Lac des Deux Montagnes, frozen solid. A bench, lonesome, waiting for the summer to enjoy the feel of a butt
‘Hudson’ is one of the most common place names in Canada. There’s even a bay named Hudson Bay – a 1.2 million sq.km roughly round body of water north of Quebec which, I am positive, is actually an impact crater that was created by a humongous meteorite. The crater must have filled up when the Laurentide Ice Sheet melted, around 20,000 years ago. I must warn you though, that no one else thinks Hudson Bay is a meteor crater. I am just a brilliant out-of-the-box thinker.
Then there are cities, towns, villages and streets, bridges and stuff that are named Hudson in every province of Canada. In fact, Canada’s first joint-stock company, which started as a beaver pelt trading post in the early 18th century and has steadily grown into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, is named The Hudson Bay Co. (HBC).
Every Hudson in Canada, be it a city or a village, river or bay, street or park, is named after the one guy, an Englishman named Henry Hudson, who sailed west from England in his ship ‘Discovery’, looking for a western route to the far-east, a.k.a. the illusive north-west passage. Beginning August 1610, Hudson worked his way around the west coast of Greenland and into the bay, mapping much of its eastern coast. Unfortunately for the expedition, winter set in early that year and the Discovery and it’s crew were trapped in the ice for the whole winter season.
Now, I don’t have to tell you how horribly cold it can get over here, especially if you are stuck in a creaking old 17th century man-o-war, way beyond the Arctic Circle. The Canadian winter is unforgiving. You get a sense of it, when you read about those cold and barren wastes that Alistair Maclean liked to write about in his thrillers (Ice Station Zebra, Bear Island, HMS Ulysses).
Hudson and his crew somehow managed to survive the winter onshore at the southern tip of James Bay, which is a small tongue of water that sticks out down south of the Hudson Bay. Hudson was a despotic pain-in-the ass. I guess in those days, you had to be hard, in order to keep the crew in line and reach wherever you were planning on reaching.
When the spring thaw set in, Hudson wanted to explore the rest of the bay but hadn’t realized that he had pushed the men a bit too hard this time. They had been wandering around this bone-chilling environment, the seas covered with pack ice, for a year and clearly they had had enough. They wanted to get back home.
On June 22, 1611, the crew mutinied. They forced Hudson and other crewmen who had been loyal to him, including his teenage son, into a small lifeboat and cast them adrift. It seems like a pretty cruel thing to do, even to an ars—le, but then exploration in the 1600s was never meant for the faint-hearted. Besides, the crew had no choice. Mutiny those days was a capital offense, punishable by immediate execution without trial. (see Google Earth screen shot above).
No one knows what happened to Hudson and the rest, but experts agree that there was no way that the occupants of that boat could have survived out in the open for more than a few days, in an environment so hostile that even summer temperatures hover around freezing. Of course, there are legends that Hudson and the others were rescued by Cree Indians and lived out the rest of their lives with them.
The name ‘Hudson’ is ubiquitous in Canada. Why, even Professor Henry Higgins tried to break Eliza Dolittle’s cockney accent by teaching her how to say,’ In Hertford, Hereford and Hudson, hurricanes hardly happen.’ I lied. It was actually ‘Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire’. Be on your guard when reading anything I write. And please, don’t take anything in these pages to the bank. (Unless it is the Lehman Bros).
Now look what you have done. You waylaid my brilliant mind and now I haven’t the foggiest why I began talking about the name ‘Hudson’. Oh yes, I have it now, there is this quaint little town due south of where I live in Quebec, called Hudson. It kind of draws me to it. If the sky is blue and the cold bitter (which is usually the case when the sky is blue), I head out to Hudson to take pictures and sit and have a couple of beers in a quaint 100-year old bar called Chateau du lac, that has a pink-cheeked, twinkly-eyed, plump and ample-chested barmaid named Marie-Claire, who speaks only French and finds me funny.
I lied again. There really is a bar named Chateau du Lac and it really is 100 years old but there is no bargirl named Marie-Claire, though I wish there was. The one who is actually behind the counter is a sour-faced, shriveled, stuck-up crone who is flat as Saskatchewan. Oh, what’s the use, I lied again. The bar girl is actually a vivacious young lady whose name I don’t remember and she definitely isn’t Saskatchewan, more like the Adirondacks, I would say. See what I did? I fantasize so often that I can no longer recollect what actually happened, whom I actually saw. Do you think this is what Alzheimers looks like? Whimper…
Random pics of Hudson
The first white man to arrive at Hudson was a Frenchman named Étienne Brûlé, around 1609. He sailed up the St. Lawrence and wandered into the wild, the first time a white man had ventured off to the west of the river.
Legend has it that he got accidentally injured while trekking through rough terrain when he met up with a native American tribe (known today as the Hurons) who took him in and nursed him back to health. The Hurons took a liking to him and made him one of their own, showering their daughters upon him as presents. (I might have liked being an explorer in the new world, come to think of it).
Of course, the Hurons had no idea what they were letting themselves in for and for that moment of bleeding heartedness, they and all their native brethren have paid dearly over the centuries. Today all Native Americans are consigned to ever-shrinking ‘reservations’, which are essentially tracts inhospitable land that grow very little on them.
Brûlé eventually came to the attention of the Samuel de Champlain, the man who had been commissioned by the French court to colonize ‘New France’ (Canada, as it was called then). Through Brûlé, Champlain made friends with the Hurons and mapped the entire region, right up to a massive 490 sq. mile lake that sits astride the Canada-US border, which is named after him – Lake Champlain. Brûlé, however, did not survive his association with the Hurons.
Étienne Brûlé (right), with Samuel de Champlain on the banks of the Lac des deux Montagnes
Historians claim that while fighting alongside the Hurons, he was captured by the Seneca Iroquois, a fierce tribe of warriors who had opposed the encroachment of the Europeans from the beginning. He managed to escape, but when he returned home, the Hurons were suspicious. It was common knowledge those days that the Iroquois did not just let enemy fighters loose, they ate them. The Hurons thought Brûlé was bullshitting them about escaping. They killed him, dismembered his body and ate his remains. Didn’t I tell you exploration wasn’t for the faint hearted? Why do you think I have never ventured over the small grassy knoll just beyond my backyard?
A relatively wealthy town, Hudson is known for its large, turn-of-the century houses, many of which border the Lac des Deux Montagnes (Lake of two mountains), which is the part of the Ottawa River widens and flows into the mighty St. Lawrence River. Since it borders the English-speaking province of Ontario, Hudson is one of the few majority-anglophone towns in Quebec.
I would have told you about the 100-year old ferry which takes folk across the Lac des Deux Montagnes to another quaint village called Oka, but it is closed for the winter, the surface of the Lac having frozen solid, the ice at least two feet thick.
I’ll leave that for another post, maybe in the summer.