CHAPTER VI. THE SECOND VOYAGE - HOCHELAGA
Nine days of prosperous sailing carried Cartier in his pinnace from Stadacona to the broad expansion of the St Lawrence, afterwards named Lake St Peter. The autumn scene as the little vessel ascended the stream was one of extreme beauty. The banks of the river were covered with glorious forests resplendent now with the red and gold of the turning leaves. Grape-vines grew thickly on every hand, laden with their clustered fruit. The shore and forest abounded with animal life. The woods were loud with the chirruping of thrushes, goldfinches, canaries, and other birds. Countless flocks of wild geese and ducks passed overhead, while from the marshes of the back waters great cranes rose in their heavy flight over the bright surface of the river that reflected the cloudless blue of the autumn sky.
Cartier was enraptured with the land which he had discovered, - 'as goodly a country,' he wrote, 'as possibly can with eye be seen, and all replenished with very goodly trees.' Here and there the wigwams of the savages dotted the openings of the forest. Often the inhabitants put off from shore in canoes, bringing fish and food, and accepting, with every sign of friendship, the little presents which Cartier distributed among them. At one place an Indian chief - 'one of the chief lords of the country,' says Cartier - brought two of his children as a gift to the miraculous strangers. One of the children, a little girl of eight, was kept upon the ship and went on with Cartier to Hochelaga and back to Stadacona, where her parents came to see her later on. The other child Cartier refused to keep because 'it was too young, for it was but two or three years old.'
At the head of Lake St Peter, Cartier, ignorant of the channels, found his progress in the pinnace barred by the sand bars and shallows among the group of islands which here break the flow of the great river. The Indians whom he met told him by signs that Hochelaga lay still farther up-stream, at a distance of three days' journey. Cartier decided to leave the Emerillon and to continue on his way in the two boats which he had brought with him. Claude de Pont Briand and some of the gentlemen, together with twenty mariners, accompanied the leader, while the others remained in charge of the pinnace.
Three days of easy and prosperous navigation was sufficient for the journey, and on October 2, Cartier's boats, having rowed along the shores of Montreal island, landed in full sight of Mount Royal, at some point about three or four miles from the heart of the present city. The precise location of the landing has been lost to history. It has been thought by some that the boats advanced until the foaming waters of the Lachine rapids forbade all further progress. Others have it that the boats were halted at the foot of St Mary's current, and others again that Nun Island was the probable place of landing. What is certain is that the French brought their boats to shore among a great crowd of assembled savages, - a thousand persons, Cartier says, - and that they were received with tumultuous joy. The Indians leaped and sang, their familiar mode of celebrating welcome. They offered to the explorers great quantities of fish and of the bread which they baked from the ripened corn. They brought little children in their arms, making signs for Cartier and his companions to touch them.
As the twilight gathered, the French withdrew to their boats, while the savages, who were loath to leave the spot, lighted huge bonfires on the shore. A striking and weird picture it conjures up before our eyes, - the French sailors with their bronzed and bearded faces, their strange dress and accoutrements, the glare of the great bonfires on the edge of the dark waters, the wild dances of the exultant savages. The romance and inspiration of the history of Canada are suggested by this riotous welcome of the Old World by the New. It meant that mighty changes were pending; the eye of imagination may see in the background the shadowed outline of the spires and steeples of the great city of to-day.
On the next day, October 3, the French were astir with the first light of the morning. A few of their number were left to guard the boats; the others, accompanied by some of the Indians, set out on foot for Hochelaga. Their way lay over a beaten path through the woods. It brought them presently to the tall palisades that surrounded the group of long wooden houses forming the Indian settlement. It stood just below the slope of the mountain, and covered a space of almost two acres. On the map of the modern city this village of Hochelaga would be bounded by the four streets, Metcalfe, Mansfield, Burnside, and Sherbrooke, just below the site of McGill University. But the visit of Cartier is an event of such historic interest that it can best be narrated in the words of his own narrative. We may follow here as elsewhere the translation of Hakluyt, which is itself three hundred years old, and seems in its quaint and picturesque form more fitting than the commoner garb of modern prose.
Our captain [so runs the narrative], the next day very early in the morning, having very gorgeously attired himself, caused all his company to be set in order to go to see the town and habitation of these people, and a certain mountain that is somewhere near the city; with whom went also five gentlemen and twenty mariners, leaving the rest to keep and look to our boats. We took with us three men of Hochelaga to bring us to the place. All along as we went we found the way as well beaten and frequented as can be, the fairest and best country that can possibly be seen, full of as goodly great oaks as are in any wood in France, under which the ground was all covered over with fair acorns.