Heroes Of The Past

On the river bank below the Chateau, tradition says, was the spot

trodden by Jacques Cartier, who gave the river its name. Born at the

time when all Europe was still excited over the tales of Columbus'

adventures, he left the white cliffs and grey docks of St. Malo, where

he had learned the sailor's craft, to search for the western route to

the Indies.

A little higher up, less than a century later, Champl
in, to push on

actively his operations in the fur-trade, built his fort, the name which

he then gave the spot, "Place Royale," being recently restored to it.

In his wanderings for the further pursuance of this object, he

discovered Lakes Ontario, Huron and Champlain.

Being betrothed to a twelve year old maiden, Helene Bouille, the

daughter of a Huguenot, he named the island opposite the city, which

lies like a green gem among the crystal waters, Helene, in affectionate

remembrance of her who, at the end of eight years, was to join him in

his adventurous life.

The winding length of quiet, old St. Paul street, then an Indian trail,

following the course of the river through the oak forest, must often

have known the presence of this picturesque warrior in his

weather-beaten garments of the doublet and long hose then in vogue.

"Over the doublet he buckled on a breastplate, and probably a back

piece, while his thighs were protected by cuisses of steel and his head

by a plumed casque. Across his shoulders hung the strap of his

baudolier or ammunition box, at his side was his sword, and in his

hand his arquebuse. Such was the equipment of this ancient Indian

fighter, whose exploits date eleven years before the Puritans landed,"

among the grey granite hills of New England.

He was an armourer of Dieppe, who, though "a great captain, a successful

discoverer and a noted geographer, was more than all a God-fearing,

Christian gentleman." He was more concerned to gain victories by the

cross than by the sword, saying:--"The salvation of a soul is of more

value than the conquest of an empire."

The year 1620 was a red letter day in the history of the Colony, when,

from a little vessel moored at the foot of the cliff, he led on shore at

Quebec his young bride, who with her three maids had come to the western

wilderness, the first gentlewoman to land on Canadian shores. He

conducted her to where is now the corner of Notre Dame and Sous-le-Fort

streets, to the rude "habitation" he had prepared for her reception,

which was poorly furnished and unhomelike in comparison to the one which

she had left over the sea. But history tells of no word of complaint nor

disappointment coming from the gentle lips; but, as the youthful

chateleine sat by her hearth, it shed a light among the huts of the

settlers and dusky lodges of the natives, as her example of patience and

duty performed by the first refined, civilized fireside in the land

does to the thousands who have succeeded her. After almost three

hundred years, the "charms of her person, her elegance and kindliness of

manner" are still remembered. The chronicler tells us that the

"Governor's lady wore in her daily rambles, amongst the wigwams, an

article of feminine attire, not unusual in those days, a small mirror at

her girdle." It appealed irresistibly to the simple natures around her,

that "a beauteous being should love them so much as to carry their

images reflected close to her heart."

"The graceful figure of the first lady of Canada, gliding noiselessly

along by the murmuring waters of the St. Lawrence, showering everywhere

smiles and kindness, a help-mate to her noble lord, and a pattern of

purity and refinement, was indeed a vision of female loveliness" which

time cannot obliterate nor forgetfulness dim. The domestic life of the

colony dates from about the time of her arrival, the first regular

register of marriage being entered in the following year; two months

after the first nuptial ceremony was performed in New England. The

first christening took place in the same year, 1621, the ordinance being

administered to the infant son of Abraham Martin, dit L'Ecossais,

pilot of the river St. Lawrence. This old pilot, named in the journal of

the Jesuits as Maitre Abraham, has bequeathed his name to the famous

Plains, on which was decided the destiny of New France.

It was indeed a sorry day for the settlement when the inhabitants, on

the 16th of August, 1624, saw the white sails of Champlain's vessel

disappear behind what is now Point Levis, carrying back, alas! forever,

to the shores of her beloved France, Madame de Champlain, sighing for

the mystic life of the cloister, tired out by the incessant alarms and

the Indian ferocities spread around the Fort during the frequent

absences of her husband and her favourite brother, Eustache Bouille. The

daintily-nurtured French lady must have found the quiet of the old-world

convent a very haven of peace and rest. She died at Mieux, an Ursuline

Nun, in the order which subsequently was to be so closely identified

with the religious history of her wilderness home.

But monastic retreat had no attractions for the founder of Fort St.

Louis. Parkman says: "Champlain, though in Paris is restless. He is

enamoured of the New World, whose rugged charms have seized his fancy

and his heart. His restless thoughts revert to the fog-wrapped coasts,

the piney odours of the forests, the noise of waters and the sharp and

piercing sunlight so dear to his remembrance."

Among these he was destined to lay down his well worn armour at the

command of death, the only enemy before whom he ever retreated; for on

Christmas Day, 1635, in a chamber in the Fort at Quebec, "breathless and

cold lay the hardy frame which war, the wilderness and the sea had

buffeted so long in vain. The chevalier, crusader, romance-loving

explorer and practical navigator lay still in death," leaving the memory

of a courage that was matchless and a patience that was sublime.

For over two hundred and sixty years, no monument stood to celebrate

this true patriot's name, but now his statue stands in his city, near to

where he laid the foundations and built the Chateau St. Louis. Most

unfortunately his last resting place is unknown, notwithstanding the

laborious and learned efforts of the many distinguished antiquarians of


The Fort which Champlain built in 1620, and in which he died, was for

over two centuries the seat of government, and the name recalls the

thrilling events which clothed it with an atmosphere of great and

stirring interest during its several periods. The hall of the Fort

during the weakness of the colony was often, it is said, a scene of

terror and despair from the inroads of the ferocious savages, who,

having passed and overthrown all the French outposts, threatened the

Fort itself, and massacred some friendly Indians within sight of its


"In the palmy days of French sovereignty it was the centre of power over

the immense domain extending from the Gulf of St. Lawrence along the

shores of the noble river and down the course of the Mississippi to its

outlet below New Orleans.

The banner which first streamed from the battlements of Quebec was

displayed from a line of forts which protected the settlements

throughout this vast extent of country. The Council Chamber of the

Castle was the scene of many a midnight vigil, many a long deliberation

and deep-laid project, to free the continent from the intrusion of the

ancient rivals of France and assert her supremacy. Here also was

rendered, with all its ancient forms, the fealty and homage of the

noblesse and military retainers, who held possessions under the Crown,

a feudal service suited to those early times, and which is still

performed by the peers at the coronation of our kings in Westminster


Among the many dramatic scenes of which it was the theatre, no

occurrence was more remarkable than an event which happened in the year

1690, when "Castle St. Louis had assumed an appearance worthy of the

Governor-General, who then made it the seat of the Royal Government, the

dignified Count de Frontenac, a nobleman of great talents, long service

and extreme pride, and who is considered one of the most illustrious of

the early French rulers." The story is, that Sir William Phipps, an

English admiral, arriving with his fleet in the harbour, and believing

the city to be in a defenceless condition, thought he might capture it

by surprise. An officer was sent ashore with a flag of truce. He was met

half way by a French major and his men, who, placing a bandage over the

intruder's eyes, conducted him by a circuitous route to the Castle,

having recourse on the way to various stratagems, such as making small

bodies of soldiers cross and re-cross his path, to give him the

impression of the presence of a strong force. On arriving at the Castle,

his surprise we are told was extreme on finding himself in the presence

of the Governor-General, the Intendant and the Bishop, with a large

staff of French officers, uniformed in full regimentals, drawn up in the

centre of the great hall ready to receive him.

The British officer immediately handed to Frontenac a written demand for

an unconditional surrender, in the name of the new Sovereigns, William

and Mary, whom Protestant England had crowned instead of the dethroned

and Catholic James. Taking his watch from his pocket and placing it on a

table near by, he peremptorily demanded a positive answer in an hour's

time at the furthest. This action was like the spark in the tinder, and

completely roused the anger and indignation of his hearers, who had

scarcely been able to restrain their excitement during the reading of

the summons, which the Englishman had delivered in an imperious voice,

and which an interpreter had translated word for word to the outraged


A murmur of repressed resentment ran through the assembly, when one of

the officers, without waiting for his superior to reply, exclaimed

impetuously:--that the messenger ought to be treated as the envoy of a

corsair, or common marauder, since Phipps was in arms against his

legitimate Sovereign. Frontenac, although keenly hurt in his most

vulnerable point,--his pride--by the lack of ceremony displayed in the

conduct of the Englishman, replied in a calm voice, but in impassioned

words, saying loftily:--"You will have no occasion to wait so long for

my answer,--here it is:--I do not recognize King William, but I know

that the Prince of Orange is an usurper, who has violated the most

sacred ties of blood and religion in dethroning the King, his

father-in-law; and I acknowledge no other legitimate Sovereign than

James the Second. Do your best, and I will do mine."

The messenger thereupon demanded that the reply be given him in writing,

which the Governor haughtily refused, saying:--

"I am going to answer your master at the cannon's mouth; he shall be

taught that this is not the manner in which a person of my rank ought to

be summoned."

Charlevoix seems to have very much admired the lordly bearing of

Frontenac on this occasion, which was so trying to his self-control,

but, with an impartiality creditable to a Frenchman, he justly

chronicles his equal admiration for the coolness and presence of mind

with which the Englishman signalized himself in carrying out his

mission, under insults and humiliations scarcely to be looked for from

those who should have known better the respect due to a flag of truce.

The commander of the fleet, finding the place ready for resistance,

concluded that the lateness of the season rendered it unwise to commence

a regular siege against a city whose natural and artificial defences

made it a formidable fortress, and which, when garrisoned by troops of

such temper and mettle, it appeared impossible to reduce. It must also

be considered that Phipps had been delayed by contrary winds and pilots

ignorant of the river navigation, which combination of untoward

circumstances conspired to compel him to relinquish his design, which

under more favouring conditions he might have carried out with success,

and conquered the place before it could have been known in Montreal that

it was even in danger.

"Without doubt Frontenac was the most conspicuous figure which the

annals of the early colonization of Canada affords. He was the

descendant of several generations of distinguished men who were famous

as courtiers and soldiers." He was of Basque origin and proud of his

noble ancestry. He was born in 1620, and was distinguished by becoming

the god-child of the King, the royal sponsor bestowing his own name on

the unconscious babe, who was in after years to be a sturdy defender of

France's dominions over the ocean. He became a soldier at the age of

fifteen, and even in early youth and manhood saw active service and gave

promise of gallantry and bravery.

In October, 1648, he married the lovely young Anne de la Grange-Trianon,

a "maiden of imperious temper, lively wit and marvellous grace." She was

a beauty of the court and chosen friend of Mademoiselle de Montpensier,

the granddaughter of King Henry the Fourth. A celebrated painting of the

Comtesse de Frontenac, in the character of Minerva, smiles on the

walls of one of the galleries at Versailles.

The marriage took place without the consent of the bride's relatives,

and soon proved an ill-starred one, the young wife's fickle affection

turning into a strong repulsion for her husband, whom she intrigued to

have sent out of the country.

Her influence at court, and some jealousy on the part of the King

combined to bring about this end, and Frontenac was appointed Governor

and Lieutenant-General of La Nouvelle France.

Parkman says:--"A man of courts and camps, born and bred in the focus of

a most gorgeous civilization, he was banished to the ends of the earth,

among savage hordes and half-reclaimed forests, to exchange the

splendour of St. Germain and the dawning glories of Versailles for a

stern, grey rock, haunted by sombre priests, rugged merchants, traders,

blanketed Indians and wild bushrangers." When he sailed up the river and

the stern grandeur of the scene opened up before him, he felt as he

afterwards wrote:--

"I never saw anything more superb than the position of this town. It

could not be better situated for the future capital of an empire."

But the dainty and luxurious Comtesse had no taste for pioneer life,

and no thought of leaving her silken-draped boudoir for a home in a

rude fort on a rock; she therefore accepted the offer of a domicile with

her kindred spirit, Mademoiselle d'Outrelaise. The "Divines," as they

were called, established a Salon, which, among the many similar

coteries of the time, was remarkable for its wit and gaiety. It set the

fashion to French society, and was affected by all the leading spirits

of the Court and Capital.

Although an occasional billet came from the recreant spouse to her

husband in the Castle St. Louis, no home life nor welcoming domestic

fireside threw a charm over his exile. The glamour with which affection

can glorify even the rudest surroundings was denied him in his long life

of seventy-six years.

To avoid the confusion to which the terms Fort St. Louis and Castle St.

Louis might lead, it must be understood that they in a measure were the

same, as the one enclosed the other.

In the year 1834, two hundred and fourteen years after the foundation of

this Chateau, a banquet was prepared for the reception of those invited

to partake of the official hospitality of the Governor; when suddenly

the tocsin sounded,--the dreaded alarm of fire. Soon the streets were

thronged with citizens, with anxious enquiries passing from lip to lip,

and ere long the cry was uttered: "To the Castle, to the Castle!"

The entire population of merchants and artisans, soldiers from the

garrison, priests from the monasteries, and citizens, rich and poor,

joined hands with the firemen to save the mediaeval fortress from

destruction, and its treasured contents from the flames. Old silver was

snatched from the banquet table by some who had expected to sit around

the board as guests.

At the head of the principal staircase, where it had stood for fifty

years or more, was a bust of Wolfe, with the inscription upon it:--

"Let no vain tear upon this bust be shed,

A common tribute to the common dead,

But let the good, the generous, the brave,

With God-like envy sigh for such a grave."

Fortunately, in the confusion of the disaster it was not overlooked, but

was carried to a place of safety. While every heart present could not

but be moved with the deepest feelings of regret at the loss of its

hoary walls, yet the beholder was forced to admire the magnificent

spectacular effect of the conflagration which crowned the battlements

and reflected over crag and river, as the old fort, which had stubbornly

resisted all its enemies during five sieges, fell before the devouring


Its stones were permeated with the military and religious history of the

"old rock city," for, in the fifteen years of its occupancy by

Champlain, it was as much a mission as a fort. The historian says:--"A

stranger visiting the Fort of Quebec would have been astonished at its

air of conventual decorum. Black-robed Jesuits and scarfed officers

mingled at Champlain's table. There was little conversation, but in its

place histories and the lives of the saints were read aloud, as in a

monastic refectory. Prayers, masses and confessions followed each other,

and the bell of the adjacent chapel rang morning, noon and night. Quebec

became a shrine. Godless soldiers whipped themselves to penitence, women

of the world outdid each other in the fury of their contrition, and

Indians gathered thither for the gifts of kind words and the polite

blandishments bestowed upon them."

The site where the old Chateau St. Louis once stood, with its halo of

romance and renown, is now partially covered by the great Quebec

hostelry, the Chateau Frontenac, which in its erection and appointments

has not destroyed, but rather perpetuated, the traditions of the

"Sentinel City of the St. Lawrence."

"Chateau Frontenac has been planned with the strong sense of the fitness

of things, being a veritable old-time Chateau, whose curves and cupolas,

turrets and towers, even whose tones of gray stone and dulled brick

harmonize with the sober quaint architecture of our dear old Fortress

City, and looks like a small bit of Mediaeval Europe perched upon a


Under the promenade of Durham Terrace is still the cellar of the old

Chateau; and standing upon it, the patriot, whether English or French,

cannot but thrill as he looks on the same scene upon which the heroes of

the past so often gazed, and from which they flung defiance to their


On almost the same spot upon which Champlain had landed at Montreal, and

about seven years after his death, a small band of consecrated men and

women, singing a hymn, drew up their tempest-worn pinnace, and raised

their standard in the name of King Louis, while Maisonneuve, the ascetic

knight, planted a crucifix, and dedicated the land to God.

The city as it stands on this spot is a fulfilment of his vow then made,

when he declared, as he pitched his tent and lighted his camp-fire, that

here he would found a city though every tree on the island were an

Iroquois. On an altar of bark, decorated with wild flowers and lighted

by fireflies, the first mass was celebrated, and the birthnight of

Montreal registered.

From the little seed thus planted in this rude altar, a mighty harvest

has arisen in cathedral, monastery, church and convent, representing

untold wealth and influence. The early French explorer, with a "sword in

his hand and a crucifix on his breast," was more desirous of

Christianizing than of conquering the native tribes. So completely has

this creed become identified with the country's character and history,

that the province of Quebec is emphatically a Catholic community. So

faithfully have its tenets been handed down by generations of devout

followers of this faith, that even the streets and squares bear the

names of saints and martyrs, such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Peter, St.

John, St. Joseph, St. Mary, and in fact the entire calendar is

represented, especially in the east end of the town. St. Paul, which was

probably the first street laid out, is called after the city's founder

himself,--Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve.