CHAPTER III. THE FIRST VOYAGE - THE GULF OF ST LAWRENCE
On June 25 Cartier turned his course away from Newfoundland and sailed westward into what appeared to be open sea. But it was not long before he came in sight of land again. About sixty miles from the Newfoundland shore and thirty miles east from the Magdalen Islands, two abrupt rocks rise side by side from the sea; through one of them the beating surf has bored a passage, so that to Cartier's eye, as his ships hove in sight of them, the rocks appeared as three. At the present time a lighthouse of the Canadian government casts its rays from the top of one of these rocky islets, across the tossing waters of the Gulf. Innumerable sea-fowl encircled the isolated spot and built their nests so densely upon the rocks as to cover the whole of the upper surface. At the base of one of these Bird Rocks Cartier stopped his ships in their westward course, and his men killed great numbers of the birds so easily that he declared he could have filled thirty boats with them in an hour.
The explorers continued on their way, and a sail of a few hours brought them to an island like to none that they had yet seen. After the rock-bound coast of the north it seemed, indeed, a veritable paradise. Thick groves of splendid trees alternated with beautiful glades and meadow-land, while the fertile soil of the island, through its entire length of about six miles, was carpeted with bright flowers, blossoming peas, and the soft colours of the wild rose. 'One acre of this land,' said Cartier, 'is worth more than all the New Land.' The ships lay off the shore of the island all night and replenished the stores of wood and water. The land abounded with game; the men of St Malo saw bears and foxes, and, to their surprise they saw also great beasts that basked upon the shore, with 'two great teeth in their mouths like elephants.' One of these walruses, - for such they doubtless were, - was chased by the sailors, but cast itself into the sea and disappeared. We can imagine how, through the long twilight of the June evening, the lovely scene was loud with the voices of the exultant explorers. It was fitting that Cartier should name this island of good omen after his patron, the Seigneur de Brion, admiral of France. To this day the name Brion Island, - corrupted sometimes to Byron Island, - recalls the landing of Jacques Cartier.
From this temporary halting-place the ships sailed on down the west coast of the Magdalen Islands. The night of June 28 found them at anchor off Entry Island at the southern end of the group. From here a course laid to the south-west brought the explorers into sight of Prince Edward Island. This they supposed to be, of course, the mainland of the great American continent. Turning towards the north-west, the ships followed the outline of the coast. They sailed within easy sight of the shore, and from their decks the explorer and his companions were able to admire the luxuriant beauty of the scene. Here again was a land of delight: 'It is the fairest land,' wrote Cartier, 'that may possibly be seen, full of goodly meadows and trees.' All that it lacked was a suitable harbour, which the explorers sought in vain. At one point a shallow river ran rippling to the sea, and here they saw savages crossing the stream in their canoes, but they found no place where the ships could be brought to anchor.
July 1 found the vessels lying off the northern end of Prince Edward Island. Here they lowered the boats, and searched the shore-line for a suitable anchorage. As they rowed along a savage was seen running upon the beach and making signs. The boats were turned towards him, but, seized with a sudden panic, he ran away. Cartier landed a boat and set up a little staff in the sand with a woollen girdle and a knife, as a present for the fugitive and a mark of good-will.
It has been asserted that this landing on a point called Cap-des-Sauvages by Cartier, in memory of the incident, took place on the New Brunswick shore. But the weight of evidence is in favour of considering that North Cape in Prince Edward Island deserves the honour. As the event occurred on July 1, some writers have tried to find a fortunate coincidence in the landing of the discoverer of Canada on its soil on the day that became, three hundred and thirty-three years later, Dominion Day. But the coincidence is not striking. Cartier had already touched Canadian soil at Brest, which is at the extreme end of the Quebec coast, and on the Magdalen Islands.
Cartier's boats explored the northern end of prince Edward Island for many miles. All that he saw delighted him. 'We went that day on shore,' he wrote in his narrative, 'in four places, to see the goodly sweet and smelling trees that were there. We found them to be cedars, yews, pines, white elms, ash, willows, With many other sorts of trees to us unknown, but without any fruit. The grounds where no wood is are very fair, and all full of peason [peas], white and red gooseberries, strawberries, blackberries, and wild corn, even like unto rye, which seemed to have been sowed and ploughed. This country is of better temperature than any other land that can be seen, and very hot. There are many thrushes, stock-doves, and other birds. To be short, there wanteth nothing but good harbours.'