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Samuel de Champlain's Voyages
Volume II, Part XIX, Chapter II
The Voyages to the great river St. Lawrence...

The Journals of the intrepid French explorer who was the first European to discover Lake Champlain

This is the nineteenth in a continuing series of entries from the Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, first published in 1613. To view Part I, click here. For Champlain's account of the discovery of the lake that bears his name, click here...

Original translation from the French by Charles Pomeroy Otis, Ph.D. Republished by the Prince Society, Boston: 1878.

The voyages to the great river St. Lawrence, 
made by Sieur de Champlain,
Captain in ordinary to the King in the Marine, 
from the year 1608 to that of 1612



After this agreement, I had some carpenters set to work to fit up a little barque of twelve or fourteen tons, for carrying all that was needed for our settlement, which, however, could not be got ready before the last of June.

Meanwhile, I managed to visit some parts of the river Saguenay, a fine river, which has the incredible depth of some one hundred and fifty to two hundred fathoms. [293] About fifty leagues from the mouth of the harbor, there is, as is said, a great waterfall, descending from a very high elevation with great impetuosity. There are some islands in this river, very barren, being only rocks covered with small firs and heathers. It is half a league broad in places, and a quarter of a league at its mouth, where the current is so strong that at three-quarters flood-tide in the river it is still running out. All the land that I have seen consists only of mountains and rocky promontories, for the most part covered with fir and birch, a very unattractive country on both sides of the river. In a word, it is mere wastes, uninhabited by either animals or birds; for, going out hunting in places which seemed to me the most pleasant, I found only some very small birds, such as swallows and river birds, which go there in summer. At other times, there are none whatever, in consequence of the excessive cold. This river flows from the north-west.

The savages told me that, after passing the first fall, they meet with eight others, when they go a day's journey without finding any. Then they pass ten others, and enter a lake, [294] which they are three days in crossing, and they are easily able to make ten leagues a day up stream. At the end of the lake there dwells a migratory people. Of the three rivers which flow into this lake, one comes from the north, very near the sea, where they consider it much colder than in their own country; and the other two from other directions in the interior, [295] where are migratory savages, living only from hunting, and where our savages carry the merchandise we give them for their furs, such as beaver, marten, lynx, and otter, which are found there in large numbers, and which they then carry to our vessels. These people of the north report to our savages that they see the salt sea; and, if that is true, as I think it certainly is, it can be nothing but a gulf entering the interior on the north. [296] The savages say that the distance from the north sea to the port of Tadoussac is perhaps forty-five or fifty days' journey, in consequence of the difficulties presented by the roads, rivers, and country, which is very mountainous, and where there is snow for the most part of the year. This is what I have definitely ascertained in regard to this river. I have often wished to explore it, but could not do so without the savages, who were unwilling that I or any of our party should accompany them. Nevertheless, they have promised that I shall do so. This exploration would be desirable, in order to remove the doubts of many persons in regard to the existence of this sea on the north, where it is maintained that the English have gone in these latter years to find a way to China. [297]

* * * * *



_The figures indicate the fathoms of water_.

_A_. A round mountain on the bank of the river Saguenay.
_B_. The harbor of Tadoussac.
_C_. A small fresh-water brook.
_D_. The encampment of the savages when they come to traffic.
_E_. A peninsula partly enclosing the port of the river Saguenay.
_F_. Point of All Devils.
_G_. The river Saguenay.
_H_. Point aux Alouettes.
_I_. Very rough mountains covered with firs and beeches.
_L_. The mill Bode.
_M_. The roadstead where vessels anchor while waiting for wind and tide.
_N_. A little pond near the harbor.
_O_. A small brook coming from the pond and flowing into the Saguenay.
_P_. Place without trees near the point where there is a quantity of grass.

* * * * *

I set out from Tadoussac the last day of the month to go to Quebec. [298] We passed near an island called Hare Island, [299] distant six leagues from the above-named port: it is two leagues from the northern, and nearly four leagues from the southern shore. From Hare Island we proceeded to a little river, dry at low tide, up which some seven hundred or eight hundred paces there are two falls. We named it Salmon River, [300] since we caught some of these fish in it. Coasting along the north shore, we came to a point extending into the river, which we called Cap Dauphin, [301] distant three leagues from Salmon River. Thence we proceeded to another, which we named Eagle Cape, [302] distant eight leagues from Cap Dauphin. Between the two there is a large bay, [303] at the extremity of which is a little river dry at low tide. From Eagle Cape, we proceeded to Isle aux Coudres, [304] a good league distant, which is about a league and a half long. It is nearly level, and grows narrower towards the two ends. On the western end there are meadows, and rocky points extending some distance out into the river. On the south-west side it is very reefy, yet very pleasant in consequence of the woods surrounding it. It is distant about half a league from the northern shore, where is a little river extending some distance into the interior. We named it Rivière du Gouffre, [305] since abreast of it the tide runs with extraordinary rapidity; and, although it has a calm appearance, it is always much agitated, the depth there being great: but the river itself is shallow, and there are many rocks at and about its mouth. Coasting along from Isle aux Coudres, we reached a cape which we named Cap de Tourmente, [306] five leagues distant; and we gave it this name because, however little wind there may be, the water rises there as if it were full tide. At this point, the water begins to be fresh. Thence we proceeded to the Island of Orleans, [307] a distance of two leagues, on the south side of which are numerous islands, low, covered with trees and very pleasant, with large meadows, having plenty of game, some being, so far as I could judge, two leagues in length, others a trifle more or less. About these islands are many rocks, also very dangerous shallows, some two leagues distant from the main land on the South. All this shore, both north and South, from Tadoussac to the Island of Orleans, is mountainous, and the soil very poor. The wood is pine, fir, and birch only, with very ugly rocks, so that in most places one could not make his way.

Now we passed along south of the Island of Orleans, which is a league and a half distant from the main land and half a league on the north side, being six leagues in length, and one in breadth, or in some places a league and a half. On the north side, it is very pleasant, on account of the great extent of woods and meadows there; but it is very dangerous sailing, in consequence of the numerous points and rocks between the main land and island, on which are numerous fine oaks and in some places nut-trees, and on the borders of the woods vines and other trees such as we have in France. This place is the commencement of the fine and fertile country of the great river, and is distant one hundred and twenty leagues from its mouth. Off the end of the island is a torrent of water on the north shore, proceeding from a lake ten leagues in the interior: [308] it comes down from a height of nearly twenty-five fathoms, above which the land is level and pleasant, although farther inland are seen high mountains appearing to be from fifteen to twenty leagues distant.


293. The deepest sounding as laid down on Laurie's Chart is one hundred and forty-six fathoms. The same authority says the banks of the river throughout its course are very rocky, and vary in height from one hundred and seventy to three hundred and forty yards above the stream. Its current is broad, deep, and uncommonly vehement: in some places, where precipices intervene, are falls from fifty to sixty feet in height, down which the whole volume of water rushes with tremendous fury and noise. The general breadth of the river is about two and a half miles, but at its mouth its width is contracted to three-quarters of a mile. The tide runs upward about sixty-five miles from its mouth.

294. If the Indians were three days in crossing Lake St. John here referred to, whose length is variously stated to be from twenty-five to forty miles, it could hardly have been the shortest time in which it were possible to pass it. It may have been the usual time, some of which they gave to fishing or hunting. "In 1647, Father Jean Duquen, missionary at Tadoussac, ascending the Saguenay, discovered the Lake St. John, and noted its Indian name, Picouagami, or Flat Lake. He was the first European who beheld that magnificent expanse of inland water."--_Vide Transactions, Lit. and His. Soc. of Quebec_, 1867-68, p. 5.

295. The first of these three rivers, which the traveller will meet as he passes up the northern shore of the lake, is the Peribonca flowing from the north-east. The second is the Mistassina, represented by the Indians as coming from the salt sea. The third is the Chomouchonan, flowing from the north-west.

296. There was doubtless an Indian trail from the head-waters of the Mistassina to Mistassin Lake, and from thence to Rupert River, which flows into the lower part of Hudson's Bay.

297. The salt sea referred to by the Indians was undoubtedly Hudson's Bay. The discoverer of this bay, Henry Hudson, in the years 1607, 1608, and 1609, was in the northern ocean searching for a passage to Cathay. In 1610, he discovered the strait and bay which now bear his name. He passed the winter in the southern part of the bay; and the next year, 1611, his sailors in a mutiny forced him and his officers into a shallop and abandoned them to perish. Nothing was heard of them afterward. The fame of Hudson's discovery had reached Champlain before the publication of this volume in 1613. This will be apparent by comparing Champlain's small map with the TABULA NAUTICA of Hudson, published in 1612. It will be seen that the whole of the Carte Géographique de la Nouvelle France of Champlain, on the west of Lumley's Inlet, including Hudson's Strait and Bay, is a copy from the Tabula Nautica. Even the names are in English, a few characteristic ones being omitted, such as Prince Henry, the King's Forlant, and Cape Charles.--_Vide Henry Hudson the Navigator_, by G. M. Asher, LL.D., Hakluyt Society, 1860, p. xliv.

298. This was June 30, 1608.

299. _Isle aux Lièvres_, or hares. This name was given by Jacques Cartier, and it is still called Hare Island. It is about ten geographical miles long, and generally about half or three-quarters of a mile wide.

300. _Rivière aux Saulmons_. "From all appearances," says Laverdière, "this Salmon River is that which empties into the 'Port à l'Équilles,' eel harbor, also called 'Port aux Quilles,' Skittles Port. Its mouth is two leagues from Cape Salmon, with which it must not be confounded." It is now known as Black River.

301. _Cap Dauphin_, now called Cape Salmon, which is about three leagues from Black River.

302. _Cap à l'Aigle_, now known as Cap aux Oies, or Goose Cape. The Eagle Cape of to-day is little more than two leagues from Cape Salmon, while Goose Cape is about eight leagues, as stated in the text.

303. The bay stretching between Cape Salmon and Goose Cape is called Mal Bay, within which are Cape Eagle, Murray Bay, Point au Ries, White Cape, Red Cape, Black Cape, Point Père, Point Corneille, and Little Mal Bay. In the rear of Goose Cape are Les Éboulemens Mountains, 2,547 feet in height. On the opposite side of the river is Point Ouelle, and the river of the same name.

304. _Isle aux Coudres_, Hazel Island, so named by Jacques Cartier, still retains its ancient appellation. Its distance from Goose Cape is about two leagues. The description of it in the text is very accurate.

305. _Rivière du Gouffre_. This river still retains this name, signifying whirlpool, and is the same that empties into St. Paul's Bay, opposite Isle-aux Coudres.

306. _Cap de Tourmente_, cape of the tempest, is eight leagues from Isle aux Coudres, but about two from the Isle of Orleans, as stated in the text, which sufficiently identifies it.

307. _Isle d'Orléans_. Cartier discovered this island in 1635, and named it the Island of Bacchus, because he saw vines growing there, which he had not before seen in that region. He says, "Et pareillement y trouuasmes force vignes, ce que n'auyons veu par cy deuant à toute la terre, & par ce la nommasmes l'ysle de Bacchus."--_Brief Récit de la Navigation Faite en MDXXXV._, par Jacques Cartier, D'Avezac ed., Paris, 1863, pp. 14, 15. The grape found here was probably the Frost Grape, _Vitis cordifolia_. The "Island of Orleans" soon became the fixed name of this island, which it still retains. Its Indian name is said to have been _Minigo_.--_Vide_ Laverdière's interesting note, _Oeuvres de Champlain_, Tome II, p. 24. Champlain's estimate of the size of the island is nearly accurate. It is, according to the Admiralty charts, seventeen marine miles in length, and four in its greatest width.

308. This was the river Montmorency, which rises in Snow Lake, some fifty miles in the interior.--_Vide_ Champlain's reference on his map of Quebec and its environs. He gave this name to the river, which it still retains, in honor of the Admiral Montmorency, to whom he dedicated his notes on the voyage of 1603.--_Vide Laverdière_, in loco; also _Champlain_, ed. 1632; _Chiarlevoix's Letters_, London, 1763, p. 19. The following is Jean Alfonse's description of the fall of Montmorency: "When thou art come to the end of the Isle, thou shall see a great River, which falleth fifteene or twenty fathoms downe from a rocke, and maketh a terrible noyse."--_Hakluyt, Vol. III. p. 293. The perpendicular descent of the Montmorency at the falls is 240 feet.

This is the conclusion of Volume II, Part XIX, Chapter 2 of Voyages
Click here for Voyages, Volume II, Part XX, Chapter 3

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Samuel de Champlain. 1567-1635. "Voyages of Samuel de Champlain" Edited by Edmund F. Slafter, (Boston: Prince Society 1878)

Samuel de Champlain image: Warwick Stevens Carpenter. The Summer Paradise in History. Albany: General Passenger Department, The Delaware and Hudson Company. 1914. Courtesy of John and Barbara Gallagher.

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