Father Hennepin At Niagara Falls
C.W. Jefferys' notes about this picture in Dramatic Episodes in Canada's Story
On the 6th of December, 1678, a little party of Frenchmen was toiling through the snow-clad forest that crowned the cliffs of the Niagara gorge. Far below, the tossing rapids raced towards the whirlpool around which the travellers had circled. Ahead of them, up the river, was the great fall. Indian stories had told them of it, and years ago it had been marked on Champlain's map; but so far as they knew no white man as yet had seen it. In the stillness of the winter woods they could hear its distant roar, and as they advanced, sometimes they could see between the bare branches the column of mist that rose from the falling waters in the still air. At last they came out upon the brink of the cliff, and the great semi-circle of the cataract lay before them. Perhaps some unknown wandering runner of the woods had already looked upon the wonderful scene, but this is the first visit of which we have any record. We know of it from the account written by one of those who stood and gazed at the falling waters on that wintry day in 1678: a bearded man dressed in the brown-gray robe of a Franciscan Friar, with the knotted cord of his order girt about his waist, and his pointed hood pulled over his head to shield it from the cold. He was Father Louis Hennepin, missionary priest and explorer, whose book of travels is a wonderful story of adventure and peril. He had always longed to visit strange lands, and he says that in France he used to listen behind the doors of taverns to the stories which the sailors told of their voyages. At last his desire to travel was gratified. In 1678 he was sent as a missionary to Canada. On the ship in which he sailed he met LaSalle, who was returning from France to take possession of Fort Frontenac, which had been granted to him. Hennepin was stationed at this post as priest, and when LaSalle, in 1678, set out on his expedition to explore the West, the missionary was permitted to go with him.
The advance party, including Hennepin, left Fort Frontenac in a little vessel of ten tons for the Niagara River. Stormy weather forced them to keep close to the north shore of Lake Ontario and drove them for shelter into the mouth of the Humber. Here they were frozen in and had to cut their way out through the ice with axes. They reached the Niagara on the 6th of December, and landed on the eastern side, where now stands the American fort. Hennepin with some of the party paddled up the river in a canoe as far as the Queenston of to-day, where the rapids prevented them from going farther by water. They went ashore and made the rest of their way to the falls on foot. They went on to Chippewa creek, where they camped in the snow for the night, returning the next morning to their companions at the mouth of the river. This was the start of over two years' wandering by Hennepin among the Indians and coureurs de bois in the forests and on the plains and rivers and the great lakes. In the spring of 1681 he was again at the Falls of Niagara, on his way back to Quebec, where he arrived, bronzed and sun-burnt and lean, with his robe in tatters and patched with pieces of buffalo-skin, and told his amazing tale to Count Frontenac. Soon afterwards he went back to Europe and published the account of his travels.
In his book there appears an engraving of the Falls of Niagara on which the present picture is based. This engraving was made possibly from a drawing by Hennepin himself, or from his own description, and under his own supervision. It is out of proportion, but its general features give an accurate idea of the appearance of the Falls at his time. It is the first picture of the Falls ever printed, and it is valuable because it shows the changes that have taken place in their shape since he saw them. On the right of the picture, in front of the western end of the Horse Shoe Falls, is seen a small cross fall which plunges over an overhanging rock projecting from the edge of the cliff. This fall no longer exists, for the rock, later known as Table Rock, split off and fell some years ago, and the course of the river has altered considerably, owing to the gradual wearing away of the crest of the Falls.
C.W. Jefferys' notes about this picture in The Picture Gallery of Canadian History Vol I
Hennepin's own book gives us the first detailed description of Niagara Falls. It contains also the first picture of them, an engraving on which the drawing herein is based. The engraving probably was made from a drawing by Hennepin, or from his own description and under his supervision. It is out of proportion, but its general features give an accurate idea of the falls at his time, and is valuable because it shows the changes that have taken place in their shape since he saw them. On the right of the picture, in front of the western end of the Horse Shoe Fall, is seen a small cross fall which plunges over an overhanging rock projecting from the edge of the cliff. This fall no longer exists, for the rock, later known as Table Rock, split off and fell some years ago, and the course of the river has altered considerably, owing to the gradual wearing away of the crest of the Falls.
Hennepin is wearing the brown grey robe of the Franciscan order, of which the Recollets, to which body he belonged, was a branch. Around his waist is girt a knotted cord, and over his head is pulled the pointed hood, which could be thrown back to hang behind his shoulders. The rules of his order prescribed that he should wear sandals on his bare feet; but in severe weather and when travelling through the wilderness he would wear moccasins.
- Wetherell, J.E. Three centuries of Canadian story from John Cabot to John Franklin. Toronto, Musson, 1928. 338 p. Illus.
- Jefferys, C.W. Another historical series: 16 fine drawings of dramatic milestones in Canada’s story. Toronto, Star Newspaper Service, 1930?. 1 folded sheet (8 p.) : ill., port. ; 32 cm.
Jefferys, C.W. 1930 Dramatic Episodes in Canada's Story, p. 35
Jefferys, C.W. 1934 Canada's Past in Pictures, p. 62
Jefferys, C.W. 1942 The Picture Gallery of Canadian History Vol I, p. 163
- Colombo, John Robert. Canadian literary landmarks. Willowdale, Ont., Hounslow Press, 1984. 318 p. Illus.
- Osborne, Brian S. “’The kindling touch of imagination’: Charles William Jefferys and Canadian identity.” In A few acres of snow: literary and artistic images of Canada, edited by Paul Simpson-Housley and Glen Norcliffe, 28-47. Toronto, Dundurn Press, 1992.
- Revie, Linda. “Picturing the falls: Niagara through artists’ eyes.” In The Beaver, Aug./Sept. 1999, p. 41-45. Illus.
- Plummer, Kevin. “Sketching cultural nationalism.” July 18, 2009. 7 p. Illus. http://torontoist.com/2009/07/historicist_sketching_cultural_nationalism.php
“Early Canada Historical Narratives -- LA SALLE.” Accessed July 23, 2017. http://www.uppercanadahistory.ca/finna/finna3a.html.