In this great land is one of the best rivers in the world. The beauty of the countryside cannot be overpraised, for the fertility of the soil, the extent of the forests, and the opportunities for hunting and fishing in abundance. All these things hold out their arms to you.
Samuel de Champlain
quoted in Dreams of a Land
Directed by Robert Doucet
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I have once again chosen to embed a short video for your enjoyment. This National Film Board documentary about Samuel de Champlain is both informative and creative. The story is told quickly, with an emphasis on Champlain’s dreams, ambitions, and struggles. The animation, which resembles crayon sketches, stirs the imagination and refuses to fill in all of the blanks. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is Champlain’s willingness first to travel back and forth to France for supplies each year to support his search for the Pacific Ocean, and second his desire to stay in Canada even after many of his men had died, and the “Great Sea” turned out to just be another freshwater lake. Here was a man who fell in love with this land, as the quote above demonstrates. As someone who has always loved history, particularly from the period of exploration, I find stories like Champlain’s to be both exciting and nightmarish. I can’t fathom watching my colleagues die from scurvy in the dead of a seemingly endless winter because our food has run out or frozen. I can’t imagine the punishing portages over difficult terrain, and the immense disappointment at failing to find a passage to India. But I can fall in love with the spirit of adventure, perserverance, courage, and self sacrafice that drew men like Champlain to cross the Atlantic in the first place, and to set up settlements in unforgiving climates, when life in France might have been more comfortable. No doubt the native peoples played an important part in ensuring the survival of colonists, and I certainly wish they had been treated better. As winter refuses to leave on a cold February day, I think it’s important to remember all those Native, French, British, or Dutch who endured the winters for centuries both out of necessity, and a love for this land.