This year the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Thus it seems only appropriate that in celebrating the Foundation’s three decade history that the guest speaker at the LPWBRF Annual General Meeting continued the focus on history, albeit, on a much grander scale – nearly 350 years back. Resident John Ayre spoke at the Walsingham Women's Institute Hall on Thursday October 20th about his extensive historical research on the 1669-1670 voyage of the French Sulpician Priests, Rene de Brehant de Galinée and François Dollier de Casson.
John first became interested in the story of Galinée when he learned at the Burning Kiln Winery that Norfolk grapes had been used to make wine by the early explorers as far back as the 1600’s. But, how had the priests Galinée and Dollier come to spend the winter in Port Dover, over 100 years before any European settlers arrived, living off of ample amounts of smoked meat and 10 “hogsheads” (that is, 630 gallons) of wine? Well, that’s just what John Ayre set out to discover.
At the AGM, John recounted how two French Priests and seven soldiers travelled in three birch bark canoes from Montreal, up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and back to Montreal via Sault Ste. Marie and the French River. The explorers, accompanied by guides from the Seneca First Nation, set out from Montreal and followed the South shore of Lake Ontario to the Great Seneca Village of Ganondagan, which was over 100 longhouses in size. There, they left their guides and travelled onwards to near where present day Hamilton is. Galinée recounts in his journal that, on a clear day, one could hear Niagara Falls all the way from Hamilton. At that time, Europeans did not know that the great lakes were connected, and so the explorers hiked inland to near present day Brantford and followed the Grand River down to where Dunnville is now located. Despite leaving Montreal in July, paddling a grueling 13 hours a day, at a punishing pace of 50 strokes per minute, they did not reach Port Dover area till just before winter.
In 1669 Canada, the term “Winter is Coming” held as much threat or more as it does for our Game of Thrones heroes. Knowing that they had to prepare themselves, the explorers built a fortified cabin, smoked game meat and most importantly, made plenty of wine from wild growing grapes – which Galinée extolled for being as good as the wine from Bordeaux. The explorers spent five months in the area of Port Dover preparing for, and withstanding the harsh winter. The region was used by the Iroquois as hunting grounds, and so was relatively uncultivated by First Nations’ settlements. Galinée recounts the silence of the woods, the ample fish, deer, beavers and bears, and praised the area as the “Earthly Paradise of Canada”.
Sadly, for our explorers, not long after beginning their journey again in Spring, disaster struck. The pack containing all that was necessary to conduct Mass was washed away. Seeing no point in continuing down to Ohio as they had intended, the two Priests decided they would simply have to return to Montreal. However, they decided to return by a different route, so the journey would not have been for nothing. They were the first Europeans to document their travel along the Detroit River, into Lake Huron and thus learning the Great Lakes were connected. From there they traveled towards Sault Ste. Marie, and followed the French River back to Montreal. Galinée’s detailed journal and accurate maps created from the journey helped open up pathways through the lakes and today and shed light on what Canada was like 350 years ago.
For those interested in learning more, John Ayre’s book entitled, “ This Paradise of Canada: The Voyage of Dollier de Casson and Bréhant de Galinée 1669-1670 “ will be available for download through Amazon by December 2016.