CHAPTER II. FROM QUEBEC TO SOREL

THE WATER-WAY INTO THE CONTINENT. - THE WESTERN AND THE SOUTHERN ROUTE TO THE GULF OF MEXICO. - THE MAYETA. - COMMENCEMENT OF THE VOYAGE. - ASCENT OF THE RIVER ST. LAWRENCE. - LAKE OF ST. PETER. - ACADIAN TOWN OF SOREL

The canoe traveller can ascend the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario, avoiding the rapids and shoals by making use of seven canals of a total length of forty-seven miles. He may then skirt the shores of Lake Ontario, and enter Lake Erie by the canal which passes around the celebrated Falls of Niagara. From the last great inland sea he can visit lakes Huron, Michigan, and, with the assistance of a short canal, the grandest of all, Superior. When he has reached the town of Duluth, at the southwestern end of Superior, which is the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, our traveller will have paddled (following the contours of the land) over two thousand miles from salt water into the American continent without having been compelled to make a portage with his little craft. Let him now make his first portage westward, over the road one hundred and fifteen miles from Duluth to the crossing of the Mississippi River at Brainerd, and launch his boat on the Father of Waters, which he may descend with but few interruptions to below the Falls of St. Anthony, at Minneapolis; or, if he will take his boat by rail from Duluth, one hundred and fifty-five miles, to St. Paul, he can launch his canoe, and follow the steamboat to the Gulf of Mexico. This is the longest, and may be called the canoeist's western route to the great Southern Sea. In St. Louis County, Minnesota, the water from "Seven Beaver Lakes" flows south-southwest, and joins the Flood-Wood River; there taking an easterly course towards Duluth, it empties into Lake Superior. This is the St. Louis River, the first tributary of the mighty St. Lawrence system. From the head waters of the St. Louis to the mouth of the St. Lawrence at Bic Islands, where it enters the great estuary, the length of this great water system, including the great Lakes, is about two thousand miles. The area thus drained by the St. Lawrence River is nearly six millions of square miles. The largest craft can ascend it to Quebec, and smaller ones to Montreal; above which city, navigation being impeded by rapids, the seven canals before mentioned have been constructed that vessels may avoid this danger while voyaging to Lake Ontario.

The southern and shorter coast route to the gulf leaves the great river at the Acadian town of Sorel, where the quiet Richelieu flows into the St. Lawrence River. Of the two long routes offered me I selected the southern, leaving the other to be traversed at some future time. To follow the contours of rivers, bays, and sounds, a voyage of at least twenty-five hundred miles was before me. It was my intention to explore the connecting watercourses southward, without making a single portage, as far as Cape Henlopen, a sandy headland at the entrance of Delaware Bay; there, by making short portages from one watercourse to another, to navigate along the interior of the Atlantic coast to the St. Mary's River, which is a dividing line between Georgia and Florida. From the Atlantic coast of southern Georgia, I proposed to cross the peninsula of Florida by way of the St. Mary's River, to Okefenokee Swamp; thence, by portage, to the Suwanee River, and by descending that stream (the boundary line of a geographical division - eastern and middle Florida), to reach the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which was to be the terminal point of my canoe journey. Charts, maps and sea-faring men had informed me that about twenty-three hundred miles of the trip could be made upon land-locked waters, but about two hundred miles of voyaging must be done upon the open Atlantic Ocean.

As I now write, I smilingly remember how erroneous were my advisers; for, while prosecuting my voyage, I was but once upon the open sea and then through mistake and for only a few minutes. Had I then known that I could have followed the whole route in a small boat upon strictly interior waters, I should have paddled from the Basin of Quebec in the light paper canoe which I afterwards adopted at Troy, and which carried me alone in safety two thousand miles to the warm regions of the Gulf of Mexico. The counsels of old seamen had influenced me to adopt a large wooden clinker-built, decked canoe, eighteen feet long, forty-five inches beam, and twenty-four inches depth of hold, which weighed, with oars, rudder, mast and sail, above three hundred pounds. The Mayeta was built by an excellent workman, Mr. J. S. Lamson, at Bordentown, New Jersey. The boat was sharp at each end, and the lines from amidships to stem, and from amidships to stempost, were alike. She possessed that essential characteristic of seaworthiness, abundant sheer. The deck was pierced for a cockpit in the centre, which was six feet long and surrounded by a high combing to keep out water. The builder had done his best to make the Mayeta serve for rowing and sailing - a most difficult combination, and one not usually successful.