By Thomas D’Arcy McGee



Page 9. (1)

   Sebastian Cabot to his Lady—To the reader whose idea of Sebastian Cabot is associated with usual pictures of him, taken when he was nearly four score, it may be necessary to remark, that he received his first commission from King Henry VII., jointly with his father, John Cabot, and discovered the Labrador coast, in his twenty-first year, (A.D. 1497). The ardent passion attributed to him, in the ballad, would not be inconsistent with his age, in either his first or second expeditions. [back]

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   “Of how they brought their sick and maim’d for him to breathe upon,
   And of the wonders wrought for them by the Gospel of St. John.”

   “So great was the veneration for the white men, that the chief of the town (Hochelaga), and many of the maimed, sick, and infirm, came to Jacques Cartier, entreating him, by expressive signs, to cure their ills. The pious Frenchman disclaimed any supernatural power, but he read aloud part of the Gospel of St. John, made the sign of the cross over the sufferers, and presented them with chaplets and holy symbols; he then prayed earnestly that the poor savages might be freed from the night of ignorance and infidelity. The Indians regarded these acts and words with deep gratitude and respectful admiration.”—Warburton’s Canada, vol. i., p.66. [Page 59] [back]

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   “Such fate as Henrich Hudson found in the labyrinths of snow.”

   The incident on which this ballad is founded is related in Bancroft’s “History of the Colonization of America,” vol. ii.  The name of the faithful sailor, who preferred certain death to abandoning his captain in the last extremity, was Phillip Staafe—a Hollander, no doubt. [back]

Page 25. (4)
                    “Within Cayuga’s forest shade
                     The stocks were set—the keel was laid—
                     Wet with the nightly forest dew,
                     The frame of that first vessel grew.”
   The launch of the first sailed vessel that ever navigated the great lakes, an event in itself so well worthy of commemoration, is made still more note-worthy by the circumstances which surrounded it and of which we have fortunately more than one account from the pens of eye-witnesses.  The accuracy of Hennepin’s Journal (Description de la Louisiane,) has been disputed in detail, and its pretensions and egotisms severely censured by several recent writers on those times; but I believe the very full details he supplies of the beginning of the Sieur de La Salle’s expedition, and the building of the “Griffin,” (at Cayuga Creek, a few miles above Niagara Falls, on what is now “the American side,”) have not been questioned. Father Louis Membre, also a Recollect, an eye-witness, has left us a briefer account, which is embodied by Le Clerq in his “First Establishment of the Faith in New France,” published at Paris in 1691, and extracted in Mr. J. G. Shea’s “Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley,” New York, 1852.  Father Membre relates that the building of the barque above the Falls was decided on by La Salle in the winter of 1678, and commenced in the following spring; that she was launched on the 7th [Page 60] of August, and was “named the ‘Griffin’ in honour of the arms of Monsieur de Frontenac”—the Captain-General of Canada, or New France.  The same day, Father Hennepin, Membre, and de la Rebourde—another Recollect—embarked with the expedition, and they quickly passed, “contrary to all expectations, the current,” and entered on the broad expanse of Lake Erie. The “Griffin” was rigged as a brigantine, carried two or three brass guns, was of 40 or 50 tons burthen, and as she entered Lake Erie the magnificent Te Deum Laudamus arose from her deck, and was wafted for the first time across its blue waste of waters. She bore her gallant crew through many perils, as far as Green Bay, in Lake Michigan, but on the return voyage to Niagara, after landing La Salle and the Recollects, to continue their journey overland to Mississippi, foundered and was lost.

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                    “Stands th’adventurous Recollect
                     Whose page records that anxious day.”

   Father Hennepin.

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                    “——— those isles of dread
                     The Huron peoples with the dead.”

   The Manitoulin Isles, in Lake Huron, were supposed by the aborigines to be the special abode of the great Manitou, and were feared and reverenced accordingly. [back] 

Page 28. (7)

                   “And it may be thy lot to trace
                     The footprints of the unknown race
                     ’Graved on Superior’s iron shore,
                     Which knows their very name no more.”

   “That this region was resorted to by a barbaric race for the purpose [Page 61] of procuring copper, long before it became known to the white man, is evident from numerous memorials scattered throughout it entire extent. Whether these ancient miners belonged to the race who built the mounds found so abundantly on the Upper Mississippi and its affluents, or were the progenitors of the Indians now inhabiting the country, is a matter of conjecture. *   *   *   *   *   *   *
The high antiquity of this rude mining is inferred from the fact, that the existing race of Indians have no tradition, by what people or at what period it was done.  The places, even, were unknown to the oldest of the band, until pointed out by the white man.”—Whitney & Foster’s Report on the Mining Region of Lake Superior, published by the U.S. Congress.

Page 29. (8)

                   “Who teacheth the doe and the fawn to run
                     In the track the moose has made.”

   The habit of these sagacious animals, running in what may be called Indian file, baffles the hunter of the North-west in judging of the extent of a herd by their tracks through the snow. The fact is repeatedly stated by writers on the North-west territory.

Page 30. (9)

                   “Who hangeth the reindeer moss on the trees
                     For the food of the Caribou.”

   In the region known as the Barrens, in the extreme North-east of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s possessions, where “the soil” is one interminable stretch of arid pummice-stone, Nature has still provided for the existence of the gentle and valuable Caribou, by clothing the stunted shrubbery, wherever it appears, with what is called “Reindeer moss,” a substitute for the dearth of herbage. [Page 62]

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                    “There you may hear what here you read,
                     And seek in witness of the deed
                                                 Our Ladye of the Snow.”

   The original church of Notre Dame des Neiges stood upon what is now “the Priests’ Farm,” on the southern slope of the Mountain of Montreal. It was originally surrounded by the habitations of the converted Indians and their instructors, of “the Mountain Mission.” The wall of defence and two towers still remain, in good preservation, fronting on Sherbrooke Street, Montreal. The present chapel of the same name stands in the Village of Cote des Neiges, behind the Mountain.

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   The Sea Captain—The legend under this title is a favorite among sailors. I heard it related, many years ago, with the greatest gravity, by an “Old Salt,” who laid the scene of the ghostly abduction in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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   Thomas Moore at St. Annes.—At St. Annes, near the junction of the upper branch of the Ottawa with the St. Lawrence, they show a particular spot as the place where Moore composed his well-known “Canadian Boat-song.” As the poet himself is silent on the subject in the note with which he accompanied the song, in his “Poems relating to America,” we may give St. Annes the benefit of the doubt. It may not be amiss to remark, that, to this flying visit of Moore’s, which occupied him only from the 22d of July, 1804, when he reached Chippewa, till the 10th of October, when he sailed from Halifax for England, we are indebted not only for the Boat-song, but “the Woodpecker,” and the ballad “Written on passing Dead-man’s Island,”—poems which must certainly be included in any future Canadian Anthology. [Page 63]

Page 55. (13)

   Apostrophe to the Boyne.—These stanzas, originally written several years ago, and included in Hayes’ collection of “The Ballads of Ireland,” published by Fullarton, (London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, 1855) are here inserted as an evidence of what the author at the time of writing them considered, and still continues to consider, the true spirit in which the events referred to in them ought alone be remembered by natives of Ireland, whether at home or abroad.  In this light he would fain hope they may be acceptable to the general reader in Canada. [Page 64]