Shooting the Rapids by Frances Anne Hopkins 1838-1919
In 1802, Terrebonne came into the possession of Simon McTavish, a Scot and principal partner of the North West Company, which competed with the Hudson's Bay Company. McTavish transformed l’Île-des-Moulins into a supply post for fur traders known as voyageurs, who navigated trade routes in canoes between 1690 and 1850.
The work of the voyageurs began in the spring with a gathering in Montreal to prepare the goods they would be carrying, at least 90 pounds’ worth each. Once the canoes had been packed, the men set off from Lachine, stopping briefly in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue for religious services. For 6 to 8 weeks, the voyageurs canoed and portaged their way to distant fur posts in a network that spanned 5,000 km. They rose well before dawn, stopping for breakfast only at about 8 o’clock. Each hour of the journey was marked with a smoke break, a practice which became so common that distances were measured according to the number of pipes taken along the route.
At night, the voyageurs slept under the stars, protected from wind and rain by tarps and overturned canoes. While they rested, a kettle filled with peas, water, and a few strips of pork simmered over a fire until dawn when the cook added “biscuits.” These biscuits were prepared by bakeries like the one established by Simon McTavish on l’Île-des-Moulins. Made from a mixture of flour, water, salt, and grease, they were twice baked in order to preserve them. To render them edible again, the voyageurs hung this staple in satchels made of flax that dragged in the water alongside their canoes.
By 1896, over 250 members of the religious community had been buried in the crypt of the Motherhouse, and it was full. The bodies of nuns who died in the winter were kept inside the windmill until the ground thawed. Finally, a small plot of land was consecrated to be a cemetery. It is in an idyllic rose garden on the hillside that dominates the island. Even at that, limited space required that the graves contain at least two bodies, attested to by the names on the white marble tombstones.
Some mystery is associated with this same hill on the west side of the island. It is oval-shaped and has a steep slope, rising about 100 feet above the water level of the lake. Historians once suggested that the hill might be more than the work of a former ice age. That humans could have contributed to its formation is supported by its ressemblence to similar, albeit more diminutive, mounds which have served as burial grounds. The idea that the hillock could have been the work of a lost people was borne out during an excavation in 1854 that recovered 18 skulls within approximately 18 square feet, along with many other bones and weapons.
Photo credit: Gilles Douaire QUÉBEC, CANADA
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