Canada's History - - TRADING POST - — Dou­glas Hunter

A few months af­ter com­plet­ing the ac­com­pa­ny­ing story for Canada’s His­tory, au­thor Janet Ritch passed away. Her death from cancer on De­cem­ber 12, 2014, at age fifty-nine, was a great loss to many peo­ple.

Janet was a col­league of mine, a highly re­spected re­searcher, trans­la­tor, and scholar whose as­sis­tance was in­valu­able to my pub­lished ef­forts on Sa­muel de Cham­plain and John Cabot. I served as an as­ses­sor for a suc­cess­ful fund­ing ap­pli­ca­tion for the re­search she was pur­su­ing at her death, on in­dige­nous slaves in colo­nial New France. Her cu­rios­ity and pas­sion ex­tended well be­yond Cham­plain, but the is­sue of his pos­si­ble sta­tus as an il­le­git­i­mate son of Henri IV did fire her fi­nal years.

There is not much for me to add to the ev­i­dence Janet pre­sented in her ar­ti­cle. If I were able to sit with her again to­day and de­bate her case, I would be more in­ter­ested in en­gag­ing Janet on her de­sire to view Cham­plain as a “leg­end of tol­er­ance” for our time. Leg­end is some­thing that has plagued ap­proaches to Cham­plain, ever since he was res­ur­rected as a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure in the nine­teenth cen­tury.

Mor­ris Bishop, in the 1963 in­tro­duc­tion to a new edi­tion of his clas­sic bi­og­ra­phy Cham­plain: The Life of For­ti­tude (1948), ar­gued for Cham­plain to be em­braced as a “na­tional hero.” It’s a bur­den few fig­ures in our his­tory have to shoul­der, and when we ap­proach his­tory with a de­ter­mi­na­tion to cre­ate such heroes and gild them in leg­end, how­ever use­ful such le­gends may ap­pear to us, our abil­ity to as­sess them crit­i­cally be­comes bur­dened as well.

Cham­plain is a fas­ci­nat­ing, com­pli­cated fig­ure who de­serves all the at­ten­tion he at­tracts, and Janet’s ex­plo­rations add to that fas­ci­nat­ing com­pli­ca­tion. But in re­sponse to the ques­tion of whether Cham­plain was the son of Henri IV, I would say: Would it mat­ter if he wasn’t?

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