Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bay of Fundy's St. Croix Island Featured in New Book

No videos or pictures in your ILQW email? See them at

COLUMN Close to Home: Book details history of Ste. Croix Island

Franco-American history buffs can learn more about Maine's Ste. Croix Island by reading "Champlain's Dream," by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Brandeis University historian David Hackett Fischer.

In the biography, he devotes an entire chapter to Ste. Croix Island, in the St. Croix River off the coast of Calais. The island was the first attempt at a permanent European settlement in northern North America.

A group of male settlers, led by the French explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain and a Huguenot entrepreneur named Sieur de Mons, selected Ste. Croix Island to be their settlement on June 21, 1604. Ste. Croix Island was supposed to be a real community. In fact, the first settlers came with prefabricated houses, ready to build.

Fischer's account of the landing of Champlain and de Mons on Ste. Croix expands on earlier histories and includes Champlain's description of the settlement. Although the island looked lush and fertile in June, the settlers were soon besieged by mosquitoes so badly their faces swelled to the point where they could scarcely see.

A scourging winter followed, leaving half the men dead of scurvy by early spring. Local Passamoquoddy Indians helped the survivors relocate to Port Royal in Nova Scotia (the French called it Acadia). Eventually, their descendants prospered in Port Royal until the British routed most of them during the 1755 Le Grand Drangement.

Previous histories of Ste. Croix include William Francis Ganong's "Ste. Croix (Dochet) Island: A Monograph," which was published in 1902 by the Royal Society of Canada. The book "Champlain's Island: An Expanded Edition of Ste. Croix (Dochet) Island" was published in 1945, after the author's death.

In 1947, "Saint Croix, the Sentinel River" was published by Guy Murchie. Samuel Eliot Morison writes about Ste. Croix's history in a 1972 biography titled "Samuel de Champlain: Father of New France."

In 2004, tiny Ste. Croix Island celebrated its 400th international anniversary, with the United States, Canada and First Nations people joining together for the occasion.

In spite of the publicity, however, many people still don't recognize Ste. Croix as predating the English settlements in North America.

Murchie writes, "In most books dealing with colonization in North American, the discovery and settlement of the St. Croix River are not mentioned."

Nevertheless, the French considered Ste. Croix Island to be the center of Acadia.

I asked Fischer if he could recommend how Ste. Croix can become better known.

His advice is to follow the historian Francis Parkman's rule for studying history. "First, go there! Do it!" says Fischer.

In other words, Ste. Croix needs to be seen to be appreciated.

In fact, Fischer followed Champlain's travels from Canada to France and the United States while writing the biography.

"I'm amazed by how much of the world Champlain knew and is still there to be seen today," he says. In fact, Ste. Croix is a good place to start just such a history journey.

"One purpose of my book about Champlain is to urge readers to visit the many places that Champlain knew. So, I would tell your readers, 'Go there! Do it!'

"Take the children, and the grandchildren, so that they can discover this beautiful country, and see it through Champlain's eyes. Let's remember others who walked this earth before us!" says Fischer.

Most Franco-Americans, of course, take pride in knowing Ste. Croix was settled 16 years before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Mass. Ste. Croix Island is easily viewed from two well-marked parks located on both sides of the international boundary between Calais and New Brunswick.

Fischer will speak Oct. 8 at Dyer Library's Deering Wing in Saco. The presentation will take place at 7:30 p.m. and benefits the Provident Association of Saco.

Juliana L'Heureux can be contacted at:
Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment