27 May

Champlain's astrolabe

Champlain Seeks China

In 1867 an historic find was made near Renfrew, Ontario. It was an astrolabe belonging to Champlain who lost it in 1613 while making a portage from the Ottawa River to Muskrat Lake.

Champlain always hoped to find the great river that would lead to the Pacific. During one of his visits to France, he met a young man named Vignau, who had been in Canada. He told Champlain about a trip he had made up the Ottawa River until he reached an ocean. A wrecked English ship was seen on the shore. This looked as though it might lead to the route to China, so Champlain brought Vignau back to Canada to act as guide.

On May 27, 1613, Champlain and Vignau left St. Helen's Island near Montreal, and paddled up the Ottawa River. Champlain knew an Algonquin chief who lived at Muskrat Lake. He walked there carrying four paddles, other supplies and his astrolabe, an instrument used for reading the stars to determine latitude and longitude.

Every fisherman who has portaged through the woods in June, carrying equipment while fighting off Mosquitoes and blackflies, will appreciate what happened to Champlain. He dropped the astrolabe along the way, and it was lost for 254 years. That was the first bad break.

The Algonquin chief, after hearing Vignau's story, laughed, and the young Frenchman confessed that he had made up the story. Champlain decided to return to Quebec and was accompanied by the Indians as far as Chaudière Falls. They carried the canoes to the foot of the falls, and performed a ceremony to ensure protection against all enemies. A plate was passed, into which every member of the party dropped a piece of tobacco. The plate was then placed on the ground, while the Indians moved around it, singing and dancing. One of the braves made a long speech, always part of Indian ceremonies, and the plate was hurled into the midst of the cauldron. Loud shouts rang out as Champlain departed.

The astrolabe was found in 1867 by a farmer who was ploughing land near Renfrew. It was in a remarkable state of preservation; the date of its manufacture, 1603, could clearly be seen.


27 May

-1732    La Vérendrye sent his eldest son to build a fort on the Winnipeg River. He was probably the first white man to see Lake Winnipeg.

-1813    General Dearborn and Commodore Chauncey took Fort George, Niagara. 1818 Halifax and Saint John were declared free ports.

-1949    Newfoundland held its first election as a province of Canada; Joseph Smallwood became premier.