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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter III Early Exploration


The vision which drew Columbus across the western ocean was not to fade with his death. He and the explorers who succeeded him for two centuries dreamed the same dream—that of a western sea-route to China and the Indies. When they found their way west barred by a continent, they sought a route by the southwest or the northwest: and it is to these persistent attempts that the world owed its early knowledge of the American coast, it is on these explorations that Spain, France, and Britain based their claims to territory in the New "World. It is true that the early explorers combined their work to the sea-coast, but that did not prevent the nations whom they served from claiming the country for an indefinite distance inland. And even when inland explorers began to find their way across the continent, they were haunted by the dream of finding a route to the western sea by the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Mississippi, or some other of America's great rivers. Later and more accurate geographical knowledge only modified the dream, and in its modified form it .was in the minds of men like Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Lewis, Clarke, and others who sought a river route to the Pacific.

The British expeditions under John and Sabastian Cabot, exploring the northern part of the eastern coast of America, failed to find the route to the Indies, but they gave Britain ground for her claim to the northern half of the continent, It is true that these adventurous seamen did not find their way beyond Labrador, and their successors did not follow the northern coast much further. Sir Martin Frobisher (1576-1578), Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1583), Captain John Davis (1585-1586), Captain James Lancaster (1600\ and Captain George Weymouth (1602) added much detailed information about the Atlantic coast and the far Arctic islands, but none of them found his way along the northern coast of the mainland. The honor of this achievement was reserved for another brave but unfortunate British seaman, for there is no good evidence to substantiate the claim once made by France to the territory adjacent to Hudson Bay because Breton fishermen had explored its waters in the early part of the sixteenth century.

In the year 1607 "certain Worshipful Merchants of London," whose names have not been recorded, fitted out a ship and sent it in command of Captain Henry Hudson to find, if possible, a passage to the Indies by the northeast or northwest. Hudson's first voyage took him along the eastern shore of Greenland and probably across to Spitzbergen; the second, made in the summer of 1608, took him over that part of the Artie sea lying between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla; while the third, made in 1609, took him first to Nova Zemlila, then south to Newfoundland, and later still to the coast of Virginia. These voyages could not have brought much profit to the merchants who had put their capital in the enterprise, but they retained faith in their captain and in the existence of a short sea route over which the rare merchandise of the east could be brought to the marts of London.

On April 17, 1610, Captain Hudson sailed from Blackwell on what proved to be his most important voyage and his last. His ship was provisioned for six months only, and he had a mutinous-crew who gave him trouble from the first. He sailed in the latter part of May, touched at some port on the coast of Iceland, and thence on June 1 sailed away to the west. On the 9th of the month he was off Frobisher Straits, sighted Cape Desolation on the 15th, and on the 24th entered the strait which now bears his name. On the 3rd of August he rounded a headland which he called Cape Wolstenholme and found himself fairly in the great bay whose name is an appropriate tribute to his work as an explorer. He sailed to the southern shore of the bay and then examined the west coast carefully, looking for a harbor in which to winter. He found such a haven on the southwest coast and beached his vessel there. The mutinous crew gave more trouble to their captain, and the mate, Robert Ivetts, was deposed from his position early in September because of insubordination. Provisioned for six months only, the outlook for a food supply for the winter was not cheering. Some fish and game helped out their scanty rations, but for much of the winter the men were on short allowance. In the spring Hudson made a nine days' trip in the shallop, hoping to find bands of Indians from whom he could purchase a supply of food, but-,he was not successful, and the ship sailed on her return voyage. A few days after sailing her crew mutinied under the leadership of the deposed mate, Ivetts, and a profligate youth named Henry Green, whom Hudson had befriended. The captain, his young son, Mr. Woodhouse, a mathematician who had volunteered for the cruise, the ship's carpenter, and five seamen were placed in an open boat; a very little food and water and some firearms were given them, and they were set adrift on the open sea. No word or sign of their unavailing efforts, their suffering, and their despair has ever come to the rest of the world, and doubtless the intrepid captain and his companions found a grave in the great inland sea which they were the first to explore.

Several of the mutineers were killed by savages before they reached England, and others were carried off by disease but Prickett. one of the survivors reported certain facts which had been observed before the ship had left the bay, and these facts induced the worshipful merchants" to send two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, to make further explorations in the bay and to rescue, if possible, Captain Hudson. The expedition was commanded by Captain Thomas Button, afterwards Sir Thomas Button, and he was assisted by Captain Ingram, who had charge of the Discovery and Captain Nelson, who acted as sailing master on the Resolution. The two vessels sailed away in May, 1612, and reached Hudson Strait before it was clear of ice. They finally passed through, and after exploring various parts of the bay, made for the harbor at the mouth of the Nelson River, which Button named after his sailing master, who died there. August had come before they reached this point, and so Button decided to winter there. He took formal possession of the surrounding



MANITOBA FORREST SCENES

territory for England, erected a cross to indicate the fact, and gave the country the name of New Wales. The pilot, Josias Hubart, urged that the great river which flowed into the harbor should be explored as far as possible, but this does not seem to have been done. There was much sickness during the severe winter, and that may account for the inaction of the party. The ice broke up in April, and about two months later the ships left their winter haven. After having explored the west coast carefully as far as the parallel of 65° north latitude, Captain Button returned to England.

The same company of merchants sent out the Discovery again in 1614 under Captain Gibbons; but he missed the entrance to Hudson Strait, storms drove his ship into a harbor on the Labrador coast, and when he got to sea again it was too late to enter the bay that season. In 1615 the Discovery was sent out once more under Captain Robert Bvlot, who had visited the bay with Captains Hudson and Button and had sailed with Captain Gibbons the previous year. The famous pilot, William Baffin, was with him. The ship sailed on April 18, reached Resolution Island on May 27, crossed the northern part of Hudson Bay in July, and failing to find a western or northwestern passage to the western main, returned to England in the autumn. The next year's voyage took the Discovery, so fitly named, into waters far north of Hudson Bay. Captain Bylot seems to have given up hope of finding a northwest passage to the Indies, and although Baffin still believed in its possibility, the "worshipful merchants of London" gave up their persistent search for it, and the exploration of Hudson Bay was dropped for several years.

The lack of success which had attended the efforts of the 'London merchants did not deter others from making similar attempts. Some merchants of Copenhagen combined to send an expedition to Hudson Bay; and the Danish king, Christian IV, gave the scheme every encouragement, sending one of his ablest naval captains, Jens Munck, in charge of two vessels 1o prosecute the search for new lands where colonics might be founded and trade secured. The Lamprey and the Unicorn sailed westward on May 16, 1719, and a month later were' fighting their way through the ice-floes of Hudson Strait. For six weeks the brave commander kept up the struggle against ice and storms; and at last he won his way through to open water, although the bottom of the Lamprey was badly injured by the ice. The relentless storm drove the ships across the bay until, by a lucky chance, they found refuge in Churchill Harbor. It was mid-September, and Munck saw that he could not get out of Hudson -Bay that season; so he-constructed a small timber breakwater to protect his ships from running ice, and settled down to the-;monotonous life of a winter in the northern seas.

In those days ship's crews were poorly equipped to withstand the cold of such winters, and they lacked the suitable food and medical stores whose: value was learned only after many generations of seamen had suffered and died for lack of them. Scurvy broke out, and one by one the men succumbed, until by February 17 the dead numbered twenty-three. By mid-April only four men beside the commander were able to sit up; and a month later the mate, an Englishman named John Watson, died, and the few survivors were too weak to bury the bodies of their dead messmates. When the long June days came,- only three men were left alive. Then Munck himself was stricken with the disease which had carried off his crew. The two sailors had barely strength to drop over the ship's side at ebb tide and crawl to the shore. The ice was drifting out to the bay by this time, and Munck felt himself drifting fast toward the other world. He bad been four days without help or food, when the brave commander penned what he thought would be his last entry in his log: "As 1 have now no more hope of life in this world, I request for the sake of God if any Christians should happen to come this way, they will bury my poor body together with the others found, and this my journal forward to the King. Herewith, goodnight to all the world, and my soul to God.—Jens Munck."

"When the stench of the charnel ship became unbearable, this captain of a dead crew managed to drag himself to the rail and was surprised to see two living men on the shore. With the utmost difficulty they got him to the land, and then all three began to chew the roots and other green things within reach. Strength came back to them slowly, and by the middle of July they could do a little work. They sunk the Unicorn, hoping to come back for her at some time, and then began to repair the Lamprey. By the end of the summer they had made her half seaworthy and set sail for home. With infinite labor the three men worked their battered ship back through the straits and across the Atlan tic, reaching their native land towards the end of September. The Danes made no further efforts to colonize the shores of Hudson Bay, nor did they send a crew for the sunken Unicorn. Eighty years after Munck sunk her, some workmen of the Hudson's Bay Company, digging in the muddy flats of the Churchill River, found some of her brass cannon, relics of the Danish sailors' grim fight with disease and Arctic cold.

About 1630 several Bristol merchants formed a company for the purpose of exploring Hudson Bay and gave the command of there ship to Captain James. About the same time some London merchants formed a company for the same purpose, and the king, Charles I, allowed the company to use the twenty-ton sloop Charles, commanded by Captain Luke Fox. With a crew of twenty men and two boys she sailed from Yarmouth on May 8, 1631. The Bristol ship sailed about the same time, and it was agreed by the two companies that both were to share equally in any honor or profit derived from the discoveries of either ship. Captain Fox explored various parts of Hudson Bay, including the harbor at Port Nelson. Captain James sailed south as far as Charlton Island in the bay which has been named after him and spent the winter there. The next spring he explored the southwestern and western shores of Hudson Bay as far north as Marble Island.

The reports of Captains Fox and James did not encourage further efforts for the discovery of a passage from Hudson Bay to the western sea, and no more expeditions were sent to it for several years. There is a story of a ship sent from Boston under Captain Shapley to trade in Hudson Bay, of a party sent ashore to look for a suitable winter haven for the ship, and of an ice jam which drove the ship to sea before these men could be got on board again; and there is a story, reported by Jeremie, who was governor at Port Nelson while it was in the hands of the French, of a few wretched men found in a hut by Groseilliers when he made his first voyage to the bay in 1669; but the facts cannot be verified. With the possible exception of the Boston vessel, the waters of Hudson Bay do not seem to have been disturbed by exploring ships or trading craft for a genera tioa. Then the Englishman's commercial enterprise and the Frenchman's love of adventure combined to make its wide waters and its lonely shores the stage on which a great trading company began to play its part m the development of half a continent

The potent force which drew the trading company to the shores of Hudson Bay had been at work among the people of New France for more than half a century, drawing the more adventurous men among them further and further into the vast wilderness which lay north and west of the colony. This alluring force was the profit to be made from the fur trade. From the time of their arrival in Canada emigrants from France thought more of making fortunes out of the trade in furs than of developing the agricultural resources of the colony. Merchants, government officers, and aristocratic adventurers were all infected with the mania for making quick fortunes from the traffic in beaver skins. Companies were formed to prosecute the trade, and far-reaching monopolies were granted to them by the government; for the rulers, from the king down to the lowest official in Quebec or Three Rivers, had something to gain, directly or indirectly, by enforcing the monopoly or by conniving at its violation. This prevailing desire to trade in peltries was not the best influence possible in the development of a new country, and it warped the whole life of the colony for several generations; and yet the wide and rapid extension of the Canadian frontier under the French regime was due almost entirely to the fur trade.

At first the Indians brought their furs down to the few French towns and villages and exchanged them there for such articles of merchandise as met their real needs or pleased their wayward fancies; but soon the merchants began to send agents to trade with the Indians in their own districts. This gave employment to a number of roving traders and canoemen, coureurs des bois and voyageurs, and this number increased as the trade grew in volume and greater distances had to be traveled to obtain the coveted furs. The life had a great fascination for the volatile and adventurous young men of the French people, and many a scion of noble French families abandoned the life and the society in which he had been reared to live the wild, free life of a woodsman in company with kindred spirits from lower grades of society and with wild Indians whose life was scarcely less free from the restraints of civilization Indeed many of these coureurs des bois married the daughters of the red men and adopted some of the Indian modes of life; and so in time a mixed race grew up, much nearer in life, habits, and thought to their Indian mothers than to the white race from which their fathers had separated themselves. In a few decades these Metis or French half-breeds formed a considerable element in the population, and m the far west they exercised a considerable influence in the history of the country.

The coureur des bois and the voyageur sought new and richer fur-bearing districts as eagerly as the prospector seeks gold; and no better habitat for the beaver and other fur-bearing animals could be found than the vast Laurentian region which stretches from eastern Quebec to the prairies and from the Great Lakes to the Northern Sea. No country could be more easily traversed in all directions by the voyageur or the Indian in his birch-bark canoe, nor was there any in which nature had provided the traveller with a more plentiful supply of food in the form of fish, game, wild-fowl, and berries. So the coureur des bois story of Manitoba and the voyageur followed the lure of the beaver along the interlaced waterways further and further into the wilderness. The fascination of the unknown and the wild beauty of the lonely land helped to hold their faces to the west and north. Gay boat-songs relieved the monotony of paddling, jokes lightened the labor of portaging, and stories of adventure and weird folk-tales, told by the camp fire, made them forget the fatigue of the day. And always there was the free life and the hope of gain. And so it happened that within sixty years from the time Champlain founded Quebec French traders had not only become familiar with the shores of the Great Lakes as far as Superior but had also found their way through the hundreds of leagues of forest which separate that great inland sea from the prairies 011 the west and from the Hudson Bay on the north. It was a wonderful achievement, scarcely paralleled in any other country or at any other period in the history of America.

Of all the French traders who blazed the first trails through the wilderness of the pays d'en haut none was more resourceful and adventurous than Medard Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers, and none lived through stranger experiences than his partner, Pierre Esprit Radisson. Medard Chouart, son of Medard Chouart and Marie Poirier, was born at Cliarly St. Cyr near Meaux in the district between the Seine and the Marne in 1625. The father was a pilot of the Seine River, but his imaginative, adventurous son had no liking for his father's prosaic calling. Yet the lad's dreams of adventure could scarcely have been more improbable than his real life was to prove, nor could he have guessed how profoundly that life would affect the history of a country many times as large as his native France. His chance acquaintance with a returned Jesuit missionary proved a turning point in the boy's life, for the priest's descriptions of the vast areas, the great lakes, rivers, and forests of New France and his accounts of the wild, free life of the coureurs des bois filled the lad with a great desire to try his fortune in the colony. So when he was barely sixteen years of age he joined a party of emigrants led by Maisonneuve which sailed from Rochelle for Quebec in 1641.

For some time after his arrival in Canada young Chouart was cared for by the priests of Quebec, and it seems probable that he acted as assistant for some of the missionaries among the Indians. He had remarkable ability for acquiring the Indian languages and soon abandoned missionary work to make long journeys among the native tribes, bartering goods for furs and acquiring an extensive knowledge of the geography of the country. In 1616 he was on the shore of Lake Huron, trading with the Indians; but in the next year he was back in Quebec, and on September 3 he was married to Helen Etienne, the daughter of Abraham Martin, the Scotch pilot whose farm above Quebec bears the name of Abraham's Plains. Soon after this his father died, leaving him a small estate from which he took the title, des Groseilliers, by which he was known during the rest of his life.

Pierre Esprit Radisson and his half-sister Marguerite, members of a Huguenot family, had migrated from France to Canada a few years after Groseilliers? arrival. The sister became the wife of a gentleman, who seems to have lived at Three Rivers; but the brother does not appear to have had any settled home for several years. He roamed about among the Indian tribes, sometimes adopted and honored as a son, sometimes tortured as a captive, and always having unusual experiences and seeing unusual sights, if his own stories of them can be accepted. He and Groseilliers became acquainted and found themselves kindred spirits. Groseilliers' first wife died in 1652, and on August 23, 1653, he was married to Radisson's sister who had been left a widow shortly after her first marriage. The brothers-in-law soon became partners in the fur trade with headquarters at Three Rivers. In 1656 Radisson was married to Elizabeth Herault, and when she died a few years later, he took for his second wife a daughter of Sir John Kirke and niece of Sir David Kirke, who compelled Champlain to surrender Quebec.

In 1659 Groseilliers and Radisson found themselves in the country south of Lake Superior now called Wisconsin, and there the Indians told them of a great river with two branches not far away to the southwest. The two traders were anxious to go to this great river—evidently the Mississippi— but wishing to complete their cargo of furs, they pushed on into the neighborhood of the Minnesota lakes. While in that region a band of Indians, whom Radisson calls Crees, told them of a great sea to the north and of a water route by which it could be reached. In 1660 the two partners went back to Montreal with such an immense cargo of furs that many people became anxious to learn more of the far western country and to secure some interest in the trade with the tribes living there. But Groseilliers gave them little information, seeing great commercial possibilities in the unexplored country lying between Lake Superior and the sea on the north. The governor of Three Rivers desired Groseilliers and Radisson to admit two of his friends into their partnership, but they declined to give up half the profit of their trading when they might have all of it. This angered the governor, and he made an order that they should cease from infringing on the rights of the chartered companies by trade with the natives of the pays d'en haut. Radisson seems to have spent the next year in Three Rivers; but Groseilliers, in spite of the governor's prohibition, went back to the country about Lake Superior and returned with another rich cargo of furs.

In May, 1662, the two partners slipped away very quietly with a little party of ten men, taking a supply of goods to the upper country, and in two months found themselves in the rich beaver district lying west and north of Lake Superior. On this trip they seem to have carried out the plan which had been in their minds for two years and to have made their way to the northern sea of which the Indians had told them. Radisson says that they reached its shores in 1663; but his account is so meagre and vague that we cannot be sure whether the two intrepid explorers went by some water route from Lake Superior to James Bay or made the longer .journey to Hudson Bay by Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, Lake Winnipeg and the rivers which connect them with each other and with the ocean. In view of the locality where they first heard of the northern sea and of the tribe which gave them information about it, it seems likely that they took the latter route. If so, they were probably the first white men to follow that great canoe highway which leads from the prairies to the sea; and if they did not actually set foot on the prairies themselves, they could hardly have failed to hear of the immense plains from their Indian guides.

When the two enterprising partners went back with another rich load of furs, the governor of Three Rivers imposed a ruinous fine upon them for disregarding his orders, and appeals to the representatives of the French government at Quebec the upper county, Groseilliers and Radisson tried to induce some of the merchants to join them in a company for trade on the shores of Hudson Bay; but the chartered companies were so strongly entrenched in their privileges that a new company would not have much chance of success, and the Quebec merchants did not care to risk their money in such an uncertain venture.

The uncertainty about the ownership of the territory bordering on Hudson Bay may have helped to deter the merchants of New France from the organization of a company to carry on trade there. When Canada was restored to France by the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye in 1632, its western and northern limits were not defined; and on several occasions the government officials had attempted to establish the claim of France to the vast region between the St. Lawrence and the Northern Sea. Sieur Bourbon, at one time the attorney-general of New France, was authorized in 1655 to make an exploration of this sea, and there is a report that he left Quebec for that purpose on May 2, 1657; but as he returned on August 11, he could not have made the voyage. We are told, too, that Father Dablon and the Sieur de Valerie were sent to Hudson Bay in 1661, but we have evidence that they did not reach it. We are also told that the new governor of Canada, M. d'Avagour, issued a commission to M. Couture on May 10, 1663, authorizing him to proceed to the shore of Hudson Bay and take possession of the country in the name of the king of France; but he does not seem to have accomplished his mission.


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