June 29, 2010


Maybe it has something to do with the weather, but June seems to be  the season to start a war. In just two weeks anniversaries related to the War of 1812, WWI and the Korean War have all been marked.  Earlier in the month we missed numerous events related to WWII.

So, weary of war, let us celebrate an enterprising Breton of the 16th century, Jacques Cartier. Cartier was born in St. Malo in Brittany, married into one of the town’s leading families and was chosen by Francois I to try and find a route to China.

Jacques Cartier

That’s pretty much all we know about him, except that he was a very good mariner.  He crossed the Atlantic three times and sailed around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, down the St. Lawrence River and around Newfoundland and in all his crossings and exploration of unknown waters, he never lost a ship.

On this day in 1534 he discovered Prince Edward Island, which of course is a perfectly ridiculous statement since the MicMac already lived there.  If we want to hedge and say he was the first European to see PEI, we’re still on pretty thin ice since the discovery of L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960. L’Anse is the site in Newfoundland where a Norse colony existed some time around 1000 AD.

(L’Anse aux Meadows is actually a corruption of L’Anse aux Meduses. which means Jellyfish Cove.)

Prince Edward Island, courtesy

Like many explorers, Cartier never found what he was looking for, although La Chine Rapids and La Chine, Quebec, still remind us of his intentions.  But what he found wasn’t too shabby and the St. Lawrence became a great resource for the French for the next two centuries.  The island itself became home to the Acadians, many of whom eventually wound up in Louisiana.

Birthdays today include William Mayo, founder of the eponymous clinic, and George Washington Goethals. Goethals was a West Point graduate (Class of 1880) who joined the Army Corps of Engineers after the academy and worked his way up, helping dredge and dam various rivers, until he became a colonel. Teddy Roosevelt appointed him to build the Panama Canal in 1907, which Col. Goethals did, finishing it two years ahead of schedule in 1914.

Below, suitable for your stereopticon, a view of the first excursion through the new canal.

S.S. Culebra, first excursion through the canal, LoC, PPD.



  1. COOL, my stereopticon is on the fritz though…


    Comment by ninachat — June 29, 2010 @ 9:53 am | Reply

  2. I just finished Wally Herbert’s book (good) about Peary’s not getting to the north pole (_Noose of Laurels_). I hadn’t known that before his Arctic ambitions became an obsession, he did a lot of work surveying and planning for a canal across Nicaragua (I think shortly after the French had given up in Panama). Those plans lost out to Panama anyway (though the idea crops up now and again).


    Comment by Barry Goldstein — June 29, 2010 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

  3. i left out the whole French backstory – poor Ferdinand de Lesseps – and how TR bought them out, including eqmnt, etc…for the sake of my goal, which is easily digested history bits. why would anyone bother duplicating effort now in Nicaragua?


    Comment by jchatoff — June 29, 2010 @ 7:15 pm | Reply

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