During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, several noted European explorers sailed westwards in a belief that they would discover a route to the Orient. Among those who crossed the Atlantic hoping to discover that a passageway existed was Robert Cavalier, Seigneur de la Salle of France.
In the spring of 1669, La Salle’s party left Montreal and journeyed through the St. Lawrence and into Lake Ontario, stopping near present-day Rochester for supplies and guides.
On September 18, 1669, the explorer and his party of canoes crossed the sandy bar of the Beach Strip at the “old outlet” of Burlington Bay. Where exactly the famous explorer landed is today often questioned. The popular belief came from the writings of James H. Coyne and sees La Salle landing on the north shore of Burlington Bay, near the present-day site of La Salle Park, en route to the Seneca Indian village of Tinawatawa. The Ontario Historical and Archaeological Sites Board erected an historical plaque at the park in 1970, replacing an earlier one erected by the Wentworth Historical Society.
The evidence of the explorer travelling through Flamborough comes from a journal kept by Rene de Brehaut de Galinee, one of the priests who accompanied La Salle. It is known that the group camped on the shore of a bay for several days, while their guide went to Tinawatawa to seek help with the portage of their supplies and canoes. Galinee wrote:
“…and at last, after five days voyage, arrived at the end of Lake Ontario, where there is a fine large sandy bay at the bottom of which is the outlet of another little lake discharging itself. This our guides made us enter about half a league and then unload our canoes at the place nearest to the village, which is however, five or six good leagues away.”
This passage describing the end of La Salle’s travels is almost certainly the reason why turn-of-the-century historians located the landing on Burlington Bay. Coyne, who translated Galinee’s journal in 1903, identifies the “little lake” as Burlington Bay.
Local historian, T. Roy Woodhouse, continued the Coyne interpretation and in an address to the Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society on 27 September 1969, given at La Salle Park on the 300th Anniversary of the explorer’s visit said:
“La Salle Park’s shore is the place nearest to Tinawatawa where you travel up and over the Flamborough Mountain by the Aldershot-Waterdown Road. This is the only route within miles where you can ascend the mountain without the use of a ladder.
At all other nearby locations you find vertical cliffs, but the Aldershot-Waterdown Road reaches the top of the mountain by means of a gentle natural slope. This also points to La Salle Park as the most probable landing place for La Salle’s expedition.”
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 13 October 2006.