CHEMIN DU ROY
Further on down the road from our issues with various types of corn, there is another one of these symbolic religious sites that are dotted all over Québec. This is the old presbytery of Batiscan (although the town of Batiscan is still a few miles distant) and it has quite an important historic significance.
We'll talk about this is a few minutes but in the meantime there's a couple of other reasons for wanting to stop here, so let's put those out of the way first.
The presbytery has been here since 1698 and it will still be here in 20 minutes time. The rate that this ship is steaming up the St Lawrence, it will be gone in 5 minutes and so I need to have a brisk stroll down to the riverside to take a photograph of it.
It's another container ship, the MSC Antwerp, probably a sister ship to the MSC Washington that we saw half an hour ago. Built in 1993 and with a deadweight of almost 60,000 tonnes, the Antwerp was originally known as the Kirishima until 1999 and then the Sophia Britannia until 2009.
She was on her way to Montreal, having set sail from Valencia in Spain, via Sines in Portugal, and they are a long way from China too. In fact her log shows her as sailing on a regular basis between Montreal, Valencia and Sines. So much so that there's probably not a single member of the crew on board - she knows the way by herself.
While I'm down on the riverbank, let me remind you of the fact that what we are doing on this journey is following the Chemin du Roy - the 18th-Century highway that was built to link Montreal and Québec.
I did also mention that despite our best efforts, it's no longer possible to follow it in its original form, and here at the Batiscan Presbytery there are traces of two previous alignments of the road prior to the modern alignment. I could not see any clear indication of where the first alignment might have been, but this would be the kind of route that I would reasonably expect to see.
This particular view is looking westwards in the general direction of Montreal, and we are right up against the river, which is to our left.
The main (but certainly not the only) reason why we can no longer follow the original route is that quite a proportion of it has been the victim of coastal erosion by the St Lawrence.
If we turn around and look eastwards you will see exactly what I mean just here. If we assume that this is the original route of the Chemin du Roy, then the eastern end has simply disappeared into the river.
The track does in fact continue, but it makes a very sharp dog-leg to the left to pass in front of that hedge just there where that modern house is situated.
Assuming for the moment that where we are is in fact the original Chemin du Roy (and I do stress that this is mere conjecture on my part) then that dog-leg would certainly not have been there. The diligences that travelled the road were, just like any other stagecoach, extremely difficult to manoeuvre and trying to drive a diligence around a bend like that at any kind of speed would be the kind of thing that you would only ever try once.
You might be wondering what happens to all of the land that is washed away by the St Lawrence. Just around here back in the days of the early European visitors, there was an island which they named the Ile de St Eloy and which they used as some kind of trading base. The channel that separated the island from the mainland is now choked with silt that has obviously been brought from somewhere. For all intents and purposes, the Ile de St Eloy is a contiguous part of the mainland today.
The modern-day track that, presumably, replaces the one that may well have been washed away by the river goes off to the right behind that modern house that we saw in the previous photo. You can see where it runs - right by that road sign there. Again, it's quite a tight turn and so hardly likely to be a part of the original Chemin du Roy.
To the left you will notice a track between those two lines of young trees. That was the track down which I walked from the presbytery just now.
This track from the presbytery down to the river measures almost exactly 18 feet wide (hint - before setting off on a voyage of discovery, measure your shoes or boots from heel to toe and then you can use your feet as impromptu measures) from one line of trees to the other. In places, however, it does narrow to about 15 feet.
I once went for a ramble along a few Auvergnat country tracks with a very elderly French historian during which we discussed at great length the physical attribute of ancient French byways prior to the route modernisation programmes at the end of the 19th Century. These lines of trees are very suggestive of an overgrown 18th Century hedge and the whole thing is very typical of what one sees along typical rural byways of the Auvergne in Central France.
18 feet or so by the way is exactly 3 toises, a toise being the measurement of length used in France prior to metrication, and it's significant that the track narrowing to about 15 feet gives us another common multiple of a toise
I haven't told you about the purpose of the track, have I? I'll have to put that right. As I mentioned earlier, the Ile de St Eloy was for many years a popular trading post where the First Nation Canadians and the European merchants would meet up. This island was down there at the end of the track.
Not only that, one of the earliest windmills in Nouvelle France was built down at the end of the track on the bank of the river, but it hans long since gone. River banks were of course quite popular places for windmills. There is a huge expanse of open water with neither trees nor buildings nor hills to deflect the flow of wind. Ideal places in fact for modern-day wind turbines and if they could put windmills here all those years ago, why not wind turbines today? No-one has any objection to a potable telephone mast being installed to serve a community; why not a wind turbine installed to serve a community? I reckon that the local Québecois citizens are sitting on a potential goldmine here but they don't seem to be able to see it.
And seeing as we are on the bank of a river, why not a water mill? The answer to that is that the river was frozen over for three or four months of the year and so there would be no water to turn the wheel. Global warming (burning fossil fuels to create electricity instead of using clean and non-polluting wind energy) might well resolve that problem for us in the not-too-distant future and water mills might become the vogue.
That's a view of the other side of the presbytery, and if you compare it to the photo above, you'll probably be wondering why it is that this side is much more ornamented than the other. You might be thinking that surely the side that faces the road would be the more elaborate.
In fact you are right, because where I'm standing right now is on the second site of the Chemin du Roy and from 1723 until 1828 this would have been the front of the building. The Highway down which we drove to arrive here is the third site.
The presbytery was certainly here in 1723 - or maybe I should say that there was a presbytery here on this site in 1723. The land around here had been given to the Jesuit order of priests who had been amongst the most active in bringing the Gospel to the First Nation Canadians and instead of Heaven being their reward, they were rewarded here on Earth with the land around this area. In 1696 they chose this site for their presbytery.
By the turn of the 19th Century the original presbytery was rather the worse for wear and in exchange for having a parish priest in the village of Batiscan (which is a couple of miles further along the road) the villagers rebuilt the presbytery in 1816, using the original material. This is the building that we see today.
It's in fieldstone by the way, which makes it quite noteworthy for rural Québec. There's also said to be quite a collection of period furniture inside the building but I know nothing about that, and for three good reasons
Firstly … period furniture is not really my thing and when it comes to paying to go into a museum I would rather pay to see things that I would enjoy. I'm on the economy budget, remember.
Secondly … I'm having time issues as well as money issues. I'll waste time in in a motor museum or something similar but in few other places.
Thirdly … today is the 27th of April and the exhibition is not open until the 5th of May. This is of course quite astonishing. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I'm usually too late for visiting most of the tourist attractions in Canada, even the most important ones . Changing my habits only to find that I am now too early for the tourist season is a new experience for me.
As I wander a little further along the site of the second Chemin du Roy, I stumble across a pile of neatly-stacked wood. There are two things that I notice about this stack -
Firstly … the wood in the pile is extremely weather-beaten and worn. It looks as if it's centuries old.
Secondly … the wood shows clear evidence of having been worked - the ends are squared off and there are substantial nail holes. This looks to me as if it has been part of a wooden construction.
The very first church on this site dated back to the turn of the 17th Century and was built of wood. It was situated close to the side of the road, but was quickly abandoned as it was continually being overwhelmed by the river floods in early spring. The church was subsequently dismantled. No wonder it took them 30 years to build the Chemin du Roy.
Of course I have no evidence to indicate that this is the wood from the original church, but it is rather suggestive nevertheless.
As an aside, the mystery (from my point of view, anyway) of the nature of the flooding was resolved while I was around here. Along here, the river was iced over for a lengthy peiod but further upstream the waters would be melting earlier. With the river being choked with ice, the water from upstream would simply flow over the top of the ice, hence the enormous inundations.
The ice would slowly break up and the floes, some of them quite enormous, would be pushed along by the force of the water from upstream over the top of the frozen water further downstream, and these could wreak the most appalling devastation. Around here in 1896, so I was told, there was a colossal amount of damage caused by these rogue ice floes. This explains those concrete blocks in the river, one of which we saw up the road at Lanoraie
We are lucky enough to have a witness to something similar. General Vasili Chuikov, defending Stalingrad against the Axis forces, with his back to the Volga, in the winter of 1942-43 " … heard a tremedous crashing noise. An enormous wave of ice was pushing down past Zaitsevski Island, smashing everything in its path, it crushed and pulverised small and large ice floes alike and broke logs like matchwood".
The site of the second church is much closer to the presbytery. Both the church and the presbytery are situated on some kind of low plateau which slopes down to the site of the second road and the first church. This would, I imagine, afford some relief from the worst of the flooding in the early spring.
It's quite astonishing to think that we are a good half-mile and maybe more from the bank of the river and yet just 200 feet from where I'm standing they have regular flooding issues. The power of the water is clearly something not to be sneezed at.
Where all of this is situated is in something of a small Provincial Park. Bird-watching seems to be the thing just here and there are explanatory panels all over the place informing the visitor of the kind of birds that he might expect to see in the area.
Of course, I'm quite an avid bird-watcher as you know, but on all of these panels there is not a single bird of the type that I am usually interested in watching. For the right kind of bird, I will lurk in a hedgerow for hours with my binoculars and my shabby old raincoat.
Nevertheless, there are thousands of our feathered friends here and they are making the most astonishing racket. perhaps, rather than a photographic means of identification they would be better off having some kind of sonic identification.
On the way back to the car, I reflect on the issues of today's weather. When I was in Montreal yesterday morning I was wandering around in my shirt sleeves. Right now, I'm wearing a t-shirt, jacket, coat, hat and gloves and I'm still freezing thanks to this bitter wind. It's going right through me and believe me, I'll be looking for my tuque tonight.
We passed through Champlain a short while ago and that was a typical pretty North American town or village or whatever. The next town that we come to is Batiscan - no surprise seeing as we have just visited the old Batiscan presbytery.
Batiscan is quite a beautiful little place in a nice setting down there on the banks of the St Lawrence River. The houses here are quite attractive but I wasn't all that impressed by the church, which is probably why I didn't photograph it.
Nevertheless, the church dates from as recently as 1866. The locals who had settled their village here were tired of trudging all the way up to the Jesuit presbytery and church on the outskirts of the town every Sunday, and eventually they obtained the agreement to abandon the Jesuit site and build their own church here amongst the population.
This does remind me of the American tourist who visited the town of Dent on the North Yorkshire Moors
in England a few years ago. Astonished to find that the railway station was three miles away from the town, he asked at the local pub why they hadn't built the railway station closer to the town.
"Well" replied a local, after having given the matter a great deal of thought. "They reckoned that it was a better idea to build the station as close as possible to the railway line"
Batiscan has something of a certain notoriety in the history of Nouvelle France. When Cartier sailed up the St Lawrence in the 1530s he noticed that the river bank was the home of innumerable Iroquois settlements whose inhabitants had the appearance of being quite well-disposed towards the Europeans.
When Champlain came up the St Lawrence 70 years later, his main interest was not in exploration but in trade. He had little interest in the sedentary Iroquois, being much-more inclined towards the more mobile Huron. It was the Huron who did all of the travelling into the interior in search of the beaver pelts that were so highly prized by the Europeans. It was at the site of Batiscan in 1609 that Champlain and the Huron people met.
Champlain was apparently unaware at the time of the fact that the Huron and the Iroquois were implacable enemies, and the price that the Huron demanded for the furs included the support of Champlain and his fellow Europeans in the raids that they made against the Iroquois settlements.
This sowed the seeds for disaster after disaster for Nouvelle France. As French settlers slowly trickled into the area from the Mother Country they came into conflict with the more sedentary Iroquois who were already in occupation of the land. Due to the raids made by the Huron and their French allies on the Iroquois settlements, the French settlers became potential targets for Iroquois revenge and as French power in the New World fluctuated with a monotonous regularity, the Iroquois would wait for one of the regular moments of French military weakness to go on the warpath, with often quite devastating results. We've already talked about the Iroquois massacre of the town of Lanoraie in 1689.
Furthermore, the British and the Dutch were competing with each other and with the French for a foothold along the St Lawrence. They regularly stirred the pot by making alliances with the Iroquois and inciting them to acts of violence against the French whenever the British and Dutch thought it expedient to do so. The Richelieu Valley, that leads from the River Hudson to the south bank of the St Lawrence, was the scene of regular Iroquois … errr … interaction with the settlers of New France.
Things at one stage degenerated to such an extent that in 1651 a nun from Québec was moved to write that the city of Montreal "was most upset"
Something else that I've noticed too on my travels is that the people of Quebec seem to be quite fond of old 1980s-type Jaguars. Ther emust have been quite a market for them too as here at Batiscan there are two of them parked up. I also recall seeing one a little earlier along our route.
The decline of the British car industry must have been the most spectacular decline the world has ever seen.
I haven't quite finished with the town of Batiscan just yet, for as I leave the urban area behind, my attention is drawn to a road called rue du Phare. Anyone who has been following these pages knows that I have a thing about lighthouses and so this must surely be worth a look
It's a little disappointing because it isn't all that much of a lighthouse. Maybe it was back in the days when this street was originally named, back in dim and distant past, but it's now simply a green light beacon with the line-of-sight markers attached.
Nevertheless it's a lovely beach and there are loads of people staking their little claim to a spot with their towels and recliners and so on, having a nice sunbathe. And who can blame them? I was quite tempted to join them, had I had more time (which is the story of my life). This is the nicest beach that I've seen for a while
A couple of kilometres out of Batiscan is the River Batiscan and there is this absolutely magnificent bridge that carries the road over the water. It's an iron girder bridge of course, long and narrow. No traffic lights on this one and there's not much room for two vehicles to pass on here.
It also has an open latticework deck that some people might find disconcerting as they walk across it, but the reason for this is simply so that in winter the snow can fall through the deck into the river underneath and not clog up the bridge.
Anyway I thought that it was exciting driving through there and I quite enjoyed that.