release, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her The Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon and other retailers.