The Gaspe Peninsular
There can be few Jersey families that have not, at some time, had a relative on the Gaspé coast. I met a number of Jersey folk there last summer. Some had come over in the early 1900s and had spent their working life on the coast; others had left after their apprenticeship and found work in "lumber" or in the great cities.
Some had visited Jersey more than once; others were still hoping to return some day. There were also children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of earlier emigrants for whom Jersey was a remote island associated with distant relatives, Christmas parcels of dough cake, cold granite farm-houses, a strange French patois, and the locally ubiquitous name of Robin.
We first saw the Gaspé peninsula after a morning's sailing through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Twice on the northerly route, after clearing the Strait of Belle Isle, one has the impression of being once more on an ocean, and it is easy to realise why Cabot, the Venetian, turned back after finding the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.
If one enters the St Lawrence by a more southerly route, one may catch a glimpse of Fox River, where there are Jersey settlements; but a long spine of mountains hides Gaspé town and the Percé rock and mountain.
Between the Saint Lawrence shore and the southern coast of the peninsula, where Jerseymen settled along the Baie des Chaleurs and towards Percé and Malbaie, lie vast stretches of forest and mountain, some given over to a project for a National Park, some to a copper mine, but mostly wild and barely explored and whose chief inhabitant is the bear.
The Gaspé peninsula in the Province of Quebec is somewhat larger than Brittany, and lies in much the same latitude. It is I70 miles long and has an area of 11,400 square miles (Jersey's area is about 62 square miles). But in I927, the peninsula had a population still barely twice that of Jersey.
The name Gaspé, already noted by Hakluyt, is an old Indian Micmac word said to mean Finistère. This is one of the many affinities it has with Brittany in history and legend. In climate, however, the two differ widely. The cold Labrador current that causes an almost perpetual state of fog on the "Banks" where it meets the Gulf Stream, brings a bitterly cold winter to these regions.
European links with Gaspé are very old. There is some evidence that Vikings settled there in the tenth century. I leave it to the more imaginative Jerseyman to discover an ancestor sailing to Gaspé before cruising down the Channel to spend a peaceful old age in Jersey.
The Jersey Society in London may well have to sponsor such a piece of research to prevent the Guernseyman from getting there first; in the list of the crew who accompanied Jacques Cartier in the voyage of discovery which brought him to Gaspé, appears one ‘Guillaume de Guernézé’. This list is preserved in the Archives of St Malo and there is a facsimile of it in the Chateau de Ramezay in Montreal. For the consolation of Jersey folk I must add that the crew also included an Anthoine, a Fleury, an Ollivier, a Ie Breton and a Colas with one ‘I’.
The diary of Jacques Cartier, preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, gives the first historical account of the Gaspée. In 1534, with the blessing of Francois I and holding a commission from Admiral Chabot: "pour voyager, descouvrir, et conquerir, a Neuve France, ainsi que pour trouver, par Ie nord Ie passage de Cathay", Cartier set off on 20 April to discover the North-West passage to China. Cartier was a near neighbour of Jersey; many will have seen his statue on the ramparts of Saint Malo.
As Cartier, sailing westwards, found no outlet, he returned to Cap d'Espoir, which some have identified as Percé when the rock was still attached to the land and formed a prominent cape. In the lee of this cape, where so many Jersey vessels were later to find shelter, and where one of the reefs is now known as Robin's reef, Cartier waited for a change of weather.
From here he set course for Gaspé, where he landed and set up a wooden cross, 30 feet high, bearing the Fleur de Lys and the words: "Vive Ie Roi de France". When he arrived back in Saint Malo, he claimed a new land for France, the King of France and the Catholic Church,¬no doubt to the great satisfaction of Francois I, who is said to have rebuked the over-possessive Charles Quint with the following proud retort: "Le soleil luit pour moi comme pour les autres. Je voudrais bien voir la clause du testament d'Adam qui m'exclut du partage du monde "- a sidelight on empire-building 400 years ago.
For the next 200 years or so Canada was a French possession. A pattern of life similar to that in metropolitan France was imposed. The land was divided into Seigneuries. Some of these old partitions are still extant along the North coast of the Gaspé where the population is entirely French.
An old map dated 1803, in the Chateau de Ramezay in Montreal, bears the following note: "The seigneuries of the province being French, grants have originally been conceded and since the conquest they have remained and still continue under the Feudal Tenure. All the lands on the contrary lately granted by the English Government in the several townships here laid down are held in free and common Soccage".
These new townships include Carleton and New Richmond. A list of persons granted title deeds to land in Percé in 1856 includes a number of Jersey names.
Despite the partition and granting of land, colonisation was slow. The Breton and Norman fisherman preferred to come out for the summer and return to Europe for the winter months.
The importance of the fisheries in the Gaspé peninsula was early recognised. In the 17th century the French regarded them as worth a million a year in gold. Louis XIV refused to include them amongst the great monopolies granted to his seigneurs, expressing a wish that they should be free for his subjects at large.
About 1650, just over 100 years before Charles Robin's arrival, permanent fishing stations were established. One was granted to Sieur Nicolas Denys at Percé. His com¬mission gave him the privilege of trading in cod, herring etc. The later Jersey traders owed much to their French predecessor.
Although his enterprise was not very successful, partly owing to the unsettled state of the New World in the 1Sth century and to the reluctance of his men to face the harsh Canadian winter; yet he left records and reports to his Intendant which describe in minute detail the organisation of a fishing station. The methods he laid down were adopted by later merchants and remained unaltered for nearly 300 years.
He established what is perhaps the oldest industry for the white man in Canada. Our forefathers must often have watched the ritual of several centuries being performed on the beaches of the Gaspé peninsula. In only a few places today can one see men still following the traditional craft of curing fish on shore. One of these places I visited: l'Anse à Beau-fils, not far from Percé.
An interesting visitor to these shores in 1758 was General Wolfe. In the same year Vice-Admiral Philip Durell of Jersey was off the coast of Nova Scotia as Commodore in the Diana.
With the fall of Quebec in 1759 and the Treaty of Paris in 1763, England gained possession of Canada, and France was left with the small islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon (just off the southern coast of Newfoundland) and certain fishing rights off Newfoundland.
From this time, the population of the Gaspé begins to increase, at first somewhat slowly, The Indian and French inhabitants, the latter mostly Acadians chased from Nova Scotia and other parts of America, and fishermen settlers from Normandy and Brittany, were joined by disbanded soldiers from Wolfe's armies, many of them Scottish and Irish.
Later, and then continuously throughout the 19th century, there arrived Channel Islanders, and, in the hungry ‘40s, Irish who were refugees from the potato famine. Another interesting group of settlers were the United Empire Loyalists who, when America declared her Independence in 1776, preferred to live over the border.
These Loyalists were granted the Magdalen Islands and a number of them also settled in Gaspé Town where many of their descendants still live, and in the neighbourhood of Carleton and New Richmond in Bonaventure. Certain townships, Cox, Hamilton and Hope, are named after Loyalists.
It was three years after the Treaty of Paris concluding the Seven Years War that Charles Robin first came to Gaspé. Other merchants of British origin were beginning to set up fisheries on this coast, and young Robin, then in the employ of Robin, Pipon and Company, who had establishments in Newfoundland, was sent to explore the possibilities.
He was 23 and sailed in a brig of 41 tons called the Seaflower , a name that is recurrent in Robin annals. Some years ago some documents that had belonged to the Pipon family were found in an outhouse at Noirmont Manor. These included diaries kept by Charles Robin from 1766 over a period of about 20 years.
These are now in the possession of the Société Jersiaise and the Bulletin for the year 1929 contained a most interesting article by the late Mr Saunders entitled: "Charles Robin, Pioneer of the Gaspé Fisheries". Mr Saunders creates a vivid picture of the hardships young Robin underwent. In 1767 he made a second voyage with goods suitable for trading with Indians.
In 1768 Robin spent the winter, a very severe one, with a man and boy, John le Caux and George Bichard, in a hut that was not wind-tight; they cut turf and piled it outside to help keep out the cold.
After ten years of this life, a critical situation arose with the American Declaration of Independence and the beginning of her War with England. Robin was now liable to attack from American and French privateers.
There is an account in his diaries of the capture of the Bee and the Hope. Robin hid in the woods, whose denizens then included caribou, moose and deer. The Americans were finally routed by HMS Hunter and Viper.
Sometimes the Jersey captains concealed their identity by running up the French flag, no doubt considering all to be fair in love and war, and finding their native tongue a valuable asset.
Throughout the period leading from the American War of Independence through the French Revolution to the Napoleonic Wars, England was in an almost permanent state of war with France. Any foreign enterprise was fraught with danger.
In 1795 the Chamber of Commerce petitioned the States to beg exemption for Jerseymen from militia service because of their heavy commitments at sea. In the preceding two years, 43 vessels had been taken by the enemy and a number of Jerseymen taken prisoner. One of these,-a Syvret, ¬left a long diary in which he tells of his capture by Spaniards, his life in French prisons, his escape via Holland with the help of the Russians to Deal, and his return home after ten years of absence.
That this taking of ships was not wholly one-sided is amply proved by the records still housed in the English Customs Office in Jersey which date back to 1803. A typical entry reads:
Lottery owned by Francis, Philip and John Janvrin. Prize taken in the late war by the Private ship of war the Phoenix, Daniel Hamon, Commander. Condemned in the High Court of Admiralty the 24th day of May 1799, and made free as appears by certificate of freedom dated in London, 9 April 1800, and registered at Southampton.
Against this difficult background Charles Robin built up an enterprise which was to survive for over a century and a half and for most of that time to dominate the life of the Gaspé Coast. John Clarke, American historian of the Gaspé, has said that the history of Robin is the history of cod-fishing at Gaspé; for Charles Robin established what was after the Hudson Bay Co, "the first well-syndicated business in North America directed to a single definite end".
Many other firms were established from time to time. Some of the early rivals were: Nicholas Fiott and Co at Percé; Hammond Dumaresq and Co. at Bonaventure Island. In 1784 Thomas Le Mesurier of Guernsey was agent for a Guernsey enterprise at Gaspé Bay. Most of the Guernsey names on the coast are still located in this region.
Other firms mentioned by writers on the 19th century are Fruings, De Ste Croix, Le Couteur and Hyman. One of the earliest and greatest competitors of Robin was John Le Boutillier, who in the 1850s set up a station at l'Anse au Gris Fond or Griffon's Cove, where there is now a branch of Robin, Jones and Whitman managed by a brother of the late Deputy Bertram.
There are still descendants of the Le Boutilliers living at Percé and Gaspé and the oldest store in Percé, now Boulanger's, was originally built by that firm.
One by one these firms were amalgamated or driven out by fierce competition. Robin's branched out north¬wards and southwards from their original headquarters at Paspebiac, and in time had stations all round the coast. In 1886 they amalgamated with the firm of Collas, of Point St Peter, Malbie, and in 1914 with Canadian partners to become Robin, Jones and Whitman. Despite these changes they are still known round the coast quite simply as Robin's.
From the early days until the 1914 War, Robin's yearly brought out in their ships men and boys from Jersey to be apprentices in the stores, farmers, carpenters and beach-masters.
Some returned yearly; but over the years a number married and founded families whose descendants still live on the coast.
The discipline imposed by Charles Robin and his successors was very strict. The establishments were originally entirely masculine, managers having the choice between remaining wifeless or leaving their wives behind in Jersey. A uniform and rigid procedure was laid down and carried out at all the stations along the coast.
There must be many records in the form of store ledgers, managers' reports and diaries still extant at Paspebiac and in the offices of subsidiary stores which would bring to light interesting details in the history of the firm. Until such material is available, one must look to other sources for glimpses of the life led by our ancestors on the coast.
In the Memoirs of Bishop Mountain of Quebec, written by his son and published in 1866, one catches glimpses of life in some of the settlements on the coast. Bishop Mountain's father, a man of Huguenot extraction, became first Bishop of Canada in 1793, and he himself became Archdeacon of Lower Canada in 1821. He made his first visit to Gaspé in 1824 in a schooner.
He went down the St Lawrence and reached Gaspé Bay in five days. Here he found two places of worship: "One a little Protestant Chapel in outward appearance like the houses, the other a still more diminutive edifice whose purpose is indicated by a rude wooden cross in the graveyard which belongs to it ".
As the people of this settlement were in many cases from Guernsey and Jersey and could not speak English, they requested him to preach to them in French. This alarmed him, as he had never before preached in French. He was still more distressed that he was being asked to preach in a Methodist chapel.
However, he decided (not knowing the Islanders' strong nonconformity) that they would not have become Methodists had an authorised pastor lived among them, and that, as they would sometimes go over 12 miles to hear the Church minister, he might set them more adrift if he refused to minister to them.
The speed at which churches were built in those days is mentioned. One day he preached in a temple which he described as a mere unpainted barn, yet "a surprising building when it is remembered that the materials grew in the woods on one Sunday and formed a Church, framed, roofed, and boarded, in which service was held on the next ".
On 27 August the Archdeacon set off with the missionary for Gaspé Bay in an open boat to visit settlements along the coast. These included Malbaie, Percé, l' Anse à Beau-Fils, and Paspebiac, where the Archdeacon remained several days holding services, inspecting schools, visiting the sick and "putting matters in train for the erection of new schools and churches".
There were no railways or high¬roads across the peninsula in those days. He completed his journey back to the St Lawrence in a bark canoe with two Indians, up the Ristigouche and Matapedia rivers on the old Indian portage route. He reports that the Indians he met were Roman Catholics.
Open boat voyage
Another journey is recorded in 1826, part of the voyage being in an open boat. At Percé he was persuaded to take passage in a small decked vessel where he suffered the greatest discomfort from "dirt, closeness, evil odours, sea-sickness, tedium and utter loneliness as to all sympathies of taste and feeling".
In 1835 Bishop Mountain, as he then was, made another journey to the Gaspé in which he found a number of churches established and held confirmation services. On his last journey before he died he consecrated the new church at Percé in 1862.
One of the most interesting documents which I saw while in Percé was a diary kept by a sister-in-law of the Anglican clergyman at Percé in the year this church was opened. The entries begin in October 1861, and give interesting glimpses of social life at the time.
Frequent visitors to the vicarage were Mr Lenfestey, Mr Gibaut, Mr Payne and Mr Charles Le Boutillier. There are references to days spent in writing letters home, working the cross for the altar-cloth, going on excursions to the high cliffs or Mount Ste Anne, to snow-balling with Mr Le Boutillier or going to see his fox, visiting the ruins of Mr Savage's burnt-out mill, and to evenings spent in playing the game of the poets, which "Mr Gibaut picked up very quickly", or in making music together.
On 5 October they went to the Church to see the Store Pew put up and on 27 November saw Mr Le Boutillier leave for Jersey in the Canada. Many entries are devoted to the weather: "Storming all day", "awful storm", "drifting all day", "fine but very cold", "skated on lake by moonlight" are typical.
On 6 January, a glorious day, the new church was opened. The church was full, there were several Roman Catholics present and in the evening Mr Gibaut gave a large dinner to all the gentlemen.
On 25 February there is reference to stuffing the church cushions helped by Mr Gibaut. There are amusing thumbnail sketches of visitors: "Mr Collas came to call. The latter is a very mild young fellow, but very good I should think. Mr de Moulpied, the parson at the Point, has a very long neck though he is short, which makes him appear rather out of proportion".
Courier, Seaflower and Union
By April they are beginning to see vessels coming out from Jersey and are growing anxious about the Courier. On 6 May 6 the Seaflower came and the Union passed, and they spent several days unpacking at the Church. I found records while in Jersey at Christmas of the departure of both these ships earlier in the year and their arrival is recorded in the Customs House at Gaspé.
On 26 May after a long wait they at last saw the Bishop and Mrs Mountain rounding the White Head in a steamer. On 3 June they went into the sea spearing lobsters and on 13 June the writer and her sister Hattie, while on a visit to Gaspé, rode on white horses to Sandy Beach in the company of Mr Philip Le Boutillier.
It is not surprising to learn that first the writer, then after her death, her sister, married this Mr Le Boutillier. There are still some of his descendants living in Percé today.
A Catholic priest, Abbé Roy, has recently written a very interesting and well-documented history of Percé. In it he traces the growth of the population. He quotes a request to the Lieutenant Governor, Nicholas Cox, in 1778 for pro¬tection against privateers: this bears amongst others the signature of a Philip Journeaux. He notes a gift of 600 dollars to the Catholic Church by Philip Robin in 1841. His paragraph on the "population jerseyaise" is perhaps a little biased.
" Quant à la population jerseyaise, toute d'origine francaise - elle ne parlait que le francais à son arrivee ici - mais generalement de religion anglicane, elle semble, etre venue à Percé qu'apres 1777. Noyée, du reste, au milieu d'habitants ne partageant, les uns ni sa langue ni sa religion, d'autres sa langue mais non sa religion, d'autres enfin sa religion mais non sa langue, et vraisemblablement preoccupée tout autant de bonnes affaires et d'heureux mariages que de religion vraie et de langue ancestrale, elle se fit tantot catholique ou protestante, tantot de langue francaise ou anglaise, selon l'etiquette de ses alliances, sans jamais toute¬fois se departir de son amertume héréditaire à l'égard de la France d'une part, ni, d'autre part, de son profond attachement à la couronne bri¬tannique ".
Bitterness and rivalry
This inheritance of bitterness and rivalry between French and Jerseymen was not helped by the success of Jersey merchants in the 19th century. They became the "bourgeois", the leaders, and to some extent, the controllers of social life.
The French fishermen bitterly resented the "truck" system which bound them to the merchants from whom they received boats, fishing gear and provisions in exchange for services rendered. The system has now disappeared and the bitterness has died down. It is perhaps well to remember, before being over-critical of a system which now appears harsh, that barter and credit were accepted by the early merchant adventurers as a normal method of trading.
Jersey names appearing on the census lists quoted by l'Abbé Roy include Jean, Langlois, Le Breton, Valpy and Vibert in 1777; Galichan, Hacquoil, Hamon Huard, Le Brun, Romeril, de Ste Croix and Trachy in 1871. On the Island of Bonaventure in 1831 were 16 families of Jersey origin : these included the names of Duval (of which more later), De La Cour, Mauger, Le Couture, Buttler (Boutillier), Le Marquand, Le Mesurier and Le Craw.
From this it can be seen that our names produced a problem of spelling not entirely overcome. The first municipal council of Percé included a Peter Lenfesty and was presided over by the mayor, Philip le Boutillier. Mr A C Pallot tells me that he has a Power of Attorney, signed by his uncle before Nicholas Dumaresq, Mayor of Gaspé Basin in 1863.
The last Jerseymen to come out in any number were those who arrived in the early 1900s before the 1914 War virtually brought to an end this particular form of emigration. I spoke to a number of these men both in Montreal and on the coast. Many came out in sailing ships as indentured apprentices at the age of 14 to 16. Often these were the younger sons of farmers owning one farm destined for their elder brother.
They were articled for a period of five years, during which they were paid £3 for the first year, £6 for the second, with further annual rises until in all they earned £50 a year by the end of five years. They might then have a free passage home before leaving the company or signing on as clerks.
Parents provided them with bedding, clothes and some pocket money. They were expected to pay laundry and postage home. They were housed in the Staff House or Manager's Home, both owned by the firm, and were very well fed and looked after although the hours were very long.
They were strictly disciplined and no gambling or drinking was allowed. They all attended church regularly, sitting in the pews reserved for the firm. On first arriving at Paspebiac they were allotted their final destinations at some point on the coast, often having to travel long distances.
The apprentices' day was a long one. A bell woke them at 5 o'clock and they were at work by 5.30, sweeping the floors and tidying the goods on the shelves. There was another bell for breakfast at 7.30. After a break of three-quarters of an hour, another bell would call them to work until one o'clock.
There was an hour's break for lunch; then they would work in the store until it was too dark to see. After supper they would return and work for two hours in the office.
They used brass weights brought out from Jersey, and ledgers were written up in immaculate copperplate handwriting. On 10 December they would begin the inventory which had to be ready for when the store clerks returned to Jersey in January to consult the Jersey managers. These included Mr Moses Gibaut, Mr Charles Maingay Robin and Mr Alfred Amy, and they worked from offices in Conway Street and later in Bond Street.
The apprentices were not allowed out without the agent's permission. They sat at table in an established order with the manager at the head and the book¬keeper at the other end. The junior clerk had the unenviable task of pouring tea. By the time he had descended through the hierarchy to the youngest apprentice, it was time to start on second cups, so that he never had any tea himself.
The size of establishments varied. One retired manager told me that he had begun work at Cariquet where there were five clerks, an assistant book-keeper and a book-keeper. In addition to these there were the outside men who ate in the kitchen: these included beachmasters, carpenters and brickmakers. The old-time captains acted as beachmasters and salters; in later days they stayed on board, or came ashore to the manager's home.
John Le Cocq
Recently, one of the oldest members of the Jersey "colony" in Malbaie, Mr John Le Cocq, died. I met him in Gaspé last summer and he gave me much valuable and interesting information about his early life on the Coast. He came out originally as a beachmaster for Robin's.
He recalled one terrible voyage he had made in the Reaper in 1896 when it took 44 days to cross the Atlantic, and a number of the crew and passengers did not survive.
As beachmaster Mr Le Cocq had 40 or 50 men under him. The cod was salted for three or four days and then dried. About four months elapsed between stacking and tubbing, according to the weather.
In winter, beachmasters would help as carpenters. English cut wood and bricks were brought in ballast from Jersey, outdoor work being done in summer and plastering in winter. I had tea in Percé in a charming house called Guernsey Cottage built by Jersey craftsmen.
I was told by the owner that the first coat of plaster had been left to dry for a year while the men returned to Jersey. They came back and put on the second coat in the following year.
In Mr Le Cocq's early days there were still about 25 vessels coming out from Jersey. He remembered the Hematope, the Fanny Breslauer the Robin, the Reaper and Captains Le Dain, Le Ruez, Le Gresley, Poingdestre and Becquet ; the latter's son still lives on the coast.
Although Mr Le Cocq at the age of 81 had been nearly 60 years on the coast, he never forgot his Jersey French, and there was something in his intonation as he said: "Ah, yes" that marked him out unmistakably as an unrepentant native of Jersey.
I also met the postmaster of Gaspé Town, who came out originally as a farmer for Robin's. The post-office is housed in the same building as the Customs Office where there are records of the arrival of Jersey ships going back to 1851, listing the name of the ship, the captain and the goods brought out. My grandfather's name appears several times as Captain of the Hematope, Century, Blanchard and Reaper.
There are entries marking the arrival of the Seaflower and Union mentioned in the diary already referred to:
The Seaflower arrived in May 1862 - tonnage, 352 tons - type, barque - name of owner, C Robin and Co - registered Jersey - Captain, George Le Brocq. No of Crew, 10 (the names are not recorded in Gaspé, but could be discovered by looking up the records in Jersey of the "Merchant Seamen's Benefit Society", whose records go back beyond this date). Among the general items of cargo listed at Gaspé are: 158 tons of salt, boots and shoes, seines (a seine is a draught-net) and nets, candles, paint, corkwood, brushes, calf skins, sugar, cheese, tinware, earthenware, seeds, corks, cordage, boles, cottons, coal tar, mustard, hardware, files, linseed oil, leather, hides, harness-leather, soap, tobacco, cheque books, I font (presumably for the new church at Percé), harness, slops, boxes of glass, lead, 807 half-chests of tea, nails, wine, pipes, gin, schiedam, vinegar, cider, paper, gloves.
The captain of the Union was John P Mareth (Marett?) and in addition to many items listed above, she carried: compasses, London moulds, raisins, hats, eau de cologne, stationery, windlass, verdigris, hooks and needles, thimbles, wooden taps, brandy, bitters, colouring, hinges, metal rods, horse-collars, bonnets, anchors, chains, olive oil, sheets, copper, gunpowder, passengers and luggage.
What skill must have been required to stow such a cargo and steer it through Atlantic seas. What a dollar-earner the firm would have been to-day in the export market. In those days the firm was financed from Jersey and dollars earned came back to the local banks.
Life has changed
Life has changed much on the coast since Mr Le Cocq went out. Within the past 30 years a great circular highway, five hundred miles long, has been built round the peninsula linking it with the road system of Quebec and New Brunswick, and opening up a new world for American and Canadian holiday¬makers.
In 1907 the Quebec Atlantic Oriental Railway was built from Matapedia through New Carlisle to Port Daniel, and gradually extended until it reached Gaspé Town. Before that, inhabitants had to drive by horse or sleigh 180 miles to catch the Inter-Colonial Railway from Matapedia to Montreal, a journey of four days.
The first train was pulled by a small engine that had served the Manhattan Elevated. Now the Gaspé train boasts a diesel engine which runs like a monster into the little stations around the coast, with a great cyclopic eye at night, and ringing a bell that can be heard for miles echoing round the bends.
It is not a very punctual monster, but that matters little, as there is a fascinating page of history to be unrolled before the traveller as he sits facing the sea in a comfortable parlour-car armchair.
One makes the long journey from Montreal overnight, leaving at nine pm and waking up for breakfast in the beautiful Matapedia valley. One leaves the New Brunswick train at Matapedia and sets off again for Gaspé at about 10 am, spending most of the day winding leisurely round the coast, first along the Baie des Chaleurs with a view over to Campbelltown and Dalhousie.
I was lucky to travel in the company of a lady of Jersey descent returning to her home on the coast with her husband after four years spent in the Arctic, where he had been teaching Esquimos and Indians at Aklavik.
I was shown many points of interest which I otherwise should have missed. At times I was irresistibly reminded of the old St Aubin line as we ran round the edge of the cliffs or crossed a bridge with nothing but sand and boulders below and the open sea in front.
From the train we saw the Robin buildings at Paspebiac, the characteristic" bara¬chois," or sand-bar, bearing the cook-houses, store-houses and drying-places, and inshore the store with its uniform colours and superscription which I was to see repeated so many times along the coast.
I was unable to break my journey at Paspebiac. This was a serious omission; for there are many interesting buildings and documents there. I am told that the old Robin dwelling is now a fashionable inn, complete with pictures of sailing vessels and Charles Robin's mahogany dining-table.
J was, however, driven along the stretch of coast from Percé to Newport, and was able to see at close hand some of the establishments. At Cape Cove and l' Anse à Beau-fils, known as Laney Buffy to the inhabitants, they were still in full use.
I took photographs of cod drying on flakes and of the arrival of the fishermen in the afternoon. In some townships, as at Percé and Newport, the store was open, but the flakes had been abandoned. At Newport the manager's house and wharves, complete with flakes and "plank" walks, were up for sale, with a sorry row of aban¬doned schooners. At Percé the flakes had been replaced by a co-operative refrigerating plant run by the French.
I made two longer stays: one at Percé and another at Gaspé Town. I was in Gaspé on a Saturday morning and might well have been in King Street. At every turn I was introduced to Jersey people, some living in Gaspé itself and others who had come in from a point on the coast to do their weekly shopping.
Gaspé is a quiet and interesting town, almost entirely English-speaking, with a wonderful natural harbour. It was up this harbour that Cartier came, and the innumerable Jersey vessels. From here the Canadian Expeditionary Force sailed in the First World War.
But for all its natural advantages Gaspé is ice-bound in winter and has lost its trade to Halifax in winter and to Montreal and Quebec in summer. Unless prosperity comes from the newly sunk copper mines in the interior Gaspé may very well fall on lean times.
By contrast, Percé has taken on a new lease of life with the arrival of the tourist. Chalets and cabins invite one to showers and gas-heat.
Robin's name board bears the caption: "Everything the tourist needs." The goods listed above this promise range from "Hudson's Bay Point Blankets" to "Jersey Eau-de-Cologne." "Buvez Coca-Cola" adorns the wall of Le Boutillier's old store.
Valpy and Le Bas have been succeeded by an exhibit of paintings mostly of the Percé rock, and an agency for ferry boats to Bonaventure Island and the bird sanctuary. There is an excellent hotel, built by a Jerseyman who first came out with Robin's, and a number of French ones; for although Percé was once known as "la petite Cesaree" because of its large Jersey population, there are now more French than British inhabitants there.
No commercial development can conceal the wonderful natural beauties of this point on the coast, described by my Canadian host as one of the most "scenic" places in Eastern Canada.
The material for the altar of the little Anglican church of Saint Paul was brought from Jersey. Many of the headstones must have been brought out in Jersey ships, as they bear the names of Jersey masons. In the small churchyard there are many Jersey names.
They include Le Breton, Bower, de Quetteville, Nicolle, Lenfestey, Duval, Le Dain, Jean, Hacquoil, de Carteret, Le Brun, Gibaut, Esnouf, Le Gresley, Dumaresq, Vibert and Valpy. There is a Philippe Syvret Hamon of St Ouen and many Tuzos, members of a Huguenot family who came to Gaspé via the West Indies. There is a large slab bearing the inscription:
"Daniel Orange, of the Island of Jersey, who died at Quebec on the 6th November 1877 aged 43. The deceased had been in the service of Messrs C Robin and Co for nearly 30 years, the last three as their chief agent in Canada. His wish was to be interred in this churchyard."
There are two beaches at Percé separated by the twin headlands of Cap Canon and Mont Jolio. On the north beach one can still see horses hauling cod-fish up from the wooden jetty at about four in the afternoon. Until recent years Robin's beach on the south was a whirling shriek of seagulls when the fish was brought in.
Now things are quieter as the "entrepot frigorifique" of the "Departement provincial des Pecheries de Quebec", breaks the tradition of centuries and works behind closed doors.
One can wander knee-deep in grass among the rustling flakes to look at the strange ship's figurehead washed up on these shores some years ago and set up on the gable of Robin's shed: a counterweight to the bell on the seaward side that once called the men to work.
On the other side of the road is an old root-house, that has stood for more than 100 years, and the modern store with characteristic yellow and green paint and a garage beside it to supply the tourist with gasoline wherewith to scale the "Peak of Dawn".
Robin Jones and Whitman
I went inside the store through a door whose fanlight still bears the words : "Charles Robin Collas and Company, Limited," for the sentimental pleasure of emerging with a bill bearing the heading: "Robin, Jones and Whitman."
The County Court House stands in Percé. Behind is a little wooden jail reminiscent of the one in Sark in that it is seldom occupied. Its inmates are often allowed to chop wood outside "on parole". Then there is the massive Percé Rock, 1,500 feet long, towering on its inward point to a peak 288 feet high, wonderfully impressive at all times and from all angles. It is separated from the shore by a sand bar 100 feet long and uncovered at low tide. Once, it is thought, it was joined to the land.
The Atlantic waves have altered its appearance through the centuries. An old print of 1675 shows four arches; an engraving from a picture drawn on the spot by a Captain Smythe in 1812 shows two arches and reveals a slight error in Sir Gilbert Parker's story of "The Battle of the Strong, where the rock is said to be pierced at one point by an archway. It was not until 17 July 1845 that the outer arch fell.
The historian of the Gaspé relates how, on that day, Mr. Philip Le Boutillier was turning the key in the door of his store when he was startled by an "earsplitting and thunderous crash and screams of birds". The outer vault had fallen.
Today there is still a stack detached from the main rock and a heap of stones to mark the fall. In The Battle of the Strong, Ranulph and Carterette climb the rock. In the olden days this was a recognised feat. Men boasted of cutting hay on the top and there were legends of privateers' gold hidden there; but in 1837 such feats were forbidden after a foolhardy man had danced on a piece of projecting rock and had been dashed to his death.
Beyond the rock, three miles off shore, is Bonaventure Island. Clothed in its summer vegetation it is very like Herm or Chausey, sloping gently on the landward side with little farms and stone buildings dotted about.
It boasted among other things a patch of potatoes in flower and a Jersey cow. On the steep cliffs on the northward-side facing the Atlantic the island is alive with gannets. It is a famous bird sanctuary shared by Canada, USA and Mexico, and visited by ornithologists from all over the world.
The man who can tell you most about the island is Mr Willie Duval, honorary warden of the bird sanctuary. I was directed to his house by a fisherman, who gave his name as Harry Vibert. Mr Duval is the postmaster on Bonaventure and was once the government courier, plying his boat backwards and forwards or skating across in winter.
He is also a direct descendant of Captain Peter Duval, commander of the Phoenix and the Vulture in the Napoleonic Wars, who was granted a cutlass by George III and Letters of Marque for his prowess. There is evidence of ships being built at most of the settlements on the Gaspé coasts from the very early days of the 19th century. Mr Duval had an Irish grandmother and a Scottish mother, but his features shew his Channel Island ancestry.
There have been Duvals on Bonaventure ever since his privateer ancestor settled there, and there have been other Jersey families. There is still a family named Cody (Le Caudey). Until 50 years ago there were two merchants on the island selling fish direct to Italy.
Ten years ago one could still see the hulks of wrecks that had gone ashore on the island. Mr Willie Duval recalls the inhabitants collected money for the erection of a school house for Protestants and Catholics.
This is now a Catholic Church and Mr Duval and his sister are the only protestants left on the island. His two sons fought in the last war and are now working as engineers in Toronto.
There are many more things I would like to mention if I had time. There are the place names: l'Anse Jersey, Pointe Maquereau, le Huquet's Cove, l'Anse Pleureuse, l'Anse aux Cousins and the strange canonisation of a Cape resulting in the name of St Charles de Caplan.
There are the gruesome tales of luring lights and wreckers off Cap des Rosiers, legends of a lazy Percé fisherman who is said to have found the devil in his boat helping to swell the catch with his forked tail, and the Indian legend of a giant who hung his washing on the cliffs of Bonaventure. It is temerity on my part to have talked at all about the Gaspé and its settlers after so short a visit. I hope I have not made it sound too glamorous.
There is a very interesting story to be written about the Jerseyman in Gaspé, preferably by someone who has lived there for some time on the coast and knows its life intimately. It should be written while there are still people alive who remember the old regime.
Future historians will then know who it was that brought out and planted the willows that shade the roads and avenues where other trees find no root, and later geologists, knowing nothing of sailing-ships in ballast, will not have to man a Kontiki expedition to discover what pre-historic convulsion threw up with the Percé rock and mountain a few pebbles of Jersey granite on the shores of the Gaspé basin.
- Charles Robin, and the history of Jersey's fishing industry off the Canadian Atlantic coast
- 18th century trade, an article from the 1981 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise
- Emigrants from Jersey, the cod, and the Gaspé Coast, by George F Le Feuvre
- Plying to the Gaspé Coast by A J Romeril
- Everyday life on the coast of Acadia. by Marguerite Syvret
- The Origins of the Béchervaise Family in Gaspé
- A brief history of the Gaspé Peninsula
- Percé Rock
- Charles Robin, a forgotten Father of Canada
- Emigrants to Canada, a full alphabetical index to emigrants to Gaspé, Newfoundland etc
- Trachy family in Gaspé