The first discoverers known to
have charted Lake Erie
were two French missionary priests, Casson and Galinee, based at the French
colonial village Montreal. Having
learned of a chain of great connected lakes to the west from visiting
natives they set out from Montreal in July 1669 to explore
the great western unknown.
They were accompanied by Sieur de la Salle,
representative of Louis XIV, King of France, who was armed with a commission to
formally take possession of
any new lands which might be discovered.
Taking with them several Frenchmen,
a fellow from Holland, and an Algonquin native who could speak the Iroquois
they set out in a flotilla of seven canoes on 6 Jul
1669, under the guidance of Seneca natives who had gone to
Montreal the previous autumn to trade.
The missionaries both mapped
the shore lines of their course as they journeyed, and wrote a diary
or Relation (as they called it), of their adventures
and experiences. (Although who's diary and when it was written is argued
among scholars today.)
At the head of Lake Ontario (now
the site of Hamilton, Ontario) at an Indian village called Tinawatawa, they
met famous French
freelance explorer Jolliet, on his adventurous way from the
"Soo" to Montreal. While the
Montreal expedition had been working its
uncertain way west from Montreal toward the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie), Jolliet
had been working his equally uncertain way east from the Soo to Montreal.
La Salle unexpectedly deserted his
expeditionary companions and turned back toward Montreal with his old
friend Jolliet, but Casson and Galinee, with
seven other Frenchmen, resolutely plodded on their westward course.
Making a portage of some 30
miles from the west end of Lake Ontario, the missionary expedition finally
reached a considerable river (the Grand River), down which they paddled to
its junction with Lake Erie (at Dunnville in Haldimand County).
Turning westward along the lake
shore, they arrived on 17 Oct 1889, at the mouth of a stream
(River Lynn aka Patterson's Creek at Port Dover), and a little distance up this river they
[established] winter quarters, as here they saw an abundance of game and wild
fruits, and feared that, with winter fast approaching, they might "go
farther and fare worse."
Having settled comfortably for the
winter in two log houses they erected (which, by the way, were the
first houses erected in Southern Ontario, the foundations being yet
plainly visible in 1915, they laid in a supply of foodstuffs.
We killed a considerable
number of stags, hinds and roebucks, so that we began to have no longer
any fear of suffering during the winter. We smoked the meat of nine large
animals in such a manner that it could have kept for two or three years,
and with this provision we awaited the winter with tranquility whilst
hunting and making good provision of walnuts and chestnuts, which were
there in great quantities.
The five months
of winter passed happily and their narrative reads that on 23 Mar 1670: We all went to the lake
shore to make and plant a cross in memory of so long a sojourn of
Frenchmen as ours had been. We offered prayers there and resolved to set
out on the 26th of March, the day of Annunciation.
Kneeling before their cross the
missionaries took formal
possession of this then pagan country in the name of God and civilization,
affixing to the foot of the cross a metal plate upon which were the
We, the undersigned, certify
that we have seen, on the land of the lake named Erie, the arms of the
King of France attached (to the foot of a cross) with this inscription:
'The year of salvation, 1669, Clement IX being seated on the chair of St.
Peter, Louis XIV reigning in France, Monsieur de Courcelles being governor
of New France, and Monsieur Talon being intendant therein for the king,
there arrived in this place two missionaries of the Seminary of Montreal,
accompanied by seven other Frenchmen who, the first of all European
people, have wintered on this lake, of which they have taken possession in
the name of their king as of an unoccupied territory, by affixing his arms
which they have attached here to the foot of the cross.'
whereof we have signed the present certificate.
(Signed) Francois Dollier,
priest of the Diocese of Nantes, in Brittany; De Gallinee, deacon of the
Diocese of Rennes, in Brittany.