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Nonsuch Photo Galleries | all galleries >> Galleries >> creator of NONSUCH . . . Gordon Fisher R.I.P. > NONSUCH sail boat 'big wave' stamp - 1968
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NONSUCH sail boat 'big wave' stamp - 1968

advertised and traded by Canada Post, Government of Canada
still widely traded annually on ebay & elsewhere

A LITTLE 'SHIP' FROM HISTORY
by John Burnett (ENY4)
I want to take a look at the story of a less well known sailing vessel depicted on a Canadian stamp.

Canada Scott 482, issued on June 5, 1968 is a 5 cent stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary a special voyage of a small square - rigged sailing ketch called the NONSUCH.


Canadian 1968 5 cent commemorative stamp for the 300th anniversary of the voyage of the NONSUCH to Hudson Bay.

The little sailing boat of the title is shown on the stamp above - and little it certainly was! NONSUCH was only 50 feet long, had a beam of 15 feet, and displaced just 43 tons. How would you like to cross the North Atlantic Ocean in a boat that small? Two Frenchmen sailed in her on a venture to find furs; it proved so successful that it started a new era in Canadian history. Interestingly, however this era and the fur trade would turn out to be largely an English success story, not a French one.

Starting from the beginning. In the early 17th century the English developed a very successful fur-trading business between the St. Lawrence region of North America and the fashion capitals of Europe, where the stylish pelts commanded high prices.

In New France (later the Province of Quebec), two explorers were charting a different course. Pierre Espirit Radisson had arrived in Canada from France as a youngster and later spent two years as a captive of the Iroquois before escaping. Medard Chouart, who often called himself Sieur de Groseilliers (literally, Mr. Gooseberries) after his farm on the St. Lawrence, was another French native who had come to New France in the 1640s. An intrepid trader he had successfully sought furs in the lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron during 1654 through 1656. Groseilliers married the half sister of Radisson, but it was the two men who made the historic match.

Fired by tales of the uncharted North American interior, the two men set out as a contemporary record puts it . . . To travel land see countries and be knowne with the remotest people. Between 1658 and 1662, Radisson and Groseilliers pushed further west and north than any Europeans before them. They reached Lake Superior, traveled as far west as modern Minnesota and Manitoba, and may have reached the Mississippi. What impressed them most, however, were the largely untapped fur resources controlled by the Cree Indians in the vast hinterland north and west of the St. Lawrence River. The region was then known for its central feature the . . . bay of the North Sea . . . what we know today as Hudson Bay.

Radisson and Groseilliers returned to Quebec City, the capital of New France, with 60 canoes full of prime furs. With these riches in hand they approached the Governor of New France to propose a French Company trading furs from the new region they had just explored. Not only did they not receive such a commission from either Old France or New France, but Groseilliers was arrested, and the two were fined for trading furs without a license.

Angered at the shabby treatment by their fellows in the new world, in 1665 Radisson and Groseilliers took their idea to across the Atlantic to France, which also turned a deaf ear. They re-crossed the Atlantic to Boston where they next proposed their plan. Merchants and investors there furnished a ship but it failed to reach Hudson Bay. However news of the scheme reached England, where King Charles II was receptive to their ideas. The King brought in members of his family and the court, an enterprise was organized, and a small naval vessel, the EAGLET, was made available.

The expedition was outfitted and a group of British businessmen and courtiers led by Prince Rupert, the King's cousin, purchased the NONSUCH for 200 pounds. Built as a merchant vessel in 1650, NONSUCH had a peacetime crew of 12 but had carried 24 in wartime, and was capable of carrying six to eight 2 pounder cannons. NONSUCH was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1654, was captured by the Dutch in 1658, and then recaptured by the British the following year. In 1667 the ship was sold to Sir William Warren and dropped from the navy lists.

Aboard this tiny sailing craft , Groseilliers and Radisson sailed on June 3, 1668 from Gravesend, England with a total crew of 12 or 13 men. The Captain of the NONSUCH was Zachariah Gillam, of Boston. Unfortunately, the EAGLET was damaged enroute and never completed the voyage.

On September 29, 118 days after weighing anchor, NONSUCH arrived at the southern end of James Bay. It was here on the Rupert River that the purpose of choosing such a small ship became apparent. The crewmen were able to easily haul the NONSUCH up out of the water, where the ice of winter would have surely crushed the hull of a larger vessel, no matter how stout her hull.

With the ship safe, the crew constructed a cabin and wintered over eating food from the ship and whatever they could catch on frequent hunting trips. When the ship returned to Plymouth in late September 1669, it was loaded with prized beaver pelts, which the Cree had cheerfully traded for goods and white shell wampum. All those aboard NONSUCH were well rewarded.

The voyage of the NONSUCH was so successful that England granted a charter to the . . . Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudsons bay . . . the now famous Hudson Bay Company. And so it came to be that one of England's greatest contributions to the history of Canada was actually the brainchild of two Frenchmen, France being England's historic archenemy at the time. It would be fair to say without the incentive of the sort that brought the Hudson's Bay Company into being, a lot of exploration of the continent might never have happened. Perhaps France might have held onto this colony that was to become Canada.

Today a replica of the NONSUCH is the centerpiece of the Museum of Man and Nature, in Winnipeg, Manitoba who graciously furnished a great deal of information to me about this valiant vessel. It might seem difficult to built a collection around a single stamp but think of what you might add to that collection, there are first day covers, plate blocks and of course the stamp used to pay postage on envelopes. I even have a small collection of Hudson´┐Żs Bay Store advertising covers.

John Burnett

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