Ancient Maliseet Settlement - Saint John River

Ouigoudi, Maliseet Site at St. John Harbour 1604 - a Tranquil Native Setting


In Wolastoq Park, a fairly new tourism development located above the reversing falls in Saint John, New Brunswick, there is a large wooden sculpture of historic geographer and explorer, Samuel de Champlain, his eyes looking out over the St. John river at that location.

Four centuries ago on June 24, 1604, Champlain and Pierre du Gua de Monts, holder of the trade monopoly for New France from France's King Henry IV, sailed into the mouth of the Wolastoq River, which happened to be St. John the Baptist's Day. Since no European had been to this place before, and since Champlain was mapping the region for the first time, he decided to give it the name River St. John.

In his journal Champlain drew a detailed map of the area, showing the now famous reversing falls, the three small islands above the falls, the portage (carry) that the Wolastokiyik (or Wulustukieg) used to navigate around the falls with their birchbark canoes, and a small island below the falls on which stood a fortified village of the Wolastoqiyik called Ouygoudy (also spelled "Ouigoudi"). He even made a sketch of their huge lodge, and also of several Wolastoqiyik carrying bows and spears. Marc Lescarbot, who visited the village a year later, described Ouigoudi in detail as well as the customs of these people. The Great Sagamore (Chief) of Ouigoudi and all of the St. John River was Secondon (or "Chkoudun", as spelled by Lescarbot who spent four days in their village).

Champlain describes this area of the river in detail. "This river is dangerous, if one does not observe carefully certain points and rocks on the two sides. It is narrow at its entrance, and then becomes broader. A certain point being passed, it becomes narrower, and forms a kind of fall between two large cliffs, where the water runs so rapidly that a piece of wood thrown in is drawn under and not seen again. But by waiting till high tide you can pass this fall very easily. Then it expands again to the extent of about a league in some places, where there are three islands. We did not explore it farther up. But Ralleau, secretary of Sieur de Monts, went there some time after to see a savage named Secondon, chief of this river, who reported that it was beautiful, large, and extensive, with many meadows and fine trees, as oaks, beeches, walnut-trees, and also wild grapevines." What a beautiful place he described.

The village of the Wolastoqiyik was located on what was many years later known as Navy Island, and over the last century, this island was totally transformed and became the ship building and shipping Port of Saint John. The channel that separated the island from the mainland disappeared. In 1968 the Saint John Harbour Bridge was completed, spanning from a point near Ouigoudi to a point near Long Wharf. A board walk around the shore of harbour passage has a plaque which identifies the original location of the historic village. Bentley Street in Saint John follows the portage around the falls where the Wolastoqiyik carried their canoes.

While exploring the coastline, Champlain recorded his observation that this country consisted of very dense forests. This concerned him as he speculated about colonizing this land. "If the land were cleared up, grain would flourish excellently." Later that winter, when the snow was three to four feet deep, he observed that it didn't melt away until the end of April, "... lasting much longer, I suppose, than if the country were cultivated." In other words, he is saying that the forests must be cleared if Europeans are to settle here. I think history has proven that this part of his dream has come true.

Champlain also was interested in finding iron and copper and other minerals. In August 1605 he visited Chief Chkoudun at Ouigoudi and asked him to guide him to a copper mine he had heard about. Chkoudun took him to the mine, but Champlain discovered that the rocks in that location got covered by the tide two times every day, making mining impossible. But he did not let this mine discourage him. Later he invited Chkoudun and a Souriquois, Messamouet, to guide him for two months while he explored further along the Atlantic coast for places of interest, for mines and for settlement.

Champlain's dream was to clear the land of the forests in order to melt the snows faster, shorten the winters, warm up the climate, and enable the European colonists to plant their more tender crops. Of course the forests would provide lumber for ship building and exporting to France. He explored for copper and iron mines in hopes of identifying resources for supplying profitable industries.

Today the reader can see by the pictures included with this article, what Champlain's spirit, as represented by the wooden sculpture, views when he looks out on the river landscape at the reversing falls. He sees smoke rising into the sky, but not the smoke he saw 400 years ago coming from the small villages of the native people he found living here, but rather, the emissions from big industry smokestacks.

The question that must be asked is whether Champlain's spirit is pleased with what he sees? His sculpture represents the European culture that came here, contending that God had given them North America to have dominion over as per their Christian biblical books of Genesis (1:26-28) and Psalms (72:8). This so-called authority was stressed over and over again, "In the name of God and the King." And hence this country became known as the Dominion of Canada.

Does Champlain's spirit view this scene above the reversing falls as a culmination of years of success and prosperity, and so he smiles, or does he see a poisoned Mother Earth and instead, he sheds tears?

For those Euro-Christian intruders, the words written in Genesis 1:28 never held so much meaning as they do today, when the Creator said to the humans he had created, "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand." With this assignment of responsibility as stewards of this earth, how does our report card look today? -


The text and picture are courtesy of Pat Paul, the publisher of the Wulustuk Times. Pat may be contacted at: pesun@nbnet.nb.ca

The picture projects a sense of peace, contentment, and prosperity among the Maliseet residents. One wonders, if the European invasion had never ocurred, what kind of modern civilization the Maliseet First Nation would have developed. My inclination is to believe that it would have evolved into one of the most people friendly on Mother Earth! Daniel N. Paul, December 12, 2008

More information about the Maliseet First Nation can be found at this URL: http://www.danielnpaul.com/MaliseetFirstNation.html