From rumor the found little basis in fact early Canadian explorers dreamed of the discovery of the Western Sea, a short way to the advantageous trade from the east. Jacques Cartier had sought it, followed by Samual Champlian who reachign the Lake Nipissing and descending the French River, was the first white man to gaze upon the waters of Lake Huron. After him came others who discovered the remainig Great Lakes, Michigan and Superior, but still neither fo these was the western Sea. And sohistory unfolded untill the spring of of the year 1731, a little more than two hundered years ago. The scene is the banks ofthe mighty St. Lawrence River near Montreal.
A band of men and a little fleet of birch-bark canoes are setting out on an expedition to this Western Sea, daring to venture into this unknown west, hardy and dauntless, willing to gamble against the daily menace of savage foes, the Indians, the danger of unknown waters, the possibility of starvation, the scourge of mosquitoes and flies, the cold of winter. This band comprises the first expedition of Pierre Gaultier de LaVerandrye, the former soldier, the ex-fur-trader of Lake Nipigon, who since he first saw the light of day at Three Rivers, Quebec, had been imbued with the spirit of adventure, the desire of discovery coursed in his blood as it had in the viens of his French predecessors, Radisson Nicolt and Etienne Brule, Marquette and LaSalle.
At last he had been able to abtain a fur monopoly abd the financial backing tof the merchants of Montreal to advance him the cost of the expedition. With him were his three sons, Jean- Baptiste, Pierer and Francois and his nephew, La Jemeraye. Now- a-days one makes use of outboard motors for long canoe trips and well may webe awed by the long ardious LaVerandrye accomplished at the back breaking task of paddle and portage. From the St. Lawrence up the Ottawa River past the rapids of the Long Sault where a hundred years before that brave band of French under Dollard had died at their posts fighting off an attack by the Indians, by a series of portages across land to Lake Nipissing down what is now the French River to Lake Huron. Now along the shore of the Lake, to Fort Michilmackinac, where now stand Mackinaw City and St. Ignace on either side of the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lakes Huron and Michigan. By Julyof that year the expedition was forcing it's way through the cold waters of Lake Superior and by Late August had reached Grand Portage over the hieght of land near the mouth of Pidgeon River about 20 miles southwest of Fort Kaministikwia, where now stands Fort William.
Here dissention broke out among the party, a modern sit-down strike, ending in the refusal of some of the party in pressing on into the region of Lac la Pluie, of Rainy Lake, before winter set in. Finally it was decided that La Jemeraye should puch onto Rainy Lake with a few of his faithful men, establish himself for the winter by building a Fort, and carry on trade with the Indians. Thus it was that Fort St. Pierre was erected in the fall of 1731 at the foot of a series of rapids which emptied into a river of the same name. la Jeremaye reports that he built in a meadow among a grove of oaks and most investigators agree that the most likely spot is the grove at what is now called Pither's Point.
The elder LaVerendrye visited this Fort the following spring and before pushing on to The Lake of the Woods, and establishing Fort St. Charles and later Fort Maurepas on Lake Winnipeg. In a few years he had strung a series of Forts, like beads, to the edge of the Great Plains.
Attacked By the Souix
Now disaster threatend. Lack of supplies forced and finacial pressure forced hime to return to Montreal when now he was on the edge of the Prairies accross which according to the Indians was the Great Water. During his abscence La Jeremaye literally worked himself to death establishing friendly relations among the savage tribes. He was the first victim of the search for the Western Sea. Further misfortune was also imminent. Jean de LaVerendrye at the head of a small band bring supplies to Fort Maurepas on Lake Winnipeg fell fould to a band of warring Souix who reached Lake of the Woods by a narrow stream called the Road of War, now known as the Warroad Creek, at the mouth of which is the town of Warroad. This was the route followed on invasions from the south into the lands of the Crees and Chippewas. Souix Narrows was a part of this route. The small party under the young LaVerendrye, ambushed in the morning mists, outnumbered, were wiped out to a man. Jean, Father Aulneau and a dozen voyagers fell under the first shower of arrows. Cut off from their canoes the other retreated and in desparation tried to swim to a neighbouring island, but exuasted and wounded, they fell beneath the waves one by one, the Souix standing on the shore not even bothering to shoot an arrow at them. The ferocious Indians scalped, hacked and mutiliated the gallant party before continueing on their warring path.
Keeps the Peace
With difficulty Pierre de LaVerendrye kept peace among the tribes of the friendly Crees and Chippewas who wanted to avenged the death of Jean and and attack the Souix. This would have started a series of Indian wars which could only cumulate into more loss of life and attain no useful end. Would that present day leaders follow this line of reasoning, the subjugation of personal revenge for the betterment of the general good.
Subsequently the Dakotas were explored and the Mandan Villiage where now stands Bismark was visited. From the Mandans it was learned of tribes that rode horses, the Apache and Snake Indians, of white men who who wore beards and lived in houses, the Spaniards. However this exploration was lef to the remainig LaVerendrye brothers who travelled as far west as the headwaters of the Missouri River opposite the city of Pierre in South Dakota, indicating beyond a doubt, the authenticy of the trip a 170 years before. On this voyage, the LaVerendrye brothers were the first white men to gaze upon the inspiring beauty of the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mts. The accompaning tribe of Indians, fearful of attack, forced them to turn back, leaving the mystery of the Western Sea stil unsolved. Although told that the Great Water lay only over the mountain range,little did the brothers realize the long aurdous trip still separating them from their goal even if they did surmount the range.
Restored to Leadership
In the meantime, attempts were made to discredit the work of Pierre de LaVerendrye but eventually the real worth of his endeavors was realized and in 1749 he was restored to his leadership in the west.
But this acknowledgemtn came to late. While making preparations for an extended trip up the Saskatchewan River and over the mountains to the long dreamed of goal, he was taken ill and before the close of the year LaVerendrye had set out on that journey from which no man returns.
Little more remains to be said os the LaVerendrye family. Prejudice, emnity and jealousy le the remainig two brother to be discredited and in spite of devoted efforts the promises.extended to their father did not pass to them, and ruined in purse and denied opputunity, they fell into obscurity and soon were forgotten.
Such injustice the worthy Grey Nuns, I feel, are striving to rectify in naming our new hospital LaVerendrye Hospital. What more fitting than that a House of Mercy, opewn to all people, Jew and Gentile,Protestant and Catholic,regardless of colour, black, yellow or white, what more fittign than such an institute be named after a family who gave their all to open a region and bring the benefiets of Christain faith to a savage people. What more fitting in this day of greed for power, whe death rather than the soccur of men back to health predominates, that there be named a hospital after a father and his sons who forgot personal gain and agrandizment to devote their lives to their country. The time at my disposal does not permit me to dwell more fully into the lives of these great men. The passing centuries have changed the area as they knew it. Erosion and the work of man has changed the river that carried them onto the unknown west; a town with it's many buildings has risen on the banks where they once trod; the woodsman's axe has levelled the forests whos stillnes they were first to disturb; the Indians they knew have long since vanished into reservations as wards of the government. But out of all these changes their name will still live on the white brick of the hospital tha bears their name, standing close to that water route that knew the sound of their paddle as it was losed from the grip of winter. The white cross above reaching to the heavens, silent reminder of the Faith that was theirs and the Almighty Father that guided their destinies. My friends, let the name of Pierre Gaultier de LaVerendrye, of his sons, Jean, Pierre, and Francois, be drawn out of obscurity and let us in this community give full credit to these, four of Canada's greatest sons.