A SCION OF NOBILITY (De Laronde)
By Martin Hunter
A Fur Trader
Even in the wilds one meets unlooked for people and when least expected.
When I first went to the Nipigon Country in the middle seventies I became acquainted with an old Hudson’s Bay officer, who from his cast of countenance and commanding mien, I put down at first sight as being a man with a history. Nor was I mistaken; later on the old gentleman took quite a liking to me and unfolded his history and that of some of his ancestors.
On the company’s register he appeared as Charles F. De Laronde, Chief Trader, but in reality he was none other than Comte de St. Simon of France and a descendant of the Bourbons. In fact I never saw a more striking resemblance than that of the old gentleman to pictures I had seen of Louis Phillippe, the Bourbon King of France, and well it might, seeing he was a direct off-shoot of the Bourbon family.
Later on when I had been some weeks at Nipigon I prevailed on Mr. De Laronde to tell me something more connected about his parentage and he imparted the following.
About the year 1790 one of the sons of the Duc de St. Simon, Louis De Reuvrey, emigrated from France to Canada. The fur trade being the principal commerce of the country at that time, young de Reuvrey, of De Laronde, (taking his mother’s name) attached himself to the Coureurs des Bois, visiting Quebec at intervals of a year or two.
On one of these returns to civilization he married a French lady of the ancient city and after making one more voyage to the Nor’West, the English Governor granted him an emplacement where St. Rock’s is now built and De Laronde became the official Indian interpreter. However, he did not fill this office very long for in 1797 he moved to where Valleyfield now stands and took up a farm on land belonging to the Seminary of the Sulpicion Order, where he became a Canadian Habitant.
To him and his wife one son was born shortly before their departure from Quebec and in their new home two other boys came into the world and this constituted the De Laronde family in Canada in those days.
In the year 1810, after passing through many adventures as a fur trader and Indian fighter, Pere De Laronde died at the early age of forty, and to the widow and small boys was left the care of the farm. The bush instinct soon developed itself in the growing boys. Game and fish abounded in the forests and waters near their home which with the boys’ wonderful aptitude for hunting and trapping precluded any chance of want for substantial food.
The mother and the eldest boy attended to the small crops and domestic stock, while the two youngest roamed the forest and fished the waters. But this in time was too restricted a sphere for youths in whose veins their father’s blood flowed and the call of the wild, the Great Unknown, consumed them to be off to its depths.
The old gentleman with whom I was acquainted and of whom I write had a wonderful memory of dates, amongst others cited to me the years when these three boys were born. Joseph, the eldest first saw the light of day in the Ancient Capital in the year 1796. The second son, Louis Denis, born at Valleyfield, in the year 1798, while Charles F., my recounter, having first drawn breath of life five minutes before midnight, on the 31st of December 1799.
The widowed mother was loath to see two of her sons leave the home circle, but it had to be. Few mothers can keep their brood about them from the cradle to the grave, and the time had come when these two strong boys wished to see more of the big world in which they lived.
In the year 1817 the Nor’West Fur Traders of Montreal were about at the height of their prosperity, reaching out more and more into new territory and establishing new trading posts wherever they considered prospects justified opening such.
It was on the 25th of April in that year when Louis Denis and Charles De Laronde bade their mother and brother good-bye on their departure for Montreal to join the great Fur Company. To cross opposite Valleyfield in their dugout canoe through the swift waters was too risky and furthermore the canoe had to remain for the use of Joseph for fishing purposes.
Along the south shore of the St. Lawrence they therefore shaped their course on foot, sometimes along the beach and again where the shore became impassable they were compelled to take the Indian footpath along the heights. At noon they stopped at a settler’s log house and got some refreshments, rested for an hour and once more shouldering their packs pushed on for the Iroquois village of Caughnawaga. Late in the afternoon they became footsore while yet a considerable distance from their goal and were compelled to camp in a disused shanty at the Chateauguay River.
The next morning the river was before them and no vessel to ferry them over. Going exploring along the west shore of this river trusting to find some means of reaching the other side they came across a settler who had quite an extensive clearance and several cattle and appeared to be very well off for those days. He expressed his regrets that they had not found his house the previous night and a good warm breakfast was put before them by the good wife. When this had been disposed of as only two hungry youths can eat, the man of the house ferried them over in his dug-out and wishing them “Bon Voyage” as they clambered the banks of the river turned his canoe and recrossed to his home.
The walking was now much improved as they were following long used Indian trails that led from Chateauguay to the Iroquois town. As they did not wish to arrive in the city towards evening they arranged with a French half-breed to lodge them for the night and ferry them to Lachine in the morning.
Everything was strange tos the boys who had never seen even a village before but they were brave of heart and pushed on inquiring the way as they followed the Lachine road into Montreal.
Their objective point in the town was the Nor’West Fur Traders’ headquarters. This they reached without much difficulty as almost anyone knew where the great Company’s warehouses were situated.
The boys reached the office after the noon hour and there found Mr. McGillivery, one of the head partners, who patiently listened to Louis Denis, who acted a spokesman.
When Louis Denis had finished his story of how it was their desire to join the Company, Mr. McGillivery spoke and said he could give them a place as his Company were always on the lookout for strong, capable young men and the De Larondes appeared such to him.
Evidently he was much impressed with their appearance because he suggested them signing their indentures at once, possibly with the fear that they would be secured by some one else.
The gist of the engagements that they signed was that they should obey all orders from their superiors, devote their whole ability night and day to the benefit of the Nor’West Co. and being pledged for three years they were to receive the magnificent sum of five hundred francs per annum, equal to one hundred dollars of present day money.
In the interval between their engagement and the starting of the big canoes for the west the boys were lodged and boarded at a near by tavern on St. Paul Street, and worked by day in the large stores packing trading goods of all descriptions in suitably sized packages for transportation into the interior.
At last the great day of departure arrived, the tenth day of May. The lading of the canoes had been teamed to Lachine in advance. The partners of the Company and all the new recruits were assembled at the point the night before, the Iroquois voyageurs crossed over in the morning. The great canoes were put into the water and under command and overseeing of one of the partners were quickly loaded.
Each canoe’s load had a distinguishing mark painted on each piece of its lading. This prevented dispute or confusion at the portages.
These marks were put on each and every piece and consisted for one canoe of A*, for another AX, AG, for another 11-H and so on. These marks were quickly seen by the man in charge and readily picked out from a pile of stuff on the beach. A list of lading was given to each petty officer before leaving and it was his duty to check these off each time the canoe received its lading at the head of each carrying place.
When all were loaded, the last hand shake given, the last good-bye said, the crew thrust their canoes a little out from the landing and each one bared his head.
The priest from Caughnawaga, who had crossed over with his red children, now fell on his knees with the mothers, wives, and sisters of the crews and offered up a fervent prayer for their successful journey and safe return.
This ended, a musket was fired as a pre-arranged signal, and as one, those eighty paddles flashed in the sunlight and bit the water. To the chant of “Lavalette” the canoes in a short while disappeared from the view around the first point on their way to the mouth of the Ottawa.
The old gentleman described in detail their wearisome journey up that river, then branching off on the Mattawa across the height of land on to the waters of the Nipissing, then down the French River to Lake Huron, all of which was very interesting to listen to and must have proved a wondrous journey to those two youths.
Tracking up swift waters, poling up rapids, carrying their loads on the portages and the glorious camping out at each day’s finish, listening to the old voyageurs’ stories of former trips and hairbreath escapes from dangers of all descriptions fired their imaginations and made them wish to be as these men.
Where the town of Penetanguishene now stands near the mouth of the Severn River, the Nor’West Company had a post and this was the head place for what was termed the Simco District.
When the brigade of canoes debouched out of the French River, one of their number which was laden exclusively for those posts, separated from the others, turning south along the Georgian Bay.
The brothers parted here never to meet again; Charles F. Laronde receiving orders to report with his canoe at Severn while his brother continued on with the fleet to be dropped off many days after at Nipigon.
In the year 1821, after the Nor’West and Hudson’s Bay Companies had been strenuously opposing each other for many years, the two companies became amalgamated under the name of “The Hudson’s Bay Company”.
Positions were offered to all the employees of the former Company, which most of them accepted, among the number the two De Larondes.
It made no difference to them in any way, only the change of name, nor were they removed from the sections in which they were found serving.
Louis Denis from serving as a clerk in the Nipigon District rose to be in full charge. He married a native woman of the country by whom he had several children.
En passant, I might mention that one of his sons served with distinction through the American Civil War on one of the monitors. This shows how the descendants of men get scattered.
Charles, on the contrary, never married and after serving for many years in the Simcoe District, was, on the death of his brother, appointed his successor in charge at Nipigon.
He had been there two years when I met him, idolized by his nephews and nieces and all the Indians. Sir Charles was the name under which he was best known, and his full signature of which he was very proud was:- Sir Charles F. De Laronde, Comte de Saint Simon. He considered he had a perfect right to the “Sir” as he received the title from the Governor-General, Sir Francis Bond-Head.
The Governor attended a big pow-wow of the Indians at Severn, coming out from Toronto by special request of the Home Government to adjust some treaties. Charles F. De Laronde from his long residence amongst the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron Indians acted as official Interpreter.
Sir Francis, noticing his noble cast of countenance and name he bore, got him to tell of his ancestors. “Why,” said Sir Francis at the conclusion. “Comte de Saint Simon has its equivalent in “Sir Charles” in this country. Kneel, Mr. De Laronde, and receive your right title at my hands.” Saying which before the Governor’s staff our grand old man knelt and the Governor tapped him gently on the shoulder with his sword and said, “Arise, Sir Charles;” and ever afterwards the old man thought he had a perfect right to the title.
Last year when revisiting Nipigon I stood by the grave of him who was a direct descendant of the French nobility – Born 1799, Died 1882. Rest in Peace.