The Early Immersion of Etienne Brûlé
Skilled woodsman, indefatigable pathfinder, sailor, multi-linguist and accused traitor - Etienne Brûlé lived a life of extraordinary exploits and larger-than-life adventures. As a wilderness scout, working on behalf of the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, Brûlé became the first European to see not only Lake Ontario, but also Huron, Superior, and Erie. (Jean Nicollet, another Champlain scout, was the first to sight Lake Michigan.)
The illiterate Brûlé left no written record of his
journeys, but Champlain's journals and illustrations detail some of his
discoveries and encounters. In 1608, Champlain sent the 16-year-old
Brûlé in search of the elusive route to China. Seven years
later, the talented scout guided Champlain through the Ottawa
River-Lake Nipissing-French River shortcut to Lake Huron and Georgian
Brûlé's trail-breaking travels to Lake Ontario paved the way for Champlain, who led a band of Huron across the Lake to fight an unsuccessful battle against the Iroquois on the southern shore.
First by duty, and then by choice, Brûlé lived among Champlain's Huron allies, learning their languages and customs. Unlike the imperialistic, moralistic Champlain, Brûlé cared little for law, religion or cultural allegiance. He ultimately rejected the colonial life, earning the grim disapproval of both Champlain and the powerful Jesuit missionaries of New France.
Brûlé's remarkable and unconventional life ended in bitter animosity. In 1629, Champlain blamed his former deputy for guiding the British to their capture of Quebec, and cast him as a traitor. In 1632, Brûlé died in a mysterious quarrel with his Huron friends.