As near Heaven as in England


On November 29, 1631, to save my ship from the grinding ice, I sank it by boring holes in her, and the hull settled down beneath the ice. Our men who were ashore stood looking upon us, almost dead with cold and sorrow, to see the ship go down. And we looked upon them, and both upon each other with woeful hearts. Then I said to them, “If it be our fortune to end our days here, we are near to Heaven as in England.”

Wind Chill Factor

During that long winter, I noted three kinds of cold: in the house, in the woods, and on the open ice. Our house, made of sails, boxes, and logs was two-thirds covered with snow, and inside it was hung with icicles and frost. The water for the cook’s meat was frozen solid each morning. In the woods, the cold would freeze our faces or any bare part; but on the open ice the cold was not endurable, clothes were not proof against it, and no motion could resist it

Farewell to the Bay

Before we sailed in the summer of 1632, we raised a cross over our valiant dead who had died of scurvy and frost and I uttered these lines as the sun went down:

That, in this solitary place, where none Will ever come to breath a sigh or groan, Some re-maht might be extant of the true And faithful love I ever tendered you.

Some vulgar errors

s’rill unresolved

Frobisher failed but he added his contribution to the vast catalogue of blind alleys to be compiled before the North West Passage was found.

The most significant observations of his endeavour were noted by George Best, his chronicler, who wrote that there were “many vulgar errors” concerning the weather. Best claimed that man’s concept of the globe was at fault, noting that Europeans had fixed ideas about the weather, believing the tropics to be hot, the temperature zones temperate, and the polar regions cold.

He conceded the Arctic to be cold for most of the year, but he told of swelter- ing days in the polar regions when the sun hung in the sky around the clock, day after day, without the relief af— forded in the tropics where at least It had the courtesy to retire at night.

He predicted that man would have to learn much about the climate before he solved the riddle of the North West Passage—a lesson which was to require some 300 years.


Foxe's map closed the bay in 1632

A blinding flash

The maps supplied by Foxe and Champlain were masterful advances in the knowledge of western geography but it was necessary to study both maps to form any idea of Manitoba—and that wasn’t much in 1632.

Foxe’s map captured the Bay, almost as we know it today; and Champlain had the Great Lakes fairly well mapped but was in ignorance of the Bay dis- coveries since the time of Hudson and Button.

The first clue to how Manitoba fitted in between these two areas was an in- spiration which flashed with blinding insight upon two French rascals, Pierre Radisson and Medard Chouart, the lat— ter better known as Gnoseilliers.

Pursuing Champlain’s theory that a chain of lakes would provide a. fresh water channel across the continent, they were in Lake Superior about 30‘ years after these “latest” maps had been published, and somewhere in the far west—s0 they were told by the Indians ———lay the Stinking Sea, later to be re- translated as “muddy water” as more suitable for Lake Winnipeg. Beyond that sea, the Indians said, was a great river flowing into another sea where white men had been seen in big boats with white sails.

These Indian tales excited speculation that the Stinking Sea—salt water ?— might be the Pacific Ocean; or that the great river flowing beyond it at least must flow to the west coast of the con- tinent. How else could the white men with the big boats be explained, for it was becoming gossip among the inland

Indians that the Spaniards and English had been seen far off in the West—- actually off the coast of California.

Radisson and Groseilliers talked this prospect over, and suddenly it became clear to them. The great river flowing out of the Stinking Sea, they conjectured must be the river flowing north into the Englishmen’s Bay—the same river named the Nelson by Thomas Button in 1612!

This peculiar theory was totally un- acceptable to the French who were con— vinced that the Great Lakes formed the eastern outlet of a continental channel. By this time, the fur trade was of more importance to Radisson and Groseilliers anyhow, and they hurried to England in 1665 and managed to-convince the English that the Bay offered an «oppor tunity for developing the fur trade far beyond the aspirations of the French, paddling their canoes up the long stretches of the Great Lakes. With ships anchored in the Bay, the logic was evident that the English could deliver their goods right to the doorstep of the inland fur trade.

That’s what convinced the English to return to the Bay and they, too, for awhile forgot about the. search for the North West Passage. In 1670, all the- lands draining into the Bay were pro- claimed under English sovereignty as Rupert’s Land, and the Hudson’s Bay Company began store-keeping on the shores of Hudson’s last great discovery.

For 20 years the English traders re-

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