Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Champlain was here (second)

(The first part of my new series on why Canadian Studies is an important part of the University of Vermont)

2009 marks the quadracentennial of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in our area. A new exhibit at the Boston Public Library entitled “Champlain’s America: New England and New France” will be traveling to Vermont next year as part of these celebrations. As this article from the Boston Globe points out, the legacy of the French exploration of this part of North America is often overlooked and overwritten by the dominant mythology of the Pilgrims’ “founding” of New England.

Our own André Senécal is an expert in the life of Samuel de Champlain and will be one of our faculty in high demand throughout 2009.

Here’s an interesting excerpt from the Globe article:

NEW ENGLANDERS GROW up imbibing certain creation myths, most of which relate to how unbelievably historic we are. It all started here, and entire businesses — the vending of tricorne hats, for example — depend on the tight control of information relating to the beginnings of America — the Revolution, and the Salem witch trials before that, and at the dawn of time, the Pilgrims, hacking their way into the forest primeval. Everything trails in their wake; or so we like to believe.

But is it possible that New England trails in someone else’s wake? As in, the dreaded French? These disorienting thoughts will become harder to push away in 2008, as Quebec celebrates the 400th anniversary of its founding by Samuel de Champlain — the explorer who found not only New France, but much of New England as well. Indeed, if a few things had turned out differently, we might all be bundled up in scarves and hats bearing the fleur-de-lys insignia of the New France Patriots.

By 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower, Champlain had accomplished nearly everything for which he is famous. He had crisscrossed the Atlantic dozens of times (29 times before his death in 1635), he had penetrated deeply into the hinterland, and he had glimpsed — and named — most of the harbors, rivers, and capes that we rediscover every weekend of the summer. It is startling to return to his maps, and see the familiar contours of Cape Cod, Cape Ann, and Boston Harbor, all included as part of an American region that was anything but “New England.” Given his natural inclination to roam, there is every reason to believe that Champlain might have started French settlements hundreds of miles to the south if he had been given more support from the French crown. As it was, he did a great deal more than most Americans realize to delineate the coastlines of Maine and Massachusetts, along with huge swaths of Vermont and New York.
[. . .] One of the great myths of American history is that the earliest settlers of New England came here by accident, not knowing where they were, and built a new society, far from anyone else. Champlain’s map gives the lie to that legend. We cannot know exactly what they knew, but it does not seem implausible that copies would have reached the Pilgrims in their sanctuary in Leiden, not too far from Paris. William Bradford, the great Pilgrim chronicler, nearly gives away the secret when he first describes Cape Cod, and admits that “ye French & Dutch to this day call it Malabarr.”