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"Christening" of the Griffon

Posted on Monday January 28, 2019
2014-2017 Council Members with Rev. Canon Sue Paulton
2014-2017 Council Members with Rev. Canon Sue Paulton

The 2014-2018 LaSalle Council Members hosted a “christening” of the Griffon in the roundabout at Todd Lane and Malden Road in December. With the help of Rev. Canon Sue Paulton, the Griffon was blessed, and former Mayor, Ken Antaya, broke a bottle of champagne on the bow of the ship, re-enacting when the original ship was christened in honour of Frontenac (Governor General of New France 1672-1682) whose coat-of-arms contained a griffon. Father Louis Hennepin, a bearded priest dressed in a hooded, brown-grey robe, gave the original blessing.

In 2019, we are celebrating the Town of LaSalle’s history. Save the date and join us on September 20 and 21 for our Rendezvous Voyageur Festival, being held at Front Road Park.  

The Griffon was a 45-ton, five-gun “barque” built at Fort Frontenac, Kingston. It was 18 metres long and 4.8 metres wide with two masts. Despite frequent unfortunate mishaps, the boat was finally built largely as a result of the determined efforts of Henri de Tonty, known to the Natives as Iron Hand, because he had a metal right hand to replace one lost fighting in France. Its construction at Cuyaga Creek, a branch of the Niagara River, was nothing short of miraculous.

The Griffon was the first vessel to sail the Upper Great Lakes, and was launched on August 7, 1679. The arms, trade goods and provisions were stored in the hold and with twenty-five people on board, their departure was timed when the wind was stronger than the current.

This was the first sail boat ever to plough Lake Erie and the upper lakes. On the morning of the fourth day of sailing, the Griffon passed through the Detroit River and into Lake St. Clair, continuing onto Lake Huron. A violent storm presented challenges when the voyageurs anchored at Michilimackinac off Point St. Ignace in the Straits of Mackinac that join Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. A week later, The Griffon entered Lake Michigan and docked at Washington Island off the mouth of Green Bay, where men whom René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, had sent earlier and had accumulated a treasure-trove of furs.

La Salle sent the Griffon with 12 thousand pelts back to the Niagara River where a boat from Fort Frontenac would pick them up. On September 18, 1679, the ship loaded with furs sailed eastward but the 'magic' vessel vanished with no one knowing when, where or why.  It has still not been discovered.