On the trail of the archives: shipwrecks and macabre discoveries in Anticosti


The duty continues its journey back to the sources of French America, focusing on the exploration of Quebec newspapers and archives. To broaden our horizons, we will travel from the northern confines of the Hudson to the sunny dreams of Florida, while tracing the thread of a shared history. Today, the sinking of the Granic.

It is a two-masted sailboat, the Granicus. It is at the quay, at the port of Quebec. On October 29, 1828, he set sail. He’s going back to sea. The sea, that’s easy to say. But the people of the river have this word in their mouths as soon as the banks move away from each other. And the sea, as they say, will soon be bad for the Granicus.

On board, in addition to the captain, there is a crew of about twenty men, but also a few passengers, including three women and two children. In this country of the colonies where life depends on the river, it is then used to transport everyday life. On the shores of the St. Lawrence, there are sailors. They will be numerous, from father to son, until the end of the 1960s. Inevitably shipwrecks. Lots of shipwrecks.

the Granicus head for Ireland. It is loaded with a cargo of wood. Wood is the country’s gold. Small and large boats transport it to Europe. The wedges of Granicus are full of them. The British navy relied on the northern forests of its empire in the early 19thand century, to parry the ships of the Admiralty against the advances of Napoleon Iis.

The surroundings of Anticosti Island are particularly dangerous. All sailors have known this for a long time. The pitfalls are many. Several ships crash there. Even today, the wrecks scattered along the shore of the island bear witness to this. The island has been nicknamed, not without reason, the “graveyard of the gulf”. Among the number of stranded boats, steamers, barques, sailboats, iron ships. The list is long, it makes you dizzy. the Shut up, the alexanderthe Cybelethe Nataliethe Megantic lakethe Tadoussacthe Russia, etc. Since the time of Granicnearly 400 boats broke near Anticosti.

Off the island, where the seabed is unpredictable, the commander of the Granic is forced to evacuate the ship. The water is cold in this season. At this temperature, you can quickly die there. To ensure its salvation, the crew relies on a winter refuge provided for the unfortunate. The place is known. Once safe, it is to be hoped that help will come, since someone will eventually notice that the ship is not arriving.

Discovery

It is to Placide Vigneau, a lighthouse keeper from Île aux Perroquets, off the North Shore, that we owe the narration of the rest of the story. His story fascinated many visitors to the archives, until it was published and commented on. Vigneau ensures that he scrupulously reports the facts witnessed by Captain Basile Giasson, captain of the Magdalen Islands.

This story is written down in his pen, in a document kept in the national archives in Sept-Îles. Will an oral tradition of history also make its way? The story, in any case, is based on a British adventure book published in 1902, in the tradition of the castaway adventures popularized by Daniel Defoe: Ice-Bound or the Anticosti Crusoes.

As the worst happened for those who embarked on the Granic, many sailors prepared their spring catches in the heat. Giasson was one of them.

In the spring of the following year, he sailed to Natashquan to hunt seals there. The road is tough. The winds are unfavorable. Food is lacking, at least fresh water. In addition, the sailors may scan the waters, no seal nose appears. Should we return empty-handed? The captain decides instead to anchor for a while near Anticosti. An abandoned boat is spotted. What immediately raise questions within the crew commanded by Basile Giasson. Four decide to take a closer look. They go to the side of the refuge maintained, at least in principle, by the government as a rescue for any unfortunates at sea.

“When we opened the door, we saw heaps of debris, hearts, wounds and guts and, hanging from the ceiling, six disemboweled corpses, the severed head as well as the arms and legs, at the joint of the elbow and the knee, and a wooden bar passed through the thighs to hold them open. Horror seized them. All the more so when they understood that all this belonged to human bodies. “Our hair became sheer on our heads and seemed to lift our helmets. »

A contemporary report indicates that, in all likelihood, the castaways sailed along the coast towards an emergency depot which they, like others, knew existed. Arriving there, the unfortunates found the place deserted. No provisions were there. They had been removed. They could count on nothing, except on an empty wooden building able to accommodate them. In the end where they were, did they come to resolve the worst to survive?

The troubled background of the story

Guesswork about what really happened perhaps says more about the projections of the living than about the fate of the unfortunate. All scenarios really seem possible. In any case, in certain versions of the story, there is a projection of a cannibal story that is a racial cliché. In one room, observes Vigneau, they would have found the body of an imposing man, a “mulatto”, he takes the trouble to specify. Do the human remains around him make him responsible for the scene? We can believe that Vigneau wishes to let it be understood.

No one knows, and no one will ever know exactly what happened. The bodies are buried in a pit. Several objects are found scattered, tragic memories of the place. There are some in the Magdalen Islands, indicate the documents of the time, probably reported by the crew responsible for the sad discovery. Was a crime scene looted?

Indeed, the misfortunes have added to each other on Anticosti Island. In July 1829, Captain Bayfield was at Ellis Cove Bay, in Anticosti waters. He states in his diary that he found the wreckage Hibernia, a large merchant ship, “whose captain died here of fatigue”. “We have been informed that another vessel, a barque, sank about 20 miles to the southeast and about half the crew died. All of this is in addition, he says, to the crew and passengers of the Granicus, “all died miserably of cold and hunger after devouring each other”. All this is already a lot for this year which is only a few months old, observes the captain.

In the case of Granic, the story of cannibalism that struck such a chord was the result, at least in part, of government-imposed economic austerity measures. To reduce the costs of monitoring the river, this winter refuge, normally provided with the minimum subsistence for the unfortunates forced to take refuge there, had been abandoned. By making the effort to reach the refuge, believing they could still escape death, the survivors of the shipwreck of the Granicus did not know that he had nothing. They soon understood, left to their own devices, that they were doubly trapped, both by the winter and by the government’s austerity policy.

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