All Afloat - A Chronicle of Craft and Waterways
by William Wood
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E-text prepared by Al Haines

Transcriber's note:

Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers enclosed in curly braces, e.g. {99}. They have been located where page breaks occurred in the original book. For its Index, a page number has been placed only at the start of that section.

Chronicles of Canada

Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton

In Thirty-two volumes





Part IX National Highways

[Frontispiece: THE VOYAGEURS ON A MISTY MORNING. From a painting by Verner]


A Chronicle of Craft and Waterways



Toronto Glasgow, Brook & Company 1915

Copyright in all Countries subscribing to the Berne Convention









I. A LAND OF WATERWAYS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. CANOES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 III. SAILING CRAFT; THE PIONEERS . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 IV. SAILING CRAFT: UNDER THE FLEURS-DE-LIS . . . . . . 54 V. SAILING CRAFT: UNDER THE UNION JACK . . . . . . . . 68 VI. SAILING CRAFT: THE BUILDING OF THE SHIP . . . . . . 82 VII. SAILING CRAFT: 'FIT TO GO FOREIGN' . . . . . . . . 92 VIII. STEAMERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 IX. FISHERIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155 X. ADMINISTRATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 XI. NAVIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193


[Transcriber's note: The page numbers below are those in the original book. However, in this e-book, to avoid the splitting of paragraphs, the illustrations may have been moved to preceding or following pages.]


THE VOYAGEURS ON A MISTY MORNING . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece From a painting by Verner.

THE SPIRIT OF THE LAKES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Facing page 12 By Lorado Taft, in the Chicago Art Institute.

SHIPS OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY . . . . . . . . . . . " 44 From Winsor's 'America.'

CHAMPLAIN'S SHIP, THE 'DON DE DIEU' . . . . . . . . " 54 From the model at the Quebec Tercentenary.

A FRENCH FRIGATE OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY . . . . . " 64 From Winsor's 'America.'

SHIP 'BATAVIA,' 2000 TONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 92 Built by F.-X. Marquis at Quebec, 1877. Lost on Inaccessible Island, 1879. From a picture belonging to Messrs Ross and Co., Quebec.

TRANSPORT 'BECKWITH' AND BATEAUX, LAKE ONTARIO, 1816 " 136 From the John Ross Robertson Collection, Toronto Public Library.

THE 'ROYAL WILLIAM' . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 140 From the original painting in possession of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec.




Canada is the child of the sea. Her infancy was cradled by her waterways; and the life-blood of her youth was drawn from oceans, lakes, and rivers. No other land of equal area has ever been so intimately bound up with the changing fortunes of all its different waters, coast and inland, salt and fresh.

The St Lawrence basin by itself is a thing to marvel at, for its mere stupendous size alone. Its mouth and estuary are both so vast that their salt waters far exceed those of all other river systems put together. Its tide runs farther in from the Atlantic than any other tide from this or any other ocean. And its 'Great Lakes' are appropriately known by their proud name because they contain more fresh water than all the world beside. Size for size, this one river system is so pre-eminently first in the sum of these three attributes that there is no competing second to be found elsewhere. {2} It forms a class of its own. And well it may, even for its minor attributes, when the island of Newfoundland at its mouth exceeds the area of Ireland; when the rest of its mouth could contain Great Britain; when an arm of the true deep sea runs from Cabot Strait five hundred miles inland to where the Saguenay river soundings go down beyond an average of a hundred fathoms; and when, three hundred miles farther inland still, on an island in an archipelago at the mouth of the Ottawa, another tributary stream, there stands the city of Montreal, one of the greatest seaports in the world.

But mere size is not the first consideration. The Laurentian waters are much more important for their significance in every stage of national development. They were the highway to the heart of America long before the white man came. They remained the same great highway from Cartier to Confederation—a period of more than three hundred years. It is only half a century since any serious competition by road and rail began. Even now, in spite of this competition, they are one of the greatest of all highways. Nor does their significance stop here. Nature laid out the St Lawrence basin so that it not only {3} led into the heart of the continent, but connected with every other system from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Tropics to the Polar sea. Little by little the pioneers found out that they could paddle and portage the same canoe, by inland routes, many thousands of miles to all four points of the compass: eastward to the Atlantic between the Bay of Fundy and New York; westward till, by extraordinary efforts, they passed up the giant Saskatchewan and through the mighty ranges that look on the Pacific; southward to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico; northward to Hudson Bay, or down the Mackenzie to the Arctic ocean.

As settlement went on and Canada developed westwards along this unrivalled waterway man tried to complete for his civilized wants what nature had so well provided for his savage needs. There is a rise of six hundred feet between Lake St Peter and Lake Superior. So canals were begun early in the nineteenth century and gradually built farther and farther west, at a total cost of $125,000,000, till, by the end of the century, with the opening of the Canadian 'Soo,' the last artificial link was finished and direct navigation was established between the western end of Lake {4} Superior at Duluth and the eastern end of the St Lawrence system at Belle Isle, a distance of no less than 2340 miles.

But even the mighty St Lawrence, with the far-reaching network of its connecting systems, is not the whole of Canada's waters. The eastern coast of Nova Scotia is washed by the Atlantic, and the whole length of British Columbia by the Pacific. Then, there are harbours, fiords, lakes, and navigable rivers not directly connected with either of these coasts or with the wonderfully ramified St Lawrence. So, taking every factor of size and significance into consideration, it seems almost impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the influence which waterways have always exerted, and are still exerting, on the destinies of Canada.

Canada touches only one country by land. She is separated from every other foreign country and joined to every other part of the British Empire by the sea alone. Her land frontier is long and has given cause for much dispute in times of crisis. But her water frontiers—her river, lake, and ocean frontiers—have exercised diplomacy and threatened complications with almost constant persistence from the first. There were conflicting rights, claims, and jurisdictions about the waters long {5} before the Dominion was ever thought of. Discovery, exploration, pioneering, trade, and fisheries, all originated questions which, involving mercantile sea-power, ultimately turned on naval sea-power and were settled by the sword. Each rival was forced to hold his own at sea or give up the contest. Even in time of peace there was incessant friction along the many troublous frontiers of the sea. From the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 down to the final award at The Hague, nearly two centuries later, the diplomatic war went steadily on. It is true that the fishing grounds of Newfoundland were the chief object of contention. But Canada and Newfoundland are so closely connected by geographical, imperial, and maritime bonds that no just account of craft and waterways can be given if any attempt is made to separate such complementary parts of British North America. They will therefore be treated as one throughout the present book.

But, even apart from Newfoundland, the Canadian interests concerned rather with the water than the land make a most remarkable total. They include questions of international waterways and water-power, salt and fresh water fishing, sealing, whaling, inland {6} navigation, naval armaments on the Great Lakes, canals, drainage, and many more. The British ambassador who left Washington in 1913 declared officially that most of his attention had been devoted to Canadian affairs; and most of these Canadian affairs were connected with the water. Nor was there anything new in this, or in its implication that Canadian waters brought Canada into touch with international questions, whether she wished it or not. The French shore of Newfoundland; the Alabama claims; the San Juan boundary; the whole purport of the Treaty of Washington in 1871; the Trent affair of ten years earlier; the Panama Canal tolls of to-day; the War of 1812; the war which others called the Seven Years' War, but which contemporary England called the 'Maritime War'; all the invasions of Canada, all the trade with the Indians, all Spanish, French, Dutch, British, and American complications—everything, in fact, which helped to shape Canadian destinies—were inevitably connected with the sea; and, more often than not, were considered and settled mainly as a part of what those prescient pioneers of oversea dominion, the great Elizabethan statesmen, always used to call 'the sea affair.'


Canada, like other countries, may be looked at from many points of view; but there is none that does not somehow include her oceans, lakes, or rivers. Her waterways, of course, are only one factor in her history. But they are a constant factor, everywhere at work, though sometimes little recognized, and making their influence felt throughout the length and breadth of the land. If any one would see what the water really means to Canada, let him compare her history with Russia's. Russia and Canada are both northern countries and both continental, with many similarities in natural resources. But their extremely different forms of government are not so unlike each other as are their differing relations with the sea. The unlikeness of the two peoples accounts for a good deal; but this only emphasizes the maritime character of Canada. Russia is essentially an empire of the land. Canada is the greatest link between the oceans which unite the Empire of the Sea.

Take any aspect of sea-power, naval or mercantile, and British interest in it is at once apparent. Take the mere statistics of tonnage—tonnage built, tonnage afloat, tonnage armed. The British Navy has over a third of the world's effective naval tonnage; the British Empire {8} has nearly half of the whole world's mercantile marine; and the United Kingdom alone builds more than three-fifths of the world's new tonnage every year. When all the other elements of sea-power are taken into consideration—the people who are directly dependent on the sea, the values constantly afloat, the credits involved, the enormous advantages enjoyed, and the clinching fact that British naval defeat means disaster and disaster means ruin—when all this is brought into the reckoning, it is safe to say that the combined maritime interests of the British Empire practically equal those of all the rest of the world put together. When it is also remembered that Canada, itself a land of waterways, contains a third of the total area of the Empire, and lies between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the significance of these facts is placed beyond a doubt.

Take a very different illustration—the speech of Canada to-day—and the significance is still the same. We have so many sea terms in our ordinary English speech that we almost forget that they are sea terms at all till we compare them with corresponding idioms in other languages. Then we realize that only the Dutch, the Finns, and the Scandinavians can {9} approach the English-speaking peoples in the common use of sea terms. Other foreigners employ different phrasing altogether. Their landsmen never 'clear the decks for action,' are never 'brought up with a round turn,' or even 'taken aback,' as if by the wind on the wrong side. They never have 'three sheets in the wind,' even when they do get 'half seas over.' They don't 'throw a man overboard,' even when the man is one of those unfortunates who is apt to get 'on his beam ends.' The facetious 'don't speak to the man at the wheel' and the cautious 'you'd better not sail so close to the wind' have no exact equivalents for the Slav or Latin man in the street.

These, and many more, are common expressions which Anglo-Canadians share with the stay-at-home type of Englishman. But the special point is that, like the American, the Canadian is still more nautical than the Englishman in his everyday use of sea terms. 'So long!' in the sense of good-bye is a seaport valediction commoner in Canada than in England. Canadians go 'timber-cruising' when they are looking for merchantable trees; they used to understand what 'prairie schooners' were out West; and even now they always 'board' a train wherever it may {10} be. But even more remarkable are the sea terms universally current among the French Canadians, who come from the seafaring branch of a race of landsmen. Under the French regime the army officers used to say they felt as if they were on board a man-of-war as long as they stayed in Canada. The modern Parisian may think the same to-day when he is told how to steer his way about the country roads by the points of the compass. The word lanterne is unknown, for the nautical fanal invariably takes its place. The winter roads are marked out by 'buoys' (balises), and if you miss the 'channel' between them you may 'founder' (caler) and then become a 'derelict' (completely degrade). You must embarquer into a carriage and debarquer out of it. A cart is radou'ee, as if repaired in a dockyard. Even a well-dressed woman is said to be bi'n gre-yee, that is, she is 'fit to go foreign.' Horses are not tied but moored (amarres); enemies are reconciled by being re-moored (ramarres); and the Quebec winter is supposed to begin with a 'broadside' of snow on November 25 (la bordee de la Sainte-Catherine).

No wonder Canadian French and English speech is full of sea terms. Even when the {11} Canadians themselves forget, as they are very apt to do, the indispensable naval side of sea-power, they can account for most kinds of nauticality by their economic history, which all depended, directly or indirectly, down to the smallest detail, on the mercantile marine—especially if we give the name of mercantile marine its justifiable extension so as to cover all the craft that ply on inland waterways as well as those that cross the sea. It is calculated at the present day that it is as easy to move a hundred tons by water as ten tons by rail or one ton by road; and this rule, in spite of many local exceptions, is fairly correct in practice, especially as distances increase. Now, Canada is a country of great distances; and by land she once was in nearly every part, and she still is in a few parts, a country of obstructive wilds. What, then, must have been the advantage of water carriage over land carriage when there was neither road nor rail? As even pack-horses were not available in the early days, and good roads were few and only established by very slow degrees, it is well within the mark to say that the sum-total of advantage in favour of water over land carriage, up to a time which old men can remember, must have been at least a thousand to one.


It would be natural to suppose that some knowledge of the sea was widely diffused among the British peoples in general and Canadians in particular. But this is far from being the case. Though there is three times as much sea as land in the world, it is safe to say that there is three hundred times as much knowledge of the land as there is of the sea. The ways of the sea are strange to most people in every country, excepting Norway and Newfoundland. Seamen have always been somewhat of a class apart, though they are less so now. Ignorance of everything to do with the water is exceedingly common, even in England and Canada. The British mercantile marine is one of the biggest commercial enterprises of all time. It is of very great importance to Canada. It is absolutely vital to England. Yet it is less understood among the general public than any other kind of business that is of national concern. Some people even think that the mercantile marine differs from every other kind of business in being under the special care of the government. They are probably misled by the term 'Merchant Service,' which, when spelt with capital letters, has a very official look and reminds them of the two great fighting 'services,' the Army and the Navy. In reality {13} the merchant service is no more a government service than any other kind of trade is.

Ignorance about the Navy is commoner still. Canadian history is full of sea-power, but Canadian histories are not. It was only in 1909, a hundred and fifty years after the Battle of the Plains, that the first attempt was made to introduce the actual naval evidence into the story of the Conquest by publishing a selection from the more than thirty thousand daily entries made in the logs of the men-of-war engaged in the three campaigns of Louisbourg, Quebec, and Montreal. Yet there were twice as many sailors under Saunders as there were soldiers under Wolfe, and the fleet that carried them was the greatest single fleet which, up to that time, had ever appeared in any waters. How many people, even among Canadians born and bred, know that there have already been two local Canadian navies of different kinds and two Canadian branches of Imperial navies oversea; that in 1697 a naval battle was fought in the waters of Hudson Bay, opposite Port Nelson; that seigneurial grants during the French regime made reservations of man-of-war oak for the service of the crown; that while Bougainville, the famous French circumnavigator, was trying to keep Wolfe {14} out of Quebec, Captain Cook, the famous British circumnavigator, was trying to help him in; that there was steamer transport in the War of 1812; that the first steam man-of-war to fire a shot in action was launched on the St Lawrence four years before the first railway in Canada was working; that just before Confederation more than half the citizens of the ancient capital were directly dependent on ship-building and nearly all the rest on shipping; and that the Canadian fisheries of the present day are the most important in the world? As a matter of fact, there are very few Canadians or other students of Canadian history who fully realize what Canada owes to the sea. How many know that her 'sea affairs' may have begun a thousand years ago, if the Norsemen came by way of Greenland; that she has a long and varied naval history, with plenty of local privateering by the way; that the biggest sailing vessel to make a Scottish port in the heyday of the clippers was Canadian-built all through; that Canada built another famous vessel for a ruling prince in India; that most Arctic exploration has been done in what are properly her waters; that she was the pioneer in ocean navigation entirely under steam; and that she is now beginning to revive, with steam and steel, the {15} shipbuilding industry with which she did so much in the days of mast and sail and wooden hulls?

No exhaustive Canadian 'water history' can possibly be attempted here. That would require a series of its own. But at least a first attempt will now be made to give some general idea of what such a history would contain in fuller detail: of the kayaks and canoes the Eskimos and Indians used before the white man came, and use to-day, in the ever-receding wilds; of the various small craft moved by oar and sail that slowly displaced the craft moved only by the paddle; of the sailing vessels proper, and how they plied along Canadian waterways, and out beyond, on all the Seven Seas; of the steamers, which, in their earlier pioneering days, shed so much forgotten lustre on Canadian enterprise; of those 'Cod-lands of North America' and other teeming fisheries which the far-seeing Lord Bacon rightly thought 'richer treasures than the mines of Mexico and of Peru'; of the Dominion's trade and government relations with the whole class of men who 'have their business in great waters'; and, finally, of that guardian Navy, without whose freely given care the 'water history' of Canada could never have been made at all.




What the camel is to desert tribes, what the horse is to the Arab, what the ship is to the colonizing Briton, what all modern means of locomotion are to the civilized world to-day, that, and more than that, the canoe was to the Indian who lived beside the innumerable waterways of Canada. The Indian went fishing, hunting, campaigning, and sometimes even whaling, in his bark canoe. Jacques Cartier found Indians fishing in the Gulf of St Lawrence and sleeping under their upturned canoes, as many a white and Indian has slept since that long-past summer of 1534. Every succeeding explorer made use of the Indian canoe, up to the time of Mackenzie,[1] who paddled north to the Arctic in 1789, along the mighty river which bears his name; and who, four years {17} later, closed the age of great discoveries by crossing the Great Divide to the westward-flowing Fraser and reaching the Pacific by way of its tributary, the Blackwater, an Indian trail overland, and the Bella Coola. Mackenzie had found the canoe route; and when he painted the following record on a fiord rock he was bringing centuries of arduous endeavour to a befitting close: 'Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the 22nd of July, 1793.' This crowning achievement with paddle and canoe seems very far away from the reader of the twentieth century. Yet Francois Beaulieu, one of Mackenzie's voyageurs, only died in 1872, and was well known to many old North-Westers who are still alive.

The Indian birch-bark canoe is pre-eminently characteristic of Canada. But it is not the most primitive type of small craft; and it was often superseded for various purposes by the more advanced types introduced by the whites. There are three distinct types of small craft all the world over. Like everything else, they have followed the invariable order of evolution, from the simple to the complex. First came the simple log, which served the earliest man to cross some little stretch of water by the aid of pole or paddle. Next came {18} the union of several logs, which formed the clumsy but more stable raft. Then some prehistoric genius found that the more a log was hollowed out the better it would float; and so the dug-out was invented. Log, raft, and dug-out all belong to the first and simplest type, in which there are no artificial parts to fit together. The second type is exemplified by the birch-bark canoe, which has three parts in its frame—gunwale, cross-bars, and ribs—and a fourth part, the skin, to complete it. The third type is distinguished from the second by its keel, as clearly as vertebrate animals are distinguished from invertebrates by their backbone. The common keeled boat, with all its variations, represents this third and, so far, final type. All three types have played their parts in Canada, both jointly and separately, and all three play their parts to-day. But they are best understood if taken one by one.

First, then, the log, the raft, and the dugout canoe. Any one watching a 'log drive' to-day can see the shantymen afloat in much the same way, though for a very different purpose, as their remotest human ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago. The raft, like the log, is now a self-carrying cargo, not a passenger craft. But there it is, much as it {19} always was. Indeed, it is simpler now than it used to be some years ago, before the days of tugs and railways. Then it was craft and cargo in one. It was steered by immense oars, as sailing vessels were before the days of rudders; other gigantic oars were occasionally used to propel it, like an ancient galley; it carried loose-footed square sails, like the ships of Tarshish; and its crew lived aboard in shacks and other simple kinds of shelter, like the earliest Egyptian cabins ages before the captivity of Israel.

The dug-out has the humblest, though the longest, history of any craft the hand of man has ever shaped. At one time it rose to the dignity of being the liner and the man-of-war of the Pacific coast; for the giant trees there favoured a kind of dug-out that the savage world has never seen elsewhere, except in certain parts of equatorial Africa. At another time, only a century or two ago, dug-outs of twenty feet or so were used in trade between the St Lawrence and the Hudson. They were of white pine, red or white cedar, or of tulip tree; and their crews poled standing or paddled kneeling, for they had no thwarts. They carried good loads, went well, with their canoe-shaped ends, and lasted ten or twelve {20} years if tarred or painted. They were, indeed, one-piece canoes, which they had a perfect right to be, as the word canoe comes from the name the West Indian natives gave their dug-outs when questioned by Columbus. Nowadays the dug-out is generally used for the dirtier work of 'longshore fisheries. It has lost its elegance of form, and may be said to have reverted to a lower type. But this reversion only serves the better to remind the twentieth century of what all sorts of craft were like, not twenty, but two hundred, centuries ago.

Secondly comes the Indian bark canoe, so justly famous in the history, romance, and poetry of Canada. As in the case of other craft, its form, size, and material have never been what we call 'standardized.' Indians living outside the birch belt had to use inferior kinds of bark. But the finest type was always made, and is still made, with birch-bark. At least three kinds of tree are necessary for the best results: the birch for the skin, the fir to caulk it with, and the cedar for the sewing fibres and the frame. Only a single tool is needed—a knife; and many a good canoe was built before the whites brought metal knives from Europe. The Indian looks out for the {21} biggest, soundest, and smoothest birch tree in his neighbourhood. He prefers to strip it in the early summer, when the bark is supple with the sap. Sap is as good for the bark as it is bad for the woodwork of canoes and every other kind of craft. The soft inside of the bark is always scraped as clean as a tanner scrapes a hide. If the Indian has to build with dry or frozen bark he is careful to use hot water in stripping the trunk, and he warms the bark again for working. Of course, it is a great advantage to have as few strips as possible, since every seam must first be sewn together by the squaws and then gummed over. Occasionally a tree will be found big and suitable enough to yield a single strip from which a seamless twenty-footer can be built. But this is very rare.

The next thing is the frame—the gunwale, ribs, and cross-bars. Where many canoes are building there is generally some sort of model round which the ribs are bent. But a skilled Indian can dispense with any model when making the ribs with every requisite degree of curve, from the open ribs amidships, where the bottom is nearly flat, to the close ribs at the ends, where the shape becomes halfway between the letter 'U' and {22} the letter 'V.' The gunwale is quite the most important part of the canoe, as it holds all the other parts together and serves some of the constructional purposes of a keel. The voyageurs, recognizing this, call it le maitre. It is laid on the ends of the ribs, which are made fast to it. Then the frame is completed by the three or more cross-bars, which keep the two sides of the gunwale from spreading apart. After this the birch-bark skin is stretched on the frame as tightly as possible, turned in over the gunwale, and clamped on there by the faux maitre or super-gunwale. The two ends, both as sharp as an ordinary bow, are then sewn together by a sort of criss-cross fibre lacing, and every hole or seam in the bark is well gummed with melted rosin. The finishing touches are equally important, each in its own way. Thin boards are laid in lengthwise, either between the ribs and the skin or over the ribs, so as to protect the bark bottom from being injured by the cargo. The ends of the canoe are reinforced inside by the Indian equivalent for a collision bulkhead. This bulkhead sometimes rises well above the gunwale and is carved like a figurehead, which accounts for its voyageur name of le p'ti' bonhomme. A third finishing touch, {23} very common in earlier days, is the decoration of the outsides of both ends, which used to rise with a sharp sheer, and sometimes actually curved back. The usual decorations here were totem signs, generally made of porcupine quills, dyed in many colours, and serving the original purpose of a coat of arms.

The familiar shape has never been greatly varied, though some canoes are built on finer lines for speed, and others on fuller lines for carrying cargo. But there has always been plenty of variety in size and material. The smallest canoe would hardly hold two persons, and could be carried in one hand. The big war canoes would hold more than twenty well-armed paddlers and required four men to carry them. The very biggest canoe probably did not exceed forty feet in length, six in breadth, and two in depth amidships. Fifty men or five tons of cargo could have been carried in it. But perhaps one quite so large was never built. When white cedar and birch were not to be had, all sorts of substitutes were used. Any roots with tough fibres would do for the sewing, and any light and tough wood served its turn as a more or less efficient substitute for the white cedar framing. But elm and other alternative barks {24} were all bad. The elm bark was used inside out, because the outside was too rough and brittle for the bottom of a canoe. It made dull paddling and never lasted the whole of a hard season, unlike the birch-bark, which sometimes had a life of six or seven years. The most modern material is canvas, which is generally painted red or green. It is light, easily repaired, and has much to recommend it, though trappers think it gives a taint which scares their game away. The paddles were and are of all shapes and sizes, long and short, broad and narrow, spoon-blade and square; and they were and are made of all kinds of wood, from the lightest spruce to the much heavier but handsomer bird's-eye maple. Sails were and are only used with light winds dead aft, and not often in birch-barks even then, because there is no 'stiffness' without a keel.

There were skin as well as bark canoes among the Indians. But the typical skin canoe is the Eskimo kayak. This is a shuttle-shaped craft, about fifteen feet long and just wide enough to let its single paddler sit flat on the bottom. It differs from the Indian canoe in being entirely decked over. The skin of the grey seal, when that best of canoe skins can be found, is carefully sewn, so as to be quite {25} waterproof, and then stretched as tightly as a drumhead all over the frame, except for the little 'well' where the Eskimo sits with his double-bladed paddle. As he tucks himself in so closely that water cannot enter he does not fear to be capsized, for he can right himself with a sweep of his paddle. Kayaks are very light and handy, as the frame is made either of whalebone or spruce. The oomiak is the Eskimo's family boat and cargo carrier, flat-bottomed, not decked in, and sometimes big enough for twenty people with their gear. It is made of much the same materials.

The white man's canoes, so well known—outside of Canada—as 'Canadian canoes,' are partly true canoes and partly a cross between canoes and boats. The fact that the skin is not made of bark or hide, but of canvas, wood, or metal, and the further innovation that machinery is freely used, make no essential difference, provided always that there is no semblance of a keel. But once the keel is introduced the whole constructional idea is changed and the ways of savages are left behind. A first-rate keeled canoe, built of white cedar, brass shod and copper fastened, fitted with air tanks and life-line, a lateen sail and portage handles, is the very perfection {26} of a handy little cruiser for all sorts of inland waters. One like this, but built of basswood, proved quite serviceable after more than ten years' work, in the course of which it covered several thousand miles along the Lower St Lawrence, where the seas are often rough and the low-tide landings always hard.

But all similar craft, though looking like canoes afloat, are no more like the true canoes and kayaks in their constructional detail than a bird is like a butterfly. The keel makes all the difference. Everything in naval architecture springs from and is related to the keel. 'Laying the keel' means beginning the ship in the only possible way, and 'two keels to one' is an expression which every one understands as meaning a naval preponderance in that proportion. The keel is to the ribs of a ship exactly what the backbone is to the ribs of a man, and any craft built up from a keel, no matter how small and simple it may be, belongs to the third and apparently final type of craft, which is as far ahead of the canoe type as that is ahead of the dug-out, raft, and log.

An intermediate type that once did much service, and still does a little, is the white man's flat-bottomed boat, which could be {27} paddled, rowed, or sailed, according to build and circumstances. The common punt is the best known form of it; the dory by far the handiest all round; the cargo barge the biggest; and the old-fashioned 'bateau' the most characteristically Canadian. The modern 'bateau' is to be found only among keeled sailing craft. But the old 'bateau,' which Wolfe's local transport officers spelt battoe, was more of a rowboat. It was sharp at both ends, wall-sided, and fitted with oars, poles, and a square sail. The bottom had some sheer—that is, it was curved up at each end—but less than the top. Four men rowed, the fifth steered, and three tons of miscellaneous goods or thirty-five barrels of flour made a fair cargo. Bateaux like this were the craft in which the United Empire Loyalists went up the St Lawrence to settle Upper Canada. Afterwards the size and crew were increased till the average cargo amounted to about four tons and a half. But the Durham boat, introduced by American traders from the Mohawk valley, soon became a successful rival, which was not itself supplanted till canals enabled still larger craft to pass from one open water to another. The Durham was larger than the bateau; long, light, and shallow. It had a not quite flat {28} bottom and a moderate sheer in the sides. The best bateaux and Durhams were made with strong white oak bottoms and light fir sides.

The bark canoe gave place to the boat, step by step, as civilized intercourse advanced. It disappeared first from the great national highway of the St Lawrence and the Lakes, where the French began using bateaux and sailing craft as early as the seventeenth century. During the eighteenth the boat gained steadily on the canoe, which was more and more confined to the Indians. The local craft in chief civilized use on both sides during the fight for Canada was the bateau; and the best crews then and afterwards were the French-Canadian voyageurs.

But everywhere beyond the immediate spheres of French and British influence the canoe was universal. The Great West then began at the Lakes and the Mississippi, and was a land of wild adventure, rumour, and extravagant surmise. The map that formed the frontispiece to the standard authority of the time—Jefferys' French Dominions in America—is full of geographical romance. Once in the Kaministikwia, the map has no territorial divisions other than those between the {29} different tribal hunting grounds, each one of which was watered by a hundred streams and marked by the 'carrying places' where the canoes had to be 'portaged.' There lived the 'Nation of the Bear' and the 'Nation of the Snake,' whose special totems of course were worked in coloured quills on every war canoe; and there flowed many a river 'the course of which is uncertain.' Along the great Assiniboine lay the 'Warrior's track from the River of the West,' and just where the prairies ran out into the complete unknown there was the vista of a second Eldorado in the hopeful suggestion that 'Hereabouts are supposed to be the Mountains of Bright Stones mentioned in the Map of ye Indian Ochagach.'

After the Conquest the tide of trade and settlement flowed faster and faster west; and with the white man's trade and settlement came the white man's boats. At last, in 1823, Sir George Simpson, the resident governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, finding that canoe transport was half as dear again as that done with boats, ordered that boats should supersede canoes all over the main trade routes of the Company's vast domain. This was the death-blow to the canoe as a real factor in Canadian life. From that time on it has been receding {30} farther and farther, from waterway to waterway, at first before the white man's boat with oars and sails, and now before his steamer. But in distant or secluded wilds it lingers still—the same craft to-day that it was when the Celtic coracles were paddled on the Thames before the Romans ever heard of England—the horse, the ship, the moving home of those few remaining nomads whose life is dying with its own.

The great historic age of inland small craft—the age of dug-out, bateau, and canoe; the age of Indian, pioneer, and voyageur—was the eighteenth century, when fresh-water sailing craft were few, when steamers were unknown, and when savage and civilized men and methods were mingled with each other in the fur trade over a larger area than they used in common either before that time or since. The seventeenth century saw the slow beginnings of this age after Champlain had founded Quebec in 1608 and had taken the warpath with the Hurons against the Iroquois. The nineteenth century saw its almost equally slow decline, which began in 1815, at the close of the war with the United States, and may be said to have been practically completed with the two North-West Rebellions of 1870 and 1885. The latter year, indeed, closed a real {31} epoch with three significant events: the end of the last Indian and half-breed war in Canada, the completion of the first trans-continental Canadian railway, and the return from Egypt of the first and last Canadians to go on an oversea campaign as professed voyageurs.

Under the French regime the fur trade reached well past Lake Superior. Nepigon and the Kaministikwia were the two most important junctions of routes at the western end of the lake. Under British rule the Montreal 'fur lords' used the 'Grand Portage,' which ends on a bay of Lake Superior some way south of the modern Fort William. It was a regular bush road, nearly ten miles long, made to avoid the falls of the Pigeon. As early as 1783, the year in which King George III first recognized the United States as an independent power, the fur lords kept no less than five hundred men in constant work at the height of the season, during the latter half of August. Horses and oxen were used later on; but the voyageur himself was the chief beast of burden here, as everywhere else. There were two kinds of voyageur. One was the mere merchant carrier, who went from Montreal to the Grand Portage in big boats of four tons burden having a crew of ten men. These were the 'pork {32} eaters' or mangeurs de lard, who had nothing worse to face than well-known rapids. The others were a finer breed, the true and daring coureurs de bois, or pioneers of the bush, who went west in comparatively light canoes, each carrying not more than a ton and a half, who hunted their own game, risked a fight with the Indians, and were to the duller 'pork eaters' what a charger is to a cart-horse or a frigate to a barge. The regulation portage load was one hundred and fifty pounds, and many a man was known to carry this weight the whole ten miles and back within six hours.

There was need to hurry. Supplies were going west to Lake Winnipeg, up the Saskatchewan, and even on to Athabaska; while furs were coming down for the autumn trade to Europe. As a rule the traders were Scottish and the voyageurs French Canadian. Indians and half-breeds were fairly common; they manned the canoes in the farther wilds, guided the pioneers, and did the actual trapping. To speak in terms of modern transportation: the Indians and their bark canoes produced the raw material and worked the branch lines; while the voyageurs met them at the junctions and took the goods down to {33} the head of ocean navigation, where everything was, of course, trans-shipped for Europe. The same sort of trade was carried on, in a slightly different way, in the Maritime Provinces. There are survivals of it still in Labrador. At the end of July, Nascaupees, some of whom take months to reach their hunting grounds by paddle and portage, may be seen at Seven Islands, on the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence, where huge modern pulp mills make paper for the New York press, and where the offing is alive with transatlantic shipping all season through.

These inland voyages are as strange to the average Canadian of to-day as to contemporary Englishmen and Frenchmen. So it is perhaps worth while to record the ordinary features of what must soon become altogether a thing of the past. The incidents would be much the same with every kind of small craft that has served its turn along the interlocking network of Canadian waterways, whether an old-fashioned bateau or a Durham boat, a sharp-end dug-out, or a bark canoe. But the immemorial birch-bark is the best to choose for example, as it preceded and outlasted every other kind and is the most typically Canadian of them all.


Before starting, every broken seam and hole must be gummed over. Water is poured into the canoe and every point of exit marked for gumming. Loading must be done with unusual care, as the slightest crankness of such frail craft in such wild waters is likely to prove fatal. Crews always were their own stevedores, and it was a poor crew that could not load to perfection in a short five minutes, once the cargo had been settled. The actual paddling is not difficult to learn, that is, the paddling required from an ordinary member of the crew. But the man in the bow and, still more, the man in the stern need the highest kind of skilful daring to take them safely through. Paddling by oneself also requires a special touch, only to be learnt by long practice. Even in dead water it takes some time before a novice can send the canoe straight ahead when paddling on one side only. As the paddle goes aft the bow naturally tends to turn towards the other side. The trick of it consists in counteracting this tendency by a twist of the blade which brings the inner edge round, aftwise beside the canoe, till the blade becomes a rectifying rudder as well as a thrusting propeller at the end of every stroke. When a fall or impassable rapid is reached, {35} the 'bowman' jumps out before the canoe touches bottom and draws her safely ashore. He and the 'steersman' then carry her over the portage, while the rest carry the cargo on their backs. A man's own weight is a fair load; but with a sling across their foreheads, and clasped hands behind their heads, strong men have carried twice as much and more. When a rapid has to be ascended the canoe is lightened as much as need be, the steel-shod poles are got out, and the bow and stern paddlers stand up to their work, balancing themselves as easily as other men would on dry land.

But it is when a rapid is to be 'run' that the finest skill is shown. If there is any doubt the steersman walks down to take a good look first. Then, if necessary, some or all of the cargo is taken out and portaged to the next 'steady' in the river. Rapids are so common in some journeys that canoemen think less of them than foxhunters think of five-barred gates. In most cases a mistake means death; so every nerve and muscle is kept tensely ready the whole run through. The current should be 'humoured'; for it does a surprising amount of the work itself. If rightly headed with the main throw of it the canoe will {36} naturally tend to seek the deepest and safest channel just as the body of the water does. Split channels must be met by instant decision; and it is when picking out the proper one that steerage way tells. As the pace of the rapid increases, so does the danger; for the slightest false thrust of a blade is enough to make a canoe swerve or upset. But, with the expert bowman on the keenest of look-outs and the course under the knowing touch of the still more expert steersman, a rapid may be run in perfect safety through racing waves which only just fail to leap aboard, on roaring water which drowns the human voice so completely that the bowman can only make use of signals, past rocks and snags on which a single graze would mean a wreck, and, often the worst of all, from one wild 'throw' to another with quite a different set and a wrench of two fierce currents where they meet.

All the white man's boats used by the voyageurs approximated more or less to the shape of the canoe: the various kinds of Hudson river dug-out, the bateau, the 'Durham,' and the 'York,' which last became the wooden successor of the birch-bark after Governor Simpson's general inspection of the Hudson's Bay domain. Only the rather {37} barge-like 'Mackinaw' was completely outside this venturesome class. It was a useful but humdrum cargo boat, laboriously poled along shallow, quiet waters, or rowed with lumbering sweeps; or sometimes even sailed, when it shovelled its way through the water with a very safe wind dead aft.

This completes the tale of Canadian inland small craft that depended on pole and paddle, oar and towline, and only used a simple sail as an exceptional thing. But the human interest would not be complete without some reference to the tours of inspection made by the magnates of the Hudson's Bay Company. The greatest tours of all were those of Sir George Simpson, the governor who took charge after the Company absorbed its warring rival in 1821. In modern business language he would be called the executive head of the great Canadian fur-trade 'merger.' He was a young promoted clerk, a Scotsman born, with little experience of the Canadian wilds, but with the natural faculty of rule and a good deal of diplomacy—the gauntlet in the velvet glove.

Simpson soon grasped the salient features of the people he had to deal with and very sensibly made his tours of inspection as much like a {38} royal progress as he could. Time and money were never neglected: his 'record runs' across the wilderness and the dividends at headquarters proved that to the full. He was determined to show every one concerned that thenceforth there was only one governing company, and that he was its proper representative. Then, as always, London was the general headquarters. But the Canadian headquarters were at Montreal; and Simpson fixed what might be called the field headquarters at Norway House, near the north end of Lake Winnipeg, a commanding strategic point in the heart of the great fur territories. Here he was always busy introducing discipline, enforcing a much-needed reduction in the ration of rum given to the Indians, and reporting home. As voyageurs, he thought the French Canadians much better than the men of any other race. 'Canadians preferable to Orkneymen. Orkneymen less expensive but slow. Less physical strength and spirits. Obstinate if brought young into the service. Scotch and Irish, when numerous, quarrelsome, independent, and mutinous.' He introduced fines as a punishment. But 'this will only do for Europeans. A blow is better for Canadians.' On July 12, 1828, Simpson left York Factory {39} on Hudson Bay for a state and business progress across the continent to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia. One of his staff, Archibald Macdonald, wrote an account of it, called Peace River: a Canoe Voyage from the Hudson Bay to the Pacific. The best of birch-barks were used to ensure speed; though the birch-bark had already been superseded as a cargo craft. There was a doctor in the party, which included nine voyageurs to each of the two canoes. Simpson's departure was the signal for a salute of seven guns, which was duly repeated at every subsequent fort. The whole population lined the waterside as the voyageurs struck up one of their old French folk-songs to beguile the way. The arrival at Norway House was still more imposing. The Union Jack, with the magic letters 'H. B. C.' on its fly, was hoisted, to the admiration of all the whites and Indians from that most important neighbourhood. Simpson's party had landed out of sight to put on their best clothes; after which they shot through the gorge at full speed, to the strains of the bagpipes from Simpson's canoe and bugles from the other. At Fort St James, the central point of 'New Caledonia,' the approach was made by land. 'Unfurling the British Ensign, it was given {40} to the guide, who marched first. After him came the band, consisting of buglers and bagpipers. Next came the governor, mounted, and behind him Hamlyn and Macdonald, also on horses. Twenty men loaded like beasts of burden formed the line, and finally M'Gillivray with his wife and family brought up the rear.' On the nineteenth day out from York Factory Simpson reached Fort Langley at the mouth of the Fraser.

How far away it all seems now in this new twentieth century! And yet, as in the case of Alexander Mackenzie, there is a wonderfully intimate human link connecting that time with our own; for Lord Strathcona was born before the amalgamation of the rival companies in 1821; he became the last resident-governor of the Hudson's Bay Company while Francois Beaulieu, Mackenzie's centenarian voyageur, was still alive; and he lived until 1914, the year of the Great World War.

[1] For the canoe voyages of Mackenzie, to the Arctic in 1789 and to the Pacific in 1793, see Adventurers of the Far North and Pioneers of the Pacific Coast in this Series.




When we call Canada a new country in the twentieth century we are apt to forget that her seafaring annals may possibly go back to the Vikings of the tenth century, a thousand years ago. Long before William the Conqueror crossed over from France to England the Vikings had been scouring the seas, north, south, east, and west. They reached Constantinople; they colonized Iceland; they discovered Greenland; and there are grounds for suspecting that the 'White Eskimos' whom the Canadian Arctic expedition of 1913 noted down for report are some of their descendants. However this may be, there is at least a probability that the Vikings discovered North America five centuries before Columbus. The saga of Eric the Red sings of the deeds of Leif Ericson, who led the discoverers and named the three new countries Helluland, Markland, and Vineland. Opinions differ as to which {42} of the four—Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, or New England—are to be included in the Vikings' three. In any case, the only inevitable two are Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, with which the subsequent history of Canada also begins.

But even if the Vikings never came to Canada at all, their ships could not be refused a place in any history of sailing craft; for it is the unique distinction of these famous freelances of the sea to have developed the only type of ancient and mediaeval hull which is the admiration of the naval world to-day. The kind of vessel they used in the tenth century is the craft of most peculiar interest to Canadian history, though it has never been noticed there except by the merest landsman's reference. The special type to which this vessel belonged was already the result of long development. The Vikings had a way of burying a chief in his ship, over which they heaped a funeral mound. Very fortunately two of these vessels were buried in blue clay, which is an excellent preserver of timber; so we are able to see them to-day in an almost perfect state. The one found in 1880 at the mouth of the Christiania fjord is apparently a typical specimen, though smaller than many {43} that are described in the sagas. She is about eighty feet long, sixteen feet in the beam, and seven feet in total depth amidships, from the top of the gunwale to the bottom of the keel. The keel runs into the stem and stern-post with very gentle curves. The whole of the naval architecture is admirably done. The lines are so fine that there is almost the least possible resistance to the water when passing through it. The only point worth criticizing is the slightness of the connection between the topsides and the body of the boat. But as this was a warship, carrying little besides live ballast, such a defect would be minimized. Iron rivets, oak treenails (or pegs), clinker planking (each plank-edge overlapping the next below it), admirably proportioned frame, as well as arrangements for stepping, raising, and lowering the single mast, all show that the builders knew exactly what they were about.

The rudder is hung over on the starboard, or 'steer-board,' side and worked by a tiller. The ropes are made of bark fibre and the planking is partly fastened to the floors with ties made of tough tree roots. Only one sail, and that a simple square one, was used. Nothing could be done with this unless the {44} wind was more or less aft. The sail, in fact, was centuries behind the hull, which, with the firm grip of its keel, would have been quite fit for a beat to windward, if the proper canvas had been carried. The thirty oars were often used, and to very good purpose, as the easy run of the lines suited either method of propulsion. The general look of these Viking craft is not unlike that of a big keeled war canoe, for both ends rise with a sharp sheer and run to a point. A classical scholar would be irresistibly reminded of the Homeric vessels, not as they were in reality, but as they appear in the eager, sea-born suggestions of the Iliad and the Odyssey—long, sharp, swift, well-timbered, hollow, with many thwarts, and ends curved high like horns.

Three Viking vessels discovered in a Danish peat-bog probably belong to the fifth century, thus being fifteen hundred years of age. Yet their counterparts can still be seen along the Norwegian coast. Such wonderful persistence, even of such an excellently serviceable type, is quite unparalleled; and it proves, if proof were needed, that the Norsemen who are said to have discovered Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were the finest seamen of their own and many a later time. The way they planned and built {45} their vessels was the glory of their homes. The way they manned and armed and fought them was the terror of every foreign shore. War craft and crew together were the very soul and body of strength and speed and daring skill, as, with defiant figurehead and glittering, shield-hung sides, they rode to battle joyously on the wild white horses of the mediaeval sea.

Five centuries more, and the English, another great seafaring people, first arrived in Canada. Then came increasing swarms of the most adventurous fishermen of Europe. After these came many competing explorers and colonizers, all of whose fortunes directly depended on the sea.

Cabot's English crew of eighteen hands is a century nearer to our own time than Leif Ericson the Norseman was to Cabot's. Yet Cabot himself preceded Columbus in setting foot on what may fairly be called the mainland of America when he discovered Canada's eastern coast in 1497. He cleared from Bristol in May, reached the new regions on June 24, and returned safe home at the end of July. It was an age of awakening surmise. The universal question was, which is the way to the golden {46} East? America was looked upon as a rather annoying obstruction to proper navigation, though it was allowed to have some incidental interest of its own. Vasco da Gama doubled the Cape of Good Hope in the same year that Cabot raised St George's Cross over what afterwards became British territory. Twenty-five years later Magellan found the back way through behind Cape Horn, and his ship, though not himself, went round the world. Then, twelve years later still, the French sailed into the Canadian scene on which they were to play the principal part for the next two centuries and a quarter.

Every text-book tells us that Jacques Cartier was the great French pioneer and explains his general significance in the history of Canada. But no books explain his peculiar significance from the nautical point of view, though he came on the eve of the most remarkable change for the better that was ever made in the art of handling vessels under sail. He was both the first and the last mediaeval seaman to appear on Canadian inland waters. Only four years after his discovery of the St Lawrence, an Englishman, Fletcher of Rye, astonished the seafaring world of 1539 by inventing a rig with which a ship could beat to windward with sails trimmed {47} fore and aft. This invention introduced the era of modern seamanship. But Cartier has another, and much more personal, title to nautical fame, for he was the first and one of the best of Canadian hydrographers, and he wrote a book containing some descriptions worthy of comparison with those in the official 'Pilots' of to-day. This book, well called his Brief Recit et Succincte Narration, is quite as easy for an Englishman to read in French as Shakespeare is for a Frenchman to read in English. It abounds in acute observations of all kinds, but particularly so in its sailing directions. Compare, for instance, his remarks on Cumberland Harbour with those made in the latest edition of the St Lawrence Pilot after the surveys of four hundred years. Or take his few, exact, and graphic words about Isle-aux-Coudres and compare them with the entries made by the sailing masters of the British fleet that used this island as a naval base during the great campaign for the winning of Canada in 1759. In neither case will Cartier suffer by comparison. He was captain, discoverer, pilot, and surveyor, all in one; and he never failed to make his mark, whichever role he undertook.

Like all the explorers, Jacques Cartier had his {48} troubles with his crews. The average man of any time cannot be expected to have the sustained enthusiasm, much less the manifold interest, which inspires his leader. Nearly every commander of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries had to face mutiny; and, even apart from what might be called natural causes, men of that time were quite ready to mutiny for what seem now the most absurd of reasons. Some crews would not sail past the point of Africa for fear of turning black. Others were distracted when the wind held for days together while they were outward bound, lest it might never blow the other way in North America, and so they would not be able to get back home. The ships, too, often gave as much trouble as the men. They were far better supplied with sails and accommodation than the earlier Viking ships had been; but their hulls were markedly inferior. The Vikings, as we have seen, anticipated by centuries some of the finest models of the modern world. The hulls of Cabot, Columbus, and Cartier were broader in the beam, much bluffer in the bow, besides being full of top-hamper on the deck. Nothing is known about Cabot's vessel except that she must have been very small, probably less than fifty tons, because the crew numbered {49} only eighteen and there was no complaint of being short-handed. Cartier's Grande Hermine was more than twice as large, and, if the accepted illustrations and descriptions of her may be relied upon, she probably was not unlike a smaller and simplified Santa Maria, the ship which bore Columbus on his West Indian voyage of 1492. Such complete and authentic specifications of the Santa Maria still remain that a satisfactory reproduction of her was made for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Her tonnage was over two hundred. Her length of keel was only sixty feet; length of ship proper, ninety-three; and length over all, one hundred and twenty-eight. This difference between length of keel and length over all was not caused by anything like the modern overhang of the hull itself, which the Vikings had anticipated by hundreds and the Egyptians by thousands of years, but by the box-like forecastle built over the bows and the enormous half and quarter decks jutting out aft. These top-hampering structures over-burdened both ends and produced a regular see-saw, as the Spanish crew of 1893 found to their cost when pitching horribly through a buffeting head sea. The Santa Maria, like most 'Spaniards,' had a lateen-rigged mizzen. {50} But the Grande Hermine had no mizzen, only the square-rigged mainmast, foremast, and bowsprit. The bowsprit of those days was a mast set at an angle of forty-five; and it sometimes, as in the Grande Hermine, carried a little upright branch mast of its own.

Many important changes occurred in the nautical world during the two generations between the days of Jacques Cartier and those of Champlain. The momentous change in trimming sails, already referred to, came first, when Fletcher succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. There can be no doubt that the lateen sail, which goes back at least to the early Egyptians, had the germ of a fore-and-after in it. But the germ was never evolved into a strong type fit for tacking; and no one before Fletcher ever seems to have thought it possible to lay a course at all unless the wind was somewhere abaft the beam. So England can fairly claim this one epoch-making nautical invention, which might be taken as the most convenient dividing-line between the sailing craft of ancient and of modern times.

The French had little to do with Canada for the rest of the sixteenth century. Jacques Carrier's best successor as a hydrographer was {51} Roberval's pilot, Saint-Onge, whose log of the voyage up the St Lawrence in 1542 is full of information. He more than half believes in what the Indians tell him about unicorns and other strange beasts in the far interior. And he thinks it likely that there is unbroken land as far as Tartary. But, making due allowance for his means of observation, the claim with which he ends his log holds good regarding pilotage: 'All things said above are true.'

The English then, as afterwards, were always encroaching on the French wherever a seaway gave them an opening. In 1578 they were reported to be lording it off Newfoundland, though they had only fifty vessels there, as against thirty Basque, fifty Portuguese, a hundred Spanish, and a hundred and fifty French. Their numbers and influence increased year by year, till, in 1600, they had two hundred sail manned by eight thousand men. They were still more preponderant farther north and farther south. Frobisher, Davis, Hudson, and other Englishmen left their mark on what are now Arctic and sub-Arctic Canada. Hudson also sailed up the river that bears his name, and thus did his share towards founding the English colonies that soon began their ceaseless {52} struggle with New France. But even before his time, which was just after Champlain had founded Quebec, two great maritime events had encouraged the English to aim at that command of the sea which they finally maintained against all rivals. In 1579 Sir Francis Drake sailed completely round the world. He was the first sea captain who had ever done so, for Magellan had died in mid-career fifty-seven years before. This notable feat was accompanied by his successful capture of many Spanish treasure ships. Explorer, warrior, enricher of the realm, he at once became a national hero. Queen Elizabeth, a patriot ruler who always loved a hero for his service to the state, knighted Drake on board his flagship; and a poet sang his praises in these few, fit words, which well deserve quotation wherever the sea-borne English tongue is known:

The Stars of Heaven would thee proclaim, If men here silent were. The Sun himself could not forget His fellow traveller.

Nine years later the English Navy fought the unwieldy Spanish Armada into bewildered flight and chased it to its death round the hostile coast-line of the British Isles.


Meanwhile the quickened interest in 'sea affairs' had led to many improvements in building, rigging, and handling vessels. Surprising as it may seem, most of these improvements were made by foreigners. Still more surprising is the fact that British nautical improvements of all kinds, naval as well as mercantile, generally came from abroad during the whole time that the British command of the sea was being won or held. Belated imitation of the more scientific foreigner was by no means new, even in the Elizabethan age. It had become a national habit by the time the next two centuries were over. English men, not English vessels, won the wars. The Portuguese and Spaniards had larger and better vessels than the English at the beginning of the struggle, just as the French had till after Trafalgar, and the Americans throughout the War of 1812. Even Sir Walter Raleigh was belated in speaking of the 'new' practice of striking topmasts, 'a wonderful ease to great ships, both at sea and in the harbour.'




Every one knows that when Champlain stood beside Lake Huron, wondering if it had a western outlet towards Cathay, he was discovering the Great Lakes, those fresh-water seas whose area far exceeds the area of Great Britain. Every one knows that he became the 'Father of New France' when he founded Quebec in 1608; and that he was practically the whole civil and military government of Canada in its infant days. But few know that he was also a captain in the Royal Navy of France, an expert hydrographer, and the first man to advocate a Panama canal. And fewer still remember that he lived in an age which, like our own, had {55} its 'record-breaking' events at sea. Baffin's 'Farthest North,' reached in 1616, was latitude 77 deg. 45'. This remained an unbroken record for two hundred and thirty-six years. Champlain's own voyage from Honfleur to Tadoussac in eighteen days broke all previous records, remained itself unbroken for a century, and would be a credit to a sailing ship to-day. His vessel was the Don de Dieu, of which he left no exact description, but which was easily reproduced for the tercentenary of Quebec in 1908 from the corresponding French merchant vessels of her day. She was about a hundred tons and could be handled by a crew of twenty. The nearest modern equivalent of her rig is that of a barque, though she carried a little square sail under her bowsprit and had no jibs, while her spanker had a most lateenish look. Her mainsail had a good hoist and spread. She had three masts and six sails altogether. The masts were 'pole,' that is, all of one piece. The tallest was seventy-three feet from step to truck, that is, from where the mast is stepped in over the keel to the disc that caps its top. She carried stone ballast; her rudder was worked by a tiller, with the help of a simple rope tackle to take the strain; and the poop contained three cabins.


Not long after the death of Champlain (1635) there was a world-wide advance in shipbuilding. Perhaps it would not be too much to say that the modern school of wooden sailing-ship designers began with Phineas Pett, who was one of a family that served England well for nearly two hundred years. He designed the Sovereign of the Seas, which brought English workmanship well to the front in the reign of Charles I. She surpassed all records, with a total depth from keel to lanthorn of seventy-six feet, which exceeds the centre line, from keel to captain's bridge, of modern 'fliers' with nearly twenty times her tonnage. The Cromwellian period also gave birth to a most effective fleet, which in its turn was succeeded by the British fleets that won the Second Hundred Years' War with France and decided the destiny of Canada. This long war, or series of wars, begun against Louis XIV in the seventeenth century, only ended with the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo. La Hogue in 1692, Quebec in 1759, and Trafalgar in 1805 were three of the great deciding crises. La Hogue and Trafalgar were purely naval; while Quebec was the result of a joint expedition in which the naval forces far exceeded the military. The general effect of this whole Second Hundred {57} Years' War was to confirm the British command of the sea for another century.

But the French designs in shipbuilding were generally better than the English. The French, then and afterwards, were more scientific, the English more rule-of-thumb. Yet when it came to actual handling under sail, especially in action, the positions were reversed. The English seafaring class was far larger in proportion to population and it had far more practice at sea. Besides, England had more and more at stake as her oversea trade and empire extended, till at last she had no choice, as an imperial power, but either to win or die.

The French kingdom rose to its zenith under Louis XIV, whose great minister, Colbert, did all he could to foster the Navy, the mercantile marine, and the French colonies in Canada. But the fates were against him. France was essentially a landsman's country. It had several land frontiers to attack or defend, and it used its Navy merely as an adjunct to its Army. Moreover, its people were not naturally so much inclined to colonize over-sea possessions as the British, and its despotic colonial system repressed all free development. The result was that the French dominions in America never reached a population of one {58} hundred thousand. This was insignificant compared with the twelve hundred thousand in the British colonies; while the disparity was greatly increased by the superior British aptness for the sea.

French Canada had all the natural advantages which were afterwards turned to such good account by the British. It had timber and population along a magnificently navigable river system that tapped every available trade route of the land. Had there only been a demand for ships New France might have also enjoyed the advantage of employing the scientific French naval architects. But the seafaring habit did not exist among the people as a whole. A typical illustration is to be found in the different views the French and British colonists took of whaling. The British on Nantucket Island first learned from the Indians, next hired a teacher, in the person of Ichabod Paddock, a famous whaling master from Cape Cod, and then themselves went after whale with wonderful success. The French in Canada, like the British on Nantucket Island, had both whales and whaling experts at their very doors. The Basques kept a station at Tadoussac, and whales were seen at Quebec. But, instead of hiring Basques to teach them, {59} the French in Canada petitioned the king for a subsidy with which to hire the Basques to do the whaling for them. Of course the difference between the two forms of government counts for a good deal—and it is not at all likely that any paternal French ruler, on either side of the Atlantic, ever wished to encourage a sea-roving spirit in Canada. But the difference in natural and acquired aptitude counts for more.

The first Canadian shipbuilding was the result of dire necessity. Pont-Grave put together a couple of very small vessels in 1606 at Port Royal so that he might cruise about till he met some French craft homeward bound. Shipbuilding as an industry arose long after this. The Galiote, a brigantine of sorts, was built by the Sovereign Council and launched at Quebec in 1663. But it was the intendant Talon who began the work in proper fashion. In 1665, immediately after his arrival, he sent men 'timber-cruising' in every likely direction. Their reports were most encouraging. Suitable timber was plentiful along the waterways, and the cost was no more than that of cutting and rafting it down to the dockyards. Talon reported home to Colbert. But official correspondence was too slow. At his {60} own cost he at once built a vessel of a hundred and twenty tons. She was on the most approved lines, and thus served as a model for others. A French Canadian built an imitation of her the following year. Talon vainly tried to persuade this enterprising man to form a company and build a ship of four hundred tons for the trade with the West Indies. Three smaller vessels, however, successfully made the round trip from Quebec to the West Indies, on to France, and back again, in 1670. In 1671 Colbert laid aside for Talon a relatively large sum for official shipbuilding and for the export of Canadian wood to France. The next year Talon had a five-hundred-tonner on the stocks, while preparations were being made for an eight-hundred-tonner, which would have been a 'mammoth' merchant vessel in contemporary France. Before he left Canada he had the satisfaction of reporting that three hundred and fifty hands, out of a total population of only seven thousand souls, were engaged in the shipyards.[2] But there were very few at sea.

The first vessel to sail the Great Lakes was built by La Salle seventy years after their discovery by Champlain. This was Le Griffon, {61} which, from Father Hennepin's description, seems to have been a kind of brig. She was of fifty or sixty tons and apparently carried a real jib. She was launched at the mouth of Cayuga Creek in the Niagara peninsula in 1679. Her career was interesting, but short and disastrous. She sailed west across Lake Erie, on through Lakes St Clair and Huron, and reached Green Bay on Lake Michigan, where she took in a cargo of fur. On her return voyage she was lost with all hands.

In the eighteenth century shipbuilding in Quebec continued to flourish. The yards at the mouth of the St Charles had been enlarged, and even then there was so much naval construction in hand that private merchant vessels could not be built as fast as they were wanted. In 1743 some French merchants proposed building five or six vessels for the West India trade, besides twenty-five or thirty more for local trade among the West Indian islands. A new shipyard and a dry-dock were hurriedly built; and there was keen competition for ship-carpenters. In 1753 L'Algonkin, a frigate of seventy-two guns, was successfully launched. The shipwrights experimented freely with Canadian woods, of which the white oak proved the best. But the Canadian-built vessels for {62} transatlantic trade never seem to have equalled in number those that came from France.

The restrictions on colonial trade were rigidly enforced; no manufacture of goods was allowed in the colonies, and no direct trade except with France and French possessions. Canada imported manufactured goods and exported furs, timber, fish, and grain. The deep-water tonnage required for Canada was not over ten or twelve thousand, distributed among perhaps forty vessels on the European route and twenty more that only visited the French West Indies. A complete round trip usually meant a cargo of manufactures from France to Canada, a cargo of timber, fish, and grain from Canada to the West Indies, and a third cargo—of sugar, molasses, and rum—from the West Indies home to France. Quite half the vessels, however, returned direct to France with a Canadian cargo. Louisbourg was a universal port of call, the centre of a partly contraband coasting trade with the British Americans, and a considerable importing point for food-stuffs from Quebec.

French commerce on the sea had, however, a mighty rival. The encroaching British were working their way into every open water in America. The French gallantly disputed their advance in Hudson Bay and won several {63} actions, of which the best victory was Iberville's in 1697, with his single ship, the Pelican, against three opponents. In Labrador and Newfoundland the British ousted all rivals from territorial waters, except from the French Shore. The 'Bluenose' Nova Scotians crept on from port to port. The Yankees were as supreme at home as the other British were in Hudson Bay, though on occasion both were daringly challenged. All the French had was the line of the St Lawrence; and that was increasingly threatened, both at its mouth and along the Great Lakes.

The British had in their service a powerful trading corporation. The Hudson's Bay Company was flourishing even in the seventeenth century. In one sense it was purely maritime, as its posts were all on the Bay shore, while the French traded chiefly in the hinterlands. The Company's fleet, usually three or four ships, sailed regularly from Gravesend or Portsmouth about June 1, rounded the Orkneys and made for Hudson Bay. The return cargo of furs arrived home in October. This annual voyage continues to the present day.[3]


As Hudson Bay was the place for fur, so Newfoundland, and all the waters round it, was the place for fish. 'Dogs, fogs, bogs, and codfish,' was the old half-jeering description of its products. Standing in the gateway of Canada, Newfoundland was always a menace to New France. Thirty years before Champlain founded Quebec a traveller notes that, among the fishing fleets off Newfoundland, 'the English rule all there.' In other quarters, too, there was a menace to France. The British colonies were always feeling their way along the coast as well as along the Great Lakes. In spite of ordinances on both sides, forbidding trade between colonies of different powers, little trading craft, mostly British, would creep in with some enticing contraband, generally by way of Lake Champlain.

The first attempt in the English colonies to trade with Canada by way of the open sea was made in 1658, when Captain John Perel sailed from New York for Quebec in the French barque St Jean, and was wrecked on Anticosti, with the total loss of a cargo of sugar and tobacco. The sloop Mary managed to reach Quebec in 1701 with a miscellaneous cargo, containing, among many other items, '166 cheses, 20+81+101 Rols of tobacko, {65} 2 hogheds of botls marckt SR, 70 bunches of arthen waire pots, 8 barels of beaire, 19 caskes of schotte.' Her return cargo included '14 barels of brandy, 4 hogsds of Claret, 2 bondles of syle skins, etc.' She was wrecked before she reached home, but most of her cargo was saved. Her owner, Samuel Vetch, the son of a 'Godly Minister and Glorifier of God in the Grass Market' in Edinburgh, was a great local character in New York. Four years after this voyage he was sent to Quebec to arrange a truce between New France and New England. But his return was as unlucky as that of his sloop Mary, for he was arrested and fined L200 on a charge of having traded with his own country's official enemies.

The fashion in ships changed very slowly. As we have seen, what may be called the ancient period of sailing ships closed about the time Jacques Cartier appeared in Canada. When the fore-and-aft-trimmed sails were invented in 1539, the modern age began. This has three distinctive eras of its own. The first lasted for about a century after the time of Jacques Cartier; and its chief work was to free itself of ancient and mediaeval limitations.

The second, or central, modern era lasted twice {66} as long, from the middle of the seventeenth century to the middle of the nineteenth. It thus covered one century under the Fleurs-de-lis in Canada and another under the Union Jack. It also exactly corresponded with the long era of the famous British navigation laws, of which more will presently be heard. During this period sails were improved in size, cut, and setting. The changes can be described only in technical language. Jibs became universal, adding greatly to handiness in general and the power of tacking in particular. Four sails were used on a mast—main, top, topgallant, and royal. Naval architecture was greatly improved, especially by the French. But this improvement did not extend to giving the hull anything like its most suitable shape. The Vikings were still unbeaten in this respect. Even the best foreign three-deckers were rather lumbering craft.

The third era began with the introduction of the clippers about 1840, and will not end till deep-sea sailing craft cease to be a factor in the world's work altogether. It was in this present era, when steamers were gaining their now unquestioned victory, and not during previous eras, when steam was completely unknown, that sailing craft reached their highest development. Sails {67} increased to eight on the mainmast of a full-rigged ship, and they were better cut and set than ever before. Yachts and merchantmen cannot be fairly compared in the matter of their sails. But it is worth noting that the old 'white-winged days' never had any sort of canvas worth comparing with a British yachting 'Lapthorn' or a Yankee yachting 'Sawyer' of our own time. Hulls, too, have improved far beyond those of the old three-decker age, beyond even the best of the Vikings'.

Such broad divisions into eras of shipbuilding are, of course, only to be taken as marking world-wide nautical advances in the largest possible sense. One epoch often overlaps another and begins or ends at different times in different countries. A strangely interesting survival of an earlier age is still to be seen along the Labrador, in the little Welsh and Devonshire brigs, brigantines, and topsail schooners which freight fish east away to Europe. These vessels make an annual round: in March to Spain for salt; by June along the Labrador; in September to the Mediterranean with their fish; and in December home again for Christmas. They are excellently handled wherever they go; and no wonder, as every man aboard of them is a sailor born and bred.

[1] The nautical history of New France is all parts and no whole; brilliant ideas and thwarted execution; government stimulus and government repression; deeds of daring by adventurers afloat and deeds of various kinds by officials ashore: everything unstable and changeable; nothing continuous and strong. It cannot, therefore, make a coherent narrative, only a collection of half-told tales.

[2] See in this Series The Great Intendant, chapters iv and ix.

[3] For the narrative of the Hudson's Bay Company the reader is referred to The Adventurers of England on Hudson Bay, in this Series.




When Canada finally became a British possession in 1763 she was, of course, subject to the navigation laws, or the Navigation Act, as this conglomeration of enactments was usually called. The avowed object of these laws was to gain and keep the British command of the sea. They aimed at this by trying to have British trade done in British ships, British ships manned by British crews, and British crews always available if wanted for British men-of-war. The first law was enacted under the Commonwealth in 1651. The whole series was repealed under Victoria in 1849. Exceptions were often made, especially in time of war; and there was some opposition to reckon with at all times. But, generally speaking, and quite apart from the question of whether they were wise or not, the British government invariably looked upon these navigation laws as a cardinal point of policy down to the close {69} of the wars with the French Empire and the American Republic in 1815.

The first laws only put into words what every sea-power had long been practising or trying to practise: namely, the confining of all sea trading to its own ships and subjects. They were first aimed at the Dutch, who fought for their carrying trade but were crushed. They operated, however, against all foreigners. They forbade all coastwise trade in the British Isles except in British vessels, all trade from abroad except in British ships or in ships belonging to the country whence the imported merchandise came, all trade between English colonies by outsiders, and all trade between the colonies and foreign countries, except in the case of a few enumerated articles. The manning clauses were of the same kind. Most of the crew and all the officers were to be British subjects—an important point when British seamen were liable to be 'pressed' into men-of-war in time of national danger.

The change of rule in 1763 meant that Canada left an empire that could not enforce its navigation laws and joined an empire that could. Whatever the value of the laws, Canadian shipping and sea trade continued to grow under them. In the eighteenth century {70} there was little internal development anywhere in America; and less in Canada than in what soon became the United States. People worked beside the waterways and looked seaward for their profits. Elias Derby, the first American millionaire, who died in 1799, made all his money, honestly and legally, out of shipping. Others made fortunes out of smuggling. An enterprising smuggler at Bradore, just inside the Strait of Belle Isle, paved his oaken stairs with silver dollars to keep the wood from wearing out; and he could well afford to do so.

The maritime provinces of Nova Scotia (then including New Brunswick) and Prince Edward Island had been gradually growing for a quarter of a century before the United Empire Loyalists began to come. Halifax was a garrison town and naval station. There was plenty of fish along the coast; and the many conveniently wooded harbours naturally invited lumbering and shipbuilding. Fish and furs were the chief exports up to the War of 1812; after that, timber. The Loyalists came in small numbers before 1783; in larger numbers during the five years following. From twenty to thirty thousand altogether are said to have settled in the Maritime Provinces. {71} They were poor, but capable and energetic, and by the end of the eighteenth century their 'Bluenose' craft began to acquire a recognized place at sea. Quebec and Montreal did an increasing business. Quebec was the great timber-trade and shipbuilding centre; Montreal the point where furs were collected for export. From Quebec 151 vessels took clearance in 1774. In 1800 there were 21 Quebec-built vessels on the local register. Ten years later there were 54.

The Great Lakes had no such early development. Moreover, the days of their small beginnings were full of retarding difficulties. Nor were they free from what was then a disaster of the first magnitude; for in 1780 a staggering loss happened to the infant colony. The Ontario foundered with one hundred and seventy-two souls on the lake after which she was named. During the fourteen years between the Conquest and the Revolution only a few small vessels appeared there. On the outbreak of the Revolution the British government impressed crews and vessels alike, and absolutely forbade the building of any craft bigger than an open boat except for the government service. Subsequently the strained relations on both sides, lasting till after the War of {72} 1812, and the tendency of the Americans to encroach on the frontier trade and settlements, combined to prevent the government from giving up the power it had thus acquired over shipping. The result was that trade was carried on in naval vessels, some of which had originally been built as merchantmen and others as men-of-war. There were frequent complaints of non-delivery from the business community, both on the spot and in England. But 'defence was more important than opulence,' and the burden was, on the whole, cheerfully borne by the Loyalists. In 1793 twenty-six vessels cleared from Kingston. Two years later a record trip was made by the sloop Sophia, which sailed from there to Queenston, well over two hundred miles, in eighteen hours. Two years later again a traveller counted sixty wagons carrying goods from Queenston, beyond the other end of Lake Ontario, to Chippawa, so as to get them past Niagara Falls. Anywhere west from Montreal the unit of measurement for all freight was a barrel of rum, the transport charge for which was over three dollars as far as Kingston, where it was trans-shipped from the bateau to a schooner.

There was very little shipping on Lake Erie {73} till after the War of 1812. The first American vessel launched in these waters had a curious history. After a season's work in 1797 she was carted past Niagara and launched on Lake Ontario, where she plied between Queenston and Kingston under the British flag with the name of Lady Washington. The rival Hudson's Bay and North-West Companies each had a few boats on the western Lakes at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the government maintained there a tiny flotilla of its own. But shipping was a very small affair west of Niagara for several years to come.

While the War of 1812 killed out the feeble trade on the Lakes, it greatly stimulated the well-established trade in sea-going craft from Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. The British command of the sea had become so absolute by 1814 that the whole American coast was practically sealed to trade, which was thus forced to seek an 'underground' outlet by way of Canada, in spite of the state of war. This, in addition to the transport required by the British forces in Canada, sent freights and tonnage up by leaps and bounds. The only trouble was to find enough ships and, harder still, enough men.

Canadian sailing craft in the nineteenth {74} century had a chequered career. Many disturbing factors affected the course of trade: the cholera of '32; the Rebellion of '37; the Ship Fever of '47; the great gold finds in California in '49 and in Australia in '53; Reciprocity with the United States in '54; Confederation in '67; the triumph of steam and steel in the seventies; and the era of inland development which began in the eighties.

The heyday of the Canadian sailing ship was the third quarter of the nineteenth century. This period, indeed, was one of great activity in the history of mast and sail all the world over. There was intense rivalry between steam and sail. The repeal of the Navigation Act in England had brought the whole of British shipping into direct competition with foreigners. The Americans were pushing their masterful way into every sea. The rush to California was drawing eager fleets of Yankee, Bluenose, and St Lawrence vessels round the Horn. India, China, and Australia were drawing other fleets round the Cape. The American clippers threatened to oust the slower 'Britishers' and throw the comparatively minor Canadians into the shade. For the first and only time in history American tonnage actually began to threaten British supremacy. {75} But the challenge was met in the proper way, by building to beat on even terms. The British had already regained their lead before the Civil War of the sixties; and the subsequent inland development of the United States, with the momentous change from wood and sails to steel and steam, combined to depress the American mercantile marine in favour of its British rival.

Canada played a great part in this brief but stirring era, when the wooden sailing vessel was making its last gallant stand against steam, and the sun of its immemorial day was going down in a blaze of glory which will never fade from the memories of those who love the sea. Canada built ships, sailed ships, owned ships, and sold ships. She became one of the four greatest shipping centres in the world; and this at a time when she had less than half as many people and less than one-tenth as much realized wealth as she has now. Quebec had more than half its population dependent on shipbuilding in the fifties and sixties. In 1864 it launched sixty vessels, many of them between one and two thousand tons. About the same time Nova Scotia launched nearly three hundred vessels and New Brunswick half as many. The Nova Scotians, however, only averaged two {76} hundred tons, and the New Brunswickers four hundred. If the Lakes, Prince Edward Island, the rest of Canada, and Newfoundland are added in, the total tonnage built in the best single year is found to be close on a quarter of a million. Allowing for the difference in numbers of the respective populations, this total compares most favourably with the highest recent totals built in the British Isles, where the greatest shipbuilding the world has ever seen is now being carried on.

It was the change from wood to metal that caused the decline of shipbuilding in Canada. It was also partly the change to steam; but only partly, for Canada started well in the race for building steamships. What proves that the disuse of wood was the real cause of the decline is the fact that Canada never even attempted to compete with other countries in building metal sailing vessels. If Canada had developed her metal industries a generation sooner she would have had steel clippers running against 'Yankees,' 'Britishers,' and German 'Dutchmen'; for there was a steel-built sailing-ship age that lasted into the twentieth century and that is not really over yet. Indeed, even wooden and composite sailers are still at work; and with their steel comrades {77} they still make a very large fleet. Singular proof of this is sometimes found. Nothing collects sailing ships like a calm; vessels run into it from all quarters and naturally remain together till the breeze springs up. But, even so, most readers will probably be surprised to learn that, only a few years ago, a great calm off the Azores collected a fleet of nearly three hundred sail.

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