St Laurent

St Laurent. Green Line. Opened 1966.
St Laurent. Green Line. Opened 1966.

Apologies once again for the infrequent posts. Looming penury at the beginning of the year has been happily solved by a good deal of teaching; alas, this means less time for history! The project does continue, albeit slowly, and at this stage I am reviewing, editing the existing stations. This post improves on one element of the earlier “St Laurent”, an impossible chapter of at least 500 years.

On the thirteenth of that month we set out from St Lawrence’s Bay and heading towards the west, made our way as far as a cape on the south side [West Point on Anticosti], which lies some twenty-three leagues west, one quarter southwest of St Lawrence’s harbour. And it was told to us by the two savages we had captured on our first voyage, that this cape formed part of the land on the south which was an island [Anticosti Island]; and that to the south of it lay the route from Honguedo [Gaspé], where we had seized them when on our first voyage, to Canada; and that two days’ journey from this cape and island  [West Point on Anticosti] began the kingdom of Saguenay, on the north shore as one made one’s way to this Canada.

What can one say about St Laurent? The river has always been here, well, nearly always, and being older than the saint, was not always called St Laurent. For the Mohawks, the most easterly of the Iroquois, the river was called Kaniatarowanneneh, the Great River, and, in fact, in 1535, on the feast day of St Laurent, it was on a bay on Newfoundland that Jacques Cartier bestowed the saint’s name. Misunderstanding his captives, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, the sons of chief Donnacona, “lord of Canada”, and who had spent the winter in France, Cartier believed the river was called Hochelaga, which, island or village, lay 900 kilometers inland. So the Iroquois name stuck for a few years longer, but the name St Laurent wandered, as names are wont to do, first to the gulf and then to the Kaniatarowanneneh, and so the bay named on the 10 August 1535 is now called Ste Geneviève Harbour.

Safely back in Saguenay, Taignoagny seemed to vacillate about leading the Frenchmen to Hochelaga. Cartier deemed this to be “treason and malice”. When Donnacona and Taignoagny offered Donnacona’s own ten year old niece and two younger boys, one Taignoagny’s brother, the move, which may have been an exchange of hostages and an offer of alliance, was interpreted as a desperate bribe. Regardless the children seem to have been kept. The next day brought “a great ruse to prevent” the Frenchmen reaching Hochelaga. Three men were dressed as devils, a god was invoked bringing tidings from Hochelaga that “there would be so much snow and ice that all would perish”.  Amidst the confusion, Donnacona asked for a display of the artillery Dom Agaya and Taignoagny had seen in France. His people were “all so much astonished as if the heavens had fallen upon them, and began to howl and shriek in such a very loud manner that one would have thought hell had emptied itself there”.

Consulted for this post

The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, with an introduction by Ramsay Cook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993)

The "Dauphin" Map, now in the British Library, shows what is thought to be the first recorded use of "Canada" on a map. © Copyright The British Library Board Ms. Add. 5413. 'A large chart of the world... highly ornamented, with figures, etc., with the names in French'. Anon. Dieppe, c. 1542-1544? [The 'Dauphin' or 'Harleian' Map].
The “Dauphin” Map, now in the British Library, shows what is thought to be the first recorded use of “Canada” on a map. © Copyright The British Library Board Ms. Add. 5413. ‘A large chart of the world… highly ornamented, with figures, etc., with the names in French’. Anon. Dieppe, c. 1542-1544? [The ‘Dauphin’ or ‘Harleian’ Map].
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