Blog #7 My new old Hero!

Just finished reading David Hackett Fisher’s Champlain’s Dream. For the first time in years, I have a new hero–Samuel de Champlain.   I knew Champlain explored the Maritimes and the Saint Lawrence River and gave many place names to Canadian locations. He was the superb explorer he gets credit for, and so much more. His achievements and the person he proved to become makes him a hero for all times.

His start in the region of Saintonge along the western coast of France helped him develop personal qualities that helped him throughout his life and career. Love of camaraderie, joie de vivre,  and sense of humour characterized the personality that took him through successful encounters with people in the courts of France and Britain as well as on the shores of the St. Lawrence in New France. His experience as a soldier in the civil wars in France at the turn of the 16th century taught him that although courage and skill with tactics, strategies, and weaponry will get you through warfare, it is facing the reality of the futility of war and destruction that will get you through life. So his positive personal qualities along with wisdom made Champlain effective in human interactions throughout his whole life.

As a child and adolescent, he learned navigational and leadership skills in seafaring that saw him survive numerous trans-Atlantic voyages without ever losing a ship. His intelligent loyalty to King Henry IV of France and subsequent rulers and courtiers (like the formidable Richelieu) taught him diplomatic skills he needed in exploring, settling, building, maintaining, and governing New France.

Any lesser person could have the skills and personality of Champlain, but his consistent strengths as a visionary, communicator, and humanitarian transcend so many famous leaders.  For example, when he started to develop New France, it became clear to him that the tribal warfare among the Indians was destructive for human society.  He consistently negotiated with native leaders honestly and nobly until trust became the foundation for peaceful settlement along the St. Lawrence.  Despite the numerous setbacks, Champlain would go back to the basics: tell the truth, govern by law, fight, when necessary,and negotiate for peace.  As chief magistrate in New France, he was judge and jury for murder cases between rogue Frenchmen and native people.  He successfully turned the native people away from a principle of revenge toward some semblance of Christian justice.

Champlain never lost sight of his vision of New France based on respect for individuals, caring for his charges on land and sea, peaceful sharing of land and resources, tolerance and respect for religious practice, responsibility in honest negotiation for the welfare of all. New England, New Spain, New Netherlands demonstrated smaller visions in their interactions with the native people and early settlers in the New World. Even France may have lost the vision at times, but not Samuel de Champlain. Persistence and determination as an explorer and leader paid off in the end. Settlement in New France did prosper and grow, while other European attempts failed and went badly askew. In his early years in New France, his efforts at achieving goals were tempered by a strong scientific attitude regarding agriculture and horticulture and map drawing. In later years, his flexibility and respectful approach to the native people won him great affection and support needed for successful settlement to match his vision for New France.

If one were to Google Samuel de Champlain, one would find six million pages. Over four hundred years, sixteen generations have had their say about Champlain. Fischer’s account benefits from all the books and words written about Champlain in the past. What impresses me is the combination of traits and skills that were tested throughout Champlain’s life in Europe and the New World.   The humanity of Champlain becomes clear as we discover that he was a person who loved and lost and loved again, who sought justice with insight and good heart, who led wisely whether or not he was morally supported or understood by his European superiors, who lived out his dream with imagination, dignity, and intelligence along with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Champlain rises to heroic status in my mind because he was able to lead with integrity without falling for the temptations of greed and ambition and pride when most of his contemporaries did fall. He becomes heroic in his humane treatment of others who were vulnerable or weak. Perhaps he proves most heroic to those who knew and loved him and those who are just getting to know him in modern times by demonstrating how one uses persistence to do good by being good at everything one does.