Vermont, New York salute 400 years along historic waterways
Hard on the heels of Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations last year, the states of New York and Vermont are continuing the party with a series of yearlong festivities commemorating the explorations of Samuel de Champlain of Lake Champlain and Henry Hudson of the Hudson River and New York Harbour.
Organizers are expecting to draw people from all over the world to the Champlain Valley and the Hudson River for the bash in a region that retains the haunting beauty of the rivers, lakes and mountains recorded in the journals of those first European explorers.
Just a year after founding Quebec City, in an effort to resolve the fighting between the Indian nations in the region, Champlain paddled up the St. Lawrence River with his allies from the St. Lawrence Valley tribes to battle their enemies, the Iroquois League. Travelling south along the Richelieu River, he and two other Frenchmen and 60 warriors in a convoy of 24 canoes came to Bitawbagok (Lake Champlain) on July 14, 1609. Champlain became the first European to explore the 200-kilometre-long lake he named after himself.
Coincidentally, six weeks after Champlain helped his allies defeat the Mohawk in a battle at the site of Ticonderoga in the southwest part of the lake, Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch to find a shorter sea route to the Orient, discovered the Hudson River and sailed with a 20-man crew up to present-day Albany, less than 160 kilometres to the south.
These two independent discoveries led to the creation of one of the most important trade routes in North America, connecting the St. Lawrence River to Lake Champlain, Lake George, the Hudson River and Manhattan — and the opening of the Hudson Valley to Dutch settlement and the St. Lawrence and Champlain valleys to French settlement.
Many anniversary events scheduled for this summer offer ways to retrace all, or part, of this historic passage that became a trade network linking the New World with the Old. A flotilla of boats, including reproductions of Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, and other Dutch schooners, will follow his route from New York Harbour to Albany from June 5 to 15. The Half Moon will be open to visitors at stops along the way.
On Lake Champlain, steeped in a long history of commerce and war, day cruises through the Champlain Canal, which connects the lake with the Hudson River, will take visitors near the site where Champlain’s war party fought against the Mohawk at Ticonderoga. Longer overnight voyages, some sailing as far as Montreal, are a leisurely and more luxurious way to relive the explorer’s route.
A cheaper but no less spectacular alternative is to take a ride on one of the ferries that ply between Vermont and New York across the lake — from Burlington to Port Kent, Grand Isle to Plattsburgh, and Charlotte to Essex. The Ticonderoga cable-crossing to Shoreham, Vt., is the oldest ferry on the lake, operating since 1759.
The crossings are a great opportunity to take in the monumental vistas of the Vermont Green Mountains and the towering Adirondacks, which look much as Champlain described them.
Look out for ospreys, bald eagles and blue herons, and keep an eye out for Champ, the monster of Lake Champlain, which might be a descendant of Chaoufarou, a huge fish described by Champlain in his journals as having a snout 21/2 feet long and a double row of sharp, dangerous teeth.
The more than 300 shipwrecks at the bottom of Lake Champlain include 18th-century gunboats, warships from the 1812 and Revolutionary Wars, canal barges and cargo schooners. Popular shipwreck tours from Burlington Bay in Vermont, organized by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, use robotic cameras to send real-time images of historic submerged hulks to video monitors on deck. One wreck that can be viewed is a cargo boat that went down in 1875 under the command of its morphine-addicted captain.
The museum is also presenting a children’s Pirates’ Festival (June 6 and 7) and a Native American Encampment (June 13 and 14), where members of the El-nu and Missisquoi Abenaki will portray the life and culture of their ancestors.
A replica of the 1862 schooner Lois McClure, flagship for Vermont’s quadricentennial celebrations, is a sailing canal boat and a reminder of the region’s tremendous building and trading boom, when the lake was teeming with cargo vessels taking raw materials from the interior and bringing back finished goods to the settlers on the shores. The boat will host visitors in Burlington (July 3 to 13), Rouses Point (June 23 and 24) and Plattsburgh on the New York side of the lake, and possibly visit Chambly on the Richelieu River in Quebec.
Burlington is the central location for the hundreds of Vermont celebrations. The Waterfront Festival July 2 to 14 will bring together musicians, actors, filmmakers, artists and writers, along with Native American and Franco-American performers. Quebec Day, July 10, will feature many Quebec artists. On July 11, a huge parade ends with an international fireworks show.
For those anxious to get closer to the original explorer experience, kayaking and canoeing trips (either day paddles or longer journeys) are being organized along the 550-kilometre route from New York City to Lake Champlain.
Alternatively, one- and two-week bike tours following the route of Hudson and Champlain start at Rouses Point on the Canadian border with cyclists camping out at night on the way down to New York City.
On foot, you can trace the origins of Dutch New York City along the New Amsterdam Trail, which is also being developed as a virtual tour. Or from New York Harbour, greet a large fleet of U.S. and Dutch vessels arriving at the end of a transatlantic race from Amsterdam.
When the mile-long historic Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge spanning the Hudson River reopens in October as the world’s longest pedestrian bridge, pedestrians and cyclists will be treated to spectacular panoramic views of the valley and river.
Or consider one of the most pleasurable ways of getting close to this historic route at any time of the year by sitting back and watching the landscape glide by from the comfort of Amtrak’s Adirondack, a train that travels daily between Montreal and New York.
The track skirts the shores of Lake Champlain for more than 50 miles along a snaking route that eventually follows the course of the Hudson River. The train passes several points where Hudson traded with Indians on his way up the river, and places where he ran into skirmishes on his way back.
Rated by National Geographic as one of the five most scenic train routes in the world, the mood of the scenery changes with the seasons. As with most Amtrak trains, the pace is unhurried, particularly when the track clings onto precipitous cliffs high above Lake Champlain.
Ask the conductor for a very useful map that highlights interesting facts about the history of the places en route and gives tips on the best places for photo ops. Every inch of the way is redolent of the struggle to control the waterway, with remainders of forts and battle sites of the French-Indian wars, the French defence against the British and the American Revolutionary War.
Leaving Montreal, sit on the left-hand side to get a good view of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River watershed; if possible, shift over to the right-hand side after Albany so that you’re perfectly situated for a close-up of the Hudson River and the sites of original Dutch settlements, Indian legends and revolutionary battles as the train journeys toward its destination: Penn Station in downtown New York City.
IF YOU GO:
Train: Amtrak Montreal-New York. The trip takes 10 hours when it’s on time. Check for special deals, sometimes as low as $75 return. www.amtrak.com
Ferries across Lake Champlain: www.ferries.com; www.middlebury.net.tiferry
Cruises on Lake Champlain and the Hudson River: www.carilloncruises.com; www.notchabovetours.com; www.smallshipcruises.com; www.accl.com; www.elderhostel.org/programs
Shipwreck tours run by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Reservations advised. www.lcmm.org. The site also gives information about the Lois McClure and other replica vessels in their fleet along with other activities.
Kayaking and canoeing: The Great Champlain-Hudson Sojourn, June 24 — July 19. For details, see www.hudsongreenway.state.ny.us/ghrp; www.celebratechamplain.org
Biking trips: 11-day trips accompanied by historians, naturalists and cultural scholars. June 28 — Sept. 8. www.gosojourn.com
The Great Hudson Valley Pedal, Aug. 11-16. www.celebratechamplain.org and www.ptny.org/hudsontour/
June 5 — 15: River Day. A flotilla of boats led by the Half Moon will follow Henry Hudson’s route from New York Harbour to Albany.
June 18 — 20: St. Albans Franco-American Heritage Festival, St. Albans, Vt.
July 2 -14: Burlington International Waterfront Festival, Burlington, Vt.
Sept. 18 — 20: Festival of Nations at Chimney Point, Vt., and Crown Point, N.Y., and the Lake Champlain Bridge.
Tulip Mania event at the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx from April to June.
Exhibitions in Albany and New York’s Frick Museum continue throughout the year.
For other events in New York City, Albany, Burlington, Vt., and smaller communities along the Hudson River Valley and Lake Champlain, check: www.hudson400.com; www.champlain400.com;www.exploreny400.com; www.celebratechamplain.org
BY ANN ELSDON
For Canwest News Service