Opinion

Fear inspired by mapmaker travelled far

By Tom Villemaire, Special to Postmedia Network

While Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, gave his name to Fort Frontenac and ordered its construction, the actual layout and work was overseen by Hugues Randin, a soldier, mapmaker and engineer – a renaissance man who mastered numerous skills, including cartography – which in his hands, managed to spark fear in Britain and Spain.

Randin arrived in Canada in 1655 as an ensign in the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, which had been sent to the French-Canadian colony to defend it against attacks from the Iroquois Confederacy. The attacks had been increasing as the French moved west and as trade with rival First Nations, like the Huron, were viewed with growing jealously.

He remained in Canada when the regiment returned to France in 1668. In 1671, because of his military and engineering background, he was entrusted to inspect and improve forts. He was rewarded with a seigneury along the St. Lawrence in 1672 but sold it to a fellow officer from the regiment – this is now called Berthierville. Randin’s name is remembered with an island across from the town, in the St. Lawrence River.

The following year Randin travelled with Frontenac to the Iroquois settlement of Cataracoui, which is where Kingston is today. Frontenac wanted to divert trade bound for rival English and Dutch traders from the south and east, and ordered construction of a fort to serve as both a centre of trade and French military protection.

Randin designed the fort and oversaw its construction. It went up with stunning speed. The men working on the fort were said to be so obsessed with getting the job done, officers had a hard time getting them to stop for sleep, amazing the First Nations.

Construction of Fort Cataracoui, as it was originally known, started on July 12, 1673. It was completed with walls and rough inner buildings in a week. Three years later it was taken down and replaced with a stone structure – and renamed Fort Frontenac.

In 1676 Frontenac sent Randin to Sault Ste. Marie loaded with gifts to act as ambassador to deal with area First Nations, primarily the Sioux. The mission was a success and Randin opened a trade in furs with the Sioux of northwestern Ontario.

In addition to building forts and establishing trade, Randin mapped newly-explored parts of Ontario and areas around the Great Lakes. He was one of the first to map some of the northern reaches of the Mississippi River and Lake Superior, or Lake Tracy as it was then known.

Randin’s coloured map, Carte de L’Amerique Septentrionale Depuis l’embouchûre de la Riviere St. Laurens jusques au Sein Mexique, now in the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R.I. suggests that when the English and Spanish saw this map, it created fear of the French expansion in North America.

“Considering the linkage of French interests in the north (around the Great Lakes) with the Gulf of Mexico via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, it is plain to see why English colonists predicted that they would soon be encircled by the French. It is also plain to see the role that the Florida peninsula could play in France’s vision of North American empire.”

The map is considered a “testimony to its author’s skill in draftsmanship.”

Randin died in 1681, leaving behind a better understanding of North American geography, an expanded trade network for the French and a sturdy beginning for Kingston.

— Tom Villemaire is a writer based in Toronto and the Bruce Peninsula. Tom@historylab.ca