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Samuel and Helene de Champlain: A Canadian Romance

by the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Before Samuel & Helene de Champlain came on the scene, the very word ‘Canada’ had become a joke in France, thanks to Jacques Cartier bringing back quartz and ‘fool’s gold’ from Canada.  The term ‘diamond of Canada’ became a symbol for deception and emptiness.  During Champlain’s lifetime, France largely ignored him.  To most French citizens, Canada seemed distant and unimportant.  Even well-educated Parisians denied the value of Canada, sometimes dismissing it as another Siberia.

In the 16th century, France’s population was six times that of England, it possessed as much coastline, it was more affluent, its sailors were more skilled and were the first to consistently visit the Canadian seaboard.  But in contrast to England, there was little vision in France for the priority of sending people to the New World.  To immigrate to Canada, there was even a financial disincentive of 36 livres charged to anyone leaving France.  As a result, Champlain and his Quebec people felt disregarded, deserted and discarded.  King Louis XIII even had the thoughtlessness to cancel Champlain’s modest pension of six hundred livres granted by Henry IV; forcing Champlain to successfully implore for its reinstatement.

Champlain was born in 1567 in the town of Brouage, then a bustling seaport on the southwestern coast of France, some 70 miles (112 km) north of Bordeaux. His father was a sea captain and as a boy he became skilled at seamanship and navigation.  Champlain later commented: “…(Navigation) is the art…which led me to explore the coast of America, especially New France, where I have always desired to see the fleur-de-lys flourish.”  Ironically Champlain never learned to swim, even after crossing the rugged Atlantic Ocean twenty-nine times, as he thought swimming was too risky.

For a while Champlain served in the army of King Henry IV, fighting alongside Martin Frobisher in a joint undertaking by the British and French against the Spanish.  In 1599 Champlain captained a ship which returned Spanish prisoners-of-war, allowing him to explore the Spanish-controlled West Indies and Mexico.  As a result of his travels, Champlain prophetically suggested the idea of making a canal across Central America to shorten the trip to the southern Pacific Ocean.  King Henry IV was so impressed by Champlain’s map-making work that he granted him a lifetime income.  Henri IV also gave Champlain the title ‘de’, which marked him as a man of noble rank.

Four hundred and seven years ago, in 1603, Samuel de Champlain traveled up the St. Lawrence River to the site of present day Montreal, the First Nations village of Hochelaga.  In Champlain’s 1604 Journal, he wrote: “So many voyages and discoveries without result, and attended with so much hardship and expense, have caused us French in late years to attempt a permanent settlement in those lands which we call New France.”  After two Acadian colonizing attempts at St. Croix and Port Annapolis in the Maritimes, Champlain turned his eyes to the future Quebec City, a name that he translated from an aboriginal word: ‘where the river narrows.’  Quebec City, the Iroquois village of Stadacona, became the earliest enduring city north of Mexico City and Florida settled by Europeans.

Life was not easy for Champlain at Quebec City.  While building a miniature Bastille-like ‘habitation’, Champlain had to stamp out an attempted murder plot against himself.  When spring finally broke up the ice in April 1609, only eight of Champlain’s 24 men who wintered at Quebec were still alive.

Champlain cared deeply about the First Nations people, building lasting friendships with many groups.  Pere Lalemant in 1640 wrote: ‘Would God that all the French, who were the first to come into these regions, had been like him!’ Champlain spoke prophetically to a gathering of the Montagnais, Algonkin, and French: “Our sons shall wed your daughters and henceforth we shall be one people”

When Samuel de Champlain married Hélène Boullé on December 30, 1610 in Paris, she was only 12 years old while he was approximately forty!  She was so young that her father insisted that she live at home for at least another two years.  At age 21, she moved to Quebec City.  The First Nations were intrigued by Helene who loved them dearly in return.  A titled lady with elegant outfits and etiquette, Helene was the center of attention at Quebec.  But for her the settlement held little joy.  Unlike Paris, Quebec had no shops, lively crowds or interesting chitchat.  As a high-spirited twenty-five-year-old, she pined for the exhilaration of Paris.  Champlain, fifty-six, favored the companionship of his hardy French and aboriginal voyageurs and the untainted grandeur of the Canadian outback.  And so, after four years, Champlain and Helene tragically parted ways.  Out of love, Champlain named the ‘Montreal Expo 67’ Island after her: Isle Saint Helene.  When Helene learned of her husband’s death in 1635, she entered a convent, choosing to become a nun rather than to marry again.

More than half of the fur-trading merchants working with Champlain were Huguenot (French Protestants) from La Rochelle; France.  The 1598 Edict of Nantes, which gave them religious freedom in Quebec and France, was first restricted in 1625 and finally revoked in 1685.  Although the Huguenot were therefore forbidden to worship in Canada by royal decree, the crews of Huguenot ships could not be restrained from holding services on board when in harbour.  The Huguenot loved to sing the psalms in French, a practice first encouraged and then outlawed by the French Royal Court.  Both Champlain and his wife Helene had been raised in Huguenot homes.  So thanks to Champlain, it was agreed that the Huguenot could hold prayer meetings on the ships, but sing psalms only at sea where no one else could hear.

After the English under British Commander David Kirke blockaded the French relief supply ships, Champlain and his men nearly starved, surviving mostly on eels purchased from the Indians and on roots & wood-bark. Champlain was forced to surrender in 1628 to David Kirke’s brothers and was sent for four years to England.  The Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye was signed in 1632 which brought Champlain back to Quebec City, much of which had been burnt to the ground by the British.  After having devoted the last 32 years of his life to Canada, Champlain died of a stroke in 1635 at age 68.

Champlain was the most versatile of Canadian pioneers, at once sailor and soldier, writer and entrepreneur, artist and voyageur, visionary and pragmatist.  He wrote four important books relating Canada’s early history.  He produced the best North American maps and its earliest harbour charts.  Repeatedly Champlain put his life in jeopardy in order to discover routes to Canada’s western wilderness. He nurtured struggling Quebec to steadfast life.  “No other European colony in America, “commented the eminent historian Samuel Eliot Morison, “is so much the lengthened shadow of one man as Canada is of the valiant, wise, and virtuous Samuel de Champlain.” I thank God for this courageous man Samuel Champlain who showed perseverance and dedication against impossible odds.  My prayer for those reading this article is that we too may show that same perseverance in facing our God-given daily tasks.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


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David Thompson: “Star-Gazer”

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

One of the best things that ever happened to the famous BC explorer David Thompson was when a large log rolled from a sleigh and crushed his leg.  All things really did work for the good through that tragedy (Romans 8:28).  His broken leg gave him time to learn math, science, and instruments of surveying, how to keep field notes and journal-keeping.  As a result, David Thompson learned the necessary skills which enabled him to put Western Canada on the map.

The early 19th century Western Canada map was essentially blank until Thompson filled it in.  Thompson was one of the master-builders of Canada and possibly the greatest geographer the world has known. As a land geographer, Thompson was the peer of Captain James Cook, the great sea geographer of the oceans.  Thompson has been described as a great surveyor disguised as a fur trader, as a marvelous scientist with the sensitive soul of a prophet.

By his own initiative and industry, he explored and surveyed more than a million and a half square kilometres of wilderness, accomplishing the staggering feat of mapping half a continent. Even Alexander Mackenzie, the renowned explorer, was quite astounded and remarked that Thompson had performed more in ten months than he expected could have been done in two years.  Thompson’s map, his greatest achievement, was so accurate that 100 years later it remained the basis for many of the maps issued by the Canadian government and the railway companies.  We can even credit David Thompson with the exacting survey of much of the Canadian/US 49th Boundary.

Thompson’s written ‘Travels Journal’ shows his multifaceted gifts as scientific explorer, geographer, cartographer, and naturalist.  Some scholars have described Thompson’s Journal as one of the finest works in Canadian literature.  His directness in prose, his modesty and ability to see himself and others, his sharp powers of observation and intense practicality all contribute to a vivid glimpse of early Canadian pioneering. His account of his adventures has also been described as one of the world’s greatest travel books.

When David was only two years old, his father died and his mother moved to London, changing their Welsh name ApThomas to the more easily spoken Thompson.  When David moved to Canada, he never saw either his family or London town again.  In his journal, David wrote movingly of a ‘long and sad farewell to my noble, my sacred country, an exile for ever’.

Thompson the Canadian immigrant grew to love ‘the forest and the white water, the shadow and the silence, the evening fire, the stories and the singing and a high heart.’  He was modest, talented and deeply spiritual.  The First Nations people gave him the name Koo-Koo-Sint, which means ‘Star-Gazer’, in recognition of his star-based map work.  It wasn’t that he was a starry-eyed dreamer, but rather a dedicated scientist using the best mapping technology of his day.

David Thompson apprenticed with the Hudson’s Bay Company, but later switched to the competitors, the North West Company, because the Hudson’s Bay Company wanted him to focus on furs, not map-making. The North West Company appointed Thompson as their official ‘Surveyor and Map Maker’, and proudly displayed his finished map of Canada on their boardroom wall.

Thompson’s brother-in-law, John McDonald, considered Thompson a good trader, a fearless traveler, and a man who was liked and respected by the First Nations.  His few criticisms of his brother-in-law had to do with his spirituality, his passion for surveying, and his total unwillingness to drink or to sell liquor when dealing with customers.  Thompson had seen so many First Nations people harmed by the liquor trade that he had acquired a strong aversion to such profiteering.

Unlike many Nor-Westers, Thompson did not abandon his wife Charlotte and his family when he finally became wealthy.  David and Charlotte Thompson, who had seven sons and six daughters, were only parted by his death fifty-eight years after their marriage.

Thompson tried in vain for years to find a profitable trade route to the Pacific.  Upon hearing that the American Jacob Astor had sent out his sea and land expedition to the Oregon country, the Canadians sent David Thompson to try once again.  Thompson and his voyageurs bravely made their way down the Columbia River.  They were continually wet up to the middle, and exposed to cold highwinds.  The glacier water deprived them of all feeling in their limbs.  Despite such hardships, Thompson never gave up, instead writing in his Journal that they ‘continued under the mercy of the Almighty and at sunset put up, each of us thankful for our preservation’.

When they finally reached the Pacific watershed, Thompson knelt on the banks of the Blueberry Creek and prayed aloud: ‘May God in his mercy give me to see where these waters flow into the ocean, and let us return in safety.’  He and his voyageurs eventually did make it to the mouth of the Columbia River, but unfortunately arrived there after Jacob Astor.  One can speculate that if David Thompson had been a little quicker, the name ‘British Columbia’ might have been a more accurate description of our province.

Despite Thompson’s great success in canoeing to the mouth of the Columbia and in mapping most of Western Canada, he died in extreme poverty and obscurity, even having to pawn his beloved surveying equipment and his overcoat to buy food for his family.  Yet throughout the hardships, Thompson never stopped gazing at the Morning Star, Jesus Christ.  I give thanks for David Thompson the Star-Gazer who did so much for every one of us as Canadians and British Columbians.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News and the Light Magazine

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102-15168 19th Street, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.