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Stephen Leacock

In the town hall of the seaport of St Malo there hangs a portrait of Jacques Cartier, the great sea-captain of that place, whose name is associated for all time with the proud title of 'Discoverer of Canada.' The picture is that of a bearded man in the prime of life, standing on the deck of a ship, his bent elbow resting upon the gunwale, his chin supported by his hand, while his eyes gaze outward upon the western ocean as if seeking to penetrate its mysteries.

It was on April 20, 1534, that Jacques Cartier sailed out of the port of St Malo on his first voyage in the service of Francis I. Before leaving their anchorage the commander, the sailing-masters, and the men took an oath, administered by Charles de Mouy, vice-admiral of France, that they would behave themselves truly and faithfully in the service of the Most Christian King. The company were borne in two ships, each of about sixty tons burden, and numbered in all sixty-one souls.

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.

The second voyage of Jacques Cartier, undertaken in the years 1535 and 1536, is the exploit on which his title to fame chiefly rests. In this voyage he discovered the river St Lawrence, visited the site of the present city of Quebec, and, ascending the river as far as Hochelaga, was enabled to view from the summit of Mount Royal the imposing panorama of plain and river and mountain which marks the junction of the St Lawrence and the Ottawa.

At the time when Cartier ascended the St Lawrence, a great settlement of the Huron-Iroquois Indians existed at Quebec. Their village was situated below the heights, close to the banks of the St Charles, a small tributary of the St Lawrence. Here the lodges of the tribe gave shelter to many hundred people. Beautiful trees - elm and ash and maple and birch, as fair as the trees of France - adorned the banks of the river, and the open spaces of the woods waved with the luxuriant growth of Indian corn. Here were the winter home of the tribe and the wigwam of the chief.

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.

On returning to his anchorage before Quebec, Cartier found that his companions whom he had left there had not been idle. The ships, it will be remembered, lay moored close to the shore at the mouth of the little river Lairet, a branch of the St Charles. On the bank of the river, during their leader's absence, the men had erected a solid fortification or rampart. Heavy sticks of lumber had been set up on end and joined firmly together, while at intervals cannon, taken from the ships, had been placed in such a way as to command the approach in all directions.

Nearly five years elapsed after Cartier's return to St Malo before he again set sail for the New World. His royal master, indeed, had received him most graciously. Francis had deigned to listen with pleasure to the recital of his pilot's adventures, and had ordered him to set them down in writing. Moreover, he had seen and conversed with Donnacona and the other captive Indians, who had told of the wonders of their distant country. The Indians had learned the language of their captors and spoke with the king in French.

Great doubt and uncertainty surround the ultimate fate of Roberval's attempted colony, of which Cartier's expedition was to form the advance guard. Roberval, as already seen, had stayed behind in France when Cartier sailed in 1541, because his equipment was not yet ready for the voyage. Nor does he seem to have finally started on his expedition for nearly a year after the departure of Cartier. It has been suggested that Roberval did set sail at some time in the summer of 1541, and that he reached Cape Breton island and built a fort there.

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