25 September 2013: Gaspé and Percé, Quebec
Traveling Back in Time
By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
The Gaspé Peninsula reaches out to the east…toward Europe.
Not all that much changed from the way it looked when Jacques Cartier passed through in 1534. He planted a cross on behalf of Francois I of France, and kidnapped the sons of Chief Donnaconna to bring home as trophies (and as pilots to bring him back to what became known as New France.)
For 400 years afterward, the peninsula developed just a bit, although it still seems frozen in time as if it were in the 1950s. Beaver Cleaver would feel right at home.
The word Gaspé is actually not French; in the Micmac language it means something very close to Land’s End, which it would be if you were coming from the west, from North America.
You could call it Land’s Beginning if you were coming from Europe.
We are near completion of our transatlantic crossing west from Europe, Iceland, and Greenland to Atlantic Canada.
As we do, let’s not forget that in the 15th, 16th, and 17th century it was all about Asia.
Trust me: Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and Quebec and Virginia and New York were not Asia.
But the reason they were explored was because the Europeans who came there thought that a passageway through to Asia was somewhere right in the neighborhood.
Depending on how you phrase the question…..and who you ask…..Cabot was in 1497 perhaps the second European to “discover” the mainland of North America.
As we know, the first quite possibly was Leif Ericson, about the year 1000, who may have established a settlement or at least a service station at L’anse Aux Meadows.
But some people will want to talk instead about Saint Brendan of Clonfert who set sail in a small boat—basically a leather bathtub—about the year 500.
True believers say Brendan made it to Iceland; others say he crossed all the way over to North America.
Christopher Columbus referenced Saint Brendan’s Island in his planning.
Why is Columbus not on the list?
Columbus never touched North America.
On his four expeditions he sailed in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and landed on the coast of South America in Venezuela and Central America in Panama..
Gaspé. Photo by Corey Sandler
It was 1534 before the next major expedition was sent to the northern part of North America. Among other things, François had been distracted by yet another war with Spain.
The man in charge: Jacques Cartier, born in Saint-Malo in Brittany in northwest France.
Like nearly all explorers of the time, Cartier was told by his sponsor that if he could not get through to the Orient he should at least try to find gold and silver.
The first peoples he met were probably the Micmac.
“As soon as they saw us they began…making signs…that they had come to barter with us…and held up some skins of small value, with which they clothe themselves.”
“We likewise made signs to them that we wished them no harm,” Cartier wrote, “and sent two men ashore, to offer them some knives and other iron goods, and a red cap to give to their chief…
“They bartered all they had to such an extent that all went back naked…”
In what is today called the Detroit de Jacque-Cartier (the Jacques Cartier Strait) he abandoned his exploration because of fog and bad weather.
On the way out, passing south of Anticosti at the Baie de Gaspé, Cartier met the members of a local migrant tribe, a Huron-Iroquois band called the Laurentians.
It would be a relationship that would bring benefit and loss, good and evil to each side.
Cartier gave gifts, and met Chief Donnaconna.
The alliance was formalized with dances and celebration.
Summer was ending and Cartier had little to show; he searched for something to convince the King to fund another expedition.
First he tried flattery. In July 1534, near today’s little settlement of Gaspé, he had his men erect a thirty foot cross with a fleur-de-lys shield.
Carved into the wood was “Vive le Roi de France.” (Long live the King of France.)
If you go into the town of Gaspe, you can visit the Cartier cross: not the original one, but the stone commemoration erected in 1934 as a gift from France.
The Pierced Rock
Rocher Percé, or Percé Rock is a large offshore rock in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence off the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
The Pierced Rock, which looks to some like a ship under sail, is one of the world’s largest natural arches located in the sea. The arch stands about 20 meters or 66 feet above the water.
The limestone rock is about 1,420 feet or 433 meters in length, about 288 feet or 88 meters high. Geologists estimate its age at about 375 million years.
The name was said to have bestowed by Samuel de Champlain in 1607.
He’d recognize the rock, but perhaps not the souvenir stands.
Rocher Percé. Photos by Corey Sandler