Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
June 23, 1892
GLIMPSES OF THE PAST
Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.
XXII THE EXPLORERS OF ACADIA BEFORE CHAMPLAIN.
[W. F. Ganong, M. A.]
Although the history of Charlotte county, in so far as Europeans are concerned, really begins with the voyage of Champlain to our shores in 1604, yet there were some prior explorations of the eastern coast of Canada which have much interest for us. Though no records are left, it is in the highest degree probable that some of these explorers visited the bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy bay.
It is is [sic] now generally admitted, by all students of American history, that the Norsemen, about the year 1000, A. D., came to America by way of Iceland and Greenland and spent at least one winter in the country. This belief is based chiefly upon the old Icelandic sagas; but so indefinite is their description of the country that it has never been possible to locate the places they describe; and Vinland, the site of their settlement, has been placed by different students at Newport, R. I.; on the Charles river near Boston; in Nova Scotia, and even in Newfoundland or Labrador. So hazy is the evidence as to the location of the much sought for Vinland the Good, that a case could be made out for the St. John river or the St. Croix as its site, as convincing as for any of those we have mentioned.1
In 1497, John Cabot visited the coast of Newfoundland; and it is now generally believed that the next year his son Sebastian explored the coast far to the southward. If this was so, he probably entered the bay of Fundy and saw our islands. The name Newfoundland is the lasting monument of the visits of the Cabots.
In 1501, Gaspar Cortereal set out from Portugal, and explored the American coast as far north as Labrador. From the latter place, there is reason to believe, he took home many of the natives, whom he intended for slaves, and thus originated the name Labrador, corrupted from Terra Laboratoris. Making the careful survey of the coast from south to north, as he did, he could hardly have missed the bay of Fundy, though no map or other record marks his visit.
In 1504, the hardy Breton fishermen began to frequent the coast of Nova Scotia, and continued to increase in numbers for the remainder of the century. The name Cape Breton commemorates their early influence. They were naturally explorers, and probably penetrated into every salt water bay and harbor on our coast. Their explorations, however, being of a private nature, no account of them was published, and no record of them has come down to us. It is worth noting, nevertheless, that Champlain, while exploring the Basin of Minas, in 1604, found there a decayed wooden cross, showing that Christians had been there before him. Probably some of the Breton French were early familiar with Passamaquoddy bay.
In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, sent out by Francis I., of France, explored the entire coast from North Carolina to Newfoundland and back; but the maps which show the results of his voyage show no trace of the bay of Fundy. The same is true of the voyage of Estevan Gomez, sent out by Spain, in 1525, who probably explored as far north as Cape Breton, but does not appear to have entered the bay.
Some time prior to 1558, however, the bay must have been well explored, for in that year, a map (to be discussed in a future article) made by Diego Homem, a Portuguese, shows the bay with tolerable accuracy, and near its mouth is a cape marked C. de los muchas islas, which, we can hardly question, refers to the islands lying off Passamaquoddy bay. There are numerous engraved maps of this period, both before and after that of Homem, none of which show the bay of Fundy; so he must have had special information not accessible to other map-makers. On many of these maps, however, there is marked, Rio hondo, or Rio fondo, (the deep river,) which is undoubtedly the origin of the word Fundy, and we have therefore before us this interesting memento of early Spanish or Portuguese voyages.2 It is not until after 1590 that the bay of Fundy becomes fixed on the maps not again to disappear, and although we have no record extant of any of the further possible visits to the bay of Fundy up to the time of de Monts, there can be little doubt that it was frequently visited by fishermen and traders. With de Monts, in 1604, came Champlain, the first explorer who has left us any account of his visit to our shores.
1The early Norsemen are said to have established a trade in a certain precious wood, called mosur wood, (supposed to have been the burls of birch or maple;) and the remains of any dike or canal, such as could have been used for floating logs or blocks of wood, might therefore be taken as evidence of their presence here. Mr. S. A. Wilder, of Pembroke, who has given some study to local history, and is now publishing in the Eastport Sentinel a series of articles on the subject, finds a prehistoric dike on the Cobscook; which, however, he believes to have been build to keep the tide from flooding the meadow land.-Ed.
2A most remarkable and interesting discussion of
the early Portuguese explorations of our coast, by the Rev.
George Patterson, of Nova Scotia, is to be found in vol. viii.,
of the Trans. Royal Society of Canada.