Who Named the St. Lawrence River?

On the occasion of his second voyage to Canada, Jacques Cartier arrived on the North Shore off the Mingan Islands. He then wrote a paper which was documented by Biggar in 1924, in which he said:

" And on the following day [Monday, August 10, 1535] the winds being against us and no harbour being found along this southern coastline [Anticosti Island], we steered towards the north, and after sailing a dozen leagues, we discovered a very beautiful large bay scattered with islands, offering many coves where it was possible to anchor, even in bad weather [Mingan Archipelago]. The bay can be recognized by the presence of a large island [probably Île Sainte-Geneviève ] , a foreland jutting out further than the others, and, on the shore, approximately two leagues inland, there is a mountain resembling a haycock [ mont Sainte-Geneviève ]. We called this bay the St. Lawrence Bay. "

August 10 is the feast day of St. Lawrence. The mapmakers who retranscribed Jacques Cartier 's map erroneously extended the name "St. Lawrence", originally given to the bay located in the area of the Mingan Archipelago, now called Nickerson bay, to the river as a whole. Thus the name of the St. Lawrence River originates in the story of the Mingan Islands.

Louis Jolliet... the Local Seigneur

Louis Jolliet is wellknown for his discovery of the Mississipi in the United States between 1672 and 1674. But his activities in the Minganie region are less welldocumented.

Under French rule, New France was almost entirely divided into seigneuries. The territory covering the Tadoussac to Blanc-Sablon region was a huge seigneurie called "Île aux oeufs" (egg island). Louis Jolliet inherited this wild country, densely populated by fur-bearing animals, through his marriage to Geneviève Bissot , the daughter of the previous seigneur.

In 1679, he built a trading post on Île du Havre de Mingan , itself at the eastern end of the island. The post was destroyed twice by the English who gradually stretched their influence over the territory. After the loss of French Canada, the system of seigneuries was abolished and the seigneurie of Île aux Oeufs was cut up through sales, gifts or, in some cases, exchanges. The North Shore fur trading industry was then taken over by the Hudson Bay Company.

From Castle to Hermitage... Count Henry de Puyjalon

"What was I dreaming about? I do not know.

Perhaps of that strange happiness that invades me when I am alone in the woods, far from the idiots and, more importantly, far from the intellectuals [...]"

Récits du Labrador, Henry de Puyjalon

There have always been men who, by the eccentricity of their personality or their lifestyle, have shaped history. Who can tell what attracted Count Henry de Puyjalon , a Breton aristocrat, to this part of the world?

A financial reverse was the usual explanation. Perhaps, but there must have been more to it, because the Count was interested by Nature and was also an enthusiastic hunter. It was his destiny, therefore, that called him to the Minganie . In 1880, he entered the government service as Inspector-General of hunting and fishing for the Province of Quebec and established himself on the North Shore. His taste for solitude and adventure led him to accept the newly established position of lighthouse keeper on Île aux Perroquets (1888-c1891). He later settled down permanently on Île à la Chasse .

A man for all seasons, Henry de Puyjalon was by turn a civil servant, naturalist, writer and skilful huntsman. He was the first writer to give an exact description of the wildlife in the north of Quebec. In his many books, the Count of Puyjalon has given us a detailed description of our natural heritage ( Récits du Labrador, Guide du chasseur de pelleterie , etc.). He was far-sighted and already recommending that endangered species should be protected. A visionary, he rose up against bad hunting practices and poaching, and was well aware that natural resources can be exhausted.

In 1900, Henry de Puyjalon took up permanent residence in the camp that he built on Île à la Chasse , a man from an aristocratic background settling into a hermit-like existence. He lived alone in this way and he died five years later, when, according to his wishes, he was buried on the island. Since 1955, a commemorative plaque on Île à la Chasse reminds visitors of the former presence of this unusual adventurer.

If your curiosity has been aroused, you should take a side trip to Île à la Chasse . You will greatly enjoy looking at the landscapes, the wildlife and the plants that Henry de Puyjalon loved so well...

An Island for Writing... Placide Vigneau
Historic photograph of Placide Vigneau
Placide Vigneau, c.1920
©Collection Rémi Cormier

The Mingan Archipelago is a place to dream of freedom and of intimacy. Placide Vigneau put these feelings into writing as a very young man, and particularly between 1892 and 1912. Sitting on the top of his lighthouse on Île aux Perroquets , he noted down local life in his best handwriting.

So much valuable information would have been lost without the memoires of this man: the Fox Bay massacre (Anticosti), the fleets of sailboats crushed by the moving ice, the introduction of oil lamps in Havre-Saint-Pierre in 1864, the famine which forced people to migrate, the 1891 plague of locusts, the hermits of the Mingan Islands, the ghosts on Île aux Perroquets and many other stories.

All this allegorical chain of natural and supernatural events makes up part of the history, of the folklore and the legends of the archipelago.

Living alone, doing his work as a lighthouse keeper, each day Placide Vigneau filled notebooks that today allow us to better understand the primitive life in the Minganie in the last century.